A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Archive for April 2013

Fun with the Stanley Cup Playoffs and NBA analogies

leave a comment »

English: Alex Ovechkin, warmups.

English: Alex Ovechkin, warmups. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Usually I write one NHL article a year, right before the playoffs start. I don’t have great NHL expertise, so I usually buckle and write a “NHL from the NBA fan’s perspective” article in some way.

So for fun this year, I will rank the 16 teams from most likely to least likely Stanley Cup Champion, but by comparing them to something about the NBA.

1. Chicago Blackhawks (1st seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Kevin Durant era Oklahoma City Thunder

The Blackhawks have a great team culture. Headlined by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews who are surefire lifers for the franchise, they play with the effort and team unity in addition to their talent all franchises should strive for. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook hold the reigns of the Thunder franchise and the expectations to contend year in and year out for a decade and a half, in the similar way.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (1st seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Jerry West and Elgin Baylor era Lakers

The Penguins landing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, two generational talents in back to back drafts has made them the star franchise of the league since they arrived. Of the great star duos in NBA history, West and Baylor stand out the most. Crosby and West is a great comparison. Like West, the respect for Crosby as a leader and professional from fans and the league is off the charts and the league leans on him as their star. Malkin slides in as the team’s second, super talented star.

3. New York Rangers (6th seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Present day Indiana Pacers

The Rangers and Pacers both play a defensive, fundamentally sound style that turns off some fans. The Rangers have done a great job building a homegrown talent base lately, like the Pacers. Like the Pacers the Rangers do everything right, but are they dynamic enough? Rick Nash as an X factor forward will help. The Rangers came into this season as a title favorite with offensive and defensive depth and the best goaltender on the planet. They should still be at the top of favorites.

4. Los Angeles Kings (5th seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Russell Westbrook

Westbrook himself gets his own team. Like Westbrook, the Kings combination of power, speed, talent and swagger make a ton to handle. The Kings won the title last year as an 8th seed, but leading up to that season their contention had been expected for years. The Kings are one of the most talented teams and right at the top of contenders.

5. Washington Capitals (3rd seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Steve Nash era Phoenix Suns

Washington has long been an explosive offensive team who struggles to get over the hump in the playoffs. As a 2-time MVP who may be the frontrunner for a 3rd this season, Alex Ovechkin is one of the great title-less players, like Steve Nash.

6 Vancouver Canucks (3rd seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: John Stockton/Karl Malone era Utah Jazz

The Canucks have strong seasons year in and year out and have a fundamentally strong style of play. But they are questionable in pressure situations and can get beat. The Canucks do everything right, but a lot of champion teams need a greater X factor.

7. St Louis Blues (4th seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Memphis Grizzlies

This one is easy. Like the Grizzlies, the Blues play in the mud. They are big, mean and hang their hat on tight defense. But like them, the Blues lack of dynamic offensive skill and gamebreakers make people doubt them.

8. Boston Bruins (4th seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Patrick Ewing era Knicks

The Bruins are a signature defense and physicality team. They’re the “don’t face them in a back alley” team. Although the Bruins got a title, I’ll compare them to the Ewing and Pat Riley Knicks, who made their games a brawl.

9. Anaheim Ducks (2nd seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Carmelo Anthony era New York Knicks

The Ducks had a surprisingly big season thanks to their top end offensive firepower. The Knicks combination of Carmelo Anthony and a 3pt barrage, give them a similar dynamism. The Ducks’ strengths seem too weighted towards top line offense, instead of defense and depth, so they are likely pretenders.

10. Montreal Canadiens (2nd seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Paul Millsap

Millsap’s skill, intelligence and toughness is terrific, but he lacks the athletic explosiveness to be a game breaker at a higher level. The Canadiens are skilled, deep and tough, but seem to play the NHL’s equivalent to “below the rim”.

11. San Jose Sharks (6th seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Pre 2011 Dallas Mavericks

As with the Mavericks before their title run, the Sharks are a half decade past dominant regular seasons and playoff letdowns and are hoping for a surprise run. Joe Thornton fits the NHL Dirk profile, peaking as a superstar and MVP but below contention for THE best player of this generation.

12. Detroit Red Wings (7th, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Boston Celtics

The Red Wings franchise’s eerie doppelganger has long been the Spurs. For this particular team however I’ll compare them to the Celtics, an older former champion who admirably squeezes into the playoffs, but don’t have the gas.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs (5th seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: James Harden

The Maple Leafs had a breakout season with a nice combination of offensive skill and physical grit. But is their game too predictable? Do they defend enough? Like Harden there’s hairs to pick at before calling them truly competing with the greats.

14. Minnesota Wild (8th seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Houston Rockets

Like Houston, Minnesota made a big leap last summer by signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Minnesota just snuck in as the 8th seed and will be feed to the 1st seed Blackhawks, however a strong future lies ahead.

15. New York Islanders (8th seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Golden State Warriors

A long tortured franchise who made it back the playoffs this year. As a young team with a tough first round playoff matchup, this will be an experience trip, not a long one. John Tavares leads the way like Stephen Curry.

16. Ottawa Senators (7th seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Chicago Bulls

The Senators lost their biggest offensive stars in Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza most of the year, but somehow scraped a playoff spot out with defensive team-play, effort and strong coaching, similar to this year’s Bulls. In the playoffs grit will give way to lack of talent.

Here are my personal predictions:

1 Chicago over 8 Minnesota (6 games)
7 Detroit over 2 Anaheim (7 games)
3 Vancouver over 6 San Jose (6 games)
5 LA Kings over 4 St Louis (6 games)

1 Chicago over 7 Detroit (5 games)
5 LA Kings over 3 Vancouver (6 games)

1 Chicago over 5 LA Kings (7 games)

1 Pittsburgh over 8 NY Islanders (5 games)
2 Montreal over 7 Ottawa (7 games)
6 NY Rangers over 3 Washington (7 games)
4 Boston over 5 Toronto (7 games)

6 NY Rangers over 1 Pittsburgh (6 games)
4 Boston over 2 Montreal (5 games)

6 NY Rangers over 4 Boston (7 games)

Stanley Cup Final:

1 Chicago over 6 NY Rangers (6 games)

Written by jr.

April 30, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Why PF Anthony Bennett is my #1 ranked 2013 NBA draft prospect

with 5 comments

Choosing the top prospect for this year’s draft hasn’t been any easier for me than everyone else. However I am feeling stronger and stronger about who my top graded prospect is: UNLV PF Anthony Bennett.

Bennett is a unique combination of physical tools, skills and instincts. An area he has dynamic potential in, is as a slasher. With both a strong first step and an impressive ballhandling base, he has the tools to blow by defenders to the rim off the dribble. Once there, he has great strength, vertical explosiveness and a long wingspan to finish. Although Bennett is 6’8, short for a PF – I believe his athleticism, strength and wingspan shouldn’t prevent his ability to finish above the rim and through contact. On the defensive end he isn’t expected to be a shotblocker, but most PFs aren’t. Because of his speed and power, I see Bennett’s talent in the area of physically impacting the game, as clearly above average.

He also has a strong feel for the game. Bennett is a smooth, natural and fluid offensive player who shows the ability to adjust and craftiness off the dribble. He plays at an easy pace. Bennett needs to improve on the defensive end, but his offensive instincts, I expect Bennett’s defensive problems come from youth and inexperience. With his feel for the game along with his athleticism and wingspan, I see little reason to doubt Bennett can be respectable defensively. On the glass he has the body, instincts and college production to average over 9 or 10 rebounds a game in the NBA.

What really excites me about Bennett however, is his skill impact game. For a freshman big, Bennett has impressive shooting range out to the NCAA 3pt line and can create jumpshots off the dribble like a guard. This indicates he has the potential to be an NBA 3pt shooter. In addition to this, Bennett’s freakishly strong frame, low center of gravity and touch around the basket, make him a perfect fit to add a post game in the NBA with the body to hold position and skill to finish. If he had either an NBA 3 or a post game, he’d be a high end skill player for a PF. With both it would potentially make him the most skilled PF in the league. Because of his shooting ability for a young player and post upside, Bennett’s skill game has the upside to be one of the best for his position in the league.

Although my prospect grading system is based on pure talent and not college production, it also doesn’t hurt that Bennett produced at an elite level as a freshman (Per 40 minutes: 22.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, .60 TS%, 27.6 PER). These numbers are especially impressive once considering it came in spite of UNLV’s system and teammates, dominated by shot jacking perimeter guards, instead of a system clearly designed to run plays for Bennett. There have been many talented big men whose production slipped through the cracks in college because of a game suiting perimeter players more, the recipe for Bennett to be the latest of these misused college bigs were there, but in the face of this he still produced at a rare level for a freshman PF.

Here are my talent grades for Bennett using my 3 categories Physical Impact, Skill Impact (Shoot, post, pass) and Feel for the Game under this rubric:

11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Very good, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Weak, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

What the overall grades mean:

25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent

Physical impact talent grade: 8 / Great

Bennett grades well here, due to his upside as an explosive, face-up slasher, with the length and strength to finish at the basket.

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 9 / Elite

His best category, due to both shooting range and the tools to be a post player. If everything goes right, regrading this to a 10 or 11 would be conceivable. On the other hand, he could also be only a solid midrange shooter, instead of a 3pt or post player, in which case 7 or 8 would be a more accurate grade.

Feel for the Game talent grade: 8 / Great

An 8 or 9 feels right here. Bennett’s fluidity and natural feel to his game, is a clear strength.

Total talent grade: 25 (Perennial all-star talent grade)

If all goes right, Bennett would have the ability to do all of attack the basket off the dribble, shoot the ball  on the perimeter or score in the post, with the feel for the game to mix it all together. With all these tools, he’d likely be one of the game’s best offensive frontcourt players and a star. There are some questions about whether he’ll prefer to play SF, but I believe Bennett neither has the lateral quickness or ballhandling to play the position, which should rule out that possibility quickly, perhaps to the benefit of his career. Bennett’s grade does not have a huge lead over other prospects near the top of my board like Kelly Olynyk, Gorgui Dieng, Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, or Alex Len, but I expect to hold as the top grade until the June draft. I believe Bennett would likely be picked 1st overall if he had been 6’10 instead of 6’8. Due to not only his strength, wingspan and athleticism, but his skill and feel, I see his lack of height as only preventing an even higher upside, not a weakness that will prevent him from dynamic upside. From the last 5 drafts (2009-2013) Bennett is one of 8 players who’s talent I presently grade a 25 or higher (my highest category, “Perennial all-star talent grade”), along with James Harden (2009), Blake Griffin (2009), Paul George (2010), Kyrie Irving (2011), Anthony Davis (2012), Jeremy Lamb (2012), Evan Fournier (2012). I see Bennett as the most likely candidate to the be star this draft is looking for.

Written by jr.

April 27, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

Tagged with , , ,

A Eulogy for David Kahn’s Timberwolves lotto picks

leave a comment »

Jonny Flynn of the Minnesota TImberwolves look...

Jonny Flynn of the Minnesota TImberwolves looking to make an entry pass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

News broke this morning that Flip Saunders will replace David Kahn as GM of the Timberwolves. David Kahn did a fine job collecting assets and using the cap, he just failed miserably in the draft. And on a small market team that outweighs everything else.

Here’s my talent breakdown of Kahn’s draft picks and what went wrong, using these rubrics in physical impact, skill impact and feel for the game categories:

11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Above average, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Below average, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

Here are what the overall grades mean:

25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent


Ricky Rubio – 5th overall pick

Talent grades:

Physical impact talent grade: 5 / Average

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 7 / Above average

Feel for the Game talent grade: 11 / Transcendent

Total talent grade: 23 (Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent grade)

Analysis: Kahn’s successful draft pick. Rubio’s strength is his feel for the game where he’s arguably a generational caliber freak for his position, with impossible to teach ahead of the game instincts. In physical impact, he has decent speed and strong ballhandling which should help him attack the basket and length defensively albeit he is not a blazing athlete and struggles to finish in the paint right now. Grading him in skill impact is difficult for me because there are very few players who are elite passers but struggle to shoot, to compare the value of that combination of skills to. Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo are two recent players who show a passing-orientated skill game can have strong value. Rubio is also showing signs of a spot up jumpshot eventually clicking. It is enough for me to give him an above average grade in the skill impact category overall. As a whole Rubio’s electric feel for the game, size, length, decent speed and ballhandling and his combination of passing and spot-up shooting upside, make him a clear blue chip talent if not star.

Jonny Flynn – 6th overall pick

Talent grades:

Physical impact talent grade: 6 / Decent

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 2 / Very poor

Feel for the Game talent grade: 3 / Below average

Total talent grade: 11 (Deep bench player talent grade)

Analysis: Jonny Flynn is a strong athlete and ballhandler, albeit his lack of size hurt his finishing at the basket, diminishing how strong his talent to physically impact the game was. However the bigger problem is Flynn’s pound for pound game. During his brief run in the NBA his 3pt shooting was very poor for an NBA PG, the most skilled position in the league. Nor did he impress as a passer or true PG. In addition to this, Flynn did not have a natural feel for the game and often drove to the rim out of control, without the ability to sense his teammates around him or adjust fluidly. The combination of skill impact and feel for the game was low for Flynn. What really drove Flynn out of the league however, is when Flynn’s hip surgery hurt his ability to drive to the basket as recklessly with his undersized body, which lowered his physical impact.

David Kahn, why u do dis? Flynn was one of the big stars of his college year including the Syracuse 6 overtime game getting him a lot of publicity. In college Flynn dominated the competition physically by attacking the rim and finishing at will. In the bigger, more athletic NBA he couldn’t rely on his physical tools alone to be an impact player. This look like a case of Kahn taking a PG who produced in college and assuming his youth and athleticism made him a good bet to translate, while ignoring the holes he had in his talent level.


Wes Johnson – 4th overall pick

Physical impact talent grade: 3 / Below average

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade: 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 16 (Rotation player talent grade)

Analysis: Although he is a strong athlete, Johnson struggles to physically impact the game on the offensive largely due to a lack of ballhandling. As a result he is a perimeter orientated jumpshooter, rather than someone who can slash and score points at the basket. His length and athleticism does give him the talent to physically impact the game defensively. Wes Johnson has been a mediocre 3 point shooter in the NBA so far in his career, with a lack of ability to create his own jumpshot. Due to the relative lack of 3 point shooting SFs, I would call Wes’ skill impact average. Wes’ biggest strength is an above average feel for the game and fluidity, with when added to his length, makes him a high upside defender. Wes started to show signs of life with the Suns this season and if he can continue to improve his 3 point shooting and defense, likely has a future in the NBA as a useful role player that Minnesota gave up on too early. Wes’ situation reminds me a lot of former Minnesota lottery pick Corey Brewer, who has used an improved 3pt shooting stroke and defensive length to carve out a role in the NBA.

David Kahn, why u do dis? I see the Wes mistake as coming down to to things. One, the value of his physical tools were overrated because he lacked the ballhandling to slash and take advantage of his athleticism. Wes had indeed been projected as a jumpshooter and not a slasher from the beginning, but connecting this to a lack of physical impact was not made by pundits at the time. Secondly, Wes had played a Shawn Marion/Richard Jefferson like role at Syracuse as a strong transition defender and finisher. I do not believe transition play is a strong bet to translate from NCAA to NBA, where there are less specialty up-tempo systems and the league is too athletic for players to just outrun their peers. But the biggest reason the Wes evaluation failed in my opinion, is assuming he was a sharpshooting 3pt player in the making. Although Wes shot 41.5% from 3 his final year at Syracuse, it came on a small sample size of 123 attempts, if he made 10 3s less over the course of the year he’d have averaged 33.3%. Furthermore Wes had only shot 29.4% and 33.3% from 3 his first two years in college and his FT% was in the 75-78% range all 3 seasons, an average number. If Wes had actually been the 40%+ sharpshooting 3pt SF he’d been projected as coming out of college, I believe he’d have been the player most expected him to, not a star, but a high end role player as a 3pt shooter and spacer, with strong defense due to his length and feel.


Derrick Williams – 2nd overall

Talent grades:

Physical impact talent grade: 5 / Average

Skill impact talent grade: 8 / Great

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Above average

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Analysis: Williams is a nice all around talent at PF. Physically while he is undersized for his position, he does have solid explosiveness and strength, allowing him to attack the basket off the dribble at a respectable level. Defensively his size leads him to likely struggle. Williams however is a skilled power forward, with long shooting range out to the NBA 3pt line, albeit he’s not a sharpshooter from there yet. His shooting game gives him unique skill impact talent. Finally, he is also a relatively fluid and feel for the game friendly player. Although he’s not dominant anywhere, the combination of skills, feel and respectable athleticism, should make him a long term starting power forward in the NBA. David Kahn’s mistake was believing Williams could play small forward in the NBA, or that Williams had separated himself in talent from other prospects enough that he had to take Williams, despite how poorly he fit with Love.

David Kahn, why u do dis? Derrick Williams is another player who shot an exceptional 56.8% from 3 his final year in college, but that he shot 25.0% his first year from 3 and 68.1% and 74.6% from FT line in his 2 years, made him a less trustworthy shooter. Furthermore it takes high end mobility and ballhandling skill to typically playing the 3. Williams himself also believed he’s a SF, which delayed his development until he learned the hard way what he is. As for Williams separating himself as the “consensus” #2 pick, his college production in part elevating by hot shooting, created a hype situation. The move for the Timberwolves was probably trading down for a prospect or veteran who fit building around Kevin Love more. I don’t believe Kahn got fired for the Williams pick, but after the Flynn and Johnson disasters he needed to nail the pick to make up for his draft record and he didn’t.

Written by jr.

April 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ summer and the Tristan Thompson problem

leave a comment »

Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Kyrie Irving

Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Kyrie Irving (Photo credit: Erik Daniel Drost)

After Lebron left them for dead in 2010, the Cavaliers have spent the last 3 seasons going “full tank-tard”. The young talent on the team in Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller along with their pick of more draft talent this year, is worth it – But the Cavaliers need to start winning with Kyrie Irving next season. The hiring of Mike Brown is a good start, but aside from the draft, free agency will be key to making a leap forward.

A big name on the market this summer is PF Josh Smith. Paul Millsap is just behind him in impact. Pau Gasol may also hit the market, if as I expect the Lakers choose to dump his contract instead of amnestying Kobe, if committed to saving the up to 80 million in luxury tax payment.

An interesting question is whether Cleveland sees PF as a team need. I’ll call it the Tristan Thompson problem. Thompson is currently the starting PF for the Cavaliers and has been fine, but hardly exemplary. There is a fine line between confidence developing a prospect and overrating them, leading to making mistakes building around them. How clearly can the Cavaliers judge Thompson going forward? When a team picks a player top 5, largely that means they expect a decade long starter. By going out of their way to take Thompson that high, it’s fair to assume the Cavaliers have had expectations of Thompson as their long term starter a the position. Grabbing a player like Smith or Millsap, makes Thompson the 3rd big and reroutes that plan. This is no insult, as 3rd bigs like Taj Gibson, Amir Johnson, Nick Collison have had significant impacts in recent years. However if the Cavaliers can only see stardom in Thompson’s future, they may feel it’s unnecessary to spend cap assets on the position, when Thompson can replicate their production.

I do not how the Cavaliers see Thompson’s upside, or what their plans are this summer in regards to free agent targets. However if having eyes for Thompson at the position leads them to ignore PF as a target position this summer, I see it as a mistake. The Cavaliers can stand to make a big improvement at the PF position compared to what they got this year and if given the opportunity to grab an impact talent like Smith, Millsap, or Gasol, I see that as a key chance to upgrade the Kyrie Irving era. A lineup of something resembling Millsap, Varejao and Thompson as 3rd big in the frontcourt, is ready to go.

It will be interesting to see if Thompson plays into the Cavaliers’ decision making this summer.

Written by jr.

April 23, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Why Otto Porter is a high risk, high reward prospect

with 2 comments

Otto Porter is widely considered a sure bet to be picked top 5 or 6 in the draft. A buzz word for Porter is “safe”. Porter’s intelligence, maturity and production in college supposedly makes him a more reliable bet than more volatile prospects.

My main reason for believing Porter is risky, is his offensive game will rely on shooting. Porter is not a dynamic slasher, due to a lack of explosive athleticism or great ballhandling. He is unlikely to be dynamic scoring points in the paint and at the FT line. Porter’s offensive strengths in college come from midrange and 3 point shooting which means he has to produce in those areas.

Although Porter hit 42.2% from 3 in the NCAA, hitting 43 from 102 from 3 point line is on  a small sample size. If Porter had hit 33 of 102 3s, he’d have hit 32.4% from the 3pt line, a mediocre number. These 10 3s over the course of the season, is well within variable range. Porter’s 77.7% from the FT line from this season on the other hand was mediocre for a 3 point shooter. Another warning sign is Porter shot 22.6% from 3 and 70.2% from the FT line as a freshman at Georgetown.

Porter’s strength is his feel for the game, arguably the best in the class. Calling his instincts, control and fluidity elite is an understatement, he plays the game at an Andre Miller like slower pace than everyone else. I also give most of the credit of his rebounding numbers, to his instincts and feel for the game. In addition to that he has great size, length and rebounding for a small forward. However for him to make an offensive mark in the NBA, I need to see him either attack the basket at a standout level (unlikely), or for him to be a noted 3pt threat. I would suspect a Porter with a non-existent 3pt shooting/perimeter scoring game in the NBA, in addition to a lack of slashing, makes him a widely considered bust if taken top 5. He would simply have nothing to provide offensively. Furthermore this will be trouble early in his career, since the majority of young players struggle on defense due to inexperience. Porter will likely need offense to be a useable starter early in his career.

Here are my talent grades for Otto, using this rubric in each category – 11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Above average, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Below average, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

Overall grades: 25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent

Physical impact talent grade: 4 – If judged only on his ability to physically impact the game by attacking the basket, I’d have him graded lower than this. I bumped up his score for his length which should help him make him a physical impact defensively.

Skill impact (Shooting, post, passing) talent grade: 6 – I will give Otto the benefit of the doubt, that he can learn to be a solid 3pt shooter in the NBA, which has value at a SF position where a lot of its players don’t hit 3s. Furthermore he gets some credit for passing for his position and upside in the post with his length.

Feel for the Game talent grade: 10 – Otto is a clear cut monster in this category.

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

This indicates Porter passes the sniff test as a top 10 pick. If he can hit 3s in the NBA, that in combination with his feel, length and passing and post upside, make him a likely starter. Two players Otto reminds me of are Tayshaun Prince and Chandler Parsons.

However I feel he is a high risk prospect because of the unpredictability of his skill category. If his outside shooting ability rolls a snake eyes in the NBA, this would be enough to push him down to marginal, average talent (15-17). I would suspect that Otto without 3pt range is such an ineffective offensive player, that becoming a starter instead of a journeyman would be difficult. At the same time if he became one of the most skilled perimeter options in the league, the grade I gave to Otto could also conceivably be too low. The most likely scenario is somewhere in the middle, but still I find the label of Porter as a low risk, low upside player, to be misguided due to the relationship between shooting and unpredictability for draft prospects.

Written by jr.

April 22, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

Tagged with ,

A few NBA playoffs thoughts

leave a comment »

I had a few things to do the last few days, so I didn’t put up a proper playoff prediction article. My thoughts on the playoffs are hardly interesting. I see Miami over New York in the Eastern Conference Final and Oklahoma City over San Antonio in the Western Conference one, then Miami taking out Oklahoma City in the Finals. In the 1st round the only lower seed I took was Golden State over Denver, but David Lee’s season ending injury puts a hitch in that.

A few brief thoughts:

– I have a hard time seeing OKC beating Miami in the Final if they meet. Miami’s athleticism defensively is perfectly built to defend OKC’s dribble drive offense, whereas their ball movement can pick apart the Thunder’s athletic style of defense. I see the best way to beat Miami, is spacing out their defense with 3 point shooting like the 2011 Mavericks did. Defensively I suspect perfect positioning as essential to defending them. This all points to the Spurs as a great fit to challenge them, but also the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Final.

– Despite all the red flags such as Vinny Del Negro and too offensively orientated a roster, the Clippers are my Finals/title darkhorse. The Clippers played at a 59 win pace with Paul in the lineup and that Paul played 33.4 minutes per game and Griffin 32.5 is encouraging, as both those numbers can be supercharged upwards in the playoffs. Furthermore I believe Chris Paul is one of the 20 most talented players of all time and historically, players and talents on that level, are the guys who’ve written the rules of what works in the playoffs. A player of Paul’s talent on his best team to date, should be feared.

– I’d be selling stock on Denver instead of buying if I could. The Nuggets are a flawed halfcourt team due to a lack of skill polish and shooting. This is one of the all time George Karl teams and that includes why his teams largely have underwhelmed in the plaoyffs.

– Other than Miami/Milwaukee and Oklahoma City/Houston, Brooklyn vs Chicago looked like the biggest mismatch even before the blowout first game. Tom Thibodeau would get my coach of the year vote for winning 45 games with this team, but in the playoffs teams cannot escape their talent and the Bulls just don’t have enough going offensively, especially from the guard position. The Bulls are a team that needs to shut down teams defensively to win and the Nets in particular have the individual talents to make that very difficult.

– I could see every game in Oklahoma City/Houston being a double digit win for the Thunder. Oklahoma City is perfectly engineered to guard the Rockets, since the two things the Rockets like to do is dribble into the paint, which is death against the Thunder’s athleticism and rotations – and to create points in transition and of course a team can’t outrun the Thunder. I see the Rockets offense shriveling up and dieing in this series.

– Knicks/Celtics going into the series, felt like it’d either be a blowout for the Knicks or the Celtics winning. I’d argue the way to guard the Knicks is to let Melo shoot as much as possible, while covering the 3pt shooters. Either Boston traps the Knicks into this heroball box, or the Knicks move the ball and rain 3s on their defense, leaving Boston’s inferior offense too much to catch up.

– The Lakers can’t guard the Spurs ball movement. Their perimeter players are too slow to get to those 3pt shooters. As great as the Spurs are, the Thunder and Heat are simply awful matchups for them because they have the rare speed and length needed to rotate to that ball movement and throw the Spurs off their game. If the Thunder don’t make the Finals, I see the Clippers or Grizzlies taking them out, not the Spurs.

Enjoy the playoffs!

Written by jr.

April 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Nerlens Noel vs Doug McDermott & Ryan Kelly and what it says about how teams evaluate talent

with one comment

Nerlens Noel is the heavy favorite to be picked 1st overall in 2013. Doug McDermott and Ryan Kelly aren’t projected to be picked in the 1st round.

What makes them an interesting to me, is all 3 are unbalanced prospects. Nerlens’ Noel allure largely comes from physical tools. He has a Kevin Garnett-like combination of athleticism and length. However Nerlens’ offensive skill level barely shows a pulse, lacking a post or shooting game and having mediocre touch.

Doug McDermott and Ryan Kelly are unbalanced in the opposite way. With 3pt range and perimeter creating ability, both are tremendous skill talents for a PF if that’s the position they play in the NBA, though McDermott may play SF and Kelly as a C depending on the lineup. However both are bottom of the barrel in physical talents. McDermott is a small PF without great athleticism. Kelly is bigger, but also lacks the speed to attack the basket off the dribble in the NBA. McDermott and Kelly will likely struggle big to “physically impact” the game in the NBA. By taking perimeter jumpshots, their skill will impose itself on the game not their physical tools.

Yet look at the different way Noel and McDermott/Kelly’s strengths and weaknesses are interpreted. Noel’s physical talents are seen as enough for him to be a star, regardless of skill. McDermott and Kelly’s physical talents are seen as enough to wreck their upside, in spite of their skill.

Are we sure the opposite can’t be true? Is it conceivable McDermott and Kelly’s skill level is enough for them to be a star in spite of their physical tools, while Noel’s skill level is enough to wreck his upside, in spite of his physical tools?

Largely, what it comes down to is physical tools are weighted higher than skill in the draft by NBA teams. But I believe the NBA doesn’t bore this out. Stephen Curry’s skills have as dynamic an impact as Russell Westbrook’s athletic tools. Tony Allen’s lack of perimeter skills hurts him like JJ Redick’s lack of athleticism hurts him. Serge Ibaka’s elite athleticism is dynamic, but so is Kevin Love’s skill. Greg Monroe’s lack of elite athleticism hurts him, but so does Deandre Jordan’s lack of skill. There are plenty of examples of the ability to shoot, pass or post at a dynamic level for a position, or lacking those skills compared to a position, having just as powerful an impact as dynamic or lacking athleticism.

Here are my talent grades for Noel, McDermott and Kelly, all 3 projected at the PF position:

PF Nerlens Noel

Physical impact talent grade: 11

Skill impact talent grade: 2

Feel for the Game talent grade: 5

Total talent grade: 18 (Marginal starter to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

PF Doug McDermott

Physical impact talent grade: 1

Skill impact talent grade: 10

Feel for the Game talent grade: 10

Total talent grade: 21 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

PF Ryan Kelly

Physical impact talent grade: 2

Skill impact talent grade: 9

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7

Total talent grade: 18 (Marginal starter to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

McDermott separates himself because his feel for the game is as elite as his perimeter skill level. McDermott’s natural fluidity and instincts are as strong as anyone in the class. Nerlens is average feel for the game and can look raw at times. I would call Kelly’s feel and natural smoothness above average, but not on McDermott’s level.

Where Noel can prove me wrong is if I undervalued him as a skill talent. Noel with the average ability to make skill plays instead of subpar for a PF, would rate as a blue chip player and near all-star. I suspect the main reason I am lukewarm on Nerlens Noel compared to most, isn’t because of my talent grading system, but because I see a player who has subpar skill game for his age group, as most likely to remain that way.

Written by jr.

April 17, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Great expectations: Of Wilt Chamberlain’s career and the importance of this Miami Heat playoff run to NBA history

leave a comment »

Miami Heat

Miami Heat (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Two of the most important years in NBA history are 1967-1968 and 1968-1969, where Bill Russell’s Celtics won their 10th and 11th titles in his 13 year career. Most impressive though is who they beat. In 1966-1967 Wilt Chamberlain had his finest regular season and playoffs, as the Sixers went 68-13 and then ripped through the playoffs, including beating the 8 time defending champion Celtics in 5 Gs. After toiling on Warriors teams with lacked the supporting talent of Russell’s Celtics for the first half of the 60s, the trade to the Sixers in ’65 quickly evened the odds. By 66-67 the Sixers had more talent than the Celtics with a rogue gallery of stars like Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Billy Cunningham, Luke Jackson surrounding Wilt. Wilt also scaled his scoring back to increase his passing, defense and efficiency to finally use his talents to full value. Although the Celtics by the late 60s had a very talented team themselves with the aging Russell and Sam Jones, plus John Havlicek, Bailey Howell among stars, the shellacking in 67 to Philadelphia’s super-team was thought to be the end for their dynasty by most reports. Now that he had the right support, coach in Alex Hannum and know how to play the right way, it was Wilt’s league to own. Which is why after a 62 W season and a 3rd straight MVP by Wilt in 67-68, the loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Final blowing a 3-1 lead, is particularly devastating to his legacy. The opportunity came to own the league and the Sixers didn’t put their foot on the gas. The next year Wilt is traded to the Lakers to join Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, culminating in a Game 7 loss in the Finals to the Celtics in Russell’s last game, arguably the most important game in NBA history – and losing it meaning one more black mark in Wilt’s career, albeit he went on a title with the Lakers in ’72. Wilt’s individual greatness is so immense, that even 2 titles in his career is looked at as a slightly disappointment. Largely it comes down to 68 and 69 and what he couldn’t achieve even when handed the best supporting talent. He didn’t max out in career success.

The Miami Heat and Lebron James’ career are at their apexes. Heading for 65 or 66 wins on the backs of a 27 game winning streak, with Lebron’s 4th MVP on the way and arguably his greatest regular season. The Heat are stacked. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are still playing at a star/superstar level and the IQ and shooting of players like Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Ray Allen make them an impossible guard. The Heat have been a masterpiece of spacing and ball movement around their stars the second half of this season. If the Heat go on to win the title this year, it will be a season of legend – the wins, the streak, Lebron’s individual greatness. Together with the 2010-2011 title nobody will be able to doubt the Miami Heat big 3 experiment.

Yet when greatness is on the table to take, as the 68 Sixers proved, leaving it on the table leaves as big a historical mark. The Heat would have lost the title twice in 3 seasons, if not in the Finals those 2 years. Lebron would have gone into the playoffs with the title favorite in 09, 10, 11, 12 and 13 and only gone 1-4. As unfair as it is, since no champion should be disrespected – the expectations for Lebron are so great, that losing again would bring back the demons and criticisms that he carried after the 09, 10 and 11 losses.

Because of the season the Heat have had, the streak, Lebron’s amazing year, how in sync this supporting cast is – it’s championship or bust for the Heat and if they bust, it will be a historic moment that haunts the face of this core for the rest of history. Make no mistake about it, even though the Heat got their title in 2011, the pressure only slightly less this year. The narrative and history can turn on the Heat in the wrong direction. The stunning season Lebron and the Heat have had is a double edged sword, because it creates among the greatest of expectations. The moment is the Heat’s to seize and if they don’t, history won’t take it easy on them.

Written by jr.

April 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Nerlens Noel, Cody Zeller and the “adjustment” theory in the NBA Draft

leave a comment »

Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel (Photo credit: SportsAngle.com)

Nerlens Noel is currently ranked as the #1 overall pick on ESPN.com. Cody Zeller is ranked 10th and his buzz appears to be fading fast.

Noel’s higher ranking has little to do with production. Cody was more productive as a freshman than Noel this year, then slightly improved his production as a sophomore.

Why Noel is ranked ahead is what I’ll call the “adjustment theory”. The criticism is Zeller won’t be able to get his game off in the NBA, because of middling athleticism and moreso, because he is a skinny big with a poor wingspan. Because his game lives in the post in college, Zeller’s critics argue he won’t get his game off against defenders bigger, longer and more athletic than him.

Noel in contrast, is an athletic freak with elite length, the full physical package resembling Kevin Garnett’s. As a result there is less concern over his game translating to the NBA, because he will be more athletic and longer than his peers instead of the opposite. His game is made to translate physically to an NBA level.

Is this adjustment theory reliable? I’d argue it’s not.

The first flaw of this argument, is that the move from NCAA to NBA physically, does not necessarily affect elite physical talents less than middling ones despite what initial instincts may suggest. Noel’s athleticism and length is miles and miles above his peers at the NCAA level, but at the more physically gifted NBA that advantage will shrink. Thus Noel is still facing a plausibly significant fall physically going from NCAA to NBA, it’d just be from transcendent in the NCAA to a lesser elite in the NBA, perhaps as big a difference in value as the transition Cody will face.

Furthermore, the jump from the NCAA to NBA is just as massive in skill and intelligence as it is physically. Which means the skill and instincts in college Noel showed this year in college, if compared to the superior NBA peers would have looked levels worse. Noel’s skill game may not “get off” in the NBA like it did in college, just as Cody’s may not. Like comparing their physical drop-offs, it comes down to judging where they start and where they fall to. Cody’s skill and IQ may fall from elite for his position in the NCAA to merely decent against NBA bigs. But Noel’s could fall just as far if from average for bigs in the NCAA, to poor in the NBA.

Compare this to Thomas Robinson last year. Robinson passes the adjustment theory with flying colors, as an elite athlete with great strength for a PF. Thus according to conventional wisdom getting his game off against opponents in the NBA should not have been as big a struggle as for say, Jared Sullinger – a post player who was expected to struggle getting his game off against the bigger, longer and more athletic opponents in the NBA. But in reality, Robinson took as big a hit from the physical upgrade from the NCAA to NBA as anyone. It’s just he went from dominant physically in the NCAA, to an elite athlete but not separating himself as much in the NBA – a significant fall-off. In addition to this his skill and IQ, enough to get by in college, now look like a weaknesses killing his productivity and making it hard to play him.

Every player is going to by definition, fall-off in physical talents, skill and intelligence compared to peers, when moving from the NCAA to NBA. The NBA’s improvements in those areas guarantees it. The question is which players take the biggest hits in those areas. I believe if one looks at it rationally, there isn’t a reason to believe Noel’s status as a physical tools-first prospect, makes him less likely to get gunned down by the NCAA to NBA transition than a player like Cody Zeller.

Written by jr.

April 13, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Andrew Wiggins overrated athleticism watch: McDonald’s All-American game

leave a comment »

Last week I took the opportunity to watch the McDonald’s All-American prospects game. For reasons I listed here, I consider games like this and the Nike Hoop Summit to be valuable because they are filmed on NBA and NCAA-like cameras and thus have a similar frame of reference.

Once again Andrew Wiggins, who’s considered a transcendent physical force enough for some to call him the best high school prospect since Lebron despite a raw skill game, did not impress me athletically. Here’s a clip of his plays:

Only one play has Wiggins blowing by a defender to the rim at 2:40, but he does it after an offensive rebound when the defense is out of position and moreso has to pull down and set himself before leaping to finish the play. A fine athletic play but nothing special. Against set halfcourt defenses he does not get by them as a slasher. On many occasions such as :43, 1:22, 2:03 and 4:18 he impressively draws contact, but I consider these plays to show special instincts moreso than athleticism. His transition speed shown most by :23, is not blazing. The standout play is at 3:24, an impressive spinning hook shot. Once again this shows feel for the game and fluidity more than explosiveness.

There is little evidence in this or other games with reliable frames of reference, that Wiggins has special foot-speed or explosiveness. I would argue peers in his class such as Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Wayne Selden are more explosive and dynamic athletes. Wiggins has high potential because his feel for the game is off the charts. Athletically, the hype is just bizarre.

Written by jr.

April 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm