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The case against Markelle Fultz as the surefire #1 prospect

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hi-res-b2ffbd9c6381fb26abc8810c27081e1e_crop_northMarkelle Fultz appears to be a lock to go #1 pick. The Celtics will either take him 1st or trade the pick to someone who will.

Should he be?

First, to ask whether Fultz should go first, my first question is whether he’s a more productive college player than his peers.

Here is the top 10 prospects on Draftexpress in PER, WS/48 and BPM:

Markelle Fultz 27.9 PER, .172 WS/48, 9.1 BPM

Lonzo Ball 24.7 PER, .214 WS/48, 12.2 BPM

Josh Jackson 24.1 PER, .180 WS/48, 10.7 BPM

Jayson Tatum 22.0 PER, .169 WS/48, 7.5 BPM

De’Aaron Fox 22.6 PER, .192 WS/48, 8.7 BPM

Malik Monk 21.5 PER, .189 WS/48, 8.0 BPM

Jonathan Isaac 24.6 PER, .205 WS/48, 10.9 BPM

Dennis Smith 23.1 PER, .142 WS/48, 7.3 BPM

Lauri Markkanen 25.0 PER, .235 WS/48, 9.3 BPM

Zach Collins 30.9 PER, .298 WS/48, 11.5 BPM

Fultz is behind the projected #2 and #3 picks in Ball and Jackson in both WS/48 and BPM, perhaps the two best boxscore stats to measure impact. His WS/48 is 8th of those 10 players and his BPM is 6th. His best ranking stat is the volume scoring tilted PER which rates ahead of all but Collins who only played 17.3 minutes per game.

Fultz is a much higher volume scorer than Ball and Jackson, but he is a worse passer than Ball and defender than Jackson. Not only is valuing raw points per game over higher ranking stats like WS/48 and BPM a mistake in any context, but especially when it comes to predicting draft prospects. Stat guys have long said the opposite is true, that filling up stats like steals, blocks, assists, rebounds, efficiency predicts success better than points per game. Volume scoring is affected by various factors such as NCAA’s rules, spacing, coaching, age and skill level of opponents and teammates. Fultz is an elite shotblocking guard and good passer and rebounder so it’s not all bad. But outside of PPG Ball and Jackson’s profiles are overall superior.

So saying Fultz was just the best player this year compared to players like Ball and Jackson is not accurate. I assume the scouts however, rate him #1 for the eye test as much as any statistical reason.

Fultz is wowing scouts for his ability to “create his own shot”. He’s one of that guy with tons of moves, so to speak. He has great change of pace ability off the pick and roll and should be strong at making difficult shots. In scouts eyes Fultz is therefore being projected as a guaranteed 20 point per game scorer.

However the ability to create your own midrange shot off the dribble is quickly becoming phased out for guards. Valuing Fultz ability to create midrange shots off the dribble is like valuing college Jahlil Okafor’s post moves, it’s not that this doesn’t add value to his career, it’s that you can be good at that and still suck. If all Fultz can do is hit those difficult Kobe shots, it’s not going to still make him some 20 point per game guy, he would more likely be a bust swirling down the Okafor vortex of death.

Therefore it comes down to how well he can score from the efficient part on the floor, 3, rim and FT line. His feel for the game, change of pace, ballhandling, size, ability to recognize space will help him here too. However while he shot 41% from 3, like Brandon Ingram last year I would warn about calling a player who shot 64.9% FT as an elite shooting prospect. I see the best predicting of shooting as a combination as 3P%, 3pt attempt volume and FT% and Fultz on the whole rates as only ok when looking at the bigger picture. Fultz ranked 14th in 3P% in DX top 100 for players with over 1 attempt per 40 minutes, 24th in 3PA/40 and 67th in FT%. From the Celtics perspective this is also dangerous because if Fultz doesn’t have the ability to shoot 3s and play off the ball, his fit with Isaiah Thomas becomes more untenable.

Fultz is a good driving prospect judging by how he averaged 7.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes, however since he had 19.7 FGA per 40 minutes some of it is volume driven. Fultz ranked 11th among DX top 100 prospects in FTA/40, while he ranked 36th in FTA/possession. There’s also a question of whether Fultz is an elite athlete. The worrying comparisons would be prospects like Evan Turner and D’Angelo Russell who after their college success, non elite athleticism caught up to them in the pros.

I would say Fultz is not a guaranteed 20 point guy because his neither 3pt and driving games are guaranteed. His FT% reflects danger for his shooting and his athleticism reflects danger for his penetration. Fultz has guaranteed ability to create his own shot in the pros considering his track record in college, but the ability to create your own shot and do nothing efficient with it doesn’t get you anywhere nowadays.

However in addition to his scoring Fultz has defensive and passing potential. He has great size for a PG and was an elite shotblocker (1.3 blk/40) for a guard and solid ball thief (1.8 stl/40) and rebounder (6.4 reb/40), although his actual impact on defense in college was average.  He averages 6.6 ast/40, although some of it is volume driven. He ranks 6th in the class for assists/40 among DX top 100, but 16th in assists per possession. There’s reason to believe he could have an all around game for a guard as a great pick and roll scorer who can defend, rebound, pass and shoot. However his status as overwhelming #1 and a lock all-star, seems like it’s reliant on focusing too much on PPG and the ability to create difficult shots to me, something that is both overrated in the pros and even more overrated when it comes to predicting draft prospects.

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Written by jr.

May 19, 2017 at 10:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Rockets don’t have a perfect offense, but the Cavaliers might

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920x1240The Rockets had a blistering offensive season at 114.7 ORTG, which rated 10th all time (The Warriors season rated 2nd). The Cavaliers ranked 3rd in the league at 113.6.

Just like ten years ago with the Suns, Mike D’Antoni had the Rockets playing offense of the future by prioritizing shots at the rim and from 3, spacing and pick and rolls at an ultra level. Most likely a decade from now the other teams will follow the Rockets precedent, like they did his Suns. It doesn’t matter that players like Ryan Anderson, Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela lack the individual creation skills that all-stars at their position have because floor spacing and shot making ability is that powerful.

However while this may work in the regular season the Rockets are now playing the best defensive team in the league in the Spurs who have the ability to get out to those spot up shooters and finishing big men. Now the weaknesses in those Rockets role players is being exposed. If the Rockets role players could dribble better or post up they could figure out the Spurs tighter defense better.

Despite ranking below the Rockets the Cavaliers have a better offensive team than them. It just didn’t show until the playoffs. What makes the Cavaliers scary is they are nearly as new age as the Rockets but have more traditional talents too. The spacing of the Kevin Love and Channing Frye frontcourt presents as big a tactical problem as anything on the Rockets, not to mention more floor spacers like Kyle Korver to play with them. When added to the playmaking of Lebron and Irving the Cavs can go nuclear on you when it comes to floor spacing. However their individual skills creates a bigger problem than the Rockets. Kyrie Irving created huge problems for the Warriors in the Finals last year because he is a player only a PG can guard. Anyone SG sized or slower, has no answer for his arguably league best ballhandling skills. This is a perfect counter to switching heavy defense. Kevin Love’s ability to post up smaller 4s changes opponents gameplans. The Raptors played their best ball against the Bucks with one big man on the floor in Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas, with DeMarre Carroll or P.J. Tucker shifting to PF. Because of fearing Love’s ability to post, and Love and Tristan Thompson’s offensive rebounding, Toronto has played 2 big men in its Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson combination virtually the whole series. This has limited their speed on defense they showed in the Bucks series. Of course then there’s Lebron who is the best of both worlds and so much more. He both has elite off the dribble ability to break any defense, but an outstanding post option if he chooses that route. Because of the individual skills of Kyrie, Lebron and Love and offensive rebounding on Thompson, teams can’t just throw out a 1 big man on the floor, every perimeter player switches lineup without suffering the consequences of those defensive mismatches and rebounding problems. The Cavs lineup forces you to defend them with old school lineups will they score on you with new age ones.

The future may look like Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets but in the playoffs, having individual skills such as the Cavs do remain critical. A 3 and D player is great, but a 3 and D player who can post up and dribble is better.

Written by jr.

May 6, 2017 at 8:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Redrafting the 2016 NBA draft class

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On the Dunc’d On podcast, RealGM’s Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux redrafted the top 10 of the 2016 draft. This inspired me to do my own list. Like them, I used a combination of the rookies play so far combined with my pre-draft analysis.

1. PF Ben Simmons (Original rank: 1)

While his lack of play so far and health makes him not a sure thing, he remains the most talented player in the class. The heart of Simmons upside to me is that he had a generational season in college for a freshman PF in two areas, assists and getting to the free throw line. As far as I’m concerned he has the upside to one day be the best player at his position at passing and getting to the line, and that alone makes him worth it.

2. C Ante Zizic (Original rank: 6)

Zizic rated top 6 on my original list for his statistical production in the Adriatic League, and he’s followed it up with an even more impressive season as he now plays 24 minutes per game for a Euroleague team and leads them in PER. His productivity at a competition level much closer to the NBA than the NCAA is makes him a safe bet as you can ask for to be a good future pro. While his strengths are as a rebounder and finisher right now, as an athletic 7 footer who just turned 20 a few months ago with apparent A level intangibles, his upside doesn’t necessarily need to be capped, and it’s not like anyone else makes a good case for 2nd anyways.

3. C Chinanu Onuaku (Original rank: 5)

Onuaku has played the entirety of this season in the D League for the Rockets, where he’s lived up to his college strengths by being one of the best rebounders in the league, an good passer for his role, a solid defender and has flashed midrange potential. He turned 20 last November. Onuaku won’t be a 20 point a game scorer in the NBA but his potential as a defender, rebounder, passer and finisher is perfect for the modern guard dominated game. Numbers cruncher Andrew Johnson rates him well:

4. PG Kris Dunn (Original rank: 2)

Despite having one of the most atrocious scoring seasons imaginable for a rookie, it’s worth noting the rest of his game outside of scoring has actually been excellent by rookie standards. For his class he ranks 1st in Stl%, 5th in Blk % despite being a guard, and 2nd in Ast %. The best defensive season for their position for 2016 draft rookies is probably either Dunn or Pascal Siakam, and Dunn appears to rate only behind Brogdon as a passer. For this reason his BPM is surprisingly OK, at 7th highest for above 500 minutes and 3rd for players above 1,000 minutes, that includes being above Jamal Murray, Ivica Zubac, Buddy Hield, Jaylen Brown, Dragan Bender, Brandon Ingram. It doesn’t mean his scoring and age isn’t a major red flag, but being behind the rest of the pack in scoring, but ahead of the pack as defender and passer isn’t the end of the world.

5. C Ivica Zubac (Original rank: 12)

Zubac has shown one of the best scoring skillsets in his class. While a big post center isn’t the best fit for the modern game anymore, there’s still a place for productive ones and Zubac isn’t a write-off yet on defense or as a floor spacer. His age is favorable, as he turns 20 in a few days. 

6. SF/PF Juan Hernangomez (Original rank: 16)

Hernangomez now has a track record of producing well for his league, first in the ACB and having one of the better rookie seasons through 600 minutes in the NBA. His game is heavily reliant on 3pt shooting right now which isn’t at a big sample size yet to say is for real, and I’m concerned whether he’ll have more dimensions to his game even if he is a great 3pt shooter, but it appears a fair bet he’ll be a good player.

7. PG/SG Malcolm Brogdon (Original rank: 50)

Brogdon has been a great passer and 3pt shooter for a rookie and is already a league average player, which by this draft’s standards would make him my rookie of the year pick. If he was 22 I’d be saying players like this can still end up turning into a star, but at 24 there isn’t a lot of data points to say whether he can still develop. The smart bet is probably his career value being around what Taj Gibson (a 24 year old rookie at the time) ended up giving the Bulls.

8. PG/SG Isaiah Whitehead (Original rank: 3)

Whitehead’s overall stats in categories like PER, WS/48, BPM are one of the worst in the league and it could be a mistake to predict anything but bust after seeing those. However he gets to the basket the most of rookie guards, is at 37% from 3 and 90% from the FT line in 2017 (33%/85% for the year) and has size for a guard, when added together that would seem the best case scenario is a guard who can drive, shoot and defend, and he probably would only need to do 2 to be good. His stats have improved in recent weeks while his assists have dropped, showing he may have been a SG miscast as a PG most of this year. I dropped him from my original ranking of 3, but I won’t put up off the map based on those signs.

9. SF Taurean Prince (Original rank: 9)

Prince’s overall stats for this season are pretty meh, but 34% from 3 with 87% from the FT line is encouraging for his future shooting potential and he has a solid steal rate. In college his volume scoring was underrated, so I won’t count him out as just a spot up shooter.

10. SG/SF Caris LeVert (Original rank: 47)

LeVert only trails Hernangomez in BPM for players with real minutes, he’s shown a solid ability to handle, pass and shooting potential for a wing. He is turning 23 this year but looks like he could grow into a highly versatile wing.

Honorable mention:

C Zhou Qi and PF Brice Johnson: Both in my original top 10  but Zhou Qi hasn’t taken a step forward in the CBA this year, Johnson’s back now makes him a health concern and is off to an OK start in a small sample size in the D League. Both just miss top 10.

PG/SG Jamal Murray and SG Buddy Hield: Both project to be excellent 3pt shooters, I haven’t seen enough in the rest of their game in either college or NBA to get them into the top 10.

SF Jaylen Brown: Has played well recently but skeptical he may be shooting over his head from 3 based on his college season and first half of his rookie season

C Jakob Poeltl and PF Pascal Siakam: Both have provided admirable hustle player minutes for the Raptors, but unclear if they’re skilled enough to have upside

PF Thon Maker, PF Skal Labissiere, PF Marquese Chriss: All have shown some things this year but were high risk coming into the year and I haven’t seen enough to be sure yet they still aren’t. PF Dragan Bender showed less than any of the 3, but looked like the best prospect of them coming into the year.

PG/SG Wade Baldwin: Ranked 4th in my original ratings but I am much lower on him now based on looking rawer than sushi and disappointing D League production that makes him look like a probable bust. He was never that great a player in college but his amazing length combined with frame and 3pt shooting for his position were quantifiable numbers that went into his rating, so this combination could have been misleading.

SF Brandon Ingram: He didn’t rank in my original top 10 so he’s certainly not going to after this rookie season. He’s very young and has impressive length and fluidity, but being an elite 3pt shooter like Durant was supposed to be the core of his game, which I predicted was much less of a guarantee than advertised because of a low FT% compared to his 3P% in college. He wasn’t a great slasher, defender or passer in college, so without the 3pt shooting being a lock anymore, the amount of things Ingram has shown he can do great vs his peers becomes a worrisomely small list.

Written by jr.

March 14, 2017 at 4:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Early 2017 NBA Draft top 10 prospects

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This is what my model is saying about the 2017 class right now. I mostly kept it to projected 1st rounders and others I thought might perform well in it, so I may have missed a numbers friendly sleeper or two that I’ll pick up later in the year.

  1. PG Markelle Fultz (model rating: 21.24)
  2. PG Lonzo Ball (21.65)
  3. SF Dedric Lawson (21.6)

Since it’s effectively a tie in my model I won’t stick to it to the letter. I rated Lawson 3rd because he has athletic concerns leading him to be nowhere to be seen on conventional scout draft boards. With that said he has the highest BPM of the three which is not something directly in my model, but a good sign. While Fultz and Ball is a toss-up, I side against Ball because he thrives in transition and has an unorthadox jumpshot both of which could have a more difficult time translating to the next level than Fultz’s NBA made game.

  1. PG Dennis Smith, Jr. (19.89)
  2. SF Jonathan Isaac (19.81)
  3. PF T.J. Leaf (19.4)

I don’t have a problem with someone calling Smith the best prospect in the class, my model only measures athleticism if it shows up in the numbers so it could be underestimating his advantage in that area. He also projects as the best shooter of him, Fultz and Ball which is a potent combination with his physical tools but for now his overall productivity still trails the other two. Isaac rates as a better prospect than Brandon Ingram was last year by projecting as a stronger defender and shooter and Leaf is a great offensive freshman with his scoring, passing, shooting.

  1. PG Jawun Evans (18.06)
  2. C Robert Williams (17.55)
  3. SF Jayson Tatum (16.93)
  4. C Anzejs Pasceniks (Intl.)

Evans would have rated top 5 on my board last year if he came as a great combination of athleticism, shooting and passing for a PG and players like Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker have shown you can be undersized and great on offense at the position. Williams is a great shotblocking big with a solid FT% and shooting potential. Tatum has physical tools and shooting potential and is having a solid rookie campaign deserving of a lotto pick. The last spot goes to my highest rated international in Anzejs Pasceniks who is a mobile 7 footer with some shooting potential who impressively leads his ACB team in PER.

Overrated candidates:

SG Malik Monk (15.84): Monk is a crazy scorer but his productivity is below average everywhere else and models like mine are built to be bearish on NCAA scoring as a predictor as bullish on doing everything else. With that said, when a player is scoring 30 points per 40 minutes on .63 TS% as an 18 year old and projects as the best shooter in the class, it’s not like he should be counted out either and he’s not that far off from top ten in the model.

SF Josh Jackson (13.0): He puts up some fantastic numbers like his steals, blocks, assists, rebounds but the thing that really hurts him is the shooting projection where is below the Mendoza line of sorts. It’s very difficult to be Elfrid Payton or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the NBA right now. With that said he probably still has star potential. But I can’t put him in my top 10 when my model has him not even close.

PF Harry Giles (9.5): While it’s early and he’s coming back from injury so far his numbers are as bust-like as it gets

PG Frank Ntilikina (Intl.): My M.O. with international prospects is numbers first. I generally look for players who are the most productive on their international teams. Frank has great physical tools but he ranks last on his French Pro A team in PER. I wouldn’t touch him in the 1st round.

Written by jr.

January 11, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Greg Monroe and the new 6th man

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks-Media Day

After signing for 3 years, 50 million last summer Greg Monroe may soon find himself out of the Bucks plans. With bigs like Enes Kanter and Jahlil Okafor, Monroe is a face of a style of big rapidly falling out of style, as post scorers who don’t provide defense or spacing. Call it the reverse Draymond Green effect. It’s a bigger issue on a team hoping for Giannis Antetokounmpo to be the franchise player, where switchability, speed and spacing would be an asset. With Giannis and Khris Middleton the low usage energy of Miles Plumlee and John Henson fits the starting lineup more than Monroe.

He didn’t have a bad statistical season last year. His final season in Detroit he had 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game, .549 TS%, .153 WS/48, 1.9 BPM. In Milwaukee 15.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, .562 TS%, 21.8 PER, .155 WS/48, 1.5 BPM. He was 1st on the Bucks in WS/48 and 3rd in BPM. The quality BPM distinguishes him from bigs like Kanter and Okafor for example. The Bucks were even better with him on the court (+4.2).

Rather than dump his salary it could be worth considering if there’s a way to make him valuable. For 12 games in February and March he came off the bench. The new expensive contract the Bucks gave to Miles Plumlee could signify plans to start him. With the less talented players on the bench, a 6th man Monroe’s ability to put up points while not getting in the way of Giannis could be useful.

Oklahoma City already went this route with Kanter last year, although by playing PF and C Monroe could come closer to starter’s caliber minutes than that. This is also an option for the 76ers dilemma in their frontcourt, seeing Okafor as a scorer off the bench going forward rather than a starter.

Jamal Crawford becoming a full time 6th man in Atlanta and L.A. is arguably the best thing that happened to his career, winning him 3 Sixth Man awards in the process and rebranding him as a contributor on a winner, not a points per game on a lottery team guy. Jason Terry also embraced a 6th man role halfway through his career. He’s younger than they were but targeting a career as the PF/C version of Crawford or Terry as a route to contributing to playoff teams could be worth considering for Monroe, whether for the Bucks or someone else. It could restore his reputation and he he could find himself with Sixth Man of the Year hardware if it works out. With how long those players careers have lasted, in the long run this could pay off for Monroe.

Written by jr.

July 29, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Picking the top 5 Raptors of all time

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The Raptors have completed 20 seasons and are in better shape than ever. I thought for fun I’d pick my top 5 players in their history:

1. SF Vince Carter

carter-vince-1999-620

Carter may end up relinquishing his spot as the franchise’s signature star sooner than later but for now it’s still his. He has the best individual season in franchise history in 2000-2001 where he had the highest ever Raptors mark in BPM, WS and tied for highest in PER and putting up 27.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, the most eye popping in raw stats. He rated 2nd in the league in BPM and PER and 8th in WS/48. He had a solid playoffs statistically compared to Lowry’s recent playoff run, including a 50 point game and helped the Raptors make the 2nd round with mediocre supporting talent. He also put up superstar numbers in 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 and all-star numbers his last few years in Toronto. He played 6 and a quarter seasons compared to 7 for Bosh and 4 for Lowry. Of the three Carter best combines an elite peak with longevity.

2. PG Kyle Lowry

kyle-lowry-size-custom-crop-1086x725

Lowry rated as an analytical superstar last year finishing 7th in BPM and 13th in WS/48 as he not only put up solid offensive stats at 21.2 points, 6.4 assists but being one of the best rebounding and defensive PGs in the league. However his stats 2 years ago in 2013-2014 are surprisingly almost as good at 7th in BPM again and 10th in WS/48. His 2014-2015 would have been as strong if not for injury in the second half of the season. Lowry is the leader of the most successful era in Raptors history including an Eastern Conference Finals and he is a greater leader than either Carter or Bosh were as he is the heart of the team’s hard work and intensity night to night. For his inconsistency in the playoffs he managed to have some huge games and shots along the way including one of the franchise’s most important performances in Game 7 against Miami. The main thing keeping him from number 1 is longevity.

3. PF Chris Bosh

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Bosh is the third of the three franchise players for the Raptors, with an excellent 7 year run. Bosh does not do as well in advanced stats as Carter and Lowry, as he never rated top 20 in BPM, peaking at 21st in BPM in 2007-2008 where he also rated 11th in WS/48. In 2009-2010 he did post an excellent 24 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Bosh helped the Raptors make the playoffs twice in an era for the franchise known for weaker defensive teams. Bosh’s elite first step and handles allowed him to get to the line and post efficient scoring seasons and his ability to hit the pick and pop helped the job of the PGs running it with him easy. He goes down as easily the most talented big man the franchise has had and its signature big man.

4. PF/C Amir Johnson

amirjohnson

Amir didn’t get the attention points per game players do, but he was analytical stud in Toronto, peaking at 20th in BPM and 39th in WS/48 in 2012-2013 and posting several other excellent seasons while becoming a +/- favorite. Along with Vince, Bosh, Lowry and the franchise’s earliest star Damon Stoudamire, Amir is one of the few who can boast he was a “best player” on the team. After Bosh left in 2010, the best player wasn’t the very flawed Bargnani, Derozan or Calderon at the time. It was Amir Johnson – who’s defense, rebounding and elite efficiency allowed him to make winning plays in all the ways those guys lacked it. This appears to be true in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, while in 2012-2013 Lowry joins the team but as Amir had his best statistical season and Lowry had his weakest with the Raptors, it’s at least a toss-up that year. In total Amir plays 6 seasons and his resume spans both the years as the best player on a bad team and one of the next best players after Lowry on two playoff teams in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, in addition to one of the next best players after Bosh on a 40 W 2009-2010 team.

5. SG DeMar Derozan

demar-derozan-04182016

The soon to be franchise record holder in a litany of records, Derozan has made two all-star teams after putting up 22.7 points per game in 2013-2014 and 23.5 points per game along with 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 2015-2016. Due to lack of shooting, average efficiency and other elements to his game he is not as loved by analytics, peaking at 66th in BPM last season, although a better 26th in WS/48. The rest of his seasons are nothing to write home about analytically to say the least. There’s something to be said for not totally abandoning traditional statistical measures leading to those all-star teams and his longevity is excellent at 7 seasons. He’s made the playoffs three times and for his nightmare shooting performances along the way also was there for the wins and the times he came through in the Eastern Conference Finals playoff run. If only by presence alone, he’s been too big a part of Raptors history to leave too far down the list. The alternatives such as Jose Calderon, Doug Christie, Damon Stoudamire, Antonio Davis, Jonas Valanciunas, Morris Peterson all have weaknesses one way or the other as well.

Written by jr.

July 17, 2016 at 12:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

On Kevin Durant to Golden State

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kevin-durant-may-leave-nike-for-under-amour-30-mill-a-year-offer

The best regular season team in the league just added an MVP caliber player. Kevin Durant to Golden State could be one of the most seismic signings in NBA history.

Looking at it from the angle of each party:

Golden State

The Warriors loss to Cleveland and struggle with Oklahoma City showed “don’t fix what’s not broken” wasn’t a viable argument here. From an analytics perspective Durant to Golden State is terrifying. Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes combined for 10.3 WS last year, Durant and Zaza Pachulia combine for 20.5. Bogut and Barnes combine for 3.3 VORP last year to Durant and Pachulia’s 8.1. Multiplying VORP by 2.7 is meant to reflects wins above replacement, which gives 8.9 wins for Barnes and Bogut to 21.87 for Durant and Pachulia. These stats suggest the Warriors added upwards of 10 wins. While they went 73-9, they did finish with a Pythagorean wins of 65-17 which makes it less impossible that they could add the amount of wins WS or VORP reflect.

There’s the question of diminishing returns. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson took 37 shots per game last year and scored over 52 points per game. With Durant on their team the need to take less shots could affect their value and vice versa.

However in addition to the value of taking more open, efficient shots, a trend of stars playing together has been helping them save their energy for defense. Durant could be the biggest beneficiary of this, always having freakish length but tasked to heavily exert himself on offense. The Western Conference Finals was the best defensive stretch of his career. Part of Jerry West’s pitch was he could show other parts of his game in Golden State. Durant could use his length, mobility and intelligence to become a force on the defensive end now that he doesn’t have to score as often. Klay Thompson could find himself only a 17 or 18 points per game player based on the recent history of Chris Bosh and Kevin Love when pushed to 3rd option status. He could however recommit himself to becoming one of the best defensive SGs in the game and a perfect 3 and D SG. Stephen Curry is also a great defensive PG and could have the best all around seasons of his career from that, rebounding and passing. Draymond Green was already an elite defender but could continue to focus on his excellence there and passing.

Offensively Durant can’t be a better fit. He’s the best version of Harrison Barnes ever, far better at hitting open shots and likely having the ability to shift to the 4 in what is now the real Death Lineup. The Warriors off ball actions will be a perfect fit with his shooting game. The Warriors finished 25th in FT/FGA last year which proved a big weakness in the Finals when they needed easy points to stem Cleveland. Durant had 6.9 FTA a game last year and has had multiple seasons over 9 a game in the past.

The loss of Andrew Bogut is felt as a team who already regressed on defense last year and in some advanced stats like BPM Bogut still rates as one of the best per minute Warriors. But picking up Zaza for cheap at least gives them a dependable option at C.

It’s hard to deny it – the Warriors are looking at one of the best teams of all time.

Oklahoma City

The Thunder lost the rock of their franchise. For Russell Westbrook’s electricity and emotion, Durant was the stabilizing, dependable force.

They lost Durant because by 2016, the Warriors had more powerful teammates for him to play with. Where did it go wrong? It’s hard not to look at 2012. The team had Durant, Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson all in their early 20s – and they had just made the Finals vanquishing the old kings in the Spurs in the process. The conference’s crown was being fashioned for them. The Harden trade is the move. The owners decided not to pay the luxury tax bill and given the task of staying under the tax. Even if given the task of staying under the tax, surely there had to be better options than trading Harden. Trading Ibaka instead and hoping 3 star talents figure it out was one route that could have turned out better. Say they traded Ibaka for a draft pick in 2012 and took a young big like Thomas Robinson, Andre Drummond, Meyers Leonard, John Henson. Disregarding how these players turned out such as if they took Robinson and he busted, at the time making the bet they could find another Ibaka level frontcourt anchor on a rookie contract could have been a worthwhile gamble, especially for one of the best drafting teams in the league. Or even if keeping both Harden and Ibaka, attach whatever picks it takes to dump Kendrick Perkins to give some financial breathing room. It’s hard not to think the Thunder just misjudged how good Harden was. Trading Westbrook was considered unthinkable at the time as the team’s 2nd star. But Harden already rated 2nd on the team by some measures like WS/48 and BPM. He was already a star. Furthermore as he was a year away from his deal kicking in, if the Thunder had suspicion he may be a superstar, they could have played him half a season more and then dealt him at the trade deadline. Either way, after the Harden trade the Thunder just became a little less special. They went from a 3 star team to a 2 star one. They no longer towered over the rest of the league in talent. They were caught by the peloton. That’s not to say they couldn’t have won the title, as they had bad luck with injury in multiple seasons. By 2016 with Westbrook and Durant in their absolute primes age wise, they only finished with the 5th best record in the league. They came close but were beat by the Warriors. Perhaps one of their best chances at a title in 2014 when some claim their WCF lost to the Spurs was tainted by Serge Ibaka’s injury. But after tying it 2-2 the Thunder got blown out in Game 5 and then had the Spurs beat them in Oklahoma City, despite not even being healthy themselves with Tony Parker’s injury. It’s fair to suggest in Games 5 and 6 the Spurs proved as much as you could expect, they were better than a Thunder team with Ibaka.

The painful part for the Thunder is Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson are young and if trusting advanced stats could be on the way to being fantastic players. With Westbrook and Durant the team was there to be great. Not to mention if Durant had committed now it would appear the Thunder had confidence they could get Al Horford, the ideal 3rd option for the team. A Thunder with Horford could have been as terrifying as the Warriors going forward. Without Durant, a team with an MVP caliber star Westbrook and those other quality pieces on the Thunder could be be top 5 in the West next year and only go up from there. The Thunder have proven time and time again how good they are at drafting and within a few years Sam Presti could find more gems.

But after Westbrook shot down attempts to renegotiate and extend, their hand may be forced to trade him or lose him for nothing. Getting a star of Westbrook’s caliber is so hard that even the chance of him resigning after next year could be worth it. But considering the Thunder’s history of getting value for players when they have the chance and replenishing the asset base, it would fit their profile if they turned around and moved Westbrook now for assets. The ideal partner may be the Celtics who have been collecting the assets for years for the next star to hit the market. A package like Isaiah Thomas and Jaylen Brown for example would replace Westbrook and Durant’s positions with an all-star PG and a young freakishly athletic SF.

Kevin Durant

The polarizing figure in this is Durant with some considering him to be spineless by taking the easy road to a title instead of trying to win his own in Oklahoma City. In 2010, Lebron left a Cavaliers team who’s best players around him had been guys like Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams. The Heat represented high end talent he’d never had. Durant both joins a team more stacked than the Heat would have been without Lebron and he leaves a far better alternative for talent in the Thunder. Not only is the Thunder’s core with a superstar in Westbrook and others like Adams and Oladipo a great team, but the potential to add Horford could have been made them a juggernaut. Staying with the Thunder and attempting to slay the beast in the Warriors would have been a just fine decision. With that said one of the problems with this plan is where Westbrook’s at. This is speculation, but say Westbrook had one foot out the door of Oklahoma City this whole time. This would have made it difficult for Durant to make the long term instead of 1+1 commitment needed to sell Horford on signing.

In Golden State he gets to potentially be a part of history. The max upside of the Warriors is now one of the great dynasties of all time with the Russell Celtics and Jordan Bulls. More-so playing with the Warriors could have just seemed like more fun. They play beautiful passing and up tempo basketball. They’ll make the game easy for him. They’ll be unselfish. The Warriors seem like a fantastic group of guys in the locker room. After reports of Serge Ibaka’s unhappiness last year it’s possible playing for the Thunder wasn’t so fun on a human level recently. Durant also joins two of the other most devout players in the league in Curry and Andre Iguodala.

In the end you can’t blame someone too much for wanting to win multiple championships and be a part of something special. I have more respect Durant for leaving to win more than I do stars who leave just to play in a big market.

The rest of the league

Barring health, winning the title over the Warriors is now a prayer. The Cavaliers still have Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and the potential to outspend everyone. The Spurs had a top 10 regular season of all time last year.

With that said, even if they ended up losing to the Bulls, fans of teams like the 90s Jazz, Supersonics, Suns, Knicks still won something in their hearts, or likewise for a team like the Kings or Suns in the 2000s who didn’t pull it off. They were memorable, great years for those franchises. The NBA has increasingly become about “ring culture” as seen by stars changing teams at the top and teams tanking at the lottery, but it’s never been just championship or bust. Even if the Warriors roll, there’s plenty to fight and build for in fans of other franchises. Not to mention no reign lasts forever. Curry is 28, Durant is 27, Thompson and Green are 26. When the Heat got to together Lebron was 25, Wade was 28 and Bosh was 26. After four seasons they looked spent. If the door shuts on the rest of the league, it may only be for a few years before opening again.

Written by jr.

July 5, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized