A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Revisiting Shabazz Napier in the 2014 draft

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Shabazz Napier in my opinion has been one of the most impressive rookies this preseason. His averages of 12.7 points, 3.0 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 20.3 minutes, extrapolate to a robust 22.5 points, 5.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per 36 minutes. Although his FG% is only 41.2%, by scoring from 3 and the FT line his TS% is a solid .586.

I wanted to revisit why Shabazz Napier fell to the Heat at 24 and why I liked him more than that before the draft, ranking him 8th on my mixed model board, which took into account other factors than my traditional talent grades (where he rated 6th), such as conventional draft ranking, college production (PER by age) and analytics performance.

The reasons Napier fell

Napier had several traits that hurt players draft stock. Despite being in the spotlight as a national championship winner, Napier being a senior who turned 23 in July still played against him. Seniors are typically considered lower upside prospects who have less room to develop. While Napier’s production was good enough to lead UConn to the title, it wasn’t as elite as some seniors in the past. He had a 26.0 PER as a senior, while my “benchmark” I wanted to see seniors clear in my PER/age adjusted model was 28.0.

Napier’s physical tools also largely played against him. According to draftexpress.com’s combine database, the average 1st round project PG prospect at the combine measures an average of 6’1.02 in shoes, 185 pounds, 6’5.2 wingspan and 8’0.8 standing reach. Napier measured 6’1 in shoes, 175 pounds, 6’3.25 wingspan and 7’9 standing reach. Thus Napier is legitimately undersized for a point. Despite solid defensive results in college, his lateral quickness in the NBA also projected to be mediocre at best. So a lot of Napier’s doubters looked at him as a player who would struggle to finish at the basket or defend at the NBA level.

Physically he was also considered just an average athlete. When added to his size concerns, Napier was not rated as a slashing prospect in the pros, more likely to throw up jump shots as a spark-plug off the bench.

With growing number of teams looking at analytics to draft players, Napier also did not perform well here. Age is very important to analytics ratings, thus Napier’s senior status made it hard for him to perform well in those ratings.

Therefore for all these reasons he gets drafted 24th where most drafted PGs are targeted to be backups, not future starters.

However, there are some things Napier had going for him in my system that made him rate as a top 10 prospect:

An elite, not good shooting prospect?

One of my pet tricks in the draft is to not only look at 3P% when evaluating shooters, but FT% to back it up as a sign of the player’s mechanics, along with to a lesser extent volume of 3pt attempts.

Here was the 3P% of Napier compared to Doug McDermott and Nik Stauskas last year in college, considered the two most elite shooting prospects in the class:

3P%

McDermott: 44.9%

Stauskas: 44.2%

Napier: 40.5%

McDermott and Stauskas outperform Napier here. But here is their the FT% and 3PA per 40 minutes:

FT%

Napier: 87.0% (6.8 FTA/40)

McDermott: 86.4% (7.0 FTA/40)

Stauskas: 82.4% (5.7 FTA/40)

3PA per game:

McDermott: 6.1 (7.2 per 40)

Napier: 6.0 (6.1 per 40)

Stauskas: 5.8 (6.5 per 40)

What made Napier’s shooting line so rare his last year in college, wasn’t just hitting 40% from 3 on a high volume of attempts, but a stellar 87% from the FT line. It’s rare for a college production to be aces in both categories. McDermott had the most complete shooting numbers of the 3, but a case can be made Napier’s 3P%/FT% combination is as impressive as Nik Stauskas’ was.

When it comes to shooting it’s important for a player to not just hit a higher % of spot up shots, but to be able to shoot off the dribble, thus creating jump-shots instead of having them created for him. Creating jump-shots off the dribble is an area where Napier thrives. Of the above 3 shooters, McDermott appears to be the likely concerning candidate in this area without the noted handles that Napier and Stauskas have. Thus by having seemingly more off the dribble skills than McDermott and a higher FT% than Stauskas, a case can be made Napier was no worse an overall shooting prospect than either.

Going against this is the admitted fact that Napier’s jumpshot just looks strange aesthetically compared to a classic shooter like McDermott or Stauskas. However I believe the abnormal part of it is when he lands, as uniquely he lands on one foot. It’s possible this doesn’t affect the rest of his shot compared to others. As players like Kevin Martin has proved, if it goes in it goes in.

If Napier becomes not just a good but elite shooter in the NBA off the dribble and/or spot up, clearly it goes a long way to establishing him as a legitimate starter or all-star.

A slasher with ballhandling, not athleticism

Napier may be an average athlete, but he was clearly one of the best ballhandling prospects in the class with all sorts of nifty tricks up his sleeve to get by players, with perfect control. Ballhandling and athleticism have a similar end game offensively for guards in the NBA. If Player A uses his blazing first step to get by an opponent and player B uses his ballhandling skills to get around him, an equal amount of value penetrating past the defense may have been gained by each trait. It’s for this reason that the list of best penetrating guards in the league contains non-elite athletes like Chris Paul, Tony Parker and James Harden, instead of just athleticism-driven players like Russell Westbrook and Eric Bledsoe.

When I judge how perimeter player penetrate, I use a visually-driven technique rating how well they “get behind” the defenses when they drive to the rim. Napier performed fairly great in this method, using his ball handling to drive right into the heart of the defense. In preseason so far, Napier’s high free throw attempts rate (5.3 attempts per game in 20.3 minutes, or 9.4 per 36 minutes) may be a result of this more able than expected penetration. Napier’s size may remain a weakness when finishing at the rim and defending, but his ballhandling helps cover up for some of what he loses as just an average athlete.

Or to step back and look at it from a big picture perspective, if Napier was an elite shooting prospect and an elite ballhandling prospect, then his overall skill level including both shooting and ballhandling, is a fearsome combination that only comes along every so often in the draft for a guard. In the draft elite physical tools for a position gets all the press, but elite skill level for a position may get a player just as far.

Napier was not a perfect prospect because of his size, no better than reasonable college production for his senior, mediocre analytics production. However I believe all the tools are there to be an above average starter at his position, with a relatively rare offensive combination of shooting ability, the ball handling skills to drive to the paint and the craftiness and heart to put it all together.

Written by julienrodger

October 19, 2014 at 8:53 am

Steven Adams, Mitch McGary, Jusuf Nurkic and re-evaluating “big men near the rim” in my talent grading system

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As of the 2014 draft I feel I have near nailed down my talent grading system for evaluating draft prospects, fixing some of the holes that were still in the system by 2013. Although it’s still early I am encouraged by the play of my highly ranked players in summer league and preseason.

However there’s still one area I’m struggling to perfect, so to speak. When it comes to my “physical impact” category I am confident in how to rate players who’s offensive games start on the perimeter, by judging their ability to penetrate through the defense first and then adjusting for factors like length, strength and lateral mobility. This also apples to big men who play on the perimeter.

The main issue I have is how to reconcile this with judging big men who play near the basket on offense, typically centers. For these big men, there isn’t really defenders or space to “penetrate” by like for perimeter-orientated players and frankly, most centres don’t have the ball handling skills to do so anyways. Yet by playing nearer the basket there is other opportunities to “physically impact the game” in various ways including blocking shots, boxing out players for rebounds or simply finishing lob plays/alley-oops. For example some players like Deandre Jordan and Tyson Chandler can be “physically impactful” by doing these things despite not penetrating past defenders off the dribble in the same fashion perimeter players are required to.

One of the ways I noticed this is that privately regrading 2013 prospects with my 2014 evaluation methods, Steven Adams stuck out as a sore thumb by still rating as a late 1st or 2nd round caliber prospect. Adams had a productive rookie season for Oklahoma City and appears headed for a long career as a starting center, thus this rating appears inevitably too low. One of the ways to fix this may be the above logic regarding Adams physically impacting the game. On one hand Adams isn’t really a player who “penetrates” the defense off the dribble, but he has a very impressive combination of length, strength and lateral mobility. Thus because of his style of play and proximity to the rim, it may make more sense to treat Adams’ length/strength/mobility as more important than it would be for a perimeter player like a point guard, but his tools penetrating to the basket to be less important.

This is a weird comparison I may elaborate on later, but in the last year I’ve been trying to translate NBA prospects to how they would look as NHL prospects as a way to double check myself. Why would I do this? Because the NHL is by far the best of the major leagues at drafting players and my feeling it’s because their evaluation of players physical tools, skill level and instincts which they call “hockey sense” is balanced between those categories. The NBA and NFL are more obsessed with physical tools in the draft and mention IQ less. As a comparison in the 2009 NHL Draft John Tavares was selected 1st overall Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene, the three had separated themselves from the pack before the draft. All 3 have become stars, but Tavares has had the most impressive career so far, finishing 3rd in MVP voting in his last healthy season 2012-2013. What’s interesting is in the NBA this would have never happened. Both Hedman and Duchene were more “physically dynamic” prospects, Hedman is a gigantic defenseman who could skate well and Duchene projected to be one of the league’s fastest skaters. Tavares wasn’t more than an average talent for his position in either size or speed, his game was predicated on an incredible combination of skills and hockey sense and then having respectable enough size and speed to be an offensive superstar. In the NBA in my opinion, it’s unlikely a Tavares-like prospect would get selected over a Hedman or Duchene like one. Compare that to how in the 2009 draft James Harden and Stephen Curry were projected. Despite having dominant skill level, IQ and production for their position in college, they were projected to have a more limited ceiling because of non-dominant physical talent/athleticism for their position. If an NBA player Tavares would have likely been rated similarly to them, a strong prospect but one supposedly with a ceiling compared to more physically dynamic players. You may point out that Kyrie Irving being selected 1st in 2011 is an example of a “skill, not physical tools” player receiving star hype, but Irving went 1st because of the presumed lack of quality of his competition and not because he was rated as having an elite ceiling. I have little doubt that James Harden in the 2011 draft would have also gone 1st.

Ok, so what does this have to do with Steven Adams and my previous thoughts about size and centre prospects? Because I was thinking about defenseman are rated in the NHL vs forwards. I presume that for defenseman, size matters a little more in proportion to speed than it does for forwards. A defenseman who’s one of the physically biggest players at his position, an average skater, has average offensive skill level and has solid IQ, could still be a really valued player. Sure his skating and skill level problems may not make him a star, but the size in the defensive zone while competent talent in other areas, is something every team wants as their 3rd or 4th best of 6 starting defenseman. But if giving a forward the same combination of elite size, average speed, average skill and solid IQ, his weaknesses may overwhelm his strengths more than it does for a defenseman.  Without better speed and skill level he may become a more marginal “checker”. Having more speed and skill instead of size may be a better trade-off for that player.

So in light of this, Steven Adams the NHL prospect probably makes sense as a successful draft pick for the Thunder so far, fitting that mold of the D man with elite size, average speed, average skating and solid IQ.

The other angle one could take with Adams is it’s possible a bigger proportion of his success, or players like him’s success, comes from raw toughness instead of talent. This may make some sense when his game is more reliant on banging with others under the basket. This is something I’ll have to look into to have any confidence in it, but again the NHL defenseman comparison isn’t a bad one since it’s important for D-men to not only be physically large, but to be proficient at initiating contact and using their bodies, instead of shying away from it and playing like they’re smaller.

Obviously it’s unclear if such a direct comparison from NHL talent requirement to the NBA should be made, but nevertheless. In general, what would a greater shift towards length/strength/lateral mobility for big men who play near the basket mean for my 2014 draft rankings? Would I have any corrections to make?

The answer is not really. Part of it is luck. 3 of the big men expected to play near the rim in this class are Joel Embiid, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh. But they already rated 1st, 3rd and 4th on my mixed model board before this adjustment. So since I was already bullish on them for other reasons, if they project to have even more success, it just plays into the hands of my already high ratings of them.

After Embiid, Vonleh and Randle there were few other prospects picked in the 1st round or rated top 30 on my list, who fit the mold of the near the basket big man. Aaron Gordon may play near the rim due to lack of shooting skill, but I gave him credit in my system for having the ball handling to drive to the basket. Not to mention he may just play like the perimeter even if he can’t shoot, in fact Orlando has been using him at small forward this preseason.

The notable players who really jump out are Mitch McGary and Jusuf Nurkic. Both are players I did not rate as “penetrators” but have above average combination of strength, length and lateral mobility, an elite combination in Nurkic’s case. Both have reasonable skill and McGary has a strong feel for the game, so if giving them more credit for “physicially impacting the game” due to size, they become stronger prospects than I had them rated at the time. McGary’s strength, feel for the game and what skill he has, reminds me of Anderson Varejao. Although I still don’t think the feel and skill combination is great for Nurkic, he’s just so huge that he may end up a productive starter anyways.

McGary and Nurkic rated 21st and 22nd on my mixed model board while in real life they were picked 16th for Nurkic and 21st for McGary. Therefore if they break out to be legitimate starters and top 15 prospects in this class, I’m not sweating the discrepancy overwhelmingly since the NBA would have only done a slightly better job rating Nurkic and had the same rating for McGary. Neither rate as true star prospects even after the change. Missing on their success would be annoying but it wouldn’t disclude my draft system as a whole looking more correct than the NBA’s methods.

Written by julienrodger

October 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

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Looking at Russell Westbrook’s talent imperfections in the wake of Kevin Durant’s injury

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It was announced today Kevin Durant has a foot fracture and will be out 6-8 weeks. The first thought for many is what it means for Russell Westbrook’s season. Last year Kevin Durant thrived statistically with the increased responsibility while Westbrook was injured, now the situation is reversed. Another historical comparison is when Shaquille O’Neal missed the first month and a half of the 1995-1996 season, which Penny Hardaway responded to spectacularly including averaging a 27ppg, 5.8reb, 6.5apg on 51% shooting in the November to open the season.

Westbrook’s supporters feel giving him the ball as a #1 option will unleash an MVP-caliber stat line that proves him as one of the best players in the league. The pessimistic side is wondering if defenses guarding Westbrook as a #1 option will cause him to shoot his way to poor %s from the field.

I’ve had the belief for a while Westbrook’s talent level is not as high as his reputation. He is still a very very talented point guard and gets the most out of his talent with effort level. But when it comes to talent I put him in a similar tier as players like Mike Conley, Jr. and Kyle Lowry mores than a Chris Paul or Stephen Curry.

Westbrook’s strengths as a talent are clear. He is either the most athletic point guard in history or close to it. He is one of the best ball-handlers in the league, which in combination with his athleticism makes him the most unstoppable at the point guard position at driving to the basket. Westbrook is a bigger than average point guard in both length and strength, which makes the physical domination created by his speed and ball-handling even more unfair.

However, that players like Paul and Curry can dominate the PG position more offensively with not close to his physical tools, shows that the position has other crucial requirements. First of all, when it comes to skill level Westbrook is a mixed bag. On one hand in addition to his ballhandling, he’s a good midrange jump shooter and is a skilled passer. However his career 3 point% of .305 is subpar for the skilled point guard position. This both hurts his efficiency and hurts his ability to space the floor for teammates. 3 point efficiency and spacing is massive in today’s game for a perimeter player and is a black mark on Westbrook’s game. Westbrook’s touch finishing in the paint has also long been average at best. Westbrook shot 57.9% at the rim last year, as a comparison Paul 69.3% and Curry 62.6%. Kevin Durant shot an amazing 78.5% at the rim.

The biggest problem however may be Westbrook’s erratic decision making or feel for the game. While it’s hard to pick apart how much of this is talent or an overaggressive mentality, when evaluating perimeter players feel for the game I use a specific method based on their fluidity and control driving to the basket. Westbrook does not pass this visual test well with my method. In fact of all the players widely considered superstars in this league, he passes the test the worst. When added to the evidence of out of control decision making, it makes me confident saying he has a talent-based flaw when it comes to feel for the game. And this is a huge part of evaluating him as a talent. Think of it as the difference between Westbrook’s career statistically and Dwyane Wade’s. Wade’s size, athleticism, ball-handling, shooting and passing skill is very very similar to Westbrook. Why hasn’t Westbrook matched his dominance statistically? Because in his prime Wade’s feel for the game gave him a fluidity, craftiness and ability to probe defenses in his prime that Westbrook appears to lack. This has allowed even Dwyane Wade in his physical condition now to remain as productive as Westbrook in the games he plays. It’s why Tony Parker arguably has peaked at a higher level statistically than Westbrook has, despite not being any better a 3pt shooter than he is and having far worse raw physical tools. When looking at players I would consider as impressive talents as Westbrook like Mike Conley, Jr., Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, or current Tony Parker, feel for the game is the biggest area they make up ground on Westbrook, despite their physical inferiorities compared to him.

Another way to put it is this. When Westbrook is on your team he makes you vastly more physically dominant offensively and defensively. However he doesn’t make you a more spacing/3pt shooting friendly team and he doesn’t make you play smarter, in fact he may make you play dumber. The reason a player like Conley may be as valuable is even if his physical impact on the game isn’t nearly the same, he makes you a better 3pt shooting team more-so than Westbrook does and most importantly, he makes you a lot smarter on both ends. Put Mike Conley on the Thunder and they may not drive in the half-court or transition as much, but suddenly the ball is moving to open shooters more, there’s more spacing when other players drive, he’s finishing baskets in the paint at a higher percentage, the defense is more positionally sound. All of a sudden by doing these new things, the team may be as good or better than when having Westbrook’s dominance slashing.

It doesn’t mean Westbrook isn’t a very talented player, just that there are reasons he may be too imperfect to be deserve serious consideration as a top 5 player and talent in the league. Westbrook helps the Thunder contend, but they would be an even more dangerous team if not a champion already if either his shooting or feel/decision making were as strong as other superstars in the league. And likewise when Durant is injured to start the season, some of Westbrook’s weaknesses like 3 point shooting, touch at the basket and feel for the game, may prevent him from putting up a prime Dwyane Wade-like elite stat line or impact as a #1 option.

Written by julienrodger

October 12, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Posted in Basketball

Why the Milwaukee Bucks may be this year’s surprise breakout team

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Last year’s Phoenix Suns ultra-breakout was a fun story, because nobody, like almost literally nobody, predicted it. They were supposed to be awful, they won 48 Gs. A jump that big never happens.

Is there a potential breakout team this year? I’ve got one name on my mind the more I look at it: Milwaukee

Milwaukee is coming off a horrendous 15-67 season where everything that could go wrong, did. However they were a 38-44 playoff team in 2012-2013 and came into 2013-2014 with a roster hoping to make the playoffs, before injuries or off court issues got to them.

A legitimate frontcourt

What’s important to note about the 2012-2013 team is they had a near clear cut two most valuable players and it wasn’t Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis, who’s poor defense and chucking seasons that year rarely helps teams. It was Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova, who despite providing little to the Bucks in 2013-2014, there’s no reason to think they won’t be back to normal in terms of health and motivation this year.

Sanders and Ilyasova is an ideal front-court combination. Sanders in 2012-2013 was a defensive player of the year candidate at centre, but had little offensive skills. Which made Ilyasova’s stretch power forward game the ideal compliment, opening up the offense in a say Sanders cannot. When taking into account efficiency and volume, calling Ilyasova the best scorer and overall offensive producer on the Bucks that season is also most likely the right call. Neither Sanders or Ilyasova made the all-star game, but the combined offensive and defensive value of the pair should not be underestimated when constructing a team.

The rest of the Bucks big men isn’t so bad a look either. John Henson’s per minute numbers have been above average in the NBA with a solid combination of FG%, blocked shots and rebounding per minute. Zaza Pachulia is also a reliable, backup energy big man who’s still only 30. You can do worse than Henson or Pachulia. Jabari Parker may also play power forward for the Bucks. While it’s unclear if he’ll be efficient or defensively competent, he will space the floor at least if he’s at the 4 which helps the offense.

The perimeter may be more effective than it looks

The Bucks perimeter rotation appears to be a bigger weakness, but the whole may be greater than its parts. What’s important about Brandon Knight, Jerryd Bayless, Nate Wolters, O.J. Mayo, Jared Dudley, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker is none project to be horrible, non-rotation caliber players. With the exception of Parker, the rest have established very passable production and roles in a rotation.

What I’d want these perimeter players to do is this: Space the floor, pass the ball and put pressure on the other team defensively. These are things elite talent is not always needed to do. The Bucks perimeter may be capable of this. Khris Middleton had a strong 3pt shooting season last year at 41.4% on 3.5 attempts a game and while O.J. Mayo in an off season overall shot 37.0% from 3 on 4.4 attempts a game. Dudley did not feel healthy last year but has hit 3s well historically with a career 3pt average of 39.7%. Having three good 3pt shooters at SG and SF is an asset for the Bucks. Of course neither may be as important as Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the perimeter, who statistically had a mediocre season last year transitioning to the NBA, but flashed his talent. In summer league and FIBA he looked exceptional. Jason Kidd’s Nets defense last year relied on aggressive trapping defensively, which could fit Giannis’ role on the Bucks perfectly. At 34.7% from 3 on 1.5 attempts a game last year it’s also possible he makes a leap as a shooter. If Giannis could turn into an impact aggressive defender as soon as next year, it could provide a valuable compliment to Larry Sanders in the front court and shooters who struggle defensively like Dudley, Mayo and Middleton.

That leaves PG where the Bucks have competition between Brandon Knight, Nate Wolters, Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall. It’s hard to tell which way Kidd will choose with these points. Knight led the Bucks in points and assists last year, but was the type of high volume, inefficient guard on a bad team that can later go by the wayside when his teammates improve. Knight needs to improve his 3pt% past the 32.5% it was last year to become an established starter. Marshall’s passing skill may be a nice fit with other shooters on the roster and he himself hit nearly 40% from 3 last year, but defensively he struggles. Bayless has winning experience from playing in Memphis but his productivity relies on his 3pt shooting which has been on and off in his career. Wolters on paper didn’t do a whole lot well last year, but is a big guard with passing vision and upside if he can shoot better. Overall, PG isn’t going to be the Bucks strength but if they can get average production out of the position it could be enough.

Jason Kidd and a winning culture?

Under previous ownership the Bucks were never the franchise to lie down and tank, which some claim dooms them to mediocrity. It was possible the new owners would take the Bucks in a Sixers like, draft picks orientated path, but my feeling is the Jason Kidd hiring tips their hand. Kidd does not make sense for the Bucks and the Bucks do not make sense for Kidd, unless they have plans to start winning sooner than later.

What Kidd may have saw is a team built to mimic how he turned the Nets around without Brook Lopez. By playing Pierce at power forward the Nets spaced the floor and played aggressive perimeter defense. The Bucks may be set up to do that, with the Ilyasova and Sanders front court flanked by floor spacing candidates like Knight, Dudley, Mayo, Middleton, Parker, etc. and a full court athlete in Antetokounmpo. The Bucks may not only find themselves with the right coach to take advantage of their talent, but their talent level may be underrated anyways because our eyes drift to the top of a roster instead of looking at whether all 10-12 guys in the rotation deserve to be getting minutes in the NBA, which may be the case with the Bucks.

While I don’t expect the Bucks to win as many games as the Suns next year, some of the ingredients may be similar from internal improvement of young players, a new coaching implementing progressive strategies offensively and defensively and veterans finding their games within this system.

Written by julienrodger

October 3, 2014 at 3:04 pm

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

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