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Basketball philosophy

Archive for March 2019

The Lakers must think like a small market team with big market advantages

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The Lakers catastrophic season can be blamed on many things. Foregoing the strategy that’s always worked for Lebron of surrounding him with shooters to instead have ball handling non shooters was disastrous. They didn’t see the disconnect between Lebron and young players coming when they signed many chemistry squeaky wheels like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley.

However where it started going wrong was Paul George signing in Oklahoma City. The Lakers risked one of their top prospects in D’Angelo Russell to get cap space for a second player only to end up spending it on pointless one year deals while Russell made the all-star team. That George to LA wasn’t in the bag clearly stunned the team and they struggled to have a Plan B to contend in Lebron’s first year with the team. Their backup plan ended up being to double down on their original plan by signing one year deals and waiting for that star free agent in 2020. This also led to the loss of Julius Randle who they didn’t want to give a 2nd year player option to.

In other words they put all their chips into the free agent strategy. This is before considering that Magic Johnson’s strengths are connecting with players rather than being ahead of the game analytically, and they have paid dearly for Magic’s weaknesses to get to those strengths. There’s nothing wrong with the Lakers leaning into their strengths as a franchise which is legendary history, star recruiters like Magic and Kobe and being the city many players go to in the offseason. The problem is that advantage goes away if they sacrifice prospects like Russell, Randle or Ivica Zubac or fall behind in the analytics department to get there. It’s giving an advantage to the small market teams right back.

What would make the Lakers unstoppable is if they took all the strengths of a small market team like Milwaukee and added it to their natural location advantage. This is how their cross sport twin the Yankees adjusted. Instead of floundering with overpaid contracts while analytics driven small market teams ran circles around them, they decided to build up one of the best prospect pools in the league themselves and use their money to buy international prospects. Now that the Yankees have both great homegrown prospects and a money advantage it will be difficult for the smaller market teams to keep up with them or the Red Sox who have succeeded for the same reasons. Likewise if the Lakers got smart and cared as deeply about analytics, long term controlled prospects and finding free agent bargains as the teams with less location strengths as them they would have an advantage without giving any edge back. They could have planned to add Lebron without risking players like Russell and Randle to do it, but it’s when they started risking their future on the hubris that multiple all stars would want to come there that it blew up in their face.

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Written by jr.

March 28, 2019 at 6:31 pm

The Raptors loaded up on mildly intriguing prospects and let the odds play in their favor

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Pascal Siakam’s improved play for the Raptors this year is a game changer going forward. At 16.8 pts, 6.9 rebs, 3.1 ast on .625 TS% he has played near all-star level and the best part is the room to get better. He only averages 32.2 minutes and has yet to add the midrange game to his arsenal with only 40 attempts from 10-16 feet and 15 attempts from 16-23 feet this season. At 67 for 188 from 3 (35.6%) he’s also just emerging as a 3pt shooter. It’s easy to see how with more minutes, a willingness to take the midrange shot to keep the defense honest and improving his 3pt stroke how he could make the leap to 20 points per game, especially if the team lost Kawhi Leonard. His elite mobility is also ideal defensively for a power forward for this era and it’s unclear if he’s reached his upside in that area yet. At best Siakam could be the combination of spacing and defense every team wants from a power forward right now while also scoring at an all-star level.

Surely even the Raptors would tell you he didn’t expect to land a potential all-star with the 27th pick. But they didn’t get here by luck either. The last few years the Raptors roster could be divided into established veterans like Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, C.J. Miles, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and two seasons ago DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph, and rookie scale prospects making up the “bench mob” in Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Norman Powell, O.G. Anunoby, Bruno Caboclo, Jakob Poeltl, Bebe Nogueira, along with Siakam. Traditional over 50 win teams with finals aspirations rely on veterans for the bottom half of the roster, but Masai Ujiri put his trust entirely on prospects. This acted as a farm system for the veterans who would one day need to be replaced for luxury tax reasons. When they had to trade Cory Joseph’s contract, their backup PG play only improved with the VanVleet and Wright combination. Likewise they had no drop-off when dumping Carroll for rookie Anunoby. If Poeltl had stayed he would have one day replaced Valanciunas.

The outcomes of these prospects however has been as unpredictable as usual. Caboclo never became the player Masai Ujiri envisioned while in Toronto and is only now showing signs in Memphis, and Nogueira is back in Europe. Powell flashed signs of greatness, but his shooting regressed and now his 4 years, 44 million extension is a negative value contract. Wright who is a month from his 27th birthday is running out of time to be more than a solid bench guard. VanVleet has emerged as a huge part of the Raptors playoff chances but has been banged up so much for his generous six feet that he may be best sticking to a sub 30 minute role in his career. Poeltl and Anunoby are too young to judge yet, but Poeltl’s production has fallen behind the big picked after him Domantas Sabonis and Anunoby is working his way through a sophomore slump. In this context it’s not that the Raptors talent evaluation is perfect, it’s that they gave themselves so many shots with the hope one or two went in, which is precisely what happened with the success of Siakam and VanVleet. None of these prospects had the statistical odds of becoming an all-star that a top 5 pick does, but the combined odds of one breaking out were much friendlier.

With that said, filling half a team with credible mid to lower level prospects is easier said than done. In some ways Ujiri repeatedly hitting these singles and doubles in the draft took more skill than just taking one home run lottery pick. Another key move for Ujiri is putting Poeltl in the Kawhi trade instead of Siakam. While moving Ibaka to center made it logical to trade him, Poeltl was the younger prospect with top ten pick pedigree making it a harder decision. If they had believed Poeltl was the potential all-star instead of Siakam he would likely be the one still on the team.

Having a young all-star talent not only makes the Raptors more appealing to Kawhi than just playing with an aging Lowry, but it gives them a future if he leaves. Without Kawhi, if they keep everyone the hope would be Siakam becomes the new Kawhi and a prospect like Anunoby becomes the new Siakam. While Siakam’s improvement was near impossible to predict, by loading up on credible mid level prospects they were able to turn probability to their side as they only needed the best of the group to come out as a gem.

Written by jr.

March 26, 2019 at 12:42 pm