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

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siakam

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

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

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

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

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

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Written by jr.

March 26, 2019 at 12:42 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

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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

NBA Draft top 30 prospects – 2017

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011717joshjackson

 

I am using a slightly modified system compared to last year. My 3 steps to evaluate players skills in different areas are:

  • Overall statistical rating: This favors players with all around stats, such as steals, blocks, assists, etc. The results are fairly typical compared to virtually every other draft analytics blogger. For international players I find PER to have had useful results in recent drafts.
  • What categories the player excelled in vs his college conference or international competition
  • Whether they have NBA caliber tools in that category

The rare perfect skill hits all 3. For example last year Ben Simmons was in my top 5 overall statistical performers, dominated assists and free throw attempts at a generational level for a PF prospect and had the athletic, height, ballhandling, etc. tools to back up his passing and free throw line drawing success at the college level. In the past the same would’ve been true of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s shooting.

Unfortunately the vast majority of skills do not reach that perfection, so it’s varying degrees of flawed from there. Hitting 2 of 3 at an “A” level and one at a “B” level makes them elite in the category, being A level in one but B level in the other two would be great in the category but not elite, and so forth. Using this I then look at the players overall skillset and make a determination of how they rank. I adjust for how offense is more valuable at smaller positions and defense at bigger positions, using ORPM and DRPM as a guide.

1. SF/PF Josh Jackson

Jackson rates as an elite defensive prospect at a big wing or smallball four position where defense can be quite valuable as seen by the last two DPOYs won by Kawhi Leonard. His athleticism, intensity and steal, rebound and block rates contribute to this. Offensively he is not perfect but is still a quality prospect. His passing numbers were strong for a wing and rates as one of the most high volume shot creators in the class for his age. He got to the line enough that combined with his explosiveness is a great slashing prospect. Jackson’s main problem is his 3pt shooting which with a 57% FT has potential to be terrible 3pt shooter in the NBA, even though he hit 38% 3pt. If Jackson is a poor enough shooter it could force him to he PF spot. Although Jackson is a good not great offensive prospect when added to a baseline of potentially elite defensive value it was enough for him to get the #1 spot for me. 

2. C Anzejs Pasecniks

I rate Pasecniks as being an over 20 PER rotation player in the ACB as more impressive than any production feat an NCAA prospect has right now. At a closer level to the pros, he’s already shown he can be a good player. Pasecniks follows in the footsteps in numbers-friendly European center prospects lately such as Jokic, Gobert, Nurkic, Capela, Porzingis, Valanciunas. His best skill rates as defense to me, as he is the 3rd best shotblocker per minute in the ACB, although he struggles a little with rebounding and physicality. He has a reported 7’6 wingspan and great lateral mobility. He is not quite a Gobert level defensive prospect, but considering position rates as the best defensive prospect in the draft for me. Offensively he doesn’t have an elite skill, but has quality driving ability shown by his free throw rate and athleticism, and has the potential to develop a perimeter shooting game. Passing is one of his biggest flaws.

3. PG Jawun Evans

Evans is a complete offensive prospect. His best category rates as passing for me, where he averaged Ball-like Ast/40 although with less height and taking more shots to do it. Evans projects as a strong 3pt shooter, got to the line at an above average rate, was one of the highest volume shot takers in the class (His Pts/40 is Fultz-like) and was a ball thief. While he is a good not great athlete I project him as an above average slasher. Two of his biggest questions are finishing at the rim and defense as is typical for undersized PGs, but in the modern game and success of players smaller than him like Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker, there’s no need to overreact anymore to small PGs not being able to play. He should be a great fit in the modern pick and roll game with his ability to pass, shoot and drive.

4. PF Lonzo Ball

Ball is somewhat complicated to rate. His passing and decision rates as the best skills in the draft to me. If you had to pick anyone to be historically good at something in this draft, it would be Ball at passing. He is a good rebounder, then the rest of his game is pretty meh. His FT% and weird jumpshot brings some concern about 3pt shooting at next level, he didn’t get to the line or create his own shot the best in college and his defense projects as solid but not above average. I’m also slightly concerned about putting up stats in a transition heavy system. Not because of inflation but because the NBA is a halfcourt game, you can’t build around Ball’s transition play. If he failed Ball would be kind of the NBA’s Manziel or Tebow who played non-pro college football systems, while his halfcourt weaknesses exposed in the NBA would be like theirs as pocket passers. That’s before mentioning his father.

But if he’s transcendent at the one thing he’s good at it, it could make him a better pick than players who are good to great at more things. So I guess he goes here.

5. PG Dennis Smith, Jr.

Smith has dynamic strengths. His ability to get to the line combined with being arguably the most explosive athlete in the draft makes him a high upside slasher. He has one of the best assist rates after Ball and Evans and projects to be an above average 3pt shooter. However there are concerns about his defensive effort, basketball IQ and overall intangibles. That has been dangerous warning signs in the past, but in this case the speed and skill is so great that one has to take the chance to get star potential.

6. PF/C Cameron Oliver

Oliver has the combination every team is looking for nowadays, he’s a big man with 3pt range who had one of the best block rates of all these prospects. In addition to his shooting and defense, his shot creation volume rated well for a sophomore. His ability to get to the line was worryingly poor, he wasn’t a great passer and there are concerns about his intangibles. Nonetheless an athletic big with his floor spacing and defensive potential is a valuable pick. Unlike a lot of other numbers sleepers who come with the caveat of being seniors, this guy is only 20. (Well, he turns 21 on July 11th)

7. PF/C Mathias Lessort

Like Pasecniks, Lessort following in the successful footsteps of highly productive European big prospect is a good sign. Specifically Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela. In their draft years in French Pro A, Gobert had 21.7 PER and Capela 23.9, while Lessort has 21.8. Compared to them Lessort isn’t as much as a shotblocking threat and has more of a Tristan Thompson like game and body. Offensive rebounding is his biggest strength, while he has the athleticism and track record getting to the line to project well attacking the basket. Defensively he has potential as a lateral mobility driven defender.

8. SG Donovan Mitchell

Mitchell is one of the best 3 and D prospects in the draft. He is one of the best wing defenders based on his college play and physical tools, while his 35% 3pt/80% FT makes him a good outside shooting prospect. He is not a great shot creating prospect, I question whether his qualty passing numbers can translate if he’s not dribbling in the NBA, and his basketball IQ is reportedly a concern, but the defensive and shooting combination is highly interesting in the modern game and gives him “role player star” upside.

9. PG/SG Markelle Fultz

The one area of the game Fultz rated as elite for me was shot creation volume for his age. Even when you take into account having no talent as teammates, the amount of shots he took for a freshman was pretty ungodly. His shooting is good not great when taking into account his FT%, likewise his passing is solid but not elite. Intensity is a question when it comes to defense and when it comes to getting to the line, without being an elite athlete I can’t rate him as elite there. Last year I thought Ingram was a player who didn’t do anything exceptional in college except shoot a high volume of shots. Fultz is a better prospect than him, but I have similar concern. I will say that if he does come in on the high end as a shooter or driver, that combined with his shot creation skills could give him a quality combination of offensive weapons. I still think Fultz can have a quality career, but I would bet on him becoming a Rudy Gay/Andrew Wiggins/Harrison Barnes of guards (20 point ability, well paid career, impact doesn’t come together) before I would a superstar.

10. SF Jayson Tatum

Tatum’s profile is somewhat similar to Fultz. His one elite skill is shot creation, while the rest of his projection is somewhat middling. He he is a good but not great passer, and is a decent enough at getting to the line but a non elite athlete when it comes to NBA slashing. He appears to be a decent decision maker and is an average defensive prospect. I’m going to give Tatum a little benefit of the doubt and rank him higher than I would have, for coming back from injury. If he played the whole season healthy his stats may have been higher.

11. PG De’Aaron Fox

Fox has great athleticism and got to the FT line at a great rate, showing his upside as a driver in the NBA. He is also a shot creator. Fox is a worrying non shooting PG in the modern game and was not a great passer. However I see upside because with his 73.6% FT there’s at least a chance he surprises as a shooter which would clear up the biggest problems in his game. With Fox’s athletic tools if he can improve as a skill player there is a lot of upside there so I didn’t want to rank him too low.

12. SF/PF OG Anunoby

Anunoby rates as a defense only prospect for me, but on that end he is one of the best in the draft. He had great steal and block rates and has the length and lateral mobility to be a great defensive PF in the modern game, which it helps is a high value defensive position. He was a decent passer for his role. His shooting is a major concern along with shot creation.

13. PF Jordan Bell

While Bell is somewhat stuck between positions defensively, his great block and steal rates combined with athleticism make him a quality prospect on that end. For a low volume scorer his passing rate was very good, while he has potential to attack the basket with his physical tools.

14. PF T.J. Leaf

Leaf’s offensive resume is strong. His shooting, passing, decision making and shot creation all rated fairly highly for me based on his UCLA numbers and he was a solid rebounder, while his ability to get to the line and defense as major concerns. Like Ball there’s some concern about whether his game fits a transition system more than halfcourt but his skill level has a likely place in the game.

15. SG Sindarious Thornwell

Thornwell isn’t an elite prospect in any area but his defense, shooting and decision making is all well above average, while his passing and ability to drive is decent. He is an average shot creation talent and isn’t quite guaranteed to do anything, but overall is a solid 3 and D potential at the next level.

16. C Thomas Bryant

Bryant has both the size and shotblocking to have defensive potential and 3pt shooting potential. However he is decent, not great in both areas and isn’t a guarantee. Still, the upside he can put both skills together is an appealing upside.

17. SF/PF Jonathan Isaac

Isaac is a great defensive wing going by his steal and block rates and physical tools, however his offense does not project as all that impressive for me. He is a non shot creation wing and his shooting, slashing and passing only rates as average. Still, the 3 and D upside is quite solid.

18. SG Jajuan Johnson

Johnson was a great 3pt shooter in college who has the length to be a good defender. He does not rate as a strong shot creator and while he passed at a high level (over 4 assists per 40) whether he has the ball enough to take advantage of it is unclear. He is also 23 and being older than seniors is unpredictable. Nevertheless with value is thin at this stage of the draft, his shooting, passing and defense makes him a plausible enough 3 and D threat at the next level.

19. PG Monte Morris

Morris projects as having a great basketball IQ and passing ability, along with above average shooting. He is a mediocre defensive prospect, below average shot creator and got to the line a worryingly little amount of time in college. Nevertheless his skill level and IQ could give him a spot.

20. PF Aleksander Vezenkov

Vezenkov is this year’s Juan Hernangomez, he is producing in the ACB and is a great 3pt shooting prospect which could give him value as a stretch shooter in the modern game. Although he’s pretty one dimensonal on offense and rates as a below average defender. At this stage being great at one thing means more than being 6 out of 10 at everything.

21. PF Tyler Lydon

Like Vezenkov, Lydon’s pro game is built around being a 3pt shooter and high IQ player. He is not as strong a 3pt shooter, but could be a decent defender. His ability to get to the line and shot creation is an issue.

22. PF/C Zach Collins

Collins rates as a quality offensive big with his ability to get to the FT line, shooting potential and decision making. He is a strong rebounder. His passing is worrying and his defense could be only ok due to physical tools, but the offense makes him worth it.

23. PF/C Ivan Rabb

Rabb was one of the best in the draft in one statistical category, his free throw rate compared to field goals attempted. That combined with a strong offensive rebound rate could show he’s a player who can attack the basket. The rest of his game is fairly vanilla as neither a dominant physical player or a perimeter shooter, but at this stage doing one thing at an elite level is enough to get my attention. Rabb could potentially be a decent defensive player as well with his lateral mobility and size.

24. SG Malik Monk

My model said to rank Monk out of the top 30, but I’ll put him this high out of fear of the “Devin Booker” effect. Booker at Kentucky didn’t get to use his full arsenel of dribble drive and passing skills, likewise it’s possible that playing as off ball SG beside Fox limited what Monk could show.

Otherwise his numbers are scary. He has poor defensive stats and tools and brutal rebounding, below average at getting to the line for his shot volume, and was not much of a passer. He had a great shooting season but there’s been countless great NCAA shooters over the years and only so many of them have good NBA careers for a reason, because predicting shooting to the pros like all skills is an indirect translation.

25. PF John Collins

Collins was an exceptional rebounder and got to the FT line at an elite rate, however neither his passing, defensive stats or shooting numbers were impressive and physically he appears to be stuck between PF and C a bit. Like Rabb the ability to get to the line and offensive glass may be a foundation of his game.

26. C Justin Patton

Patton has a quality combination of size, athleticism and blocked shots which should give him potential on the defensive end. Offensively he has a lot to improve skill wise but a young big with physical tools looks fine here.

27. SF/PF Deonte Burton

Burton has a great combination of power and athleticism. While he’s not that long, strong steal and block rates should give him defensive potential and he has 3pt range, which could make him a mismatch at PF. Being 23 hurts him, if not for the extra unpredictability factor of how few prospects have been older than 22 as prospects, he would’ve rated in my 15.

28. SG Wesley Iwundu

Iwundu is a long armed athlete who can shoot 3s and has solid passing ability. His steal and block rates and 3pt shooting are both good more than great, but he still projects as having 3 and D upside.

29. SG L.J. Peak

Peak’s biggest strength in college was getting to the FT line, while not a hugely explosive athlete he may be able to drive in the pros. He showed the ability to pass for a shooting guard prospect. His FT% being just under 80% shows some shooting potential as well. Peak has bigger strengths as an on ball than off ball player when it may be preferable to be an off ball player as a supporting player, but nevertheless he is a solid all around wing.

30. SF Justin Jackson

Projects as high IQ professional who can pass and have a chance (But isn’t a guarantee) to be a good 3pt shooter. Defense and shot creation is a concern. My #31 is Josh Hart, who more or less has the same projection.

Notable players not in top 30:

Jacob Wiley: The closest omission after Hart, Wiley dominated against mid major competition, he had great defensive stats but it’s unclear whether those will translate for physical tools reasons. One of his biggest assets is potential to shoot from a big man position.

Lauri Markkanen, Luke Kennard: Both players bomb the “overall statistical” rating part of my model due to poor defensive stats or passing combination so they got off on the wrong foot. Because of that they only rate as decent shooting prospects overall (as mentioned for Monk there’s a reason there are many more 40% 3pt shooters in college than NBA) and mediocre to awful at everything else.

Bam Adebayo, Ike Anigbogu: Both do one thing exceptionally well in college, Bam getting to the FT line and Anigbogu blocking shots. But like Markkanen and Kennard players who start with a poor overall statistical rating, even if they’re otherwise exceptional in a skill like shooting, blocks or getting to the line, end up projecting as only decent in the area for me and they lack the other versatility to rank as top 30 players.

Frank Ntilikina, Terrance Ferguson, Isaiah Hartenstein: For the same reason numbers driven reasons I’m high on prospects like Pasecniks or Lessort I’m low on these internationals. Ntilikina has an 11.9 PER on his French Pro A team which ranks 9th among his teammates, while he plays a different position this greatly trails the productivity of successful players like Gobert and Capela from that league recently. I just need to see more excellence at a lower level than that based on the recent internationals who’ve succeeded, even if Frank has quality size and shooting potential. Harteinstein is also 8th on his team in PER (17.5) in the LKL which a recent prospect in Valanciunas dominated and his style of big center who plays near the basket is going out of fashion nowadays and his game appears to be somewhat limited outside of size. Ferguson however is the king of 1st round projected internationals with bad stats. He has 5.4 PER in the Australian league and doesn’t appear to be good at anything.

Harry Giles: I understand Giles was recovering from injury, but with numbers being the starting point for my board, he just didn’t do much outside of rebounding and I’ve yet to see the great evidence for his supposed star talent.

Written by jr.

June 21, 2017 at 4:17 pm

The Pacers offense and old school thinking vs new school

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The Indiana Pacers season is seen with a pessimistic viewpoint due to the loss of Paul George and Lance Stephenson to injury and free agency. Those wings have been effectively replaced by new additions Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles, along with expected increase in minutes for Chris Copeland. Many predictions for the Pacers now have them falling into the 30s in wins, a steep fall from last season’s 56-26.

When it comes to their results as a whole, I’m not sure how well their defense will hold up without Paul George. It’s not just that George is one of the best defensive perimeter players in the league, but making up for losing him may cause Frank Vogel to integrate a more offensive style of play, or the Pacers to expend more energy on offense. This could hurt their defensive results. Although the Pacers still have an elite defensive front court with Roy Hibbert and David West backed up by options like Ian Mahimni and Lavoy Allen.

However offensively, I believe the Pacers drop-off is not as severe as some believe.

Old school thinking

10 or 15 years ago when fans and the league were more obsessed with points per game and “creating their own shot”, the Pacers losing their two leading scorers in George (21.7ppg) and Stephenson (13.8ppg) would be seen as a disaster in the making. The Pacers are surely a disaster without any perimeter players who can create their own shot, right?

Yet how offense is played and viewed is clearly different in 2014. Like RBIs in baseball, it’s not about how many points per game you get, but how it occurs in relation to the team. A player who scores points per game but does so inefficiently and who stops the ball from moving to other more efficient shots, may not be valuable. In addition, floor spacing is now one of the best places to start when evaluating how successful an offense will work as a unit. That doesn’t invalidate the concerns about losing George and Stephenson as both were above average in league efficiency and losing them may cause defenses to key on other players, but it suggests at least looking closer before writing the new Pacers offense off as automatically worse than last year’s sub-average one, finishing 23rd in ORTG and plummeting to league worst levels after the all-star break.

How the Pacers would succeed offensively

The key to the Pacers surviving at SG and SF without Stephenson and George is in spacing and ball movement, both more paramount to offensive success than “creating your own shot”.

The last 2 years C.J. Miles in Cleveland hit 39.3% and 38.4% from 3 on 4.1 and 5.0 3pt attempts a game, in only 19.3 and 21.0 minutes per game. This equates to a sky high 7.7 and 8.7 3pt attempts per 36 minutes. Between his % and volume, it seems fair to suggest Miles could produce a strong 3pt shooting season for the Pacers. Chris Copeland shot 41.8% from 3 for the Pacers last year on 1.9 attempts a game, however by playing 6.5 minutes per game in 41 games, this was on a low volume. However for the Knicks his rookie year he shot 42.1% from 3 on 2.5 attempts a game in 15.4 minutes per game. Overall, it would also seem Copeland is a reliable 3pt shooting option. The Pacers also have a Croatian rookie wing Damjan Rudez who shot 44.1% from 3 on 4.5 attempts a game from 3 last year in the ACB. The wing who is a problem as as shooter is Rodney Stuckey, who has a career 3p% of .286 and shot 27.3% from 3 last year in Detroit. However Stuckey provides a different important skill set to the Pacers, which isg eating to the FT line. Stuckey has averaged 4.3 FTA per game for his career, or a per 36 rate of 5.3 a game. Last year George averaged 5.8 free throw attempts a game on a high volume of shots, while Stephenson only averaged 2.5 a game. Stuckey isn’t the type of offensive player I favor, but he does provide an element of driving to the basket and free throw line hat may be lacking in players like Miles, Copeland, Rudez or Pacers veterans like George Hill.

The Pacers are PG, PF and C are similar offensively to last year. George Hill is not a spectacular PG but he’s a reliable 3 point shooter and passing “game manager”, hitting 36.5% from 3 on 3.4 attempts last year and averaging 3.5 assists to 1.2 turnovers. C.J. Watson is an average but respectable backup point offensively. David West remains a solid option in the post and pick and pop. While for his dreadful offensive numbers at times, I still feel like Roy Hibbert has offensive skill on the block that if used more heavily, could draw defensive attention. Luis Scola had a poor season last year but could refind his skill game this year.

Ideally the Pacers would find themselves with floor spacing provided by players like Miles, Copeland and Rudez and having SGs and SFs who play off the ball, would help the team have ball movement. With players like Hill, West and Hibbert, the roster is still very high IQ, which could help them pass the ball to post players and then if doubles are drawn, out to open shooters. For all of Paul George and Lance Stephenson’s talent, they also dominated the ball and contributed the Pacers finding themselves stagnant enough to settle for midrange jumpshots. The new Pacers may not be able to “create their own shot” like George and Hill, but if there’s more ball movement and spacing, this could in its own way create more open shots from 3 or at the rim than they struggled to get last year.

Barring a defensive collapse I see a lot of reasons why the Pacers would outdo expectations this year. They are a team full of veteran professionals who tend to win compared to younger, mistake-making teams and who has been well coached defensively by Frank Vogel. They won’t wow anyone with talent, but the key is intelligence and effort level. This would play out not only with continued defensive success, but finding open shooters with precision on the offensive end. A season around 44 or 45 wins and being the same type of success story the Bulls have been the last 2 seasons without Derrick Rose, would not surprise me.

Written by jr.

October 26, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Predicting the Kevin Love trade

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Here is my prediction for the Kevin Love trade. I believe the following deal is legal:

Minnesota trades:

Kevin Love – 15.7 million
J.J. Barea – 4.5 million

(19.9 million outgoing)

Minnesota gets:

Andrew Wiggins – 5.5 million
Thaddeus Young – 9.4 million
Highest of CLE 2015 1st, MEM 2015 1st, MIA 2015 1st

(14.9 million incoming)

Cleveland trades:

Andrew Wiggins – 5.5 million
Anthony Bennett – 5.6 million
Highest of CLE 2015 1st, MEM 2015 1st, MIA 2015 1st

(11.1 million outgoing)

Cleveland gets:



Kevin Love – 15.7 million

(15.7 million incoming)

Philadelphia trades:

Thaddeus Young – 9.4 million

(9.4 million outgoing)

Philadelphia gets:

Anthony Bennett – 5.6 million
J.J Barea – 4.5 million

(10.1 million incoming)

WHY for Minnesota:

The vibe I’ve been getting from Minnesota this whole time, is Flip’s dream is to come out and win 45 Gs next year. That’s why they were coming so hard after the Klay Thompson and David Lee package over one like Boston was offering.

Now Andrew Wiggins may be their “offer they can’t refuse” when it comes to accepting youth/prospect power instead of win now vets. But by flipping Young for Bennett, they still move in the direction of their original plan of a winning record next year. Minnesota could envision Wiggins and Young as a productive two way SF and PF combination immediately next year. The lineup of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Thaddeus Young and Nik Pekovic is a balanced starting lineup, with some shooting off the bench in Mo Williams and Chase Budinger, some athletes like Zach LaVine and Corey Brewer and some defense in Luc Mbah a Moute and Gorgui Dieng’s promise as the 3rd big. I’m not saying this is necessarily the right plan from my point of view, just that it could be what Flip would be happy with.

WHY for Cleveland:

It appears they are already offering Wiggins and Bennett so not much is needed to delve into here. The move is a no brainer from the Cavs end to put the best possible team around Lebron right now. Trying to plan for a window years in the future is dicey because Lebron could decline or Wiggins and Bennett’s development could disappoint or someone could get injured. This way contention is guaranteed, now. And if Love signs long term eventually, they’re still a longevity-friendly core.

A very important part of this deal for Cleveland is they keep the John Lucas III/Erik Murphy/Malcolm Thomas unguaranteed contracts they got from Utah, which allows them trading power to find supporting role players around their stars.

WHY for Philadelphia:

It was reported after the 2013 draft Philly would’ve done the Holiday trade if any of Noel, Oladipo or Bennett were available at #6. While it’s hard to take Philly of all teams at their word about draft targets, after the draft was over they’re less likely to have been smokescreening.

Either way, there’s a solid chance Philly likes Bennett who had a productive and analytics-friendly UNLV season and who’s rookie year was marred by injury. He would both be a decent fit with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid long term because of his perimeter spacing, or just puts up enough statistics to be good trade bait. For an expiring Thaddeus Young who they appear to have no chance or interest in resigning, picking up Bennett’s talent and upside is probably as favorable a return as they can ask for. Barea is just an expiring contract who they may buy out if they’re too worried about him winning games next year.

Written by jr.

July 29, 2014 at 7:10 pm

How the Lakers can have a smart offseason

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Since Dr. Jerry Buss died, the Lakers have embodied the worst traits of the James Dolan era Knicks. They’ve gone after big names and big contracts and have dealt away picks instead of keeping them. They spend assets instead of collecting them.

If they continued down this route, their offseason will involve major spending or big name trading. Think signing Carmelo Anthony to a maximum contract when they don’t have the roster to win before he declines, or trading their draft pick for Rajon Rondo in hopes that’ll be enough to sign Kevin Love next summer. Dealing for aging stars or ones on short contracts, is a dangerous game that could set them back years.

Here’s the type of summer I’d recommend for the Lakers. It’s not as sexy, but it’s a smart move that fits the modern NBA landscape.

Say the Houston Rockets get their mitts on a major free agent like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. But to do it they need to clear capspace, by moving Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik’s contracts.

The Lakers are far under the cap and in a great position to take advantage of this. They also have the deepest pockets in the league, allowing them to barely blink at paying 30 million in real money for 16.8 million cap hit between Asik and Lin. The Rockets trade the Lakers Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and their 1st round pick next year, for a Lakers conditional 2nd round pick. This clears the Rockets enough capspace to sign Carmelo while keeping the rest of their starting lineup in Patrick Beverly, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard. Carmelo presumably have to take a discount on his first year salary compared to what the Knicks could offer, but would still be inked to a huge salary.

This puts the Lakers in a very nice position. Not only do they get talented young bigs in Terrence Jones who could break out on a new team, Donatas Motiejunas and a pick, but Lin and Asik are even good for their roster, filling a need at PG and C. If not extended, both Lin and Asik expire next summer, allowing the salary obligation to be as short lived as Utah taking Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson’s deals for a year.

Using their capspace to build their asset base like this, is the type of move the Lakers need to look at in the modern CBA model. The days of outspending everyone are gone and the other 29 teams are getting too smart. The Lakers can’t run from how small market teams succeed, they need to embrace it, then add their money advantages on top of this. They need to become basketball’s Boston Red Sox, who realized if they invested in prospects and analytics like small markets have no choice but to do, but then have more money and free agent allure than the rest of the league at the same time, they could be unstoppable. Likewise if the Lakers started hording young players and draft picks like the Thunder, when added to their historically massive star and free agent appeal, they combination could cream the league for decades to come again.

Written by jr.

May 28, 2014 at 11:07 pm