Tuesday, June 30, 2015

NBA Draft Review (22-30)

Everyone has already moved on to free agency but we move on our own timetables here at the Pattern of Basketball (TM).

22. Chicago - Bobby Portis

I've written about Portis a lot recently so I won't repeat myself too much here. The key point is that he has the size of a C and the game of a wing player. He didn't get as much publicity as guys like Montrezl Harrell because he's a big guy who likes to play on the perimeter and he doesn't have the game to just physically dominate smaller guys around the rim. He can post up and score around the basket but his instincts are to float on the perimeter and that's where he's going to be more useful at the next level. It's the same reason why Karl Towns wasn't rated as high in high school as Cliff Alexander - raining jumpers and taking guys off the dribble isn't going to have the same visceral appeal as dominating little buddies around the rim. Once you get to the NBA, though, there aren't many little buddies and you better have a mature game capable of functioning at 15-20+ feet.

The biggest thing about Portis (and what you have to keep in mind about all these picks) is how his skill-set fits into a broader system and how it affects the line-ups that his coach can put on the floor. Portis is the perfect fit for the Fred Hoiberg system in that he can guard and shoot out on the perimeter at 6'11+ while still being big and athletic enough to fight on the backboards and not give away too much heft in the post. He's the type of 5-star McDonald's All-American that Hoiberg could never get at Ames and being able to utilize those types of players is why Hoiberg eventually had to go back to the NBA.

This is a few years down the line but this is how Hoiberg is going to want to play:

PG - D. Rose
SG - Jimmy Butler
SF - Doug McDermott (Tony Snell) (Terrence Ross?)
PF - Nikola Mirotic
C - Bobby Portis

That's five guys who can shoot the 3, put the ball on the floor and make plays off the dribble. It's basically impossible to defend a unit since that, especially when you have at least 3 (Rose, Butler and Mirotic) who can command a double team and collapse a defense. I mentioned the idea of Taj Gibson for Terrence Ross in the Raptors section and I think a trade like that could make sense for both teams, particularly the Bulls. Neither Mirotic nor Portis projects as a great interior defender so you want elite athletes on the perimeter who can keep their man in front of him and a perimeter trio of Butler, Rose and Ross would be the biggest and fastest group in the league.

23. Brooklyn - Rondae-Hollis Jefferson

What separates RHJ from the rest of the perimeter guys projected as defensive players in the draft is that he might be the best athlete in the draft and he's instantly one of the top athletes in the league as a rookie. Him and Willie Cauley-Stein are the two guys I want in my NBA decathlon team. It didn't matter who Arizona was playing this season - you couldn't watch an Arizona game without noticing this 6'7 220 blur (with a 7'2 wingspan!) flying around the court and creating havoc. Whoever he was guarding was giving up a substantial amount of athleticism. If Nets fans want some optimism about this pick, watch the NCAA Tournament game where RHJ completely shut down D'Angelo Russell and held him to 3-17 shooting. RHJ has been a blue-chip his whole career - he just fell in the draft because he can't shoot 3's and because he was in a terrible situation in terms of spacing around him at Arizona.

What I mean by that is that he could have really thrived into the role MKG had at Kentucky and Justise Winslow had at Duke. Let him play as a small-ball 4 next to an elite 5 and put those two around a bunch of three-point shooters and there's no telling what type of damage he could have done at the college level. He's got a lot more skill than you would think considering how poorly he shoots from the perimeter. You didn't get to see this a lot at Arizona because he didn't get to play with the ball in his hands a ton and there was zero spacing but he had games against high-level competition (Gonzaga and UNLV in 2014, OSU in 2015) where he had 5 or 6 assists and he was reading and manipulating the defense in the half-court in order to create shots.

The problem at Arizona was their starting line-up was:

PG - TJ McConnell (Needed the ball in his hands, inconsistent at best 3-point shooter)
SG - RHJ (Same)
SF - Stanley Johnson (Same)
PF - Brandon Ashley (Same - he was a "stretch 4" who took less than 1 3 a game)
C - Kaleb Tarczewski (Zero range outside of 8+ feet)

The only guys who could consistently shoot 3's (Elliot Pitts, Gabe York) came off the bench and they didn't play the type of defense that Sean Miller demanded. It's hard to knock Miller's philosophy of playing as much size as possible and winning with defense since they were a Top 5 team who lost in the Elite 8 in both of RHJ's seasons at Tucson but his formula wasn't one that was going to maximize the stats of his perimeter players.

I really don't think there's a ton that separates RHJ from MKG as players - MKG was probably taken too high in 2012 and RHJ was probably taken too low in 2015. For guys with that skill-set it's all about fit and RHJ is going to be in the absolutely perfect situation in Brooklyn. He's playing with a bunch of old guys who can shoot 3's, move the ball and space the floor in line-ups that have a glaring need for speed, athleticism and slashing ability. He's the exact type of player you want to put around Deron Williams and Joe Johnson at this point in their careers.

Billy King (to be fair, who was acting on Mikhail Prokhorov's orders when it came to the KG and Pierce trade) has put himself in a difficult if not impossible position when it comes to rebuilding through the back half of the draft but he's doing about as good a job as you can manage in the situation. Markel Brown has already proven to be a pretty good 2nd round pick while RHJ and Chris McCullough both have the type of upside that could allow them to outperform where they were taken.

Portland - Mason Plumlee, Noah Vonleh, Gerald Henderson

The Blazers fired the first real shot of this draft when they traded Nic Batum to the Hornets for Henderson and Vonleh. That let you know that they were A) trying to at least re-tool in the near future which meant that B) LMA had given them enough indicators to know that he wasn't coming back. Looking back on it, it seems like Wes Matthews Achilles injury last season was pretty much the end for that group of guys. Neil Olshey was the guy who built the Clippers and he hadn't really gotten a chance to do anything similar in Portland - he walked into a pretty ready-made situation and he has playing around the margins and adding veteran talent to the bench over the last few years. Now that he's getting to do a proper rebuilding job, he has been very impressive already.

Vonleh is exactly the type of big man you want in the modern NBA - great size and athleticism with the ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter - and he's crazy young. He's still only 19 so I'm not holding it against him too much that he couldn't find playing time as a rookie on a Charlotte team that was expecting to contend for a playoff spot. Vonleh was the type of high-upside young big man that every rebuilding team needs and the Blazers were able to pick him up without even using a lottery pick. Most NBA teams have to sacrifice a whole season for a building block for the future type of guy like that. Then you add him with Meyers Leonard, another young big man whom Portland has done a great job of being patient with, as well as Mason Plumlee, a rotation-level big man who can step in and play right away at the cost of a mid-first round pick, and the Blazers have a nice core of talent upfront to pair with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

The big thing for Portland is adding more talent on the wing and they can address that either through free agency or next year's lottery. If they end up getting Tobias Harris, who I think is the one young guy with elite talent who could end up moving this summer, than Olshey is really going to have pulled a rabbit out of his hat. The reality is that losing LMA means they have very little chance of competing for the playoffs next season. However, they could set themselves up to be back in the mix in 2016-2017 even if they end up losing LMA, Batum, Matthews and Robin Lopez. Most NBA teams would lose that much talent and be set back 3+ years but Portland has got themselves set up for a turn-around process much quicker than that.

24. Minnesota - Tyus Jones

While I was not a big Tyus Jones guy and I normally would hesitate to give up two early 2nd round picks for a young player with such a low ceiling, Minnesota has got things going so well under Flip Saunders that it really doesn't matter. For one thing, they don't need that many more young guys in the pipeline and they could very well have taken two guys at 31 and 35 who would never have been given a chance to get minutes at any point in the near future. Look at what happened to GR3.

In that scenario, getting a guy who projects as an instant NBA-caliber player at the backup PG spot at 24 isn't terrible. There's a reason Jahlil Okafor demanded to play with this guy in college - Jones is a PG with a high-basketball IQ who knows how to control tempo, run the offense, get the ball into the big guy and play off a post-player. There are a lot more guys in the NBA that can do that than in NCAA but none of them were on the Minnesota roster last season when Ricky Rubio went down and the Wolves don't want to be in a similar spot after investing a No. 1 pick in Towns. Jones goes from playing with Okafor at Duke to playing with Towns in Minnesota so there must be someone watching out for him.

25. Memphis - Jarrell Martin

Here are the guys I think will end up being the biggest values after pick 15 - Dekker, Portis, RHJ, Martin and Jordan Mickey. One fair question is why a pretty average LSU team would have two of the best players in the draft. Why wouldn't an NCAA team with two high-level pros be better than an 9 seed that lost in the first round and got virtually no buzz all season?

Let's take a look at their roster.

They had basically 6 guys in their rotation, as none of the guys 7-15 averaged more than 7 minutes a game last season. Outside of Mickey and Martin, the only highly touted guy in recruiting was sophomore guard Tim Quarterman. They only had two consistent 3-point shooters - Keith Hornsby and Jalyn Patterson - and neither guy was bringing much to the table besides shooting. The biggest thing was they just didn't have a lot of high-level guard play - Quarterman lead the team with 4 assists a game. So you had two NBA-caliber big men surrounded by 3-4 average NCAA guards who didn't do a great job of spacing the floor.

Their schedule didn't do them in any favors either.

After a disappointing non-conference tournament that saw them lose close games to Old Dominion and Clemson, they didn't have a lot of other chances to make a splash on a national stage. They won the rest of their non-conference games but the biggest W in that bunch was West Virginia. It was the same problem in the SEC - the only real statement game they played was hosting Kentucky (which they narrowly lost 71-69) and no one else in the conference counted as a signature win that would get them a ton of publicity. If they had managed to beat Kentucky, you would have heard a lot more about Martin and Mickey.

They get to the NCAA Tournament and they were a 9 seed playing an 8 in NC State. They actually had complete control of that game - they were up 40-26 at the half - before losing a 66-65 heart breaker. Martin had 16 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists while Mickey chipped in 12 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks. Other than Quarterman, who had 17 points and 7 assists, none of the other 4 guys whom they played gave them much, which was pretty much the story of their season.

As it turns out, that NC State team was really good for an 8 seed. They beat the 1 (Villanova) in the 2nd round and nearly beat Louisville in the Sweet 16 to make it all the way to the Elite 8. If LSU had managed to hang on against Villanova, who knows how far they could have gone.

It was basically a perfect storm of circumstances that prevented Mickey and Martin from getting a ton of publicity. They ended up going pro rather than staying another season in school where they would likely have had to take a backseat to Ben Simmons, one of the top prospects in the class of 2015 and a guy many project as a Top 5 pick. Since they all played the same 4/5 position at the NCAA level, it would have been an interesting squeeze for Johnny Jones, a coach whose been known more for his recruiting than his X's and O's in his time at North Texas and LSU.

26. San Antonio Spurs - Nikola Mulitinov

I didn't see enough of Mulitinov to really get a good feel for his game.

27. LA Lakers - Larry Nance Jr. 

I don't think I ever saw Wyoming play this year. My man Andy Glockner is the person you want to go too for all your Mountain West Conference basketball opinions.

28. Boston Celtics - RJ Hunter

I liked Hunter a lot coming into the draft but there are 3 main concerns about his game, which is probably why he fell this far in the first round.

1) He's a specialist who didn't shoot that well from 3. He made a name for himself from beyond the arc as a freshman (36.5% on 6 attempts a game) and a sophomore (39.5% on 7 attempts) but his numbers came back to Earth as a junior (30.5% on 7 attempts). It's hard to say exactly what happened - while he didn't have a particularly talented team around him, it was the only group in his time in college to get to the NCAA Tournament. I got to see him play once in person when they played UT-Arlington and it certainly seemed like the other team was crowding Hunter and doing everything they could to get the ball out of his hands. He just didn't get the chance to play off capable front-court players and he took a lot of contested 3's. At the same time, if he's not going to be an efficient 3-point shooter, he's probably not sticking in the NBA at all.

2) He's really scrawny (6'6 185 with a 6'10 wingspan) and he's not an elite athlete. Everyone wants to give potential 3-and-D guys like Hunter the Klay Thompson comparison but I'd say Jeremy Lamb is more realistic. Hunter needs to put more weight on his frame.

3) The whole "D" part of that equation is extremely questionable when you consider that he spent most of his time at Georgia State playing in gimmick zones designed to keep him out of foul trouble. While he has the physical characteristics to at least be decent on D, his mental grasp on that side of the ball and his lack of reps playing man defense could mean he takes years just to get there.

29. Brooklyn Nets - Chris McCullough

McCullough only played 16 games at Syracuse before tearing his ACL and he's a 6'10 200 swing forward without much of a perimeter jumper who spent his entire NCAA career playing in a 2-3 zone. I was fairly surprised he even declared for the draft.

The only thing that makes sense is he got a promise from the Nets since there was no way he was going to be able to work out for teams and convince them he could outplay his NCAA production. From their perspective, though, I can see why they were willing to extend a promise. The main thing is that a guy with McCullough's size and length (7'3 wingspan) should not be able to move as well as he does. He's great running the floor and playing above the rim and he could develop into a 6'10 guy who can switch pick-and-rolls.

Just from an eye test POV, he's a significantly better athlete than Kevon Looney.

30) Golden State Warriors - Kevon Looney

Looney fell this far in large part because of medical concerns that appeared at the Combine but I'd say a good part of it was also the sheer amount of depth at the PF spot in this year's draft. There were a ton of guys available who could play C/PF and a lot of guys who could play SF/PF so pure PF's like Looney and McCullough kind of got squeezed in the middle.

Look at all the guys available who could possibly play some minutes at 4 - Towns, Porzingis, Johnson, Kaminsky, Winslow, Lyles, Oubre, Dekker, Anderson, Portis, RHJ, Martin, Nance, McCullough, Looney.

PF is where the rubber meets the road in the modern NBA and it's where all the most interesting match-ups are happening. Looney is a good player with a lot of length and some shooting ability - it's just how athletic is he, how much weight can he put on, how much can he really diversify his offensive game at the next level. It was definitely a good value pick for the Warriors at this point in the draft but I never really considered him an lottery talent to begin with.

No comments:

Post a Comment