A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Archive for February 2013

2013 NBA lottery mock (02/28/13)

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Here’s my best guess at how the draft shakes out by June. That includes guessing who picks in the top 3

1. Orlando Magic – PG Marcus Smart

Rob Hennigan has been stockpiling feel for the game heavy players. Is he hunting market inefficiency wabbits? Smart fits that profile and they need a franchise PG. As crazy as it seems, Otto Porter is a dark horse here as his feel is as impressive as anyone’s.

2. Phoenix Suns – SG Ben McLemore

The Suns are desperate for a blue chip SG or SF. McLemore can be a franchise scorer and Goran Dragic’s drive and kick game compliments him.

3. Charlotte Bobcats – PF Nerlens Noel

The Bobcats are far enough away to wait for Noel’s recovery and development. The Rich Cho picks Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist favor athleticism and defense, which Noel and Victor Oladipo fit the most.

4. Washington Wizards – SF Otto Porter

Unlikely to draft a guard with John Wall and Bradley Beal holding those spots, Porter fits at SF and matches their new professionalism focus.

5. Sacramento Kings – SG Victor Oladipo

The Kings need a team leader to turn around their team culturally. Oladipo gives them a blue chip SG and likely signals the end of Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton at the 2.

6. New Orleans Pelicans – C Cody Zeller

The Hornets could use a big with more upside than Robin Lopez to pair with Anthony Davis. Cody’s post skill and IQ creates an impressive combination.

7. Cleveland Cavaliers – C Willie Cauley-Stein

The Cavs use advanced metrics to draft which favors players with reb, blk, stl, ast, efficiency. Noel, Oladipo, Porter fits that model the most, but Cauley-Stein also rates well and fills a need for a long term C and badly needed size.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves – SG CJ McCollum

The Timberwolves had horrid shooting this year and are desperate to make the playoffs next year. CJ is a great fit shooting beside Rubio and is an immediate contributor.

9. Detroit Pistons – SG Archie Goodwin

The Pistons will almost surely draft a wing. Goodwin’s amazing physical tools should gain him fans as a high upside player.

10. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto) – C Alex Len

The Thunder’s need is a blue chip center. Len falling this far is a perfect fit, giving them offense and shotblocking in the future from the position.

11. Philadelphia 76ers – PF Anthony Bennett

Another surprising fall, the 76ers go best player available hoping to get a star PF in Bennett beside Jrue.

12. Dallas Mavericks – C Steven Adams

The Mavericks seem like they’re thinking long term and for the post Dirk era. Adams has amazing physical tools for a C, if raw.

13. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland) – SG Allen Crabbe

After grabbing defense with Noel, the Cats grab some shooting and offense at SG beside MKG and Walker.

14. Phoenix Suns – SF Shabazz Muhammad

The Suns are likely happy for a big name SF to fall this far, completing their wings upgrade.

Written by jr.

February 28, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

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Unpopular opinion alert: Patrick Patterson has the blue chip upside, not Thomas Robinson!

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Thomas Robinson of the Kansas Jayhawks

Thomas Robinson of the Kansas Jayhawks (Photo credit: SD Dirk)


Two notes: One, A Substitute for War passed 100,000 lifetime page views! Although that feat gets less impressive when the amount of articles and days it took to get there it taken into account, it’s nice to be able to write something and know at least some people read it. Thank you to Matt Johnson for starting the blog and writing most of the early articles to help drive some traffic here, as well as any regular readers I might have. Secondly, the url is back to asubstituteforwar.wordpress.com though a quick check tells me typing in the old url should redirect it here, so it shouldn’t be a problem. 

The most “fun” deal of the NBA trade deadline was Sacramento shockingly giving up on Thomas Robinson, half a season from picking him 5th overall. Now by writing this article I’m not fully endorsing the deal for Sacramento. Surely there was more trade value available for Robinson and it feels like their motive was to dump his contract as they prepare their sale to the Seattle group. If they get a blue chip player out of Patterson, my guess is it’s unintentionally.

The general reaction to this deal, was that Sacramento gave up a potential blue chip player or all-star in Thomas Robinson, for a player who know is average in Patrick Patterson. I argue the opposite may end up true.

While with the Rockets, Patterson was very high on my “He has everything he needs to be good, why isn’t he good? This player confuses me.” list. Breaking it down: Patterson has an above average feel for the game. He’s been heralded for his high IQ and awareness on both ends going back to his Kentucky days. His skill level for a power forward is also impressive. He’s had one of the best midrange shooting %s in the entire league, let alone for big men, for most of his career – shooting 46%, 43% and 47% from 16-23 feet his 3 seasons in the league, to go along with very impressive 3-9 ft and 10-15 ft career splits. This year the Rockets had him extending his range and taking 3s on a regular basis. He also has a solid looking post game and impressive hands around the basket. Finally, physically Patterson is a solid 6’9 and explosive enough to play above the rim. In my talent grading system this makes him a comfortable blue chipper. Say a 5 in physical impact talent, an 8 in skill impact talent and an 8 in feel for the game talent, is a score of 21 which is a legitimate blue chip player and not far off from all-star status. Those splits are a reminscent of a player like David Lee, who has an impressive feel, a perimeter jumpshot and great touch and respectable athleticism (I would say Lee is more athletic than Patterson, but Patterson’s perimeter skill game is better). Lee isn’t dominant in any of physically, skill or in feel, but being pretty good across the board, makes him a blue chipper. Where has Patterson gone wrong? His physical talents haven’t translated to the game, for the most part. His incredibly low FTA rate for his career (1.5 per 36 minutes for his career) indicates a player who isn’t attacking the basket. His first 2 years he averaged 1.7 and 1.6 shots at the rim, though this year he made the move up to 2.5 a game, solid for 25.9mpg. But with the Rockets blitzing pace, those may be freebie transition points he had to get. With that said, the Rockets specialized pick and roll heavy system, may be responsible for Patterson being used as a floor spacing shooter and not taking advantage of his athleticism attacking the basket. Furthermore his just under 3600 MP total in the league is relatively low. I tend to believe 6000-7000 is when players truly become what they are and that minutes are far more important than age for development stages. As a comparison, Patterson has played less minutes in his career than Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Klay Thompson, who are one and a half seasons into their careers. If taking the perspective that Patterson has the reps of a player midway through his 2nd season, it becomes a lot more believable that with more experience and in a new system, he taps into his impressive talent level as an athletic power forward with a high skill and feel for the game combination.

Thomas Robinson on the other hand is a player I’ve picked on for some time, beginning with ranking him out of my top 20 before the NBA Draft. Robinson is an NBA player, but in my opinion is a flawed talent. His biggest issue is his feel for the game is below average for a PF. He often plays like he’s in a permanent rush and the game moves fast for him and is choppy and robotic instead of smooth and natural. Robinson doesn’t make the game look easy, he makes it look like an effort. Other than that Robinson is a solid enough prospect. He’s got great explosiveness and strength for a power forward, which with solid ballhandling should translate to impressive physical impact on the game. In regards to his skill game, he doesn’t have great touch around the basket or post ability, but his midrange jumpshot is coming along very nicely. Robinson has a good combination of physical impact and skill impact talents, but the problem is that if a player is below average in physical impact, skill impact or feel for the game, to be a star he has to be an elite talent in the other two, not just a good one. Stephen Curry doesn’t physically impact the game a whole lot, but he has an amazing combination of skill and feel for his position. Andre Iguodala has a serious perimeter skill problem for a 2, but is dynamic physically and in feel. Robinson’s physical impact and skill impact as a combination is a notch below what it needs to be to still make it to blue chipper status despite questionable feel. If I gave Robinson an 8 in physical impact, 5 in skill impact and 2 in feel for the game, his score would be 15. This is enough for a long and solid career as a contributer. Unless he takes a big leap forward in skill or becomes dominant physically, my guess is he’s headed for a career resembling Kris Humphries and Jordan Hill, athletic, rebounding power forwards with a perimeter jumpshot, who have a hard time finding a starting role due to a lack of feel or versatility in their skill games. Of course, the Knicks dumped Jordan Hill midway through his rough rookie season to the Houston Rockets. It wouldn’t surprise me if this trade is similarly inconsequential to the Rockets as grabbing Hill was.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a guarantee Patterson is > Robinson. Patterson’s inability to mix it up physically could be a character flaw, not every player reaches their talent level. Robinson could also develop into such a dynamic combination of physical impact and skill plays to make up for his clearly unimpressive feel for the game. But I would bet on Patterson without hesitating.

Written by jr.

February 27, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Fun with NBA players and TV/film analogies

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Through the Looking Glass (Lost)

“How the hell can I make my teammates better by practicing?” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago I went on a twitter run comparing NBA players to television shows. I’m a pretty big TV nerd and the last 15 years or so has been a golden run for the era, easily surpassing film and music’s contributions in the time period.

For fun, here are my favorite TV/NBA analogies:

Michael Jordan – The Wire: Widely considered the gold standard for the medium as a flawless, electrifying tapestry.

Kobe Bryant – The Shield: A show with similarities to the Wire due to its moral grey lines and juxtaposition of cops and criminals, but because of this similarity it is impossible to make a case that The Shield and Bryant are better.

Rajon Rondo – Dexter: Dexter lives a double life as a family man on the surface, but in the darkness is a serial killer vigilante. Likewise at different times Rajon can seem like a great teammate, but at others a chemistry killing diva.

Allen Iverson – Lost: Being a Lost fan was a great experience due to the online fanbase and uniqueness of the show. The fun of the era helped cover up the flaws in the show and the time it missed. Likewise Iverson was such a fun and unique player that it causes us to forget his flaws and missed shots more than we should.

Shaquille O’Neal – The Sopranos: Admittedly I have yet to catch up to the Sopranos, but the criticism I hear most is that it had storylines and episodes that were cut-able “fat” that prevented it from being the best ever, instead of merely in the conversation of the greats. Sounds like Shaq.

Tim Duncan – Mad Men: Classy and dignified and goes about its business as it builds towards one of the best TV shows of all time. All about the fundamentals.

Russell Westbrook – Game of Thrones: An exciting show that can unleash extravagant blood-letting and sexual nudity at any time. Likewise you never really know when Westbrook’s game is about to go off like a loose cannon, for good or bad.

Dwight Howard – Homeland: A very impressive show, but never developed in his 2nd season the way we wanted it to and doesn’t have the extra polish to be an all-time great. Has become a bit overrated.

Drazen Petrovic – Firefly: It’s a shame that the show got cut short, but Firefly’s first season and Petro’s NBA career were good but not exemplary, let’s not blow their upside if they had kept going out of proportion.

Brandon Roy – Community: I’m including this because seeing Community Season 4 without Dan Harmon and trying to appeal to mainstream audiences and failing miserably as a shell of itself, is really depressing and painful to watch, sort of like Roy’s comeback for the Timberwolves.

Joakim Noah – Battlestar Galactica: A favorite of the diehards of the medium, but was never going to get the mainstream attention of other stars.

Tyreke Evans – Heroes: Started out with a ton of hype, albeit that first year was likely always a bit overrated. Then it all went to hell and more.

Gordon Hayward – Once Upon a Time: Arguably TV’s most underrated because of how lame its plot looks on paper. Likewise Gordon’s athleticism and upside underrated because of his “picking up the daughter to the prom” appearance.

Here are two other analogies stepping outside of the direct TV show comparisons angle, that I am fond of:

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – Good Cop/Bad Cop: Westbrook’s buckwild style of play to me is like the film/television cop who’s a loose cannon and may slam a suspect’s head against the interrogation desk because he looked at him the wrong way and who’s into coke and prostitutes when he’s off the job. Durant is his clean cut partner who does things the right way and solves the cases. He’s the main character of the show and is more responsible for the pair’s success, but Westbrook can be the most exciting.

Dwight Howard – Brandon Routh and “Superman Returns”: Billed as the next Superman after his predecessor (Christopher Reeve/Shaq), Howard and his film looked the part, but has left us underwhelmed that he just doesn’t have enough meat to his game or personality. He’s becoming more and more of a disappointing shell. If he’s Superman, he’s the Brandon Routh version!

Written by jr.

February 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Basketball

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Make this trade: Josh Smith (+ Zaza Pachulia, HOU or ATL 1st) for Dwight Howard

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Josh Smith | Atlanta Hawks

Josh Smith | Atlanta Hawks (Photo credit: Basketball Schedule)

The Los Angeles Lakers season is the story that keeps on giving. It’s a reality show, between Kobe’s cerebral bluntness and Howard’s immaturity and inability to stop talking. I don’t believe Howard is the right fit for the Lakers long term. There is too much blood in the water. The heat is too strong and he has proven fragile under it.

But the most likely all-star caliber talent to move this trade deadline is fellow Georgia native and Howard’s former high school teammate Josh Smith. He wants out of Atlanta and they don’t want to give him a maximum contract. Getting assets for him now instead of receiving none when he leaves in unrestricted free agency, is the smart move.

I believe these players should be traded for each other. A trade of Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia and one of Atlanta’s 1st round picks (they have their own and Houston’s) for Dwight Howard fits.

Why should Atlanta do this? Howard if he can be nursed back to health is a superstar who has led a team to the Finals. He’s the type of star franchises need to compete for an NBA title. The Hawks have been kicking their wheels for some time in the 1st and 2nd round of the playoffs and look to continue to do that if they trade Smith for smaller assets than Howard. If they can get Howard to resign in his home state this summer, they have one of the best frontcourts in the league with Al Horford at PF and Howard at C. Jeff Teague and Lou Williams is a good start to the perimeter scoring needed to compliment them. While it’s a risk to give up a 1st round pick and the assets Smith can otherwise return for Howard when it’s unclear whether he’ll resign, geography and the dose of humility Howard has received in Los Angeles is on their side. There also isn’t a terrific situation for Howard to leave Atlanta for. Dallas isn’t scaring anyone as a Howard poacher. The Houston Rockets are lurking, but Howard was uninterested in the team last summer. Worst case scenario if the Hawks lost Howard to unrestricted free agency, they’d have the capspace to sign a player like Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson to compliment the Horford, Teague and Williams core. It wouldn’t be the end of the world. I believe the Hawks trading Smith for Howard would be a risk they have to take, to give themselves the chance at changing the direction of the franchise the rest of this decade. It gives them a pathway to building a team who can contend for a title if things fall into place.

Why should the Lakers do this? Dwight Howard may be a sexier name than Josh Smith, but I believe having Smith has a few advantages. For one, the Lakers would be heavily favored to resign him. After living in the shadows of Atlanta, I see no reason why Smith wouldn’t embrace the bright lights of the Lakers franchise as most stars do. One would presume there’s a greater probability of Smith resigning in Los Angeles, than there is for Howard – so any risk that comes with taking UFA Smith, is there just as much if they keep Howard the rest of the season. But the main reason I like Smith for the Lakers is fit. Going into next season they play Smith at PF with Pau at C. This is a terrific situation for the latter, at the position he now produces much better at – with a small power forward stretching the floor and giving him space, as Lamar Odom used to do during his best Lakers years. Smith is also a great fit for Mike D’Antoni in the Shawn Marion role as a transition scorer and defender. He makes the Lakers faster and more athletic, which is what they need. I like the chances of the Nash, Kobe, Smith, Pau-led Lakers doing very well next year. They’d have dynamic offense with the skill and IQ of their hall of fame backcourt and post scorer, while Smith gives them a needed athletic boost. The 1st I made Atlanta throw in to this deal, would also help their depth if they chose a productive rookie. Pachulia could also resign as a needed backup C.

Josh Smith may not have the long term upside of Dwight Howard, but if the Lakers want to try and win another title with Kobe Bryant, the best move may be dealing Howard. I really like the idea of simply flipping him for Smith.

Written by jr.

February 14, 2013 at 9:24 pm

How Gerald Green’s flaws represents the different way I judge talent

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English: Gerald Green Lokomotiv-Kuban

English: Gerald Green Lokomotiv-Kuban (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At a certain point in high school, Gerald Green was pegged as one of the next great superstar talents and a strong contender to go 1st overall. Due to concerns about being a player who didn’t get it and limiting his workouts after neglecting college to declare immediately, he was selected 18th overall out of high school. But nobody doubted his talent, just whether he’d develop the skills and mentality to use it. After bombing out of the NBA, he returned last season to decent productivity with the Nets, leading some to believe the new mature version of Green could reach his talent level in the NBA. The Pacers gave him a long term contract and he’s once again reverted to the sub-NBA caliber player he had been in his original stint.

Why do I care about Gerald Green? Because he represents two of the ways I grade talent differently than most. Here are the two “inefficiencies” I see in regards to why Gerald Green’s talent is overrated:

#1 – The difference between physical talent and physically impacting the game

Gerald Green is a fantastic athlete, with the Dunk Contest being the near highlight of his career. He has amazing vertical explosiveness and lift. The main reason Green got called a superstar in the making in high school is his athleticism for a 2 guard.

Here’s the problem: Because of a lack of ball-handling, Green has never been much of a “slasher”. Instead, he is a player that almost strictly takes jumpshots. When a perimeter player is relegated to jumpshots, I consider him to not be physically impacting the game. The players who impose speed and power on the opponents by going to the basket, physically impact the game. Thus in regards to talent, Green is given credit for his athleticism, but his lack of on ball/slashing skills, means that he can’t use that athleticism effectively. As a whole I would consider Green a weak physical impact talent.

#2 – Feel for the Game

Green has a poor feel for the game. He often looks robotic, stiff or out of control. He does not have natural instincts or smoothness to his game. He plays like a shooting guard version of Anthony Randolph or Javale McGee. One can make the case that he’s among the most obvious examples and prototypes for perimeter players with poor feel for the game.

If both these weaknesses are accepted it’s easy to see Green is not a very talented NBA player. He lacks the talents to physically impose himself on the game and he has a very week feel and instinctual talent base. His closest thing to a strength is a 3 point shot as well as the defensive potential his physical tools gave him. With a better attitude perhaps he could’ve stuck as a rotation player in the league, but in my opinion he has always been too flawed to have more than a limited role in the NBA.

Written by jr.

February 12, 2013 at 10:39 am

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

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Why Mario Hezonja is my #1 ranked prospect in the 2014 draft

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The 2014 draft class should be a doozy. The amount of prospects who are celebrities in high school is historic: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison are among the players with national publicity.

Right now Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker top most boards, with the Wiggins’ hype as particularly enormous. They are great prospects but I have my reservations about both. As I posted here, I feel Wiggins’ athletically is overrated as he is not a dynamic blow-by player off the dribble. He also has a raw shooting and ball-handling game. Wiggins has an amazing feel for the game but I’m concerned whether he’ll have the first step and ballhandling to be an elite slasher, or whether he’ll shoot well enough from long distance. As for Jabari in a way he is the anti-Wiggins. He has an outstanding skill game, highlighted by his shooting and post ability for a high school player and is a crafty dribbler and creator. He has a tremendous feel and IQ. The concern with him is athleticism and whether he’s an explosive enough player to consistently slash and create offense getting to the rim, or whether he’ll be a player forced to settle for perimeter jumpers. Both to me should end up blue chip players for a franchise, but I have concerns about whether they have complete enough talent bases to take it to the next level and be an All-NBA, transcendent franchise player.

Mario Hezonja to me is the most complete small forward prospect of the 3. Hezonja is a terrific slasher due to his ball-handling and first step, with the size to finish at the rim. He’s also an outstanding perimeter shooter and shot creator. Like Wiggins and Parker he has a tremendous feel for the game and IQ and craftiness creating his offense. Hezonja thus is somewhat of a middle ground between Wiggins and Parker. Wiggins is a high end athlete who needs to improve his ball-skills, while Parker is a high end skill player who may not be explosive or athletic enough in the NBA. Hezonja is both explosive and a high end skill player. To me he looks like the complete package for a perimeter offensive prospect, with the ability to attack the basket off the dribble, to hit the outside shot at an elite rate and having the natural feel and IQ to make it all work. The more I see of him, the more complete and dynamic his game and talent looks. To quote Monta Ellis, Mario Hezonja have it all.

A few years ago on a message board, I heard a poster make an astute comment about European and International prospects. He said that because of the failed European picks in the top 10 years like Darko Milicic, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Yi Jianlian, Andrea Bargnani, etc., as well as the “International Man of Mystery” feel to these prospects instead of the familiar NCAA production – that there is a stigma and fear about ranking European prospects too high. And that because of this, eventually those failed European draft picks, will come back to bite teams when they underrate and are too fearful of the next international star whenever he comes. Eventually simply because of odds and time there will be a superstar talent who’s ranked in the top 10 of a draft – and in all likelihood, being international and the fear that comes with that will be what prevents him from going #1. Mario Hezonja may or may not be that guy, but looks like he has the best chance of any International player in years to make that prediction come to fruition. Even if Parker and Wiggins’ weaknesses are apparent after next college season, it seems obvious no team would have the balls to take Mario Hezonja 1st over them. We’ll see if that’s a mistake or not.

Written by jr.

February 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Trying to figure out the future of non-Kyrie Irving, 2011 lottery prospects

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English: Jimmer Fredette finger roll vs. Wyomi...

English: Jimmer Fredette finger roll vs. Wyoming, March 5, 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After Kyrie Irving, calling the 2011 draft a mess is an understatement. Nobody from 2 to 14 has established themselves as a true blue chip player and all-star candidate. But of course the gap between year 2 and year 3 is significant for players. Year 3 is when prospects shake off the sophomore slump and make the great leap forward, or when they prove it’s simply not happening for them. Thus it’s logical to say that a year from now, people will feel differently about many of these prospects. The logical guess would be that at least one player other than Irving in that lottery becomes a star or close to it. Thus it’s a fun game to guess which ones will be the standouts. Here are my talent grades for the 2011 lottery, including Irving:

PG Kyrie Irving: Physical impact talent grade: 9, Skill impact talent grade: 11, Feel for the Game impact talent grade: 11, Total talent grade: 31 (Superstar/Transcendent talent)

SG Jimmer Fredette: Physical impact talent grade: 3, Skill impact talent grade: 11, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7, Total talent grade: 21 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

SG Klay Thompson: Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 9, Feel for the Game talent grade: 5, Total talent grade: 19 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

C Enes Kanter – Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 7, Feel for the Game talent grade: 5, Total grade: 17 (Borderline starter talent grade)

PG Kemba Walker – Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 5, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7, Total grade: 17 (Borderline starter talent grade)

PF Derrick Williams – Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 7, Feel for the Game talent grade: 5, Total grade: 17 (Borderline starter talent grade)

PF Marcus Morris – Physical impact talent grade: 1, Skill impact talent grade: 9, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7, Total grade: 17 (Borderline starter talent grade)

SG Alec Burks – Physical impact talent grade: 9, Skill impact talent grade: 3, Feel for the Game talent grade: 5, Total grade: 17 (Borderline starter talent grade)

SG Brandon Knight – Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 5, Feel for the Game talent grade: 5, Total grade: 15 (Borderline starter talent grade)

PF Tristan Thompson – Physical impact talent grade: 7, Skill impact talent grade: 5, Feel for the Game talent grade: 3, Total grade: 15 (Borderline starter talent grade)

C Jonas Valanciunas – Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 7, Feel for the Game talent grade: 3, Total grade: 15 (Borderline starter talent grade)

C Bismack Biyombo – Physical impact talent grade: 9, Skill impact talent grade: 1, Feel for the Game talent grade: 5, Total grade: 15 (Borderline starter talent grade)

PF Markieff Morris – Physical impact talent grade: 1, Skill impact talent grade: 7, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7, Total grade: 15 (Borderline starter talent grade)

C Jan Vesely – Physical impact talent grade: 7, Skill impact talent grade: 1, Feel for the Game talent grade: 3, Total grade: 11 (Barely NBA caliber talent grade)

First of all, Kyrie Irving is an amazing talent. He’s as skilled a shooter and shot creator as anyone has been at his age, while his feel for the game is absolutely perfect, as one of the smoothest and most natural offensive players in the league. I’m also of the mind that his physical talent is underrated, while not a high flyer he’s one of the fastest PGs in the league and has terrific size for a 1, which when adding to league best ball-handling, makes him a dynamic threat slashing and physically impacting the game going to the basket. In my opinion Kyrie has a chance to be one of the best players of all time. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

February 10, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

Analyzing the talent of Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins

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This blog’s specialty over the last half year has been my signature talent grading system. While I believe most players play to their talent level, some end up perform at statistical levels above or below their talent, depending on the context of their teams. Two plays who grade out surprisingly low are former Warriors Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins.

Ellis has had an advanced stats target on his back for years, as an inefficient volume scorer, who hogs the ball away from better teammates and refuses to play defense. However most do not doubt his talent, only his commitment to maximizing his talent in the context of a team. I have doubts about his talent.

What Monta Ellis at his best did great at, was physically impacting the game. As one of the fastest players in the league he could slash into the paint at will. While short and skinny for a SG, he had the wiry strength and relentlessness to finish at the rim – making him a poor man’s version of Allen Iverson. Ellis was a well above average slasher for a SG.

But that’s where strengths for his position stop. Ellis has a relatively poor feel for the game. He often plays fast and out of control and without the ability to recognize his teammates spatially. He has little ability to adjust or find teammates while driving to the rim. He does not have a high innate basketball IQ.

His perimeter skill is inconsistent at best for a SG. With a career 3P% of .315 he’s never been a consistently dangerous outside threat, while he’s an average midrange shooter, despite how many he takes of them. He’s not a known skilled passer.

Andris’ Biedrins profile is similar. His strength is that he’s one of the most athletic centers in the league, with explosiveness around the rim and speed running up the floor. Although he is somewhat skinny for a C.

But in spite of his above average physical tools for a C, he’s flawed otherwise. He’s one of the least skilled centers in the league, with brutal hands and touch, no range and incredibly bad FT shooting. His feel for the game is also fairly poor. Instead of having a smooth and natural feel for the court, his movements are rough and robotic. He has never been a good defender because of his lack of great awareness and feel for rotating properly.

Grading their talent level, both are above average in their tools to physically impact the game. Biedrins has a horrible skill level and Monta is somewhere between average and poor. Both have subpar feel for the game. My grades with 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 as possible scores, would be a 7 in physical impact talent for Monta Ellis, a 5 in skill impact talent and a 3 in feel for the game for a total score of 15. For Andris Biedrins it would be a 7 in physical impact talent, a 1 in skill impact talent and a 3 in feel for the game for a total score of 11. Monta’s indicates a relevant player, more than a surefire bench player, but less than a surefire starter. Biedrins’ score is flat out bad and barely NBA talent caliber.

So what happened in their careers, if Monta has average talent and Biedrins’ is poor? At their statistical best, both were playing on some of the fastest paced, offensively orientated teams in the league. This helped them play to their athletic strengths and away from their lack of skills and instincts. Ultimately Biedrins’ career fell apart once the team’s lineup and his role changed a little, showing his talent couldn’t make that adjustment. Monta went onto to post 24-25ppg seasons in Golden State, but in Milwaukee he’s fallen off, with his PER dropping to 15.2 this season with weak statistics like 18.3ppg on .474 TS%. The Monta we’ve seen in Milwaukee looks suited for a 6th man role at best. It’s possible that if drafted into a less favorable stylistic situation than those Warriors, Monta may have always been a sparkplug off the bench instead of a big name and well paid player. The knock on Biedrins is that he mentally broke down from fear of shooting FT%s and physically broke down from injuries, but his fall-off from 10 million a year center to the unplayable big man he is now, is simply too far a drop. I’m more inclined to believe this is the real version of Biedrins and that he managed to outperform his abilities for a few years during his good seasons.

Written by jr.

February 7, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Posted in Basketball

PEDs in sports and analyzing the validity of its 3 “ethical wrongs”

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As long and tired as performance enhancing drugs stories in sports, Bill Simmons breathed new life into it with this article, arguably his best in years. He followed it up with discussing it on a podcast with Chuck Klosterman.

What is left out of the article is questions about the ethics of PEDs. Are we sure they’re bad and deserve to be illegal? As far as I’m concerned, the “ethical wrongs” of PEDs comes down to 3 statements

Ethical wrong #1: Cheating is bad and unfair

Very simply, sports players are playing games with specific outlined rules. When they cheat, it’s submarining the purity and fairness of the game. The athletes who don’t cheat and thus perform worse, or get paid less, get screwed out of glory and salary. We also hate the idea of a dishonest sport where players are lieing to us.

Well the way to flip this ethical wrong is pretty simple: Cheating only happens because of the rules we create. If PEDs are made legal, nobody will be concerned about the moral wrong of the players’ cheating, because it’d be no longer against the rules or in secret. They’d be reacted to no differently than legally medical technology used to recover from injury. Cheating is an “ethical wrong” that plausibly, could be eliminated with the rules of the game changing.

Ethical wrong #2: PEDs can have unhealthy consequences

This ethical wrong is based on that legalizing PEDs could push players to extremely dangerous levels altering their body, both in the short term and the long term. The competitiveness of players and the financial pressure put on their success, could lead players to total long term damage physically – it’s their sacrifice to make.

But wait a second, don’t we already live in a world where players dangerously sacrifice their bodies for the glory of sports? Look at football, a violent sport with players out there smashing each other’s heads and bodies in, often leading to long term mental and physical damage for retired players. Hockey is another sport where hits and fighting takes its toll. But the biggest example is boxing, a sport where the goal is literally to knock the opponent’s brain in their skull around until they pass out. Everyone who participates in boxing is sacrificing their health and possibly life, for the short term glory of sports. Professional wrestling is also a legal “sport” with an immense physical toll where many former wrestlers are irreversibly wrecked by the end of their careers. Sports has not set a precedent where its gladiators putting themselves on the line physically, is against our code. If so boxing would’ve been made illegal decades ago. We accept the players’ decision and prerogative to sacrifice themselves physically for us. Because it’s their decision to make. Likewise every “extreme” PED user would making the decision themselves to risk their long term health. If they’d prefer glory and money to health, that’d be their decision. Just as a boxer or football player or professional wrestler knows full well the danger he’s putting himself into. If one is concerned about how it’s unfair that the athlete who’s not willing to sacrifice himself physically for the sport ends up having a much worse or no career at all because of legal PEDs – once again, this is no different than what is the case in boxing, football and wrestling. Either be willing to face the danger, or find another profession.

Ethical wrong #3: Players’ bodies react to PEDs differently, so it creates an unfair playing field

This wrong essentially boils down to that allowing PEDs, means players are rewarded for how well their body reacts to them. Even if a player wants to take PEDs, if his body biologically doesn’t improve from it as well as his peers, he’ll slip through the cracks and have a much worse career than he deserves. One can make the case that Lance Armstrong’s dominance in the Tour de France simply comes down to his body taking a greater leap forward from the PEDs he took, than everyone else’s did. So a guy like Lance ends up the benefactor mainly by biological luck.

The reason this isn’t a valid ethical wrong? Because it’s no different from what the case is now. Individual greatness in sports is already determined by who’s body suits their sports’ requirements the most. Calling it “unfair” that Lance Armstrong won the genetic lottery among cycling PED users and thus dominating, isn’t any different than calling it unfair that Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps’ freakishly perfect physical gifts for running and swimming respectively, gave them an insurmountable edge over their opponents. Sports is already unfair when it comes to talent and who has the chance to be great. Extending that unfairness to the athletes who don’t have the bodies to grow performance wise with PEDs, only fits with what is already the case in regards to talent and performance.

Does this all mean I like PEDs? No, in an ideal world everyone would play fair. But the combination of competitiveness and financial pressures make it inescapable and it’s time to start asking – is it that big of a deal if players’ are allowed to enhance themselves in any form possible?

Written by jr.

February 6, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Two breakout players for whom I’m not drinking the kool-aid: Eric Bledsoe and Tristan Thompson

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Wizards v/s Clippers 03/12/11

Wizards v/s Clippers 03/12/11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve followed this blog you know that I have my own talent evaluation system, based on grading players 1/3 on tools that physically impact the game, 1/3 tools that impact the game through a skill level (mostly shooting) and 1/3 what is commonly referred to as feel for the game, a relative but not duplicate of basketball IQ. (The problem with using “basketball IQ” is that players with a strong feel for the game may play stupid for reasons that aren’t related to talent – instead originating from character flaws like selfishness, nerves, etc. Feel for the Game is a slightly more innate and talent based term)

If I’m correct, I should be able to use this talent evaluating system to pick out the “small sample size tricksters”. Over the years there’s been plenty of players who’ve “broken out” and put up near star numbers, but only for a short period of time. Eventually a combination of natural regression and teams’ scouting catches up to them and they fall back to being the frustrating players they were before. Most players can play well for a time, but much less can keep it up consistently.

This year there are two players that have played great in bursts statistically, who don’t pass the sniff test to me: Eric Bledsoe and Tristan Thompson. Bledsoe came flying out of the gate over the 20 PER mark, while he’s slowed down since then his overall stats of 18.3 PER and 15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per 36 minutes, is excellent for a 3rd year guard who just turned 23. After flatlining for the frst season and a half of his career, Tristan Thompson averaged 15.1 points and 10.9 rebounds a game in January, extremely impressive for a player who’s just 21. Enough for many to say he may go 2nd in the 2011 draft if redone today. Both players have people whispering about all-star upside. After all, if they’re impressive this much at a young age, they can only go up from here right? Not so fast. While it’s more fun to believe every player and high draft pick is a star in the making, the reality is the majority of them don’t break free of the peloton.

Breaking them down, first off both grade well in regards to physically impacting plays. Bledsoe is a marvel of a physical talent, with an elite combination of blinding speed and hulking strength, allowing him to get to the rim at will and allowing him to disrupt the game defensively. If he’s not in Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and John Wall’s class in regards to making plays with his physical tools for a PG (He lacks their size), he’s just a step behind. Tristan on the other hand has excellent explosiveness for a big man, allowing him to attack the basket. While playing C as he has since Anderson Varejao went down, he gives up size but contains speed that’s even harder to stop by the competition. Tristan isn’t amazing at physical impact talent like Bledsoe is, but we’ll call him above average at either PF or C.

What I don’t like about either player is their feel for the game. Bledsoe is one of those players who seems like he’s playing “too fast”, exploding with a head of steam to the basket without the control to probe the game or make decisions on the fly. Bledsoe is like a bucking horse that’s hard to reel in, which draws comparisons to Russell Westbrook – another player who’s feel for the game I consider below average for the point guard position. Tristan Thompson likewise is rough around the edges for a big man. He often can look robotic and stiff and rough around the edges, instead of a natural and smooth player on the offensive end. Both players make reading and probing the game look hard instead of easy.

That leaves plays created by skill. Eric Bledsoe was awful shooting the ball his first two seasons in the league, but has improved this year under the tutelage of Chris Paul. His 3pt shooting of 36.4% is average instead of poor, albeit it’s on a small sample size of 44 attempts this year. He still lacks a midrange game, with hoopdata indicating he’s shooting 26.0% from 16-23 feet and 36.4% from 10-15 feet. Most encouraging is his FT% jumping to 81.3%, though once again a sample size of 96 attempts is rather small. Bledsoe is certainly not a player that is trusting as a shooter or jumpshot creator from midrange or from 3 and is likely left open for most of his 3pt attempts. He looks to be headed to somewhere between average and below average for plays created by skill for a PG, in my opinion. As for Thompson, while lacks ability in the post or shooting range, he does have superb hands and an array of ways to finish around the basket and is an impressive ballhandler for a big man. I would say Tristan Thompson’s skill level is around average for a power forward, but above average for a center.

Considering this, it’s hard for me to justify grading them as all-star talents. On my scale of 1 to 11 (with 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 as possible grades), I would give Bledsoe a grade of 9 in physical impact talent, 3 in skill impact talent and 3 in feel for the game based on the above analysis, for an overall grade of 15, which grades out as a relevant career, but only a borderline starting caliber player. Scores of about 19 and above is what I consider “blue chip” starting caliber players, while scores of around 23 and above is when players become perennial all-star caliber talents. Bledsoe’s best chance to be a break through to that blue chip starter to all-star caliber range is for his shooting and perimeter skill game to take great leaps forward, to where it’s decidedly a weapon. When added to his amazing athleticism, this would make him a vicious combination of slashing and perimeter shooting, enough to be a near star even with an underwhelming feel for the game. Russell Westbrook would be the model to follow for Bledsoe here. I do not like Westbrook’s feel for the game any more than Bledsoe’s, but the combination of his all time great physical tools for his position and respectable shooting stroke still make him a blue chip player. The player who’s career Bledsoe might end up resembling most is Devin Harris, who like him was a supersub on an elite team while in Dallas, before going to his own squad in New Jersey. Harris actually a spectacular all-star season his first year in New Jersey, but both his dramatic fall-off since and my personal evaluation of his talent tell me that year was somewhat of a fluke, probably let on by teams not catching up scouting report wise to him yet. Harris to me has an unimpressive feel for the game and inconsistent perimeter skill level, so despite a dynamic ability to penetrate and attack the basket, in my opinion it’s not enough.

My grades for Tristan Thompson assuming his long term position is PF, is 7 in physical impact talent, 5 in skill impact talent and 3 in feel for the game. (At center he has a more impressive skill level but gives a bit back physically.) Like Bledsoe this gives him a grade of 15, making him a useful talent but not a standout starter or all-star. Like Bledsoe if he has any chance of breaking out to that blue chipper status, it’s if his skill game can make a huge leap upward for the position, which would happen with Tristan developing a Carlos Boozer-like perimeter jumpshot and skill game. My guess though is Tristan ends up having a career resembling Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries, energy big men who’s athleticism and decent ability to score (both have better jumpshots than Tristan is likely to develop, but Tristan has better touch and ball-handling) helped them carve out nice careers, but as players more suited to be a signature backup big man on a great team.

Written by jr.

February 2, 2013 at 4:17 am