Saturday, July 19, 2014

LeBron and Wiggins

When projecting players to the NBA, one of the leading indicators of future stardom is plus size and athleticism for their position. All things being equal, you want to be longer and more athletic than everyone you face. That's why Russell Westbrook plays as a PG instead of a SG - he has elite size for PG's and average to below-average size for SG's - and why Orlando tried to pull the same trick with Victor Oladipo last year.

The same holds true on the wings, even though the SG and SF are interchangeable in the modern NBA. No matter how they divide up their responsibilities on offense, every team in the NBA is going to start a longer (SF) and a smaller (SG) wing. As a result, the guy playing as a SF is going to face longer and more athletic defenders on a nightly basis. Here's a look at the starting wings in the East playoff teams last year:

1) Lance Stephenson, Paul George

2) Dwyane Wade, LeBron James

3) Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan

4) Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy

5) Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza

6) Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson

7) Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

8) Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll

Would you rather be guarded by the guys in Column A or Column B?

If Wiggins (6'8 200 with a 7'0 wingspan) is being defended by the guys in Column B, he's seeing guys who are just as long and who are elite athletes in his own right. If he's being defended by a lot of the guys in Column A, he's staring down at players who are much smaller than him. As he's shown in summer league, he's not the most skilled player in the world, so you can see why the Cavs would want to maximize his advantage in length and athleticism as much as possible.

However, that only works if he's playing with a SG as big and as athletic as he is. You can call him a SG, but if you start him with a 6'5-6'6 wing, he's still going to face the other teams SF's on a nightly basis. In other words, in order to maximize Wiggins, you want to play him with a wing player whose bigger, more athletic and more skilled than he is. Coming into the draft, I was worried about Wiggins because there didn't seem like many scenario where that would happen.

And then, LeBron.

Playing with LeBron is the best thing that could have happened to Wiggins. The difference in potential match-ups is staggering. Just a few more examples from this year's Western playoff teams - Wiggins is being defended by JJ Redick instead of Matt Barnes, Monta Ellis instead of Shawn Marion, Danny Green instead of Kawhi Leonard. As a rule, that would be the pattern for him for the next 5+ years.

The Cavs would have an overwhelming advantage in size and athleticism on the perimeter. Wiggins and LeBron could absolutely suffocate a team on defense and allow Kyrie Irving to play as little D as possible. They could be like a younger version of Wade and LeBron, using their size and athleticism to blitz the ball, protect the rim and force TO's.

Wiggins would not have a ton of offensive responsibility early in his career and could focus on playing defense, getting out in transition and cutting to the basket. Meanwhile, as LeBron got older, he would have Wiggins around to compensate for any loss in athleticism. They fit together really well and could form the best wing combo in the NBA in a short amount of time.

The Cavs are built a lot like the Heat in the sense that they aren't a very big team upfront. Anderson Varejao is an undersized C, Tristan Thompson is an undersized PF and Anthony Bennett is more combo forward than big man. And if you're going to be small on the backline of the defense, you had better be big up top.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bruno Caboclo

Bruno Caboclo's stats though his first three games in Las Vegas don't really jump off the page, but that's not really what Summer League is about. Summer League is about getting rookies acclimated to more of an NBA-type atmosphere, giving them a first look at the philosophy and play calls of new their team and showing flashes of what they could do at the next level in a few years. From that perspective, Caboclo has been a revelation.

When you watch him play, the first thing you notice about him are his physical dimensions - 6'9 205 with a 7'7 (!!!) wingspan. The Raptors starting center in Vegas, Hassan Whiteside, is a fairly freakishly proportioned player in his own right, with a 7'5 wingspan ... and he's not nearly as long as their SF! In essence, Toronto has two centers on the floor the entire game, except one of them is a perimeter player who can handle the ball and shoot 3's.

In the first few minutes of their game against the Mavericks this week, Bruno got his hands on a number of balls on the defensive side of the floor. He just cuts off a huge portion of the floor - when he's playing help-side defense, it's as if there's a whole other rim protector out there. Human beings are juts not supposed to be as long and athletic as Bruno. It's like the Raptors smuggled the NBA 2K14 create-a-player function into real life.

His offense is still very much a work in progress and you can see why Fran Fraschilla famously said he was "two years away from being two years away" on draft night. Nevertheless, you can also see the ball-handling and shooting ability for a guy his size and I even saw him drain a step-back 3 at one point. When you are watching a young guy for the first time, that's the kind of play that makes you sit up and take notice because there's just no way to defend it.

In terms of length, speed and athleticism, Bruno is as impressive as anyone whose come into the league in the last few years. From a physical perspective, the only guys who made a similar impression on me the first time I saw them play were Giannis, Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond. In a league full of people with top 1% athletic ability, those three are in the top 1% of the top 1%. And if you are going to bet on something, you can do a lot worse than that.

At this stage in his career, it's hard to say how good he will end up being and the "Brazilian Kevin Durant" stuff may end up unfairly hanging over him. You don't want to compare anyone to KD because that type of consistency as a shooter and ball-handler at 6'11+ is pretty much completely unprecedented. Here's the crazy part, though - Bruno is the first guy whose ever had the physical ability to contest KD's shot and play a step off him.

If you want to play good defense on any perimeter player, the first step is to put a guy whose longer and more athletic on him. There's no one who fits that category for KD in the NBA, at least until now. That alone makes Bruno Caboclo an incredibly interesting prospect - he's a SF with the potential to protect the rim like a C. The two most important things a team needs  in the modern NBA are floor spacing and interior defense and he has them in spades.

Even if Bruno's offensive game never takes a step forward, he's still going to have a long NBA career as a two-way frontcourt player who can give his team a ton of line-up versatility. He probably needs a lot of time in the D-League to refine his game, but there's no real ceiling to how good he can be. A SF with a 7'7 wingspan fundamentally alters the geometry of the floor. In and of itself, that's probably worth a Top 20 pick.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Losing Emmanuel Mudiay

Emmanuel Mudiay, the No. 2 player in the class of 2014 and the top PG in the country, was supposed to be the cherry on top of Larry Brown's first two years at SMU. Mudiay, a Dallas native, was the most high-profile recruit in the history of the program - not only would securing his commitment help Brown to build a fence around the Dallas area, but his presence meant that SMU would be ranked in the Top 15 in the country heading into next season.

Instead, in a stunning turn of developments on Monday, Mudiay decided to head overseas amidst conflicting reports about his amateur status. He will be following in the path of Brandon Jennings, who spent one year in Italy before being drafted in the lottery. It's a move that will make Mudiay more money, but it will rob him of the chance to be developed by Brown, whose long been considered one of the finest coaches in the country, especially when it comes to developing young PG's. 

Losing Mudiay is clearly a big blow to the program. At 6'5 190, Mudiay is a pure PG with absolutely elite athleticism whose drawn many comparisons to John Wall. The only real concern about his game is his three-point shot - if he shows more consistency in that department, wherever he ends up playing next season, he has a really good chance to be a Top 3 pick in the 2015 draft. Nevertheless, even losing a player as gifted as Mudiay won't stop the machine Brown is building at SMU.

Even without Mudiay, SMU will be one of the top teams in the country next season. I can say that with confidence because they were one of the top teams in the country this season and they are bringing almost everyone back. They should have been in the NCAA Tournament - the only reason they were left out is because the committee wanted to send a message about non-conference scheduling. They were 27-10 and 12-6 in the AAC, they beat UConn twice, they beat Cincinnati by 20 points and they beat Memphis by 15.

I was at the game in Dallas where they beat UConn - they were the just flat-out better team. And after watching Larry Brown run rings around Kevin Ollie and then watching Kevin Ollie run rings around the rest of the field in the NCAA Tournament, I'm not convinced SMU couldn't have made the Final Four. You do not want to mess with Larry Brown in a one-and-done tournament - see Danny Manning and the Miracles and SMU's run to the NIT Final this season.

The only guys they are losing from that team are two seniors - Nic Russell and Shawn Williams - who were more important for their off-court leadership than anything they were bringing to the floor. Williams was a starter in name only while Russell was a 3-and-D glue guy. They are both very replaceable just from internal improvement within the team. The Mustangs didn't need Mudiay to have a complete rotation and they've got hungry and experienced players ready to take his minutes.

PG - Nic Moore - The only reason you haven't heard of this guy is because he's 5'9. He's one of the most complete PG's in the country and he outplayed Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright in their two games against UConn this season. Moore is super-fast, he's a very heady player, he can create separation with the dribble and stroke 3's with ease. 

SG - Keith Frazier - Without Mudiay, he becomes the main attraction for NBA scouts at SMU. At 6'5 190, he's an absolutely electric athlete who can fill it up in a hurry from 3 - there's a lot of Gerald Green in his game. As a freshman, he came onto campus as wild as any player you will ever see, but he gradually started to calm down and fill his role in the rotation as the season progressed. If Brown can keep his head on straight, this is a guy who could be a Top 20 pick next season.

SG/SF - Sterling Brown - The younger brother of Shannon Brown, Sterling already has an NBA frame (6'6 200) and athleticism from the wing position. He has a lot of potential as a 3-and-D type prospect down the road and he should take a lot of Russell's minutes as a defensive stopper on the perimeter next season.

SF/PF - Ben Moore - Moore is not a guy who jumps off the screen when you watch SMU play, but when you start to break down his skill-set and all the different things he can do, he really grows on you as a player. At 6'8 185, he's got some point forward in his game - he's a very skilled and smooth player. If he can develop a three-point shot, he has a chance to play at the next level as well.

PF/C - Markus Kennedy - A transfer from Villanova whose the hub of the offense in the low post. At 6'9 245, he's an inside-out monster at the college level who can bulldoze smaller post players and step out and play at 15+ feet against bigger defenders. He's a double-double threat who should be in the running for All-AAC next season. He's a bit of a tweener between the 4 and 5 when it comes to projecting him to the NBA, but he's an excellent college player.

PF/C- Cannen Cunningham - 6'10 225 stretch big man. He's not super athletic, but he's good some skill to go with excellent size for the college level and he can step out and knock down the 20-foot jumper. Shot 78% from the free-throw line last season.

C - Yanick Moreira - 6'11 220 shot-blocker. He's a fairly raw big man from Africa with a ton of athleticism who doesn't have a great feel for the game, but he gives the Mustangs an interior defensive presence against even the biggest front-lines in the country.

If you'll notice, SMU has a really complete team with offensive threats from the point, the wing and the post and they have the athletes to defend at every position on the floor. One of the reasons they didn't get a ton of press last season is because Brown used a 10-man rotation so no one player could rack up a ton of individual statistics. Regardless, this is an awfully talented group that is coming back to Dallas next season. Emmanuel Mudiay or not, the Mustangs have the chance to be as good a team as there is in the country.

Chris Bosh

At RealGM, a look at how he's back in the spotlight in Miami after LeBron's departure.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Vince Carter

The Memphis Grizzlies signing Vince Carter slipped under the national radar amidst all the transactions this weekend, but it's a move that subtly shifts the balance of power at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture. While Vince had a 16 PER and averaged only 24 minutes a game, he was a huge part of the Mavericks team last year and they will have a very difficult time replacing all the things he did on their second unit.

Vince had a legitimate case for 6MOY last season. At 6'6 205, he was one of the Mavs main shot-creators of the bench, one of their best spot-up shooters from, a guy who could run point and create offense for everyone else and one of their best perimeter defenders at the 2 and 3 positions. And he did all of this on a $3 million salary! That's the problem for Dallas - there's no way to replace his production at his salary slot.

Just look at two guys whom the Mavs were linked too but didn't end up signing - Mike Miller and Paul Pierce. Miller could have replaced Vince's ability to shoot and attack a close-out, but he's not nearly the same type of defensive player and you can't run offense through him. Pierce could have been a primary creator off the bench, but he spent a lot of time as a small-ball PF in Brooklyn last season and doesn't have the same type of athleticism that Vince does at this stage in their careers.

Vince's versatility is what allowed the Mavs to get away with giving a role on their bench to Jae "The Beast" Crowder, a young player whose not a standout shooter, scorer, rebounder, passer or defensive player. If you are going to get less out of Vince's spot in the rotation, than you have to get more out of Crowder, which he hasn't really shown the ability to do in his first two seasons in the league. In essence, replacing Vince means bringing in multiple players to boost their bench.

He's going to be a big help to the Grizzlies, as he instantly becomes the most complete wing player in their rotation and there should be plenty of minutes to go around with Miller and James Johnson gone. Vince is a better shooter than Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince, a better passer and creator than Courtney Lee and Quincy Pondexter and a better defensive player than Jordan Adams, their first round pick from UCLA. My guess is that Vince will end up closing games for them, as the rare perimeter player who can create his own shot, stretch the floor, make plays for others and defend.

That's a very valuable combination of skills to have, even if his tendency to force the issue on offense made him a somewhat polarizing player among Mavs fans. Even if Dallas winds up with Chandler Parsons, they will miss all the things that Vince did on their bench. And if they don't wind up either either player .... they better snatch up Lance Stephenson or this is going to be a very long off-season for the Mavs.