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Archive for September 2015

How to turn Anthony Bennett into a useful player next year

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Minnesota bought out Anthony Bennett this week continuing his worst ever start for a #1 pick. With PFs option they liked more in Adriean Payne and Nemanja Bjelica to take back PF minutes the Timberwolves decided they’d seen enough. Bennett wanted a buyout to find a team with playing time.

Does Bennett have a chance to be something in the NBA? Or is he a lost cause?

To start his numbers did improve as a sophomore. In Cleveland his PER was 6.9, WS/48 -0.028, TS% .425 and ORTG 85. In Minnesota his PER was 11.4, WS/48 .017, TS% .458 and ORTG 96. His numbers improved from unspeakable badness to “D League call-up level”.

What strikes me about Bennett’s efficiency in Minnesota is the shot selection. Consider his 16-23 ft and 3pt shooting numbers:

16-23 feet: 46 for 139 (33.1%, .331 eFG)

3-pt: 7 for 22 (31.8%, .477 eFG)

Despite a far higher eFG for his 3 point shots Bennett’s shots came from 16-23 feet. Taking 46.7% of his overall field goals from long 2 led to an inefficient season.

But part of this is design. Flip had a “no 3s” rule for Bennett. To the point where Flip pulled Bennett from games when he attempt a 3 and breaking the rule.

Simply redistributing Bennett shots from midrange to 3 would’ve improved his efficiency. Take Derrick Williams last year who shot 31.4% from 3 for Sacramento but had quality overall averages of .54 TS% and 108 ORTG. The biggest difference is attempting 156 3-pters to 65 16-23 foot jumpers instead of Bennett’s inverse ratio. On numbers-driven teams like Philadelphia or Portland I expect Bennett would be asked to take a high ratio of 3s to long 2s.

Bennett went on to shoot 40% (12 for 30) from 3 at the Pan Am Games and Fiba Americas tournaments. On a shorter 3 point line this is an unreliable number but remains encouraging. His NCAA freshman 3P% of 37.5% also is an encouraging long term sign.

If I’m a team like Portland or Philadelphia and I sign Bennett I have hopes he turns into the next Patrick Patterson. Patterson shot 0 for 5 from 3 his first 2 seasons in Houston. In his 3rd season he broke through and shot 51 for 132 from 3 (38.6%). By 2014-2015 in Toronto he shot 105 for 283 (37.1%) from 3 as a premiere stretch four. Another player he could follow is Meyers Leonard in Portland. Leonard struggled to find minutes his first 2 years. After shooting 3 for 13 combined those seasons from 3, in his 3rd year he shot 47 for 112 (42%) from 3. This gave him an NBA role and now makes an intriguing free agency target next summer if it continues.

Both Patterson and Leonard are quality offensive rebounders at over 2 ORBs per 36 minutes like Bennett. Bennett has averaged 2.3 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, 2.1 in Minnesota. He shot 68% at the rim with the Timberwolves. In addition to 3s getting offensive rebound putbacks could be a way to carve out a role and up his efficiency.

Bennett is not at their level as a 3pt shooter yet. He has to prove himself there and has to prove he’s not a mental enigma. But this is far from a lost case. His chances of making a Patterson or Leonard like leap have to be “solid”. For all we know just letting him shoot 3s instead of 2s could make him Sacramento Derrick Williams overnight who still drew demand on the free agent market with 2 years, 10 million from the Knicks. This is not as lost a cause as the Timberwolves are treating it.

Written by jr.

September 23, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Appreciating Amir Johnson’s Raptors career

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Amir Johnson’s tenure with the Raptors ended after six seasons this summer. The Raptors used their salary cap room to sign DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph and Johnson found a nice home in Boston.

Amir never came close to making an all-star team with the Raptors. He never surpassed 10.4 points per game. But he finished 4th all time in Win Shares for the team, 4th in games played and 3rd in rebounds.

When the Raptors first acquired Amir before 2009-2010 he wasn’t even supposed to break the rotation. A something for nothing acquisition in letting Milwaukee sign Carlos Delfino, Amir quickly passed the returning Rasho Nesterovic as the backup center in the rotation. His athleticism on the glass and efficiency showed itself immediately. The Raptors narrowly missed the playoffs and Chris Bosh left the team for Miami. In the following years Amir’s defensive intelligence and pick and roll game developed.

We are used to the term “best player on a bad team” referring to the shot-chucking volume scorer who wouldn’t have these shots on a contender. But why can’t it be a player like Amir Johnson? The team’s leading scorer in the post Chris Bosh season was Andrea Bargnani who gave any value away defensively and on the glass. Both Bargnani and secondary scorer DeMar Derozan were below league average efficiency. Jose Calderon capably passed the ball but struggle on defense and fell below the efficiency in his 2007 to 2009 prime. On a contending team Bargnani and Caldeorn’s defense or Derozan’s poor floor spacing would have been an undesirable fit. It’s Amir Johnson’s defense, efficiency and ability to set picks that would have translated to any situation. He led the Raptors in Win Shares in 2010-2011 and in Kyle Lowry’s first season in 2012-2013. In 2011-2012 his individual statistics suffered, but the Raptors had their most successful defensive season of the three lottery years finishing 14th, which they surely wouldn’t have come close to without Johnson. Over this time Amir also became a favorite of advanced +/- afficiandos.

In 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 the Raptors reeled off back to back franchise record seasons with 48 and 49 wins. Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan made an all-star team but Amir’s defense and efficiency continued to have value. While observers were waiting for Jonas Valanciunas to break out, +/- stats reflected Amir as the steadier force of the two, especially defensively. In 2014-2015 health and an already 10 year long career began to slow Amir down on the defensive end, although his offensive production continued. Patrick Patterson’s efficient, floor spacing season began to stand out more at power forward. Masai Ujiri decided it was time to move on.

Amir Johnson had one of the longest Raptors tenures from players who aren’t Vince Carter or Chris Bosh. His resume contains both being the probably best player on several teams and a top 3 or 4 player on two playoff seasons. For all of this a case can be made he is top 5 in the franchise’s history.

Written by jr.

September 11, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Andrew Wiggins: No guaranteed star

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Andrew Wiggins is the crown jewel of the Minnesota Timberwolves. His rookie of the year campaign backed up the heralded prospect status making him the #1 pick. To some all that’s left is a surefire path to stardom.

What has scouts salivating is his athleticism. Wiggins has the speed and springiness of a track star. His rare natural athleticism has drawn comparisons to Tracy McGrady and Michael Jordan.

But athleticism is one part of the game. For example Steve Nash has two MVPs and the more athletic Gerald Green couldn’t stick in the NBA his whole prime. And every GM would take Marc Gasol over Javale McGee. Gasol’s strength, skill, basketball IQ and motor overwhelm the advantage McGee has in athleticism.

Athleticism can never be a superstar’s only strength. For example Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin are two widely regarded top 10 players who are driven by athleticism. Both however are also elite ball handlers for PG or PF, have stronger builds than their peers, are talented passers and have special motors.

What Wiggins career depends on is his secondary abilities outside of athleticism. Right now he is not known as a ball handler or shooter. His motor sometimes was criticized at Kansas. No one has a problem with his basketball IQ but also doesn’t hang his reputation’s hat on it yet. His length can be an asset. It is above average for a SF and strongly above average for a SG. Is this enough?

One may ask “If he had these flaws how come he won rookie of the year going away?” Wiggins did have a fine rookie season finishing 37th in the NBA in points per game at 16.9 per game. By other statistical measures he wasn’t as impressive. A PER of 13.9 is below league average of 15.0. A WS/48 of .034 is below league average of .100. His RPM is -1.66. He used possessions inefficiently at .517 TS% and 103 ORTG. At 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks per 36 minutes he didn’t stand out in areas besides points. An encouraging peripheral is 5.7 free throw attempts per 36 minutes.

Despite these stats Wiggins rookie season could be the first step towards stardom. But it’s not a rookie season unanimously good enough to make him a cinch. The scoring is nice, but rookies such as Tyreke Evans, O.J. Mayo or Michael Carter-Williams have done even better in the category and it didn’t guarantee them anything. Wiggins needs more than 16.9 points per game as a rookie to prove he’s a superstar in the making.

Written by jr.

September 8, 2015 at 9:04 pm

What is Draymond Green’s real value?

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Where Draymond Green ranks in a vacuum is divisive to some. Sports Illustrated rated him 16th in the league. Some argue Golden State is perfect for his strengths and hides his weaknesses. He anchors their defense, passes the ball and shoots open 3s and isn’t relied upon to create his own shot. What happens on a team where his 3s aren’t open and he is asked to create more offense?

But is this unique to his style of play? Consider how Kevin Love’s value shifted going from Minnesota to Cleveland. On a team with Lebron James and Kyrie Irving he didn’t have enough shots to take advantage of his volume scoring ability. His defensive weaknesses proved a bigger problem than in Minnesota.

If anything I’d have thought defense and floor spacing should be more stable team to team than scoring. For scoring the availability of field goals will change team to team. On different teams efficiency may be affected by less open looks. In Dallas Brandan Wright had .762 TS% but in Boston and Phoenix .571 TS% and .600 TS%. Dallas specialized in creating space for his and Tyson Chandler’s dunks.

Floor stretching shouldn’t be affected by team. The player’s range and respect the defense gives them shouldn’t change much by teammates. Defensive results may change because of burning energy to take a greater offensive role. The system may also help defensive results. But on the whole defensive tools, intelligence and effort reign supreme.

The argument against Draymond isn’t his spacing and defense declining. It’s his offensive production going from average to unacceptable on the wrong team. His average shooting percentage may become poor if guarded too strong. But would his points per game go up? Would his already impressive 3.7 assists per game go up? Is a Draymond who scores 15 points per game and 5 assists with poor efficiency, less of an asset when added to his defense and spacing?

Furthermore not every bad team needs a scorer. Many have scorers but not the spacing and defense Green provides. Here’s a list of leading scorers on the 14 lottery teams. In brackets are players who led in total points but not points per game:

Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Martin: 20.0ppg (Andrew Wiggins: 16.9ppg)

New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony: 24.2ppg

Philadelphia 76ers: Tony Wroten: 16.9ppg (Robert Covington: 13.5ppg)

Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant: 22.3ppg (Jordan Hill: 12.0ppg)

Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic: 19.3ppg,

Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins: 24.1ppg (Rudy Gay: 21.1ppg)

Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson: 15.2ppg

Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson: 17.6ppg (Andre Drummond: 13.8ppg)

Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker: 17.3ppg (Al Jefferson: 16.6ppg)

Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade: 21.5ppg

Indiana Pacers: George Hill: 16.1ppg (C.J. Miles: 13.5ppg)

Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward: 19.3ppg

Phoenix Suns: Eric Bledsoe: 17.0ppg.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook: 28.1ppg

In several situations he wouldn’t be more than a 3rd or 4th option including playing with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris or Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. They need a Draymond Green’s defense and spacing more than volume scoring.

Minnesota ranked last in defense and had minimal floor spacing. Green fills these ailments while keeping the ball in Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins’ hands. Green is the Andre Drummond compliment Greg Monroe never was in Detroit. In Charlotte his strengths help cancel out Al Jefferson’s spacing, defending weaknesses. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist he pushes the Hornets from top 10 defense to likely elite.

Philadelphia is a “if Draymond had to do too much” team. While true his spacing is needed and the defensive pairing with Nerlens Noel has elite upside. Indiana without Paul George, Los Angeles without Kobe Bryant and New York without Carmelo Anthony also may find him forced out of his element. Like Charlotte he could have made Indiana elite defensively again beside Hibbert and New York and Los Angeles needed his defense.

Draymond may not be as valuable to last year’s Philadelphia, Indiana, New York or Los Angeles as he is a Sacramento or Miami. That’s ok because it’s the same for offense-first stars like Kevin Love. Love provides great value to a Philadelphia or Indiana but on Sacramento or Miami his volume scoring  is more redundant than Green’s defense. To be fair to Love his floor spacing should provide value to any team including Cleveland’s.

If Green’s value isn’t the same on every team it’s likely a matter of being better at one end than the other. Teams set with offensive talent but not defense need a Green more than a Kevin Love. Teams set with defensive talent but not offense need a Love more than Green.

Written by jr.

September 2, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Basketball