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Archive for October 2012

MVP/Power Rankings Monday: The 10 Best Points I Can Make About the James Harden Trade

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BOOM! James Harden to the Rockets. Trades like this simply don’t happen often. Harden is 23, has All-NBA talent and was very controllable by the Thunder. Therefore, it’s really fun to talk about.

Here are roughly the 10 most insightful points I could make:

10. The Veto strikes again – Fun game, what happens if David Stern doesn’t block the Chris Paul to the Lakers deal? Paul obviously is on the Lakers, the Clippers either still in NBA hell or peeking their head above with an 7th/8th seed. Does the Dwight Howard-Andrew Bynum trade still happen, or do one of the Magic, Nuggets or Sixers go “Eff that, I’m not letting the Lakers have a dynasty”. If so, Howard is on another team as well. Either way, both Paul and Howard’s career paths and probably at least 1 title are affected. Then there’s Anthony Davis likely being on a different team than New Orleans. Davis could end up having an iconic career for the Hornets, changing that team and the one that would’ve gotten him if not for the veto. Finally, James Harden ends up on a team that isn’t the Rockets if not for this and if he breaks out to be a franchise star, the veto changes an era for Houston. And the Thunder assuming they trade Harden, get very different pieces for him – these pieces possibly changing the title picture in upcoming years. The Veto had a massive butterfly effect on the league.

9. The brilliance of the Omer Asik signing – The second most important piece on the Rockets now isn’t Jeremy Lin, it’s Omer Asik. Asik looks to be one of the best defensive centers in the league immediately for the Rockets. Getting a true defensive anchor at C is very hard, some teams go decades without one. The brilliant part of this signing is it happened while Houston had gone all in on trading for Dwight Howard. They had the foresight to have a plan B if they didn’t get Dwight and the balls to sign Asik as a backup C again if they had secured Howard. I suspect many teams would’ve been too blinded by the thought of Howard playing center for them, to consider signing Asik at the same time.

8. The Rockets still have huge cap flexibility and assets – As has been noted in a few places, the Rockets’ are looking at max free agent capspace next year. If Chris Paul leaving the Clippers becomes a real possibility, the Rockets will be involved trying to get him. Josh Smith and Al Jefferson are other plausible targets. Capspace is also valuable in a trade – Perhaps Memphis wants to get out of Rudy Gay’s contract next summer. With capspace and young players to trade, the Rockets are an ideal trade partner.

Speaking of young players, aside from Lin, the Rockets do have other enticing pieces like Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Royce White, Donatas Motiejunas, Marcus Morris, Cole Aldrich and Scott Machado. Aside from giving Harden talent to work with, the Rockets just proved building up a store of trade assets is always a good strategy if another star becomes available. Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Preview (Oct. 29th-Nov. 2nd)

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Here is what I have planned for next week

MVP/Power Rankings Monday: The 10 Best Points I can make about the James Harden trade

Stats Tuesday: Paradigms in science and the NBA

Video Blog Wednesday: Who is the 2nd best player in the NBA?

33pt Thursday: A 33pt breakdown of the James Harden trade

Draft Prospect Friday: Isaiah Austin – the sleeper for the #1 pick in 2013?

Written by jr.

October 28, 2012 at 11:24 am

Draft Prospect Friday: An early Cody Zeller breakdown

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Cody Zeller looks like he could be the frontrunner for the #1 pick. Why? Because there’s strong whispers right now that SG Shabazz Muhammad will be ruled ineligible to play at UCLA this season. He’s still talented enough to be picked top 3 without proving himself in a college season, but I’m guessing #1 would be off the table. I’ve already expressed why I believe Nerlens Noel won’t cut it as #1 pick material. So that leaves Cody Zeller likely filling the vacuum. Zeller will likely be one of the most productive in college as he was a freshman and will only improve, the Hoosiers have a chance to be the best team in the country, he’s a C which is always a sought after position to fill and he has A+ intangibles. This all sets him up well for a top 3 pick, if not #1.

Here’s an early 33pt breakdown on Zeller’s talent level:

Physical impact: Cody is an excellent athlete, at a clear level above his brother Tyler. His footspeed and first step is very strong for a big, giving him blow-by potential against NBA Cs trying to guard him. He has enough vertical explosiveness to play above the rim. Zeller’s two major concerns physically are his strength and length. While he is young enough to add strength to his body, right now he is undeveloped for a center and may be pushed around early. A bigger problem is likely his short wingspan for a near 7 footer. This will greatly hurt his defensive potential; I wouldn’t expect him to block shots regularly in the NBA. Because of strength and length concerns, Zeller is a question mark in regards to finishing around the basket through contact. My score for Zeller physically is a 5 for a C as I believe his speed and athleticism will be difficult to guard offensively, to make up for some of his weaknesses.

Skill: Zeller has outstanding finishing ability around the basket, making him one of the NCAA’s most efficient players last year. His shooting game is still developing, but he shows sign of a good turnaround jumpshot and can hit his FTs. It’s probably a good bet he develops his shooting game to a respectable level to match his finishing. Zeller’s skill game should be above average for a center. My score for him in the category is a 7 with the potential to go higher.

Feel for the Game: This is his strength. Cody shows fantastic feel offensively, seeing angles around the rim to finish, as well as strong defensive instincts. He is always in control and seems aware of the basket and players around him. My score for Cody in feel for game is a 10.

To recap:

Physical impact: 5

Skill: 7

Feel for the Game: 10

Total score: 22 (All-star talent score)

This is a great score for Zeller. At a position as talent starved as C, it would make him a true star to build around for a team. A combination of elite feel for the game and good skill for a position should always make an impact, especially with respectable physical tools. Impressively, it’s not out of the question to me that I could undervaluing him with these skills. As a recently turned 20 year old, he could develop his skill game to a truly elite level for a C and it’s possible he bulks up to improve his physical ability. Both those things are made more likely by Cody’s supreme work ethic. Since my threshold for superstar talent is about 24-25, that is within reach for Cody. On the low end, it’s possible his physical tools translate a bigger weakness than I had scored them and his feel for the game and skill is slightly less impressive. It’s thus possible he ends up a player in 17-19 range in score, which is still respectable for a C.

Resembles: Brook Lopez, Luis Scola, Pau Gasol

By Julien Rodger

Twitter: @ASFW_jrodger (Send me a question, if I get enough I’ll do a mailbag or answer them in an article)

Written by jr.

October 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm

33pt Thursday: Was “Feel for the Game” the secret to the Red Auerbach era Celtics and Greg Popovich era San Antonio Spurs legendary drafting?

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Tony Parker and Greg Popovich

Tony Parker and Greg Popovich (Photo credit: Tiago Hammil)

I believe feel for the game is ultimately under-represented in NBA personnel decisions, particularly in the draft. However that does not mean nobody has ever considered the subject. When I look at two incredibly eras for franchises, feel for the game stands out consistently in draft picks/decisions – and that’s Red Auerbach’s Celtics and Greg Popovich’s Spurs.

Now, this could be simply a matter of the Celtics and Spurs being fantastic at finding great players and it just so happening that most great players excel in feel for the game, therefore their successful acquisition correlating with feel for the game friendly players rather than being a cause of it. But for fun, let’s look at the histories of some of their picks:

Auerbach joined the Celtics in 1950. Bob Cousy was actually passed on by the Celtics, but ended up with them anyways after his team the Chicago Stags folded. Cousy was the Celtics’ first player with supreme feel for the game, the first truly great offensive mind in the game at the guard position. Bill Sharman, a draft pick soon after was another with a strong feel for the game offensively.

In 1956 the Celtics made arguably the biggest history changing NBA trade ever, trading for the rights to Bill Russell for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan. Bill Russell of course is in the conversation for greatest feel for the game of all time. His awareness of the court makes him the greatest defensive genius in NBA history, while his elite passing game for a big proved his awareness offensively. Read the rest of this entry »

Video Blog Wednesday – Trying to explan why preseason performances don’t mean anything

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A day late, but again pretend it was posted yesterday

 

By Julien Rodger

Twitter: @ASFW_jrodger

Email: julienrodger@gmail.com (Send me a question, if I get enough I’ll do a mailbag or answer it in a question)

Written by jr.

October 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Basketball

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Stats Tuesday: Some random thoughts on the Denver Nuggets in 2012-2013

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Denver Nuggets logo

Denver Nuggets logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a popular sleeper pick among the statistical community. John Hollinger picked them to finish 2nd in the West (ahead of the Thunder and Lakers), Basketball Prospectus picked them to finish 1st in the West, and the Wins Produced/Wages of Wins picked them to finish 2nd. The Nuggets last year finished 6th in the West last year with a 38-28 season, equivalent of 47 Ws over 82 games. Where does the extra optimism come from?

The line of reasoning for such Nuggets break-out essentially breaks down to:

  1. The Nuggets were dominant offensively last year (3rd ORTG) despite injuries to Danillo Gallinari and Nene slightly derailing them early in the season, as well as one of their most productive offensive players in Kenneth Faried not getting minutes early.
  2. They were however disappointing defensively (19th DRTG). However, they added one of the very best defensive players in the league in Andre Iguodala, as well as another great athlete in Wilson Chandler.
  3. With a shored up defense and elite offense, this is a combination worthy one of the league’s best.

I have a few objections to this Nuggets’ improvement. One is I could see them taking a step back offensively. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

October 23, 2012 at 9:36 pm

MVP/Power Rankings Monday: The 10 Closest Things to Takeaways from preseason (2012-2013 NBA)

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Yes, the “It’s just preseason” caveat applies to any conclusions one wants to draw from preseason in the NBA. But oh, it’s so tempting. Here are 10 things that may or may not be indicative to take from preseason

10. The Spurs found another “who?” steal in Nando De Colo – Nando looks like the real deal. He has great height for a PG/SG, with a strong feel for the game and court vision and shooting game. He’ll be a mismatch problem for teams to deal with off the bench.

9. Omer Asik is a monster – The Rockets knew what they were doing giving such a big contract to the Bulls’ backup center. Asik is one of the biggest Cs/players in the league period and looks like a special rebounder and defender so far. Dominant defensive Cs is how you win.

8. Marvin Williams is finally ready for a breakout season – Marvin may not have the talent Atlanta thought when they took him 2nd overall in 2005, but he was likely underused all the same. He has an outstanding feel for the game, his length is a great asset defensively and he’s turned himself into a sharpshooter at the SF position. These 3 tools makes him a huge asset for Utah if he’s used properly.

7. Big Baby Davis could have a Big Year – If you’re looking for a dark-horse statistical breakout candidate, look out for Big Baby. Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson leaving the team opens up a ton of free shots in the frontcourt. Davis came on at the end of last season starting in place of Howard at C. Perhaps that’s the position for him, where he can be an offensive mismatch with his outside shot. Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Preview (Oct. 22nd-Oct. 26th)

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Alright, I’m planning a full week of articles again as preseason winds down. Here is the schedule:

MVP/Power Rankings Monday: The 10 Closest Things to Takeaways from the 2012-2013 NBA preseason

Stats Tuesday: The Denver Nuggets’ weak 2011-2012 defense: By design, or a sign a roster flaw?

Video Blog Wednesday: The difference between what players can do in a gym vs games and how it relates to “preseason doesn’t matter”

33pt Thursday: Was “feel for the game” the secret ingredient behind the Red Auerbach Celtics and Greg Popovich Spurs dynasties?

Draft Prospect Friday: Early draft thoughts on PF/C Cody Zeller

Written by jr.

October 21, 2012 at 10:05 pm

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Draft Prospect Friday: Wes Johnson, Austin Rivers and problems with judging 3pt shooting prospects

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English: Wes Johnson during a game on 2009-12-...

English: Wes Johnson during a game on 2009-12-22. Cropped from a larger image. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Couldn’t get this article up yesterday. Pretend it was posted on Friday)

One of the most disastrous draft picks in recent history is the Minnesota Timberwolves taking Wes Johnson 4th overall. Johnson did so little his first two seasons in the league, that the Timberwolves were forced to include a 1st round pick just to dump his rookie contract. He has not looked like a legitimate NBA rotation player so far.

Fascinatingly, Johnson in 2010 got picked so high because he was labelled a “safe” pick. While Demarcus Cousins had more upside, Johnson would be a sure thing – Mainly because in college, he hit open 3s, defended, rebounding and played on the fastbreak and could play SG and SF. While a likely role player, this skillset is something every team needs.

While his defense hasn’t come around, the biggest problem for Wes Johnson is how his jumpshot has disappeared. After shooting 41.5% from 3 in his final season in the NCAA, his 3P% has dropped to a mediocre 34.1% for his career in the NBA, including 31.4% his sophmore season. Without a consistent spot-up jumpshot, Wes doesn’t have a useable offensive role on a team.

There are a number of reasons why Johnson’s shot may not have translated. One is that the NCAA 3pt line is shorter than the NBA 3pt line. While you’d think a player can extend his range a few feet out in the NBA, it’s not a guarantee everyone can. Secondly, Johnson was not a 3pt shooter until fairly late in his career. He shot 29.4% from 3 his freshman year in college  at Iowa St., 33.3% his sophmore year, before jumping to 41.5% his junior year after transferring to Syracuse. Because of the shorter college season, Johnson’s yearly 3pt % his junior season may have been prone to small sample size variance – going 51 for 123 from 3, whereas if he’d hit 10 3s less, going 41 for 123, he’d have had a 3p% of .333 that he had in his sophmore year. 10 3s over a season can be a matter of simply getting lucky. Third, Wes’s college FT% of .768 was decent, but not great. Another sign perhaps of worry, is the fact that while FT% remained steady throughout his college career, going from .753 his freshman year, to .779 his sophmore year, to .772 his junior season. This is worrisome because normally when a player has a huge change in shooting ability from 3 like Wes did from freshman year to junior season, they should also improve their FT stroke to prove they simply drastically changed their shooting skill level – which Wes didn’t.

The point is, there are ways to judge whether a player’s 3P% will translate, that goes beyond just looking at their NCAA scores. It’s not as simple as just saying a player like Johnson is a safe bet to translate. Judging these contextual factors could help teams avoid a similar situation in the future.

One player who’s shooting looks worrisome to me, is Austin Rivers. Although he shot .365 in college in 3P%, he only shot 65.8% from the FT line, an extremely low number for any so called 3pt threat in the NBA. His shooting form is seriously questionable (using 2 hands), and before the draft he couldn’t complete the “Ray Allen shooting drill” for the Wizards in a pre-draft workout. So far in preseason, his jump-shot has looked terrible.

Rivers desperately needs a jumpshot to make it in league. He is an undersized SG with questionable court awareness and feel for the game. He needs to be a player that can consistently rip off shots from the outside in spurts, like Jamal Crawford and JR Smith can. I suspect Rivers getting taken 10th overall was with the assumption he’d shoot in the NBA. But it’s not a guarantee just because he shot over 36% from 3 in college, as Wes Johnson proved.

Written by jr.

October 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm

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33pt Thursday: Team Rankings/Predictions for the Eastern Conference (NBA 2012-2013) (+ Question and Answer)

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LeBron James

LeBron James (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Before getting to Eastern Conference rankings, answering a question

Q:   Was wondering if sometime you could post about player development, and which of your 3 areas a deficiency is hardest to overcome. If you were drafting and it was an either/or situation, would you prefer  a player with the elite physical tools, elite skill, or elite feel for the game.(Assuming relatively poor ratings in the other 2 categories) (- Michael Smith)

A: Hi Michael and thanks for the question. Player development is definitely something I wondered in regards to the 33pt theory. The one that seems most difficult for a player to change to me, is feel for the game. A players’ instinct level and what’s in their head, is something practice isn’t going to change.  The players who have elite feel for the game make it very clear in college and high school and the ones who don’t, stay that way.

So that leaves skill and physical tools. The initial instinct is to say skill is the easiest to change. Players can definitely improve their jumpshot and perimeter games. Players like Jason Richardson, Amar’e Stoudemire, Karl Malone are examples of players who’s skill games developed greatly past what they showed in college or high school. On the other hand, physical impact is improvable because of the role of ballhandling in how I score it. A perimeter player who improves his ability to handle, may have more success driving to the rim, which is the key factor for a high physical score for perimeter players. Danny Granger is a great recent example of a player who’s become better at driving over the years thanks to improved ballhandling. Physical impact can also change by a player simply changing his style of play. For example Lamarcus Aldridge moved to a post orientated game in his 5th season (2010-2011), which made him a more physically relevant player. Another example, Harrison Barnes has been playing in the post so far in preseason more than he did in the NCAA, becoming a post player instead of a dribble drive one if he keeps it, would give him a higher upside in the physical tools category as it could play to his muscular strength and away from his lack of speed.

But I would say skill is the one easiest for a player to make large leaps in, due to the learn-ability of jump-shooting. It’s also the category I feel least confident in projecting players with. Because for many players, I have to make an assumption of development in an area. Bradley Beal wasn’t an elite shooter in college statistically, but with his age and shooting form, I assume he will become a great shooter. But if he didn’t, his score would be worse in the skill score. Ultimately, the 33pt method is greatly on the side of nature instead of nurture in regards to talent and ability, but the nurture side of success still exists and is important. In regards to which I would rather draft between physical tools and feel for the game, it ultimately depends on the player, but I do believe for the center position, I would take elite physical talent due to the impact of shotblocking centers defensively. At a point guard, feel for the game may have the greatest impact. In a vacuum, feel for the game would likely be my choice between the 3, only if it’s accepted the other can be improved upon easier.

My Western Conference rankings and an explanation for how I evaluate teams can be found here

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat

Physical impact: 9 (22 Ws), Skill: 8.5 (21 Ws), Feel for the Game: 9.5 (24 Ws). Total record: 67-15 (vs Vegas Over/Under: +6.5)

The dominant team in the East looks to finally take the #1 seed, with the Bulls being a cinch to fall off that perch this year. This team is all around greatness. Lebron James and Dwyane Wade’s supernatural combination of physical impact and feel for the game anchor those scores. Shooters like Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Rashard load up the skill score in a way the Lebron era Heat hasn’t seen. Chris Bosh adds elite feel and skill, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem great feel, Joel Anthony physical impact as a shotblocker. As a whole, this team has a monstrous combination of tools in the 3 categories. If Lebron’s Heat have a signature season like 1986 was for Larry Bird’s Celtics or 1987 was for Magic Johnson’s Lakers, this is the year to do it.

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Written by jr.

October 18, 2012 at 11:01 pm