Thursday, July 24, 2014

Harry Barnes

Four years ago, Harrison Barnes was the No. 1 prospect in the country. In terms of hype, he wasn't that far off from where Andrew Wiggins is now. That may seem hard to believe, but consider this tweet from Adrian Wojnarowski from June 2011:

Adrian Wojnarowski: An NBA scout gushing over UNC's Harrison Barnes battling KDurant at Chicago camp last night. "Top pick in the next draft -- by far," he says!/WojYahooNBA/status/85753066812485634

Barnes certainly looked the part. At 6'8 230, he was an elite athlete with prototype size for a wing scorer. He's a guy who could play far above the rim who also had range on his jumper and the ability to put the ball on the floor.

He had an up-and-down freshman season at UNC, but he still showed enough potential to where he would have almost certainly been a Top 5 pick in 2011. After all, Derrick Williams went No. 2 in that year's draft and Tristan Thompson came off the board at No. 4. It wasn't until Barnes sophomore season, when he was unable to turn potential into elite production, that the bloom began to fall off the rose for him as a prospect.

Which brings us back to the Wiggins comparison. Take a look at their freshman seasons in college and tell me if you notice any similarities:


The two red flags that jump out to me for both players are the average three-point shooting numbers and the negative assist-to-turnover ratios. A perimeter player who can't consistently stretch the floor or make good decisions with the ball in his hands has a ceiling on how good he can be, no matter how athletic he is.

This doesn't mean Wiggins isn't going to be an excellent NBA player, but I say that as someone who hasn't given up on Barnes at all. After all, the guy is still only 22 - he played on the same high school team as Doug McDermott and he was competing at a significantly higher level of competition than the Missouri Valley Conference and the new Big East in the last two seasons.

After being force fed minutes as a rookie in Golden State, Barnes was stuck in a tough position in his second season in the league. The Warriors signed Andre Iguodala to play over him, sending him to the bench, where he struggled due to a lot of turnover at the backup PG position and the lack of a consistent playmaker who could create shots for him. Despite his struggles, he's still an elite athlete with great size who projects as a high-level 3-and-D player who could average around 15+ a night when he reaches his prime, which won't be until 2020, when he is 27-28.

If Barnes can't improve as a passer or shooter, though, it's hard to see him living up to the hype that accompanied him coming out of high school and his first season of college. That's something to keep in mind about Wiggins, who shot 15% from 3 and averaged 0.3 assists a game in Las Vegas.

And yes, this dunk is very impressive:

But so was this:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Daryl Morey's Philosophy

If one thing in the Rockets off-season from hell symbolizes the frustrations many have with Daryl Morey, it was during their pursuit of Carmelo Anthony, when he put Carmelo in a jersey with Jeremy Lin's number on it. Under Morey, Houston has developed the reputation of a franchise that treats its players like commodities, assets to be accumulated and then flipped. Of course, that's the attitude of every NBA team on some level, but few take it to the extent of the Rockets.

If you take a look at their rosters since Morey came to Houston, the lack of continuity is pretty glaring. Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas are their two longest-tenured players and they came into the league two years ago. The approach got them two stars in their prime in James Harden and Dwight Howard, but it may have showed its downside this off-season, when they lost Chandler Parsons and appear to have taken a step backwards after improving their win total in each of the last 3 seasons.

According to Morey, the Rockets didn't match Parsons offer sheet with the Mavs because it was one ofthe most "untradeable" contracts in the league. That's just how they view their roster - does anyone think Trevor Ariza finishes out his new 4-year deal in Houston?

However, there is some upside to being treated like a commodity. No one in Houston gets judged off their reputation or their personality - everyone gets a fair shake. Under Morey and Kevin McHale, the Rockets run a genuine meritocracy, where playing time is given out based on merit, not past performance or contracts. They may treat everyone like a number, but they also let the numbers speak for themselves.

There are examples up and down their roster. They brought in Patrick Beverley on a minimum contract and let him compete with Jeremy Lin for the starting PG spot, even though they signed Lin to a 3-year $25 million deal. Lin had the gaudier scoring average and the bigger name, but Beverley was a better defender and the more complete player, making him a better fit next to Harden. While some NBA teams give out backup PG spots based on name value and starting spots on tenure, the Rockets signed a guy off the street and gave him a fair chance to compete.

Over the last two seasons, Houston held an open competition at PF that featured five different first-round picks - Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson, Jones and Motiejunas. Patterson, Morris and Robinson were all drafted higher than Jones and Motiejunas was a better fit with the Rockets 3's and dunks philosophy, but Jones proved he was the best two-way player of the bunch and earned the starting spot. That may sound like it the standard operating procedure in the NBA, but it's really not.

Just look at what happened in last year's playoffs, when Troy Daniels, an undrafted free agent from VCU, earned a spot in their rotation with a three-point shooting barrage. McHale had to bench Francisco Garcia, a well-respected 10-year veteran, in order to give Daniels a chance. Now, after scoring 17 points in a playoff game, including hitting a game-winner, Daniels has a guaranteed contract and a chance to stick in the NBA long-term. Not many teams would have been willing to give an UDFA like Daniels a real chance, especially over a locker room leader with intangibles like Garcia.

This season, after clearing out their bench, the Rockets will have plenty of openings in their rotation. That means a real chance for guys like Isaiah Canaan, Nick Johnson and Robert Covington. All three have a chance to stick in the league, but none has the talent to where it's any type of certainty. They don't have more talent than a lot of other guys who were taken in the second round, but they are playing for an organization with no compunctions about giving unproven guys a chance.

The playoffs were filled with teams and coaching staffs who chose to go down with their beloved veterans rather than divvy out playing time based on merit. Oklahoma City, where Scott Brooks fascination with Derek Fisher became a running joke, was the most egregious example, but they were hardly the only one. See: Battier, Shane and Haslem, Udonis in Miami. Those guys were no longer NBA players by the end of last season, but they received shot after shot because of who they were, not what they could do. That kind of thing would never happen in Houston, which is one of the reasons Morey is such a polarizing figure in the league.

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.

Friday, July 11, 2014

2014: Not Crazy

Can you ever remember an off-season as crazy as this one? It's a common sentiment, but if you really think about it, it doesn't make an awful lot of sense. What has actually happened? In terms of guys switching teams, the most impactful signing has been Channing Frye going to Orlando. Everyone is waiting for LeBron James to make up his mind and is getting awfully impatient in the process.

That's the thing about this brave new world of social media - everyone has to know everything right away, as soon as it happens. There's just no patience anymore. In essence, Twitter is a giant waiting room and all of the basketball world is sitting in there twiddling their thumbs and endlessly staring at their phones. Can you believe how selfish LeBron is being? Doesn't he know that everyone is waiting for him? We are so eager to know RIGHT NOW that we are willing to jump on any rumor, no matter how dubiously sourced.

My guess is if there was an easy decision to be made, he would have already made it. That's the other thing that is so crazy about this whole situation - this isn't 2010, where LeBron goes isn't really going to swing the balance of power in the NBA. If Miami and Cleveland are the two choices, neither is all that appetizing. If Bosh ends up in Houston with Parsons, Howard and Harden, that's a better team than either the Cavs or the Heat with LeBron. The balance of power in the NBA is out West, no matter what he decides.

The perils of going back to Miami are pretty obvious. We all saw the last Finals, where Wade looked like a broken old man and the Heat just looked plain broken. The Big Three will all be on the wrong side of 30, they have no youth on their roster, not much of a supporting cast and not many options in terms of bringing more talent in. I like Josh McRoberts, but it's hard to see his presence making them favored over either San Antonio or Oklahoma City.

Let's say he goes to Cleveland. If they don't get Kevin Love, they have LeBron and a bunch of young guys who have never been in the playoffs and have a lot of growing up to do. If they get Love, LeBron is on a Big Three with two guys who don't play any defense. You can win championships with players who are only good on one side of the floor, but you have to have exactly the right mix around them. A Cavs team with no rim protection and where only LeBron plays D - that's not exactly the 2011 Heat in terms of putting the fear of God into the rest of the league.

Of course, basketball isn't the only factor in his decision. He has to worry about his family, his friends, his business relationships, his reputation and ultimately his legacy. It's clearly a tough decision and it might take him awhile to figure it out. And that's OK - he doesn't owe us anything. It's his life. If LeBron needs another week to decide, the rest of the league will start to move on. And if not, that's OK too. The season doesn't start until Halloween!

The idea that we have know what is happening exactly right now on July 11 and not July 18 or July 25 is ridiculous. From the perspective of October 31, it will all be the same. Whenever he makes a decision, we'll all talk about it for a few days and then move on to something else. If it keeps dragging on and you're tired of tweeting about it, tweet about something else or don't tweet anything at all. I can guarantee you this - things will happen eventually. Being forced to exercise some patience isn't the worst thing in the world.

Paying Parsons

At Mavs Moneyball, a look at where his new contract puts him in the NBA hierarchy, whether he ends up in Houston or Dallas.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Finding Chandler Parsons

When LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony finally make their decisions, all the action in free agency will move towards guys like Chandler Parsons, a 25-year old restricted free agent who would improve almost any team in the NBA. Ironically enough, it was only three years ago that every team in the league could have had him, as he slipped all the way to the No. 35 pick in the 2011 draft.

For the most part, Parsons is the same player he was three years ago - after four years at Florida, he came out of college pretty much a finished product. At 6'10 225, he's a multi-dimensional player who can shoot the ball from deep, handle and put it on the floor as well as run point and create shots for his teammates. He's also deceptively athletic, with the ability to match up with multiple positions on the perimeter and crash the glass. So what happened? How did a player this good fall through the cracks?

It's not like Parsons was at some small, off-the-radar school. He was a three-year starter at Florida who was SEC Player of the Year and played in the Elite Eight as a senior. If anything, as Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Elfrid Payton have shown, Parsons would have been better off somewhere where he could dominate the ball and rack up a bunch of statistics, instead of sharing the workload on a balanced team like the Gators. He was essentially hiding in plain sight - every team in the NBA must have seen him over two dozen times in his college career.

As a senior, Parsons averaged 11 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists a game on 48% shooting. It was a very well-rounded performance, as you don't see many small forwards who can get that many rebounds and assists. However, because he didn't get the chance to put up big scoring numbers, there was the perception that his game had leveled off. Parsons put up better numbers in the NBA than in the NCAA - this actually happens, as hard as it is to believe. Everyone shared the ball at Florida, so Parsons had to play his position and do what was best for the team, not his individual glory.

There were a lot of guys on that team who needed the ball in their hands, even though they didn't end up sticking at the next level. Their top 5 scorers all averaged between 15 and 9 points a game. Erving Walker, the PG, was a score-first jitterbug in the mold of JJ Barea. Kenny Boyton, the SG, was a McDonald's All-American and a four-year starter. Alex Tyus, the PF, was a four-year contributor who did all of the little things and could mix it up around the basket and Vernon Macklin, the C, as drafted in the 2nd round. That doesn't even count guys like Erik Murphy and Patric Young who came off the bench.

Playing with a bunch of really good college players ended up hiding Parsons' true ability. When it comes to evaluating prospects for the draft, there's this perception that they are statistical-generating machines whose output naturally approaches their talent level, but that isn't actually the case. Parsons scoring numbers didn't go up as a senior not because they couldn't, but because that wasn't the role he had on his team. For a variety of reasons, a college player isn't always going to be in a situation that maximizes his natural ability, especially on a big-time program with a lot of good players on it.

So were there any players like Parsons in this year's draft? Probably not, since historically very few second-round picks ever produce as much value as him. However, it is an interesting archetype to track - a guy on a major program with all the physical tools and a versatile skill-set who had a secondary role in his college offense that may not have maximized his chances to put up the type of big-time offensive numbers that scouts look for.

The one guy that matches that description is DeAndre Daniels, the UConn SF who was the No. 37 pick of the Toronto Raptors. He's got the tools - an athletic 6'8 forward with a 7'2 wingspan who can stroke 3's and put the ball on the floor. He was knocked for inconsistency in college, but as the 3rd option behind two very ball-dominant PG's in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, it was hard for him to always get in a rhythm with consistent touches on offense. His season numbers were very respectable for his role at UConn - 13 points, 6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 47% shooting and 42% from beyond the line.

Daniels wasn't as versatile a player as Parsons, but he is a guy who could end up being a better NBA player than he was in college. They are out there - you just have to know how to look for them.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Channing Frye

Channing Frye doesn't have huge individual statistics but he's the type of player who makes everyone better and his signing with the Orlando Magic is a move that alters the balance of power in the West more than his national profile might suggest. He's not just a stretch 4 - he's an elite shooter with a quick release as well as exceptional size and length (6'10 240 with a 7'2 wingspan) whose a net positive on D. That's a very valuable skill-set and not many players have it.

Frye's shooting ability opened up driving lanes for Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic and allowed the Suns to create the max spacing alignments that helped nearly every player on their team have career seasons. In many ways, Frye was the Jeff Hornacek's system. His presence on the floor meant they always had 3 shooters around the pick and roll for 48 minutes, as he had also had the versatility to play some at the 5 with another stretch 4. There's no way to guard a team with that much shooting and athleticism.
Were it not for Bledsoe's knee injury, which kept him out for almost two months, the Suns would have been an easy playoff team, even in the gauntlet that was the Western Conference - Phoenix was 28-15 with him and 20-19 without him. That was a team well on its way to a 50+ win pace in their first season together. The Suns still have time to replace Frye but there aren't many guys left on the market with his skill-set - losing him could knock them out of playoff contention and remove some of the pressure at the bottom of the West playoff picture.

They could slide Markieff Morris into his spot, but he's not nearly the shooter that Frye is, or they could try Marcus Morris, but he doesn't have the same type of size. Breaking up the Morrii would also severely weaken their bench which was so effective against opposing second units, partly because they could keep the floor spread for the entire game. Shooting big men - Frye, Josh McRoberts, Spencer Hawes - are dropping fast in free agency, which isn't a coincidence. One guy they might consider is Marvin Williams, who shot 36% from 3 in Utah as an ersatz stretch 4/combo forward.

Frye's not going to turn Orlando into a playoff contender overnight, but he's exactly the type of player who will make Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo better, as that's a trio that certainly needs a lot of shooting around on them. One thing they might want to consider, especially in the East, is a super small-ball line-up with Frye at the 5 and Gordon at the 4. A tall, athletic player who strokes 3's fits onto any team - losing Frye makes the Suns significantly worse and the Magic better, which isn't the type of thing you can say about most mid-level free agents.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jodie Meeks and Wayne Ellington

As is usually the case with mid-level free agents, the guys that were able to push through a deal early in free agency were some of the biggest winners, most notably Jodie Meeks, who agreed to a 3-year $19 million deal with the Detroit Pistons. Meeks, a former second round pick who played for 3 teams in his first 5 seasons in the league and made $1.5 million with the LA Lakers last season, went from journeyman to established NBA vet in one contract.

At 6'4 210, Meeks is an undersized shooting guard whose primary value is as a three-point specialist. He's a career 38% shooter from deep who never averaged more than 2 rebounds or 2 assists a game before last season, when he played 33 minutes a night on a Lakers team ravaged by injuries. He should provide value as a floor spacer in Detroit, but his skill-set is hardly unique, which makes you wonder about the contract he received.

Just as a comparison, let's look at Wayne Ellington, who was picked 13 spots ahead of Meeks in 2009 and has played for 4 teams in his first 5 seasons in the league. Like Meeks, Ellington is a 6'4 shooting guard whose primary value comes from his three-point shooting - he's a career 39% shooter from 3 who can score the ball but has never shown much value as a defender, rebounder or passer. The main difference between the two is opportunity.

While Meeks flourished amidst the wreckage of the Lakers lost season, Ellington was stuck at the end of a crowded guard rotation in Dallas, behind Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Devin Harris and Vince Carter. Since Ellington lacked the size to play much at SF and the Mavs committed to playing a lot of 2 PG line-ups, there just weren't many minutes available for him behind the ageless Carter, the better all-around player of the two UNC SG's.

Since he played a little under 400 minutes in Dallas, it's hard to take much from Ellington's per-36 minute averages last season. However, if you take a look at his and Meeks numbers from 2012-2013, the similarities are striking - Meeks was at 14/4/1.5 on 38/37 shooting while Ellington was at 13/4/2 on 43/39 shooting. Through their first 4 seasons in the league, Ellington had the better pedigree and the better all-around numbers.

The difference came in season 5, where Meeks became the latest fringe guard to benefit from playing in Mike D'Antoni's wide-open system. The reality is there are a lot of NBA-caliber guards out there who could put up numbers if they could play big minutes in a spread floor for a coach who gave them the green light to shoot the ball. However, because there are only 30 teams in the NBA, those types of opportunities are few and far between.

So while Meeks now has financial security and an almost guaranteed rotation spot in Detroit, Ellington became a salary throw-in the Tyson Chandler trade, forced to scrap for minutes on a New York team that never really valued him and may not need his services at all. That can be the difference between making it or not in the NBA - for all the new emphasis on analytics, FO's are still impressed by raw numbers like Meeks 16 PPG in LA.

It's not that he won't be able to contribute in Detroit, but that there are plenty of 6'4 shooting specialists out there who can be acquired for far less than $6 million a year. There are players with Meeks and Ellington's skill-sets coming out of college every year and a lot of them end up in the D-League or Europe without ever getting a shot in the NBA. Jabari Brown (Missouri) is an example in this year's draft.

At the end of the day, the difference between Ellington and Meeks' careers could come down to Mike D'Antoni, the patron saint of giving fringe guys chances and keeping them in the league. Meeks is a lot like Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin, two guys with big long-term contracts who should be thanking the basketball gods every day for their chance to play under D'Antoni. Had they played for someone else, you probably would never have heard of them.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Julius Randle and Terrence Jones

While Randle has gotten more publicity in the last year than Jones has in his entire career, these two have more in common than their reputations would suggest. They are both left-handed 6'9 250+ power forwards from Kentucky, both were five-star McDonald's All-American recruits coming out of high school and both were key players on Final Four teams in Lexington.

A lot of the difference in how they are perceived comes down to timing. If Jones had declared for the NBA draft after his freshman year in school (2011), he would have been a Top 5-7 pick in a draft that was not particularly top heavy, with Tristan Thompson going No. 4. Instead, he returned for his sophomore year of college, where he won a national title with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but saw his per-game stats drop across the board.

As a result, he slipped to the No. 17 pick in 2012, one of the deeper drafts in recent memory. He came to a Houston team that featured 4 PF's - Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Royce White and Thomas Robinson - who were drafted ahead of him. It took him most of his first season in the league to carve out a spot in the rotation and he didn't become a starter until his second, where he was the 4th-5th option behind James Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons.

Randle, in contrast, struck while the iron was hot, going pro after his freshman season and going to the LA Lakers at No. 7. As a rookie, he will walk into a situation where he can eat up as many minutes and possessions as he can possibly handle. With the exception of Kobe Bryant, who is coming off a few major surgeries, they have an almost clean slate, so Randle will be given the chance to be a primary option very early in his NBA career.

In all likelihood, he will have higher points and rebounds averages in his first season than Jones will have in his third season. As of now, there's still a decent chance that Jones ends up losing his starting spot in Houston, not because of anything he did, but because they end up signing Carmelo Anthony. If that happens, you can expect to see his stats plummet, but that doesn't have anything to do with his underlying talent level.

And when you compare the two closely, you might be surprised at what you find. In their freshman seasons at Kentucky, Jones averaged more points (15.7 to 15.0), assists (1.8 to 1.4), steals (1.1 to 0.5), blocks (1.9 to 0.8) and fewer turnovers (2.0 to 2.5). Randle had the edge in rebounds (10.5 to 8.8) and field goal percentage (50% to 44%), although that was partially mitigated by Jones taking 2.1 3's a game (33%) to Randle's 0.5 (16%). Jones also had the slight edge in PER - 25.5 to 24.5.

From a tools perspective, Jones is longer (7'2 wingspan to 7'0) and is an all-around better athlete. He's more of a combo, face-up 4, with the ability to put the ball on the floor and attack guys off the bounce, while Randle is more of a traditional 4, with a better post-up game and more functional strength to bully defenders closer to the basket. In terms of style, Jones is more outside-in while Randle is more inside-out.

However, even with the extra advantage in length, Jones was destroyed by LaMarcus Aldridge in the first-round of this year's playoffs. The Blazers got off to a 2-0 edge against the Rockets, with both wins coming on the road, primarily because Aldridge could shoot over Jones like he was a chair and was putting up 40+ ppg. This is the concern for Randle - he's even shorter and less athletic than Jones, so what is he going to do on D against guys like that?

Ultimately, in the modern NBA, with length and perimeter shooting becoming increasingly more important at the 4 position, neither Jones nor Randle may ever be a top 3-5 player at the position. Cuz while they are athletic, they aren't Blake Griffin, and while they are skilled, they aren't Kevin Love. If I was picking one of the two, I would take Jones because he's better defensively and he has a better all-around game that allows him to play off of other guys.

It's not to say that Randle isn't a high-level prospect in his own right, but it does tell you the difference between the Rockets and the Lakers. Right now, Randle is LA's top young player while Jones is 4-5 in the Houston hierarchy and that's before any moves they make in free agency this off-season. Randle is going to have the better per-game statistics, but that isn't the end-all be-all when it comes to comparing young players because so much of that comes down to context and opportunity.