DeMar Derozan and Terrence Ross are believed to be in a different place as Raptors. Derozan is a cornerstone of the franchise after making the all-star team in 2013-2014 and leading them statistically in the playoffs. Ross has been inconsistent statistically and now in trade rumours. Some believe trading Ross for a veteran SF is the best way for the Raptors to come closer to legitimate contention.
Under conventional wisdom Derozan being considered the “keeper” of these two would not be debated. However I believe the case for keeping Terrence Ross of the two is legitimate.
DeMar Derozan is averaging 18.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game to 10.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.0 assists for Terrence Ross. However Derozan’s .49 TS% and 102 ORTG show he is inefficient at scoring and using possessions. Ross at .521 TS% and 104 ORTG is mediocre efficiency. The difference between them in efficiency is compounded by Derozan using many more possessions than Ross. A standard possessions calculation of (FGA + .44*FTA + 2.1) has Derozan at 20.8 possessions per game to 10.7 possessions for Ross. Derozan’s inefficiency is a bigger problem not only because of a lower TS% and ORTG but because he uses more possessions at this negative rate.
There are two ways to defend Derozan’s stats. First is that he had a significantly bigger season last year at 22.7 points per game, .532 TS% and 110 ORTG whereas this season he’s had to work his way back from injury. However his November statistics before his injury of 19.7 points on .503 TS% and 104 ORTG are still a decline from his rate last season. In addition the rest of Derozan’s career reflect output closer to this season than 2013-2014. In his 2nd, 3rd and 4th season preceding his all-star year, he averaged between 16.7 and 18.1 points per game and between 100 and 106 ORTG. The larger sample size suggests his all-star 5th season could end up the outlier.
The second way to defend his statistics is to claim a high volume scorer takes pressure off his teammates. The Raptors having high volume guards like Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan and Lou Williams, allows players like Patrick Patterson, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, James Johnson to take a lower volume of shots but covert them at an excellent efficiency. If forced into facing the full attention of the defense it’s likely players like Patterson, Johnson, Valanciunas and Johnson would be forced into taking more heavily guarded shots and their efficiency would fall. In addition to this during Derozan’s injury the Raptors had a heavy slide on the defensive end. This suggests Derozan’s high volume usage taking pressure off his teammates offensively could help them conserve more energy for the defensive end. Therefore it can be argued the real value of Derozan’s season as a high volume scorer who takes pressure off his teammates is not captured in statistics.
However although Terrence Ross is not a high volume scorer who takes pressure off his teammates, Ross has a different advantage over Derozan. Derozan is a poor 3 point shooter at 21.4% on 1.4 attempts a game while Ross shoots 36.8% from 3 on a team leading 4.7 attempts a game. Ross came into the league known as a shooting specialist and in his sophomore season averaged 39.5% from 3 on 5.0 attempts a game to help establish his reputation. Therefore the respect for Terrence Ross from 3 point range makes him a floor spacer and dragging a defender out to the 3 point line should help the Raptors score on drives or on the paint. Furthermore because he takes less shots this should help the Raptors ball movement to the open man more than Derozan who more deliberately needs more plays designed around his isolation skills.
Both Derozan and Ross has a “secondary” value of either volume scoring or floor spacing that makes their teammates more efficient. There isn’t a conclusive way to determine which one is more valuable. However I do believe the “primary” value of Ross using 10 possessions a game at a league average efficiency is more valuable than Derozan using 20 possessions a game at a clearly below average efficiency, therefore to me Ross has something of a head start before deciding whether their volume scoring or spacing is more valuable.
There are other ways to impact the game. Both are similar rebounders with Derozan averaging 4.6 total rebounds per 36 minutes to 4.4 for Ross and defensively they are hard to pick out. Ross has faster feet as the more dynamic athlete however Derozan has a strength advantage and plays a steadier, headier game on defense. Derozan is more experienced therefore if he has a defensive advantage right now Ross could catch up in a few years. Derozan is a quality passer at 3.5 assists per per 36 minutes to 1.3 for Ross, however Derozan turns the ball over 2.3 times per 36 minutes to 1.2 for Ross. In the stat ORTG where Ross had an edge at 104 to Derozan’s 102 assists and turnovers were accounted for in overall possession efficiency.
I do not know whether Terrence Ross is a better player than Derozan right now because I can’t quantify the value of their spacing and volume scoring against each other. But I believe there is at least a strong case that Ross is as valuable or more. It isn’t a “no brainer” in favour of Derozan.
If one rated them as close in current production, what could settle it is their salary situation. Derozan is very likely to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016. He has a player option for the 2016-2017 season for his 10.1 million salary, which is a bargain now before considering the salary cap is likely to explode in the summer of 2016 because of the new TV deal. This will lead to a surplus of capspace that most teams can’t spend all on quality players and thus a bidding war for players in demand like Derozan. If Derozan becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016 he could very well get a max deal breaking 20 million a season that summer. Furthermore the Raptors all but can’t extend him this summer. Derozan is limited to a 107.5% raise of his 10.1 million salary, which only amounts to 10.9 million. Considering what a raise he is due in 2016 it doesn’t make sense for him to even consider this extension.
Terrence Ross would be a restricted free agent in 2016 if not extended by then. Like Derozan the new TV deal could lead to an inflated contract for him. However although the league is becoming more analytics friendly and wise to the value of floor spacers, I have a hard time believing he’d demand the size of contract that an established all-star with a high points per game like Derozan would. Secondly the odds of the Raptors extending Ross this summer are higher. Although he may want to wait until 2016 to try for a large offer sheet he could also opt for the security of a sizeable post-rookie deal as a player who’s struggled to find his statistical footmark so far. Utah shocked everyone last summer when they gave Alec Burks a 10.5 million a season, 4 years/42 million contract. They were banking on both his improvement and 10 million a year looking like 7 or 8 million a year does now once the new TV deal kicks in. If the Raptors offer Terrence Ross a similar 10 or 11 million a year extension under the same presumption of paying for improvement and paying a new TV deal price it may be hard for him to turn down. This is in addition to the advantage of if Ross gets to the summer of 2016 unsigned, the Raptors will have the ability to match any offer sheet for him.
When considering these salary reasons and considering he is the younger/more inexperienced player, of the two I would keep Terrence Ross over DeMar Derozan.
For the second straight year the rookie class is deathly short of players doing anything statistically. There are only 2 rookies who have played over 300 minutes who have a PER above league average 15 (Nikola Mirotic and Jusuf Nurkic) and only 3 players with the same minutes qualification over league average .100 WS/48 (Nikola Mirotic, Aaron Gordon, Tarik Black). Although injuries are to blame, the 2014 class also came in with more expectations than 2013 and many players are simply under-performing.
Part of the two year slump may be structural. Take the case of Marcus Smart. Smart has impressed those watching closely. He is already producing defensively and is shooting over 35% from 3 on a high volume of 5.6 attempts per 36 minutes. His efficiency is above league average at 106 ORTG which looks even better compared to almost all the other rookies who are playing inefficient. For this Smart is tied for the lead in total Win Shares in his class with Jabari Parker.
However Smart is still just taking 5.7 shots a game and averaging 6.6 points. He only has one game where he scored over 15 points this season which makes it hard to garner major attention compared to a player like Andrew Wiggins who is averaging over 15 points a game and has more 20 point games than Smart has 10 point games. On NBA.com’s last rookie ladder Smart ranked just 7th.
But what makes Smart hard to compare to the rookie of the year lock Wiggins is what’s being asked of them. It’s fair to say Flip Saunders and Brad Stevens are operating from different generations of coaching philosophy. Minnesota is one of the last teams building their offensive and defensive strategies around taking and defending midrange jumpers and giving up the 3 more often to do so. The Celtics under Stevens have moved towards a more progressive style of play built more than Minnesota around using and defending the 3 point shot. Here is the distribution of shots for each player this season:
Marcus Smart (194 total FGA)
At rim – 26 (13.4%)
3- <10 ft – 14 (7.2%)
10- <16 ft – 12 (6.1%)
16- < 3pt – 16 (8.2%)
3pt – 126 (64.9%)
Andrew Wiggins (650 total FGA)
At rim – 191 (29.3%)
3- <10 ft – 120 (18.5%)
10- <16 ft – 105 (16.1%)
16- <3pt – 144 (22.1%)
3pt – 90 (13.8%)
What one can’t take away from Wiggins is he drives to the basket more than Smart does. For this he also gets to free throw line 4.7 times per 36 minutes to Smart’s 2.2.
However after that what we see is a fascinating difference in how they are used that perfectly represents the old school vs new school thinking. Brad Stevens has Smart being used as a “3s and defense” role player and avoiding the midrange shot while Wiggins game is predicated more from midrange. Smart takes nearly 7.9 3s for every 16-23 foot 2 point jumper while Wiggins takes a little over .6 3s for every 16-23 foot jumper.
In Utah Dante Exum’s statistics have been poor compared to Smart’s but the story of how Quin Snyder is using him is the same. On the season he has taken 25 shots from 16-23 ft (10.7% of his 233 total FGA) and 144 shots from 3 (61.8% of his total FGA).
Getting to the big picture, more rookies being used in an analytics-driven “defense and spacing” era may be a cause of the last two rookie classes struggling statistically. If Smart came into the league 10 or 15 years ago he would have likely played for an old school coach more akin to Flip Saunders. This coach may have looked at his Celtics roster and decided the #1 thing they need is a scorer who can “create his own shot” and someone who can take over at the end of this games. This could have conceivably greatly altered a rookie season like Marcus Smart, favouring a higher points per game thanks to getting the green light to take midrange shots instead of entirely avoid them as he’s doing now. In addition to this, this style of play would have been a more direct transition from a prospect like Smart’s game in college and high school. Players like Smart and Wiggins have taking a high volume of shots and treated like “the man” their entire life. Thus in the old days instead of a Marcus Smart having to transition from a ball dominant player to an off ball shooter as players like him and Exum have to do now, they could have largely taken his style of play from the NCAA and used it as is in the NBA. This transition to a new style of play could partly be an explanation why it’s not just that many rookies are being used as off ball, 3s/defense/at the rim specialists, but why most have been quite poor at performing as those specialists. If rookies now more regularly have to learn a new style of play it would make sense the learning curve suddenly becomes more deadly.
With a 39-8 record the Hawks have become the soup de jour of the league. In addition to last year’s champion Spurs they represent a new style of contender based on balance.
The stars getting the praise are Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Al Horford, with all but Korver making the all-star game although many have advocated for Korver to get in.
The Hawks 5th starter is DeMarre Carroll. His minutes played also reflect a greater role than the rest of the Hawks undercard as Carroll averages 31.6 minutes per game, while the 6th highest player in minutes per game on the Hawks is Thabo Sefolosha at 19.0. No Hawk averages between 20 and 30 minutes per game.
However in media recognition Carroll’s season is a significant distance behind the other 4 Hawks starters.
I don’t quite agree with Carroll’s placement as so far behind Jeff Teague’s, in particular.
Teague is significantly ahead in traditional statistical measures. He has a team leading 21.9 PER to Carroll’s 14.9, which ranks 7th on the Hawks among regular rotation players. Teague averages 16.9 points, 7.6 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game, eye popping compared to Carroll’s 11.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists a game. Both players have above average efficiency with .573 TS% for Teague and .585 TS% for Carroll.
However offensively this doesn’t account for the difference in floor spacing. Carroll averages 39.7 3P% on 4.2 attempts a game which makes him one of the best shooters at the small forward position. Teague averages 33.3 3P% on 3.1 attempts a game which is an average combination of efficiency and volume at PG. Furthermore not all 3 point attempts have equal impact in regards to floor spacing. Because Teague is a more ball dominant player he’s likely to create his own 3s off the dribble. Because Teague has the ball, his 3pt attempts when off the dribble wouldn’t open the floor for his teammates as strongly as when Carroll is in spot-up position at the 3 point line, but a teammate has the ball. Therefore I believe the difference in floor spacing between a Carroll-style player and a Teague-style player is likely to be greater in favour of the off ball player than the numbers indicate, which already favour Carroll in this case.
There are also other differences between point guards and small forwards statistically. Teague averages many more points and assists than Carroll, but so does the rest of his position. Teague’s 16.9 points per game ranks 11th for qualified PGs, while the 11th ranked SF Nick Young averages 14.1 points per game. Carroll’s 11.8 points per game ranks 19th for SFs, while 19th for PGs is Tony Parker at 14.5 points per game. Teague is a better scorer for his position than Carroll is, but when adjusting for position it’s more like the difference between a 17 points per game and 14 points per game scorer if they were both PGs.
Jeff Teague’s passing is a major advantage as his 7.6 assist per game ranks 6th at SF, while Carroll’s 1.5 ranks 25th at SFs. However Carroll is the less turnover prone player. Teague 10.7 turnover ratio ranks 31st for PGs, while Carroll’s 7.2 ranks 8th for SFs. Individual ORTG which takes into account assists and turnovers along with shooting efficiency from the field, ranks Carroll’s 116 ORTG ahead of Teague’s 114.
The difference between them defensively is hard to measure. DeMarre Carroll has excellent length and size for his position, although Teague has turned into a solid ball thief at PG, a position hard to excel at defensively. The Hawks are better defensively with Teague on the floor (-3.5) and worse defensively with Carroll on (+4.6). However this could be heavily effected by a defensive standout Thabo Sefolosha replacing Carroll in lineups. The Hawks still play above league average defense with Carroll in the lineup.
Jeff Teague is undoubtably a standout player. The Hawks need his penetration, playmaking and the attention he garners from defense as a higher volume player. However the league is heading to a player where a “3 and D” wing can be as valuable and rare as a ball dominant player putting up star-level statistics. Just as a shot blocking centre did not need to put up star level offensive statistics to be considered a key cog to a championship team, a case can be made a floor spacing, positive defending wing can be rated just as valuably in spite of his statistics. One very simple but effective way to look at is to take all the contending teams in the league and give them the choice between adding Teague or Carroll to their lineup. On a case by case basis in my opinion:
Golden State – Teague on the Warriors would be their 6th man behind Curry and Klay. Carroll would either start over Harrison Barnes or come off the bench. The Warriors need another ball-handler to take pressure off Curry so I say the edge goes to Jeff Teague here.
Memphis – The Grizzlies would potentially bring Teague off the bench as their 6th man and play him beside Conley for stretches, if they like the defense of having Tony Allen at SG beside Conley. The Grizzlies just added another high usage wing in Jeff Green to their lineup. Although the Grizzlies could use a guard off the bench who scores, the Grizzlies have long ranked at the bottom of the league in 3pt attempts which is a problem for a team built around two post scorers. I’ll give them Carroll.
Houston – Patrick Beverely is a nice fit beside James Harden because he hits open 3s and plays defense and allows him to be ball dominant. Teague would be a juiced up version of Jeremy Lin’s role last year. However the Rockets also need the offensive improvements. The Rockets could split Carroll’s time with Ariza, with Ariza the superior defender and Carroll the shooter who also gives them floor spacing they need. This one is close but I will give it to Teague narrowly.
Portland – Jeff Teague would likely be the Blazers 6th man behind Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews. Carroll could replace the struggling Nic Batum in the starting lineup and space the floor for Lillard and Aldridge. The Blazers have long needed bench scoring so I’ll give them Teague.
L.A. Clippers – Teague gives the Clippers another scorer off the bench although it’s hard to share the ball with Jamal Crawford who already plays that role, along with J.J. Redick as a secondary backcourt scorer in the starting lineup. Matt Barnes is a solid shooter at SF for the Clips, but having a second one still helps, as does Carroll’s ability to take the bigger defensive responsibility for SG Crawford and Redick can’t guard. Carroll seems like a great fit for the Clippers.
Dallas – Teague is a questionable fit with Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis, an already ball-dominant more than spacing friendly backcourt. Carroll gives them a 3rd wing behind Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons. Carroll’s shooting fits the spacing-friendly system and gives them some size defensively on the wing. I like Carroll here for the Mavericks.
San Antonio – Tony Parker’s numbers are dwindling so giving Teague the reigns over him would be a long term relief. Carroll is a Spurs like fit shooting and moving the ball but with Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard in the lineup he’d have to fight for minutes. Teague feels better here.
Phoenix Suns – The Suns have 3 PGs in Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas already, while Carroll gives them a floor spacing wing who could bump Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker a spot down in the SG/SF ranks . This one’s easy in favour of Carroll.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Jeff Teague is better than Jackson and Waiters but still leaves the Thunder with a small Westbrook-Teague backcourt who are dominating the ball and keeping it from Kevin Durant, to say nothing of Reggie Jackson and Dion Waiters off the bench. Carroll’s off ball game is an ideal fit spacing the floor at SG between Westbrook and Durant.
Toronto Raptors – Teague would likely be the 6th man behind Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan as an improved version of what Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams give them. DeMarre Carroll would be starting SF as a more reliable version of Terrence Ross on both ends. The Raptors already have issues with defense and guards chucking up too many shots, so I like the fit of Carroll at SF for them.
Washington Wizards – Teague could be their starting SG behind John Wall with Wall guarding the harder assignment, or a 6th man scorer they need. Carroll would have value off the bench for them if backing up Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce, although Rasual Butler and Martell Webster if he stays healthy can also space the floor for them. This one’s tight, I’ll give them another offensive creator in Teague.
Chicago Bulls – If they let Teague play ahead of Rose he could provide them the stable offensive presence they need there. The Bulls need another shooter who isn’t Mike Dunleavy as well, however. I like Teague here based on Rose’s poor play so far this season.
Cleveland Cavaliers – The Cavaliers are having troubles finding shots for all of Kyrie Irving, Lebron James, Kevin Love and new additions like J.R. Smith, so another ball-needing PG in Teague is not a great fit. Carroll is the type of floor spacing wing they need.
I gave Carroll to 7 teams and Teague to 6, a fairly split result. It’s possible that for poor teams who are less likely to have great PGs and ball dominant players, Teague would gain a greater edge over Carroll.
Supply and demand exists in the league and the lack of wings who both space the floor and contribute defensively is so lacking that it could lead to huge contracts to “role players” like Wesley Matthews and Danny Green this summer. Whether Carroll deserves to be mentioned with those two as a 3/D player is up for debate. But I believe the assumption that Carroll is far behind Jeff Teague in value is conceivably misguided.
The parallels between Kevin Love’s season with the Cavaliers so far and Dwight Howard’s with the Lakers have not been missed. Both teams traded for a superstar and free agent to be assuming they would resign after a contending season. Howard’s season with L.A. brought unhappiness and diminished statistics and he left for the Rockets who boasted a younger roster and better management. It’s unclear whether Love will pick up his 2015-2016 player option to get a bigger deal in 2016’s TV market conditions or whether he’ll take the security of a max early, but there’s a chance Love leaves as early as this summer after 1 year like Howard. Even if he picks up his option and gives Cleveland a shot for 1 more year, he then becomes a risk to leave in 2016 anyways which makes this discussion similar.
Like Howard in L.A., Kevin Love’s reputation has taken a dive this season. His statistics are far below his recent Minnesota years enough that he was left out of the all-star game in favour of Kyrie Irving. The Cavs defensive struggles have been pinned on him, fairly or not. Add in his lower offensive numbers and frankly, the combination is starting to look like a standard David Lee season. Unlike Lee Love still provides valuable floor spacing to the Cavaliers offense but floor spacing remains not quantified and thus under appreciated by the media.
When Kevin Love was in Minnesota, I speculated repeatedly that he’d have no interest in being traded to the Lakers or signing there. My reasoning for this was Love had never made the playoffs and the biggest danger to his ego and reputation was being branded a loser. The Lakers are a losing team and poorly run and Kevin Love going there would likely lead to many more painful seasons like in Minnesota. This ended up being correct. Love instead embraced playing in Cleveland which was a situation the opposite of L.A. Instead of going after home-state nostalgia or a big market Love simply went for the wins and the chance to contend.
What Love wanted out of Cleveland – wins and playoff appearances, he will get. The Cavs are likely to only get better from here as they fit together and the bench gets deeper. This is a 50 win core for the foreseeable future whether they break the mark this year or not. But it’s unclear whether Kevin Love will reclaim his reputation as a star. Kyrie Irving has so far TKO’d Love in terms of the “who will be the 2nd option in shot attempts” question and as the Cavs pick up more established players like J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov there will be more mouths to feed in terms of shots. In Chris Bosh’s 4 seasons in Miami he averaged 18.7, 18.0, 16.6, 16.2 points, a decline every season. But Bosh remained a star because his defense improved to star level, which may not happen with Love. With his physical limitations it’ll always be hard to prove to anyone he’s a good defender even if he does improve to an adequate level.
A factor that would scare me about resigning in Cleveland if I was Love is the concept of control. Kevin Love signing a 4 year max contract for Cleveland doesn’t mean Cleveland commits to keeping him for 4 years. There’s so many reasons why Kevin Love will end up being the fall guy if Cleveland’s core disappointed in the playoffs. It’s widely accepted defensive big men are crucial to contending in the playoffs, Love is the one who’s statistics are floundering and unlike Kyrie who was a homegrown draft pick, Love took a future crippling trade package to acquire and the media crows are already circling around that trade. If Lebron, Kyrie and Love don’t make the Finals in the East their first few seasons together, could Dan Gilbert push the panic button and split them up? Absolutely. It’s conceivable Love could resign in Cleveland this summer, then as early as something like 2 seasons into his Cleveland tenure, only 1 season into his new contract, fall into a nightmare situation of getting traded to another bad team like he had in Minnesota without his control. This could also be a reason why Love would want to prolong his free agency until 2016. As for the idea of Love avoiding this just by asking for a no-trade clause in a max deal, only a few players in the league have them and after a non all-star season, I question whether Love has to clout to get one from Cleveland.
This brings me to what I consider a threat for Love this summer: San Antonio
Now the Spurs becoming a pursuer for Love or another free agent like Marc Gasol (who has many more reasons to stay with his team than Love), would take a few things to happen. It all but definitely requires Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to retire instead of the Spurs signing them to new deals. Even then, having max free agent capspace likely mean letting Danny Green walk and replacing him would Love would be a blow to the Spurs defense. Green could get a max contract this summer in my opinion as teams give inflated deals preparing for the post 2016 TV deal salary conditions, thus the Spurs may not be a lock to want to resign him at that price anyways. To pursue a max FA it’s also unlikely the Spurs could resign an appealing PG in Cory Joseph. With Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Kyle Anderson signed and a max deal to Kawhi Leonard, I believe they’d still be a few million short of the type of contract Love would settle for. Thus they may need to move a package like Mills and Anderson’s contracts to another team, unless they can find a way to trade Boris Diaw’s 7 million a year deal.
In any case, the short version is the Spurs as a Love suitor works if Duncan and Manu retire and the Spurs internally decide they’d rather have Kevin Love than Danny Green. On the other hand, even if Duncan and Manu don’t retire, or the Spurs prioritize Danny Green, or Kevin Love picks up his player option, the concept Love to the Spurs doesn’t die, it just might get delayed until the summer of 2016 when the new TV deal would erase cap concerns in terms of having the room for him.
What San Antonio gives Love is a little of both worlds. On one hand like in Cleveland he gets to win games and contend like he didn’t in Minnesota. Even with a depleted roster without Duncan, Ginobili and Green, playing with a star in Kawhi Leonard and other good players like Parker and Splitter, is a quality squad. Popovich would provide elite coaching if he stayed, if he retired I’d still count on the Spurs management to know who to hire as his replacement. Moreso the Spurs roster with an aging Parker, Leonard and Splitter as the other featured pieces do not have the high usage superstars that the Cavaliers presently have. Thus feeding Love like a #1 option would make sense not only because the Spurs have the management and coaching gameplan to take advantage of him, but because the talent on the team makes him a likely top option too. Leonard and Love in particular are a perfect combination together as the defense-first small forward and the offense and spacing-first power forward and it’d be easy to build the rest of a contender around them.
Another way to sell Love on a Spurs partnership is the ways they could improve the team. Giving the Spurs extra capspace because of the upcoming TV deal could be scary in their hands, as is their history of drafting and development success likely to continue. The Spurs with Love could be great now and better later. But all in all, it’s really the management and coaching that separates the Spurs from the Wolves and Cavaliers. That’s what the Spurs can promise to him that he hasn’t gotten from Minnesota or Cleveland. The Spurs are a good bet to invest your future in.
9 years after passing on him for Greg Oden and after a history of bad breaks since their 1977 title, it would be a great story if Kevin Durant signed with the Portland Trailblazers in 2016.
Portland has been rarely listed as a possibility for Durant’s free agency. Portland isn’t known as as a big enough market to be a free agent destination. His hometown Washington has become a popular Durant free agency talking point. There’s also the likelihood Portland will have Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge on max contracts and Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez both making over 10 million a year by 2016. This makes them a less obvious fit capspace wise even though Nicolas Batum’s contract expires that summer.
Here’s my retort to each of those problems:
Portland as a free agency destination
Portland’s lack of free agent history doesn’t bother me because from an outside perspective it appears Durant doesn’t care about the size of his market. Durant is already swimming in endorsement deals and fame playing in Oklahoma City. We just saw Kevin Love spurn the Lakers but embrace playing in Cleveland because he wanted to win. I’m guessing the competitive Durant has the same mentality: It’s all about winning. If he leaves Oklahoma City after 9 seasons my money is on it’ll be because he has more faith winning championships and enchancing his legacy elsewhere.
Washington: A red herring?
I’m strongly against the odds of Durant leaving the Thunder for Washington for this reason. Does Washington provide a better opportunity to win than Oklahoma City? Washington has a star PG and competent defensive big men but so do the Thunder. Washington’s coaching and management in Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld do not have a more trustworthy history than Scott Brooks and Sam Presti. Durant’s sentimental attachment to his hometown may still pale to the sentimental attachment to staying with the team that drafted him. Washington would need Bradley Beal to become more of a 3rd star than Serge Ibaka to really sell Durant that Washington is a “talent upgrade” in my opinion, but Beal’s 3rd season has been barely more productive than Jeremy Lamb’s. Some argue the move from the West to the East in competition could help sell Durant on switching. But the main difference between the West and the East is likely to come in the first 2 rounds which Oklahoma City hasn’t struggled with anyways by making the conference Finals the last three years Russell Westbrook was healthy. In the conference finals and Finals you play 1 West team and 1 East team to win the title no matter which side you are on so I don’t buy conferences are a major swinging factor by that point. Furthermore with teams like Cleveland and Chicago in the East and up and coming teams like Toronto who could be dangerous by 2016-2017, making the Finals in the East would not be a cakewalk.
What I like about Portland’s case is they conceivable *could* provide that elusive talent upgrade. Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge are two other true perennial all-stars compared to one in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook. If they can keep Wesley Matthews this also gives them an excellent starting shooting guard who fits perfectly on a team with other stars. A case can be made Matthews is as valuable at SG as Serge Ibaka is for a PF. Terry Stotts is also a coach of the year contender and appears to be ahead of the ball more than Scott Brooks in terms of offensive creativity. A team headlined by Lillard, Matthews, Durant and Aldridge with Stotts coaching could conceivably be enough of an upgrade over Oklahoma City to draw Durant’s attention.
Salary cap problems
Now a big retort to Portland is how getting Durant would work under the cap. While Portland currently has all but nothing signed after 2016 it’s a no brainer Aldridge and Lillard will have max deals by then. Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez are unrestricted free agents this summer and should easily clear over 20 million a year combined if they both resign. Portland is contending now and most likely won’t let either go for a longshot chance at Durant.
Their saving grace is the upcoming TV deal where capspace is expected to rocket in 2016. This doesn’t mean Portland will have enough capspace to have all of Lillard, Aldridge, Matthews, Lopez on the books and still sign Durant. But consider what will happen in the rest of the league in 2016. There will be a massive oversupply of capspace compared to quality free agents available. Even in a non-TV deal year teams who expected to hit it big in free agency strike out and are forced to overpay whichever free agent is left. In 2016 the prices for the available free agents could be a ridiculous bidding war.
What this also means is sharp teams could end up seeing a more appealing alternative: Using capspace to trade for players with expensive contracts. This allows them to take on contracts that were signed in the pre-TV deal era and many of these contracts would only have an affordable 2-3 years left.
Because salaries will be so liquid a case can be made Kevin Durant could sign on virtually any team in the league. For example say Durant wanted to sign with the L.A. Clippers but they are blocked by a new Deandre Jordan contract at over 12 million a year, plus Spencer Hawes and JJ Redick’s mid-level deals. The Clippers in this situation may find it very easy to dump Jordan, Hawes and Redick to teams who have tens of millions in capspace but are garnering no free agent interest. Just as Houston this summer managed to move Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin’s contracts relatively easily to make room for Chris Bosh if he had chosen to sign there. I suspect that only the worst NBA contracts will be unmovable in 2016 considering the amount of excess capspace that teams will have. Even for the ones just over the line of untradeable, throwing in a 1st round pick could help grease the wheels to move a contract.
I suspect in 2016 Portland could simply move however many non-Lillard or Aldridge contracts they need to make space for Durant, such as trading Robin Lopez or an MLE signing made in the summer 2015 to bolster their depth to a team with capspace. I haven’t checked the math close enough to see if keeping Wes Matthews along with Lillard and Aldridge and signing Durant at the same time is possible but if push comes to shove, moving Matthews to make room for Durant is still a no-brainer. All in all for teams like the Blazers, Clippers and Rockets I don’t see the salary cap getting in the way of signing Kevin Durant. The real race for Durant is to see who can offer him the best chance of winning a championship after 2016 if he doesn’t have one by then. If he feels Oklahoma City’s chance from 2016 on is as good as anyone else’s I doubt he leaves. If Portland’s supporting looks more dynamic by then, I would treat them as a big a threat as anyone.
Klay Thompson and the Warriors front office has been making a lot of bloggers like me look bad. At the time giving up a good shooting guard for a superstar power forward felt like a no brainer.
It’s only been a month and a half but Klay Thompson’s play so far has vindicated the Warriors. Klay is both putting up all-star box score statistics and has dominant +/- statistics.
Just how valuable this version of Klay is if he keeps it up may actually be understated. Because Klay provides a high amount of non-boxscore value.
Half of what makes the Warriors so good isn’t captured in raw statistics. Andrew Bogut’s value on defense goes beyond his 2.2 blocks a game. His positional spacing on help defense will affect plays without him leaving the ground. In addition Warriors fans claim he is a player who’s offensive value goes far beyond his usually pedestrian scoring numbers in areas like picks and directing the floor. In addition to passing which has showed up in a solid 3 assists a game this year. As a Raptors fan I have seen Amir Johnson’s real value playing positional defense and rolling to the rim in always the right place go under appreciated the years. I believe Amir Johnson has one of the 5 best Raptors careers of all time by never averaging more than 10.4 points or 7.5 rebounds a game for the team. It appears Bogut’s value is the Warriors version of this but even better.
Likewise Draymond Green is now an above average player statistically but boxscore stats will miss on his real value. Draymond is arguably one of the best defensive players at the 4 despite averaging an average 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Furthermore he also spaces the floor as a 36.7% 3pt shooter on 4.9 attempts a game. The league is increasingly prioritizing players who either space the floor or defend. Draymond does both in addition to a now solid scoring game.
This is in addition to Andre Iguodala who’s defensive impact hasn’t been captured by box score stats for years. In addition to fitting intelligently offensively.
Now we get to Klay Thompson. On one hand Klay Thompson also holds ‘non-boxscore’ value like the above. As the best shooter at his position his floor spacing will make offenses better. He is also an above average defender for the position. If you could quantify “spacing+defense” Klay has a case to lead the Warriors. Although I feel Bogut is the most important defender he doesn’t provide floor spacing. Players like Green and Thompson have a more balanced combination of spacing and defense as one of the best shooters at their respective positions. Whether Thompson’s league leading shooting at SG provides more spacing the rarity of a 3pt shooting PF like Green is up for debate.
But thus what makes Thompson’s value scary is he does this while looking like an all-star in the box-score too. Thompson is scoring 21.2 points per game in 33.1 minutes per game which is 23 points per 36 minutes. The efficiency is there unlike previous seasons with a .579 TS% and a well above average 112 ORTG. Klay’s rebounding and assists are up with 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He has a 20.4 PER and his 2.6 Win Shares so far ranks 15th in the league. Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green provide star spacing or defense value while only putting up average statistics. Klay Thompson does it while also adding all-star statistics.
Consider the case of Lamarcus Aldridge who’s value I have often found to be one of the most fascinating in the league. Aldridge is scoring 22.8 points per game at .518 TS% after 23.2 points on .507 TS% last season. His shot selection relies heavily on inefficient long 2 point jump shots hence the below average TS%. In a normal case this would be the sign of an overrated scorer compared to efficient 3pt shooters or scorers at the rim. However Portland is an intelligent analytics team who has been able to build back to back top 5 offenses around Aldridge. The key is spacing. Portland sacrifices Aldridge’s efficiency to make his teammates more efficient. His midrange shooting spaces the the floor when players drive to score in the paint. His skills in the post demands double teams that allows Portland to pass the ball to open 3pt teammates. Portland uses the 2011 Dallas Mavericks model which used Dirk Nowitzki’s floor spacing and ability to draw doubles to masterfully open up space for teammates. In addition to this Aldridge appears to use his physical tools and intelligence to be an above average defensive player for his position. Compare this to Al Jefferson who has similar scoring statistics to Lamarcus Aldridge. Jefferson however does not provide spacing value when he fills space in the post or steps out for midrange shots teams leave him open to take. Defensively he is a negative contributor. Aldridge’s “spacing+defense” combination is positive and Jefferson’s is negative. Jefferson is the less valuable player for reasons box score stats miss.
I thought Paul George might have been the 3rd most valuable player last regular season for the same reason. By the end of the year his scoring stats were a good not great 21.7 points per game on .555 TS%. George added 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals per game. He wasn’t the 3rd best statistical player in the league with standouts like Steph Curry, James Harden and Blake Griffin. But at SF George provided arguably defensive player of the year caliber impact in addition to spacing the floor by hitting 36.4% from 3 on 6.3 attempts a game. By spacing the floor and playing defense he already made a huge difference to the Pacers. When adding the tangible value of scoring near 22 points a game at above average efficiency it makes his impact last year superstar caliber in my opinion.
The reason I bring this all up is Klay Thompson is putting up better offensive statistic than Lamarcus Aldridge and Paul George did last year because of efficiency. He does it while showing up in the spacing and defense comparable to players like Aldridge, Bogut, Green or George. That’s why Klay may be one of the 10 or 15 most valuable players in the league this year.
Predictably the Philadelphia 76ers all time roster is compared to the top ranked college team Kentucky. For once it appears people are taking the question seriously whether Kentucky would win since Philadelphia is rolling out so many players who shouldn’t be in the NBA.
So let’s take a closer look:
This is where Kentucky is closest to Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s roster of Nerlens Noel, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Brandon Davies, Henry Sims are not scary compared to Kentucky bigs like Karl Anthony-Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein or Dakari Johnson. A case can be made for Karl Anthony-Towns as already the most most dynamic offensively, though in college Brandon Davies was a solid 18/7 big offensively his last year at BYU and has developed since. Offensively, rookie bigs can regularly outperform unskilled veteran bigs, thus Kentucky’s bigs performing as well as this year’s Sixers bigs next year in the NBA would not be a major surprise.
The Sixers get a major leg up on Kentucky here. Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison may end up as NBA talents, but outside shot happy guards that tend to be dime a dozen in the NBA. Alex Poythress has poor offensive skill by NBA standards. The other Kentucky perimeter players appear to be far away from ready for NBA production.
Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten were both college standouts and that was before NBA experience and physical maturation. Their ability to penetrate to the basket stands out at an NBA level and would likely dominant at a college level. Wroten would physically punish smaller college players with his size. The 3rd guard in the rotation Alexey Shved likewise has an off the dribble-centric game that would be difficult for college defenses to handle. K.J. McDaniels was an offensive standout in college and his 3pt shooting has improved in the NBA. Hollis Thompson shot over 43% all 3 of his seasons at Georgetown which would provide the Sixers with a dangerous catch and shoot and spacing threat against college players.
Compared to college competition, the Sixers perimeter would have dynamic ability to penetrate, outside shooting and a huge strength advantage. They would likely dominate on offense.
For college competition the massive Kentucky front court including Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Karl-Anthony Towns is considering a potentially dominant advantage over their peers. But the 76ers still have the edge. Nerlens Noel is one of the most prolific defensive college players in recent memory due to his blocks and steal totals, whereas Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been a defensive standout in the NBA for years, which would make him better than any college player on that end currently. Henry Sims also provides size and physical maturity which becomes a bigger advantage against college.
The Sixers frontcourt combination of Noel’s shot blocking, Mbah a Moute’s intelligence and mobility and Sims size, would make them near perfect defensively for the college level.
Like the frontcourt, Kentucky’s defensive strengths on this end are just amplified by Philadelphia. Andrew and Aaron Harrison are 6’6, but so are Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten and Alexey Shved while having more athleticism. Alex Poythress is an impressive athlete defensively, but K.J. McDaniels stood out more as a defensive playmaker last year. The Carter-Williams, Wroten and McDaniels combination provides a level of speed, strength and anticipation that the Kentucky perimeter does not match on this level.
When adding these perimeter players to bigs like Noel, Mbah a Moute and Sims, the Sixers defense as a whole is light years ahead of college competition. They would have an entire roster of over 6’6 players who are faster, stronger and more experience defensively than their peers. The Sixers currently rank 20th in DRTG in the NBA indicating this is a competent and professional quality defense.
Offensively the Sixers may be horrible for NBA standards but putting Carter-Williams, Wroten and Shved against college players would still lead to non stop penetration. Options like Brandon Davies and K.J. McDaniels or Hollis Thompson shooting 3s, would still be quality looks. It’s likely this is still better than any college team offensively thanks to the penetration of those guards. Kentucky’s defense is inexperienced and for mental and physical reasons would be at a disadvantage trying to keep up with these options. The Sixers defensive advantage over college competition is as big as usual for NBA teams, whereas for their weakness offensively, they would still rate easily ahead of a team like UK on that end. Not only would the Sixers have strong half court skills like penetration, shooting or post ability, but their elite defensive ability to generate steals and blocks combined with superior athleticism would likely make them an unstoppable fast break engine going the other way.
Ultimately another way to argue against this, is if one watches a Philadelphia NBA game and watches a Kentucky game, the level of play is higher in the former for reasons outside of talent level. Philadelphia has to operate at a physical intensity and attention to detail, they have to play with a longer 3pt line and shorter shot clock. The team carries themselves like professionals and not college students. It still isn’t close.