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.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cliff Alexander

At RealGM, a look at why he's the perfect example of the one-and-done rule at work.

NBA Draft Review (13-21)

The 1rst real dip in the first round came after Trey Lyles to Utah at 12, where all of a sudden you went from guys who profiled as potential starters on good teams to guys who might fall out of the league if they don't wind up in the right situation or they don't further develop their games over the course of their rookie contract.

13. Phoenix Suns - Devin Booker

There were a lot of jokes about the Suns becoming Kentucky West following this draft, as they added Booker and 2nd round pick Andrew Harrison to a perimeter group that already includes Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Archie Goodwin. For Booker, it might not be so funny. He's going from a situation in college where he couldn't really expand his game or play a huge role and he's repeating that process in Phoenix. The questions for Booker coming into the draft were whether he was a one-dimensional shooter because that's all he's capable of doing or because that was all he could do on an absolutely loaded Kentucky team that didn't need a lot of shot-creating or playmaking from the SG spot. Now, as a guy who doesn't turn 19 until October, he's going to a Suns team ready to win now and who don't have a lot of open shots or minutes on the perimeter for a rookie. People tend to forget about young players in the NBA really quickly if they don't produce right away and Booker is going to have an uphill battle to even see the floor early in his career.

Let's take it as a given that Bledsoe (who just signed a $70 million contract) and Knight (who could be in line for a max contract this off-season) will be playing 35+ minutes a night in the Suns two-PG system. PJ Tucker, as one of their veteran leaders and their best perimeter defender, seems pretty locked in as the starting SF and the Suns will be looking for minutes for Marcus Morris (who they signed to a $20 million extension) and TJ Warren (the No. 13 pick in last year's draft) on the wings. Even if we assume they are letting Gerald Green walk, that means Booker is going to be fighting with these two guys for minutes at backup SG:

1) Archie Goodwin: The No. 29 pick in 2013, Goodwin came into the NBA after only one season at Kentucky at about the same age that Booker is now. He's only 20 years old and he would have been a pretty young junior this season. He's an interesting test case for whether or not it always makes sense to jump to the NBA as soon as possible - if he stays at Kentucky, he easily beats out Aaron Harrison for the starting SG spot and he's the most experienced returning player on their roster. He's probably the No. 1 option on the best team in the country and he's in the running for the Naismith Award and a lottery pick. If Booker couldn't beat out the Harrisons in Calipari's rotation, there's no way he's beating out Goodwin.

Goodwin isn't nearly as good a three-point shooter but he's better at every other facet of the game than Booker. He's bigger, longer and more athletic and he's a much more capable slasher, playmaker and defensive player. It's going to be a question of what Jeff Hornacek is looking for in a reserve guard - is he looking for floor spacing above everything else or does he want someone who can contribute on both sides of the ball? The other consideration is that this is do-or-die for Goodwin. If he can't beat out an 18-year old rookie for minutes in his 3rd season, he's pretty much done in Phoenix. He might get a shot somewhere else because of his youth or athleticism but there's no guarantee of that either. He's fighting for his NBA life in training camp. That's how quickly the worm can turn at the next level.

2) Reggie Bullock: It's the same story for Bullock, the No. 25 pick in 2013. After barely playing as a rookie for the LA Clippers, he was sent to Phoenix as part of a three-way deal that landed them Austin Rivers. There weren't any minutes to be had with the Suns either and Bullock is entering his 3rd season in the league as pretty much an unknown quantity. He has played a grand total of 733 minutes in his first two seasons and he's fighting for his NBA life coming into his 3rd. He  was projected as a 3-and-D guy in the draft and he's been a OK - 31.1% - considering that he's never gotten a consistent spot in the rotation and taken more than 1.5 a game. The tough part about drafting young guys to be defensive specialists is that it takes a long time for them to develop the mental aspect of the game necessary to be plus defenders, regardless of their physical tools. If they can't offer anything consistent on the offensive end in the mean-time, it's hard for them to get minutes on a good NBA team. 

Bullock isn't as good a shooter as Booker but he's longer and more athletic and at this point in his career he's much more capable of earning minutes as a defensive specialist off the bench. Booker's probably going to have to play defense to earn minutes in Phoenix and that's a problem when you consider A) how young he is and B) how much he needs to improve on that side of the ball. This is a guy who averaged 0.4 steals and 0.1 blocks a game as a freshman. While he tested out pretty well athletically at the combine, he didn't show much ability to translate that athleticism to the game in college and that has traditionally been a sign of guys who will struggle on the defensive side of the ball at the next level. Ethan Strauss calls this the "Doug McDermott test".

This is something that's going to come up in this article - the Suns have almost become a victim of their own success with the draft. They've got good young players at every position on the floor so no matter who they drafted at No. 13, that guy was going to have a tough time earning minutes in Phoenix. At a certain point in the team-building process there starts to be a diminishing marginal value for first-round picks. This isn't the NFL with 53-man rosters, 22 guys starting and 30+ getting consistent snaps. An NBA rotation can only be so large and guys 9-13 on your roster probably aren't going to get many opportunities to play. And if you draft a guy who sits on the bench, he's not going to have any value with other teams. What you want to do is consolidate talent but that's very difficult to do in a league where no one wants to turn a $1.00 into 4 quarters. 

For a guy like Booker, it's a tough balance to walk. You don't want to go somewhere where you are asked to do too much early in your career and the weight of expectations destroys you but you also want to go somewhere where your way to minutes isn't being blocked by a bunch of guys ahead of you. He has the shooting ability to where he should be able to stick in the league but there's a good chance in two years we'll be writing articles about Booker where he's in the position Bullock and Goodwin are in now and people are calling him a bust. It might have been hard to get minutes, touches and shots at Kentucky but it don't get any easier in the NBA.

That goes double for Andrew Harrison. Really it's more like quadruple. 

14) Oklahoma City Thunder - Cam Payne

The Thunder were kind of in the same situation as the Suns when it came to this pick. Take a look at their roster:

PG - Westbrook, Augustin
SG - Roberson, Waiters, Morrow
SF - Durant, Singler, PJ3
PF - Ibaka, Collison, McGary
C - Adams, Kanter

That doesn't even count guys like Semaj Christon, a 2nd round pick in 2014 whom they stashed in the D-League for a year, and Alex Abrines, a high 2nd round pick in 2013 from Spain whom they eventually want to bring over. Whomever they took at No. 14 had a really good chance of falling off the end of the Earth playing for the Oklahoma City Blue. Teams with this much talent aren't usually picking in the lottery.

We'll see what happens with Billy Donovan but it can be really hard for a young guy to get the consistent minutes he needs to develop on a contending team like OKC. That's what happened with Jeremy Lamb, everyone's favorite punching bag from the James Harden trade. Scott Brooks just never believed in him and never gave him the chance to play through his mistakes. Take a look at his per 40-minute numbers - he consistently produced when he was on the floor but Brooks couldn't live with his defensive mistakes (the charitable interpretation) or he was playing favorites and didn't have a great grasp on evaluating young talent (uncharitable). I would certainly live with Lamb's defense over Waiters defense and ball-stopping and Roberson's completely inability to shoot outside of 5 feet but there's no need to re-litigate that any further.

The point is that Cameron Payne is going to have basically zero chance of earning minutes next season and the road to him getting a consistent spot in the OKC rotation is rocky at best. If he can shoot 3's off the dribble he could theoretically be a nice complement to Russell Westbrook in a two-PG set but so could DJ Augustin and he's way more capable of handling a role on a title contender than a guy who would be a junior in the Ohio Valley Conference next season if he stayed in school. For that matter, Christon is also capable of playing the combo guard role and he's bigger and more athletic than Payne (although he isn't nearly as good a shooter).

It's a good thing that Payne said he was hungry and had something to prove in his interview on ESPN because there ain't going to be nothing handed to him in OKC. That's what happens when you get to this point in the first round - the team that drafts you doesn't have that much invested in you to where they are just going to carve out a role for you to see what you have. That happens with Top 10 picks because the front office wants to justify the selection and the team is bad enough they can afford to burn minutes on a rookie who may not be able to help them win right away. For a guy in Cam Payne's shoes at the toughest position in the league, it's kill or be killed. It's easy to forget that Augustin was taken with a lottery pick.

15. Washington Wizards - Kelly Oubre

This was a solid upside pick for the Wizards in the middle part of the first round. Oubre is a raw player who probably can't play right away but that's what you would have expected regardless of whom they drafted. Randy Wittman couldn't even find minutes for Otto Porter as a rookie and he was way more ready to contribute than Oubre. The upside with Oubre is obvious - the length, athleticism and shooting ability. The downside is whether he can put all of that together to be an NBA contributor any point in the near future. He didn't exactly tear things up at Kansas as a freshman. He showed flashes but he wasn't consistent and he never really figured out his role on the team. 

Oubre is a guy who would be better off spending a year in the D-League and seeing if he can develop into a more consistent shot-creator. At his age, I'd much rather see him in a spot where he can take 20+ shots a night and try to expand his game in a featured role than put him into a box as a 3-and-D guy who can't get off the bench in the NBA. He's not capable of anything more than that at the highest level of the game - he's really a straight-line driver without much shake off the dribble and who hasn't shown he can read the floor and make plays for others. If you put a guy with comparable size and athleticism on him, he's not going to be able to do much.

The good news for Oubre in college is there were very, very few guys like that. I'm a big believer in evaluating these guys based off how they perform against NBA prospects at their position - maybe the most impressive thing Oubre did as a freshman was shut down Rashad Vaughn in the 2nd half of Kansas win over UNLV. Vaughn got hot early against the Jayhawks but then they sicced Oubre on him he really couldn't do anything. Oubre had the type of next level athleticism that made even a guy like Vaughn look like he was playing in mud. 

That type of performance would make you think Oubre has a pretty solid floor as a Trevor Ariza type but then you have to remember what has happened to Reggie Bullock early in his career. Ain't no first or 2nd year players in the NBA being defensive stoppers, particularly when you consider that Oubre has been a scorer for most of his life and his feel for the game after only one season of college isn't all that great to begin with. Lord forbid his 3-point shooting abandons him early in his career behind the more extended NBA arc - then he's never going to be able to help his team.

Down the road, the Wizards are probably thinking they can use Oubre and Porter together at the forward positions in a wing-heavy 4-out offense ala the Warriors. What I wonder is whether they ever plan on addressing the big man spots in the draft, particularly when it comes to adding some youth behind Nene and Marcin Gortat, who really started to show their age in the series against the Hawks. Even a 4-out offense still needs someone in the middle and there's no one like Draymond Green on this roster if they want to try and go 5-out. This would have been a great spot to draft Bobby Portis, although I could say that about most teams in this range.

Atlanta Hawks - Tim Hardaway Jr. 

It hasn't gotten a ton of publicity because of how well the Hawks played last season but they have low-key butchered the opportunity to add some quality young talent in the middle of the first round in each of the last two seasons. This might be where the Danny Ferry thing really hurts the franchise and you wonder about giving Budenholzer total control. Trading a mid first-round pick for a guy like THJ is a classic coach/GM move, where the team's main decision-maker wants to win now, doesn't think any of the available young guys can help his team right away (which might be true) and opts for someone whom he has seen before and already knows about really well. Needless to say, it's not the type of thing the Spurs would do. 

It seems like the Hawks were trying to avoid a repeat of last year's situation, when they drafted Adreian Payne at No. 15, realized he had little chance of earning PT and then traded him away for a future first in order to salvage some value out of the pick. Maybe you don't believe in Payne and maybe you don't believe in Oubre - there's a reason both guys fell to this point in the first round. They definitely have some real talent, though, and a more patient team could have grown them into impact bench players over the next few years. If not those guys, there will be people taken after them in 2014 and 2015 who turn into really good NBA players. Atlanta punted away two chances to grab guys like that and it might end up haunting them down the road.

16. Boston Celtics - Terry Rozier

This pick is where you start to see the lack of great quality in the middle of the first round. Rozier might have been a reach but it's defensible considering the guys around him. Even at 6'2, he's a very good athlete with the ability to get to the rim and defend either position in the backcourt. If he can refine his offensive game and his three-point shot, he might be able to fill a Patrick Beverley/George Hill role off a dominant wing player in the starting line-up of a good team. Where it becomes an issue and where you start to see the holes in Danny Ainge's master plan is how he makes sense (or really doesn't) on this Celtics roster.

Boston already has Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, combo guards with holes in their game who need most of the minutes at the guard positions. They've also got James Young, Evan Turner and Jae "The Beast" Crowder who want minutes at the wing spots. Maybe Rozier develops quicker than anticipated and carves out a role for himself in Boston and makes some of those guys expendable but the problem is if they become expendable they aren't exactly going to be attractive chips on the trade market. If Rozier doesn't play right away, no one's going to be give up anything of value for a guy many thought was a reach on draft night. 

The Celtics have a tun of "trade chips" that look good on paper but when you look at them individually none of them are all that attractive by themselves. That starts with these future Nets picks. Maybe they will be really high but maybe they won't - Brooklyn won't have much incentive to tank and rebuild over the next few years. They'll be trying to stay afloat and they are a big market team with a ton of money to spend. The Celtics, meanwhile, are coming off a playoff appearances and they have enough halfway decent players and a great young coach so they probably won't be getting any more Top 5 picks anytime soon. All they have to offer in trades is Marcus Smart, a bunch of alright young guys and some mid first-round picks. 

The Celtics can't actually get into a hypothetical DeMarcus Cousins trade sweepstakes because the only thing they really have is Smart. And not only does Smart have a lot of holes in his game, they just drafted a guy who replicates his game and could potentially minimize his impact. That's the thing about an NBA roster - it's a zero-sum game. For all of the talk about analytics in the modern NBA, young players are still judged on points, rebounds, assists and minutes played and for every point and assist that Rozier accumulates that's one fewer for Smart. 

What Boston is going to have to do is punch above their weight in the draft and find quality young players in the middle of the first round. That's easier said than done, though. They used to have a long history of it in the middle of the 2000's, when they found guys like Gerald Green, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Kendrick Perkins, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Al Jefferson. Their track record over the last few years is way more up and down. Avery Bradley is good but Fab Melo and JaJuan Johnson are already out the league and the jury is still out on Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. I don't think anyone is calling them HR's or expecting them to return much of value in trades.

What I wonder is if the Celtics front office is missing guys like Daryl Morey and Ryan McDonough, who have proven to be excellent drafters now that they are running teams of their own. It's not easy to replace front office talent like those guys - Boston's going to need some more future GM's in the pipeline who can find All-Star caliber players in the middle of the first round. If they don't, all of the maneuvering Ainge has done over the last few years has been re-shuffling deck chairs.

17. Milwaukee Bucks - Rashad Vaughn 

I didn't get a chance to see Vaughn very much this season. UNLV was a bad team in an average conference and Vaughn was hurt for most of the 2nd half of the season. The only games I really got to see of him were against Kansas and Arizona. What I figure is you want to see what a guy looks like against the best. Vaughn was going up against Kelly Oubre, Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and those 3 are the closest approximation to NBA players that a guy like Vaughn is going to see at the NCAA level. Future NBA players are the top 1% of NCAA players - how you perform against those guys can be different than how you perform against the other 99%. What was obvious with Vaughn was that he wasn't nearly as athletic as those guys were in space.

Oubre and RHJ, in particular, were just playing at a different speed on the court. Vaughn is a big guy and he can can shoot so he can play with them but he's not getting around guys like that off the dribble. While he's probably not going to get a chance to dominate the ball in Milwaukee, he should fit into a role as a floor spacer who can attack a close-out. As long as he doesn't get absolutely killed on D, Milwaukee could really use his shooting. That's what it's going to come down to with Vaughn - just do enough on D to survive. 

Here's an interesting comparison. Vaughn and Booker were both McDonald's All-Americans last season. In the ESPN Top 150, he was No. 19 and Booker was No. 18. Booker went to a team where he got to play with the No. 1 pick, the No. 6 pick and the No. 12 pick. Vaughn went to a team where the 2nd best player (Christian Wood) went undrafted. How much of the difference between where they were picked can be explained by one being in a more positive situation than the other? Now they are going to the NBA and things could be flipped. Booker is on a team that doesn't really need his skill-set and Vaughn is on a team that does. He's going to have a much easier time getting minutes. Let's see where they are ranked against each other a year from now.

18. Houston Rockets - Sam Dekker

I could see Dekker being the best pick in the range between 13-21. The comparisons with Chandler Parsons are obvious - they aren't quite the same type of player but they were in similar situations in college where their statistics could have been suppressed so their true value as players wasn't as immediately obvious. Parsons was on a team with 3 other senior starters and they all shared the ball - Dekker was on a Wisconsin team that played super unselfishly and pounded the ball into Frank Kaminsky. Dekker isn't nearly as skilled with the ball as Parsons, either in terms of creating off the dribble or shooting, but he's a much better athlete. 

He's a really fast wing who can get up and down the floor in a hurry and he sprouted a few inches in college. He's 6'9 and he moves like a 6'5-6'6 guy. As long as he can be a consistent shooter, teams are going to have a hard time guarding him because he'll be able to blow by a close-out. Put him in an incredibly wide-open Houston offense where he's given the license to fire from 3 and he could be really effective.

The other nice thing about the Rockets is they are going to see what a guy has. If you look at their roster over the last few seasons, they have done a good job of giving young guys minutes and making sure they knew what they had before they give up on someone. Dekker has NBA-size and NBA-athleticism and he is an older player who has been coached up well at Wisconsin in terms of knowing how to play team defense and without the ball and do the little things that NBA coaches want out of their role players. To me what it comes down too is that he was probably going to be an NBA player at 6'7, his height as a sophomore. Give any NBA player an extra two inches and they become a lot more valuable.

19. New York Knicks - Jerian Grant

Grant has got himself in just about the perfect position. So much of what happens in the NBA for guys in this range comes down to the situation they are placed in. Grant is walking into a role on the worst team in the league where he can take as many shots and play as many minutes as he could possibly handle. Compare that with Delon Wright in Toronto, who will be lucky to squeeze out 15 minutes a game and may never get to play with the ball in his hands. Grant is a fairly complete guard with good size who can do a little bit of everything - shoot, score and pass. He's just not an elite athlete, he's a much older player and he was in the perfect situation at Notre Dame to put up huge stats.

Mike Brey's teams do a phenomenal job of spacing the floor. Brey is doing the full Mike D'Antoni - his number 1 priority is spacing the floor, regardless of how small it forces him to play. His strategy usually gets him killed in the NCAA Tourney because he never has enough big men but if he can get a good draw against a bunch of other small teams, like what happened this year, his teams can punch above their weight. In their Elite 8 game against Kentucky, he had Pat Connaughton guarding Karl Towns - of course Towns was going to dominate from the post when he had a 6'5 guy on him.

Brey did it so that he could run the spread pick-and-roll for Grant and Demetrius Jackson. He lived with the poor defense to generate as efficient an offense as possible. The Knicks aren't going to run that type of high-efficiency offense and Grant's going to have to do a lot more creating off the dribble. He's 6'5 so he should at least be able to get off good looks but is he going to give back everything he scores on the other end? Though, to be fair, this is kind of a concern for everyone on that roster.

20. Toronto Raptors - Delon Wright

The trade of Greivis Vasquez opens up some PT for Wright in Toronto as a backup PG. As a 6'6 PG who can defend either backcourt spot, he's a good fit to cross-match with Lou Williams. The question with Wright is whether he can make defenses respect his 3-point shot enough to allow him to play off the ball. He can help the team as a defensive player, a rebounder and a playmaker, it's just a matter of how effective he can be as a scorer. Backup PG on a good team might be the ideal role for him and going up against Kyle Lowry in practice every day should make him a better player.

The question I have with Toronto is whether another shoe is going to drop. Are they going to bring the same team back from last year given how disappointing things were in the playoffs? Amir Johnson is a free agent and it seems like the obvious move they can make is trade one of their wings for a new PF. I think they will end up regretting this long-term because I'm the last person on team Terrence Ross but it seems like a T. Ross for Taj Gibson trade would work for both teams. The Bulls need another 3-and-D wing and they need to create PT for Nikola Mirotic and the Raptors need more of an offensive threat at the PF position and they need to create some PT for Bruno Caboclo. Well, I don't know if they need to do that but I really want to watch him play.

21. Dallas Mavericks - Justin Anderson

I thought my guy Alan Smithee over at Mavs Moneyball did a really good job with this breakdown of Anderson's game.

Anderson's lane agility time at the NBA Combine was worse than all but three of the 19 shooting guard/small forward prospects who participated at the combine. Before we scoff at this, keep in mind that Anderson is carrying more than 230 pounds around, which is a lot of meat for someone who may see most of his playing time next year at the two. He may need to slim down into the 220 to 225 range that most of the best NBA guards carry on them if that's where he ends up playing. 
For all of Anderson's obvious athletic gifts, there is also the question of why that athleticism did not manifest itself more prominently in his statline. His rebound rate was fairly average for a forward, as was his block rate, and his steal rate was decidedly below average. Now, to be fair, it's true that Tony Bennett's pack-line defensive system may have taken some steal opportunities away from Anderson. "Pack-line" means that a defense packs players behind an established line (usually around of the three-point horizon), and keeps any help defenders behind that line at all times. Still, you would think Anderson would have swatted a few more attempts than he did, with his 43-inch vertical and everything. When there is a disconnect between the scouting report and the athletic indicators, you worry about that player's feel for the game and basketball IQ, as well as his effort.

And then there's the questions about his offense. He's a really one-dimensional player and he's basically going to be a spot-up shooter at the next level. The problem with that is if his 3-point shot goes or isn't totally consistent from Day 1, he doesn't have anything else he can bring to the table on offense. He wasn't a great shooter his whole career either - he was a 30% three-point shooter in his first two seasons before he moved up to 45% as a junior. I look at what happened with Reggie Bullock in LA and I wonder. The line between making it and not in the league for a 3-and-D guy can be pretty thin.

That's the worry with drafting a guy who projects as a specialist late in the first round. He had better be really good at the next level at the things he specializes in or he's going to slide right out of the league. That's why I wish the Mavs had drafted a guy like Bobby Portis or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - they have a lot of different elements to the game. I'll get into those two in the next section. Long story short, I think they could end up as better players as a lot of the guys drafted 13-21.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Looking For The Modern PF

When I'm looking at the PF position in the draft, the first thing I'm looking at is whether guys can play on the perimeter. That's the way the league is going. The modern game is all about speed and spacing and that starts with having big men who can make plays with the ball in their hands on the perimeter and who can move their feet on defense and guard the pick-and-roll. Over the last generation, PF has gone from a position where you play your shortest big men to one where you play your tallest wing.

Take a look at the PF's from the last few championship teams:

- San Antonio (Diaw)
- Miami (LeBron)
- Miami (LeBron)
- Dallas (Dirk)
- LA (Odom)
- LA (Odom)

None of those guys are traditional post-up players. It's hard to leverage a size advantage at the PF position in the modern NBA. You want a PF who can score the ball from the perimeter and make plays off the dribble and who can switch screens and defend multiple positions. The key is finding a guy whose as comfortable playing at 25+ feet from the basket on both sides of the ball as he is playing at 5+ feet.

It's too easy to defend a team that plays two traditional big men, You can pack the paint on them on defense and you can spread them out on offense and attack them in the pick-and-roll. Your big men have to be able to get out and defend and they have to able to force a team to respect them from the perimeter. The way the league is going, you can sacrifice size for shooting and athletic ability and get away with it. The Atlanta Hawks are a good example of that - they are playing one of the smallest 5's and the smallest 4's in the league.

If a big man can't play that style of basketball, they are always vulnerable to being run off the floor. That's what the Golden State Warriors have been able to do all season. They started Draymond Green (6'6 240) at the 4 and then they moved him to the 5 in the NBA Finals. There's still room in the game for a big man who scores with his back to the basket and who can hold position in the low post but you don't need to play two of them at the same time. The rise of 4-out basketball means there's only room for one interior position on the floor and that's going to go to the biggest guy on the roster - The Warriors need Andrew Bogut a lot more than they need David Lee.

That puts the traditional PF in a bind. If you doesn't have the size to play as a C or the skill-set to play on the perimeter, you can only be so useful to an NBA team. The game is changing and big men have to either adapt or die.

The key for PF's survival in the modern NBA is versatility. They have to be like Al Horford - capable of sliding between multiple positions on defense, shooting the ball from the perimeter and scoring in the post. The tricky part is finding two-way players. There are a lot of skilled 6'9+ guys who can't play defense and a lot of athletic 6'9+ guys who can't shoot the ball. Growing up, there's no need for a guy that size to learn a lot of perimeter ball-handling and shooting. He can dominate the game based purely on athleticism. It's only when they get to the NBA and find out they are no longer the biggest guy in the paint that they are forced to deal with their lack of perimeter skills. Thomas Robinson is a good example of that.

It's all about finding guys with the right combination of size, skill and athletic ability. In looking at the current crop of PF's in this draft, three guys stand out to me as checking all the boxes that you want for a modern big man. All three of those guys played in the SEC - Jarrell Martin (LSU), Bobby Portis (Arkansas) and Trey Lyles (Kentucky).

It's not too complicated - they are plenty big and really fast and they know how to play basketball.

- Lyles (6'10 240 with a 7'2 wingspan) played as a SF as a freshman.

What really intrigued me about Lyles was watching him guard Kelly Oubre in the first or second game of the season. The same thing happened with Karl Towns vs. Cliff Alexander - Kentucky had a guy who was just as fast as the Kansas guy, except much bigger and more skilled. 6'10 guys like Lyles should not be able to fly around the court with a 6'7 guy like Oubre. Watching that game was like something out of "Jaws".

- Portis (6'11 245 with a 7'2 wingspan) was the C for a 40 Minutes of Hell style full-court press.

- Martin (6'9 240 with a 6'10 wingspan) played as a SF as a freshman before a dominant season as a PF as a sophomore.

I got to see Portis and Martin up close and personal when LSU and Arkansas played at SMU over the last two seasons and they were impressive. They were just playing the game on a whole different level. They were bigger and faster than all of the other big men on the floor and they were far more skilled as perimeter players. They looked like NBA big men.

- Portis was playing all over the floor at Arkansas. They played a super-aggressive style of basketball and he was the perfect fit at the 5 position. He can sprint the floor, move his feet on the pick and roll and play above the rim. On offense, he's shooting the ball from 3, putting the ball on the floor and scoring with his back to the basket.

- Martin moves like a perimeter player. He likes to run off screens, drive at the rim and take shots off the dribble. He knows how to space the floor and how to play off more traditional big men. That's what he was doing as a freshman - he had Mickey at PF and Johnny O'Bryant III (a 2nd round pick of the Bucks) at C. He's 6'9 240 and he's spacing the floor and defending on the perimeter like a guard. Plus he can catch lobs at the rim. Take a look at this dunk he pulled off against Florida - it is absolutely senseless for a guy with his size.

There are reasons why all 3 guys didn't have huge national profiles:

1) Lyles was the fifth option on an undefeated team. He was playing out of position as a SF next to two lottery picks at PF and C and he was playing with four guards who needed the ball in their hands.  (I don't know how much the Harrisons needed the ball but that's a story for another day) There was just no way any guy in his situation was going to put up big stats.

2) Arkansas didn't make the NCAA Tournament during Portis freshman season and they weren't on national TV too often. People weren't talking about him much but his college production compares pretty favorably to Noah Vonleh and Julius Randle, two of his teammates at the Nike Hoop Summit.

Per-40 minutes as freshmen:

Portis - 18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and 2.5 blocks on 51% shooting
Vonleh - 19 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block on 51% shooting
Randle - 17 points, 13 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 blocks on 52% shooting

Vonleh and Randle took redshirt years in the NBA while Portis came back as a sophomore and won SEC POY. This is a guy with all the tools who put up big numbers and accomplished about all you could expect from him in college. He was just at a low-profile program without a lot of high-level talent around him.

3) Like Lyles, Martin was a 4 playing as a 3 as a freshman who he didn't have enough room or responsibility on offense. As a sophomore, he put up big-time scoring and rebounding numbers but he was asked to play closer to the basket and didn't take nearly as many 3's. If you combine the three-point shooting of Martin's freshman season with the production of his sophomore season, you would have one of the most intriguing offensive PF's in the draft.

All three of these guys pass the Atlanta Hawks test. They can play on the perimeter full-time.

Lyles and Martin have an outrageous feel for the game for guys with their size. There are questions about both their 3-point shots but they are 6'9 guys who can handle and move like a guard. Watch the way Lyles feels out the defense, spins in the lane and controls his body to get the easy basket on the move. That is much, much harder than it looks. 

Portis is capable of putting up some resistance at the rim as a small-ball 5 and he's got the skill to play as a stretch 4. He added a three-point shot to his game as a sophomore and he has always had the ability to attack a close-out and make plays off the dribble. He's a super big guy whose game is built around his shooting ability - he should be able to play in the NBA right away. The question is how you want to utilize him and it seems like an edge in speed and shooting ability is becoming more important than an edge in size.

It's a lot like the Miami Hurricanes under Jimmy Johnson aka The U. Jimmy's blueprint was all about speed. He moved DE's to DT's, LB's to DE's, DB's to LB's. The Warriors are playing 3's as 4's and 4's as 5's and they are running the biggest teams in the NBA off the floor. If you want big men who can play in a series against a team like the Warriors, you need really athletic big men who can move their feet and who have the versatility to be as dangerous from the perimeter as they are in the paint. That's guys like Lyles, Martin and Portis.

It makes sense that the SEC would have some of the most athletic big men in the country. SEC football is widely seen as the best conference in the country because they keep most of their best athletes at home. Bobby Portis is from Little Rock and Jarrell Martin is from Baton Rouge. Those guys were 5-star recruits, McDonald's All-Americans who could have gone to any school in the country.

In terms of how I'd rank the 3 guys in comparison to each other, I'd go 1) Lyles 2) Portis and 3) Martin.

1) Lyles has Martin's skill on the perimeter with Portis' wingspan. He's a 6'10+ guy with an almost complete game - he can handle, shoot, pass, rebound and defend. Portis isn't much bigger than Lyles and he's not nearly as fluid a perimeter player. That's where you see what an absolute freak Lyles is. Lyles is a guy with the size to be a small-ball 5 in the modern NBA who was playing as a full-time 3 in college. He's a good free-throw shooter with a solid 18+ foot jumper - if he can extend that range out to the 3-point line, he could be a special player.

2) At the next level, Portis is a good athlete not a great athlete and he's a good shooter but not a great one. He's more of a jack-of-all-trades guy. The question for him is whether he can become great at any one thing - shooting or perimeter D would be ideal.

3) Martin is the gamble because the three-point shooting numbers have slipped as a sophomore, he has never been a consistent free-throw shooter and he's got a short wingspan. He's going to have to be really, really good on offense to carve out a starting role. He has a lot of boom - bust potential but I think he has the athleticism, the overall game and the scorer's mentality to get buckets in the NBA. He scored the way NBA guys score in college.

This is Martin hitting Cauley-Stein with a step-back J:

This is Martin dunking on Karl Towns:

This is Martin running Cauley-Stein off a screen:

It's crazy to me that Martin is going to go way behind a guy like Montrezl Harrell, who may or may not even have a place in the modern NBA. Martin is a perimeter guy with the size of a post player - Montrezl is a post player trying to play on the perimeter. The transition to the NBA is going to be so much easier for Martin and he didn't play with the same type of guards or floor spacing that Montrez got at Louisville. There are people putting Jonathan Holmes above Martin which I don't see at all. Holmes as a senior at UT was stuck in a situation to Martin as a freshman - he was a small-ball PF being asked to play as a SF on offense. Except he was nowhere near as capable of handling it, as the stats bear out. They are similar players except Martin is younger, more athletic and more skilled.

DraftExpress currently has Lyles at 13 to the Suns, Portis at 17 to the Bucks and Martin at 36. If that's where these guys end up, I think they'll be some of the biggest steals in the draft.