Friday, October 30, 2015

Thunder vs. Magic

This was just a fabulous basketball game. Both teams have to be super-high on the watch-ability index. The Thunder you already know about - it's everything you always liked about this team except with a coach willing to be flexible and creative with his rotations and without a bunch of decrepit veterans like Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha uglying up the action. The Magic are quickly becoming a low-key League Pass favorite. They play fast and small all game long and they have a ton of young talent up and down their rotation. This game was a great advertisement for the modern NBA - put enough skilled athletes in space and the ball is going to flow, points are going to be scored and good things are going to happen.
  • Orlando joined the 4-out revolution this season when they decided to start Tobias Harris at the 4 and they certainly seem like a case of personnel triumphing over the coach when it comes to the identity of a team. At least for the moment, they really aren't playing like a Scott Skiles team. They are spreading the floor, pushing the ball, firing up 3's and not playing a ton of defense. The most striking thing is how free all of their young guys are playing - they definitely aren't trying to hold the ball, look back at the bench and see what the coach wants them to do. Harris, Evan Fournier, Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton can all bring the ball up and start the offense so it's so easy for them to start running and getting the game going up-and-down. 
  • Harris is a super tough cover for traditional 4's and even guys like Serge Ibaka because he's a comfortable 3-point shooter at 6'9, he can put the ball on the floor and handle like a guard and he has the size to get all the way to the rim and finish. It's very hard for a bigger guy to stay in front of a player like that while still being able to contest his shot. Harris at the 4 is a lot like Mirotic at the 4 with the way he opens up the game for everyone else - the difference is he's a much more fluid athlete. What you have to do against a guy like that is get him back on the other end of the floor, particularly on the glass. A team like OKC without really skilled big men is probably better off fighting fire with fire and going 4-out against Harris, which is what the Thunder did in the 2nd half.
  • I've always loved Fournier because he's a volume three-point shooter with a diverse offensive game, which you don't see all that often. He's a clever ball-handler and a deceptive athlete who can slice through the paint on the drive and he can move the ball and create shots for other people. There's a very crowded wing rotation in Orlando both now and into the future but to me Fournier has to be out there. The name of the game in the modern NBA is spacing and a plus shooter who contributes in every other category makes line-ups he is in way more potent. If the Magic don't sign him to an extension, I'd be willing to throw a lot of money at him in restricted free agency.
  • Oladipo did a lot of things right on Friday and he hit two crazy hero-ball 3 shots at the end of regulation and OT but he just flat out takes too many low-percentage shots. With so many skilled players around him, there's no reason he needs to be putting up 8-27 stat lines. He wasn't a high FGA guy at Indiana and that has never been the strength of his game. I would want to move him in a slightly different role just so he doesn't feel the need to force up so many shots. I think he's most useful on defense using his size to guard 1's and if he's going to be so ball-dominant he's most useful on offense when he's playing as a super-sixth man. Orlando still has to figure out what the long-term plan on the perimeter is going to be and what role they want Oladipo to have will be right in the middle of it. 
  • The new pace-and-space system makes Payton a little redundant because just about everyone in the rotation can create their own shot so there's no need to have a PG who isn't a threat on offense holding the ball and trying to create shots for everyone else. He made 2 3's which is nice but teams really aren't guarding him on the perimeter. It's not that he can't be a really good player in the right system - it's just that I'm not sure the rest of the Magic roster maximize the strength of his game. What good is a high-level PG defender if the other team can just put him in a ball screen and take advantage of the C all night long?
  • Nik Vucevic is like a more refined Enes Kanter without all the publicity. It's crazy he got $54 million and everyone though the contract was too high and then Kanter blows past that at $70 million the next year. He's so smooth on offense it's ridiculous. He's got a complete post game, super-soft touch around the rim and a great mid-range jumper. He was 9-9 in the first half and he was just getting buckets at will on everyone the Thunder were throwing at him. OKC clamped down in the 2nd half and let the Magic take more 3's instead of pounding the ball into Vucevic and the Orlando guys took them up on the offer.
  • The real problem with Vucevic is on the other side of the floor. He's not going to block a lot of shots and protect the rim and he's not going to get out and defend on the perimeter and try to muck up the two-man game. He just kind of falls back into the middle of the lane and stands there without really doing anything. OKC made up a huge deficit in the 4Q by running the two-man game at Vucevic pretty much every time down the floor. They were playing 4-out and isolating him in max space and it was just buckets, buckets, buckets. Skiles needs to figure out something there because he's just so freaking good on offense there has to be a way to make it work. He has the tools to at least be decent on defense - he's 7'0 260 with a 7'5 wingspan and he's not a stiff. 
  • I'm a huge Aaron Gordon guy and he's going to have to get his minutes moved up over the course of the season. He's by far their best perimeter defender and the difference when he was guarding KD verse everyone else was night and day. He's 6'9 and he's super fast and he has a really high basketball IQ. Good things happen when Gordon is on the floor and he's really the only one of their perimeter guys who doesn't play out of control. He was 4-4 from the field including a nice floater off the drive, a 3-point shot and a turnaround jumper in the post over KD. He also went to the free-throw line 8x (twice as much as Payton and Oladipo combined) because he knows what he's doing and he's so big that when he gets into the lane and starts flailing his arms he's going to draw contact.
  • Mario Hezonja is in a great situation because he can just be a guy - he doesn't have the weight of the franchise on his shoulders ala Porzingis in New York. He's 6'8, he can shoot 3's and he's very athletic so he can just run to spots, spot up and attack off the dribble if defenders close out on him too much. I really like the 2nd-unit line-ups with Hezonja, Fournier and Gordon - those 3 really know what they are doing out there..
  • Here's how I'd break down the line-up situation in Orlando:
    • I need Gordon for his defense.
    • I need Harris as a small-ball 4.
    • I need Fournier for his volume 3-point shooting.
    • End of the day, I think you have to choose between Payton and Oladipo. I'd really think about Oladipo at the 1 under the idea that he doesn't have to dominate the ball and all four of their perimeter guys can initiate the offense. 
    • I'd also be really intrigued by adding Hezonja in the mix and going 6'7-6'8-6'9-6'9 on the perimeter. From there, you could have either one of your two guards and play five-out or go the other way with an offensive 5 like Vucevic or a defensive 5 like Dedmon.
  • I think a lot of people would look at it like they already have so much invested in Payton and Oladipo and you don't want to give up on either guy so early in their career by moving them to the bench. That's true except ... Gordon was a No. 4 overall pick! You have a lot invested in that guy too and he's had no problem coming off the bench. He's going to have to be a starter sooner rather than later and if I'm going to have a designated defender and non-shooter in the line-up, I'd rather he be 6'9 than 6'3 or 6'4. 
Billy Donovan is clearly still in the experimentation stage with OKC, which is awesome because I can't say I remember Brooks experimenting all that much. It was like he was so dead set on playing his vets that he didn't want to give anyone else a chance to show what they could do and force him to take Perk and Fish out behind back and put them out to pasture. The Thunder need to figure out the defense and there's no need for KD to play 54 minutes in a regular season game (even if it went 2OT) but Donovan has a ton of different options and he's going to cycle through them and find out which ones work best.
  • After staying with two post men all through the San Antonio game, Donovan went 4-out early and often in this one. The way those KD at the 4 line-ups space the floor is just so money. From there the question is which pieces fit around him. He played a lot of Kanter at the 5, KD at the 4 which is the max shot-creation line-up but there's obviously some defensive issues there. KD at the 4 and Ibaka at the 5 is the max spacing line-up and I'm not quite sure how to characterize KD + Adams but that is really interesting too. Adams has some post moves - he had a really nice spin move on Vucevic and I'd love to see him get involved more when he's out there. If he can give you 60-75% of Kanter on offense, he is going to be a very special player.
  • Kyle Singler was the beneficiary of the decision to go small, as he played 13 minutes after getting a DNP-CD against the Spurs. He didn't do a lot when he was out there but I like the combination of size, shooting and athleticism he brings to the table and he's capable of putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim as well. My gut tells me the money line-up for OKC is going to be the Big 3 + Singler and then you can go post offense with Kanter, post defense with Adams, extra shooting with Morrow, extra playmaking with Augustin or extra shot-creating with Waiters. They went Big 3 + Singler + Morrow in the 2Q and the amount of space that KD and Russ had in the 2-man game was just senseless.
  • Russell Westbrook in 4-out space is an MVP-caliber player and he's probably my favorite player in the league to watch. The speed he plays the game at is just unreal. The game is really too easy for him when he's out there. The shot he hit to send the game into OT was flat-out absurd and his flex game afterwards was as next level as you would expect. He got to the line 16x on Friday because him coming off a ball screen with a head of steam might be the most unguardable thing in the league.
  • Westbrook had 48 points and Durant had 43. It was just one of those games where the two of them scored at will and there was really nothing the other team could do to stop them. I really don't see any reason for this duo to break up and I'm thinking the only team that can beat OKC is Golden State. It feels like everything is pointing towards those two teams squaring off at some point in the playoffs.
  • That's really the only thing I would worry about with DJ Augustin, who was the revelation of this game. He's by far the most well-rounded offensive player of their supporting cast and he's a perfect complement to KD and Russ on that side of the ball. Augustin and Waiters were both +24 against Orlando and I'm going to give the majority of the credit to that to DJ. He knows when to shoot, when to drive and when to pass and he's a threat at all 3, which is really what you want next to your stars. The problem is while you can hide him pretty easily on a PG like Payton, there's nowhere to hide someone against Golden State. He's just too small to guard any of their perimeter guys and he's probably going to have to be de-emphasized in a series with the Warriors. It's a shame because I do appreciate that UT connection with him and Durant.
  • Waiters did a lot of good things on Friday - he just needs to stop taking some of these doo-doo man shots. It's a lot like Oladipo. You have too many good players on your team to be holding the ball and forcing up nonsense. It's just unnecessary. Hopefully that's something he figures out over the course of the season because he could really help them if he gets his shot selection under control. 
  • Morrow can't really defend but his release is so fast it's insane. Playing Morrow with KD and Russ is pretty much infinite points because you have to stay on him and you can't leave him open for even a second on the perimeter. If they could just combine Roberson and Morrow into one guy, that guy would be a max player.
  • The thing with Roberson is you just have to watch the spacing. I don't even care if he scores; he just needs to not get in everyone else's way. There was one sequence in the beginning of the game where Russ is coming off a pick and he gets to the rim and has to dump the ball off to Roberson because for some insane reason their SG is standing 3 feet from the rim on the strong side of the ball. It might be like with Thabo in Atlanta - if you are going to have Roberson out there, you need to have a shooter at the 5 so that he's the designated non floor spacer. Playing Roberson and Adams together could be really tough in a playoff series.
Big picture wise, OKC is going to have to play much better defense. They gave up 67 points to Orlando in the first half and Kanter wasn't even playing that much. What I wonder is how much of that is Orlando because it really feels like other teams are going to have a hard time stopping them. They play a 9-man rotation and 8 of those guys are skilled and comfortable with the ball in their hands. The only guy who can't kill you on offense is their backup C. Long story short, they are a team to watch this season, for entertainment value if nothing else. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Pacers vs. Grizzlies

This would have been a throwback big man vs. big man cage match a year ago but now even the Grizzlies and the Pacers have embraced the spread revolution and there were moments in Thursday's game where both teams were playing 4-out basketball. It's kind of like seeing the evolution of the game in real time. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on as both Dave Joerger and Frank Vogel were feeling out their teams and figuring out how to maximize new personnel.
  • Indiana's much hyped Paul George at the 4 experiment lasted only one game, as they blinked first and had both Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill starting in order to match up with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The problem for the Pacers is they pretty much burned their boats behind them when they decided to be a small-ball team because they don't really have any starting-caliber big men left on their roster. Playing Mahinmi and Hill (backup 5's in the modern NBA) together was a recipe for disaster early as Indiana couldn't run offense through either of their starting big men and neither of them can really space the floor, although Mahinmi did bust out a mid-range jumper and a dribble-drive over the course of the game, which stunned me watching and Gasol playing him.
  • The Pacers got the game turned around when they went to their bench and brought in Myles Turner, who was making his NBA debut. It didn't take him long to show what he could do - he swatted a few shots, crashed the boards and hit a few turn-around jumpers in the post over Brandan Wright. He hit a step-back J out to 20 feet and looked like a 10-year NBA veteran in the process. This kid is crazy talented and the fact that he slipped all the way to No. 11 in the draft is an absolute crime. He'll be a starter sooner rather than later - he brings a totally different element to the team than Mahinmi, Hill and Lavoy Allen. 
  • To be sure, there are a couple of things he still needs to figure out. For one, he's going to stay in foul trouble for most of the season. He's a rookie shotblocker whose still growing into his body and learning how to battle for position in the post without picking up cheap fouls. Another is there's no reason for him to be living in the mid-range. As he gets bigger and learns some of the tricks of the trade, he'll be able to establish deeper post position on guys like Wright and then his turn-around will be money. This might not happen right away but eventually he'll take a few more steps back and then he'll be raining 3's. Myles Turner and Karl Towns are going to be the first shot-blocking stretch 5's and they both have a post-up game too. I remember watching them at the McDonald's Game two years ago and thinking this is the future of basketball. 
  • Courtney Lee started the game killing Monta Ellis on the offensive glass and that's something to watch all season. After watching Monta every night for the last two seasons, I can't overemphasize how bad he is on defense. Forget even his lack of size for his position. Where he really takes it to the next level is what he does playing off the ball. I don't even know what he's doing half the time and I'm not sure he does either. He does manage to gamble his way into a lot of steals but he more than makes up for it with ball watching, losing track of his man and getting stuck halfway between his man and the ball when playing "help" defense. The Pacers have the personnel on the perimeter to get away with Monta's defense on most nights but there are some nights where it's just going to kill them.
  • The other part of the transition from Dallas that Monta is going to struggle with is that he doesn't have a natural pick-and-roll partner in Indiana. Playing with a ball screen is really the strength of his game and it's what he should be doing all the time - playing with Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas is really what resurrected his career. The only Pacers big man whose even a threat in the two man game is Turner and he already has a lot on his plate. One thing I'll be curious to see on nights when Paul George is at the 4 is how much they use him as a screener with Monta. It was funny watching him go up against a team with Brandan Wright because those two guys were perfect next to each other in Dallas.
  • Paul George had a tough night efficiency wise but he was going up against Tony Allen and there's really no one else in the starting line-up that the defense has to key on if Monta isn't playing in the two-man game. Having PG-13 out there with Mahinmi and Hill is really a waste of his talents and hopefully that line-up will be shelved soon enough.
  • Chase Budinger and CJ Miles did their job shooting 3's and spreading the floor but it's hard to see how they have enough size to battle with the bigger 4's in the NBA, even in the midst of the small-ball revolution. It really kind of feels like the Pacers were one year ahead of the curve when it comes to making this transition with the rest of their roster - I'd feel a lot better about this plan if it was Year 2 Myles Turner and they had another 3/4 swingman type guy to make some of the pressure off George.
On the Memphis side of things, you would think they would have a huge advantage in terms of continuity at the start of the season but they are low-key making some pretty significant changes with their 2nd unit and they are quietly starting to change the identity of their team. They still have the same faces in the starting line-up but things start to get interesting when they start bringing in guys off the bench.
  • The big change this season was the addition of Brandan Wright because there's really no point in having him out there if you are going to slide him into a two-post offense and have him fill the same role as Kosta Koufos. Wright is a specialist if there ever was one in the NBA - he's the roll man in a spread pick-and-roll offense. He's amazing at that and he's pretty much just a guy at everything else. They weren't really using Wright well in the first half but they really got things going in the 2nd when they started playing 4-out around him and constantly put him in pick-and-rolls. Memphis was moving the ball and getting open looks from 3 in the 4Q, which was obviously a pretty big change of pace for them.
  • The guy that killed them in the first half was JaMychal Green, whose not a bad player but whose a textbook traditional backup PF who doesn't really have a role in the modern NBA. He's not a great post-up player, so he can't punish the mismatch on offense, he doesn't have great shooting range, so he's not spreading the floor without the ball in his hands and he's not a perimeter defender, so he's very vulnerable to mismatches on the other end of the floor. Eventually they took him off the floor and moved Jeff Green to the 4 next to Wright, which makes a lot more sense not only in terms of maximizing personnel but maximizing the rest of their roster, since they have a bit of a surplus of wings. Vince Carter can probably be kept in hibernation until Christmas but I want to see what Jordan Adams has and he could potentially be a nice extra bit of 3 point shooting, playmaking and shot-creating off the bench.
  • They were running a lot of sets with Jeff Green as the playmaker on the 2nd unit. He had 3 assists and 3 turnovers, which kind of sums up the Jeff Green as a featured player experience. That might be the best way to get the most out of his game but I'm not sure it's the best way to get the most out of this roster. This seems like a pretty clear case for staggering minutes with one of Conley or Gasol on the floor all game long. I'm a pretty big fan of that approach because it maximizes the skill-sets of your best players and makes sure they both have plenty of time with the ball in their hands. For the same reason I think OKC should have one of Westbrook or Durant in the game for all 48 minutes. There's no reason to have minutes where one of those guys is off the ball and then have minutes where the offense is running through the backup PG.
  • I can't talk about Green without also mentioning his atrocious perimeter defense, which was killing Memphis all night. At least on Thursday, he didn't seem to know how to chase guys around screens or get down in a stance and stay in front of people. On top of that, he just flat out missed assignments on CJ Miles several times that resulted in wide open 3's. Green is one of those players who looks great on a given night but he low key kills you over the course of a season. It's probably not a coincidence that Boston got better last season after they moved him and Rondo.
  • On the plus side of the perimeter defense scale, Tony Allen was doing Tony Allen things all night. One thing that's very underrated about him is how quick his hands are - he just pokes balls away all the time and he always seems to be able to get his hand in the cookie jar without getting caught. I'm always looking at guy's footspeed when I'm scouting them as perimeter defenders but I'm starting to wonder if I should try to pay more attention to their handspeed. On the other side of the ball, I'm going to say that TA has "defender's touch" because I've never seen a guy who can miss more open shots in the lane and his shots just seem to rim out and bounce out a disproportionate amount of times.
I don't know if Jarrell Martin is going to play this year but I'd be interested in seeing what he could do as a stretch 4 in the Brandan Wright package on the 2nd unit. If Memphis is going to be able to make up any ground in the West this season, it's because that package gives them a different look and a way to rack up points via the 3-ball really quickly. Let's get JaMychal Green out of there and try to find some 3-point shooters in that spot in the rotation.

Spurs vs. Thunder

At RealGM, ten take-aways from a match-up between two of the best teams in the NBA.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pistons vs. Hawks

I watched this game pretty closely for a feature I'm doing at RealGM on Andre Drummond and I have a lot of notes about both teams that didn't end up making the final draft. I'll probably do this a lot over the course of the season - there are a ton of times when I'm taking notes on games and I have no place to put them and it feels like the kind of thing that people would be interested in. Most people put that stuff on Twitter but that's pretty pointless and it's hard to pay attention to what's happening when you are monitoring your retweet and fav numbers. I know personally my attention span for long text-heavy articles is only so long so why not give the people a lot of hot takes in bullet point form.
  • One match-up to watch early with the Hawks is how they fare against bigger SF's like Marcus Morris. The lesser half of the Morrii only went 6-19 but he was killing Kent Bazemore and Kyle Korver in the post and he was basically shooting over the top of them like they were chairs. DeMarre Carroll was really the Hawks only big wing who could match up 1-on-1 on D and stretch the defense from the three-point line. This will be a big deal for them all season and we'll get another great look when they have to play Carmelo Anthony on Thursday.
  • The Hawks wing rotation is really the biggest question mark about this season and Bazemore didn't really do much when given the first crack at the starting spot. He's real athletic but he's an inconsistent shooter (0-3) who plays out of control a lot (4 turnovers on 0 assists) and he's undersized for the SF position (6'5 200). I think they really like the duo of Lamar Patterson and Thabo Sefolosha off the bench which means Bazemore is the guy who could end up losing minutes if they decide to give either Tim Hardaway Jr. or Justin Holiday a chance at filling in for Carroll.
  • I'm probably burying the lead with Patterson, who looked really good in his NBA debut as a 24-year old. You obviously don't want to take too much away from one night but he just has the game of a Hawks/Spurs type player and I would not be surprised at all if he holds down a rotation spot all season. He was a do-everything player at Pitt (17/5/4 on 44/38 shooting) but he fell into the 2nd round because of the concern that he wasn't athletic enough to be a SG and he wasn't big enough to be a SF (6'5 225). The thing about him is that he's got a great feel for the game and he knows how to move the ball, how to take good shots and how to play in a system like Atlanta's. He's also got a sneaky long wingspan (6'11) and as long as he's going to hit 3's, he can use the threat of that shot to open up the rest of his game. The key for him is how he's going to hold up on D because he isn't a great athlete. He's the opposite of Bazemore in a lot of ways.
  • Who the Hawks have as their 3rd and 4rth wings is going to be really important because they aren't going to get a lot of defense from Korver and they aren't going to get a lot of offense from Sefolosha. If they aren't careful with who they have out there, they could have a lot of fairly punchless offensive line-ups or groups that have a hard time stopping anyone. They will play a lot of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder together but that could really compromise them on D against bigger teams on the perimeter. They tried to have Teague, Schroder and Korver in the 4Q and the Pistons responded by bullying them with Marcus Morris on the wings. Carroll gave them plus offense and plus defense and that's going to be tough to replace especially since they have two one-dimensional guys in Korver and Sefolosha who are going to get a lot of minutes.
  • The other big addition in the Hawks line-up this season is Tiago Splitter and he had a decent showing in only 16 minutes. He fits in pretty seamlessly with Atlanta likes to do even though he isn't a great outside shooter because he knows how to play within himself and how to move the ball and find the open man in their system. My main concern with him in this game is how poorly he finished around the rim. He had a hard time going up strong and he took a lot of silly finesse shots in the paint. I still would rather he have gotten more than 16 minutes more than giving 8 minutes to Mike Muscala, who I'm not convinced is an NBA-rotation player.
  • When Muscala went down with an ankle injury in the 4Q, they brought in Mike Scott as their 4rth big man and he gave them a whole different element on offense. He's a much more explosive player and he gave them more floor spacing and a catch-and-shoot threat from 3 as well as a guy who could attack a close-out and be a threat to score. He's not great on D but I'm not sure Muscala is either and Muscala is more of a 20-foot shooter without the quickness to be a threat on the drive. I'd rather have Scott out there spacing the floor and opening up the paint for the other big man.
  • The other big Hawks related storyline from this game was the play of Dennis Schroder, who was absolutely tearing up the Pistons defense whenever he was out there. He had Steve Blake on skates all night and he was doing whatever he wanted against him with the ball in his hands. He had 20 points in only 24 minutes of action and he is going to murder 2nd string PG's all season. The other big key for him was that he went 2-5 from 3, which allows him to play off the ball and makes him such a more valuable player. If he can be a consistent three-point shooter, he's going to push Jeff Teague for minutes and he's going to need to be a starter in this league sooner than later. He's so quick and dynamic on both sides of the ball that it's going to be hard to keep him on the bench. The problem is that him and Teague can only play so much together, especially without Carroll. 
  • Millsap and Horford did their usual thing all night, although Horford struggled with Drummond's size on the boards. There were a couple times when Drummond just pushed him under the rim and got easy putbacks. However, he did completely stone Drummond in the post, although I'm not sure who that says more about. Millsap absolutely killed Ilyasova on the block to start the game and that's going to be a storyline to watch in Detroit all season long. Do they have anyone who can actually guard the better 4's in the NBA?
And now for some notes about the Pistons.
  • Ilyasova had a good game but I wonder how much value he really adds to this team as a stretch 4 instead of them going smaller and more athletic with Morris and Stanley Johnson at the forward spots. Anthony Tolliver missed the game to be at the birth of his child and he's going to need minutes and I feel like Ilyasova is the least versatile and the least capable defender of the three forwards who played on Tuesday so he's the most obvious candidate to get his playing time cut.
  • Stanley Johnson didn't have great efficiency numbers but he looked GOOD for a guy making his NBA debut. He doesn't look out of place at all - he's a 19 year old with an NBA body whose physicality is going to be a problem for a lot of teams this season. Maybe the most impressive part of his game was the way he made plays out of the pick-and-roll, as he had 3 assists on 1 turnover for the night. The difference between the amount of space he is playing in with Detroit and the amount of space he had at Arizona was night and day and he could actually be in a scenario where the NBA game is easier for him than the NCAA game. 
  • The debate between Johnson and Justice Winslow was fascinating all season at the NCAA level and it will remain so in the NBA because they are both so similar as players. I think where Johnson could end up having the edge is size because he could theoretically slide all the way down and play as a small-ball 4 ala Draymond Green which would allow him to operate in a lot more space than the much smaller Winslow when he's playing as a 3 or a 2. The real difference between their production at the college level was that Coach K had Winslow playing as a 4 next to shooters and Sean Miller had Johnson playing as a 3 next to non-shooters. The key for both these guys is how efficient they are going to be on offense and it's always easier to be more efficient on offense when you are sliding down a position. 
  • I don't know how much Detroit will use these line-ups this season but the group that I'm really intrigued by would be something like Reggie Jackson - KCP - Reggie Bullock - Stanley J - Drummond. That's a really fast group who can spread the floor, put up a lot of 3's and get out and run in transition. And while Stanley J should be fairly effective next to Marcus Morris, every little edge in space he can receive will make him a much  better player. I think his ceiling could be as a more offensive explosive Draymond Green although he may not have the wingspan at 6'11 to be a full-time 4 like Draymond at 7'2.
  • KCP was another guy who looked fantastic in all the extra space he was playing in with the SVG system. He's going to get a lot of open shots so it's just going to be a matter of how many of them he's going to knock down. It is a make or miss league but you want to see him diversify his game as much as possible so that his value isn't totally dependent on his 3P%. He did do a good job on Kyle Korver on D. He's long and fast so he should eventually turn into a pretty decent defender and at that point his ceiling becomes just how efficient he can be as a shooter. He certainly has had no compunction about firing up shots early in his NBA career but he hasn't been all that efficient about it. Let's see what he can do playing in the Coors Fieuld of NBA offensive systems.
  • The one thing that was real noticeable about Reggie Jackson in this game was just how freaking big he is for a PG and how much he towered over Teague and Schroder. He used his size to bother those guys on both sides of the ball all night. The Hawks system is based on getting their guys in a lot of space but it really doesn't matter if they can't exploit the 1-on-1 match-up because they are going up against a guy who is a lot bigger and a lot faster than them. It's all about shot selection with the Pistons because they got a lot of open shots on Tuesday and still only shot 38.5% from the field. They were able to use their length and athleticism to bother the Hawks on D and that's where they are going to have to hang their hat on a lot of nights this season.
  • The exact opposite of Jackson was Steve Blake because he just could not keep up with Teague or Schroder at all. They absolutely demolished him on D and his inability to keep his man in front of him was one of the primary reasons why the Pistons bench got killed in the plus/minus all night. Watching this game really showed how much they miss Brandon Jennings and if he comes back healthy he could give them a Teague + Schroder dynamic with him and Reggie Jackson. 
  • Aron Baynes did a lot of Aron Baynes things but I couldn't help but watch him and think they could have had Kyle O'Quinn for the same amount of money. I love the core ID of who the Pistons are but they have made a lot of uninspiring moves on the margins that could end up costing them. What KOQ could do as the backup 5 in this system is eye-popping, although I could say that with him and a lot of teams. He is crazy underrated and he was a huge pick-up for the Knicks, which could be important for the Pistons if they end up having to compete with New York for a playoff spot.
As a huge optimist on both the Pistons and the Hawks this season, I was really looking forward to this game. Atlanta's lack of size was a great match-up for Detroit and they missed a lot of open shots so there's only so much you want to take away from this game. The concerns I have with the Pistons going forward are their efficiency and their bench (at least until Jennings gets back) while the main thing I'll be watching with the Hawks is what they can figure out with their wing rotation. 

Saying Goodbye

At RealGM, a look at some of the long-time NBA vets who won't be in the league this season.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


At RealGM, a look at some of the short-term and long-term issues surrounding the Nuggets.

Mavs vs. Nuggets

Here are a few random thoughts on the Mavs first preseason game of the year. All of the Dallas regulars are either old or injured so they basically played the 3rd string all night, which is interesting in its own way. I've got a thing on what I saw from the Nuggets side of things last night at the AAC coming over at Real GM.
  • Charlie Villanueva won the coveted Plains Capital Bank Player of the Game Award for a quintessential Charlie 3 performance. He scored 18 points in 23 minutes and perhaps more impressively he did so while putting up 17 shots. He was out there gunning like it was no one's business and it was great. Sometimes you could tell he had pre-determined he was going to shoot the ball before he even received the pass. And by sometimes I mean pretty much every single time down the floor. He has got a beautiful looking shot and it is so effortless coming off his hands. I hope this guy is hoisting 3's in the NBA until he's 40.
  • John Jenkins hit some pretty nice Steph Curry pull-up 3's off the dribble but I'm still pretty worried by what I saw. I'm just not sure he's an NBA-caliber athlete. He just doesn't move very well and he can't get off the ground. The Denver guards could get around him any time they wanted. He had 1 assist on 7 turnovers and every time he put the ball on the floor it was pretty much a live invitation for one of the Nuggets to take it from him like they were stealing candy for a baby. I'm all for playing guys who can shoot 3's but you have got to be able to do something else to stay in the game in the NBA. I'm just not sure Jenkins can play acceptable NBA defense to the point where a coach could feel comfortable putting him in the rotation. I hope I'm wrong though because the Mavs could sure use another wing shooter off the bench.
  • Justin Anderson didn't do much statistically but it looked like he belonged on the floor, which is an accomplishment for a rookie in his first NBA action. The main thing with him is that he's going to have to be able to consistently knock down open 3's. That might sound obvious but it's a difficult transition for a young player to make from the shorter NCAA line and he doesn't have the type of all-around game to justify his presence on the floor if he's not a consistent threat from the perimeter. Point being that if he gets in a shooting slump, which happens a lot to rookies adjusting to playing the smallest roles and having the least amount of shots and touches they have ever had in their basketball lives, he's going to have to come off the floor. This game is a pretty good example - he was 0-4 from 3 and he had 1 point and 1 rebound in 14 minutes. It's a make or miss league so he just has to make his 3's. 
  • Zaza looked pretty good. He showed off the mid-range jumper, some nifty interior passes as well as some rebounding. He's a proven vet and a solid NBA player - he's no DeAndre Jordan but he's definitely not the worst starting C in the league. The worry I have is playing the combination of Zaza and Dirk together. That's a really, really slow frontcourt in the modern NBA and those two are going to get absolutely shredded in transition and pick-and-roll defense. 
  • Jeremy Evans has got something. He was the only Mavs frontcourt player to have a positive plus/minus (+7 in 21 minutes) and I don't think that was a coincidence. Even in an NBA game, Evans stands out in terms of his athleticism. Maurice Ndour is a good athlete but the difference between him and a guy like Evans is night and day. Evans just makes things happen with his length, athleticism and energy, whether it's playing above the rim, crashing the boards or getting out in transition. He even showed a decent amount of feel with 2 assists. The Mavs have him on the Aminu game-plan in the pre-season where he's allowed to jack up as many open 3's as he can handle. He went 0-3 from deep and if he can ever knock down that shot they would really have something. Of course, that is the most famous if in the modern NBA. Either way, I can definitely see him in a Brandan Wright role as a super-athletic small ball 5 coming off the bench and he's also interesting playing with a shot-blocking C like Sammy D because of the amount of length the team has in the paint with both those guys prowling around.
  • This is unfair to Ndour but all I could see when I was watching him was a less athletic version of Evans. The difference was that he went from 2-5 from beyond the arc. I would need to crunch the numbers on the roster but I'm definitely not against keeping both Ndour and Evans on the roster this season. The Mavs desperately need some youth, length and athleticism. 
  • I want to see more of Jamil Wilson. He has the NBA body (6'7 230), he was a decent 3-point shooter at Marquette (career 33.6% on 2.0 3PA's) and Buzz Williams did a pretty good job of cranking out NBA wings when he was there - Wesley Matthews, Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder. All those guys were hard-nosed defenders who were well coached and fundamentally sound and they all knew how to play basketball, which may sound like faint praise for a professional athlete but it really isn't. There are a lot of guys who come in the league who just don't have the feel to be successful pros at the highest level of the game. I can't say I remember much about Wilson in college because he was a role player who averaged 11 points a game as a senior but I'm at least intrigued. 
  • Brandon Ashley is the opposite of Wilson in that I watched him a ton at Arizona and I'm pretty sure he's not an NBA player even though on paper it would seem like he has a chance. He's one of those guys who was billed as a 3/4 combo but is really a pure 4. At the PF spot, he doesn't have great size, he's not very athletic and he's not a 3-point shooter. That's not a combination that is going to get you very far in the modern NBA.
Somehow, after all those words, I clearly buried the lede from tonight's game.
For the record, it was Sunkist. Or, as the Indians would have called it, the nectar of the Gods. I'm not sure I've ever been more disappointed in my life. If I'm getting a last meal, you can believe I'm getting an ice cold can of Orange Sunkist in the mix.