June 30, 2017
By: Ben Steinmetz, Jordan Dant, and Matt Sawyer
In the midst of an active NBA offseason, Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets made arguably the boldest move. They acquired Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Patrick Beverly, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams, and your “who’s-who” of fringe NBA players. Some are touting this trade as an advancement to put the Rocket’s in contention for the top spot in the West. However, others disagree and ponder if this move was imprudent as the Warriors continue to dominate the league.
So, with the split opinion on this significant trade, Jordan and Ben offer their opinions on the question: Given the current state of the NBA, was this trade worth it?
The Rockets gave up a good amount of assets to ensure they got CP3 instead of risking another team being able to talk him out of the Houston scenario in free agency. It was a huge move, that carried both a decent amount of risk, and some big upside.
First let’s start with the risk. The Rockets have locked themselves into this edition (or a very similar edition) of their team for the foreseeable future, likely 3-5 years. They are going to be bogged down paying Harden and CP3, and they also have Capela headed for a pay day.
Approximately 5 years from now they will likely be overpaying for all 3 of CP3, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson, with few options to get out of their jam. This of course assumes they haven’t made any other deals by the time this is read.
I don’t think there should be any doubt that the Rockets improved their team with this move, probably even making themselves the primary Western Conference threat against the Warriors. In almost any other year that I have been watching basketball this would have put them up there as a clear title contender and there wouldn’t be much doubt that this move was a homerun.
However, thanks to that other team we mentioned earlier (the Warriors), this is no ordinary year, nor are the next few years to come. The Rockets mortgaged their future to win a title during the same window that the Warriors will be locked in as the best team in the league. At the very least, the Warriors look poised to keep this core together for the next 2 years until Klay’s due for another raise. That leaves the Rockets with maybe a year or 2 to have their core in their peak without the seemingly unbeatable Warriors to get through. Even if Klay finds a new team, there’s no way to know that the Warriors won’t find a way to stay at the top, or that a new team or two won’t have erupted to the top of the mountain by then.
Essentially what this will come down to then, is if you think mortgaging the future is worth what might be an unusually small increase at a chance for a title. I say it is.
If we look back at the history of the NBA there are very few instances of an NBA team winning the title without what I will call a “truly elite” player. It’s probably reasonable to argue that at any time there is no more than between 5-10 of these players in the NBA. Currently this list is probably as short as Lebron, Curry, Durant, Westbrook, Harden, CP3 and Leonard (with a few more close but not quite there). If there are only 7 of these players in the NBA at any one time it’s extremely rare to ever have one of these players, let alone 2.
If the Rockets were to wait and try to build a super team after the Warriors have fizzled. It’s possible that Harden has walked in free agency and the team is in full rebuild again. Maybe Harden doesn’t leave but the Rockets nevertheless are not in a position to add a second truly elite player. There’s simply no guarantee on the future.
The Rockets have found themselves in an extremely rare position for any NBA team. They have found a way to put two of the truly elite NBA players on the same roster. Due to the extreme difficulty of getting one of these players, let alone 2, I think that the Rockets had to make this move.
Even if it might take some insanely good luck for them, and bad luck for the Warriors, taking the shot when it comes around may be better than passing on it and never getting a second shot.
If I’m Daryl Morey, this is not the trade that I would make. You know going into this trade that you’re going to pay Chris Paul that massive $205 million dollar contract until he’s 37 years old. I’m not trying to disparage Paul, who is still a top 8-10 NBA player and posted the highest true shooting percentage of his career last season and his two highest effective field goal percentages over the past three seasons. He’s still a tremendous playmaker and a great perimeter defender who has improved his shooting over the course of his decorated career. I just don’t think that it’s wise to give $200 million to a 33 year old point guard, especially when the Rockets as currently constructed are not a better team than the Warriors. A lineup of Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela and either Ryan Anderson or Trevor Ariza will score a ton of points and be really exciting to watch, but that lineup still does not beat the Warriors.
This trade also leaves Houston’s depth as a huge question mark, and by that I mean the depth is non-existent. According to Hoopshype, outside of the 6 players I already mentioned, Houston has Chinanu Onuaku, Tim Quarterman, and Isaiah Taylor on the roster who have a combined total of 182 minutes played in the NBA. The recent non-guaranteed contract additions Ryan Kelly and Shawn Long aren’t much better, and the only draft pick that the Rockets kept this season was the raw second round prospect Isaiah Hartenstein. Even with the thin roster the Rockets are right at the salary cap level, giving them only the mid-level exception to acquire help in the post or on the wing. It’s possible that the Rockets are planning to make another move to acquire Paul George (unlikely) or Carmelo Anthony (unexciting), but neither of those moves improves the depth situation that borders on irresponsible. Considering that Chris Paul has missed an average of 10 games per season over the past 6 seasons and Eric Gordon has only played more than 65 games in a season twice in his career (last season and his rookie year) it’s hard to believe that this Rockets team will be healthy enough to challenge the Dubs and Spurs come playoff time.
Let’s look at the Rocket’s plans going forward. I consider it inevitable that they will extend Paul’s contract since Paul heads up the NBA Player’s Association and I would imagine he wouldn’t have orchestrated this trade unless he’s getting that $205 million over 5 years contract extension that he fought for. That would mean that for the 2018-19 season the Rockets would be over the cap after accounting for only Harden, Paul, Anderson and Gordon. In 2019-20, Harden can opt out of his deal and leave in unrestricted free agency or stick around and the Rockets would still be in the same cap situation as in 2018-19. In the meantime, the Warriors will likely keep their core of Curry-Durant-Green-Thompson together during the next two seasons and barring significant injuries that grouping should play in the NBA finals in both of those seasons. However, if the Rockets would have maintained cap flexibility and continued adding assets they could have positioned themselves to make a splashy trade like this one in two seasons when the Warriors will face paying roughly the GDP of Ukraine in luxury taxes and will most likely part ways with Klay Thompson and his expiring contract. Instead, the Rockets will be locked into Harden and 34 year old Chris Paul in the 2019-2020 season and won’t have the cap space for much else.
I like the idea of Paul and Harden together and think this grouping will be exciting under Mike D’Antoni but I just don’t see how this trade gets Houston any closer to a title. When you have a player of Harden’s caliber, shouldn’t all of your moves be focused on taking the team from a 55 win team to a title contender?
June 21, 2017
Written by: Ben Steinmetz, Jordan Dant, Matt Sawyer
Every team in the NBA is looking for the next Draymond Green. Every season players slip through the cracks into the second round and late first round for seemingly inane reasons, and every year fans continue to ask “why do these scouts and GM’s make so much money if they continue to pass on Draymond, Parsons, Manu, Millsap, etc.?” I’m not saying that theextrapass.com has all of the answers, but when one of these guys inevitably turns from late second rounder into a starting caliber player in the NBA we’ll be here to remind you that you heard it here first.
Dillon Brooks: Brooks was a go-to player who could be counted on to create offense for Oregon. He has good size for the two guard position and should also be big enough to play some NBA three. He’s a good shooter with solid athleticism who I could see in a similar role to Nick Young at the next level, an energy guy off of the bench who can get hot and go on one man scoring runs.
James Blackmon: Near the back end of the draft you’re either looking at slim pickings in terms of skill or longshot developmental players. Keeping that in mind, if you can find a player with one elite NBA-level skill, then that player is worth a late second round selection. Blackmon possesses elite shooting with NBA range and has solid size and wingspan for a guard. His defense is abysmal, but near the end of the draft he could have a similar impact to Ian Clark.
VJ Beachem: Length and shooting ability define Beahcem, and near the back end of the draft he’s a rare high-upside pick. As an NBA wing he possess good size and wingspan, and can stretch defenses with his shooting. He could find himself as a 3 and D role player and would be a solid and welcome addition to most NBA teams’ bench units.
Alec Peters: My sleeper of this draft, I think that Peters is worthy of a late first round pick. He’s got great size for a wing, and maybe enough size to be a stretch four. His shooting is elite and his rebounding and passing are both solid. He’s not quick and he’s not an explosive leaper by any stretch of the imagination but he’s strong and has a high basketball IQ. I look at Peters’ game and I see a bigger Kyle Korver. I know that most NBA teams could use a guy who can stretch the floor at the 4 position and I think Peters’ value in this draft is being overlooked by nearly everyone.
Damyean Dotson: Dotson had a terrific shooting season, hitting 108 threes on 44% from deep. He measured well at the combine with a 6’9 wingspan and a 38 inch max vert. He’s already 23 and his abilities off the bounce and running the pick and roll are limited, but he’s undervalued in this draft and could fit well as a 3 and D player who can defend guards and wings while stretching the floor with his elite shooting.
Frank Jackson: Jackson surprised a lot of people by coming out early, after being originally pegged as a mid-second round pick. However, after a strong combine teams began to take a closer look. Jackson showed some very impressive flashes at Duke. He’s an elite athlete and shows the potential to be a good shooter from deep (40%). If Jackson can add some shot creation ability he could be a great combo guard. As you will see with a lot of my sleepers, the ability to be a shooter and/or a versatile defender is at a premium and teams should be trying as hard as they can to fill their rosters with these types of players.
Davon Reed: Davon Reed is the prototype for 3nD. He’s 6’6” with a 7’0” wingspan, he showed good defensive potential at Miami (2.3 steal rate) and he shoots the 3 at 40%. He will need to round out the rest of his game, but he certainly has the potential to fill a role that every team is looking for more of.
Jamel Artis: As much, if not more than most, I am a huge believer that you should draft as young as possible. The 24 year old Jamel may be an exception however. He has a 6’10” wingspan, and has a great defensive pedigree after playing 3 years for Jamie Dixon. He can score at the rim, with pull ups, and from 3 point range (55% from 2 and 39% from 3). One last thing that set him apart for me is his 22.8 assist rate. At 6’7” if he can be a wing who can defend, hit 3s, and attack closeouts, it’s arguable he should be a 1st round pick.
Cameron Oliver: I’m frankly unsure of how Cameron Oliver isn’t getting more attention. We are talking about a good rebounder with an 8.3 block rate. Not only that, but he is a great finisher and stretches the floor out to the NBA line with a 3pt% of 38%. As in demand as stretch bigs are, especially those that can defend as well, it’s hard to believe that Cameron Oliver isn’t picking up more hype.
Jordan Bell: Big men were hard to find playing the the later rounds of the NBA playoffs, but Jordan Bell is the one type of big man who can find a role there. He rebounds both offensively and defensively, finishes above the rim, has a massive block rate (8.4), and most importantly will be able to switch out on pick-and-rolls if necessary. While he isn’t going to spread the floor or be a guy you run offense through, he can be exactly the type of big man role player that will be an asset in any game or series.
Monte Morris: During his time in Ames, Monte Morris orchestrated 4 offenses that never finished below 12th in efficiency. His usage continuously increased and, coincidentally, so did his scoring and passing numbers. The amazing thing is, while Morris’ usage rate went up, he shattered the Assist:Turnover ratio record in 2016 and followed that up by doing it again in 2017. HIs final AST% was 32% and his final TO% was 7.5%. With a relatively high usage, that is remarkable. He is an efficient enough scorer (53% 2PT and 38% 3PT) and, with decreased usage and more shot selectivity, he has a chance to become more efficient. He is not going to be Tony Parker, but as less of a shooting threat but a good finisher and midrange shooter, he can fit nicely into an offense with other ways to score. As a ready to play PG on a more established team, I think Morris is a smart late first round pick.
Dwayne Bacon: Bacon is the same size as Glenn Robinson III. They shot nearly identical numbers in college and both possess the same physical maturation necessary to make an instant impact in the NBA. While Bacon is not an elite shooter, he improved his 3PT% by 5% between his first and second seasons at FSU and he shot 75% from the FT line. Like other players in this draft who were the best scoring option on their team he had a very high usage rate (his usage was at 29%), and that probably contributed to some of his offensive pitfalls. He can add value if he can use his strength and size to play solid defense and if he can improve his shooting enough to keep the defense honest. If that happens, it opens up his ability to make shots and get to the FT line.
LJ Peak: Like Bacon, he is physically ready to play in the NBA now. Like Bacon, he can help a team defensively with his versatility — he is big and has a 6’10 wingspan — and offensively with his ability to score in multiple ways (7.3FTA per 40 and 60% TS). He is an 80% FT shooter, which signals that he can grow from his 33% 3PT shooting number at Georgetown. He has valuable role player all over him: defense, underrated passing (4.2apg per 40), scoring off cuts and in spot moments of isolation, and enough shooting to keep him on the floor.
Sterling Brown: Sterling Brown is 22 years old, 6’6 230lbs with a 6’10 wingspan, and shot 45% from 3 last season. If you ask me, he can be a 3 and D wing in the NBA now. He is not the most natural scorer with the ball in his hands, but he doesn’t have to be to carve out a role on a team. As long as he uses his strength, size and quickness on defense, continues to shoot well, and translates his solid rebounding (8rpg per 40), he will make an NBA team and play.
Kyle Kuzma: The main questions surrounding Kuzma are if he can shoot and defend. Offensively, he showcased great footwork in the mid-post, handled and finished in transition, and played well driving out of the pick-and-pop. To that degree, he has versatility. If he cannot improve his shooting, however, his ability to be a prototypical NBA 4 will be hindered. Defensively, he is 6’9 with a 7’0 wingspan, but it remains to be seen if he is agile enough to guard wings. He is a clear second-rounder to me but, if he can improve shooting and become a more willing passer (3.1apg) out of post and PnR situations, I think he can find a spot on a team.
June 21, 2017
Written by: Ben Steinmetz, Jordan Dant, Matt Sawyer
The NBA draft is full of tough selections and players with only flashes and glimpses of how their skills might develop at the next level. It can be hard enough to project a single player, let alone compare them to each other. In this rotating Q-and-A session we took a stab at the easier of the two, and tried to simply answer some of the bigger questions around individual players towards the top of the draft.
Question: Is Markelle Fultz truly a franchise changing player?
Matt: Markelle Fultz can absolutely be a franchise changing player. If you examine his lone season at Washington, you can easily see why he is the prize of this draft. He doesn’t have a glaring weakness and is the best prospect at creating his own shot and making tough shots. Every elite team needs a player who can make tough 2s or 3s without an assist from a teammate (see: James, Durant, Leonard, etc.). Aside from his scoring prowess, he is probably the best passer in this draft. As a big guard who is a threat to score on the ball, his passing is a huge asset for a franchise who needs a scorer to facilitate a dynamic offense. He will probably be able to guard multiple positions defensively — his size will create problems for smaller guards and will allow him to be physical with bigger wings. Fultz had an incredible season with little talent around him at UW. It’s hard to imagine he won’t improve with other capable players on the court with him in Philadelphia.
Ben: I think that this answer depends on how you define “franchise changing player.” If you’re defining that as a generational-type of talent who you can lean on as your best player on an NBA championship caliber team, then I would say that the answer is no. If you’re defining “franchise changing player” as a player who makes multiple all-star teams, can create offense for himself and others for large sections of a game, has few flaws, can be the second best player on a championship caliber team, and has a decent shot at the hall of fame then I say yes. Fultz is not a Lebron, Durant, or Anthony Davis caliber of player, I think that much is clear. I have a hard time believing that any of those players, regardless of supporting cast, would have found themselves part of a 9 and 22 college season and on the losing end of a large number of blowout losses. Now, I like Fultz a lot as a player, and it’s hard not to like him. He has terrific size and length for the guard position, good handles and passing, solid shooting numbers with some room for improvement, and he’s a good athlete. It’s concerning that he seemed to lose focus on the defensive end of the floor at times, although some of that is understandable considering that he just turned 19. He possesses great potential though and is clearly the top talent in this draft. If Joel Embiid turns into the generational talent that he’s shown flashes of becoming when healthy then Fultz could be a major part of a multi-championship 76ers dynasty going forward.
Question: Can Lonzo Ball be a top 3 player on a NBA title team?
Matt: I say no. There are really two reasons: 1) I don’t think he is a capable enough defender. He is tall, but he is also lean and had difficulty defending point guards who were quick laterally with or without the ball. Nearly every NBA point guard will be a challenge for him to keep in check. 2) He is not dynamic enough with the ball. He is not a shot creator/finisher like Fultz. He cannot produce a shot out of nothing. This is also cemented by his low usage percentage for a top-3 pick (18%). He is a good passer, but he also had an outrageously efficient team around him at UCLA (good luck with the Lakers.) He is not adept at finishing through contact and his ball screen efficiency is tainted by his 27.5% TO rate, as well as his inability to make shots out of the PnR. If you are a top 3 player on a title contender, you don’t have these hangups. Ball can easily be a Rajon Rondo-type passer who hopefully can continue his 3PT shooting efficiency. Other than that, I don’t see him being as valuable as a player like Draymond Green.
Ben: Absolutely he can be. Frankly, Lonzo may have the highest ceiling in this draft, but is considered a lesser player than Fultz due to more glaring deficiencies and off the court concerns. Lonzo may not end up an NBA point guard, but he has the size, length, athleticism and varied offensive game to play three positions in the NBA. While there are concerns about his, ahem, unorthodox shot mechanics and ability to create offense at the next level he demonstrated that with that wonky shot and in limited shot attempts per game he was able to generate eye-popping offensive numbers (top 12 nationally per Kenpom in EFG% and TS%, 73% on 2 point shots and 41% on threes). His passing and court vision is something that I would consider unique for a player his size, and he seems like the type of player that other players want to be on the court with. If he develops more of a killer instinct, cleans up his shot mechanics a bit, and learns to use his length and athleticism defensively then in a few years we could be wondering, much like in Steph Curry’s draft class, how anybody could pass on Lonzo.
Question: How do you see Malik Monk fitting into a NBA lineup and rotation in terms of position and usage?
Matt: Malik Monk’s analog, in my opinion, is Jamal Crawford. We saw some ridiculous scoring performances from Monk throughout his lone season at Kentucky, but the question remains: Can he be consistent? If he is deployed as a starting 2-guard with the expectation of creating shots and playing heavy minutes, I don’t think he will be very successful. In many games, he would disappear for 25 minutes and have a 10 minute stretch worthy of a lottery pick. That tendency doesn’t signal to me that he is going to take on the scoring burden of a team’s starting unit. Monk’s shot chart has a ton of 3s and midrange 2s, which was great because he can make them. However, his inability to get shots at the rim when defended closely makes me relegate him to a bench scoring role, rather than a starter who plays heavy minutes. The final question is his defense. Jordan pointed out that he can block shots — he is long — but he is slight and not exceptionally tall for a wing in the League. If he cannot defend bigger wings or smaller, quicker guards, it is hard to see him in anything other than a secondary role.
Jordan: If there is one thing the league needs right now it’s shooting. Remember the Rockets had an elite shooting 6th man, and traded for another sharp shooting bench player. That’s how in demand shooting is in today’s NBA. While I understand that Malik Monk is undersized to play the “2”, how can you pass up one of the 3 best shooters in the draft? Matt mentioned Jamal Crawford and I think that is something of a worst case for Monk. Some might say that isn’t enough to draft him so high, but look through a list of past drafts and tell me teams wouldnt kill to have gotten a 6th man instead of Darko or Ike Diogu.
Question: Does TJ Leaf bring enough offensive versatility to overcome his perceived defensive inefficiencies?
Jordan: For me this comes down to whether or not you believe that TJ Leaf is going to be able to stretch the floor all the way out to the 3pt line and be another version of Kevin Love. Let’s pretend for a moment that you think he will develop into that. In that absolute best case scenario we are talking about a player that the NBA finals runner-ups are trying to trade to get better. If you are like me and think that his 68% FT shooting is a bad sign for a guy who took 75% of his shots out of half court offense at the rim then, you are looking at a Kevin Love type of player with less ability to stretch the floor.
Ben: From what I saw of TJ Leaf, it’s not exactly fair to compare him to Kevin Love. Love in college and early in his career was more of a post-up first type of player who then morphed into a pick and pop threat. Leaf strikes me as more of a threat on the pick-and-pop at the same stage of his career and a better roll man in the pick and roll game. I actually see a more apt comparison for Leaf as Chandler Parsons, and I think Leaf could develop into a similarly skilled and mobile forward who can play both the three and the four at the NBA level. Leaf this season was a guy who could shoot, roll to the hoop, post up, and handle the ball on the perimeter against larger defenders. I would think that some of that offensive versatility will translate and lead him to be a valuable NBA player.
Question: Does Jayson Tatum have enough of an all-around game to challenge Fultz as the best player in the draft?
Matt: I think so. While he has 2 question marks — passing and defense — a slight uptick in 3PT shooting will make him the most capable scorer in this draft. I don’t think that improvement is unlikely, either, given his FT%. So, really, if Jayson Tatum learns how to pass more effectively and can utilize his size and length defensively, you may be looking at the best player coming out of this draft. Then again, who knows, he could become Rudy Gay or Andrew Wiggins. But he certainly has the skillset to be the best player in this draft and, truthfully, has the most polished offensive game. His passing, strength, and defensive versatility can all be developed. If that happens, whoever drafts him will be really happy.
Ben: Tatum has a solid all-around game and good potential as a shooter, I just don’t think that he has the athleticism that you look for near the top of the draft. That’s not to say he’s a bad athlete, but he seems like a player whose athleticism will hold him back from being considered a great defender. With his athleticism he struggled to offensively create against quicker players and he was an average passer at best. Keeping that in mind, I find it hard to believe that he becomes a creative offensive player at the next level, either for himself or for teammates. I could see him becoming a solid complementary piece as a wing or small ball four in the NBA, but I think in terms of upside Tatum is not in the same category as Fultz.
Question: What is Luke Kennard’s upside and is it enough to make him a lottery pick?
Matt: In this draft, yes, he should be a lottery pick. Aside from Fultz and Tatum, who is a better offensive player? His offensive skillset is mature, savvy, and allows him to score from every level. The question would be can he use his pivots, ball fakes, and other crafty moves more effectively at the next level. But we could ask that about the offensive game of every player in this draft. Kennard is tall, long, and has good athleticism. Add that to the fact that he can score in so many ways, he is worth the pick. Without comparisons, Kennard’s ceiling is a starter who gives you efficient scoring and rebounding contributions. Or, depending on the team, you could hide some perceived defensive weaknesses by bringing him off the bench to guard less talented players. The advantage would be that he could score on bench players more efficiently than starters. With that said, if Kennard can defend NBA wings enough, I think he can be a starter.
Ben: I could definitely see Kennard’s upside as a slightly bigger JJ Redick. Kennard possesses elite shooting ability along with a solid handle and good passing instincts. However, he’s going to be limited by his athleticism and wingspan, and was a defensive liability at times this season for Duke. He has a below average wingspan, and he’s the oldest potential lottery pick at 21 years old. If I am a GM I have a hard time selecting a one-way player with a lottery pick, especially one who I know I will have to hide on the defensive end of the floor. I think Kennard makes a lot of sense in the late teens or early twenties in this draft, but I just can’t see him as a lottery pick.
Question: How does an NBA team utilize Donovan Mitchell?
Jordan: I think that Donovan Mitchell has huge potential to be a 2 way guard. On the defensive side, he put up an elite steals rate and has a massive 6’10” wingspan. On the other side he shoots 3s better than any of the other “elite” PGs in the draft. Ideally, he could fit into a CJ McCollum-esque combo guard role with the addition of defense.
Ben: I could see Donovan Mitchell in a very similar role to the one that Avery Bradley occupies for the Celtics. I think that Mitchell will start out as a two guard or sixth man whose calling card is defense and he can immediately jump into the role of being able to defend both opposing guard spots. His freakishly long wingspan and top-level explosiveness gives him the tools to develop into an All-NBA caliber defender. Offensively, he should develop into a guy who can run the offense a bit, but will likely be more comfortable in a spot-up role. He’s not exactly a true point guard and isn’t as large as most NBA two guards, so he appears more like a combo guard. There’s nothing wrong with that though, especially in the modern, more positionless NBA, where Mitchell’s perimeter defensive versatility should prove to be very valuable.
Question: What is Justin Patton’s role in the modern NBA?
Jordan: Bluntly, he doesn’t have one. There are a lot of raw bigs in this draft, and I am much higher on almost all of them. Patton isn’t a great defender, with 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes and a lower block % than Eric Mika and Derek Pardon. His turnover rate is twice his assist rate (17.7% vs 8.6%). Without shooting, and not being a clear rim protector, there are way more big men that I would take in this draft who fit better into today’s NBA.
Ben: Patton’s role will be determined by how well he can adapt and make use of his numerous physical tools. Patton gave viewers brief glimpses of what he could become with a consistent jumper, more strength, and a tighter handle. For a big man he possesses a good motor, terrific agility, solid feet and dependable hands. He can outrun most players his size in transition and showed flashes of being a smart passer as well as a player who can get past slower big men using his dribble. He was only a so-so rim protector last season and was a below average rebounder for his size, which is concerning for a big man. He did, however, demonstrate some ability to switch screens, contain the pick and roll, and closeout on the perimeter. I could see him becoming a starting caliber or rotation 5 man in the NBA, but that would all be predicated on him developing with proper coaching and combining his raw athleticism with shooting, passing, and handling.
Question: DJ Wilson demonstrated a great deal of skill for a big man near the end of the college season, which of those skills will translate to the NBA and will that be enough to make him worthy of a lottery pick?
Matt: DJ is 6’10, can shoot 3s, and is versatile defensively. That profile screams modern NBA 4-man. His biggest assets are his nearly positionless defense and good shooting numbers for his size. The questions that remain concern his physical readiness to guard more mature NBA players and his passing. DJ is not small, weighing in at 240, but he had a tendency to take mid-range jump shots and 3s despite his athletic advantages. When he did take advantage of his athleticism, teams had difficulty guarding him. Same for defense: DJ often got bullied on the glass and had trouble defending more physical 4s. With increased strength and a new mental approach, he would be an asset able to guard a LaMarcus Aldridge or a Draymond Green. Is he worth a lottery pick? With the lack of 2-way players in this draft, I say yes. His ability to guard 3 positions (at least) and spread the floor offensively puts him in a premium category.
Jordan: I think DJ is being vastly underrated. He’s a good 3pt and FT shooter (37% and 83%) and had a massive block% (5.2). If he can guard 2-3 positions, protect the rim, and stretch the floor, there isn’t much more you can ask of a big man in the NBA today. If he can be a stretch 4 the bulk of the time and a small ball 5 at others, with his ability to get to the rim on one or two dribbles plus his jumper, he will be tough to cover offensively. Couple that with his ability to protect the rim on the other end and he will be a huge piece for an NBA team.
OG Anunoby and Harry Giles
Question: Considering their injuries, are either of them worth a 1st round pick?
Jordan: I don’t want this to sound like someone with an injury history should never get drafted, but we are talking about two players who are massively dependent on their athletic ability. People like to see OG as a Draymond Green type. Let’s start with the fact that his offensive game can’t even sniff Draymond’s (shooting, passing). Also, how can he guard 4 positions if we don’t know if his knees are healthy? I don’t think anyone would be excited about an unathletic Draymond, and he isn’t even close to Draymond skills-wise. As for Giles, it’s hard to get excited about Kenneth Faried 2.0 and again, is he even that? What is his elite skill? Before you say athletic ability, just remember all the knee surgeries. Not a risk I’m willing to take on 2 players who already had risk prior to the injuries.
Ben: When you’re looking for value late in the lottery or in the middle parts of the first round, you’ll always have to take on some risk for high reward types of players. Of course injuries are concerning with both of these players, but let’s not act like their injuries will totally ruin their careers before they even get started. Plenty of good players have returned from knee injuries and have managed to come back stronger. Looking at a player like Giles, his measurables and current on-court strengths are comparable to a young Tyson Chandler. Plenty of teams would love to add that type center near the end of the lottery or in the 20’s. His weaknesses right now, outside of injuries, are that he is raw in most aspects of the game but he possesses solid physical tools for an NBA big man. As for OG, he may be the only forward in this draft who can match Josh Jackson’s athletic ability, and when healthy it would not be out of the question to call OG the best athlete in the draft. OG possesses the physical abilities and build necessary to check the best NBA forwards, while also maintaining the ability to switch onto guards and check big men in the post. His defensive abilities alone make him worthy of a late lottery/mid first round pick and if he’s able to develop his spot-up game he could be the steal of this draft. In a draft where the talent level drops off precipitously in the mid-20s these two high ceiling players are easily worth the risk and should be first rounders.
Question: What is it that keeps Caleb Swanigan from being considered one of the elite picks in this draft, given his age and productivity?
Matt: Defense and image. Similar to college Draymond Green, when people think of Caleb Swanigan they think of an out of shape, lumbering player who lacks requisite athleticism and quickness. It’s obvious that his defense needs to improve to be able to play him solid minutes in the NBA. Versatile bigs like Moritz Wagner gave him fits this year. However, he has worked himself into an incredibly productive scorer and rebounder and his physical attributes have been enhanced by getting into better shape. How do we know he won’t continue to lose weight and get quicker like Draymond did? We can’t know for sure, but if he improves defensively and quickens his feet, Swanigan may be one of the steals of this draft.
Ben: Fat shaming probably. In all seriousness though, I’m not sure what else Swanigan can do to convince people that he’s an elite talent. He changed his body and game phenomenally between his senior year of high school and the end of his sophomore year of college. His workout and conditioning regimen at Purdue was legendary and he’s probably the most intrinsically driven player in this draft. I think that NBA front offices are concerned that his body type and agility will leave him vulnerable defensively and in between positions, but those seem like weak arguments against a guy who posted tremendous shooting and rebounding numbers and will kick the ass of any of the other big men in this draft in the post. Draymond Green is thrown around alot these days as a point of comparison for heavier, between-position prospects, but I think a closer comparison for Biggie is Paul Millsap. I know that most teams, in hindsight, would have taken Millsap in the lottery of the 2006 draft, if not the top 10. Hopefully they won’t make the same mistake with Biggie.
Question: Both of you think much more highly of Jawun Evans than most draft pundits, what do you believe will make Evans worthy of a high draft pick and what do you think will prevent him from being a worse version of Trey Burke?
Matt: Jawun Evans had a 32.7% usage, managed a 43% assist rate and had only a 13% turnover rate. It’s a legitimate questions to ask if his playmaking ability is better than Lonzo Ball given the relative lack of talent surrounding Evans in Stillwater. Offensively, Jawun Evans is a creator – he scored 19 ppg and shot 38% from 3 (albeit on 3 attempts a game) and facilitated the most efficient offense in college basketball. The major concern on offense is his ability to finish at the rim. He shot 45% from 2, but also was responsible for a significant amount of OSU’s offense throughout the game and late in the shot clock. With a more modest usage rate and the ability to be more selective, some of that concern can be alleviated. Remember, Chris Paul shot 45% from 2 his first two years in the NBA, but made adjustments to increase his paint efficiency. With added shot creativity to avoid bigger defenders (i.e. the Mike Conley floater) and consistent 3pt shooting, Evans can be an effective scoring guard who also possesses elite passing ability. Lines between solid players and washouts in the NBA are often razor thin, but if Trey Burke was a lottery pick, so is Jawun Evans.
Jordan: I couldn’t agree more with Matt here. So much so, that I am going to struggle to add to his thoughts. One of the things that makes him different than Trey is his higher steals and rebounding numbers, which indicates to me that he’s probably a little more athletic. He also might be the best pick-and-roll PG in the draft and the best on change of direction dribbles, which he combines with very serviceable shooting numbers. He certainly does need to find a way to finish around the rim, but as is, he has every other skill you would want from an NBA PG. I don’t know of a guard not named Fultz in this draft that has fewer weaknesses than that.
June 21, 2017
Written by: Ben Steinmetz, Jordan Dant, Matt Sawyer
With the NBA draft this week, we take our shot at putting together a draft board and asking the critical questions surrounding the top prospects. Each of us have picks that are polarizing, so we took to a Q&A format that allows both ends of the spectrum to explain their analyses of the player and selection. Once we looked beyond the top end of the draft, we chose 5 picks that did not align with each other and gave our endorsements for each player. Hopefully, you can see why the NBA draft selection process is so complicated and gain insight about the prospects we discuss.
Draft Board Philosophy:
Jordan: Shooting is obviously at a premium but I was looking for guys I thought could either be a solid two-way player, or an offensive player that would create mismatches for an opponent. Frankly though, I just thought about if I could see myself playing any of the prospects in the NBA finals or conference finals. The way those games were played is the way that the league is heading. Will a prospect be Tristan Thompson, relegated to the bench for the series, or Andre Iguodala, who becomes infinitely more important?
Ben: Shooting, shooting, shooting. Every single team in the league could use more of it, and in the pace and space NBA the ability to spread out the defense allows every player on the floor to function at or near their offensive potential. The NBA has started to chew up and spit out the types of players who can’t shoot the rock. What I looked for was guys who were consistent shooters at high volume in college, or athletic guys who showed promise in their form and consistency by shooting solid or better percentages on free throws. On the defensive end, I prioritized length, the ability to defend multiple positions, and positional fit in terms of body type. Length and athleticism as it relates to defense in the NBA is a lot like a pitcher with a 95 mile per hour fastball; you can be successful at the highest levels without it but having it sure helps.
Matt: Versatility has become increasingly important in the NBA. Thus, my draft board is high on people who aren’t limited to a single skill. If they do possess one strong skill, the pick will need to fill a hole or area of weakness on a particular team. In the end, you want to have a roster full of people who can contribute in the playoffs and, more importantly, help you contend for a title. While I agree with the sentiment that prioritizing shooting has taken the league to a new place, I don’t contend that it should be a single indicator of success for an prospective NBA player. That said, it doesn’t hurt.
June 13, 2017
Written by: Ben Steinmetz
When this story started, it was to be solely based upon the rise of Giannis Antetokoumpo and how he would take his place as the next face of the NBA. I watched Game 1 of the Bucks-Raptors playoff series and found my initial inspiration. Here was a player who could captivate an audience in a way that was reminiscent of Durant early in his career. Surely the internet had yet to read enough Greek Freak articles, and surely I could find an angle that was unique, controversial, and insightful. With all this in mind I purchased reasonably-priced nosebleed seats for game 3 of the series and anxiously anticipated my opportunity to witness the rise of greatness. Seeing the Bucks in person, though, led me to seek an entirely different angle.
I arrived a few minutes after tip-off and the house packed with a raucous Bucks’ crowd. Having grown up a fan of both Cincinnati pro sports and Purdue University college sports, I can always respect a tortured fanbase, and the Bucks’ fans definitely qualify as a tortured fanbase. This is a franchise that has only won three total playoff series since the 1986-87 season, and has managed only ten playoff appearances in the past twenty-six seasons. During those twenty-six seasons the Bucks’ best Eastern conference finish was second in 2000-01, and besides that they haven’t finished better than sixth. But coming off of a blowout victory in Game 1 and a narrow loss in Game 2, the Bucks faithful were out in force in support of their team. “Fear the Deer” may sound like a weak slogan (it’s easy to equate to Sandlot catcher Ham Porter’s “Bambi? That wimpy Deer?”), but when shouted from a strong conglomerate of rowdy, drunk Bucks fans it began to effectuate its intended intimidation. It stands to mention that the world-renowned beer town that is Milwaukee had served its fans well prior to the game. The line at tip-off was Milwaukee -2.0, but in that atmosphere you could not have possibly set the line high enough in favor of the Bucks.
When the Bucks jumped out to an early lead on the back of Khris Middleton’s shooting, the Bucks fans could smell blood in the water. Whipped into a frenzy, 20,000 fans rose to their feet for every big play and showered Greg Monroe with chants of “MOOSE!” Giannis started slow, deferring early on to Middleton and Monroe, before landing a few long jumpers and getting some buckets on cuts and in transition. In the second half the Freak impressed by blocking a shot with his elbow and abusing Patrick Patterson for a dunk on a drive. The Bucks hammered the Raptors from start to finish, and looked like the superior team in all facets of the game, finishing with a 104-77 blowout win.
Game 3 certainly indicated just what the Bucks are capable of and hinted at the talented core they’ve developed. Unfortunately for the Bucks, the rest of the series showed why the playoffs are treacherous for young and inexperienced squads. The Raptors took the series 4-2 when the Bucks’ offense largely abandoned them after Game 3. A superior bench, more experienced playmakers, and a willingness to fight small-ball lineup fire with small-ball lineup fire put the Raptors back into the driver’s seat and into the second round. However, as Games 1 and 3 showed, the Bucks have within their roster the capabilities to be unstoppable on any given night.
This season Giannis continued to be a revelation, and this playoff series gave him the opportunity to display his alpha dog chops. First, let’s revisit his regular season: He scored at an elite rate in PnR as the roll man (1.43 PPP) and on cuts (1.5 PPP). He was very good in transition, scoring 1.28 PPP. With that said, he was below the league average as the PnR ball handler (0.81 PPP) and in isolation (0.77 PPP). In the playoffs, he played 40 mpg and averaged 24.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 4 apg and 3.8 stocks per game (steals + blocks) while shooting 53.6% from the floor, with a true shooting percentage of 60% (League average is 55%). His performance displayed potential growth in each offensive dimension. Moreover, he was an unstoppable force in transition and a deflection and block threat every time down on defense. In Game 3 he demonstrated well-known athletic strengths and a smooth, if inconsistent jumper, while also highlighting his weaknesses like free throw shooting and passiveness in the halfcourt offense. This series was a bit of a microcosm of The Freak’s season, as he showed both breathtaking abilities on both ends of the floor as well as the flaws that still hold him back from being one of the top 5-7 NBA players. For the season Giannis shot 27% from 3, and defenders were all too eager to back off of him both during the regular season and playoffs. Much of his offense in the half-court still comes from cuts and rolls to the hoop and while he’s become a threatening presence off of the ball he will need to improve his offensive initiation abilities to be alpha. His free throw shooting and passing improved during the regular season, but it was disappointing that in the playoffs his free throw shooting was slightly better than a coin flip and he couldn’t replicate his passing success from the season. The prominent issues of the playoffs could, of course, have a lot to do with experience, tired legs (he played an insane 40.5 MPG), and the pressure of the moment.
Carrying the Bucks was certainly a lot for a young player to take on, particularly one who has seen his star rise fast and whose expectations four years ago have paled in comparison to his actual results. With all this being said, what is the ceiling for Giannis? It’s fair to say that he could become the best player in the league. He’s reminiscent of young LeBron and young Durant, and his year 4 stats match up favorably with both of those stars. Starting in year 5 Lebron posted PERs greater than 30 in 4 of his next 6 seasons and a VORP over 10 the next 3 seasons.
Does Giannis have that next-level type of leap left in him? The biggest key will be figuring out his shooting. Already he’s a tremendous transition attacker with superb body control for a 6’11 player. Defensively he controls large sections of the floor with his length — he held players to 41% shooting — and he’s a solid rebounder at both ends. If he can become a league-average three point shooter, or even just an above-average midrange shooter most defenders will be hopeless to defend him. The abilities are there, and with his contract extended through 2020/21 the Bucks have wisely hitched their title hopes to The Freak.
But what of the rest of the Bucks roster? How do you take a team that finished 6th in a weakened Eastern Conference and bowed out of Round 1 in 6 games to the summit? Part of the Bucks’ struggles this season can be attributed to injuries. They lost Khris Middleton for 53 games this year and, upon his return, Jabari Parker almost immediately went down with an ACL tear. Barring injury concerns, Giannis-Parker-Middleton is a very solid core. Both Parker and Middleton can play off of Giannis’ playmaking abilities, and can also take turns making plays with their jumpers or off of the dribble. It helps that all three are multi-positional players who can defend a wide variety of player types. In addition, promising rookies Malcolm Brogdan and Thon Maker look like the types of players who can capably round out a starting lineup. Brogdan was a revelation as a second-round draft pick, and Maker combines promising length and athleticism with an underrated jump shot. Those two are also in keeping with the multi-positional or even positionless nature of this core. The dream for this squad going forward would be for all players to be able to switch all screens with little to no drop-off in on-ball defense. It is far from crazy, and maybe even practical to think that a Brogdan, Middleton, Antetokoumpo, Parker, Maker lineup should win a championship.
The rest of the roster is an entirely different story. At this time the Bucks owe John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova, and Mirza Teletovic over $62 million combined over the course of the next two seasons. Spending roughly one-third of their cap on rotation guys, some of whom had extremely limited roles in their playoff series against the Raptors, is not exactly a recipe for success for the Bucks. In the series with the Raptors Henson and Teletovic combined for 49 minutes total, and yet they’re set to make a combined $22 million next season and $21 million the year after. With an expected salary cap in the $103 million range over the next few seasons the salaries of these three players are creating an undue strain on the roster. Paying Dellavedova, Henson, and Teletovic prevents the Bucks from bringing in one additional slashing guard or defensive-minded big man that would make this Bucks team more dynamic. In 2016-2017, the Bucks were bottom 20 in both ORB% and DRB%. While excelling in shooting the ball (7th in eFG%, 6th in 2P%, and 10th in 3P%). With the direction the NBA is headed they may also want to increase their 3PA rate (they were 24th in 3PA). They also turned the ball over at the 10th highest rate. Clearly the improvements that they need to make are minor in terms of statistical changes, but they could stand to add depth that allows their second units to succeed at a rate similar to the starting lineup and allows them to hold up during the inevitable periods of a regular season when starters go down with injuries.
Going forward the Bucks hold all of their first rounders, and also have the rights to a handful of late second-round picks. In this upcoming draft they’re slated to pick 17th and 48th, and with a deep draft full of potential role players in those ranges the Bucks could find one additional piece. Given that they have a star player in Giannis, and two additional players in Parker and Middleton who seem qualified to be the type of second and third options a championship caliber team can rely on, the Bucks need only to add a few complimentary pieces in the upcoming drafts. With the 17th pick, they’re in range for several high upside big men who could conceivably form a solid rotation with Maker, such as Justin Patton or Zach Collins. The Bucks have also started to put rumors into the media that they would want to improve their jump shooting, which means guys like Luke Kennard or TJ Leaf would be good fits at this draft position. They could additionally take another swing for the fences at high upside picks like OG Anunoby, Frank Ntilikina, or Harry Giles and hope that they’re able to develop that player in a similar fashion to Giannis or Maker. With their second round pick they could try to land a player like Josh Hart, who is similar in many ways to Malcolm Brogdan, or try to land a playmaking point guard like Frank Mason, Monte Morris, or Nigel Williams-Goss. The nice thing if you’re the Bucks is that it’s much easier to find rookies who can fill a role if you’re set long-term in your starting five.
The future is bright in Milwaukee. This team has the makings of a title contender, and the core of Giannis, Parker, Middleton, Brogdan, and Maker lends itself to near-endless possibilities on the defensive end. The Bucks management is already intending to resign Tony Snell, which would give them a solid and interchangeable six man rotation with few weaknesses. After the 2017-2018 season Greg Monroe comes off the books and frees up significant cap space should the Bucks allow him to leave. Additionally, the Bucks could trade some combination of Teletovic, Dellavedova or Henson along with an unprotected first rounder or two to a team like Kings or 76ers, in a similar fashion to how the Warriors sent two unprotected firsts and some of their unwanted salaries (Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush) to the Jazz in 2013. It’s scary to think that the Bucks could pull off a deal like that and then prior to signing or matching Jabari’s max or near-max deal they would have enough cap space to add one more player at the fringe starter/rotation level of salary. After that they can fill out the remainder of their rotation with cheap older veterans chasing a ring and recent draft acquisitions. Based on what I have seen of this team and this roster, however, they’ll be a title contender without even going that far. Give the Bucks a healthy roster and one more season of unprecedented improvement from The Greek Freak and they should capably rise to the top of the Eastern Conference. In any event, I most likely lucked into one of the last affordable Bucks’ playoff games for the foreseeable future. Consider me officially on the Bucks bandwagon, and FEAR THE DEER!