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Are Andrew Wiggins and Brandon Ingram’s starts for real?

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Minnesota Timberwolves v Sacramento Kings

The hopes for Wiggins career have been resurrected. Last season felt like the nail in the coffin for ever living up to his contract, putting up a woeful 18.1 pts, .493 TS%, 12.4 PER, .012 WS/48 and -2.9 BPM in his 5th season, which should have been a make or break year. This year he is at 25.9 pts, 22.2 PER, .563 TS%, .154 WS/48, 1.4 BPM.

Compared to last year, his ratio of FGA attempts per area (via basketball-reference):

2018-2019

At rim: 26.3%

3-10 ft: 14.6%

10-16 ft: 12.2%

16 ft-<3pt: 18.1%

3pt: 28.8%

2019-2020

At rim: 26.5%

3-10 ft: 21.7%

10-16 ft: 9.1%

16-23 ft: 11.3%

3pt: 31.3%

His eFGs from those areas:

2018-2019

At rim: .621

3-10 ft: .341

10-16 ft: .340

16-<3pt: .329

3pt: .339

2019-2020

At rim: .689

3-10 ft: .460

10-16 ft: .429

16-<3pt: .385

3pt: .361

He has increased his FTA rate from 4.1/game to 4.8, and FT% from .699 to .736. His rebounds at 5.1, assists at 3.6 and blocks at 1.1 are also career highs.

The biggest change in his shot selection is changing long 2s for 3s as seen by his 3pt attempts going from 4.8 to 6.5, and his % also increasing from 33.9% to 36.1%. He has also improved his efficiency from every area despite taking more FGAs overall at 20.9 instead of 16.6.

If Wiggins genuinely improved his shooting from midrange and 3, his %s from each area so far are not unsustainable compared to other wings around the league. However through his first 5 years he has not been a consistent shooter despite teams playing him for the shot, nor is his career 73.5% FT elite. His increase in FGA attempts does not show yet that he’s being more selective taking good shots. Therefore the most likely scenario is he hits a cold streak and his midrange falls under 40% and his 3pt falls under 35%. Still, if he continues to take 3s instead of long 2s and passes the ball better he can have a better season than he did last year. And if he continues to be an over 35% 3pt shooter and over 40% midrange shooter, he could legitimately stick at all-star level, even if it’s a DeMar Derozan type of all-star that doesn’t hold up as well to analytics.

Brandon Ingram is putting up 25.9 pts, .633 TS%, .153 WS/48, 2.8 BPM, a major breakout from his season last year. His ratio of shots per area in each season:

2018-2019

At rim: 34.0%

3-10 ft: 18.5%

10-16 ft: 20.4%

16-23 ft: 14.1%

16-<3pt: 12.9%

3pt: 12.6%

2019-2020

At rim: 21.0%

3-10 ft: 20.4%

10-16 ft: 17.3%

16-23 ft: 11.1%

3pt: 30.2%

His eFG in each area:

2018-2019

At rim: .681

3-10 ft: .437

10-16 ft: .389

16 ft<3p: .437

3pt: .330

2019-2020

At rim: .647

3-10 ft: .515

10-16 ft: .607

16 ft<3p: .444

3pt: .469

Ingram averaged 5.6 FTA/game in both seasons, hitting .675 last year and .720 this year. His rebounds at 7.3 and assists at 3.9 are both career highs.

Of the two players, Ingram’s is the one that looks most unsustainable. He is driving to the basket less than he did last season, but making up for it with massive jumps in both %s and attempts (1.8 a game to 5.4) from 3 and also hitting an unsustainable number from 3-10 and 10-16 ft. Like Wiggins, improvement as a shooter is plausible and Ingram has the type of long body to get his shot off from midrange, but at a career 66% FT shooter and yet to average more than 0.7 makes a game from 3 so far in his career (averaging 2.6 this year) until proven otherwise his shooting appears too big a leap to trust for Ingram. With that said Ingram is averaging Durant like scoring numbers per minute (29 pts per 36, .633 TS%) so nobody is expecting him to keep up those numbers, and he could have his obvious regression and still end up having an all-star breakout season like D’Angelo Russell last year. He’s also been in the league for less time making genuine improvements more plausible.

Written by jr.

November 16, 2019 at 5:08 pm

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.

Written by jr.

March 28, 2019 at 6:31 pm

Should MLB games be 7 innings long?

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Despite a dream matchup of Boston vs LA the World Series ratings were down 25% from last year. While local ratings remain strong it’s the latest warning sign for the MLB’s long term viewing future that the national engagement with the sports and its stars is waning. It’s better to act before the floor falls out than after.

Baseball has a length problem. Not only does the season run 6 days a week but the games clock in at 3 hours, 5 minutes on average. To watch all your team’s games requires a commitment of 18-20 hours a week compared to 6-8 to a sport like the NBA or 3 for the NFL, and times have changed. It’s not just competing with other sports or other TV shows for that attention, but competing with Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, apps, etc. Even if someone finds the time to watch all of their own team’s games, are they turning into Mike Trout’s Angels game after it ends? In the NFL everyone watches the Sunday night and Monday games even when it doesn’t contain their team. Likewise in the NBA people are interested in seeing league wide storylines like Lebron on the Lakers or the Warriors. This is where the MLB appears to be losing the most ground and it’s a numbers problem. More time watching local teams means less time available to watch anyone else’s.

Reducing the games played in the season would be ideal, but would be near impossible to get owners to agree. A 110 game season would be mean 26 less home games of revenue, and 52 less games on television for each team.

My proposal while radical would be a softer landing: 7 inning games, which would take down the average to about 2 hours 20 minutes. If people miss that extra 45 minutes of baseball a day, they can use it engaging in other team’s games or highlights which is precisely what the MLB needs. At the gate the same price can be charged for 7 inning games as 9, if anything it’s easier for people to fit shorter games in their schedule. Television loses 45 minutes of airtime a game, but perhaps the stations can just play other baseball games. The MLB could also add more games to the schedule as double headers.

The arguments against it would be:

  • Baseball is a 9 inning game, at 7 innings it’s no longer baseball: While the purists would be upset, there’s no easy solution here if the MLB wants to be relevant a generation from now.
  • Statistical history becomes meaningless: Like the first it hurts purists, but there would be a division between the old era and the new era statistically. The PED asteriks have also tainted the record books already.
  • Pitchers lose their jobs as the worst starters and relievers are weeded out: Making the player’s association agree to this would admittedly be one of the biggest obstacles, although it leaves more revenue for everyone else.
  • The relationship of starting and relief pitchers changes: Starters would not go as long, but with a regular 4 or 5 innings they’re still more important than relievers. They would also be available to pitch in more games and would have the star showcase of more complete games and more no hitters. If the MLB doesn’t want teams like Oakland to go “all reliever” and eliminate the starting pitcher, reducing the amount of pitchers teams legally carry on a roster would make it no easier than it is now to use the strategy.
  • Low scoring games: In addition to shorter games, pitchers are well rested, batters see them less and the worst starters and relievers are eliminated, all of which leads to less runs. The other way to see it however is every scoring opportunity they do get is heightened in importance, every home run makes a bigger splash league wide. A tie game in the 5th inning with men on base feels quite different in a 7 inning game with relievers waiting to finish it out than it does now. The drama could increase and a single player can be the hero of a game more often. The relationship between how high scoring a sport is and popularity is overall mixed. The most popular sport in the world soccer regularly has 1-0 or 2-1 scores.
  • It doesn’t change the real problem, the game is too slow: I’d point towards the popularity of football and soccer as examples how “slow” games can be popular. In football there’s so much time with the game stopped between plays, challenges, timeouts, commercials, etc. that it makes the speed between pitches in baseball seem rapid in comparison. The difference is that every football play is more meaningful than every pitch largely due to the season being ten times as short. Likewise in soccer a lot of time is spent passing the ball around the middle of the field but it hasn’t reduced its popularity. Finally I would point out that for most of the 20th century baseball’s pace didn’t stop it from being popular.
  • Is 7 innings enough of a difference? Or should they just go all the way with a draconian 6 inning games? Instead of games being merely as long as NBA and NHL games, being even shorter at 2 hours would make up for playing twice as long a season. On the flip side it pushes starting/relief pitcher strategy closer to the tipping point of no longer being the current game, and this idea is crazy enough anyways that I figured 7 is a compromise for the current fanbase and player’s association.

There’s a lot of risk going to 7 innings of a currently profitable league and the people who love the current league would be unhappy. But without a major change there’s a serious danger of the MLB being horse racing or boxing a generation from now as “your father’s sport” and minor tweaks to the speed of the game aren’t moving the needle. The real difference between baseball and the other sports is being 162 3 hour games a year. Either the length of the season or the length of games may have to be sacrificed.

 

Written by jr.

November 1, 2018 at 5:13 pm

Ersan Ilyasova, the NBA’s most valuable journeyman

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gettyimages-1061420052-1024x1024Every few seasons a team adds Ersan Ilyasova and they take off. First there was the “Fear the Deer” Bucks who rode Andrew Bogut and Scott Skiles to an elite defense while moving the ball for open 3s on offense. A few years later they made another playoff run repeating the formula with Larry Sanders as the defensive center beside Ilyasova. There were some lean years including an Orlando stint that didn’t work and forgettable stints contributing to the first half of a Pistons playoff season and second half of a Hawks one, before becoming a huge mid season pick-up for the 76ers last season as he and Marco Belinelli gave them the shooting they desperately needed. Now he’s contributing to the Bucks 7-0 start as having shooting bigs in him and Brook Lopez are a vital addition for Mike Budenholzer’s spacing system around Giannis.

It’s no secret why he helps teams. The floor spacing he brings at PF fits all-star players who lack range such as Bogut, Sanders, Andre Drummond, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Most of these teams had talent, but just needed that extra spot up shooting to take their ball movement to the next level. The Ilyasova spacing lineups acts as something of a final piece to make their team work.

In spite of this since leaving Milwaukee originally in 2015 he’s been the definition of a journeyman, yet to play a full season with any team since then. He’s spent the bulk of his career making mid-level contracts, signing 5 years 40 million in 2012 and then a 3 year, 21 million deal this summer. When the Sixers signed him last year his stock had declined so much that he was a mid season free agent after being waived by the Hawks. It’s not totally unfounded. He is a mediocre rebounder for a big and average defender and at a career 36.6% 3pt is a good shooter but not lights out. In the wrong situation like Orlando he misses enough shots and hurts his team enough defensively and on the glass that teams decide he’s not worth it. Then he bounces around, becomes available for cheap until finding another team that needs a floor spacing power forward to go to the next level.

There won’t be a statue built of Ersan Ilyasova in any NBA city, but in his stints in Philadelphia and return Milwaukee he’s once again proving despite his journeyman status he can shift the tide of a team’s season.

Written by jr.

October 31, 2018 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Basketball, Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

The Thunder must consider trading Russell Westbrook

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russellwestbrook

It’s too soon to panic over the Thunder’s 0-4 start but the time is coming, or should have come already to consider Russell Westbrook’s long term future on the team. Westbrook turns 30 on November 12th and starting this year his next five seasons he is owed: $35,654,150 (age 30), $38,178,000 (age 31), $41,006,000 (age 32) , $43,848,000 (age 33), $46,662,000 (player option, age 34). He has had several knee surgeries or injections in his career after a meniscus tear that cost him the 2013 playoffs and due to related arthroscopic surgery 28 games during the Kevin Durant 2014 MVP season. This was followed by several durable seasons until a PRP injection this summer. Westbrook’s style of play depends on his unstoppable explosiveness and his ability to contort his body finishing at the rim and skying for rebounds, areas of his game most vulnerable to diminish with athletic decline. To his credit all signs are Westbrook’s physical conditioning routine off the court is phenomenal and has even benefitted teammates crossing his path like Victor Oladipo, and immense dedication to their bodies has helped stars like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant extend their primes to amazing lengths. On the other hand Westbrook has played his whole career like it’s the NBA Finals and no doubt pushes his body to extreme lengths off the court and one has to wonder if this punishment will have some cost down the line.

The risk is clear. By holding onto him deep into his contract, Westbrook may physically decline until his supermax either becomes an albatross or loses most of his current trade value. The upside is hoping for a 2011 Mavericks run, a team who held onto their superstar when some may have already cashed out on his value and had the stars align in his 13th season. However Dirk Nowitzki’s game was built on size and skill, not athleticism making him a tremendous fit for longevity if anyone has been. Furthermore the Mavericks had won 55 games in 2010 leading up to their title year and a few years earlier had shown a formula for contending with a Finals loss in 2006 and 67 wins in 2007 despite no clear second star better than Jason Terry or Josh Howard.

Sam Presti pulled a rabbit out of his hat at the time with the Paul George trade after Westbrook’s MVP season, but with 48 wins and a 6 game playoff loss to the Jazz they only improved by one regular season and playoff win compared to the year before. The loss of Andre Roberson continues to be felt and no doubt they won’t judge this season until he returns, but when Roberson played his last game for the Thunder they were sitting in 5th for the West last season, and their record with him playing was 24-19 for a 50 W pace, a marginal improvement. Roberson’s lack of shooting most likely would have been the target of defenses in the playoffs such as the Jazz which the Thunder had issues solving anyways. With the highest payroll in the league and owing 2020 and 2022 future 1sts to the Magic and Hawks one has to ask where they go from here in terms of assets to improve the team, and whether the George trade was already the equivalent of the Tyson Chandler pick-up for the Mavericks to take them to the next level if it was going to happen.

An MVP caliber player is a virtual necessity to win a title and based on that alone the Thunder could choose to push the Westbrook era as far as it’ll go. It’s unclear when they’ll have another chance at a talent this special. On the other hand with his style of play and starting a 5 years, 205 million contract, the Thunder must seriously consider whether 30 is the right age to move on from Westbrook’s salary while they can and replenish their assets.

Written by jr.

October 28, 2018 at 11:46 am

Could the Lakers get both Lebron James and Kevin Love?

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The Lakers have been long been rumoured as a Lebron destination. I’ve always taken it with a grain of salt. Remember when Kevin Love was supposed to be obsessed with playing with the Lakers, then laughed it off and resigned with the Cavs? How about DeMar Derozan returning home? The Lakers have a lot of fans, so writing about them conquering all in free agency is a good way to get page views. 

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The biggest obstacle is getting enough talent. Sure Paul George wants to play there, but is that and kids enough to beat the Warriors? They could use a 3rd all-star. What if he’s on the Cavs, available for a trade in the case of Lebron leaving, and happens to be an L.A. native?

Let’s say the Lakers signed George and got both Lebron and Kevin Love, either in a large S&T or in separate deals. Their starting lineup could be Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Paul George, Lebron and Love. Not bad. It’s taking the Lebron and Love combination which was enough to win the East this year without a lot of help and greatly improves their perimeter in a matchup with GSW. Unlike the Cavs perimeter, the combination of Ball, Ingram and George is perfect to defend the Warriors by switching everything to cover their shooters much like the Rockets did in the conference finals. Ingram and George are two of the longest wings in the league and Ball is a 6’6 PG who shined on the defensive end this year. Unlike the last two finals where the Cavs had no answer for Durant 1 on 1, George is one of the best fits in the league physically to defend him.

Offensively the combination of Lebron and Love’s floor spacing and post play remains lethal. The Lakers could even resign old friend Channing Frye to play the same spacing role he did in Cleveland. George gives them a 20 point creator on the perimeter and Ingram is on his way to being one. Much of their fortunes could lie in the hands of Ball’s development as his shooting could make him hard to play if he continues to struggle. Nevertheless they could look for a veteran PG as a ring chaser or shop him at the trade deadline if Ball doesn’t work out.

More than just Love improving the Cavs talent level with a 3rd all-star and offensive creator beside Lebron and George, it’s about experience and trust level. Love faced GSW in the finals three times, he’s seen Game 7s. He was one of the guys Ty Lue started in Game 7 against the Pacers with Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson beside Lebron because he wanted players who’d been there on the championship team. With a player like Julius Randle or Kyle Kuzma in Love’s place there’s always the chance they’re the next Rodney Hood and fall apart consistency wise in the playoffs.

How does LA get Love while retaining the capspace to sign Lebron and George? A requirement may be dumping Deng’s contract to Cleveland. Last rebuild without Lebron the Cavaliers used capspace to get assets and young players knowing they weren’t going to be a free agent destination, so they could do the same by taking Deng for compensation. With assets like Kuzma, Randle (sign and trade), Josh Hart, Cavs 2018 1st, Lakers 2019 1st, there’s a lot of pieces that could make it worth it for the Cavs without trading Ball or Ingram. A deal like Kuzma, Randle sign and trade and a 1st would be a nice rebuilding package for them to swap Deng for Love. With the Cavs at about 102 million without Lebron and Deng making 6.1 million less than Love next year, there should be enough wriggle room for the Cavs to take on Deng, Kuzma and Randle (if they want him) while staying under the tax and apron.

Overall the Lakers with just Lebron, George and kids like Ball and Ingram may not be quite enough, but with another all-star at center in Love it could be enough to put them as a believable contender in Lebron’s eyes. It takes the Cavs two all-stars, but makes their perimeter far more Golden State match-up friendly by giving them a 20 point scoring, Durant defender in George and two other long high potential starters in Ball and Ingram. This is a clear upgrade.

Written by jr.

June 11, 2018 at 11:48 pm

Is Miles Bridges the prospect people think he is?

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Miles Bridges is projected as a mid to late lottery pick. Many are impressed by his potential to be a switchable, 3 and D role player but don’t see a volume scoring all-star. Is this accurate? A closer look shows his stats don’t quite match his reputation.

A better scorer, but worse defender than expected

A sample of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony and Gordon Hayward averaged 10.3 reb, 2.55 ast, 1.75 stl, 0.95 blk per 40 minutes in their draft year, and 16.4 pts per 40 on .57 TS% as freshman (I favor freshman numbers over draft year for scoring as aging makes a significant difference in this category). If you’re ready to call Jayson Tatum a future all-star, his split of 20.2 pts, 8.8 reb, 2.6 ast, 1.6 stl, 1.4 blk, .566 TS% and his physical build fits into that group very neatly. Compared to them Bridges rates surprisingly well as a scorer. He averaged 21.1 pts per .58 TS% as a freshman and 21.8 pts .572 TS% as a sophomore. The only freshman who scored at a higher rate were Durant (28.8 pts, .59 TS%) and Carmelo (24.4 pts, .54 TS%). Even including the other prospects sophomore and junior seasons, none scored at a higher rate than either of Bridges’ seasons. Another category Bridges rates well is assists at 3.4 per 40. This only rates behind Iguodala and George (playing at a mid major) in their draft years. On the down side his free throw rate of 4.1 FTA per 40 is pedestrian for his scoring volume.

Bridges steal rate is disappointing at 0.8 stl per 40, in fact this is incredibly worrying as none of those players were even below Gordon Hayward’s 1.4 per 40 and everyone else was 1.7 or higher. Bridges was a slightly above average shotblocker compared to the above players at 1.0 per 40 as a sophomore, and did 1.9 per 40 as a freshman. His rebounding at 8.9 is also below average and only higher than George on the above players and tied with Deng. Compounding his disappointing steal and rebound numbers is Bridges only has a 6.9’.5 wingspan, below average for a SF let alone for a PF where he is expected to either play full time or play on switches.

Underrated shooter

Bridges is a good not great shooter for the NCAA at 36.4% as as sophomore and 37.5% for his college career, however it’s his 85.3% from the line and strong volume of 7.3 attempts per 40 minutes, that really makes him one not just decent but of the best shooting prospects in the class. His ability as a ball handler could also be underrated for someone not expected to create his own shot at the next level, which would make sense with his positive assist numbers.

Overall

The oddity of this draft is the soup de jour is Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown type long SF/PF wings, as teams move towards the NBA’s switching defenses taken to an extreme level in the Houston/Golden State series. Despite that the top 5 NCAA prospects taken could be bigs in Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter. Nevertheless, the idea of Bridges may fit this desire more than the real one. In reality his poor wingspan and steal numbers could suggest stuck between positions in a bad way as easily as a good one on defense. On the other hand his offensive resume is fairly strong with volume scoring, passing resume in college, and combination of elite athleticism, great shooting and solid ball handling skills.

Written by jr.

June 3, 2018 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

How the Phoenix Suns could sign Lebron James. Yes, you heard that right.

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hi-res-c71e666a7980c4985b17632699fe712e_crop_northNobody will be surprised if Lebron decides he’s sick of carrying this older tired Cavaliers team on his back and packs his bags like he did with the 2014 Heat, but none of the destinations are perfect. The Sixers are an not an ideal fit with the non shooting, young Lebron-esque Ben Simmons running PG, the Rockets would likely need the Cavaliers help in a sign and trade, the Lakers would struggle to put enough firepower around him. None of these are deal breaker flaws enough to be ruled out, but none are perfect either.

The sleeper nobody is talking about? The Phoenix Suns.

Despite their decade long ineptitude and misery, if you look close enough you can see a team in a nearly identical situation as the 2014 Cavs. Devin Booker is at the same point of his career as Kyrie Irving was in 2014. One of the most gifted young scoring prospects in the game, but it hasn’t translated to wins as the man. Like the Cavs, the Suns won the #1 pick in the lottery. Aside from having the opportunity to draft Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic, it also gives them the primo trade asset on the market. In 2014 there was a star who was on the way out of his team in Kevin Love, in 2018 deteriorating the Kawhi Leonard relationship with the Spurs makes him a potential target to be traded and the Suns #1 pick puts them at the front of the line if the Spurs decide to rebuild. 

If at Lebron’s beckoning the Suns traded the #1 pick for Kawhi, a big 3 of Booker, Kawhi and Lebron is immediately competitive with anyone’s in the league if Kawhi returns to borderline MVP form. The 21 year old Booker is just tapping into his potential and would be in the right situation to take his game to the next level on both ends benefitting from the attention Lebron and Kawhi receive. Unlike the Sixers, the fit is flawless with Booker’s off ball shooting, Kawhi’s defense, creating and shooting and Lebron’s playmaking.

The Suns would still need to complete the lineup with a PG and C, but they have the assets to do it. They have other draft picks to dangle such as the #16 pick this year from Miami, Milwaukee’s 2019 1st and Miami’s 2021 pick, along with interesting prospects like Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. One option I would consider is expanding the Kawhi trade to get the Spurs to include Patty Mills. Mills would be a great fit at PG beside Lebron and should be expendable in San Antonio in a post Kawhi world with DeJounte Murray as their future at PG. With the Suns having the expirings contracts of of Tyson Chandler (possibly a player the they would want to keep as a veteran starting C), Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels, Alan Williams’ unguaranteed deal and the potential to stretch Brandon Knight, along with T.J. Warren’s 12 million per year extension and Bender and Chriss’ rookie contracts, I believe they have the flexibility to trade for a bigger package like Kawhi and Mills and still have the cap room to sign Lebron.

With a starting lineup such as Mills, Booker, Kawhi, Lebron, Chandler, the Suns would be ready to go. Kawhi and Booker is legitimate firepower beside Lebron and the team has quality spacing and fit. Off the bench the Suns would retain the high upside piece of Josh Jackson as 6th man and Bender and/or Chriss if they stay on the team. Bender could be the guy who emerges at the Suns C spot with his ability to spread the floor and defend pick and rolls. Veteran ring chasers could join the team and the Suns could shop its extra draft picks if not a prospect like Chriss, much like how Cleveland used extra 1sts and Dion Waiters to trade for Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov during Lebron’s first season back.

From a lifestyle standpoint Phoenix is also a warm weather city for Lebron to play his last act in, much like the retirees who go there. Free agents have often treated it as an enticing option, Tyson Chandler signed there, Eric Gordon tried to push his way there, they went to the wire with the Spurs for LaMarcus Aldridge. In the past they’ve signed players like Steve Nash or Penny Hardaway. The Suns also have a strong basketball history dating back to the 60s and are one of the most successful teams to never win a ring, allowing Lebron to leave an important legacy in another city if he goes all the way. If the talent is there such as having Kawhi and Booker there’s no reason why Phoenix the city and franchise couldn’t land the biggest fish in the pond in Lebron.

Perhaps the biggest downside is Phoenix plays in the West. Lebron would be forced to go head to head with powerhouses such as Golden State and Houston. In the East he has a greater opportunity to make a record amount of Finals appearances, and signing with Philadelphia would give him one less team he has to beat. Nonetheless it’s going all the way that matters and a Western finalist like Golden State or Houston will still wait for him in the Finals even if he signs in the East. In addition getting through the Celtics revamped roster with Irving and Gordon Hayward back and the development of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown is only going to get more difficult. Putting himself in the best situation possible could matter more than which conference he plays in. The other concern is whether Kawhi’s health is a guarantee if the Suns are risking trading a #1 pick for him. The Suns do have a longtime excellent reputation for conditioning and players recovering from injury, helping both Kawhi and Lebron to maintain his body going forward. 

Overall if they traded for Kawhi, Phoenix has many of the elements that caused Lebron to go to Cleveland in 2014. He would be rebooting with a younger pair of stars without the playoff miles on them Wade and Bosh had in 2014 or Love has now. If the pieces come together it could be a great spot for him.

Written by jr.

May 24, 2018 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Who should go 1st: Deandre Ayton vs Luka Doncic

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636585582598847525-lukaThe Phoenix Suns have the top pick and most mock drafts have Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic leading the way. 

The case for/against Deandre Ayton

Ayton is one of the most physically gifted center prospects in decades and resembles David Robinson. He is an athletic, chiseled 7’1 with the mobility to defend perimeter switches as is required in the modern game. He is almost a generational center prospect. With his physical tools, offensive skills and numbers, if he had the defensive production of college Joel Embiid or Anthony Davis to match his size and athleticism he would be perfect. Could you make the case that *if* his defensive stats are situationally and coaching driven, he could have that generational big in him? What would his defensive stats look like if he chose Kentucky?

Unfortunately though, we can only go on what he did and his defensive stats are a major red flag. A list of star centers the last 10 years includes Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Deandre Jordan, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez. Of that group, Ayton has the lowest blocks per 40 in his college draft year. He only has a higher stl/40 than Jordan, a player hardly known for his college production. The low steals indicate you can’t just blame his blocks on being used in a perimeter defending, steals-friendly way. Ben Simmons for example had a very low block rate but elite steal rate for a big in college indicating his style of play on defense was responsible.

How bad is it? Drummond fell to 9th because teams were terrified of his lackadaisical intensity and he still managed 1.2 steals and 3.8 blks per 40, blowing away Ayton’s 0.7 steals and 2.3 blocks. In his draft year Meyers Leonard averaged 0.6 steals and 2.4 blks per 40.

Blocks and steals aren’t the most reliable way to measure defense, but those who’ve looked closer have suggested Ayton was indeed a poor defender in college and struggled with maintaining intensity.

Ultimately, being good at defense at a lower level is one of the best predictors of being good at defense later, provided the tools are there. The same instincts, toughness and commitment intangibles are as critical there. Andrew Wiggins is an example of a player who had the physical tools but not the production or intangibles on defense in college and it ended up predicting similar frustrations in the NBA.

On offense alone there is a lot to like about Ayton with the potential to have a long range shot in the NBA, although his passing numbers are also below average for the above all-star centers. However defensive stats can also be predictor of offensive success as they can be a sign of on court intelligence, motor and toughness all of which are needed on offense.

For overall production how high Ayton’s season ranks depends on which stats you favor. His scoring of 24 pts per 36 on .65 TS% is tremendous. He is tied with Jaren Jackson for highest WS/48 (.259 WS/48) of the top 10 NCAA prospects on Jonathan Givony’s post lottery mock. His 10.9 BPM however ranks 6th of those prospects behind Jaren Jackson, Jr. (15.4), Wendell Carter, Jr. (13.5), Mikal Bridges (13.2), Trae Young (11.7), Mohamed Bamba (11.2). The more you include the non-scoring stats rebounding, assists, steals and blocks the worse Ayton compares. His BPM therefore trails some of the most elite center prospects of this generation in Anthony Davis (18.7), Karl-Anthony Towns (17.3), Joel Embiid (14.9). Ayton had a good season, he did not have a dominant season.

The case for/against Luka Doncic

Doncic’s physical tools are not as impressive as Ayton’s. He does not appear to have elite explosiveness to blow by defenders and his game can resemble Joe Ingles visually as much as a future MVP winner. Another problem with Doncic is the total lack of European star guards since Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker decades ago. With minimal predecessors it’s difficult to make a statistical projection or to know how important the athleticism jump will be for him.

The best we can do though, looks very promising. I see two routes to compare him statistically. The first is to compare him to non all-star European guards. Three examples are Ricky Rubio, Nicolas Batum and Goran Dragic. Here is their per 40 stats in the Euroleague their draft year and the age they turned that year:

09 Rubio (19 years old) – 7.2 pts, 8.4 ast, 7.2 reb, 5.4 stls, .444 TS% 10.6 PER

Rubio played very few minutes that season, so a better comparison may be his 2010 stats when he’s a year older:

10 Rubio (20 years old) – 12.9 pts, 7.8 ast, 5.6 reb, 2.7 stl, .562 TS%, 17.7 PER (7th on the roster for qualified players)

08 Batum (20 years old) – 12.8 pts, 5.2 reb, 4.1 ast, 2.2 stl, .526 TS%, 12.8 PER (6th on the roster for qualified players)

08 Dragic (22 years old) – 14.3 pts, 4.5 ast, 4.2 reb, .544 TS%, 13.2 PER (3rd on the roster for qualified players)

Now here is Doncic:

18 Doncic (19 years old ) – 24.8 pts, 7.6 reb, 6.7 ast, 1.7 stl, .612 TS%, 22.9 PER (1st on the roster in PER)

Needless to say Doncic is on another planet here statistically and the other three guards went on to be very good. It’s hard not to look at that and be high on Doncic’s floor.

Another sign for Doncic is the performance of prospects at other positions. Here are some per 40 performances by recent breakout European bigs at lower levels in Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic, Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert (I have never been able to get a hold of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s numbers):

15 Kristaps Porzingis (20 years old, ACB) 19.8 pts, 8.9 reb, 1.8 blk, 1.6 stl, .555 TS%, 19.2 PER (2nd on roster)

14 Nikola Jokic (19 years old, Adriatic league) – 18.3 pts, 10.3 reb, 3.3 ast, .569 TS%, 21.2 PER (2nd on roster)

14 Clint Capela (20 years old, French Pro A) – 14.1 pts, 12.6 reb, 2.3 ast, 2.8 blk, 1.5 stl, .636 TS%, 23.8 PER (1st on roster)

13 Rudy Gobert (21 years old, French Pro A) – 14.9 pts, 9.5 reb, 3.1 blk, 1.2 stl, .734 TS%, 21.0 PER (1st on roster)

Once again it’s easy to see that Doncic is the most impressive here. The Euroleague is miles ahead of the Adriatic and French Pro A for competition level and his stats for his age are equally good if not better. The Euroleague is both better than the ACB and Doncic’s stats are hands down better than Porzingis. 

Furthermore all these players seem to relatively resemble their 19-20 year old selves statistically, with the development in their games making up for the jump in competition to the NBA. If they don’t it’s because they’re even better than their European stats like Porzingis. With that in mind Doncic sitting on a 25, 8, 7 and 2 statline at a higher level than any of them is highly promising. He would have to fall a lot farther than any of the above players from his European stats to not be an all-star.

The NBA in recent years has made the mistake of ignoring numbers for European prospects in favor of taking the tools-iest players. Some of the highest picks have been projects without impressive stats such as Mario Hezonja, Frank Ntilikina and Dragan Bender. The results of players like Jokic, Capela and Gobert in comparison would suggest it’s of the utmost importance to look for players who are leading the way on their teams in Europe and not their team’s 9th or 10th men. For the same reason it would be a mistake to not treat Doncic’s numbers as critical to predicting his success. European leagues are closer to the NBA in competition level, physical maturity, rules and the lifestyle of living professionally instead of in college. It is logical to think it predicts better than hit or miss NCAA stats.

The modern star

Part of Ayton’s appeal is “unicorn” status with the potential to be all of a shotblocker, pick and roll defender and to shoot 3s. However Doncic’s game is also at the heart of the current game. His size, shooting and playmaking makes the MVP favorite James Harden one of his closest overall comparisons. Champions in recent years have been built around Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving, two high volume 3pt shooting, pick and roll ballhandling guards. Ultimately there is a path for both styles of play to join the modern revolution.

At this stage while I understand the appeal of Ayton, the numbers with Doncic appear to be too strong to ignore in my opinion. Ayton has tremendous upside if he does have a David Robinson in him, but there’s also a chance what Doncic is doing to the Euroleague statistically for an 18/19 year old is a sign he’s a phenom and the next great thing, a freakish accomplishment like the basketball version of a young Wayne Gretzky torching the record books. This phenom route may have the highest upside of all.

Written by jr.

May 18, 2018 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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.

Written by jr.

May 19, 2017 at 10:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized