A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Greg Monroe for Eric Bledsoe would be a solid S&T for both teams

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It’s late August and Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe are still not signed, which is turning into a mess for Detroit and Phoenix. Either Monroe or Bledsoe taking the qualifying offer is the worst case scenario for both teams, as if they walked in unrestricted free agency they wouldn’t receive value in return for their asset.

I like the idea of just swapping Monroe and Bledsoe personally, even if this idea seems unlikely due to the lack of momentum in the press about it.

Detroit’s end

The Pistons suddenly teaming up Eric Bledsoe and Andre Drummond’s elite athleticism would give them an exciting direction going forward. In the drafts since acquiring Drummond, they took Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in 2013 and had to surrender their lottery pick to Charlotte in 2014. Although I’m a big fan of their 2014 2nd round pick Spencer Dinwiddie, they’re lacking the supporting young talent to go around Drummond. Getting it through trade with Bledsoe may be the direction to go.

The argument against is fit, as Detroit has Brandon Jennings 2 year 16.3 million contract, which is already one of the most unmoveable contracts in the league, a situation that would get worse if backing up Bledsoe. Presumably giving Bledsoe the max contract he wants could also scare them for the same reason it did Phoenix, because of some injury issues so far in his career.

Nevertheless, Jennings problem is a short term problem. Within a year it’s an expiring deal and easy to move on from. Jennings and Bledsoe may also be able to share time in a small backcourt, like Dragic and Bledsoe did this year in Phoenix. I see it as the right move to grab the talent upgrade in Bledsoe and wait for the opportunity to move on from the Joe Dumars mistakes Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith. Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons won’t be rebuilt in a day and don’t have to be a perfect fit immediately. Yet with Bledsoe and Drummond along with pieces like Jodie Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the pieces seem in place. It would also make the Pistons expected to make the playoffs next year, which may be important to ownership after disappointing seasons lately.

Phoenix’s end

There’s a few reasons why Phoenix may be lukewarm on this deal. First Monroe is not a perfect fit as they have two young centers in Alex Len and Miles Plumlee who’d move down the depth chart, with Len’s minutes especially unguaranteed. In the meantime however Monroe starting at C beside Markieff Morris is an upgrade, giving them passing and post skills to compliment Phoenix’s perimeter penetrating and shooting skills. Some minutes could be opened up for Plumlee and Len by playing Monroe at power forward in some matchups.

Financially Monroe may be asking for upwards of 11 or 12 million to do this deal for a player who’s game has stagnated in recent years. For his strengths like post scoring, ability to drive past defenders with ballhandling skills and passing, he neither spaces the floor especially well or provides defensive impact, a combination that is scary in the modern game. Monroe is a poor man’s Al Jefferson or Zach Randolph, the question as he goes into his prime is whether that’s still enough to pay a premium contract.

However, signing Monroe to a long term deal may also give Phoenix some needed stability. The core of their team last year in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe is in doubt long term. In addition to their Bledsoe issues, because Dragic is so underpaid right now, the Suns can’t offer him an extension high enough for him to consider taking – Toronto faced a similar dilemma with Kyle Lowry last year. Although Dragic clearly likes Phoenix enough for him to return there last time he was a free agent, it’s never easy to see a player enter unrestricted free agency where any matter of large offers from contenders could be thrown at him. Toronto was able to have a division winning, franchise record season, promising Lowry a slew of winning seasons in upcoming years. Phoenix is in danger of becoming an also-ran non-playoff team next year, making it less appealing to Dragic. By trading for an established player like Monroe instead of S&Ting Bledsoe for draft picks or young players, it may help them resign Dragic next year, or give them a fallback option of an Isaiah Thomas-Greg Monroe core to rebuild with if he leaves.

Although it depends on what Phoenix’s other offers for Bledsoe are, I’d say you can certainly do worse than acquiring a starting big in Greg Monroe and then going from there.

For now this trade is a fantasy, but I’d say for both it’s certainly preferable to their player taking a qualifying offer.

Written by julienrodger

August 21, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Who will win 2014-2015 NBA rookie of the year?

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While I’m more attracted to picking out the long term success of an NBA player than their rookie seasons, this year I thought I’d take a stab at predicting Rookie of the Year:

First, let’s look at the last 10 rookies of the year:

2013-2014 – PG Michael Carter-Williams
2012-2013 – PG Damian Lillard
2011-2012 – PG Kyrie Irving
2010-2011 – PF Blake Griffin
2009-2010 – PG/SG Tyreke Evans
2008-2009 – PG Derrick Rose
2007-2008 – SF Kevin Durant
2006-2007 – PG Brandon Roy
2005-2006 – PG Chris Paul
2004-2005 – PF/C Emeka Okafor

How voters pick these winners isn’t a secret. Of the above 10 names, Okafor, Paul, Roy, Durant, Rose, Evans, Griffin, Irving, Lillard and Carter-Williams all led rookies in points per game, while Rose finished 2nd behind O.J. Mayo’s points per game in 2008. (Okafor tied with Ben Gordon at 15.1ppg, but my manual calculation has Okafor fractions ahead)

To put up a high points per game, players need the minutes and touches and to emerge as a team star quickly. Of course, talent and being a strong long term prospect is also a huge help.

First, here are the top 10 2014 draft picks on my mixed model draft board expected to have full NBA seasons next year:

2. SG Nik Stauskas
3. PF Julius Randle
4. PF Noah Vonleh
5. SG Jordan Adams
7. PF Jabari Parker
8. PG Shabazz Napier
10. SF Doug McDermott
12. PF Aaron Gordon
13. SF T.J. Warren
14. PG/SG Marcus Smart

(6. SG Bogdan Bogdanovic, 9. PF Dario Saric were removed because they will play overseas next season, 1. C Joel Embiid 11. SG Spencer Dinwiddie were removed due to injury)

Nerlens Noel and Nikola Mirotic are also eligible for rookie of the year next year, I’ll discuss them later in the post.

If I’m confident in my draft rankings I should believe one of those ten players will win rookie of the year, if a prospect from the 2014 draft wins. Here’s my ranking from 10 to 1 of those players, in order of how likely I feel they are to win.

“Forget about it”

10. PF Noah Vonleh

Vonleh will fight to get minutes over two young bigs in Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo, along with Marvin Williams who fills a veteran stretch PF need beside Al Jefferson. In addition the Hornets have their hands full with possession users in Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson, Al Jefferson. This isn’t your rookie scoring leader.

9. PG Shabazz Napier

The Heat will still be committing a ton of possessions to Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng, plus Napier has two PGs in front of him in Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, so he may not play period. Although he’s the type of shot creating, high possession-guard who’s done well in rookie seasons lately, only conceivable path for him to get into this race is if Wade’s season falls apart due to injury.

In reality Vonleh and Napier are worse than the 9th and 10th most likely rookie of the year winners, with other prospects like Dante Exum, Andrew Wiggins and Nerlens Noel having more friendly possession using situations.

“Probably too good of a team”

8. SG Jordan Adams

The Grizzlies need a player like Adams, who’s shooting and ability to drive to the basket is badly needed at SG or SF. With a very productive college career and nice summer league, it’s possible he jumps out to a high minutes per game role. With that said the Grizzlies offense will still look to Mike Conley, Jr., Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol first and Vince Carter could fill their offensive needs before Adams does. ROYs coming on great teams picking late in the 1st round just doesn’t happen.

7. SF Doug McDermott

Like the Grizzlies, the Bulls are a defense first team which allows an offensive upgrade to be important early. There’s also the unfortunate chance that Rose’s health could fall apart again, creating a vacuum for offensive usage. So McDermott could find himself important on the Bulls. But the most likely situation is he gets used as a spot up and spacing shooter early in his career like how the Bulls used to play Kyle Korver. McDermott would likely need to be more of a shot-creator to be the rookie scoring leader and rookie of the year.

“Right place, wrong player?”

6. PF Aaron Gordon

Orlando is the type of young, expected to flounder team made for rookie of the years. But Gordon was known as one of the worst offensive players coming into this draft and in summer league was a raw project. Orlando also has another rookie in Elfrid Payton who’ll get the ball, along with other young players like Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris to feed. Even if Gordon has a surprisingly great rookie season it’s likely to look like either Kenneth Faried or Kawhi Leonard’s in 2011, both of whom lost to a classic high scoring rookie candidate in Kyrie Irving.

5. PG/SG Marcus Smart

Smart fits the profile of some rookie of the year guards lately, most notably, the defending belt holder Michael Carter-Williams who similarly was a big, defensive guard with shooting problems. If he can handle the possessions, Boston will give it to him, despite playing beside Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. It’s also conceivable Rondo is traded, opening up the minutes for Smart. Despite looking like Carter-Williams and Oladipo, there’s a difference between leading rookies in scoring in 2013-2014 and winning it in 2014-2015. There’s only so high Smart’s points per game will be this year especially if getting pushed out of position by Rajon Rondo for at least half the season. Furthermore Smart only ranked 14th on my mixed model big board so it’s already borderline whether I like him enough as a prospect to put him in the mix.

“The dark horse”

4. SF/PF T.J. Warren

The rarity of Warren’s 24.9ppg season in the NCAA for a major conference college sophomore was relatively understated and he continued to score at a similar per 36 minutes in summer league. Removing a 7 minute game, in the other 4 games he averaged 21.25 points in 29 minutes per game. Warren gets buckets.

With that said, he’s on my 13th on mixed model big board which is a little low to predict rookie of the year and the Suns aren’t chopped liver as a team. Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe presuming he’s still under contract long term or short term and Isaiah Thomas, will take a lot of scoring possessions. Although the Suns aren’t stacked at SF which seems Warren’s most likely position, a floor spacer like P.J. Tucker fits their progressive offensive style more than Warren. Warren’s lack of shooting is likely to bother the Suns as much as anyone, which is why it’s surprising they took him. It’ll still be hard for Warren get a big minutes and shots role immediately to lead rookies in scoring.

With that said, all Warren has done is prove he’s great at scoring compared to his peers and if Rookie of the Year almost solely gets voted on PPG, he’s worth the consideration.

“The favorites”

3. PF Jabari Parker

Parker is the Vegas-odds favorite to win rookie of the year. He has a history of high volume scoring in college and high school and Milwaukee is a perfect rookie of the year situation, as they’ll come into the year planning for Jabari to be their #1 possessions option and will give him all the minutes he can handle.

My only reservation is I like but don’t love his game as a prospect. I’m not sure how good his jumpshot or ability to drive will be immediately. The NBA is not the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago, if a rookie like Jabari takes too many low percentage midrange shots he’ll be benched or coached not to. It’s not a guarantee that just because Jabari can get many midrange shots off, that he’ll be allowed to shoot his way to rookie of the year numbers. In the modern NBA the high usage a player like Carmelo Anthony gets, is earned by having unique skills to create efficient shots at the rim or from 3 then complimenting that with midrange chucking.

Still, Jabari is still a good prospect ranking 7th on my mixed model big board and in the best situation of anyone to win this. Even if I believe his talent has more in common with Antoine Walker than Carmelo Anthony, that still puts rookie of the year on the table.

2. SG Nik Stauskas

Stauskas was ranked 2nd on my mixed model big board and was on my shortlist of star talents in the draft. He has the off the dribble skills that has led to multiple backcourt rookie of the year winners lately.

The biggest thing going against Stauskas is situation, as the Kings have DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay expected to shoot just about every time they touch it. Notably however Isaiah Thomas averaged over 21 points per game in all of December, January, February and March despite sharing the ball with Gay since his trade on December 9th. I suspect as long as Stauskas gets starter minutes at SG, the opportunity is there to put up rookie of the year scoring numbers. The only concern there is the Kings drafting Ben McLemore last year, however they may make up for that by playing McLemore at SF beside Stauskas at times and McLemore struggled enough as a rookie that minutes are not guaranteed this year.

Stauskas’ rookie of the year would likely be the modern equivalent’s of Brandon Roy on Portland in 2006-2007, managing to stand out despite Zach Randolph’s 23.6ppg in the front-court.

1. PF Julius Randle

I’m leaning towards Randle as my favorite right now. He ranks 3rd on my mixed model board for both talent and production reasons and the Lakers are the type of bad team who should breed the minutes and touches for a rookie of the year winner. Although Randle has to compete with other natural 4s like Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, realistically if Randle’s rookie of the year train starts rolling, I expect he’ll become the overwhelming priority of those players. It doesn’t hurt that the Lakers are a high profile media team for whom any young star is likely to his profile blown up, especially a high school lauded, Kentucky prospect who made the national title game. Randle appears to have the physical and mental maturity to produce early as well.

Randle’s chances at ROY are probably better the worse Kobe’s condition is next year, as it would allow him to take a bigger role in the offense. And I’m fading Kobe’s performance next year, I just think a 19th season coming off major injuries is too much to come back from and expect another healthy 27ppg+ season.

Now as I’ve said, I don’t believe these are truly the top 10 candidates for rookie of the year next season, so it’s worth covering a few more names:

PF/C Nikola Mirotic

Mirotic’s talent level seems very impressive, enough to be top 10 compared to 2014 prospects. However the Bulls situation likely plays against him even more than for McDermott. Getting past Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson in the rotation enough to have rookie of the year caliber points per game, is unlikely. The transition from Europe to the NBA can also sometimes include a slow first year.

SF Andrew Wiggins

The #1 pick gets a more rookie of the year favorable situation in Minnesota than Cleveland, however he ranks 19th on my mixed model board which is stretching it for candidates. His rawness as a ballhandler is likely to hurt his chances to create enough to put high scoring numbers, likely to play off the ball in transition and take spot up shots more early. And the Wolves aren’t chopped liver. Nik Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Thaddeus Young If the Timberwolves make the rumored Anthony Bennett for Young trade, should still lead the way for the Wolves. It doesn’t seem like Flip Saunders is the most “play the youngins” friendly coach either. Wiggins being in the top 5 or 6 leading scorers next year wouldn’t shock me, but I don’t see him leading in PPG

PG/SG Dante Exum

Exum ranked 16th on my mixed model big board, not far off from players who made the above list like Smart and Warren. He’s a dribble-first guard on a bad team which usually is an encouraging sign for ROY. However Trey Burke and Alec Burks are also guards who like the ball in their hands, with the latter’s similarity to Exum being particularly problematic for Exum’s chances. Hayward also should once again be their #1 option on the perimeter. If Exum’s rookie season goes well I suspect it looks like Giannis Antetokounmpo’s, where he excites more than puts up gaudy numbers.

PF/C Nerlens Noel

My private re-grading of the 2013 draft would rank Noel 17th if he came out in the 2014 draft. That’s worth fringe consideration and the Sixers are of course, the ultimate rookie of the year opportunity, giving players both heavy possessions and a high pace statistically.

Still, it’s clear you need to lead rookies in scoring to expect to win this award and I just don’t see Noel clearing that bar. Even 15 points per game feelsa lot to ask of Noel and I suspect the rookie of the year will average higher than that.

PG Elfrid Payton and SG Jordan McRae

Payton ranks 42nd and McRae 35th on my mixed model board, so I would consider it a failure on my point if either won rookie of the year. Nevertheless I thought they deserved mention for opportunity alone. Payton has starting PG position handed to him on a poor Orlando team. I’ve also got my eye on McRae who despite getting picked in the late 50s, averaged over 20 points per game in summer league for Philadelphia, who’s summer league team looks a lot like their regular season team in quality, so the odds of him using a surprisingly high of FGA per game this year seem solid to me.

For fun as a comparison, here are the current Bovada odds listed for Rookie of the Year, as of August 19th 2014:

Jabari Parker: 3-1
Andrew Wiggins: 5-1
Nerlens Noel: 15-2
Julius Randle: 15-2
Doug McDermott 10-1
Dante Exum: 12-1
Marcus Smart: 12-1
Elfrid Payton: 14-1
Gary Harris: 20-1
Shabazz Napier: 20-1
Nik Stauskas: 20-1
T.J. Warren: 20-1
Jordan Adams: 33-1
P.J. Hairston: 33-1
Adreian Payne: 33-1
James Young: 33-1
Kyle Anderson: 40-1
Joel Embiid: 50-1
Mitch McGary: 50-1

Written by julienrodger

August 19, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Some closing words on the Warriors and the Klay Thompson-Kevin Love saga

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Kevin Love has been unofficially traded to Cleveland, so I wanted to revisit Golden State’s side of the Love saga, which has been more fascinating than either Cleveland or Minnesota’s.

Golden State refusing to trade David Lee and Klay Thompson for Kevin Love may go down in infamy one day. More or less, the only people who don’t think it’s a bad move is them.

The best article about the Warriors end of this is from Tim Kawakami in late July. In in he stated what I had been suspecting at the time. This is as much about David Lee as Klay Thompson. It’s not so much the Warriors prefer Klay to Love, it’s just they don’t see the difference between two offensively gifted PFs in Lee and Love as worth giving up Klay. Along with other requests Minnesota made like Golden State taking Kevin Martin’s contract or giving up Harrison Barnes.

Golden State thinking Lee and Klay provide as much value as Love and Martin at the same positions, isn’t batshit insane. It’s probably wrong still, I mean, Golden State with Curry, Love and tons of defensive role players like Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green could be an incredible team, which last year’s Warriors weren’t. But nevertheless, it crosses the line of defense-ability to choose the Lee/Klay combo. Klay Thompson had better raw on/off +/- than Kevin Love last year, it’s possible the Warriors think his combination of floor spacing and defense is a key to their starting lineup.

Where this decision really breaks down is in the long term. In the NBA players value does not extend to the previous or next season, but the long term after that as well. David Lee is 31 and his value to the Warriors should not last long. In 2016 he will be a 33 year old free agent. If they don’t lose him outright to another team, they may regret overpaying a player well on the backside of his career. At the same time, Love will be entering his absolute prime, which much more longevity both as a superstar and then valuable post-prime star. The difference in value in 2014 between Kevin Love and David Lee is significant, but that difference only grows in time. Even if the Warriors somehow convince themselves Klay bridges the gap now, will that be the case in 2017 and 2018 when Lee is either old or on another team and Klay is on a maximum contract?

In other words, in the short term Kevin Love and Kevin Martin is probably more valuable than Klay Thompson and David Lee. In the long term, it likely ceases to be a question which combination is more valuable. In the NBA there’s no easier way to build an every-year contender with 2 superstars who only need role players plugged and rotated around them. The Warriors trying to build a contender with Klay and Lee on the other hand is a tightrope. Even if they manage to contend next year (something I’d personally bet against), in the long run the age and free agencies of Lee, Andrew Bogut and David Lee means the Warriors have to do the dance of avoiding overpaying older players and trying to find new core players in free agency in the draft. If making mistakes, this balanced team could collapse to also-ran and lower level playoff team. But a team with Stephen Curry and Kevin Love is probably in good shape no matter how the pieces are refit around them. Compare them to the Houston Rockets who lost Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, but because they have James Harden and Dwight Howard, it seems inevitable they’ll restock the roster around them to contend. That’s the type of “easy” reshuffling having Curry and Love would do for the Warriors. Superstars are consistently valuable, while balanced lineups could one day become unbalanced. I understand the Warriors are in “all in” mode and aren’t thinking about the long term as much right now, but it’s already hard enough to make the argument Lee and Klay are better than Love and Martin, when virtually all statistical evidence supports the latter. It isn’t like there’s a decisive indication Klay and Lee win the short term battle while Love and Martin win the long term one.

Just to mention, there’s the question of whether Love would resign in Golden State next summer after the trade, but I don’t see it as much of one. In addition to a fantastic roster to play with, the Warriors would be able to offer him far more money than alternatives. Just as Cleveland has already gotten a commitment out of Love to resign, I suspect the Warriors would have. It’s no excuse for not making the deal.

Written by julienrodger

August 10, 2014 at 7:57 pm

Oklahoma City’s marriage to Serge Ibaka

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The most important decision of the Oklahoma City Kevin Durant era was when they traded James Harden to Houston. Clearly the Thunder understood they couldn’t pay Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Harden long term and stay under the luxury tax.

Although there are other things problematic with the Harden trade such as dealing him a year too early, the real long term decision they made was choosing to keep Ibaka over Harden.

The Thunder likely made this decision on the merit of fit over raw talent. Harden was considered the Thunder’s “3rd star” over Ibaka at the time, but Ibaka is a defensive anchor and a big man, while Harden is an offensive perimeter star like Westbrook and Durant. Thus the Thunder decided they need a defensive anchor/big man more than a 3rd offensive perimeter star.

My main objection to this for the last few years is keeping the best offensive talent is a good idea, because defense can be made up for elsewhere. With Durant, Westbrook and Harden, the Thunder could have filled the rest of the team with defensive role players and done whatever they can playing-style to have a defensive identity. By giving more offensive responsibility to Harden, Durant and Westbrook, along with Harden himself, may have been groomed into expending more energy on defense such as how Chris Bosh became a far more valuable defender in Miami than Toronto now that he wasn’t required to use as much energy on offense. The Thunder would NOT have had a defense-less roster if they chose to trade Ibaka. Westbrook, Durant, Harden is still a physically imposing wing rotation on the defensive end and they had other role players like Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison who were game on that end. That’s before considering Ibaka could have gotten them strong value in return for a trade, possibly a defense-first cheap prospect or big.

However to defend the Thunder there may be a few other reasons to shy away from Harden. One is that we don’t know how Harden acted behind the scenes to being the Thunder’s 3rd perimeter scorer and whether long term he’d have wanted out to become a star elsewhere. Secondly, Harden’s personality is different than Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka’s. Harden’s reputation as loving nightclubs is now well known and his body is not as finely conditioned as his three former Thunder teammates. It’s possible the Thunder partly made they trade because they were turned off by factors like Harden’s late night habits or diet, especially during the 2012 Finals.

The Thunder haven’t made the Finals since they traded Harden as their 3rd star. They’d had a few excuses. It’s hard to blame them for 2013 when they didn’t have Russell Westbrook. Last year they lost Serge Ibaka for the first 2 games of the Spurs series. However they still lost the last 2 games of the series with Ibaka, including Game 6 at home when Tony Parker missed the 2nd half. If the Thunder had the team to beat the Spurs when healthy, there’s no way they can blow an elimination home game with the gift of Parker’s injury. I personally don’t feel the Thunder were going to beat the Spurs last year even if Ibaka played the whole series. The Spurs caliber of play had been higher in the regular season and postseason and they proved it the last few games of the series once they made the adjustment by putting Matt Bonner in the starting lineup to stretch the Thunder out. The Spurs point differential over the Thunder was also overall a massive domination, which is tough to blame on just 2 Ibaka-less games. Furthermore OKC missing Ibaka for 2 games is a problem some teams have to get past to win the title. When Miami won their title in 2012 they had to do with Chris Bosh for some of the 2nd and 3rd round and managed to get through it.

Still, the Thunder have plenty of time to prove their decision to keep Ibaka over Harden is correct. They’re playing the long game to develop young talents like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams long enough to win around Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka before Durant and Westbrook hit their free agencies in 2016 and 2017. It’s hard to bag the Thunder for their post Harden plan not working yet when they’re only passed year 2 of it and those years were marred by injury.


But what’s interesting is they probably chose Ibaka over pursuing the “3 offensive star” model again. What I mean is the complete lack of Serge Ibaka-Oklahoma City involvement in the Kevin Love rumors this summer. I’m of the belief that if Oklahoma City offered Ibaka along with pieces like Jeremy Lamb and draft picks, there’s an excellent chance they’d be heavy players or leading for Love.

Consider the deal all signs say Minnesota wanted before Andrew Wiggins was offered, which is was a Klay Thompson/David Lee centered package from the Warriors. I presume Minnesota wants to win games next year and pursue the playoff appearances upside of a Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, etc. roster. Serge Ibaka is an ideal fit for this plan from Minnesota. He is both a win-now player and young enough to be in long term plans. He fits in perfectly beside Nik Pekovic, with Pekovic providing the low post offense and Ibaka providing the floor spacing and defense. When added to the Thunder’s ability to sweeten the deal with young prospects and draft picks, it’s exactly the type of deal to woo the Timberwolves right now.

Yet the Thunder have not been in the picture, it hasn’t even been reported they’ve made any offer at all. I would put the chances of the Thunder offering their best non-Durant and Westbrook pieces for Love but having it turned down behind the scenes, as fairly minimal. Even if turned down it’d likely have been heard about in some way or Minnesota would have leaked it to gain leverage over other suitors. Remember that Kevin Love trade rumors were going strong for a month before Cleveland’s Andrew Wiggins offer got involved, so it’s not as if Minnesota would have been turning down Ibaka for Wiggins this whole time, if charging hard after Love, Oklahoma City’s biggest opposition in mid-late June would have been the Boston and Golden State offers. It’s pretty easy to speculate a conclusion from this. The Thunder don’t have an interest in moving Ibaka for Love for some of the same reasons they chose Ibaka over Harden. They prefer having the defensive compliment over a 3rd offensive star, along with possible continuity reasons.

And I’m of the belief this is probably even crazier than choosing Ibaka over Harden. Love at least is a big man instead of a 3rd offensive wing, fitting into the lineup more than Harden did. Any concerns about Harden’s off-court commitment not being at Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka’s level, don’t exist with Kevin Love. Although he provides less defense than Ibaka, his offense is a perfect fit for the Thunder co-stars, providing devastating spacing on a roster where teams already struggle to defend Westbrook and Durant at once, along with his outlet passing skills complimenting Westbrook and Durant, two of the scariest transition players in the league for different reasons. He gives OKC what they’ve needed for a long time which is a low post scorer. In addition to his defensive rebounds, his offensive rebounding could provide a scary amount of 2nd chances, putback points and free throw line trips to an OKC offense that doesn’t even need it to dominate. Love is widely considered a better player than Serge Ibaka. Love is considered potentially the best true power forward in the game and a top 10 player in the league, which is the type of resume Serge Ibaka does not have. By virtue of being presumably better, I have to think there’s a good chance Kevin Love makes every team in the league better than if they had Ibaka.

Defensively Love could try to make a Bosh-like transition to a stronger defensive focus, while again, Westbrook and Durant may benefit defensively from playing with Love. It’s true they give up shotblocking by trading Ibaka, but they also gain all these other offensive things Love does that Ibaka doesn’t, along with his rebounding.

What it comes down to is that Durant, Westbrook and Love would be anchor an insanely talented at a level beyond the present Thunder. And when a franchise can overwhelm the league with star talent it usually works out. Some of the great teams haven’t been the best “fits” positionally. The 1980s Celtics effectively had 3 star bigs in Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish instead of a more balanced roster with a PG or SG star, but they still fit well and won 3 championships. The most recent Miami Heat had a lot of overlap between Dwyane Wade and Lebron James and at first before we knew Chris Bosh could make a defensive transition, it didn’t appear they had an anchor on that end. The list of teams who lost because they didn’t have enough talent, is longer than the list of teams who teamed up superstars in their mid 20s but didn’t fit together well enough to win.

Another HUGE motive for the Thunder to go after Kevin Love, is it takes him off the board for other teams. Letting Kevin Love be traded to the Cavaliers creates a serious threat in Cleveland to win the title the next two years. The Thunder snatching Love instead would’ve taken the wind out of Lebron’s sails, presuming the Cavs would then proceed with an Andrew Wiggins-centered long term plan. Likewise for when it looked like the Warriors were a top contender for Love last month. The Thunder would’ve been wise to act against a potential West behemoth being created in Golden State and a Stephen Curry-Kevin Love combination. Considering all the other reasons why it’s smart to trade Ibaka for a star talent in Love, strategically weakening the competition alone especially now that we know that competition is “Lebron’s team”, would just be the sealer for me. The Thunder would have 3 of the game’s superstars in their mid 20s and importantly, there’d be a shortage of other teams in the league who had more than one. This is the type of landscape giving them the upside of not just a title but a dominant dynasty.

Finally, there’s an argument just for variance. We saw how the 2013-2014 Thunder played in the regular season and postseason and it wasn’t spectacular. Again one can harp on the Ibaka injury, but not taking care of business in Game 6 at home with the injury bug on the Spurs side, is a major enough sign the Thunder weren’t ready to win the title last year. So why not trade Ibaka for Kevin Love for the sake of it being different? It’s not a guarantee to work out spectacularly as Durant-Westbrook-Love enter their names in superstar “Big 3” lore, but there appears to be a fair chance it could. And the downside? There’s only so badly a Durant-Westbrook-Love era could turn out. Perhaps there’s a chance they win games in the mid 50s but bow out in the 2nd and 3rd round. Well that’s the same downside the Thunder core right now has.

The Thunder have 2 seasons until Durant’s free agency and last year’s results would not make me excited about the status quo. That’s not to say they have to make a move just for the sake of it, but if you can team up a potential top 10 player in the league with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant? Why not see what’s behind this Door Number 2? Why not try to the shoot the moon? Why not go for the “scary, seize the balance of power of the league?” option? To be frank, don’t complicate it. Serge Ibaka is a good player, Kevin Love is a superstar player and going from good to superstar at PF could take the Thunder to an entirely different level in a way desperately needed to avoid Durant 2016 free agency problems.

Written by julienrodger

August 1, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Predicting the Kevin Love trade

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Here is my prediction for the Kevin Love trade. I believe the following deal is legal:

Minnesota trades:

Kevin Love – 15.7 million
J.J. Barea – 4.5 million

(19.9 million outgoing)

Minnesota gets:

Andrew Wiggins – 5.5 million
Thaddeus Young – 9.4 million
Highest of CLE 2015 1st, MEM 2015 1st, MIA 2015 1st

(14.9 million incoming)

Cleveland trades:

Andrew Wiggins – 5.5 million
Anthony Bennett – 5.6 million
Highest of CLE 2015 1st, MEM 2015 1st, MIA 2015 1st

(11.1 million outgoing)

Cleveland gets:



Kevin Love – 15.7 million

(15.7 million incoming)

Philadelphia trades:

Thaddeus Young – 9.4 million

(9.4 million outgoing)

Philadelphia gets:

Anthony Bennett – 5.6 million
J.J Barea – 4.5 million

(10.1 million incoming)

WHY for Minnesota:

The vibe I’ve been getting from Minnesota this whole time, is Flip’s dream is to come out and win 45 Gs next year. That’s why they were coming so hard after the Klay Thompson and David Lee package over one like Boston was offering.

Now Andrew Wiggins may be their “offer they can’t refuse” when it comes to accepting youth/prospect power instead of win now vets. But by flipping Young for Bennett, they still move in the direction of their original plan of a winning record next year. Minnesota could envision Wiggins and Young as a productive two way SF and PF combination immediately next year. The lineup of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Thaddeus Young and Nik Pekovic is a balanced starting lineup, with some shooting off the bench in Mo Williams and Chase Budinger, some athletes like Zach LaVine and Corey Brewer and some defense in Luc Mbah a Moute and Gorgui Dieng’s promise as the 3rd big. I’m not saying this is necessarily the right plan from my point of view, just that it could be what Flip would be happy with.

WHY for Cleveland:

It appears they are already offering Wiggins and Bennett so not much is needed to delve into here. The move is a no brainer from the Cavs end to put the best possible team around Lebron right now. Trying to plan for a window years in the future is dicey because Lebron could decline or Wiggins and Bennett’s development could disappoint or someone could get injured. This way contention is guaranteed, now. And if Love signs long term eventually, they’re still a longevity-friendly core.

A very important part of this deal for Cleveland is they keep the John Lucas III/Erik Murphy/Malcolm Thomas unguaranteed contracts they got from Utah, which allows them trading power to find supporting role players around their stars.

WHY for Philadelphia:

It was reported after the 2013 draft Philly would’ve done the Holiday trade if any of Noel, Oladipo or Bennett were available at #6. While it’s hard to take Philly of all teams at their word about draft targets, after the draft was over they’re less likely to have been smokescreening.

Either way, there’s a solid chance Philly likes Bennett who had a productive and analytics-friendly UNLV season and who’s rookie year was marred by injury. He would both be a decent fit with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid long term because of his perimeter spacing, or just puts up enough statistics to be good trade bait. For an expiring Thaddeus Young who they appear to have no chance or interest in resigning, picking up Bennett’s talent and upside is probably as favorable a return as they can ask for. Barea is just an expiring contract who they may buy out if they’re too worried about him winning games next year.

Written by julienrodger

July 29, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Philadelphia vs Atlanta and the Finish Line + Ensemble title caliber teams

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The Philadelphia 76ers plan to win a championship begins with tanking. The philosophy is to avoid the “middle ground” – meaning to be really bad, to get enough high draft picks/stars to eventually contend and win a title.

Many people who support this plan, point to a team like present day Atlanta as an example of what should be avoided. Atlanta has a good, but only 1st/2nd round caliber playoff team. Without any high draft picks since 2007, they’re lacking in star power. Atlanta is seen as “stuck in the middle” without the upside of teams like Philadelphia or other tankers like Orlando.

However there may be more logic behind the Atlanta plan than it appears. Put it this way – Atlanta may be getting less firepower in the draft, but they’re also closer to the finish line than Philadelphia.

Last year Philadelphia won 19 games and had a 16 win “pythagorean” point differential, but by trading Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes and likely trading Thaddeus Young sometime between now and the trade deadline, their team is probably worse than it was. Atlanta had 38 Ws and had a 40 W pythagorean but their 16-13 record with Al Horford, translates to a 45 W pace. So let’s say we peg Philadelphia as having 15 win talent and Atlanta as 45 W talent going into this offseason. If the goal is to pass 55 Ws for contention to become realistic, that means Philadelphia has to improve by 40 Ws in talent while Atlanta has to improve by 10. This is a huge difference. Improving by 40 Ws requires not just one successful draft pick or free agent signing, but multiple ones. Philadelphia could do great work and still find themselves just at the 45 W position Atlanta is right now. They’re getting more firepower in the draft, but have a far greater task to achieve with it.

As for Atlanta, improving by 10 Ws? Sure it’s difficult, but it can be done. I’ve liked some draft picks they’ve made recently like Dennis Schroeder and Adreian Payne. Neither has to be a superstar to push the Hawks towards mid 50 W status. Finding a “core” player Mike Conley, Jr. or Roy Hibbert from either of those picks could push them to the next level. The Hawks also have cap flexibility to sign other free agents, such as when they signed Paul Millsap last summer or Thabo Sefolosha this summer. One more Millsap type acquisition next year could be enough to elevate them. They’re not a guarantee to get there, but neither is a team like Philadelphia or Orlando guaranteed to make it all the way to contention. They don’t have to run the race as fast as Philadelphia if their starting point is much closer to the finish line.

Another argument against Atlanta is to ask so what if they win as much as the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies have lately, since those teams have neither made the Finals or won the championship. This is true but both teams have more attempts at the bat in upcoming years. As I’ve said in the past, the concept that “you need a superstar to win a championship” has a flaw in how fast the league changes. If you go back 20 years, there’s no analytics-driven GMs, the league is more obsessed with long 2 point jumpers than a slash and kick 3 point game, the CBA and player salaries is unrecognizable, the draft is vastly changed by everyone declaring after 3 or 4 seasons. The NBA in just 20 years has made a “checkers to chess” transformation. The average GM 20 years ago and back is now a terrible GM in 2014. The evidence that teams like the Pacers and Grizzlies can’t win a title is flawed because it relies on decades of NBA history when the league and game was different.

So what if we use more recent evidence? Well first, I would argue 2 of the last 11 champions in the 2004 Pistons and 2014 Spurs are “ensemble” style teams. 2 out of 11 is over 18%, which is a perfectly livable percentage for teams like the Pacers, Grizzlies and Hawks. But this percentage may actually understate things. A position I’ve taken for a while is there can be non-championship winners, that can be as meaningful for determining who can win the title, as much as the teams who did it. How is this possible? Consider the 2013 Spurs, who came within a rebound from sealing it in Game 6. The Spurs should count as much as the 2013 Heat. The difference between those teams in regards to who won, has nothing to do with the Heat having a superstar. The series was a tie someone had to win.

Furthermore in between 2004 and 2014, the 2005 Pistons and 2010 Celtics were two “ensemble” style teams who were leading in the 2nd half of Game 7 of the Finals, making them the next closest behind the 2013 Spurs to winning the title. Again, it’s unlikely to mean much at all that they got beat by the team with a superstar. By beating the other team in 3 games up to that point, they were capable of winning the last quarter or last 15 minutes of the game or so. With such a dead evenly played series, whoever won the last 12 or 15 minutes was likely to be from chance more than anything. It’s unwise to mean the difference between the 2005 Spurs and Pistons or the 2010 Lakers and Celtics has much to do with the superstar make-up of the Spurs and Lakers, especially considering Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant shot poorly from the field in those games. On that note, if someone isn’t as big a believer in the Pistons chance to win Game 7 on the road in 2005, one could also point to the Spurs crucial Game 5 win in Detroit, where Robert Horry’s freakishly clutch shooting spree allowed the Spurs to get to and win in overtime, thus securing a 3-2 lead instead of trailing 3-2 going back to San Antonio. Again, this has little to do with the Pistons lacking the superstar.

So effectively, 18% (2) of the last 11 champions were ensemble-style teams. If including just the 2013 Spurs as title caliber along with those 11, 3 of those 12 (25%) were ensemble teams. If including the 2005 Pistons, 2010 Celtics and 2013 Spurs as more or less equally title caliber as the 11 who won, 5 of 14 (36%) were ensemble teams. All of this makes a Pacers or Grizzlies or Hawks title with an ensemble make-up certainly seem more plausible. It’s conceivable the next 10 years has a swamp of ensemble-style champions, either by chance swinging the other way or a fundamental change in the league’s balance of power because of the CBA and analytics-driven GMs.

Written by julienrodger

July 29, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Basketball

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Is the Oklahoma City-Josh Huestis “domestic draft and stash” agreement rational?

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Josh Huestis becoming the first “domestic draft and stash” player has become a hot button topic the last week. Effectively, Oklahoma City promised to take Huestis 1st round with the 29th pick, if he would take a $25,000 D League salary his first year instead of taking a rookie salary and roster spot with the Thunder. Presumably he’d then get a longer contract starting in 2015-2016 or later.

Is this a rational decision for either side?

Josh Huestis

According to reports, Huestis wasn’t sure he’d be drafted at all. By getting drafted 1st round and making some sort of agreement with the Thunder, he may have thought he’d be guaranteeing a longer NBA contract/career more this way. There’s a “code of honor” between NBA teams, players and agents that would make it sketchy if OKC didn’t honor Huestis’ agreement by signing him next year, no matter how he plays in the D League. There’s the risk of injury and the fact that Huestis may have made more money in Europe or as a 2nd round prospect for someone else, but I can see where Huestis is coming from here logically. Considering how likely it is OKC honors this agreement in my opinion, it’s a small risk for Huestis, but with a significant reward if he does get the guaranteed 1st round deal eventually.

Oklahoma City

It’s on the Thunder’s end I have a lot of questions. First of all, it’s unclear to me why developing Huestis in the D League is better than sending him or another prospect to Europe for a year, where NCAA players as well as international picks can be stashed. If one of the motives for stashing Huestis in the D League would be to delay his post rookie contract a year, this also could have been achieved by sending a prospect to Europe. Secondly I’m not sure why Oklahoma City couldn’t fit another roster spot for a young player, whether on their roster or sending him to the D League with a rookie scale deal. Hasheem Thabeet is still on the roster, despite the Thunder having Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams, Nick Collison, Mitch McGary as the presumed C options in front of him. Thabeet also has an unguaranteed deal, causing no financial cost to waiving him. From my perspective, having Thabeet on this roster is utterly pointless (to be fair, they may still waive him yet). They also used a roster spot by signing a replacement caliber PG in Sebastian Telfair and signed Grant Jerrett, a 2nd round stretch big man who will struggle to get minutes over any of Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams, Nick Collison, Mitch McGary, Serge Ibaka, Perry Jones III. The Thunder are not such a deep team that they can’t afford using a roster spot on another rookie.

All in all, I just don’t see the “upside” of choosing this path for Huestis compared to just sending him to Europe or having him on the roster next year. So what’s the downside? It depends on how much they valued Huestis. If they really valued him as the best prospect available at the 29th pick, there isn’t anything wrong with choosing this path of paying him, even if it’s a weird detour. If they saw another prospect as best player available and saw Huestis as 2nd round caliber, but picked Huestis over him to save the money and roster spot – it’s an absurd draft decision. Drafting the best prospect with this pick, is so much more valuable than whatever they gain from stashing Josh Huestis. The Thunder desperately need the cheap contributors on rookie deals along with the trade assets to find better veterans around their stars. Even the 29th pick is too valuable asset to mess around like this with. How rational a decision this is likely depends on how close to best player available Huestis was with the 29th pick. The more prospects the Thunder had rated ahead of him in a vacuum, the more irrational a decision it was.

Written by julienrodger

July 24, 2014 at 11:24 am

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