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Archive for November 2014

Philadelphia vs Kentucky

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Predictably the Philadelphia 76ers all time roster is compared to the top ranked college team Kentucky. For once it appears people are taking the question seriously whether Kentucky would win since Philadelphia is rolling out so many players who shouldn’t be in the NBA.

So let’s take a closer look:

Frontcourt offense

This is where Kentucky is closest to Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s roster of Nerlens Noel, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Brandon Davies, Henry Sims are not scary compared to Kentucky bigs like Karl Anthony-Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein or Dakari Johnson. A case can be made for Karl Anthony-Towns as already the most most dynamic offensively, though in college Brandon Davies was a solid 18/7 big offensively his last year at BYU and has developed since. Offensively, rookie bigs can regularly outperform unskilled veteran bigs, thus Kentucky’s bigs performing as well as this year’s Sixers bigs next year in the NBA would not be a major surprise.

Perimeter offense

The Sixers get a major leg up on Kentucky here. Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison may end up as NBA talents, but outside shot happy guards that tend to be dime a dozen in the NBA. Alex Poythress has poor offensive skill by NBA standards. The other Kentucky perimeter players appear to be far away from ready for NBA production.

Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten were both college standouts and that was before NBA experience and physical maturation. Their ability to penetrate to the basket stands out at an NBA level and would likely dominant at a college level. Wroten would physically punish smaller college players with his size. The 3rd guard in the rotation Alexey Shved likewise has an off the dribble-centric game that would be difficult for college defenses to handle. K.J. McDaniels was an offensive standout in college and his 3pt shooting has improved in the NBA. Hollis Thompson  shot over 43% all 3 of his seasons at Georgetown which would provide the Sixers with a dangerous catch and shoot and spacing threat against college players.

Compared to college competition, the Sixers perimeter would have dynamic ability to penetrate, outside shooting and a huge strength advantage. They would likely dominate on offense.

Frontcourt defense

For college competition the massive Kentucky front court including Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Karl-Anthony Towns is considering a potentially dominant advantage over their peers. But the 76ers still have the edge. Nerlens Noel is one of the most prolific defensive college players in recent memory due to his blocks and steal totals, whereas Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been a defensive standout in the NBA for years, which would make him better than any college player on that end currently. Henry Sims also provides size and physical maturity which becomes a bigger advantage against college.

The Sixers frontcourt combination of Noel’s shot blocking, Mbah a Moute’s intelligence and mobility and Sims size, would make them near perfect defensively for the college level.

Perimeter defense

Like the frontcourt, Kentucky’s defensive strengths on this end are just amplified by Philadelphia. Andrew and Aaron Harrison are 6’6, but so are Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten and Alexey Shved while having more athleticism. Alex Poythress is an impressive athlete defensively, but K.J. McDaniels stood out more as a defensive playmaker last year. The Carter-Williams, Wroten and McDaniels combination provides a level of speed, strength and anticipation that the Kentucky perimeter does not match on this level.

When adding these perimeter players to bigs like Noel, Mbah a Moute and Sims, the Sixers defense as a whole is light years ahead of college competition. They would have an entire roster of over 6’6 players who are faster, stronger and more experience defensively than their peers. The Sixers currently rank 20th in DRTG in the NBA indicating this is a competent and professional quality defense.

Offensively the Sixers may be horrible for NBA standards but putting Carter-Williams, Wroten and Shved against college players would still lead to non stop penetration. Options like Brandon Davies and K.J. McDaniels or Hollis Thompson shooting 3s, would still be quality looks. It’s likely this is still better than any college team offensively thanks to the penetration of those guards. Kentucky’s defense is inexperienced and for mental and physical reasons would be at a disadvantage trying to keep up with these options. The Sixers defensive advantage over college competition is as big as usual for NBA teams, whereas for their weakness offensively, they would still rate easily ahead of a team like UK on that end. Not only would the Sixers have strong half court skills like penetration, shooting or post ability, but their elite defensive ability to generate steals and blocks combined with superior athleticism would likely make them an unstoppable fast break engine going the other way.

Ultimately another way to argue against this, is if one watches a Philadelphia NBA game and watches a Kentucky game, the level of play is higher in the former for reasons outside of talent level. Philadelphia has to operate at a physical intensity and attention to detail, they have to play with a longer 3pt line and shorter shot clock. The team carries themselves like professionals and not college students. It still isn’t close.

Written by jr.

November 19, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Some early thoughts on the rookies

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Clearly a few weeks into the season is a small sample size to judge players. However I wanted to give a few sparse thoughts on the rookies along with notable 2nd year players.

Aaron Gordon is my biggest winner of the first few weeks. Not only is his per minute production the best of an underperforming class with a 15.6 PER, but he’s hit 4 of 8 from the 3pt line and 10 of 13 from the FT line. Gordon went 16 for 45 fro 35.6% from 3 at Arizona, however at the time I deemed his 42.2% from the FT line as more indicative of having a poor skill level outside of the rim. If having only Kenneth Faried and Andre Drummond type of range, this would have limited some of his upside despite an otherwise wonderful combination of athleticism, feel for the game and passing skill. However if Gordon is for real as at least a wide open jump shooter it could open up his game and move the comparison from a Faried type in the paint banger, to potentially a Andre Iguodala-like well rounded small forward or even Shawn Marion in best case scenario. If the Magic decide to up his minutes to over 25 per game he could also still find himself in the rookie of the year race.

The Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic looks like a solid pro. Although older than the rest of his class some other European transfers needed time to transfer well. So this doesn’t mean he’s a finished product. Bojan is hitting 35.5% from 3 on 3.9 attempts a game and improving in the area quickly by hitting 7 of 15 3s in his last 4 games. He appears to have a steady and intelligent, smooth game, not seeming out of place averaging 29.4 minutes per game which leads all rookies. While he’ll likely never be a slasher, he continues to hit 3s and play smart he could end up starting in various teams in the NBA for a long time.

Andrew Wiggins would win Rookie of the Year if the season ended today, with his 11.3 points per game leading the class, defensive contributions and the high profile benefit of a #1 pick. He hasn’t alleviated my concerns about his ability to penetrate like a star, however his jumpshot has been impressive both from midrange and 3 with a 48.1% mark from 16-23 feet and 55.6% from the 3pt line. However both his college career and 62.5% from the FT line so far in the NBA claim a regression is coming in those areas.

Jabari Parker is worrisome. He is only hitting 25% from 3 and 26.7% from 16-23 feet which together with limited ball handling skills continues to make his “ultra-skilled” college reputation a house of cards. His defense has also been porous. However his size and craftiness combination has still allowed him to put points on the board and rebound solidly. Presuming his shooting picks up and Wiggins’ shooting regresses, Jabari is probably still in line to lead rookies in scoring and win Rookie of the Year in the end. Long term I’d still like to see him be a floor spacing PF more than a SF with size and post potential. Small forwards who stopped the ball to post up smaller defenders, shoot midrange shots and give up speed on the defensive end, were in vogue in the 1980s but rapidly going the way of MTV’s music videos in the modern NBA.

Nik Stauskas has been one of the least productive rookies statistically with a 3.7 PER. This is due to only hitting 27.3% from the 3pt line thus far and how limited his role in Sacramento’s offense has been outside of spot up 3s, with 2.4 of his 3.8 attempts a game coming from 3pt. While it’s concerning to see anyone this unproductive to start, Stauskas’ resume as a 3pt shooter is strong enough that one shouldn’t be too stressed about him clicking in from long range yet. To give a few examples of early strugglers who turned it around, Bradley Beal’s season 3P% was only 26.8% at the end of December of his rookie year and Kevin Martin was a non threat from 3 his entire rookie season. Both droughts were on a far greater sample size than Nik’s troubles from 3 so far. Most were more concerned about Stauskas supplemented his shooting game with other skills and in those areas he’s had a respectable start. Having seen most of his minutes so far, he hasn’t looked out of place defensively, moving better than most expected in lateral defense but getting into some trouble with fouls and physically stronger opponents like others rookies. He’s made some impressive passes and the times he has driven to the rim looked fine aesthetically to me.

Like Stauskas, Doug McDermott has struggled to a 8.54 PER because of only hitting 29.4% from 3 on 1.9 attempts a game and how 3pt shot-orientated his role with the Bulls is. But over time this skill should translate better and his defense has been more competent than expected it would appear.

Nerlens Noel started relatively impressively this season with a combination of scoring, blocks and steals, but Philadelphia moving him from power forward to center has hurt his productivity. Noel is closer in weight to a small forward than a center, so physically it’s a hard task to put him at the 5 right now. He’s showing some worrisome “bad hands” signs which has been tough for other big man prospects to overcome in the past. However if defensively impactful enough at the 4 or 5, Noel can be a long term starter in the league.

Elfrid Payton’s poor shooting numbers are worrisome considering the starting role and touches Orlando has given him, were everything he needed to make a Michael Carter-Williams like rookie of the year run. Payton has a nice feel for the game and defensive potential, however I had concerns about his skill level at PG. Not just his shooting ability and touch at the rim but whether his ball handling would limit his driving to the basket. He’ll either have to improve his skills or become an aces passing+defense point guard.

K.J. McDaniels has had a solid start offensively by hitting 40% of his 3s on 2.8 attempts a game. While a small sample size considering his high defensive potential, his upside as a “3+D” player in the NBA looks solid. If he keeps this up, when he becomes a free agent next summer teams could be thinking Wes Matthews, who Portland was able to sign after just his rookie season for 5 years, 34 million.

A few thoughts on 2nd year players:

I rated Kelly Olynyk and Dennis Schroeder top 5 in the 2013 draft and their strong play so far has made me encouraged about those rankings. Although I don’t expect them to keep up over 20 PER production this season, Olynyk’s skill level for a 5 and Schroeder’s penetration ability for a PG make them potential all-star talents. Gorgui Dieng who rated in the top 10 of my rankings has also been one of the most productive 2nd year players to start the season. Anthony Bennett is also showing signs of life, even if he is getting “Flipped off” by Flip Saunders telling him he’s not allowed to take 3s. Bennett has instead been taking 2s as close to the 3pt line without taking them, as anyone in the league. This reliance on the extra long 2 could lead to an unfortunate shooting % over the season, but his career in the long term shouldn’t be damaged too much, even if it takes a 2nd coach or team to tap into his 3pt shooting potential.

I do not feel my 2013 rankings are perfect as I have a few seniors who didn’t make it like Kenny Kadji and Jackie Carmichael rated highly, in the 2014 draft these players would have been filtered out with my other models incorporating college statistics or conventional draft rankings. I also feel Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke will end up having standout impressive careers than I thought at the time, the latter once his jumpshooting gets more back in order than it has been this season. However if players like Bennett, Olynyk, Schroeder, Dieng, etc. do well, I’ll be satisfied with the ratings that draft at least proving “something is here”, even if imperfect.

Written by jr.

November 15, 2014 at 12:33 pm

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The case against Kevin Durant going to Washington

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The persistent rumor of Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City for Washington reared its head again when Grantland’s Zach Lowe mentioned “rumblings” of Durant narrowing his 2016 choice down to the Thunder and Wizards.

Let’s break down the case for and against the Wizards as a Durant destination

Should the Thunder be worried about Durant leaving?

Absolutely. By the time of his free agency in 2016 he’ll have played 9 seasons in the league and the media pressure will be eating at his legacy if he hasn’t won a championship yet. The Thunder will have had 4 seasons after the James Harden trade to prove they made the right choice and Durant will have to consider whether the next 4 years will be any different. That Oklahoma City’s inability to win a title so far has been so heavily affected by its owners refusing to pay the luxury tax or amnesty Kendrick Perkins, may also rub Durant the wrong way. Oklahoma City’s owners are not doing everything in their means to win a title.

Why Washington?

Those making a case for Washington are doing so for two reasons. First, Washington, D.C. is Durant’s hometown. Secondly, Washington has appealing young players like John Wall and Bradley Beal along with other pieces like a centre in Marcin Gortat, to help Durant contend immediately after making the move. Playing in the weaker Eastern Conference also helps the new Wizards become a powerhouse, albeit if Lebron’s Cavaliers and Durant’s Wizards are both in the East and West no longer has a Thunder with Durant, the days of conference imbalance may have shifted.

The case against

I have a hard time buying into the Wizards as this major a threat for Durant, for the same reason the years of Kevin Love to the Lakers rumours never sold me. The problem is most of what Washington can provide is similar to Oklahoma City’s case. Durant playing in his hometown has sentimental appeal, but does it have more sentimental appeal than staying in Oklahoma City with the love he has for the city and long time teammates there? Likewise, Washington has young talent, but playing with the Wizards talent like John Wall, Bradley Beal and an older Marcin Gortat is not a more elite core than playing with Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, etc. The Eastern Conference would only be easier than the West in the first two rounds which hasn’t been Oklahoma City’s problem. Facing down a conference final-Finals combination like Cleveland and the best West team isn’t an easier task to the title than the Thunder have now. If Durant is dissatisfied with Oklahoma City management and coaching, this doesn’t play in Washington’s favour as their current ownership/management/coaching core of Ted Leonisis Ernie Grunfeld and Randy Wittman has often been derided.

As mentioned before, the key reason for Durant leaving Oklahoma City is losing faith the franchise can win him a title. Does moving to the Wizards really solve this problem for Durant? Or is it just a lateral move?

I haven’t even mentioned yet that Oklahoma City will also be able to offer Durant the highest maximum salary, likely the biggest contract the league has ever seen at that point. Durant is the type of competitor who would take a pay-cut to land in the best situation, especially with his sizeable marketing income, but it’s another reason why Washington has to provide a clearly better situation than Oklahoma City, not just one as good.

Is there better candidates?

So if he leaves, what we likely have is a Durant who’s played 9 seasons without winning a title and despite his love in many ways for playing in Oklahoma City, has to find a better spot to achieve in goals and fulfill the potential of his career.

What I want is a team with two other veteran superstar players, like Miami had. Then when adding Durant, they become a “super-team” everyone should fear. The part that’s playing against Oklahoma City is that the cap is expected to rise heavily due to a new TV deal, which could give more teams the available cap-space to chase after Durant.

There’s 3 teams that stand out to me:

L.A. Clippers – No star wants to go the Lakers anymore, so the Clippers may as well take their place for the L.A. team who’s success attracts the big stars leaving their teams. More-so, in terms of willingness to spend whatever luxury tax it takes, surely Steve Ballmer would be the utter opposite of Oklahoma City’s owners. Durant joins two other superstar talents in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and while Paul would be heading into his 12th season, he has the skill and smarts to age beautifully, especially if he’s the 3rd scoring option of this core.

Getting Durant to L.A. is tricky financially, as Paul, Blake, J.J. Redick and Spencer Hawes combine for 56.2 million already signed in 2016-2017 and this is before considering Deandre Jordan’s likely sizeable next contract. The cap in 2016-2017 is estimated to be at something like $88.8 million based on a 45% increase from 2015-2016, but Durant may also have to be paid something like $25-30 million in his first year to match the increase.

Why I believe it can work is if the cap blows up this heavily in the summer of 2016, there will be more capspace than free agents to sign with it which could lead to a comically insane bidding wars for the free agents available. Because of this, teams may realize the sharper move is to absorb contracts from other teams to make use of their capspace. Therefore if it takes the Clippers moving Jordan, Redick, Hawes or other contracts to make room for Durant after he agrees to sign, considering the cap conditions this may be a fairly easy roadblock to get past. The important number is that Paul and Griffin’s combined 43 million owed in 2016-2017 is so far below a projected cap number like $88 million, that fitting Durant after a few moves looks more than feasible.

Houston Rockets – The appeal is similar to the Clippers. They have two stars in James Harden and Dwight Howard and would promise a super-team to Durant. In addition the owner/GM combination of Les Alexander and Daryl Morey is one of the most reliable and committed in the league. The upside is a more complimentary fit, with a defensive anchor in Dwight beside Harden and Durant instead of two offensive stars like Paul and Blake. But Dwight also represents the downside, as he’d be heading into season 13 and has a style of game expected to age less gracefully than a player like Chris Paul. Dwight will always be both gigantic and a smart players, so I expect he wouldn’t be chopped liver, but the longevity of the trio is less clear-cut.

Financially the Rockets are set to make a run at Durant. Dwight Howard will likely opt out of his 23.3 player option in the summer of 2016 considering the new TV deal’s prices and the bidding war that will come with it and could cost more than Durant to keep. However, Harden only makes 16.7 million in 2016-2017 so this helps make the combination more affordable. Trevor Ariza’s 7.8 million in 2016-2017 is the only other notable contract for the Rockets, unless Terrence Jones is extended a year early. In any case like the Clippers, moving contracts that aren’t Harden and Dwight probably won’t be hard.

Cleveland Cavaliers – Oh, did you forget these guys? Yes, the immediate question is if Lebron James is blocking Durant from SF and Kevin Love is blocking Lebron from going to PF again, how do you start all three? But to me it’s not out of the question that eventually Cleveland decides its favorite lineup is Lebron at power forward and Kevin Love at center, a godly mismatch even before adding Durant at the three.

Financially it’s the most difficult of these options, considering Lebron will also be getting a new contract with the TV deal. Kevin Love has an opt out in the summer of 2015, but financially he may feel the best decision is to opt in, then get a mega contract the summer after. This is before considering Kyrie Irving’s 14.8 million and Anderson Varejao’s new 10 million extension. Getting all of Durant, Lebron and Love would likely require both Love signing next summer at a smaller deal and moving Irving and Varejao’s contracts first. Otherwise perhaps the Cavaliers just let Kevin Love go in free agency and still manage to win over Durant into playing with Lebron and Kyrie. Either way, if Durant’s goal is to win a title the frontrunners are the teams with the most talent and Cleveland fits that bill.

Written by jr.

November 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Kevin Love and the Cavaliers defense

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Any question about the Cavaliers coming into this season began with their defense. Offensively they looked near perfect, with superstar inside and outside skills from the Lebron James and Kevin Love combination, a 3rd option in Kyrie Irving, shooters like Mike Miller and one of the best offensive rebounding cores in the league with Love, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Shawn Marion.

But Love and Irving were not known for their defense last year as do young players like Thompson and Dion Waiters typically struggle on that end. The Cavaliers do not have a signature shot-blocker or a big with the pick and roll defensive mobility Chris Bosh had. Even Lebron James started to show the signs of age on the defensive end in 2013-2014, compared to defensive player of the year caliber seasons in the past.

So perhaps they’d be headed for a season with the 1st ranked offense in the league, but only average defense?

This may still happen, but I could see them succeeding more on the defensive end than expected. I’ve pushed the theme for years that offensive talent affects how a team builds its defense. To help understand this, consider the following:

In regular season games, the majority of players do not commit 100% of their possible energy and intensity level on each play. My evidence for this is how in the postseason the energy and intensity goes up to a higher notch than in the regular season, showing in regular season games they were holding back to an extent.

If this is true, then it would make sense that players can distribute their energy level to the offensive and defensive ends. Say Player A, Player B, Player C save the same energy in regular season games compared to a playoff series, as each other. Player A plays exactly as hard on offense and on defense, “saving” himself equally on each end. Player B on the other hand plays as hard on offense as he would in a playoff series, but saves twice as much energy on defense as Player A does. Player C is the inverse of Player B, he plays as hard on defense as Player A does in a playoff series, but saves twice as much energy as him on offense. Why Player A, Player B and Player C would choose such an unequal energy distribution may not be statistical selfishness in Player B’s case, but team needs or what the coach asks of them. Say Player B plays on a team where faced with little to no offensive talent, he has to carry the team on that end. To put up incredible offensive statistics he has to take the defensive end of the floor off along with avoid fouls. Player C however plays on a team with far more offensively talented players than him, or he plays for a coach who is obsessed with the defensive end of the floor. Since the team is asking for his defensive contribution, that’s where he places an abnormally high amount of energy and perhaps his offensive statistics suffer.

Chris Bosh is one of the best examples I’ve seen of what energy distribution does to defense. In Toronto he was an average to subaverage defensive player. But in Miami once it became apparent his offensive role would be more limited, he turned himself into one of the best pick and roll defenders in the league and the heart of Miami’s defense. I also believe the Heat have another potential example of the effect of energy and defense in Norris Cole, who’s offensive numbers were horrendous his first 3 years in the league but the Heat continued to give him the backup PG spot for his defense. I suspect Cole’s offensive production was diminished by how much energy he was burning on the defensive end.

And that takes us to Kevin Love, a player who’s a lot like Chris Bosh before he came to Miami. Love put up elite offensive stats on a team who needed him to carry them on that end, but made a non-impact on defense. For both players adjusted plus minus statistics called them underrated on defense before the move, with Love rating as a solid +1.0 in 2013-2014 in DRAPM compared to +1.9 Bosh in 2009-2010. As a comparison the Cavaliers other derided star teammate on defense in Kyrie Irving, rated as a -2.6 in DRAPM in 2013-2014. In fact Love had a higher DRAPM in 2013-2014 than Lebron who rated as a -0.6. Lebron rated +2.6 his last year in Cleveland, 2009-2010.

But the objection to this may start at “Love doesn’t have Bosh’s physical tools defensively”. It is true that Toronto Bosh had the tools to be better at defense than he was. His near Kevin Garnett-like mobility on the perimeter made him an untapped goldmine as a pick and roll defender. With the athleticism of Miami’s other stars, this allowed the Heat to rotate into the paint beautifully cutting off perimeter drives. In the slash and kick game Bosh’s defense was as valuable as a shot-blocker’s.

Love on the other hand, isn’t as quick on his feet as Bosh. Nor is he as long, measuring with a 6’11.25 wingspan and 8’10 standing reach to Bosh’s 7’3.5 wingspan and 9’1 standing reach, eventually allowing him to move to center. However, in length and mobility Love also isn’t below average in either category which helps.

However, there are other ways to have tools on the defensive end. First of all, Love is one of the physically strongest players at the power forward position and in the NBA, a far cry from Chris Bosh’s skinny form. While strength doesn’t get the most press of defensive tools, it still matters. It’s one of the major reasons why Love could be twice the defensive rebounder Bosh was in Miami and it will allow him to defend bulkier players in the post.

Secondly, for a power forward or center Love has some of the best hands in the league. The quality of his hands is one of the major reasons it’s so hard to pry a rebound from him. Sometimes defenders like Jason Kidd and Kawhi Leonard really stand out in how well they use their hands on defense. Love will never be a shot-blocker, but does he have untapped potential stealing or deflecting passes?

But perhaps Love’s most important defensive tool is his head. He’s one of the smartest players in the league and if he commits himself to that end, he could find himself in the right spot positionally repeatedly, or again find himself in the way of other team’s opposing passes.

Finally, one last crucial part of defense is motor and toughness and Love clearly prides himself at both of those.

While one game isn’t proof of anything, in the Cavaliers win over Chicago this was all on display. He used his strength and toughness to grab 16 rebounds and he used his instincts and his hands to disrupt the Bulls passing, ending up with 4 steals on the night. At the same time he played so hard defensively and on the glass that it may have taken him out of his usual Minnesota rhythm on the offensive end. One game isn’t enough to say Love will be the heart of the Cavaliers defense like Bosh was in Miami, but it’s a positive sign.

As for the rest of the Cavaliers, a shift to a defensive mentality may occur for others players as well. I’m looking at Dion Waiters as a good candidate for this considering his penetrating offensive skill set is otherwise unneeded in the starting lineup. If he really wants to make himself valuable long term to the Cavaliers, he may want to consider rebranding his game as an energetic defensive stopper and ball thief. Overall, the toughness the Cavaliers played with in the Bulls game showed to me they may take on the personality of a defensively orientated team, which could be the first big key to playing championship caliber defense.

Written by jr.

November 2, 2014 at 11:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized