A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Archive for February 2014

The 76ers picking Evan Turner 2nd overall: What Went Wrong?

with 2 comments

By the Philadelphia 76ers essentially giving away Evan Turner on the last year of his rookie scale contract, it’s safe to say the pick hasn’t gone as planned. Turner was the consensus 2nd overall pick in a widely considered top heavy 2010 draft, taken ahead of Derrick Favors, Demarcus Cousins who were considered all-star prospects at the time. Turner was expected to be no less than a star.

So let’s perform an autopsy on the Evan Turner pick.

First, consider that a major reason for Turner going 2nd was production evaluation. He broke out to a huge 20.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks per game at .58 TS season his 3rd year at Ohio State, for a 30.8 PER. This domination in college earned him the Naismith and AP Player of the Year awards and made him a national media star. There are many people who use college production as their big starting point for evaluating prospects, before adjusting for age, style of play and talents afterwards when predicting whether they will adjust. Turner appealed to these draft raters.

Of course, you won’t find anyone who uses production evaluation to judge prospects less than me, it is the Jack to my Locke’s talent evaluation strategy. I simply find using production evaluation unreliable. The college games rules/strategies of play and need for player skillset, is so different than the NBA’s that it favors different prospects than the ones who will succeed most at the next level. Furthermore just as some rookies and sophomores in the NBA may develop slowly but eventually become the best players from their draft, it’s logical to believe college prospects may be better or worse players in the NCAA than their peers just because they developed at a different speed into their talent level, physically and mentally. There are too many confounding variables going into college production for me to find it useful. Although talent has a big part in who’s good in the NCAA, there are so many other factors in play as well that only leads to confusion and red herrings. Some statistics like 3 point shooting and free throw percentage or assists are important indicators of talents, but I frankly don’t really care how good a player is at the college game.

Now of course, the Sixers will have evaluated Turner’s talent level as well, as did everyone else. Everyone is aware college production alone can’t tell the story.

Turner’s biggest strength has always been his feel for the game. His craftiness, shiftiness, ability to adjust speeds and fluidity, along with court awareness passing, has shined going back to Ohio St. The funny part about feel for the game however is that while for everyone else it’s largely disregarded, when players are elite in it and everyone notices it, it can sometimes actually get overrated. Jabari Parker and Tyler Ennis are leading the way in elite feel for the game this season for this draft class and the media/fans widely recognize feel/instincts as the biggest thing going for them – and they are two prospects I like less than their expected draft positions. I only rate feel for the game as 1/3 of talent. Even for their great affinity in that area, I am not impressed enough in Parker and Ennis’ talent in the other 2/3s to support them being top 3 and top 10 picks respectively.

This weakness in the non-feel for the game 2/3s of talent, looks to be true of Evan Turner. Turner’s two other strengths are his height for a 2 guard and his ballhandling skills. However, he is an unexplosive athlete which makes him an average at best slasher to the basket. Turner was strong at getting to the basket in college due to his ballhandling and feel, however in the NBA having the burst of speed at the point of attack is essential to standout play in this area. Turner’s lack of elite athleticism also hurts him defensively, where his lateral mobility is average at best, if not subpar. It appears Turner’s concerning lack of explosiveness was misdiagnosed coming out of college, largely because he was driving to the rim so easily at the time.

Secondly, he has typically had a non-existent 3 point game. Turner is currently averaging 0.7 3PM/2.5 3PA (28.5%), while he has the time to improve his 3 point stroke, in the NBA it’s a disadvantage in both efficiency and spacing value to not be a consistent 3 point threat at SG. In his final season at Ohio St. Turner averaged 0.7 3PM/1.8 3PA (36.4%), the percentage respectable but the low volume indicated a shaky outside shooting talent. He also shot only an ok 75.1% from the FT line. This type of shooting career is indicative of a player who can become a 3 point threat, but shouldn’t be counted on to be one. Turner however is a reasonably solid midrange shooter for his position. I am not sure whether to give him credit for better than average passing skills, although his assists per game has been solid, as a high volume possession user with ballhandling and feel for the game as his specialty, if a more gifted passer he may be hitting 5 or 6 assists per game instead of 3 or 4.

Effectively, the combination of his non-feel for the game talent, appears to be perfectly average. My talent grades for Turner at SG would in fact look like this, using these rubrics:

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

Evan Turner:

Physical impact (Athleticism, ballhandling, lateral quickness, size) talent grade: 5 / Average

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

Feel for the Game talent grade: 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 19 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Despite Turner getting taken so high being a mistake, I am not sure so the Sixers should have given up on him. It is hard to get long term starting caliber players and Turner is still young enough to improve his 3 point shooting, which could make him an upgrade from 5 in the skill impact talent category and make him very useful. Turner is only 4 years and 8000 minutes in his career. When players like Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic weren’t even starters 4 years into their careers and now are arguably deserving of All-NBA consideration, breakouts could happen. Or to give another example, Demar Derozan is a draft older than Turner and has had a massive 5th year breakout season. At the least, Philadelphia keeping Turner would have given them the chance he takes his game to another gear statistically enough to become a real trade asset later. Turner may not be a spectacular talent, but there is value in good starting talent. But then again, if the Sixers lose enough games from here on out to get the #1 or #2 pick in the draft, they may consider that well worth the value of trading Turner.

Written by jr.

February 25, 2014 at 11:32 am

Era to era: A cause of the Cavaliers struggle to win

leave a comment »

The Cleveland Cavaliers season has not gone as expected. In Kyrie Irving’s 3rd season they expected to make the playoffs, but are 5 Gs out in a poor Eastern conference despite trades for Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes and signings of Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark and Andrew Bynum this summer.

Although the Cavaliers free agency and draft picks have been more miss than hit so far, there is a major reason why they’re struggling so much to get going. The NBA is a league where one era often has a major effect on the next. The Cavaliers are still suffering from the poor way they built their team in the Lebron James era.

The Cavs under Lebron did a poor job surrounding him with young players or draft picks. Look at how the Thunder have continuously drafted young players and stockpiled picks around Kevin Durant. The Cavaliers chose to go with older veterans and free agents.

Because of this, when Lebron left they had nothing. They were essentially an expansion team. Instead of having young players and a core to give them a head start. When the Philadelphia 76ers began rebuilding this year, they already had Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams, along with other value pieces like Thad Young, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner who could be dealt for value. Because of this when they begin drafting high in the 2014 draft, it will be to a team years ahead in asset building than the Cavs were when they got Irving. If the Cavaliers had already stockpiled young players and assets around Lebron, it’d have taken them less time to build a successful core than it has. Beginning from rock bottom is not an ideal place to be. Even when a team wants to start over, having assets and infrastructure from the era before is essential. The Cavs may have left themselves a year or two more to come back from because of the poor team building in the James era. This year or two is massive because the wait has caused poor chemistry, leadership development from Irving and cost Chris Grant his job. It’s also caused the Cavs to become a team who does things like panic by giving up draft picks for expiring contracts just to make the playoffs, this bleeding of assets will hurt them in the long term.

Written by jr.

February 24, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Minnesota should consider Oklahoma City as a Kevin Love trading partner

leave a comment »

Despite a strong point differential, by sitting 6 Gs behind the 8th seed Warriors and in 10th place, Minnesota’s season is all but over. With Kevin Love a season and a half until free agency, they have to start considering trading him now or this summer, to get full value for him instead of dealing from a position of weakness.

If Kevin Love for Blake Griffin is not a possibility with the latter’s surge in play recently, the team I love for Minnesota as a trade partner is Oklahoma City. Say the Thunder are willing to offer a package such as:

Serge Ibaka
One of Reggie Jackson or Jeremy Lamb
2014 Dallas 1st (protection: top 20 2014, top 20 2015, top 20 2016, top 20 2017, unprotected 2018)
2014 Oklahoma City 1st

While Kevin Love is better than Serge Ibaka, the drop-off may not hurt the Timberwolves as much as it seems because of Ibaka fits such a need. Ibaka’s shotblocking and floor spacing is a pitch-perfect fit beside Nik Pekovic, who’s defense has improved himself. Between the two of them the Timberwolves frontcourt would still be set as a two way force for the future.

In addition the Timberwolves get what they’ve lacked for years, a young blue chip 2 guard in either Jackson or Lamb. Jackson is the currently more productive player, but Lamb’s shooting and floor spacing is a better compliment to Ricky Rubio. Both appear to have a high upside.

The draft picks are also of course important. In addition to their likely lottery pick this year, if Dallas makes the playoffs the Wolves would get two other 1sts around the 21st or 22nd pick and 29th or 30th picks to fortify their team. If Dallas misses the playoffs the pick becomes an even more interesting asset, as their odds of finishing in the top 10 teams in the league by 2017 will go down once Dirk shows his age. If retired by 2018, there is no floor for how poor the Mavericks could be, or how high a pick the Timberwolves could get from them. By adding young players to a core including Rubio, Lamb/Jackson, Martin, Budinger, Ibaka, Pekovic, Shabazz, Dieng, the Timberwolves would have a talented team post Kevin Love. The model would be the Denver Nuggets, who after trading Carmelo Anthony for a group of players including a blue chip Danillo Gallinari and others like Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and draft picks, continued to win and even set a franchise record a few years later. The Timberwolves would provide a fast brand of athleticism and skill that could not only compete for a playoff spot but be marketable to fans. It is hard for me to envision them doing better than the above.

However, the deal isn’t a no-brainer for the Thunder. At least not this trade deadline, where the team is rolling along and may not want to disrupt their chemistry. Still, especially if they once again fall short in the playoffs, it’s hard to turn down teaming Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. Championships have been typically won in the NBA by having a stacked top 3 players and then the pieces fitting in around them. The Thunder have typically been one of the best perimeter defensive teams in the league in the Durant era, helping them play great D despite Kevin Love’s average play on that end. It also bears mentioning that Love may improve as a defender if needing to spend less energy on offense, just as Chris Bosh has been unrecognizably superior as a defender in Miami than he was in Toronto. On offense his floor spacing is a perfect fit to Westbrook and Durant’s driving, as is his offensive rebounding. The Thunder would likely be the most devastating offensive team in the team and impossible to match up with. While they would be giving up a lot in the above deal, it may be worth it to recapture the “3 star” model they gave up when losing James Harden. Despite paying a high price for Love, they wouldn’t empty out their young store of assets. They’d keep one of Jackson or Lamb, in addition to Steven Adams and Perry Jones III. It’s enough to continue Sam Presti’s history of young, cheap infrastructure around his stars.

Overall, this seems like the best fit for a Kevin Love deal because of how complimentary  to the Timberwolves lineup a return package like Serge Ibaka and Jeremy Lamb would be to help the team keep chugging along, Nuggets style. The Thunder truly go for a multiple title era.

Written by jr.

February 14, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Are the Houston Rockets a Lebron James darkhorse?

leave a comment »

Last week Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne posted a Lebron to the Clippers possibility article. While it would take significant trades for the Clippers to get the capspace, the logic of the idea seemed to be Lebron isn’t leaving without a fantastic situation to join, thus the Clippers are more likely than a Lakers or Cavaliers even if in less easy cap position to do it.

Let me throw out another name: The Houston Rockets. First off, the Rockets finding the capspace to sign Lebron straight out is not hard to envision. It’d take simply moving Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik off next year’s books to create near-maximum capspace. If for some reason finding a taker for those talented players is not simple, the Rockets have other assets to sweeten the deal such as Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverly, draft picks, etc. And of course even if it came down to it, if it took packaging even Chandler Parsons in a deal to create capspace for Lebron to join James Harden and Dwight Howard, well the choice there is simple. When added to the likelihood somebody would want Lin or Asik anyways, the Rockets should have little obstacles putting themselves in Lebron-signing position if he wanted it.

The question thus is whether Lebron would sign there. The incentive is clear. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are heading into their 11th seasons next year, Wade’s body is a physical mess. Even if the team makes it to the Finals for the 4th straight year, how many years do these guys have left where they can contend? Not to mention Lebron is aging himself and increasingly carrying the team wouldn’t help.

But Houston is an amazingly cushy situation for the last third of Lebron’s career. Along with finally playing with a star center and defensive anchor in Dwight Howard, James Harden who isn’t turning 25 until this summer, could be in his prime until the day Lebron retires. Lebron could age gracefully like Tim Duncan slowly conceding to Tony Parker as the offensive star of the team, or Kareem to Magic Johnson. He would become more playmaker and defender than league leading scorer, blending in with his star teammates. And if the Rockets managed to sign Lebron while keeping Chandler Parsons, Parsons could be a nice fit stretching the floor for his star teammates, either starting beside Lebron at SF-PF or as a 6th man of the year candidate.

The big carrot naturally is the number 6: That is, Michael Jordan’s 6 titles. If staying in Miami the rest of his career, it’s hard to imagine him getting there with the age and physical/mental fatigue of the core. In Houston or following the Clippers idea, it’s game on. The Rockets could easily get the 3 or 4 titles needed to catch Jordan, even if the last 1 or 2 is with a well aged Lebron. If Lebron wants to go down with an all time title reign, jumping to a team like Rockets or Clippers are a better bet than the Heat, but especially the Rockets with how smoothly Lebron, Harden and Dwight would fit on both ends compared to Paul, Lebron and Griffin, a more offense-first trio. That’s why if they move Lin and Asik’s contracts which they would be wise to do just for the shot at Lebron, the Rockets become the most compelling Lebron destination.

Written by jr.

February 13, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Why I wouldn’t take Jabari Parker top 10 in the 2014 draft

with 2 comments

Duke’s Jabari Parker is widely considered a favorite to be picked top 3 in 2014, if not 1st overall. Through his high school to college career, he’s been one of the most productive players of his age group and a star name.

However, I would not take him top 10 in 2014.


First, let’s give Jabari credit for his strength. His feel for the game is exceptional, showing great fluidity, craftiness and ability to adjust mid drive or post-up. He’s been credited for elite instincts for years and it’s deserved.

But even though I talk about feel for the game the most, even I only rate it as 1/3 of basketball talent. I have major concerns with Jabari in the other 2/3.

Everyone knows Jabari is not a great athlete, in fact I would call his speed and explosiveness legitimately subpar for a SF or PF. Adding to this is that I am not impressed by Jabari’s ballhandling. That he does not make many plays based off the dribble, is perhaps why he is averaging a surprisingly low 1.3 assists per game despite his great feel and point forward history in high school. It is hard for a player to average the assists of a point forward when they are not handling like one. When added to his athleticism, I have huge concerns about whether Jabari will attack the rim off the dribble consistently, despite having the strength to finish at the basket well.

If not a dynamic “slasher”, Jabari will just have to be an elite perimeter/finesse scorer. But in this area I also have concerns. Jabari is hitting 36.7% from 3pt on 3.3 attempts a game, which is fine but unspectacular. Worryingly, of his 29 for 79 3 point shots/attempts this season, he went 11 for 16 in his first 3 games of the season, meaning he’s gone 18 for 63 (28.6%) in the 21 games since. Jabari has been frankly bad as a 3 point shooter after his hot start. His free throw percentage of 74.1% is respectable, but I typically like to see players over 80% before calling them locks to be 3 point threats in the NBA. In comparison to Parker, Andrew Wiggins who has the reputation of a less skilled player is hitting 36.7% from 3 on 3.4 attempts a game and 77.1% from the FT line, shooting marks better across the board than Parker’s.

To use a comparison, Xavier Henry was drafted specifically to hit 3s after hitting 41.8% from 3 on 4.6 attempts a game as a freshman, but with only a 78.3% FT. After his shooting went in the wrong direction in the NBA, without a slashing game he simply didn’t have anything to lean on offensively, at least until a mini-resurgence this year. Wes Johnson and Adam Morrison are two other prospects drafted for shooting with FT% in the 70s who went on to struggle more than expected in the area in the NBA. While very early Otto Porter’s inability to shoot from range in the NBA despite a 3P% over 42% last year, also makes him a candidate to go down the path of Henry, Johnson and Morrison.

If Jabari became a disappointment/bust, I would see him following the pathway of Henry. Despite a strong feel for the game, Henry’s athleticism/ballhandling combo or “slashing” tools were weak enough that when his 3 point shot didn’t translate, he didn’t have a fallback and simply got lost offensively in the shuffle. Likewise, my ‘worst case’ scenario for Jabari offensively is having him neither a consistent outside shooter, or one who can make plays off the dribble. In addition to expected defensive concerns as neither being a fit against SFs or PFs on that end, struggling offensively would make it really hard for him to contribute. On the other hand if he become an elite shooter at SF or PF when added to his feel for the game, it would be enough to be a starter and “blue chipper”, but attacking the basket concerns would still make me rate him less of a star.

Or in short, my position on Parker is this: I feel the media is mixing up his feel for the game with an elite skill level. Parker is not an exceptional shooter, ballhandler, passer for a SF and while competent in the post, is not jumping off the screen in the area. If grading his skill level as underwhelming in this way, when adding it to his athletic concerns – well it leaves him with a lot more holes as a prospect than his reputation suggests.

Here is my talent grades for Parker, grading him at PF where I most expect him to play

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

Jabari Parker

Physical impact (Athleticism, ballhandling, size) talent grade: 3 / Weak

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade: 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 19 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

This is not a bad grade, simply not enough to rank in my top 10. As for player comparisons, 3 recent prospects Jabari reminds me of are Tobias Harris and Marcus and Markieff Morris. Like them they are between SF and PF in size, have a strong feel for the game and have good, but not elite outside shots yet. But at PF perimeter jumpshots are relatively rare enough for me to rank them above average in the category. They should mark out nice, long careers in the NBA but if taking Jabari top 3 in a heralded 2014 draft, teams have to be expecting so much more than that.

Written by jr.

February 9, 2014 at 3:56 pm