A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Archive for December 2012

Should the Celtics trade for Amar’e Stoudemire?

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Amar'e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks addre...

Amar’e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks addresses fans at the team’s open practice session in October 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With Amar’e Stoudemire coming back from injury, all the talk is of what to do with him. The Knicks have clearly been successful without him, starting 21-8. A key to this is Carmelo playing at the 4 beside Tyson Chandler, the two providing a perfect harmony of offensive spacing and mobile defense. Carmelo and Amar’e have never been able to win while on the court together. The offensive chemistry and synergy between them is impossible with their style of ball-needing play. While Amar’e seems destined to come off the bench when he returns, this does not fix the issue. Carmelo, Amar’e and Chandler will need to play together a certain portion of the game – and I suspect Stoudemire will want to finish games and play the end of 4th quarters. Coming off the bench is one thing, but being benched in “winning time” is arguably an even bigger slight to star player’s egos.

Trading Amar’e is the natural move, the problem is he has the single worst contract in the league. At 2 years/45 million owed after this season, if his health issues prevent him from playing at a star level, he will be a massive albatross.

Here’s the team I like for Stoudemire: The Boston Celtics. Boston has started a disappointing 14-14 and looks in no way like a title contender this year. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo are still effective, the problem is the rest of the team. All of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger are performing poorly. The Celtics frontcourt in particular has been ineffective aside from Garnett. I’m of the belief that when you have old stars like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, you should push all in to try and win the title. Because having players that effective is a scarce asset and it can take decades to contend for a title again after they’re gone. The Celtics only being a .500 team in a year they expected to compete for a title is a huge failure from that perspective.

The thing about the Celtics is that they’re loaded with long term deals. Jeff Green is owed 3 years/27.1 million after this season and may be a below league average player, Brandon Bass is owed 2 years/13.7 million after the season, Courtney Lee is owed 3 years/16.3 million after this year. Combine those 3 poor contracts together and financially, it’s almost an exact match for Stoudemire’s salary. The Green, Bass and Lee combination is owed 19.6 million in 2012-2013,  20.65 million in 2013-2014, 21.6 million in 2014-2015 and 14.9 million in 2015-2016. Amar’e is owed 19.5 million in 2012-2013, 21.7 million in 2013-2014, and 23.4 million in 2014-2015. Because the Knicks do not likely have room for 3 extra players in their rotation, especially an extra wing defender like Lee, a logical swap would be sending back Ronnie Brewer and 1.1 million expiring contract. Brewer has been losing minutes lately due to his lack of shooting and would be replaceable by Lee.

So the Knicks move on from their Amar’e conundrum and get a legitimate backup big who’s OK being a backup in Bass and give Green a try at SF and PF, while replacing Brewer with Lee. All of these pieces are more moveable in upcoming years than Amar’e himself. The important part though is avoiding the potential chemistry nuke of an unhappy Amar’e returning and being benched in 4th quarters.

As for the Celtics, they hope Amar’e can spark them to contention this year. With Terry, Pierce, Amar’e and Garnett, the Celtics would have tremendous offensive spacing for Rondo to play with. They would have an extra scorer to match up with Miami, Chicago and New York’s tough defense in the playoffs. Defensively they would have to hope the team thank to Garnett can get back to the heights they were in previous years. Getting Ronnie Brewer back may help that as well. Overall, it’s a gamble, but one that doesn’t cost them anything financially and they’re in a position where they need to take chances, if they want to compete for a Finals berth again this year. With Rondo, Pierce and Garnett on the team they can’t be far away from contending again. One more big gun could do it.

Written by jr.

December 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm

What IS “feel for the game”, anyways?

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Erving Lipofsky

Erving Lipofsky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A concept I’ve been hammering on lately is “feel for the game”. Most people have knowledge that this exists – clearly there’s something that makes Paul Pierce, James Harden, Chris Paul and Andre Miller natural basketball players and Jordan Hill, Jerryd Bayless, Tyrus Thomas, Yi Jianlian not natural players, for reasons that goes beyond pure skill. Some people just call it basketball intelligence. For the most part, you can kind of just see it when a player has a great feel for the game or not.

But what is it? Pragmatically, can we nail down exactly what is happening here? What is the cause of “feel for the game”?

First of all, I’d point out that what is called “feel for the game” in sports, for many other fields is the only thing that matters in regards to talent. Take the example of an incredibly talented painter, writer, singer, actor, comedian – Most accept there is no direct “cause” of this talent. It’s just they have a particular feel and natural affinity for their craft that others don’t. For whatever reason, their genetics and environment conditioning lined up perfectly for them to be one of the best in the world at what they do. What many talented people say of crafts like this is that it comes easy to them. That’s what makes their work beautiful, the fact that it came naturally out of them and without effort and we can tell. These natural talents are just accepted for what they are. The painter or writer or comedian just has a natural feel for his craft that others don’t, period. This is one reason why “feel for the game” in sports should not be a shocking concept. There is a precedent in every other area of talent that sets up the possibility for basketball players being naturally gifted at the sport “just because they are”.

But if searching for a pragmatic reason, I believe the concept of “spatial intelligence” is key to understand the talents these players have. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

December 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm

33pt breakdown: Is Tyson Chandler a star talent?

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Wizards v/s Mavericks 02/26/11

Wizards v/s Mavericks 02/26/11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tyson Chandler’s career path has been interesting. After getting picked 2nd overall in the 2001 his first 9 years in the league were that of a respectable starting center but a disappointment, playing on 3 teams by the time he was 27. His season in Charlotte was his nadir, losing minutes in the rotation to Nazr Muhammad and Theo Ratliff (!!!) which along with injury concerns, made him seem like a total afterthought as a player.

Then Chandler goes to Dallas and everything changes. He helps the Mavericks win the title with a mix of defending, rebounding and all-time great shooting efficiency, gets a max contract, then wins defensive player the next year on the Knicks. This year he’s been key to a 14-4 start. Chandler the last 3 seasons has quietly been an advanced stats star, putting up top 10 in Wins Shares/48 minutes marks (5th in 2010-2011 in Dallas, 8th in 2011-2012, 2nd in 2012-2013). But the reputation of a star still somewhat alludes him, normally because players without great scoring statistics are the ones who are most often called stars. Many would likely still call Dallas’ 2011 title as a “1 star” team, complimenting Dirk for winning the title without a star 2nd banana like most title teams have.

Here is my 33pt talent grading system’s evaluation of Tyson Chandler:

Chandler’s top strength is his feel for the game. He is an extremely intelligent help defender and pick and roll defender, likewise he has become a devastating pick and roll offensive player due to his ability to find the angles and spacing rolling to the rim. Chandler’s understanding of the game and space is great. This has always been true of Chandler even in the first 9 years of his career – he has been responsible positionally at both ends.

Next, Chandler is an impressive physical talent. While never the bulkiest center in the league, he can explode to the rim hard and has great length for a center. He is not a truly dominant shotblocker (averaging 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes for his career) but can protect the rim. His rebounding numbers per minute has always been excellent. For a center he has high end physical talent.

Chandler’s skill game is where he’s made his biggest leaps. Once a player relegated to clean up baskets, he’s become a more skilled finisher, which is how he’s putting up those .70 TS% type efficiencies the last few years. This skill improvement has also correlated with an increase in FT shooting, averaging over 70% the last 4 seasons from the line. Chandler is obviously not the most skilled center in the league in regards to creating his own shot, but at the center position I believe having elite hands and finishing around the rim ranks well, with many players at the position having very little offense. Chandler is somewhere between average and decent in skill talent.

Adding it up: Chandler has elite feel for the game talent and physical talent for a center. A fair grade for Tyson in those grades would be 9 in both. Thus giving Chandler a conservative score of 5 in skill level for a center would make his total score 23. With 20 being my rough bench-mark for all-star and 24-25 being where a player crosses into superstar territory, Chandler’s score is fabulous and indicative that indeed, he is a star talent. The Dallas Mavericks had a “2nd star” on the 2011 team beside Dirk Nowitzki and the New York Knicks have a 2nd star to play with Carmelo Anthony – His name is Tyson Chandler.

Written by jr.

December 7, 2012 at 2:14 pm

The 2 most likely Pau Gasol trades I can think of

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Washington Wizards vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Washington Wizards vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday I posted what I think should happen in the Pau Gasol sweepstakes (Dallas trying everything they can to put him beside Dirk). Now I will post what I believe will happen. Here are the two trade ideas that stand out as the best to me:

Trade #1 – Between the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Hornets

This trade is based on ESPN’s article yesterday revealing some information about Pau Gasol’s prospective trade rumors. One is that the Lakers want Ryan Anderson. This seems obviously true. Anderson proved in Orlando he’s the perfect fit beside Dwight Howard as a 3pt shooting PF who rebounds respectably. With D’Antoni and Nash fitting best with extra spacing in their offense, he fits with them as well. The Lakers undoubtably say yes to a deal with Pau for Anderson as the principles.

Of course a young team like the Hornets has no interest in an old, expensive veteran like Gasol. Enter the Minnesota Timberwolves, who according to Marc Stein in the above article, have offered a package centered around Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic to the Lakers for Gasol. Now one could draw objections to this trade for the Timberwolves as Pekovic is a younger, cheaper player. But with a resigned Pekovic in 2013-2014, the combined salaries of that deal, Williams’ and Ridnour or Barea’s (surely one would be sent to the Lakers to fill their PG needs) combine for about as much as Pau would make. A bigger concern may be that Pau is an older, win now player. The Wolves would have to be committed to “going for it” and trying to contend with Kevin Love almost immediately. One could raise objections to the Wolves making this deal for Pau, but with ESPN reporting their interest in it, I am inclined to believe their interest.

The Lakers can’t fit Pekovic in their lineup as he plays the same position as Dwight. To me the pieces between these 3 teams now fit beautifully. Why not flip Pekovic and Williams to the Hornets for Ryan Anderson? Pekovic fits the Hornets more than Anderson because he is a back to the basket center, while Anderson plays the same position as Anthony Davis at PF. While the Hornets may have planned on Davis logging center minutes beside Anderson for the future, getting banged up early in his career because of his small frame may cause them to reconsider that plan. Pekovic’s size and scoring down low on the other hand perfectly fits Davis. Furthermore, Derrick Williams as the #2 pick in 2011 fits their youth movement and may be a player who breaks out in a new situation, playing as a big SF or small PF. Pekovic and Williams is great value for Anderson for a team like the Hornets. So the trade in total is:

The Lakers get:
Ryan Anderson, Luke Ridnour, Brandon Roy (expiring contract)

The Timberwolves get:

Pau Gasol

The Hornets get:

Nikola Pekovic, Derrick Williams

Trade #2 – Between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors

If the Lakers trade Pau they will likely want a PF who can space the floor for D’Antoni, Nash and Howard to replace Pau’s more back to the basket friendly game. This is where the Ryan Anderson, Andrea Bargnani rumors come from. A name that seems to fit particularly well to me is David Lee. Not only is he a pick and roll, shooting PF, but he has a history with Mike D’Antoni style basketball, when he was coaching the Knicks. Thus seems like a natural trade fit for Gasol on the Lakers end.

As for the Warriors, acquiring Gasol for Lee benefits them in a number of ways. One is that it makes them presumably better immediately and helps them make the playoffs again for the first time since the 2006-2007 We Believe season. Secondly is that because Gasol’s deal runs for 2 years and Lee’s for 4, the Warriors are left with much more cap flexibility after the 2013-2014 season. Andrew Bogut, Pau Gasol, Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, Carl Landry and Brandon Rush all expire that season, a total of 61.4 million! This allows them to quickly remodel their team around their young stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and co.

Furthermore the Warriors can get themselves under the luxury tax in 2013-2014 if they also dump a contract on the Lakers in this deal, such as Richard Jefferson, in exchange for also helping fix their PG needs by adding Jarrett Jack. Thus here is my Lakers-Warriors deal:

The Lakers get:

David Lee, Richard Jefferson, Jarrett Jack

The Warriors get:

Pau Gasol, Steve Blake

This trade would be more likely when Steve Blake gets healthy, around the trade deadline – thus giving the Warriors a backup PG to replace Jack.  With Lee, Jefferson and Jack, the Lakers get deeper and faster than they are now. The Warriors roll out Gasol in the frontcourt compliment their shooters like Curry, Thompson and Barnes, a devastating inside-outside combination. If Bogut comes back this year, they could have a massive frontcourt. This deal sets up the Warriors for the next 2 season and then gives them the flexibility to rebuild on the fly. The Lakers try to improve their team by dealing Pau for multiple pieces. It seems like a logical deal to me.

Written by jr.

December 6, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Why the Dallas Mavericks should get involved in the Pau Gasol sweepstakes

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Español: Pau concentrado con la Selección de b...

Español: Pau concentrado con la Selección de basket en el Puerto de Santa María. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pau Gasol will likely be traded by the deadline. Mentally he appears to be checked out and perhaps his struggles are just for a pragmatic reason, he needs to be playing center, not power forward. The Lakers are struggling because they need more speed and depth.

Many people are listing teams like the Raptors (Bargnani/Calderon), Bucks (Ilyasova/Dunleavy/Udrih), Warriors (Lee/Jefferson) as teams who can give the Lakers a frontcourt shooter who fits Howard and more depth. Those are solid ideas, but I’ll throw a darkhorse into the mix, at least in terms of a team I believe *should* be interested in Pau Gasol: The Dallas Mavericks.

After winning the 2011 title the Mavericks arguably made a big mistake. By not resigning Tyson Chandler so they could have a chance at getting Deron Williams or Dwight Howard, they sacrificed the immediate present for the future. They gave up a chance at defending the title in 2012, one of Dirk’s last prime seasons. Prime years of a player like Dirk are scarce resources, they give you a chance to win the title. After Dirk retires the Mavericks could be waiting decades to contend again. Simply punting away one of those precious decisions to gamble in free agency seem ill advised to me. That’s why I advocated this summer they make a huge push for Steve Nash, as at least that’d give them a shot this upcoming season at making noise in a final Dirk contention season.

It’s for the same reason I believe they should look at a deal like this: Send a package looking like OJ Mayo, Chris Kaman and contract fillers (Dahntay Jones, Dominique Jones) to the Lakers. Mayo gives the Lakers a super 3pt shooting 6th man who’s having a breakout star season. With his roots in LA going back to his USC days he can be a long term fixture for the team if he resigns. Kaman gives them a starting PF beside Howard who can shoot the ball enough to space the floor. Dahntay Jones may be able to get some minutes as a defensive stopper. I’m not sure if this is the best deal the Lakers can get but it’s one they’d have to consider with Pau’s age and contract hurting his trade value.

As for the Mavericks, it then pushes them into the “super win now mode” they should’ve been in since the 2011 title. Their top 6 is now Darren Collision, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Elton Brand as the most important player off the bench. That is a legitimate rotation. The Dirk-Pau combination is a devastating fit with Nowitzki’s shooting opening up space Gasol hasn’t had in years to score in the post. Marion is still a great small forward due to his size and intelligence. Collision has had his moments this year and Carter can still score. Brand is a smart, skilled veteran. The basketball IQ and passing of these 6 players is almost as tremendous as the 2011 Mavericks’ were. They would not be title favorites but they would give themselves a real shot at being a team nobody wants to face in the playoffs. This is opposed to the current Mavericks roster who I don’t believe have a chance in the 2013 playoffs. What people missed at the time of the 2011 playoffs is that the Mavericks indeed had a “2nd star” beside Dirk Nowitzki and that player was Tyson Chandler, who is one of the top 20-25 players in the league due to what he does for a team defensively and finishing at the rim. For the Mavericks to compete again they need that 2nd star, who would be Pau Gasol.

I don’t expect this deal to happen, both because the Mavericks have shown no sign of entering this “super win now mode” phase the last few years and frankly it seems like the Lakers may be able to get a better deal. My prediction for a Pau Gasol trade is that he ends up in Golden State with David Lee and another contract like Richard Jefferson or Andris Biedrins going back. This is a fine trade for the Lakers with Lee’s offensive fit beside Howard. However, I would love to see Pau in Dallas as they try to close the Dirk era with a bang and not a whimper.

Written by jr.

December 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm

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