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Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Cavaliers

Embrace chaos, trade Irving for Cousins

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Despite a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love the Cavaliers Finals is going worse than without them last year. There’s a lot of reasons for this beyond them. The Warriors are a different team with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green taking their games to new heights this year and having none of the first Finals nerves they had the first three games last year. The Cavs are all without perhaps their 2nd most important player last Finals in Timofey Mozgov who helped them control the interior.

Mostly this is just a bad matchup for Cleveland. The three series the Warriors have struggled in the most the last two years in Memphis, Cleveland last year and Oklahoma City all had the same story. They used a big frontcourt to control the boards and limit Golden State’s transition game and ability to go small. They turned the series into a fight when the Warriors are most comfortable dancing. In this finals so far the Warriors are dancing. Last year Dellavedova, Thompson and Mozgov playing together gave the Cavaliers the physical edge to mess up the Warriors rhythm.

If this series continue this direction the Cavaliers could be pertinent to move on from the Lebron, Irving and Love era now. The matchup against the Warriors won’t get better next year if they play again. If they luck out and avoid the Warriors, having Irving and Love trying to defend the most athletic team in the league in the Thunder and most athletic player in Westbrook may not turn out better. With a limited supply of prime Lebron James years left the Cavs can’t waste many more opportunities.

Two popular trade rumors are Kyrie Irving for Chris Paul and Kevin Love for Carmelo Anthony. The former would work beautifully for the Cavaliers but it’s unclear if the Clippers want to downgrade at PG especially after watching Irving’s flaws in these finals. Paul’s skill and IQ should allow him to age gracefully and if he declines by his mid 30s, it may only be to the level of effectiveness Irving is right now. Love works on the Knicks, but the  Cavs getting more perimeter orientated, worse at rebounding and not any better on defense could be playing into the Warriors hands.

The trade I like is Kyrie Irving for DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings are currently under the gun with Cousins having 2 years left on his contract, but the history of stars in his position like Carmelo, Deron, Love, Dwight has been the star getting traded before the end of his deal, meaning they likely have to prove themselves by the end of this season and there’s not a great deal of reason to be optimistic about the Kings contending for the playoffs next season. If they do end up trading Cousins one day, trading him for a high draft pick and rebuilding is a hard path for the Kings to stomach due to their draft pick obligations including an unprotected 1st in 2019 to the Sixers. They are also moving into a new stadium making bottoming out less appealing.

Kyrie has three seasons left before he can opt out, giving them a key extra year of breathing room. Since the cap is shooting to the moon, I believe if the Kings are 30 million+ under the salary cap they can also use the sparsely seen contract renegotiation tool to lock him up early one of the next two summers.

He would represent a fresh start for the Kings on and off the court. They would build a modern offensive team with Kyrie as their Curry or Lillard while developing young pieces like Willie Cauley-Stein, Ben McLemore and their top 8 pick this year. At 24 Kyrie is young enough to break out to new heights statistically on his own team and gives them a popular star to launch the new stadium with. The deal stabilizes the feet under the Kings.

For the Cavs, no other player would move them more towards the big ball style that has frustrated the Warriors than Cousins. The Thompson and Cousins frontcourt play as a mega version of the 2015 playoffs Thompson and Mozgov by dominating the glass and force the Warriors smallball lineup off the court when Cousins proved too big for Draymond to guard. While Cousins isn’t known of his defense the Kings have been much better with him on the court on that end, he is one of the biggest and longest players in the league and always leads the league in charges. There’s a chance that like Chris Bosh when he went from Toronto to Miami, when relieved of the energy of carrying the offense he uses his physical tools to become a great defender. This didn’t happen for Kevin Love because his physical tools limited him.

While the Cavaliers would be lacking in offensive guard talent, on a team where Lebron is the real PG, Dellavedova’s defense, passing and shooting may be all the Cavs need at starting PG. Furthermore if they want to they can still trade Love to balance their roster. While they could keep Love to be stretch big and 3rd option beside Lebron and Cousins, a deal like Love for Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson would give the Cavs a badly needed 3 and D player in Crowder, a big man who excels in guarding pick and rolls in Amir while keeping a stretch big to play Love’s in Olynyk. All three players are known for high basketball IQ increasing the chance the Cavs get to a high level of defensive and passing intelligence to match up with the Warriors.

Sure, Cousins is a chemistry risk as he brings chaos wherever he goes. But this is not the time for the Cavs to play it safe. Play to win or go home. Cousins cares too much more than he cares too little and that fire could be tapped into on a winning team.

Written by jr.

June 7, 2016 at 11:58 am

Free agency advice column: Ask Dr. Offseason

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Dear Dr.

We just got back together with Lebron James and are SO EXCITED. But what should we do next? Should we make the leap for Love? Minnesota keeps asking us for Andrew Wiggins. We love the idea of Wiggins being our defensive, Scottie Pippen-like compliment to Kyrie Irving and Lebron James. We think this could be like when the Lakers added a young James Worthy to a team with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on it. It may take a few years, but is it worth giving that up for Kevin Love?

– Dan, Cleveland, OH

Dear Dan, I understand why you would be scared to pull the trigger, but you have to make this deal for Love.
First, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Andrew Wiggins is not a guarantee to be a star like Kevin Love. Consider the dichotomy between these two players. Love in college was labelled as having a ceiling beneath star, because despite all the skill, strength, feel for the game and motor in the world, his average athleticism was supposed to limit him. Wiggins is getting called a guaranteed star because he has all the athleticism in the world, despite skill, strength, feel for the game and motor being concerns. Do you see where I’m going with this? If it goes wrong, Wiggins may not be a star for the inverse reason of why Love is one.

Secondly Dan, it’s just about age. To be honest your team with Lebron, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Anderson Varejao and Chris Anderson, isn’t good enough. The supporting cast members are either too young or too old Dan. Rosters like the Spurs and Thunder are more talented and deeper.

The problem is the cost of waiting 2 or 3 years for Wiggins and Bennett to develop. Lebron will have his 12th season next year. Here’s some 12th seasons of recent superstars:

Shaquille O’Neal: 2003-2004
Kevin Garnett: 2006-2007
Kobe Bryant: 2007-2008
Tim Duncan: 2008-2009
Dirk Nowitzki: 2009-2010

All had a relatively short window by this point, to win a title at their apex. Like them Lebron will remain an elite player after he slightly declines, but the Cavs should want to strike when the iron is hottest, while Lebron is still at a greatest of all time level.

Kevin Love is perfect for the Cavaliers, Dan. He’s old enough to immediately contend now and young enough to be a star until Lebron is in his late 30s. With Lebron, Irving, Love and shooters like Allen and Miller, the Heat become the most unstoppable offense in the league. To me this is a no brainer. Love is the way to go.

Dear Dr.

We have a chance for Love, but when they kept asking for Klay Thompson, we backed out of it. We love how Klay and Steph fit together in the long run and don’t feel the difference between David Lee and Kevin Love is worth an all-star caliber starting SG. Are we making the right decision Dr.? Or are we thinking with our hearts instead of our heads?

– Joe, Oakland, CA

Joe, this is crazy. Think about what you’re doing because it’s crazy. I can’t see where you’re coming from here at all.

Look Klay Thompson is an exciting shooting guard and David Lee’s production is underrated, but this is a superstar you can trade for. As complex and wonderful as the NBA is, succeeding is as simple as getting multiple, mid 20s superstars at the same time. When you team up a pair like Steph and Love everything falls into place around them. Not to mention having defensive talent like Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut is perfect for those two. If the Warriors make this move they’re as big a title contender as anyone, instead of looking at a 5th or 6th seed season.

I can understand the argument that Klay Thompson and David Lee combined may be as productive as Kevin Love next year, even if I’d disagree. Where this really becomes a no brainer is the long term. Neither player’s current value is constant. David Lee is 31 and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2 years. Klay Thompson is on his rookie scale, but judging by Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons deal, will be on a maximum salary as soon as he can get it. In other words, eventually instead of Lee and Klay, Lee expires and Klay’s salary means that you can’t replace Lee’s production on the free agent market. The Warriors just end up with Klay Thompson instead of the superior Kevin Love. In the long run a superstar is the way to go. Superstars are the biggest financial bargains available, with how the CBA restricts their real value. Kevin Love will give you more bang for your buck than Klay making the same salary.

I have to be honest Joe, I haven’t liked the Warriors moves much since you came aboard, with a short-sighted Andre Iguodala deal leading the way. But Kevin Love is all but fallen into your lap. If you get him contending will be easy. The history of the NBA says target the superstars, always target the superstars. The Warriors are far more likely to regret turning down Love than jumping for him.

Dear Dr.

Kevin Love wants out of here. I know we haven’t been able to give him everything he wants, but he was our hope to get back to the playoffs. Without him, now what? We go back to the lottery? We end up in the middle of the league, picking 13th or 14th in the lottery but not making the playoffs? This doesn’t sound good to me. We’re still damaged from David Kahn, what if we had Stephen Curry and Kevin Love right now? I don’t know what to do

– Flip, Minneapolis, MN

Flip, you just have to pick up the pieces and make the best decision you can. Here’s my advice: Don’t worry about fit. Just get the most valuable assets and make it work later.

I wouldn’t be so bent on the Klay Thompson and David Lee package if I were you. Klay is going to get a max salary soon and will lose a lot of his value to a franchise. Lee becomes less valuable when he expires. Those players still leave your roster with a lot of work to do.

As for a potential Cleveland offer of Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, I’m mixed. Although I’m lower on Wiggins talent than most, I’m higher on Bennett’s and feel he could be an all-star PF for you. On the whole it’s a decent move to trade Love for those two, giving you young talent around Ricky Rubio and Nik Pekovic long term.

You could also trade Love to the Chicago Bulls for a package like Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic. The problem is this is a lot of good but not great. Taj Gibson is 29 so he’s not the most youngest of pieces to rebuild with. Still it gives the Wolves potentially 3 starting caliber players and if you want to win, it’s an option.

Of your options I say holding out for the Cleveland kids is the best way to go. Yeah you may not win the most games next year, but in the long run you could have starters at SF and PF, along with cap flexibility to rebuild the team with. You wouldn’t be starting from ground zero.

Dear Dr.

WOW, this is a disaster. We thought we were getting Chris Bosh for sure if Lebron James left Miami, but then he resigns in Miami? We traded away Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik just to make this happen, so now what should we do? How do we rebound?

– Daryl, Houston, TX

Daryl, this is a tough spot for you. Chris Bosh was the perfect player for your team and what’s more, holding out so long to sign Bosh or Carmelo only to get neither, along with Chandler Parsons offer sheet putting you on the clock, severly limits your options. Sure, you could go after Luol Deng or Trevor Ariza, but do they fit a team with Parsons? You could wait for Goran Dragic or Rajon Rondo next summer, but do they fit with James Harden?

I’d have loved to see Isaiah Thomas on the Rockets but then BAM, Phoenix signs him, off the market.

So I don’t have a solution for you Daryl. Maybe you should try the less sexy but safe option. Call up Danny Ainge and see if he wants to trade you Jeff Green for your capspace. Yeah he’s not Chris Bosh, but he spaces the floor, is competent defensively and can be a glue guy. You have an awesome team Daryl with Harden, Dwight Howard, Parsons and Patrick Beverly. Jeff Green may be a rebound guy but maybe he’ll turn into Mr. Right.

Dear Dr.

Dr, I don’t know what to do. Lance is one of the most exciting players we’ve had, we’re a team that needs this talent and dynamic ability. But he can also be an egotistical jerk and rubs our players the wrong way. Last year his rise to prominence led our team chemistry to fall apart. Sometimes we watch Lance’s antics and are like wow, is this really us, didn’t we swear this off after Ron? But if we let him go, we don’t feel we’re a sexy enough option for other free agents and may just end up with a drip. We tried bringing in Evan Turner as a replacement and BOY, that did not turn out. I’m not letting Sam Hinkie trade me a player again, the 76ers give it up so easy, no wonder they only have losers to trade. Dr, what should I do?

– Larry, Indianapolis, IN

This is one of the toughest decisions of the summer, Larry. I agree Lance has a negative influence on your team. I have to be honest Larry, before Lance became a star, the Pacers were like a Christian rock band. Yeah they weren’t the coolest band around, but they had good chemistry, played hard and didn’t mess around with distractions. But Lance becoming a star is like if the band hired a non-Christian guitarist who was a sex addict and brought drugs with him on tour. He made their band sound better, but soon enough his negative influence led the others to slip and to fight with each other. Maybe it’s time to go back to your Christian rock band roots.

But on the other hand, this league is about talent Larry. You can’t just walk up against teams like the Spurs and Lebron’s Cavaliers and expect to win on hard work and chemistry. You need dynamic players and game changers. That’s why giving up on Lance is so hard. He has the star upside to take you over the top.
Here’s what I recommend: I say resign Lance. But here’s what you do. Play out next season and see if the Pacers can get it together and become elite again. If the team self-destructs in chemistry, then just trade Lance after next year. His talent and youth will make him have trade value and you’ll get assets for him. By resigning Lance, you can try the “no Lance” option at a later date. But if you let Lance go, you’ll never have the chance to go back and try it with him again.

Introducing the 95% theory

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Despite confidence in my talent grading system, not even if I rate the players talent in my 3 categories correctly, will it prove a perfect measure of a prospect.

Prospects are human beings and the NBA is a sport where psychological nuance matters. How hard an effort a player gives on and off the court clearly affects their career, as does other factors like confidence, or commitment to getting along with teammates on and off the court.

Up to this point my position has largely been to rate a player’s talent level and accept imperfection rating whether they’ll get there since it is too hard to know. When the media jumps on a prospect for not caring about the game or a lack of motor there’s as big a risk this ends up totally unfounded, such as for Andre Drummond coming out of Connecticut.

Nevertheless it creates a concern. For example I rated Anthony Bennett’s talent 1st in the 2013 draft, yet judging from his start there is a possibility he never makes it in the NBA. How is this conceivable? Because even the highest of talent is no guarantee. What if Bennett became one of the all time great headcases? A player with so much anxiety on the court that he fell below a “Mendoza line” of confidence, meaning any shot he took had his head so far in the way to be a disaster? In the case of something like this, Bennett’s mental affliction would be like Greg Oden’s blowing out his knees. And in the case of both talent evaluation would be made irrelevant.

Now in reality, I don’t consider there to be many enigmas in the league. My theory on why is this. I believe most are weeded out by the time of the draft. Professional athletes play at a level of physical conditioning foreign and above regular human beings, which means virtual everyone who gets high enough to be noticed by the NBA is already a physical workout obsessive. That’s before considering the skill level to make the NBA also typically needs a history of practicing hard every day by prospects. In regards to confidence and anxiety the same weeding out factor may occur. The prospect who’s a nervous wreck in game competitions, doesn’t make it to be one of the best 18-22 year old players in the world not in the NBA in the first place. His game will already have been affected. A pro sports league is largely reserved for freaks of the world in not only talent, but confidence and off the court commitment to their sport. Most of the players who are talented enough to be standout NBA starters but were too enigmatic to mentally, probably are not in the NBA – more likely they’re people who never decided to chase after the NBA job, instead going for a regular job or college degree.

However of course, enigmas sneak through. How many? I’ve decided a number I like is 5%, or 95% of players in the NBA once they get a foot in the door (the future of undrafted players becomes less clear to me) eventually reach their talent. At least by the way I measure it. In a 450 player league this would mean 22 enigmas, however if discounting players young enough to be underperforming because of developmental pains only, something like 15 of 300 “established” players is a more reasonable ratio.

Naming 15 enigmas is actually harder than it seems. Here is my best attempt:

Michael Beasley

One of the first names that come to mind. Boasts a rare combination of feel for the game and skill level for a PF and is an above average athlete. Enough to be a star PF, never gotten close.

Charlie Villaneuva

Andray Blatche

Hedo Turkoglu

I list these players together because all 3 have high skill level and feel for the game at their position to make up ok physical tools. Out of seemingly laziness, never have consistently played to their talent, albeit shown flashes.

Josh Smith

J.R. Smith

The Smith duo are both enigmas. Like the above players I rate them as having above average feel for the game, but they play a low IQ brand of shot selection due to non-basketball mental flaws.

Jeff Green

Rudy Gay

Both players are rock solid SFs and Gay has turned it on in Sacramento, yet remain frustrating. Both players have a high fluidity and feel for the game, while Gay has great athleticism/size and ok skill, Green has both good physical tools and skill. Neither are a chasm away from their talent like a Beasley but when comparing them to a more valuable SF like Luol Deng the difference is likely non-talent.

D.J. Augustin

Eric Maynor

Neither player are as widely adknowledged enigmas as the above, however my system rates them as better talents than they’ve shown. Augustin has the shooting ability and feel to be an established borderline starter/backup a la Jameer Nelson, while Maynor’s strong feel and adequate shooting and quickness should also make him a strong backup at the least. This season in Washington right when his talent should be blossoming, he’s been one of the worst players in the NBA.

Jamal Crawford

Crawford is a player who’s had a rock solid career, however I personally see the talent to have been a consistent star. Crawford was one of the league’s best shooters, had an above average feel and despite average athleticism, had the ballhandling to get into the paint.

Andrea Bargnani

Bargnani is a player I almost left off the list, because due to feel for the game problems I feel his struggles are more explainable by talent than others do. However between his demeanor and shooting falling apart in recent years, he’s a player who carries himself so much like an underperforming one, that it feels fair to put him on. At the least, Bargnani does not help teams win games like his talent should.

Danny Green

Green is a player who’s barely played 5000 minutes in the regular season and postseason, so it may not be fair to put him on this list yet. But in his 5th season when he should be breaking out, he’s taken a step back statistically. His shooting, great feel and size/athleticism combo despite ballhandling issues, gives him the talent to be a top 10 SG in the NBA. Green is also a player who struggled to find a place early in his career due to an enigmatic work ethic, he’s admitted.

Andrew Bynum

Bynum is a player who for a handful of years with the Lakers, was reaching his talent level. At this point obviously, that is no longer the case for enigmatic reasons.

Carmelo Anthony

Deron Williams

It may not be fair to put these two players on the list considering they still peaked at a top 10, superstar level. However I hardly been impressed by their demeanor or physical conditioning and they typically carry themselves in an enigmatic way. It’s conceivable that as great of players they were, they could still be underperformers – if they had the talent to do what Kevin Durant and Chris Paul have done.

That’s 16 names, with a few players like Green, Anthony and Williams being somewhat of stretches.

Mind you, this doesn’t include younger players who may eventually be on this list. Here is my case for enigma “candidates”:

Anthony Bennett

Clearly deserves the mention for how he’s started. Bennett is blessed with the strong athleticism, feel and perimeter skills to be a star PF.
Derrick Williams

Patrick Patterson

Earl Clark

Both Williams and Patterson have the perimeter skill, feel and enough athleticism to be above average or top 10 starters in my opinion. Their production so far has been mediocre albeit Patterson is starting to shine in Toronto.

Clark has been in the league long enough to make the non-young player list, however he’s actually played less minutes than either Williams or Patterson, therefore it’s conceivable he is as much prospect. Like them for a PF he has intriguing perimeter skill, feel and athleticism.

Jimmer Fredette

Jan Vesely

Jimmer is a player I’ve listed numerous times as one I’m impressed by, with elite shooting and feel and more respectable athleticism/speed than his reputation.

Vesely has athleticism and feel, while his skill problems are a major concern. I’m not incredibly high on Vesely, but I do feel he can mark out a place in the league as a backup big man and this season he’s begun to get there.

Harrison Barnes

Something of a younger Jeff Green or Rudy Gay, Barnes has strong feel and perimeter skill for a SF and elite size/athleticism despite ballhandling issues, but continues to frustrate in Golden State

Dion Waiters

Waiters ability to drive to the basket, his feel and coming along shooting make him a high upside SG, however there’s a risk he’s a selfish jerk of a teammate it would appear

Meyers Leonard

Scott Machado

Kenny Kadji

Jeremy Lamb

These are players that I ranked top 5 in the 2012 and 2013 drafts who’ve yet to produce at that level yet, therefore I may as well list them. Meyers has perimeter jumpshot and athleticism for a 7 footer enough to be a top 10-15 C, while Machado has fine athleticism, feel and a passable jumper to be a starter. The two remind me of Marcin Gortat and Kyle Lowry respectively in talent. Lamb has elite feel, perimeter skill and is a good physical talent. Kadji has perimeter skills and feel for a power forward.

Kadji appears to be the most worrisome of the four. Not only due to question marks regarding the opportunity an undrafted player like Kadji or Machado gets compared to a lottery pick like Leonard or Lamb, but a German team cut him after a few weeks apparently because of his attitude. The coach even lambasting him by saying to paraphrase “To us when a player is talented it is isn’t just from the neck down”. It’s hard to tell how serious his misgivings were, it could have simply been a minor mistake breaking a rule about partying or drinking or involving a girl, but nevertheless it’s not a great sign for his commitment to reaching his talent in the NBA.

So if a “95% rule” approach was true, what would it mean? In my 2013 draft I used these probabilities for my talent grades being incorrect, due to changes such as shooting differences, athleticism being hidden at a young age, etc.

Within 0 points of the above talent grades (rounded, as is for all these numbers) – 30%
Within +1 or -1 – 70% (+1: 20%, -1: 20%)
Within +2 or -2 – 90% (+2: 10%, -2: 10%)
Within +3 or -3 – 97% (+3: 3.5%, -3: 3.5%)
Within +4 or -4 – 99% (+4: 1%, -4: 1%)
Within +5 or -5 – 99.5%+ (+5: 0.5%, -5: 0.5%)

Using this for example Anthony Bennett had an overall grade of 25 to top the class, but with the above probabilities it spelled out like this:

65% Perennial all-star talent (25+)
95% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent (23-24)
99.5%+ Blue Chip starter talent (19+)

Likewise my 2nd highest group of players at grade 22 Kelly Olynyk, Kenny Kadji, Dennis Schroeder’s probabilities worked out to this

Grade of 22 (Kelly Olynyk, Kenny Kadji, Dennis Schroeder)
5% Perennial all-star talent (25+)
35% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent (23+)
98.5% Blue Chip starter talent (19+)
99.5%+ Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent (17+)

The 3rd highest group of players at grade 21 were Victor Oladipo, Alex Len, C.J. McCollum

Grade of 21 (Victor Oladipo, Alex Len, C.J. McCollum)

1.5% Perennial all-star talent (25+)
15% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent
95% Blue Chip starter talent
99.5% Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent (17+)
99.5%+ Rotation player talent

However this is all only measuring talent, not the odds of them reaching it or not. For example even if I said Bennett was a virtual lock to have starting talent, it doesn’t mean he was a lock to reach this talent. But if adding in a rough 95% probability of a drafted player reaching their talent, then my new estimates would be:

Anthony Bennett

62% Perennial all-star
90% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star
95% Blue Chip starter
95% Rotation player

Kelly Olynyk and Dennis Schroeder:

5% Perennial all-star
33% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star
93.5% Blue Chip starter
95% Rotation player

Victor Oladipo, Alex Len, C.J. McCollum

1.5% Perennial all-star talent
14% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star
90% Blue Chip starter
94% Rotation player to Blue Chip starter
95% Rotation player

However, in reality there was probably reason to believe before the draft a Bennett or Schroeder had a higher chance at being an enigma than a player with the competitive streak in college of Victor Oladipo. But I feel more comfortable using the 95% rule for everyone.

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers even if we could say there was only a 5% chance of the PF they took 1st overall falling short of being a starter and good player, it’s early enough to panic about whether they hit that 5% like a dart on a bullseye.

Written by jr.

January 18, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Rating Giannis Antetokounmpo’s talent level (+Thoughts on the Anthony Bennett Hindenburg disaster)

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In a rookie class where most players have fallen between mediocre and poor production, Giannis Antetokounmpo is providing some of the most optimism. Many are now saying they’d take Giannis 1st in the draft, or believe he has the most potential.

How does my talent grading system rate “The Greek Freak”?

In my Physical impact (Athleticism, ballhandling, size) talent category Giannis rates well. Admittedly I rated him too low in this category before the draft, mostly due to lack of quality footage of him outside of a televised Greek all-star game. Giannis has been more athletically explosive and fast than I graded at the time, which in addition to gifted ballhandling skills gives him slashing upside offensively. He is also extremely long for a small forward having even grown a few inches since the draft. It is possible his growth caused the extra athletic explosiveness he is showing now, perhaps he is able to take longer strides or the muscles in his legs were altered. While I’m split on how to rate hand size as importance, Giannis’ are so abnormally big it becomes hard to ignore. These large hands should help him rebound and steal the ball.

Giannis also rates strongly in my Feel for the Game talent category. He’s a very fluid, natural player and has shown signs of playing in control offensively already, in addition to defensive anticipation.

Where Giannis rates weakest is in my Skill Impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent category. He is hitting a mediocre 31.4% from the 3 point line and making 0.6 3s per 36 minutes, in addition to an average 72.9% from the FT line. He was not known as a shooter or perimeter scorer coming into the league. He has the height to be a post player but not the strength yet. Giannis is young enough to improve his finesse game, however right now it does not appear to be any sort of strength for him.

Here are my grades for Giannis based on these ratings:

11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Very good, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Weak, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

What the overall grades mean:

25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent

Giannis grades:

Physical impact (Athleticism, Ballhandling, Size) talent grade: 8

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 5

Feel for the Game talent grade: 8

Total talent grade: 21 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

With the adjustment I used at the time of the 2013 draft (giving a slightly higher weighting to feel for the game, then physical impact, then skill impact in that order, due to descending level of how static/easy to predict I feel each talent category is), Giannis’ score would have ranked 5th in my talent rankings tied with Victor Oladipo and behind Anthony Bennett, Kelly Olynyk, Kenny Kadji, Dennis Schroeder. But close enough to the non-Bennett prospects to make it a near wash for 2nd. Like Oladipo, Giannis has sky high potential in the areas of attacking the basket and defense, but his upside may have a ceiling if he does not become more skilled on the perimeter. (On that note, for the same lack of footage reasons as Giannis I have a different rating of Schroeder than I did before the draft. Schroeder’s shooting has been worse than I thought, but his feel for the game better – the difference ends up a wash. I now see him as having the same strengths and weaknesses as Giannis and Oladipo, with elite physical tools and feel for the game for his position but a huge question mark as a perimeter skill player)

Other players I would compare Giannis to include Kawhi Leonard, Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala. All of whom like Giannis have impressive size and athleticism and great feel for the game, but are not truly natural perimeter scorers and finesse players. Some have compared Giannis to Paul George and Kevin Durant because of his physical tools, but George and Durant showed standout shooting talent in college and early in their careers. For Giannis to have similar upside he’d need to change the face of his shooting/skill game entirely. Whether a player can develop this much is up to interpretation, but personally I consider it quite unlikely.

I consider it defendable to take Giannis before all the other 2013 prospects if given teh choice, depending on the confidence one has in developing his skills and with the understandable apprehension about Anthony Bennett’s play so far. How do I feel about Bennett’s epic disaster of a rookie season? From a talent grading perspective I haven’t seen any reasons to make a major change. He is not hitting his perimeter shots, but taking them with such frequency, that one has to believe he makes them enough in practice (where he reportedly plays great) for the Cavs to believe they’ll start going in. Other than that he has the same combination of athleticism, strength, ballhandling and fluidity, that when added to perimeter skills, are the tools of a star. I consider the two ways for a player to be a star talent is to be above average in all 3 of my physical impact (Athleticism, ballhandling, size), skill impact (Shoot, post, pass), and feel for the game categories, or to have incredible/transcendent ability in at least one to make up for average or worse talent in another. For example Lamarcus Aldridge and James Harden are two stars who are above average in all three of my categories, while Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook have a combination of transcendent talents (Love’s feel for the game/skill impact, Westbrook’s physical impact) and no more than average ones (Love’s physical impact, Westbrook’s feel for the game). In this class I see Bennett as easily the best example of an “above average in all three” prospect, while my next highest prospects have holes. Schroeder, Oladipo, Giannis have everything but shooting, Olynyk and Kadji have average at best physical talents. Nobody is transcendent in a category based on what I can see, the closest are Nerlens Noel physically and Otto Porter’s feel for the game but Noel’s weak skill level/feel for the game and Porter’s weak athleticism is enough that I don’t see them as likely stars.

The concern with Bennett isn’t talent, it’s reaching his talent. It’s conceivable, even if a stretch, that Bennett ends up with a “broken confidence” complex that does to his career what Greg Oden’s knees did to his. Now there’s been so little prospects where confidence has been a long term problem after they settle into the league, that it’s hard to treat it as a major concern. But most prospects weren’t taken with the pressure of a #1 pick either. There’s also Bennett’s physical conditioning which wasn’t great even at UNLV and his shoulder surgery threw it way off, but with no bad words about his work ethic, I suspect that will get better by next season.. Overall, I’d say the odds are in favor of Bennett eventually hitting or nearing his talent level whatever it is, eventually. Whether it happens on the Cavaliers or not. I understand why some would choose otherwise, but because of the difference between a star and a great starter, I still wouldn’t blink taking Bennett before the other 2013 prospects available.

Written by jr.

January 4, 2014 at 7:44 pm

Why Otto Porter could be the #1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft

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The Cleveland Cavaliers just won their 2nd lottery in 3 years, following the 2011 win that netted them Kyrie Irving. Many are all but writing in Nerlens Noel as the pick, widely the favorite to go 1st all year and a defensive compliment for a team who’s been terrible on that end.

Not so fast.

First, it bears noting how it’s no secret Cleveland is leading the way among NBA teams who are relying on advanced metrics to pick players. The Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters 4th overall picks that came out of nowhere, appear to be have been on the back of what the stats said. Nerlens Noel and Otto Porter have been the advanced metrics community’s favorites all year. This is because most draft regression studies, favor players who fill the statsheet in non-scoring ways – such as rebounding, blocks, steals, assists. Noel averaged an exceptional 11.9 rebounds, 5.5 blocks, 2.6 steals, 2.0 assists per 40 minutes. His 27.7 PER for a freshman big and .58 TS% on 13.1 pts per 40, also could help his case. Porter averaged 8.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 1.0 blocks per 40 minutes, rare all-around numbers for a sophomore SF, in addition to 27.8 PER .59 TS% on 18.3 pts per 40 .

I’ve been using statician Ed Weiland’s site hoopsanalyst.com as a Cavaliers canary since last year. In 2011 he ranked Tristan Thompson as his 2nd best prospect after Kyrie Irving and in 2012 he ranked Dion Waiters 2nd after Anthony Davis. Considering Cleveland went on to surprise and take Thompson and Waiters top 5, he seems an excellent indicator of the statistical method they’re using. On Weiland’s last big board update, Noel and Porter ranked as his #1 and #2 respectively, followed by Trey Burke 3rd, out of the question for the Cavaliers. Another well respected statician draft site, shutupandjam.net, ranks Porter 1st and Noel 3rd (with Trey Burke 2nd).

In a vacuum, the evidence would still seem to point to Noel. Although Porter’s rebounding, passing, and blocks/steals for a SF are exceptional, Noel’s rebounding, block and steal rate is even more freakish and he rates 1st on Weiland’s site. However, other factors are playing towards Porter:

– Noel is recovering for a torn ACL. While ACL recoveries are reliable in this day and age, there’s still a risk that a loss of explosiveness will occur. A problem magnified by how much Noel relies on not just great, but transcendent athleticism for a big man. Furthermore, Noel had a fractured growth plate in the same leg that ended his sophomore year in high school. Multiple knee injuries this early in his career is a huge concern, especially with a frame as light as his.

– Porter is the superior fit positionally, sliding into the SF role beside Irving at PG, Waiters at SG, Thompson at PF and Varejao at C. Noel and Thompson is not a great fit. For one, Noel may be too light to play center, pushing him to long term starting PF status, leaving Thompson’s spot out to dry. Secondly even if they play together, it’s lacking in offense. A lack of floor spacing would hurt on a team with guards who want to drive into the paint

– The Cavaliers appear to be impatient to win. As they stated on the lottery telecast, they hope this to be their last lottery for a long long time. They’ve tanked 3 long years post Lebron and with Kyrie heading into his 3rd season, appeasing him by pushing towards winning is now important. Noel’s ACL recovery means he doesn’t help them win next year, while Porter would likely immediately start at SF for them.

When Noel’s health, positional fit and the desire to win soon is taken into account, the Cavaliers choosing Porter becomes a real possibility even if their statistical methods give the edge to Noel. If Noel is ahead, it depends by how much. I imagine any narrow gap is made up for health, fit and immediate production. If Noel has a large lead on Porter in their advanced metrics, they may feel the best move is taking him and dealing with the other consequences. Right now I’d call it a near toss-up, but I’m actually leaning towards Otto Porter grabbing this. Of course, the Cavaliers could also rectify this by trading down, perhaps to 3rd overall if the Wizards wanted Noel more than Porter. With Tobias Harris and Moe Harkless on the team, the Magic taking Porter at the 2nd overall spot is unlikely. Though because #1 picks are a source of pride, I’d bet against the Cavaliers moving down just for a small asset.

This has been the most up in the air year for the #1 pick since 2006 and lottery night didn’t change it. I see two major contenders if the Cavaliers keep the pick, but they could be deadly tight.

Written by jr.

May 21, 2013 at 7:03 pm

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ summer and the Tristan Thompson problem

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Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Kyrie Irving

Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Kyrie Irving (Photo credit: Erik Daniel Drost)

After Lebron left them for dead in 2010, the Cavaliers have spent the last 3 seasons going “full tank-tard”. The young talent on the team in Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller along with their pick of more draft talent this year, is worth it – But the Cavaliers need to start winning with Kyrie Irving next season. The hiring of Mike Brown is a good start, but aside from the draft, free agency will be key to making a leap forward.

A big name on the market this summer is PF Josh Smith. Paul Millsap is just behind him in impact. Pau Gasol may also hit the market, if as I expect the Lakers choose to dump his contract instead of amnestying Kobe, if committed to saving the up to 80 million in luxury tax payment.

An interesting question is whether Cleveland sees PF as a team need. I’ll call it the Tristan Thompson problem. Thompson is currently the starting PF for the Cavaliers and has been fine, but hardly exemplary. There is a fine line between confidence developing a prospect and overrating them, leading to making mistakes building around them. How clearly can the Cavaliers judge Thompson going forward? When a team picks a player top 5, largely that means they expect a decade long starter. By going out of their way to take Thompson that high, it’s fair to assume the Cavaliers have had expectations of Thompson as their long term starter a the position. Grabbing a player like Smith or Millsap, makes Thompson the 3rd big and reroutes that plan. This is no insult, as 3rd bigs like Taj Gibson, Amir Johnson, Nick Collison have had significant impacts in recent years. However if the Cavaliers can only see stardom in Thompson’s future, they may feel it’s unnecessary to spend cap assets on the position, when Thompson can replicate their production.

I do not how the Cavaliers see Thompson’s upside, or what their plans are this summer in regards to free agent targets. However if having eyes for Thompson at the position leads them to ignore PF as a target position this summer, I see it as a mistake. The Cavaliers can stand to make a big improvement at the PF position compared to what they got this year and if given the opportunity to grab an impact talent like Smith, Millsap, or Gasol, I see that as a key chance to upgrade the Kyrie Irving era. A lineup of something resembling Millsap, Varejao and Thompson as 3rd big in the frontcourt, is ready to go.

It will be interesting to see if Thompson plays into the Cavaliers’ decision making this summer.

Written by jr.

April 23, 2013 at 6:58 pm

The likely reason the Cavaliers took Tristan Thompson over Jonas Valanciunas

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English: Jonas Valanciunas, member of the Lith...

English: Jonas Valanciunas, member of the Lithuanian Under-19 basketball team, which competed in the 2011 FIBA Under-19 World Championship in Latvia Lietuvių (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The likely reason the Cavaliers took Tristan Thompson over Jonas Valanciunas

A major surprise of the 2011 draft was Tristan Thompson jumping to 4th overall by the Cavaliers. Jonas Valanciunas had been mocked higher throughout the year and conventional wisdsom says filling the C position is more difficult than PF.

Because Jonas had a European team buyout expected to mean a 1 or 2 year wait until he came to the NBA, many speculate this – or either a claim Jonas or his agent Leon Rose speaking out against playing in Cleveland – caused the Cavaliers to waffle at the last moment and pass on Valanciunas for Thompson even if they preferred the former.

I don’t see this a logical explanation. In regards to the buyout, the Cavaliers were years away from expecting to compete and thus immediate production for Jonas wasn’t any more needed than in Toronto. Hard to see why evidence why Jonas wouldn’t want to play in Cleveland either.

There’s a more simple explanation for why they made the pick. It’s no secret that the Cavaliers draft methodology under Chris Grant is advanced metrics heavy. The recent surge of advanced metrics statheads focusing on the draft, is based on this concept – Take all the careers of NBA players, then perform an advanced regression analysis to find which college statistics correlate to NBA success. The more adjustment for NCAA conference and competition, age, or teammates, the better of course. With millions to spend at their disposal, the complexity of the Cavaliers’ regression analysis is likely beyond anything we are able to see publicly on the internet. But if you’re a Cavaliers fan looking for a hint of who they’ll pick, check out http://hoopsanalyst.com, a blog run by a draft stathead who gained attention for predicting Jeremy Lin’s college success. The site is relevant for Cavaliers fans because he ranked Tristan Thompson as the 2nd best prospect in 2011 and Dion Waiters as 2nd best in 2012, behind Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis respectively. The methodology he uses is thus likely to match up well with the Cavaliers’. Because of that site I correctly predicted before the 2012 draft that they Cavaliers would take Waiters 4th over Barnes who had dominated the mocks at that pick, but whom statguys universally hated as a top 10 pick. Another draft site getting attention this year is http://shutupandjam.net/draft-rankings/ , albeit he didn’t have his rankings up last year I believe. John Hollinger for ESPN also posted draft regression studies for years, while his replacement Kevin Pelton recently posted an article comparing his stats to scouting opinions, here http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/story/_/page/PerDiem-130329/nba-shabazz-muhammad-overrated

Tristan Thompson’s high rebounding and block rate and Dion Waiters high assist and steal rate, appears to have played very well with draft studies. However my real reason for posting this article, is why the Cavaliers would be unlikely to trust any of Jonas Valanciunas’ statistics before the NBA.

Yes, Jonas’ combination of rebounding, shotblocking and hyper-efficient finishing is traditionally what regression studies like the above would favor. If he had done it in the NCAA.

In 2010-2011, Jonas played 33 games in the Lithuanian Basketball League (LKL) for Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, averaging 21:04 minutes averaging 11.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 66.8% FG, which is elite per minute numbers. But from a regression analysis perspective, these minutes and production are unusable due to all but no players crossing over from the LKL to NBA before Jonas, let alone young center prospects. The LKL is not a strong league and without comparable players in his situation and then gone onto the NBA, there’d be no way to knowing whether to trust his production beating up inferior competition.

Lietuvos Rytas played 15 Gs in the Euroleague in Jonas’ draft year, where he averaged 15:25 per game averaging 7.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.7 blks on 70.8% FG, once again elite per minute numbers. While against more trustworthy competition, the problem here is sample size. He plays a total of 231 minutes total, which is just too small of a number to trust as indicative of real quality. Not to mention Jonas’ role playing as an “energy guy” reserve off the bench against opponents unlikely to have gameplanned against him, makes it more difficult to extrapolate his minutes to a full game as star caliber. In comparison, Tristan Thompson played over 1100 minutes his freshman year at Texas and as a featured player which is a far more trustworthy statistical situation.

A similar story is true of international competitions before the 2011 draft, such as the U18 tournament in 2010 where Valanciunas averaged a dominant 19.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.7 blks 70% shooting split. However playing approximately 270 minutes in the tournament as well as the relatively low level of competition, makes the information all but useless.

While they may have more future NBA players than the LKL, the sample size of NBA players in the Euroleague and international competitions available to cross-compare in a regression analysis, is still fractional compared to a major NCAA conference’s.

It’s likely the Cavaliers were fans of Jonas’ efficiency and rebounding. But if truly all-in on using advanced metrics and regression analysis to predict draft success, it’s no brainer who’s statistics would be more trusted between Valanciunas and Thompson’s. From a regression analysis perspective, there wouldn’t be enough if any trustworthy statistics from Jonas’ pre-draft career, whether from level of competition or small sample size in leagues and competitions. Jonas’ path to the NBA is literally one of a kind in regards to competition. On the other hand Tristan playing over 1100 minutes in a role as well-treaded as Big 12 freshman power forward, would give the Cavaliers a much larger sample size of comparable players and ability to adjust for context that they needed to make a reliable regression analysis.

Written by jr.

April 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm

NBA Mock Draft Version 2.5 – With pre draft grades and comparisons

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Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving looks like the 1st overall pick (Image by Chamber of Fear via Flickr)

This will be my final mock draft unless a game changing trade occurs. The picks are based on what I have heard through the usual suspects on the internet – Chad Ford (ESPN.com), Jonathan Givony (Draftexpress.com), Ryan Feldman (thehoopsreport.com), Ken Berger (CBS.com), Adrian Wojnarowski (Yahoo.com) with a big scoop of my own instincts. Truthfully they did most of the leg work for the actual order. I added grades for each pick and comparisons. Consider that my contribution. Here is the Mock Draft 2.0:

EDIT – Why  not. Here’s the Mock Draft 2.5, edited the morning before the draft with all the latest information. For optimal accuracy.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers – PG Kyrie Irving

There’s been talk lately of Cleveland switching to Derrick Williams #1 to pair him with Brandon Knight, perhaps a better pair together than Irving and a non PG at 4. The problem I see with that is the chance Knight doesn’t make it to #4 with Utah’s interest in him at #3. I say they take Irving.

My Grade: A. The correct choice, Irving is not only one of the best bets for all-star production in the draft, but gives the Cavaliers a badly needed leader for the post Lebron era. No need to overthink it, take Irving.

NBA Comparison: Mark Price

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Kurt Rambis: The Chef Who Uses Too Many Ingredients

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Kurt Rambis

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Before this season I didn’t think the Minnesota Timberwolves would be anything but a lottery team, but I expected more than this. I liked how they added a ton of 3pt shooting and spacing, their biggest weakness last year with Martell Webster, Wesely Johnson, Luke Ridnour, and Anthony Tolliver to along with Michael Beasley and Kevin Love‘s outside range. I liked the Ridnour addition because of what his steady hand did to Milwaukee last year. I liked Kevin Love playing beside role playing centers in Darko Milicic and Nik Pekovic instead of another star who didn’t fit. The team made much more sense this year structurally and more designated roles usually leads to better chemistry.

Yet despite Kevin Love having a much better season than I expected, they sit at 17 wins on April 5th and are barely holding off the last place Cleveland Cavaliers who have 15. On paper an all-star PF surrounded by shooting and size should be much better than this.

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Team Volatility

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I typically like to have some kind of tight argument in my posts here, but this one is loose. I welcome any feedback from people who’d like to see the data presented in a different light. With the major trades occurring at the trade deadline, I thought it of interest to to take a look at the data surrounding how volatile teams are in terms of player movement. In the above graph, the vertical represents team wins this season, the horizontal represents the amount of players who’ve played for the team in the past 3 years, and the size of the dot represents the payroll of the team right now.

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Written by Matt Johnson

March 13, 2011 at 12:22 am