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Archive for July 2015

The upside of a perimeter like Boston’s Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder in the modern NBA

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After trading Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green Danny Ainge built a treasure chest full of mid to late 1st round picks. The strategy behind the picks is as much having the firepower to make a Kevin Garnett or James Harden like trade as to draft an all-star with those picks.

Despite making the playoffs last year dissatisfaction with the Celtics plan is starting to grow. Drafting Terry Rozier 16th overall did not help matters. In the words of many such as Bill Simmons the Celtics have a roster full of quality depth players rather than all-star caliber starters.

The Celtics frontcourt is undeniably imperfect. Kelly Olynyk’s perimeter skills have value in the modern game but will likely always struggle defensively and on the glass. Jared Sullinger has the ability to create shots in the post but has below average scoring efficiency and defense. Tyler Zeller is an efficient scorer and competent defender at C but doesn’t space the floor. Amir Johnson is a quality two way pick-up but declined last year in Toronto and is on a short contract. These players may all be better served as backup big men on an elite team.

I am higher on the upside of their perimeter. What the Celtics perimeter helps show is the paradigm shift in upside in the modern NBA. In a summer where DeMarre Carroll made 14 million a year, Danny Green’s 11 million a year was a steal and Wesley Matthews made 17.5 million a year, Jae Crowder’s 7 million a year contract by the Celtics represents a new type of high upside signing. Crowder only shot 28.2% with the Celtics last year, but in his last full season with Dallas shot 33.1% from 3, followed by 34.2% with the Mavericks for 25 games this season. His increase to 3 attempts a game in Boston may have hurt his numbers. Crowder is also a strong defensive player and has the potential to develop into a Carroll or Danny Green if his 3pt shooting shoots upward. At SG the Celtics have an elite defender in Avery Bradley who shot 35.2% from 3 on 4.6 attempts a game this year, but the season before hit 39.5% from 3 on 3.3 attempts a game. Despite neither projecting as a high upside shot creator this combination has strong upside in another way. If both reached their highest potential as outside shooters the Celtics ability to defend and space the floor from those positions would provide dynamic value in today’s NBA.

That’s not to say their weaknesses can just be ignored. There’s value in shot creating in the NBA by helping create those open 3s. The Golden State Warriors have a fantastic ability to defend and hit open 3s with players like Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, but Thompson and Stephen Curry’s ability to draw defensive attention and multiple defenders is critical to allowing players like Iguodala to be open.

Jared Sullinger’s volume scoring helps, but the key for the Celtics going forward in this area is point guard. Their 6th man Isaiah Thomas is precisely that type of high volume scorer and he showed it by averaging a whopping 26.4 points per 36 minutes last year for the Celtics, with 18.8 FGA and 9 FTA per 36 minutes. A key is Marcus Smart’s development into more than just a defender and shooter. He has the athleticism to drive and collapse the defense which could help him be the facilitator the Celtics starting lineup needs.

If the Celtics perimeter reaches their upside they could be potent. Bradley and Crowder could provide elite floor spacing and defense at SG and SF, while Marcus Smart plays defense, hits 3s and drive to create open shots for them. The combination of Smart, Bradley and Crowder from a shooting 3s and playing defense perspective could be deadly. Isaiah Thomas could come up the bench and provided needed shot creation and efficient and help the Celtics take even more 3s.

They’re not a guarantee to get there. Bradley and Crowder could stall as mediocre outside shooters and Smart could struggle to penetrate to the basket long term. Without better 3pt shooting teams may not respect their range enough for the Celtics to get full floor-spacing value from these shots. Isaiah Thomas could end up a journeyman like Kevin Martin and Lou Williams, a professional scorer who’s defensive weaknesses prevent him from sticking in any winning situation for too long.

But this uncertainty doesn’t separate them from the other rebuilding teams in the league. Franchises like Philadelphia, Orlando and Minnesota also have a high upside scenario if their players pan out and will need a plan B if they don’t. The Celtics are not fortunate enough to have guaranteed success but because of the value of players who defend and shoot 3s the upside on the perimeter is there to contend. If it doesn’t pan out extra draft picks from teams like Brooklyn and Dallas and free agency plans in 2016 and 2017 along with the potential to one day make a blockbuster trade will give them a backup plan.

Written by jr.

July 28, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Cavaliers need to keep Matthew Dellavedova

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The Cavs are in the process of putting the band back together by resigning Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova. But with an all time luxury tax bill it’s unclear if they’re willing to sign both Smith and Dellavedova. With the escalating luxury tax penalties it’s estimated the Cavaliers would be paying the equivalent of a maximum salary in real money to keep Delly. This could be too much for even Dan Gilbert to take especially with Mo Williams signed to replace one of them if they choose.

I believe the Cavaliers losing Dellavedova could be a significant mistake. The cash savings can’t be blamed for it alone, when the combined luxury tax payment for Mo Williams and J.R. Smith would have been far higher than the price to pay Dellavedova. If they let him go it will be because they chose Dellavedova as 3rd most valued of those guards.

The arguments against Delly comes down to statistics and tools. Dellavedova has a career PER of 9.6 and for his career has only scored 8.9 points per 36 minutes. The lack of speed that made him undrafted coming out of St. Mary’s has continued to hurt his offense. He only recorded 23 shots “At Rim” the entire regular season last year playing 20.6 minutes per game in 67 games and only shot 39.1% on those shots. He also only averaged 0.6 free throws a game. When the low volume and inefficient finishing at the rim is added to a mediocre midrange jumper Dellavedova only shot 30.7% from 2 last year.

Delly showed more promise in other areas. He shot 40.7% from 3 on 2.5 attempts a game. He also had a strong assist to turnover rate at 5.3 assists to 1.6 turnovers per 36 minutes. Coming out of St. Mary’s his strengths were his shooting reflected by 38.2% from 3 and 85.2% from the free throw line and passing skills shown by 6.4 assists per game to 2.8 turnovers. Compared to the first two years of Norris Cole’s career in Miami Delly’s 3 point shooting and low turnovers has differentiated him offensively. Despite career TS% of .513 his career ORTG of 110 taking into account assists and turnovers is above league average. As a comparison Cole’s ORTG his first two seasons were 88 and 93.

The real revelation for Delly has been on the defensive end. For an unimpressive athlete his ability to move laterally has impressed.. He’s complimented this with excellent strength for a PG, high IQ, toughness and effort on the defensive end. Like Cole I suspect one of the reasons Delly has succeeded defensively is playing beside Lebron he’s able to “specialize” his effort level on that end without having to do as many normal PG duties offensively. Cole went on to put up the best offensive numbers of his career in New Orleans once removed from his defense first Miami role build from years of playing beside Lebron and Wade.

Dellavedova won’t be a high volume scorer but in the modern NBA his ability to defend, hit 3s and not turn the ball over already adds value to the Cavaliers. Mo Williams has a greater ability to create his own shots than Dellavedova. But on a team with Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, Lebron James and Kevin Love, is Mo Williams advantages over Delly as important as the defense the latter brings? Dellavedova bothered Stephen Curry last year. In the Finals how glad would Curry be to see Mo Williams guarding him? Or likewise for an opponent like Chris Paul or Tony Parker.

A natural for Dellavedova is Patrick Beverley, who’s turned into an excellent PG beloved by advanced statistics like RAPM by defending and hitting outside shots. Giving up a future Beverley would be a hard blow for the Cavaliers. But on the offensive end Delly may have an even bigger upside than that.

Every year there’s players who prove that the adage that average athleticism equals low upside and freak athleticism equals high upside is not necessarily true. As an example two of the most improved players in the NBA last year were Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler. The story for both the first two years has similarities to Matthew Dellavedova. Neither were picked top 20 in the draft as players who were rated as scouts by older, low upside players. They showed themselves as draft steals early on by playing tough nosed defense and playing smart. But up until a year ago, many still expected them to still top out of quality role players in the NBA. In the 3rd seen both became max contract caliber stars. The early success they showed on the defensive end from IQ, strength and toughness ended up translating to more offensive success last year. Both Butler and Green had succeeded offensively in college which helped predict their development on that end in college. Dellavedova may have been more impressive offensively in college than either.

To be fair, people were higher on Butler and Green a year ago than they are now on Delly. A year ago Jimmy Butler was asking for 12 million a year from the Bulls showing the value he already had in the league. He’d shown signs of elite efficiency in his first two years. Dellavedova’s case is closer to Draymond Green, a player branded as a non-offense role player who also helped show his value in the playoffs when David Lee or Andrew Bogut injuries pushed the Warriors to play and succeed more with him. Likewise the Cavs kept winning with Delly starting in place of Kyrie Irving with a defending, floor spacing role player.

Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green are both stars. It’s a lot to ask Dellavedova is a good bet to not get there. But it’s an example of what can happen when you value a young player of his type who’s defended, improved his shooting, made high IQ decisions and showed he belongs in high intensity playoff series. The Cavaliers are a perfect fit for him because his weaknesses can be masked by Lebron’s playmaking at small forward and all the Cavs offensive talent to make up for his lack of volume scoring. There isn’t a team where Dellavedova is a more perfect fit. In the modern “spacing and defense” league the smart teams will be the ones who value what Dellavedova did for the Cavs last year and sees that players who shoot and play defense at a young level have a high upside, not just the players who show shot-creating skills. When compared to a career as erratic as J.R. Smith’s and a 32 year old with defensive problems like Mo Williams, I believe the youngest and best defending guard in Delly should have been prioritized the most of those 3 and he may be the one the Cavs lose.

Written by jr.

July 24, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized