Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Chandler Trade

Here's a quick scouting report on the guys the Mavericks gave up in the deal:

- Jose Calderon: His per-game statistics don't really show it, but Calderon is a guy in the middle of a steep decline. There are still plenty of positives - he's a big PG (6'4 210) and he's an absolutely elite shooter, so he can shoot over the top of smaller guards, and he hardly ever makes mistakes with the ball or turns it over. However, at the age of 32, he is rapidly losing foot-speed and athleticism and he's not a guy who could really afford to lose anything in that department.

This affects his game in a number of ways. For starters, Calderon can no longer really get to the rim or beat his man off the dribble. That means, as a PG, he can't really create shots for others. For the most part, he's become a secondary ball-handler and a spot-up shooter, a role he filled well in Dallas playing off of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. The problem is that a secondary offensive player whose also an atrocious defensive player doesn't give you a lot of flexibility with the rest of your line-up.

Make no mistake about it - Calderon is one of the worst defensive guards in the NBA. You can count on one hand the number of starting PG's that can't light him up. Conversely, on the other side of the ball, if you put a bigger, longer 2 guard on him, he's pretty much useless offensively. If he can't leverage his size to get a shot, he's not creating anything off the bounce and he doesn't have the quickness to turn the corner on the pick-and-roll.

In essence, if you are going to have Calderon as your starting PG, you need to play him with a SG who can defend either guard position at a high level (so Calderon can be hidden on the worst offensive player in the back-court) and who can also create his own shot and initiate offense as a primary playmaker (so the other team can't cross switch their 2 guard on Calderon and choke off your offense). Long story short, a two-way SG of that caliber is going to be an All-Star caliber player.

Dallas really couldn't afford to go with the Monta Ellis-Jose Calderon back-court next season since those two were such defensive sieves it put a tremendous amount of pressure on the other three spots on the floor - and when one of those spots is occupied by Dirk Nowitzki, that's not going to work. In terms of his overall impact on the game, Calderon was one of the bottom 5 starting PG's in the league ... AND he's only getting older and he has 3-years and $24 million on his deal.

- Shane Larkin: You really can't hold Larkin's statistics against him as a rookie. Not only is Rick Carlisle notoriously loathe to play rookies, he got injured before summer league, missed the first month and a half of the season and then was buried in the rotation behind Calderon, Ellis and Devin Harris. Nevertheless, in the moments he did get on the floor, he showed flashes of potential and my guess is he will be able to stick in the league long-term.

The big concern with any small PG like Larkin (5'10 170) is always defense. I still remember the game that brought that home for me - a home game against the Denver Nuggets early in the season. I'm watching the Nuggets warm-up and I'm thinking - who is Little Boy Shane going to guard on this team? He's not guarding Ty Lawson, he's not guarding Andre Miller, he's not guarding Randy Foye and he's not guarding Nate Robinson. 

The Nuggets don't have the best or biggest guard rotation in the league but they have a bunch of professional scorers. Forget Lawson, whose an All-Star caliber PG. If Miller, Foye and Robinson couldn't score on a younger and smaller guard, they wouldn't be in the league for much longer. That's just how life is for a 5'10 guard - you are going to be bleeding points on defense in 90% of your match-ups. That's the difference between playing in the ACC and the NBA.

Larkin is a much better PG than Robinson, but he needs to have some of his mentality on the court. If you're going to give up 10-12 points on defense, you have to be able to get those points back on offense. You can't come let the game come to you at that size - you have to be super-aggressive and you have to be able to stick 3's off the dribble. Larkin was more of a pure PG in college, but in an NBA game, he has to use his speed and scoring ability and he has to do it quickly.

I could see Larkin maxing out as an Isaiah Thomas type player in the right system - Suga Shane came out of school as a sophomore, which is crazy for a player his size. Isaiah, in contrast, was a four-year senior who  came into the league ready to make a point. At the same time, you can find little PG's like that anywhere. Pierre Jackson was a 2nd-round pick who could have been had for a song last season. Jahii Carson (Arizona State) may not even be drafted this year and he's got some big-time ability for a 5'10 PG.

- Sammy D: He's got good size and length and he's not a complete incompetent on offense, so he's still an NBA-caliber C who can squeeze a few more seasons in the league. At this point in his career, though, he's purely a backup or a member of a rotation like he was in Dallas. I think this will be more of an issue in the East - Dalembert can match-up with big-time C's but he has a hard time staying on the floor when opponents go small on him.

He can't really take advantage of smaller players on offense and his defense is no longer at the level where you can play him big minutes as a one-way player. Every once in a while he will have a throwback game where he gets a couple of easy shots around the basket early, which boosts his confidence on offense and intensity on defense, but he's not a guy whose going to consistently produce for you on a night-to-night basis. Carlisle had a really quick hook on him for a reason.

On the whole, I was really impressed with the package the Mavs gave up for Tyson Chandler, even if he's no longer the player he was in 2011. Calderon was a guy I thought Dallas would have to give up in a salary dump or just eat his contract - I'm stunned he became an asset in a trade considering how much money he has left on his deal. There are a lot of backup PG's in the league I'd take over him. And while Larkin has talent, the world isn't running low on 5'10 guards.

The key for the Knicks is what they do with the No. 34 pick. And if you've followed the Mavs at all, you know there was very little chance they were going to turn that pick into anything. For all the strengths of the Mavs FO, they are one of the worst drafting FO's in the league. At a certain point, that's going to come back and kill this franchise, but for now, in the YOLO win for the moment present where they build around a 36-year old Dirk, I love this trade.

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