Pacers in 2020

Photo credit – Pacers twitter

The Indiana Pacers fly under the radar every year. When Paul George was traded in 2017, it seemed like it was time to embrace a full rebuild. They rebuilt on the fly instead, while doing an excellent job of developing young talent. By bringing in value free agents and maximizing their skills, they managed to win 48 games two years in a row. Recruiting well again this off-season, they are set for one of their best season’s in recent memory.

Free Agent signings

Using every dollar wisely, they made a series of excellent moves this summer. Malcolm Brogdon was one of the prized free agents, and is now a centerpiece in Indiana. Signed to a four year $85 million contract, Brogdon is one of the best shooters in the league. Last season he became one of only ten players in NBA history to shoot 50% from the field, 40% from three and 90% from the line.

Not only is Brogdon a great shooter, his size and length make him a great defender also. His 6’10 wingspan means he is an excellent rebounder at his position, while he defends opposing guards well without fouling. Brogdon fits well next to Oladipo with his combination of size and shooting ability. Already possessing the leagues best defense last season, he can help on the perimeter contesting three’s or stop teams in transition.

Wing Signings

TJ Warren was also brought in to bolster the wing stocks. Surprisingly they only had to give up $1 million cash to get him from Phoenix. Averaging 18 and 19 points a game the last two years, Warren showed massive improvement shooting the three. His shot selection should also be noted though. While playing the four last season he took almost a third of his shots from three point land, rather than dining out in the mid range. Still only 25, Warren stands at a stout 6’8 and can defend out to the perimeter. Though not an excellent man defender, he closes out well to shooters and jumps passing lanes for steals and deflections. He is also on a very reasonable contract of around $11 million a year.

After four years in Charlotte, wing Jeremy Lamb was also signed. Lamb was signed to a cheap three year $31 million deal. He has a shifty game, using his length to finish over people with an array of post moves and floaters. An excellent proponent of the mid-range, he has increased his volume from three point land. He is most proficient from the corners, where he shoots 53%. The best defender of the three new signings, Lamb can defend positions one through three. He is a great rebounder and rarely turns the ball over. After a career year in Charlotte, he could be the perfect sixth man in Indiana.

Roster versatility

Defense has been a hallmark of the Pacers roster the last two years. With the two way play of Myles Turner and franchise star Oladipo, they had the league’s best defense last year. By adding three efficient scorers who can also defend, they have raised this rosters ceiling. Forcing turnovers was a key part of their league best defense, by adding switchable defenders like Brogdon and Lamb they can be versatile on both ends of the floor. Getting to the line and shooting the three was a problem for this team last year. Brogdon and Warren should plug this hole while the return of Oladipo will obviously be a big help. Though they will miss Thad Young and Bojan Bogdanovic, they have replaced them with young two way options.

Playoff contention

In an Eastern Conference where the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics lost their best players, the Pacers will bring theirs back into the fold around Christmas. Though the Brooklyn Nets will be strong when Kevin Durant returns, they have a top heavy roster reliant on two stars. Building organically before, Pacers management see this year as the time to strike. Outside of the Philadelphia 76ers, the Pacers are the team to beat in the East. With depth and a young roster this team should be aiming for 50 wins and the conference finals.

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Knicks – the good and the bad

Photo credit – Getty Images, Anthony J Causi

The New York Knicks made some great decisions this off season, while also making some bad ones. After posting a franchise low of 17 wins last season, they ended up with the number three pick. Unfortunately not the number one pick and Zion Williamson. With over 60 million in cap space there were thoughts of Kevin Durant or Jimmy Butler. Unfortunately they lucked out when it came to signing stars and filled their roster with second chance guys and veterans. Do they have a strategy moving forward?

Cap management

Knicks management deserve credit for the way they cleared cap space. When Kristaps Porzingis indicated he wouldn’t re-sign, they moved him with some bad contracts and got assets back in return. This years free agent class was elite, but when no big names were signed it should have been time to take stock. Glancing over their depth chart most of the players are on either one or two year deals.

Thanks Basketball Insiders for the info!

Though this means that they have cap flexibility, if they want to bring any of them back they won’t have their bird rights. To have a players bird rights they need to have spent three years on their respective team. In the event of a max free agent wanting to sign with them, having a players bird rights is important. The max contract player fits into the cap room then they go over the cap to sign the players whose bird rights they have. If a team doesn’t have a players bird rights it means they can only offer 120% of the previous years contract.

A clear strategy is needed if they want to return to the playoffs. Bringing in projects on cheap three year deals would be a better way to spend their cap space. Taking the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets as examples of different rebuilds, they have both taken on money to gain assets. Both of these teams have in different ways rebuilt either through the draft or free agency. If the Knicks are going to keep rolling their cap space over then they need to use it more creatively to build long-term.

The Draft

Some credit also needs to be given for the recent draft record. Last season Mitchell Robinson was probably the steal of the draft. Drafted with the 36th pick, Robinson posted the most win shares in his rookie class. Signing the un-drafted Allonzo Trier was also a nice move. Trier averaged 11 points a game on only 22 minutes a night, shooting 39% from three.

This year RJ Barrett was drafted with the number three pick. The jury is out till he plays in the league, but as far as untapped physical potential goes he is one of the best prospects going around. Ignas Brazdeikis was selected 47th. ‘ Iggy ” impressed at summer league with his shooting ability and composure. A 20 year old out of Michigan, he could potentially be a steal in the second round for the Knicks.

Roster fit

The great work in the draft may have been undone with the free agents that were signed though. An example of this is their forward rotation. Kevin Knox was drafted last year in the lottery, although he had a rough first year he still has a lot of upside. By signing Randle, Bobby Portis, and Marcus Morris they are taking away game reps from prospects like Barrett, Knox and Brazdeikis.

The same can be said of the point guard position. After drafting Frank Ntilikina two years ago, they traded for Dennis Smith Jr last year. If that wasn’t strange enough they overpaid Elfrid Payton, then announced a month later they will play RJ Barrett at the point. Developing talent hasn’t been a strength for the Knicks in the past, now they have some actual prospects they need to take care of them. Here’s hoping they play the younger guys significant minutes.

Trade Value

The upside to signing players to one and two year deals is they may have value at the trade deadline. Rebuilding teams might want to get off three or four year deals and take back one or two years salary instead. In the event that the Knicks season goes pear-shaped they should look to get assets back for any players of value. There is no harm in dumping some of these deals rather than losing them for nothing.

This wasn’t a terrible off-season for the Knicks as they preserved their long-term cap space. While some may see their failings to sign a big name free agent as a massive negative, they have kept the powder dry for the next couple of seasons. The fit between the veterans and rookies will also be important, as they can’t forget about the franchises long-term future. If they can develop the younger guys while getting value out of the free agents they signed, that would be a win. Failing that its back to the drawing board!

Sean Marks, timeline of an NBA kingpin

Brooklyn Nets General Manager Sean Marks recently completed one of the most improbable rebuilds in NBA history. While cross town rivals the Knicks had to make do with role players, Marks pulled a trump card in signing two All-NBA calibre players in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. After the previous Nets regime famously gave away their first round picks in four out of five drafts, Marks completed this rebuild with only one of his own first round picks. The timeline of this rebuild makes for intriguing reading.

February 18 2016

Sean Marks hired as General Manager of the Brooklyn Nets.

When Marks playing career ended in 2011 he embarked on a three year career with the Spurs. This culminated in his promotion to Assistant General Manager. This experience, in arguably the NBA’s best organization placed him in good stead for the Nets job.

At the time of his hiring the Nets were over the cap by ten million. They also had a total of $27 million of dead money on the books after waiving Joe Johnson and waiving and stretching Deron Williams. Williams was stretched over 5 years at the rate of $5 million a year.

April 17 2016

Kenny Atkinson hired as head coach.

It didn’t take long for Marks to start imprinting on the organisation. Atkinson was hired after spending four years as an assistant with the Atlanta Hawks. Not only has he doubled the win total in three years in charge, Atkinson’s play style and adjustments have been praised around the league. Whether it was not playing traditional big’s or playing a zone defense, Atkinson hasn’t been afraid to do things differently.

July 7 2016

Traded Thaddeus Young to the Indiana Pacers for Caris LeVert.

With Brook Lopez and Young the only assets on the roster, Marks made the aggressive move to trade him for rookie small forward and 20th pick Caris LeVet. LeVert has been one of the Nets most consistent players in Marks tenure. He broke out in the playoffs this year against the 76ers, scoring 20 points a game on 49% shooting from the field. Bar a massive overpay from another team, its looking like LeVert will be a long-term piece for the Nets.

July 19 2016

Signed Joe Harris to a multiyear contract.

Harris was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014. Injuries and a lack of opportunity had him traded to the Orlando Magic who cut him in 2016. After signing with the Nets he revived his career, and recently led the league in three point percentage. Harris deservedly got a two year $16 million contract last year. This kind of reclamation project has been a hallmark of Marks’ tenure.

December 8 2016

Signed Spencer Dinwiddie to a multiyear contract.

Similar to Harris, Dinwiddie was also on the NBA scrap heap. Drafted by the Detroit Pistons, he played in just fifty games before being traded to the Bulls. They cut him before the 2016 regular season. This left Marks to sign him in December. He impressed straight away with his confident play making and scoring as a combo guard. Last season Dinwiddie averaged a career high 16 points a game off the bench. This play had him rewarded with a three year contract, at around three years and 30 million.

February 22 2017

Traded Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough to the Washington Wizards for Andrew Nicholson, Marcus Thornton and a 2017 first round pick.

While Bogdanovic may be the only name people will know in this trade, this move was key to Marks rebuild. He had been improving on the Nets but was likely to get overpaid in free agency. The Washington Wizards gave up a first round pick for him at the deadline.

June 22 2017

Selected Jarrett Allen with the 22nd pick and Kyle Kuzma with the 27th pick.

Traded Kyle Kuzma and Brook Lopez to the Los Angeles Lakers for Timofey Mozogov and D’Angelo Russell.

Marks came into this draft with two first round picks, numbers 22 and 27. Number 22 was the Wizards pick, while number 27 was the pick swap with the Celtics. On that same night Marks saw the opportunity to get a young point guard in D’Angelo Russell and he swooped in. By keeping their powder dry and preserving cap space Marks was able to absorb the Mozgov salary and take on Russell. Lopez was likely to get a bigger contract in one years time also. D’Angelo Russell took the Nets back to the playoffs last season while averaging 21 points a game. He was also their first all-star in six years. Jarrett Allen was a steal with the 22nd pick, providing the second most win shares in his draft class to date.

July 13 2017

Traded Justin Hamilton to the Toronto Raptors for DeMarre Carroll, a 2018 first round pick and a 2018 second round pick.

Again by retaining cap space, the Nets were able to absorb another salary dump while taking in two extra picks. Though it looked like Carroll’s contract would age poorly, he was able to resurrect his career in Brooklyn. He posted career highs in his first year, while being a big part of the playoff team in his second year.

June 21 2018

Selected Dzanan Musa with the 29th pick and Rodions Kurucs with the 40th pick.

Marks used the picks from the Carroll trade to select these two European wings. Though it is early in both of their careers, it looks they will be good role players.

July 13 2018

Traded Isaiah Whitehead to the Denver Nuggets for Darrell Arthur, Kenneth Faried, a 2019 first round pick and a 2020 second round pick.

Another salary dump, this time absorbing two players into their cap space. Within a week Marks used Arthur in another trade, sending him to the Suns in return for Jared Dudley. Dudley was a difference maker for them in 2019, while they ended up with a first and a second round pick.

April 13 2019

Brooklyn Nets return to the playoffs, win game one against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Less than three years after taking over the GM job, the Nets returned to the playoffs after a 42 – 40 season. Finishing with the sixth seed, they were one of the form teams from December on wards with a 34 – 22 record.

June 6 2019

Brooklyn Nets trade Allen Crabbe, the number 17 pick in the 2019 draft, and a 2020 first round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second round pick.

Marks was now cooking with gas. Aware that they were in the running or even in the lead for marquee free agents, he started clearing cap room for July 1st. Crabbe was moved to Atlanta, while Prince was brought back as another project. Knowing they would need maximum flexibility with cost controlled contracts they traded out of the first round this year also.

July 1st 2019

Signed Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan

Though it didn’t become official until later, this was the day Marks trumped the league by signing two of the biggest free agents. To make things work cap wise, Marks used a sign and trade to bring in Durant while moving Russell. They also gained a first round pick in this deal.

Summary

In just over three years Marks rebuilt the Nets. With no cap space in his first season and no draft picks, he fully rebuilt the roster. He handpicked players on the waiver wire and developed them, while also making it back to the playoffs. He cleared cap space to sign two max free agents while not mortgaging their future. While the Clippers and Lakers gave away five first round picks or more to bring in star players the Nets are owed a total of one first rounder and six second rounders in the next two years.

Marks may not be done making moves, with almost 20 million cap space next year and assets to burn this team may not be a finished product. For now though their is a new championship contender in Brooklyn!

76ers – trust the roster

The Process is over. Four sub 30 win seasons have been replaced by consecutive conference semifinal appearances. The Philadelphia 76ers have a different set of problems to worry about now. Minimum contracts and lottery picks have been replaced by max contacts and superstars. After adding Al Horford and subtracting Jimmy Butler, its time for the rubber to hit the road.

The Sixers had one of the more intriguing off-seasons this summer. In a move that no one saw coming, Al Horford signed with them on a four year $109 million deal. Jimmy Butler’s sign and trade to Miami was equally shocking. But in a positive for Philly they returned Josh Richardson in this deal. This means they now have an elite defensive starting five.

Though they lost JJ Redick and Butler’s shot creation, their starting five is better equipped for the playoffs. Josh Richardson is a bulldog on the perimeter, and is a better shooter from three than Butler. Horford is one of the best passing bigs in the league, he also shot 38% from three in Boston. Horford will form an elite defensive frontcourt with Embiid. Bringing back Tobias Harris on a five year $180 million contract was also key for the Sixers. Their only elite shooter on the perimeter, he can have he ball in his hands more with Richardson and Horford comfortable playing off it.

Bench upgrades

The bench upgrades have been encouraging for the 76ers. Fan favorite TJ McConnell has sadly left for Indiana. He was replaced by Raul Neto from the Utah Jazz. Not only is Neto making half what McConnell is this season, he is also a better defender and three point shooter. Jonathan Simmons and Amir Johnson barely played last season, and have been replaced by Matisse Thybulle and Kyle O’Quinn. Thybulle is an exciting rookie out of Washington while O’Quinn is a younger version of Johnson that can still play rotation minutes. Zhaire Smith is returning after a serious injury, and 22 year old shooter Furkan Korkmaz re-signed in July for two years. These young players along with last years second round pick Jonah Bolden will be relied on for bench depth.

Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons is the piece that can take the 76ers over the top. A transcendent talent at 6’10, he can pass, score and defend. Simmons just inked a five year $170 million that will kick in next summer. This is a designated veteran extension, so his contract can increase by making an All-NBA team next season.

The elephant in the room is his jump-shot. Simmons inability to hit any shot away from the rim is a major concern. As he doesn’t have a strong floater game and is only shooting free throws at 60% he limits his teams ceiling in the playoffs. An NBA executive said that Simmons didn’t want to change his hand placement on the ball. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you are in the bottom 5% of free throw shooters at your position then form changes should be made. Simmons may start the season shooting from mid range and taking the odd three with the clock winding down. This would be a massive win in terms of getting game reps in. 76ers management will no doubt be having these conversations in the hope that he can develop a three point shot.

Play Style

Defensively the 76ers will want to jack up the intensity this year. Last year they had plenty of defensive pieces but didn’t play the lock-down defense the group was capable of. With the additions of Horford and Richardson they should be able to improve on last year’s 15th ranked defense. Management have already made it clear they will have one of Embiid or Horford on the court at all times.

Offensively they should run a lot more pick and pop or pick and roll this coming season. In an ideal world they would frequently run both. It could either be Horford popping out for three or looking for Embiid on dives to the rim. Simmons is a great cutter, Horford will find him or shooters Richardson and Harris. Harris is now free to run pick and roll with Embiid, this could produce devastating results.

Which ever way you look at it, the 76ers have more depth and flexibility across the roster. If they are healthy they are a contender in the eastern conference. Going one step further, if any of their starters take a jump this year, they could be championship contenders. Now the process is over, its time to trust the roster and the young pieces it has in it.

Atlanta Hawks rebuild

Curtis Compton – Atlanta journal

The Atlanta Hawks are a must watch on NBA league pass next season. With an intriguing and exciting young core, the Hawks are back on the NBA map. With Trae Young as the franchise cornerstone they could contend in the eastern conference sooner rather than later.

Two seasons ago Hawks management decided it was time to blow it up. All the vets that were part of the previous regime walked or were traded and they started building through the Draft. Ex Golden State Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk was hired to build the team from the ground up.

Building through the draft

John Collins was the first piece in the door, a steal with the 19th pick. Collins, out of Wake Forest, averaged 19.5 points and 9.8 rebounds on 56% shooting last year. His combination with Trae Young in the pick and roll will be the Hawks bread and butter for years to come. Not only is Collins a prime lob threat every night, his pick and pop game is also developing. Collins shot a respectable 34.8% from three in the last season.

Come the 2018 draft, Schlenk put his nuts on the line by taking Luka Doncic and then immediately trading him to the Dallas Mavericks for Trae Young and a first round pick. Though this move was criticized at the time, he shouldn’t be judged on it straight away. Young had an exceptional rookie year and after the All-Star break posted some mind boggling numbers.

Young’s passing ability is his real strength, but if his shooting comes on he could be an offensive powerhouse in the league.

For the second year in a row Schlenk got value in the draft. This time the 19th pick netted the Hawks Kevin Huerter. Huerter provided the best on off rating for the team last year at + 6.6 while he showed impressive offensive skills across the board. Huerter showed off a stepback, off the dribble scoring and secondary play making. His three point efficiency was third only to Collin Sexton and Landry Shamet in his rookie class.

2019 draft

Fast forward to this year and Schlenk made serious moves on draft night. Having the 8th and 10th picks coming into draft night, Schlenk made a series of moves that eventually netted them De’Andre Hunter, Bruno Fernando and Cam Reddish. They didn’t give up future assets to move up in the draft. While they used their cap space creatively to take on bad contracts from around the league, and gain extra assets. On top of their own future picks they also own a Brooklyn Nets first in 2020 and an OKC first in 2022.

De’Andre Hunter projects as a multi positional defender in the NBA. If Young is the offensive lynch-pin then Hunter is the leader of the defense. With a massive 7’2 wingspan, quick feet and a stout body that is NBA ready, Hunter could potentially guard four positions in the league. His 42.8% from three point range last year also bodes well for a three and d ceiling.

Style of play

It would be harsh to reflect negatively on the Hawks 29 – 53 record last year. 22 different players donned a uniform in the season, of which only five had more than five years experience in the league. This young crop ended the season with the leagues 12th best offense while also leading the league in pace. Their run and gun style led to being top five in attempts at the rim and from three point land. Coach Lloyd Pierce deserves credit for defining a play style early on. Though the defense needs work, they want to play fast and have the personnel to do it.

Only two years ago the reset button was pushed. In this time the front office have a built of stable of young athletes with other assets to join them. Trae Young and De’Andre Hunter represent the future of this league when it comes to multi dimensional athletes. With a potential 83 million in cap space next year, this team can swing for the fences in free agency or continue to build through the draft. Either way they are setup for the future. Travis Schlenk, take a bow!

New look Pelicans

photo credit – Bleacher Report

The New Orleans Pelicans completed one of the swiftest and more surprising rebuilds in NBA history recently. With the Anthony Davis trade saga hanging over the franchises head, they hired David Griffin in mid April hoping he could right the ship. In the last three months he has turned the Pelicans hopes around with a series of moves that has NOLA faithful pumped for the upcoming season.

David Griffin’s first job was to attend the draft lottery in May. Coming into the lottery the Pelicans had the seventh worst record, but as the ping pong balls started dropping it became clear they were going to move up. Griffin sat by calmly as they moved all the way up to the number one pick. With only a six percent chance of getting this pick, they had some luck on their side. After bad luck with injuries over the years, Pelican fans now had something to be happy about.

Anthony Davis trade

Griffin’s next job was to engage with Anthony Davis around his trade request. Davis made it clear he wanted to be moved, leaving Griffin to work on preferred destinations. After it came down to the Boston Celtics, LA Lakers and the New York Knicks, the Lakers and Pelicans pulled the trigger on a deal. Davis had the Lakers as a preferred destination so they were able to give the best package without fear of Davis leaving after one year.

Griffins negotiating also landed them pick swap rights in 2024. Including the number four pick in 2019, they landed five first round picks. Come draft night they selected consensus number one pick Zion Williamson. They also selected Jordan Bone and Alen Smailagic in the second round. These assets, combined with the Lakers and Cavaliers picks got them Nickeil Alexander Walker, Jaxson Hayes and Marcus Louzada Silva. Though this meant moving the number four pick in De’Andre Hunter, they decided on a shooter in Walker and a bouncy big in Hayes. The second round picks they got for Smailagic were then traded for Derrick Favors.

Roster construct

Within two months Griffin turned a dead end roster into one of the most exciting young teams in the league. When free agency opened they also brought in JJ Redick on a two year $26 million deal. Looking at their depth chart they have star upside at every position, while also having defensive chops and shooting.

Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram join the Pelicans with something to prove. Not encumbered with the win now pressures that come playing with Lebron James, they can focus on developing with other similar minded young players. Hayes showed a lot of potential at summer league and could form the NBA’s most athletic front court with Zion.

JJ Redick is one of the leagues most efficient and deadly shooters, and still has plenty left in the tank at age 35. With a healthy Josh Hart, and shooters E’Twuan Moore and Darius Miller, Griffin has surrounded Zion with plenty of spacing to open up his game. Nickeil Alexander-Walker may also have been the steal of this draft class. A two year combo guard out of Virginia Tech, Walker is a great shooter who can create off the bounce. He is an excellent playmaker and can zip passes to the corners from both hands. Jrue Holiday also remains. Possibly the most underrated guard in the league, Holiday has had career years the last two seasons. As evidenced by consecutive All-Defense selections in the ’18 and ’19 seasons, Holiday is firmly in his prime.

The future is bright

The Pelicans future is bright. Though Anthony Davis is gone, Griffin’s haul of assets has set this team up for the future. Not only do they have hyped rookie Zion Williamson but there is a plethora of young talent alongside him. Many casual NBA fans will now have the Pelicans as one of their league pass teams. This excitement for a small market team is great for a city that hasn’t had it easy recently. Bring on the age of Zion!

Do the Kings have their team?

AP – Elisa Amendola

The Sacramento Kings have a young core that can compete for prime playoff positions in the foreseeable future. After flipping DeMarcus Cousins only two and a half years ago, they have fully rebuilt the roster. They now have a core of young pieces that with continued improvement can be one of the best teams in the western conference.

Roster moves

What could hold back the Kings from contending is blowing their cap space on mediocre free agents. Harrison Barnes, DeWayne Dedmon and Cory Joseph are all strong players in their own right. But by overpaying slightly for this crop, Kings management may have limited their future flexibility. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic need to get paid next year, with De’Aaron Fox then Marvin Bagley in the following years. Looking at market rates, Buddy Hield will probably command around 20 million while De’Aaron Fox will be a max player if he improves again this year.

They already have a young core that is cheap. Bagley, Harry Giles, Bogdanovic, Hield and Fox could form a potential starting five that can score while having defensive upside. This five should form the backbone of the team while taking up most of the payroll. Thankfully all the deals signed this summer bar Harrison Barnes were only for two years. Some had third years but these were non-guaranteed. If Barnes is the long term small forward then that could leave Bogdanovic as the glorified sixth man. Bringing him off the bench with Joseph and Giles would form a strong second unit.

Additions

Moving past the payroll they will now look to get maximum value out of their signings. If DeWayne Dedmon can continue to improve his stretch abilities, he is a legitimate two way center for the Kings. Per Cleaning the Glass, Dedmon ranked in the top 20% of centers last year on three point volume and accuracy.

While Cory Joseph had a down year scoring wise in the regular season, he picked his game up in the playoffs against the Boston Celtics. Joseph is an excellent defender who will provide a great foil to Fox either off the bench or playing alongside him for defensive stops. Harrison Barnes is now in his prime, and needs to show he is worth the 20 million a year paid to him. Barnes corner three percentage was an elite 45% for all of last year, while also posting a career high 2.3 makes a game from three point land. If he can get to the rim more, he can be an efficient two-way player.

Young guys

Kings fans should be excited about the growth of De’Aaron Fox. Fox took a massive step forward in year two, showing flashes of All-Star level play. Not only did he shoot 37% from three, he ranked in the top 1% of point guards in getting to the line. His aggressive defense and athletic play bode well for a massive future in the league.

Marvin Bagley will be looking to take a similar step forward in his second year in the league. The number two pick in last years draft, Bagley averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds post the All-Star break last season. He also shot 40% from three in this period. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up this 20 and 10 play through next season.

If the Kings continue to develop their young guys they have the pieces to be a front runner in the west. How they spend their cap space in free agency will decide the structure of the team over the next five years. The first goal should be to make it back to the playoffs for the first in 14 years. This will go a long way towards making it a more attractive destination for free agents.

New look Warriors

The Golden State Warriors face an uncertain next 12 months. After reaching five consecutive NBA finals in which they won three, they retooled the roster in preparation for the 2020 season. While the All-Star core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green remains intact, Kevon Looney is the only other surviving member of their championship core.

The four games to two finals loss to Kawhi Leonard’s Raptors will still be raw in the minds of both players and fans. Before Thompson went down with a devastating ACL tear, it seemed like the Warriors were going to take the series to seven games and potentially win another title. The injuries suffered by Thompson and Kevin Durant may have ended the Warriors dynasty prematurely. But while the All-NBA talents of Curry, Draymond and Green remain, the Warriors will continue to be dangerous.

D’Angelo Russell

Many shocking moves were made during the first few days of Free Agency, none more so than D’Angelo Russell’s move to the Warriors. After Kevin Durant left, the Warriors were over the cap looking like there was no way to improve the team. By executing a sign and trade with the Nets it meant they got something back for Durant, while signing an All-Star and one of the best young guards in the game. Russell took a massive step forward last season for the Nets. Posting a career best stat line of 21 points, four rebounds and seven assists, Russell dragged the Nets back to the playoffs. His three point and mid range shooting were both improved, while his impressive handle and ball control opened up his passing game. With Thompson’s injury and the need to manage Curry’s minutes, Russell will be free to run amok with Draymond on offense.

Other signings

Though they had to say goodbye to key pieces Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, this created space to enable them to stay competitive. Kevon Looney was a key resigning in this regard. At the bargain price of five million they brought back a guy with championship experience who can play on both ends. He will be a key part of the team moving forward. Being over the salary cap now means they have only been able to bring in players on minimum contracts.

Arguably the best center available at this price was Willie Cauley-Stein. An athletic rim running big, Willie is the energy piece the Warriors need. Playing for his next contract, he will provide great value on the minimum salary. Glenn Robinson III was also signed at the minimum. Robinson is an interesting prospect, still only 26. Coming off serious injuries the last few years, Robinson is an ex dunk contest winner who shot 39% from three point land for the Indiana Pacers. In real need of someone to play the three, Robinson if fit could have a breakout season for the Warriors.

There is one other intriguing signing who may have flown under the radar this summer. The Warriors traded two second round pick and cash to the New Orleans Pelicans to get 18 year old Alen Smailagic. The youngest ever G-league player at 17 last year, Smailagic has a unique blend of size and skill. At 6’10 he can shoot, put the ball on the floor and defend. With the Warriors star core all around the age of 30, young prospects like Smailagic are key to the future of the franchise.

Though this Warriors team may not contend for a championship this year, while they have four All-NBA talents they will continue to be a threat. If Klay Thompson returns and they are in the postseason, don’t be surprised to see another playoff run. There is no substitute for championship experience!

Next steps for the Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are on track to join the NBA’s elite. The combination of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic took the Nuggets back to the Playoffs for the first time in seven years. Building their talent through the draft, the Nuggets now pack a potential All-NBA one – two punch that is under contract for the next four years. Only a missed shot or two away from making the conference finals last season, Nuggets management have chosen to run it back this year. While western conference rivals the Clippers and Lakers mortgaged their futures to bring in star talent, the Nuggets gave away a solitary first rounder this off-season.

Young Core

Locking Jamal Murray down to a five year contract was the first off-season priority. Murray’s excellent play in the postseason was a massive part of why the Nuggets were a bounce of the ball away from making the conference finals. Murray was only the 9th player in playoff history to post 20 points, four rebounds and four assists in their age 21 season or younger. Murray was one of the youngest players in his draft class, and in his age 22 season this year is ready to explode plus 20 points a game. At rim finishing and getting to the line are the next steps for a player that has all the tools to be a top guard in this league. After agreeing to sign a five year – 170 million maximum deal, Murray and Jokic are now under contract for six and four more years respectively.

Nikola Jokic is about to enter his fifth year in the league. Last year was a breakout year for the Serbian as he was selected for the All-NBA 1st team. Already proclaimed by some as the greatest passing big man in NBA history, Jokic took his play to another level in the recently concluded playoffs. At only 24 Jokic is just hitting his peak, his insane playoff stat line proof that he is still improving. 25 points 13 rebounds and eight assists was the mark. This has only been achieved once prior to Jokic, by the great Oscar Robertson way back in 1962. Jokic’s defense needs to continue to improve to raise the floor of this team. The narrative that Jokic is a bad defender is incorrect, but he needs to make better reads on that end as the leader of this team. While Jokic and Murray provide the star building blocks, its the role players who will define the Nuggets playoff success in the future.

Role players are the key

Second round pick Monte Morris surprised plenty last season with his efficient scoring and strong play-making. Per cleaning the glass, Morris was in the top 3% of mid range shooters in the league last year. Malik Beasley also took his first big step in a Nuggets uniform in the past year. The 19th pick in the 2016 draft, Beasley improved his points per game from three to eleven while knocking down 40% of his three point attempts. If Morris and Beasley continue to improve, the Nuggets offense will have shooting options up and down the roster.

In what was possibly the most underrated move of the summer, the Nuggets traded a first round pick to Oklahoma City Thunder for power forward Jerami Grant. With Paul Millsap only having one year left on his contract, Grant could be the long term replacement at the four. A legitimate stretch big on a contract of only nine million, he is a strong playoff piece for this team. Connecting on 40% of his three pointers last season, Grant is also an improved defender. As Millsap’s offensive game peters out, Grant may be the perfect replacement piece.

While talking about options at the four, Michael Porter Jr’s availability this year could be a boon for the Nuggets. Porter missed all of last season with a back injury but is said to be fit for this coming season. Though they have a plethora of options at the four when you consider Jarred Vanderbilt also, Porter gives them another young scorer on a cost controlled rookie contract.

2020 season

Last year Will Barton, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap all missed significant times with injuries. Considering this and that they still had the sixth best offense, there is no reason this team cant take another step forward. Figuring out who will play small forward full-time may be an important decision, but in this position-less NBA it may be of more importance to have the right pieces around Murray and Jokic.

This Nuggets team is one of the most exciting in the league, and with the average age being around 25 they also have one of the brightest futures. A 50 win season and second round of the playoffs should be the goal again for this team. If they are fit and healthy there is no reason they couldn’t upset one of the more fancied big market teams.

Is it showtime yet?

photo credit – CBS Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers signed Lebron James a touch over 12 months ago now. After Magic Johnson promised it was showtime last year, Lebron got injured and they missed the playoffs. Fast forward to this June and they traded the young core that took years to build for Anthony Davis. Though NBA teams would make this trade 100 times out of 100, when they pulled the trigger on this trade the clock started ticking. Lebron has three years left on his deal, and potentially only two of these will be at the MVP level fans are used to. The Lakers need to start winning right away.

Laker fans have been waiting ten years for a team to win 50 games again. How quickly can Lebron and AD mesh and how does the rest of the roster fit with them?

Roster

DeMarcus Cousins may be the piece that gets the Lakers over the top. A recent photo of Cousins had the internet in a spin, showing him trim and taught. If Cousins get anywhere close to the player he was two years ago for the Pelicans, then the Lakers have their big three after all. Lebron and AD may be enough, but adding in a fit and motivated Boogie is a game changer.

Cousins if fit and back to his best, will enter next years Free Agency as the big fish. What better motivation is there than having a resurgent year so he can get the big payday that most of his all star peers have commanded? We know that AD and Boogie fit well together, the Pelicans had the leagues third best offense two years ago. They were also third in rebounding, and third in assists. How coach Frank Vogel chooses to use Boogie will play a major part in the success of the second unit. Maybe Vogel needs to stagger his minutes slightly so Boogie can destroy second units with shooters. Though Boogie wont have the elite shooting he did from last year, when he was alongside one of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson he was at his best.

Lineup data per 100 possessionsMPPTS▼
D. Cousins | S. Curry482:57+11
D. Cousins | K. Durant423:01+9.8
D. Cousins | K. Thompson612:59+7.6

Avery Bradley

The other exciting piece for the Lakers is Avery Bradley. Playing for the Boston Celtics he was an All-Defense selection in 2015/16, followed by a conference finals appearance the next year where he was a key piece. Recently he only played 109 games for three different teams, injuries and rebuilding teams hurt his stock and on court play.

The Lakers though, look like they have got a guy who is ready to get back to his best. Like new teammate Cousins, Bradley is back in shape and claims to have lost 40 pounds since he was with the Clippers. At his best he is one of the leagues premier perimeter defenders. Be it chasing shooters around screens or closing out on shooters, Bradley can be a lock-down defender when fit. Offensively he was a great finisher at the rim for the Celtics and is a career 36% shooter from three point range. He has the ceiling of a guy who is perfect for the playoffs.

Offense

Frank Vogel may decide to flick the switch and play fast this season. When the Pelicans were at their best with Anthony Davis, they were in the top three teams in the league for pace. Lebron is still a wrecking ball in transition also. The Lakers at their peak last year, were playing fast. This roster, though different to last year has lob threats as well as guys who can hit transition threes. It might not be showtime like the 1980s, but it will be effective.

Vogel has different options this year in terms of play style. Magic Johnson’s focus on ‘ play-makers ” last year had the team fall short of the postseason. Arguably they have more play-makers this year when you add in AD and Boogie. Big men who can play-make while stretching the floor are nightmare match-ups for opposition defenses. Last year, ball stoppers like Lance Stephenson hurt the strengths of the roster. This year they will look to move the ball to create mismatches for their ultra skilled bigs.

Defense

Last years Lakers team finished 21st in defense. Though at first glance they had the fourth best defense at the rim, they also allowed the fourth most attempts. The perimeter wasn’t much better, allowing a lot of threes and not defending them well either. Adding defensive player of the year candidate Anthony Davis is obviously a massive upgrade. Davis is one of the best when it comes to playing elite defense and not fouling. Per Cleaning the Glass, he is the only player in the league to finish in the top 6% in steal and block rate while fouling on less than 3% of possessions. Bringing back good defenders Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee means the bench defense wont be lacking like last year. While Avery Bradley and Danny Green provide elite perimeter stopping without slowing down the offense.

Though the Western Conference is stacked again this year, the Lakers have two of the leagues top five players and what may be an elite defense. They will play fast and shoot a lot of threes, while their big men will get to the rim at will. The front office have gone all in this year, come October the rubber will hit the road and the world will see if showtime has really returned to LA.

Minnesota Timberwolves offseason

Jarrett Culver

The Minnesota Timberwolves rolled into the off-season with a spring in their step. After Gersson Rosas was hired as the new President of basketball operations in May, fans had reason to be optimistic about a long term vision for the franchise. Rosas activity in the draft and free agency have meant the Timberwolves are no longer watching from the sidelines.

Coaching Structure

Not only has Rosas made moves as far as the team goes, he has improved the coaching staff by bringing in specialists from other franchises. Pablo Prigioni was brought in from the Brooklyn Nets after a year where he was instrumental in the development of Caris LeVert and D’Angelo Russell. David Vanterpool was also brought in from the Trailblazers where he was a popular and highly regarded member of their coaching staff.

Vanterpool was a favourite of Damian Lillard’s and is due much credit for Lillard and CJ McCollum’s development. Gianluca Pascucci was also poached from the Nets where he was the Director of global scouting. Pascucci will join the Timberwolves as Assistant General Manager.

Making Moves

Not only should we praise the caliber of these hires, but the age and diversity should also be noted. They are young coaches and front office staff with varied backgrounds from proven organisations. Rosas has shown his hand early on,saying in his introductory press conference he would be aggressive in improving the roster. Prior to draft night it seemed like a defensive minded power forward would be taken with the 11th pick. Rosas surprised everyone at the time by not making a conservative pick of a second or third year PF with limited upside. He swung for the fences and traded Dario Saric to the Phoenix Suns to trade up to #6 and take Jarrett Culver. Though Saric is a nice piece and potentially a starter on a good team, Rosas knew he would command too much on the open market when he hit restricted free agency.

Wing player Culver showed a lot of promise at Texas Tech, running the offense while playing excellent defense on the other end. As detailed below, he has legitimate two way potential in the league.

In the second round, Jaylen Nowell was selected out of Washington with the 43rd pick. Nowell was the Pac-12 player of the year and shot an impressive 44% from three point range last season. Like Culver he has great size and can score.

Free Agency

When free agency rolled around, Rosas and co were aggressive in trying to land D’Angelo Russell. If not for the Golden State Warriors swooping in, Russell may have come across in a sign and trade with the Brooklyn Nets. Though this move didn’t come off, fans shouldn’t be disappointed. Rosas stayed true to his word to be proactive in the market.

With no cap space to speak of, he proceeded to trawl the open market for value players with upside. Jordan Bell was the first cab off the rank. Though Bell had a disappointing year for the Warriors he is worth a punt on a 1.6 million minimum contract. Not only is he a good passer at his position, he is a great offensive re-bounder. When engaged, he can play strong defense on the perimeter and at the rim. Noah Vonleh was also an excellent acquisition at the minimum. The 9th pick in the draft in 2014, Vonleh has reinvented himself in the last year. Showcasing an improved shooting stroke and defense, Vonleh was one of only two Knick players with a positive on / off rating.

Bargain Deals

Jake Layman was another strong pickup for the Wolves. Layman is a 6’9 wing who spent three years with the Trailblazers. Like Vonleh, Layman broke out this year. While casual NBA fans may not have taken notice of his excellent year, Layman played the most minutes of his career and was one of the best finishers at the rim at his position. If he continues to improve his jump-shot, he could be a starter in this league. The last move made in the off-season was acquiring Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham from the Warriors. While the details of this trade haven’t been confirmed, its looking like the Warriors had to pay to get off these two contracts. Napier is a good backup point guard on a cheap contract. While Graham is a cheap wing who can play bench minutes.

Rosas also had to make a tough decision when choosing not to match the Memphis Grizzlies offer for Tyus Jones. Unfortunately for fan favorite Tyus, the 27 million offer made by Memphis was an overpay for his services. Tyus was great in his role and stepped up in the last year with an injury plagued roster. Not paying Tyus means they are only a Gorgui Dieng expiring deal away from having max cap space next year.

Though the Timberwolves aren’t in championship contention or signing max free agents, its great to see they have a clear direction in the front office. Rosas and co are working towards strengthening the team long term, while trying to make the roster younger. They will be strong defensively this coming season, while Karl-Anthony Towns may well take another step forward. If Rosas moves so far are an indication of whats to come, this team may look significantly stronger within 12 months.

Sports Business Classroom 2019

This July I was lucky enough to be selected for the Sports Business Classroom at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. When I heard about this program a year ago on the Dunc’d on Podcast, I decided I would do whatever it took to get there. The second I got the magic email from program head and salary cap / CBA master Larry Coon, I signed up on the spot. 

This was a watershed moment for me. Once submitted my application, I knew this was the time to give away my full time sales job and sink my teeth into basketball as a full-time career. 

I had some reservations about how I would fit in when I went to Vegas. I was from New Zealand, I was going to be a lot older than the other students, did I have enough knowledge? 

In the months leading up to the program I was both nervous and excited. I laid out my favorite Jordan’s the week before, I wanted to stand out and represent New Zealand well! 

Las Vegas

The day I flew out was a Saturday, it was also the last day of my sales job. Not only had I just quit my job but I was about to fly for around 18 hours to attend the Sports Business Classroom! After a wild week of NBA Free Agency I couldn’t even say goodbye to my wife without my phone exploding with another blockbuster trade. After three long but non eventful flights, I was at last in Las Vegas.

I realized pretty quickly that most of the NBA’s elite were in Vegas for this week. Within a few hours I had shared a lift with Terry Rozier and spotted Dwight Howard and Marvin Bagley Jr in the hotel lobby. Coming from a non basketball country that dines out on Andrew Bogut playing once a year in Auckland, this was a big deal for me.

I helped my room-mate Andrew check-in on Sunday, Andrew is a great guy and we straight away started talking basketball. After spotting similar basketball nerds in the hotel lobby, I knew I had come to the right program. Wandering down to the hotel sports book to join the other students, we were the loudest people in the Palms Casino. To my surprise they had taken over the bar without buying a single drink and there were various animated discussions going on between fans of different teams. By the time our group had swelled to 20, the bar manager had to ask us to leave. She didn’t want to hear one more minute of discussion on Ben Simmons jump shot!

NBA Nerds!

This theme continued all week, the 87 students got on so well. We spent most of our spare time debating trades, free agency and general NBA themes. The students on the program were excellent people, not only were they obviously fanatical about the game but they were there to learn and grow.

As far as the content went, we were spoilt for choice. Kenny ‘ The Jet ‘ Smith walked in on the first night and everyone lost it. The theme of high calibre guest speakers continued throughout the week.

Sports Business Majors

The heart and soul of the program though was Mr Larry Coon. Not only is Larry one of the foremost salary cap and CBA experts in the league, he is a genuinely great guy who has built a world class program. He was ably assisted by Dave DuFour, Eric Pincus, Beau Estes, Jeff Fellenzer and a team of interns. The program ran smoothly throughout the week as people settled into their chosen majors. Between Scouting and Analytics, CBA Salary Cap, and Social Media there was something for everyone. You still dipped your toe in the other subjects as ‘ minors. ‘

Dave DuFour led the Analytics and Scouting. He brought in ex Atlanta Hawks GM Wes Wilcox to talk the Scouting and Draft Process. Dave is a great guy and often answered dozens of questions from students if there was a break in the program.

Wes was one of the highlights of the program for me. With 15 years experience on both the Cavaliers and the Hawks, Wes was a student favorite throughout the week. Not only was his content on point as far as technical and organisational points went, Wes was open and honest with the students. He encouraged us to build our own draft or player evaluations while pushing the students to form their own opinions while watching game tape.

Larry Legend

Another head scratching question for Eric Pincus!

Larry and Eric Pincus led the CBA / Salary Cap major. They sat in the directors chairs at the front of the class and proceeded to wow the students with their in depth knowledge and dry humor when it came to the CBA. After some good background on the CBA, the next day the class ripped into a mock trade deadline after splitting into groups of five or six. By the end of the week Larry had reached legend status, students started chanting his name when he entered the arena or classroom!

It would be an understatement to say this trade deadline was wild. Each team had an assigned NBA expert that ranged from Howard Beck to Nate Duncan. People were trying to dump salary, pull off five team trades or just get one over their fellow classmates!

David Aldridge was another speaker earlier in the week. David is a basketball hall of fame inductee, and is a legend in media circles. His advice to the class was gold, while his stories were both funny and touching. David was just one of an array of great speakers and contributors.

After a full on week of learning and networking, I was sad to be heading home. The content was detailed and concise, while the program was slick and organised. While making life long friends and connections, this program provided me with a lot of new skills and direction for my career.

If you are pursuing a career in the NBA or Basketball in general, this program is a must. Nowhere else can you get so many of the world’s best basketball minds in one place, while learning from like minded peers and tutors. This week was a life changing one for me and I look forward to seeing everyone again next year when I head back to Summer league!

Steven Adams – Potential Trade

Bill Simmons created waves in New Zealand recently by posing a trade for Steven Adams on two of his podcasts. A fervent Boston Celtics supporter, Simmons tweeted that the Celtics had enough cap space to take Adams on in a trade. This was massive news in New Zealand where Adams is the prodigal son as far as basketball is concerned. As upset as New Zealanders were, the Oklahoma City Thunder need to make the best decision for the future of the franchise.

Adams is about to enter the third year of his four year 100 million dollar contract. When this deal was signed in 2016 the NBA’s salary cap had spiked to unexpected levels, leaving teams with tonnes of cash. The Thunder at the time had just controversially lost Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors. They had also traded away Serge Ibaka, who had also been a cornerstone of the team. With money to burn they spent it on Adams. their best young player, coming off a massive playoffs.

NBA centers

Adams has been worth every cent of his deal so far. He has provided similar value as far as win shares went when compared to other top centers in the league. Win Shares is used to show how a player has contributed to a teams season when it comes to wins. Adams played the most minutes of any center this year. As far as centers go, this season Adams ranked second in steals, second in offensive rebounds, tenth in total rebounds and seventh in win shares.

Though Adams flagged in the Playoffs performance wise, the Thunder were 9.9 points better when he was on the floor in the regular season. Diving a little deeper, the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet are where Adams excels. He is always top 10 in the league for loose balls recovered, boxing out on rebounds and for setting screens. He is also usually one of only a few centers regularly contesting three pointers out on the perimeter.

Bloated Payroll

Unfortunately the Thunder are in a position where their glue guy Adams may need to be shipped out of town. Russell Westbrook is the third highest paid player in the league, and Paul George rounds out the top ten. As they have built the rest of the team, their payroll has ballooned out to a league high 146 million. In a lot of cases this high payroll wouldn’t be a problem. With the Thunder having exited in the first round the past three years, management aren’t keen to have such a massive tax bill for a team that isn’t contending for a championship. Being over the salary cap, they can only reduce salary by trading to a team that is under the cap. They may even need to attach positive assets to sweeten the deal for the team they trade with.

Sub-par replacement options

Hypothetically if the Thunder were to trade Adams, they would reduce their payroll and luxury tax bill. But as they would still be over the cap, they would only have limited money to spend on Adams replacement. The mid level exception is given to teams who are over the cap, this is around 5.7 million. If the Thunder trade Adams they would have to use this 5.7 million to sign another center. Again, as they may need to attach other assets to dump Adams contract the only other way they could improve the team is by using that 5.7 million. It may take Terrance Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo as sweeteners to move Adams. With both Adams and Diallo moved they could only replace them using their exception or by signing players on minimum contracts.

The Thunder may think that getting off Adams salary would help them by saving on tax payments. But Adams is the glue that holds the team together, his value cant be quantified by purely looking at counting stats. They would surely be a worse team without him, especially on defense. Also there isn’t a player on the open market that could replicate what Adams does. The Thunder are better off to run it back this year and hope that a healthy squad is enough to get them out of the first round.

Jarrett Culver – Timberwolves Rookie

Last week on Draft night, the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Dario Saric and the 11th pick to move up to the 6th pick. In doing so they selected Jarrett Culver, a second year player out of Texas Tech.

By trading Saric and going all in on Culver, the Timberwolves organisation were committing to filling their roster with long athletic wings. With Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington and Josh Okogie on the roster, new POBO Gersson Rosas wanted to make a splash by adding another young wing.

Culver is a 6’5 multi position player with a 6’9 wing span. He has an athletic body and although he is only 194 pounds he can fill out his frame well with NBA strength and conditioning. He has a well rounded game for the NBA and is a highly rated two way prospect.

Offense

Shot creation for himself and others is a big part of Culver’s game. He can get his shot off from anywhere inside the arc, even in late clock situations. Comfortable shooting off the catch or the dribble, he likes going to his left and hitting mid range jumpers. He needs to take less shots early in the clock though and not settle for deep contested jumpers. Moving well off the ball, he makes hard cuts with purpose. If he cant get the ball himself he tries to screen or set pin downs for teammates.

Though his 3 point efficiency dropped off this year from 38% to 30% he has a nice stroke with a high release. He has a wide range of moves at the rim, and tries to absorb contact when finishing. Culver got to the line on average 5.5 times a game. Like his three point shooting, he needs to work on his free throw shooting. He only shot 70% from the line. His dribble has improved and he has a nice crossover, but if he is going to play the two guard he will need to work on more dribble combos to get past elite defenders. With his long fluid strides if he works on his dribble this will open up the rest of his game. .

Passing

His passing game is improving and he projects as a strong secondary playmaker in the NBA. Averaging 3.7 assists per game in his second season at Texas Tech, Culver showed good court vision and patience to find bigs with dump off passes, or shooters on the weak-side with drive and kick plays. As he is a strong rebounder he can initiate offense by pushing in transition also. He needs to temper some of his aggression when play-making though, as he sometimes dribbles into trouble and loses the ball. As he was the primary play-maker on Texas Tech he took on all the scoring and play-making duties. In the NBA he wont be required to do either of these things. He can focus on making the right plays when the ball comes his way.

Defense

He has the ability to guard multiple positions in the NBA, and if he can get stronger he has All-Defense upside. Culver plays hard on both ends, and makes smart decisions on defense. His help instincts are good, and he isn’t caught gambling too often. Moving well laterally, he jumps passing lanes to get steals at a high rate. Though he wont be the biggest guy on the wing in the NBA, he is quick and has a great body for defense. He should be able to make an impact on this end with his strong instincts. Culver is an excellent defensive rebounder and can rise above bigger guys with his long arms.

Summary

Culver may end up starting from day one in Minnesota. If this is the case, he will need to learn quickly on a team that is in win now mode. Luckily he will be playing next to defensive dynamo Covington. If he can use smart shot selection and play sound defense he can start his career well for the Timberwolves. His ceiling will be a player like Covington or Jeremy Lamb. As Culver has come in younger than these guys he will want to make an impact right away. If he is willing to work hard on his game then he can have a long career in the league.

NBA Draft – Minnesota Timberwolves

Yesterdays NBA Draft wound up one of the wildest weeks in recent NBA memory. The Toronto Raptors were crowned NBA champions, Klay Thompson blew his ACL and then Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers. After this wild six days, the Draft didn’t disappoint yesterday.

NBA Draft

With a tonne of moves being made prior to and on Draft day, the Timberwolves decided to get in on the action and make their own big trade. Trading Dario Saric with number 11 they moved up to number 6 and selected Jarrett Culver out of Texas Tech. This came as a shock to many, as Saric’s fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns seemed to be a strong one. This is all in the past now though. Jarrett Culver and Jaylen Nowell who was selected with the 43rd pick are now part of the Wolves young core.

Though this leave Keita Bates-Diop as the only true power forward on the roster, this shouldn’t be a concern for Wolves fans. Gorgui Dieng played some of the best basketball of his career next to Karl-Anthony Towns in the front court. While Robert Covington has played almost a third of his career minutes at the four.

Jarrett Culver

Culver is an intriguing prospect for the Wolves. A second year player out of Texas Tech, he was recently named the big twelve player of the year. Culver stands almost 6’6 and has a 6’10 wing span. Though he doesnt have a massive frame, he has an athletic body that will benefit from NBA conditioning.

From his first year to his second year at Texas Tech, Culver improved across the board statistically.

Though his three point shot regressed from 38% to 30%, his improvement across the board in all other categories bodes well for the Timberwolves. Culver’s potential as a two way player and secondary playmaker should have Timberwolves fans excited. A strong passer at his position, Culver can shoot and finish strongly at the rim. He is a great rebounder and a multi positional defender. Though his shot still needs some work, he projects as an excellent three and D prospect if he can continue to improve.

Jarrett Culver

Jaylen Nowell

Combo guard Jaylen Nowell was selected with the 43rd pick as a second year player out of Washington. Nowell was the Pac-12 player of the year for the Huskies and stands 6’4 with a 6’5 wing span. He has a solid body for his age and weighs in at 202 pounds. Nowell is an explosive scoring point guard, who also has two way potential. An excellent defender in college, Nowell shot an impressive 44% from three this year also. Like his new teammate Culver, Nowell has improved his game from year one to year two. He increased his impact statistically across the board while improving his shooting percentages also.

Jaylen Nowell

In Nowell and Culver the Wolves have two strong pieces for the future. By adding scoring and defense, new POBO Gersson Rosas is shoring up a defense that has performed terribly for years. Wolves fan can be happy with the NBA Draft this year.

Ja Morant – Draft Profile

Photo credit, Maddie Meyer – Getty Images

Ja Morant is a nineteen year old Point Guard and second year player out of Murray State. Morant is mocked on almost all Draft boards at number two, being selected by the Memphis Grizzlies. He has drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook and Steve Francis with his speed and athletic play.

Morant has exploded in the last 24 months after only being lightly recruited when he left High School. In his first year at Murray State, Morant averaged 12 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. In his second year Morant had one of the great point guard years of recent times, averaging 24 points 5 rebounds and 10 assists.

At 6’3 and 190 pounds Morant will be one of the lighter point guards in the NBA. His 6’7 wing span means he has a high ceiling defensively though. NBA conditioning will be important for Morant, he will need to get stronger to match up defensively against bigger players. He may be the most athletic player in this Draft. He is a great leaper and athletically will only get better with NBA coaching and strength training.

Scouting

The first thing you notice when watching video of Morant is his handle. He has the best handle in this Draft class, when he makes the NBA he may be one of the best ball handlers in the league. His repertoire of dribbles moves are elite. With a quick first step and the ability to change speed and direction with his crossover, he is a nightmare to guard in the open court.

Passing

In the open court he pushes with purpose and uses his speed to make opportunities for others or himself. As a passer Morant has strong court vision, he can pass of either hand and has good accuracy on these passes. He can also pass out of double teams, whether hes getting trapped in a pick and roll or attracting extra attention on drives to the rim. While he could become an elite floor general in the NBA, Morant needs to balance the amount of great reads with the bad reads he makes. He sometimes make wild turnovers in the half court, being it an alley-oop pass or throwing over a cutter’s head. With potential NBA teammates having better anticipation and reactions, Morant will have more room for error. But NBA coaches wont put up with wild turnovers in the half court.

Offense

Offensively Morant has a well balanced game. He is an excellent finisher at the rim and uses superior body control to finish around opponents. His elite quickness and change of pace means he can get to the rim at will. This aggression was rewarded with 8.2 trips to the foul line per game this season. His slight body meant he sometimes went for more complex finishes around the rim rather than finishing through contact. If he packs on some extra muscle he has the tools to get multiple and-ones in game situations. He can finish with his right hand but prefers the left, he will need to work on his right to be elite at the next level.

As a shooter he has all the skills to be a great shot creator, he makes a lot of space for himself with speed and dribble moves. Though Morant is a confident shooter, his shooting form may be of concern for potential teams. He releases from his head and with the elbow sticking out. These mechanics mean he struggles to get his shot off when shooting off the dribble. Shooting 36.3% from three this season may be an outlier, but if he were to improve his mechanics he could be an above average shooter in the league.

Defense

Morant is an excellent man defender, with his long arms he can steal or tip the ball away from his opponent. He also blocks some shots with his leaping ability. He can move his feet well in either direction and has good instincts when defending one on one.

On the other hand, his off ball defense needs some work. Defending one on one he has good instincts, but he can get stuck ball watching when playing off the ball. He sometimes forgets to box out, and he often gets caught out of position. His elite quickness meant a lot of his gambles paid off, but at the next level he cant rely just on athleticism. Morant got a lot of rebounds by using his superior leaping ability rather than great technique. As he carried such a massive offensive load he can be forgiven for some of these mistakes. Though NBA coaching may iron a lot of these habits out, if he wants to be the engine of an NBA offense he will need to be a passable team defender.

Summary

Morant is the consensus number two pick in what is considered a weak Draft. Though he had an excellent year at Murray State he didnt come up against many elite teams at NCAA level. He will need to be tested at the highest level to see how much of his game translates well. With elite athleticism and speed he has the potential to be a perennial All-Star. If he works on his shooting and defense he could have a long career as a starter on a playoff team.

If the Grizzlies pick Ja Morant at number two they are getting a key cog to rebuild around. He will be an excellent fit next to Jaren Jackson Jr, these two could provide the core to put the Grizzlies back in playoff contention.

Sekou Doumbouya – Draft Profile

Sekou Doumbouya is a fascinating prospect for the NBA Draft in two weeks time. Doumbouya is a six foot ten wing who at 18 has already matured physically. Currently playing for Limoges CSP in France, Doumbouya could be picked as high as number ten when the Draft rolls around.

Doumbouya is one of the youngest prospects in this Draft, only turning 18 in December. Signing his first professional contract in 2016, he played his first Pro game at only 15 years of age. What he lacks in age he makes up for in Star potential. Doumbouya has all the makings of a new age prototypical NBA wing, surprisingly he isn’t higher on the major Draft boards. Mocked between 12 and 20 on a lot of boards, he has a higher ceiling than a lot of the other Power Forwards around this range. Though he has only averaged 19 minutes a game this year, his efficiency stands strongly among other more well known prospects.

Numbers

In 29 games this year in the French league he has averaged the following.

7.7 Points 3.2 Rebounds 0.7 Assists 0.7 Steals 0.5 Blocks

Below are the shooting splits for all the Forwards that are mocked in most peoples top 20s. Doumbouya grades out in the middle for two point %, while also shooting 33% from three at only 18 years old. Though he doesn’t get to the line often, he has one of the strongest free throw percentages at 77%. Among forwards that attempt two threes a game, Doumbouya also has the second highest effective field goal % at 65%. Ranked from red to green, Doumbouya shows strong overall efficiency in his limited minutes in the French league.

On Court Play

The first thing that you notice when watching video is his aggressiveness in the open court. Being able to turn defense into offense in transition, he has long fluid strides and can even initiate the offense from time to time. His first step is very quick, he wont always have opportunities like this in the NBA but he can quickly burn past opposition defenders while taking the ball coast to coast. He can struggle slightly in half court sets, but his decision making is good and he recognizes mismatches early. Attacking closeouts is a strength and if he isn’t shooting then he always take it all the way to the rim. He can absorb contact well and although he sometimes has tunnel vision on plays, his aggressiveness means he can finish second or third chance opportunities. His dribble seems to have improved over the season and has flashed some basic moves which he uses either on the perimeter or in transition.

He also has a few post-up moves and can create space for a jumper or a drop step if he gets good position. Though he isn’t a great passer he can pass out of the post and recognizes double teams and occasionally kicks to shooters on the weak-side. As he will have plenty of transition opportunities he will need to work on his passing vision. A natural right hander, he can use both hands finishing around the rim. This will be important for the next level where teams take away options on the favoured strong hand. Doumbouya utilizes underhand finishes, be it off the glass or finger rolls. He has a spin move which he likes to use, though his footwork isn’t developed fully he has noticeably been working hard to perfect his offense. He cuts hard off the ball and looks to take nice angles to the rim from teammates passes. This off the ball play is encouraging, effort wise he likes to stay involved.

His shot is more impressive than the 33% from three suggests. In the below clip from Draft Analyst Mike Schmitz, Doumbouya has a nice arc from the corner with smooth mechanics and a great release.

Again, he is only 18 years old. More heralded prospects in this years Draft don’t have a jump shot with the mechanics of his, nor the results. He has flashed some off the dribble shots from the perimeter, using a between the legs or side to side dribble to create room.

Defense

Doumbouya has real two way potential. He battles hard down low and doesn’t allow good position for his opponent. He can make good rotations but his awareness isn’t elite when closing out to shooters. He can recover quickly though and covers ground well, like on offense he doesn’t give up on the play. His help defense around the rim is stronger and he recognizes threats down low better than out wide. His quick feet mean he can switch onto guards, though his stance has been criticized he can stay with guards and fights well through screens. With more training he could potentially guard all five positions. His physicality around the block is impressive, he doesn’t allow easy buckets. He will need to temper this slightly at the next level to not give away and-ones and silly fouls. Already a great offensive rebounder, he has massive defensive rebounding potential. He skies above the rim at both ends, but needs to work on the fundamentals on the defensive end.

NBA Comparison

A strong NBA comparison for Doumbouya would be Most Improved player candidate Pascal Siakam. Siakam came into the league at 22 and was lighter than Doumbouya. Though Siakam has a noticeably larger wing span raising his defensive ceiling, they had similar switch-ability coming into the Draft. Siakams jump shot wasn’t as developed at this age, but they had similar games offensively. Siakam had more defensive fundamentals but had two years of NCAA coaching at New Mexico State. With similar bodies and skill at their size, Siakam is a solid comparison for the Frenchman. Drafted 27th by the Raptors, Siakam spent time in the G-League before exploding in his third year to now be a fringe All-Star and one game away from being the second best player on a championship team.

Sekou Doumbouya could well be the steal of this Draft. As this was being written he has been mocked between nine and thirteen as more analysts recognize his upside. This kid has a big future in the league, here’s hoping he gets drafted by a team that develops him to his full potential.

2019 Free Agency and Draft Team needs – Detroit Pistons

Photo Credit – Gregory Shamus

The Detroit Pistons enter the 2019 summer none the wiser on their future. They had an improved showing in the regular season where they made the Playoffs for the first time in three years. Though Dwane Casey utilized a rejuvenated Blake Griffin to win 41 games, their meek showing in the Playoffs after Blake was injured showed the holes in the roster. They are over the cap and unless they can dump some salary to get under it, then they will only have the mid-level exception to spend. The Pistons will also have the number fifteen pick in this years Draft.

Of the 16 teams that made the post-season, the Pistons sent teams to the line more than any other and had the worst shooting efficiency in the regular season. They also protected the rim very poorly, allowing the 27% worst percentage in the league. With no real options at Small Forward on the roster after trading away Stanley Johnson they should be looking at the Draft to restock their wing depth. Assuming there are no wild moves to get under the cap, the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions will be all they have to spend this summer. That means this summer they will only have around 12.5 million to spend.

Rim Protection

Backup rim protection should be a priority, so a defensive minded big who can move between center and power forward would be a good start. Power forwards and centers aren’t hard to come by on the open market.

DeWayne Dedmon would be an excellent addition for the Pistons. At seven foot one he is good shot blocker and has a long wingspan. He is also great at disrupting the ball in the pick and roll or on entry passes. Dedmon is an excellent rebounder and also one of the best stretch bigs in the league. Shooting 38% from three in the past season he knocked down 82 three pointers. A late bloomer in the league, the 29 year old Dedmon has played his last two years on the Hawks. As he is a stretch big his asking price will probably be around 7 – 10 million in this market.

JaVale McGee would also be an excellent option for the Pistons as a backup center. Coming off the best year of his career with the Lakers, McGee was one of the best rim protectors in the league. Averaging two blocks a game he is also one of the most efficient centers in the league when it comes to finishing around the rim. He finished in the top 11% of centers in the last season for EFG% and at the rim finishing. Like Dedmon he is also an excellent rebounder. McGee is a prime lob threat and could be an excellent roll man in tandem with Blake Griffin. McGee may command slightly more than last season on the open market, but a deal around $5 million wouldn’t be an over pay.

Forward Options

The Pistons should look to move up in the Draft and take Sekou Doumbouya. If they can dump Reggie Jackson’s expiring contract and bring back some longer term bad salary, they could move up to around the 9th or 10th pick in the Draft. Doumboya is a 6’9 forward playing in France with untapped physical potential. At 18 Doumbouya is one of the youngest draftees, he has an almost seven foot wing span and is a strong 230 pounds. Though he is very raw, he moves fluidly for a big man and has excellent footwork. He struggles from time to time effort wise, but when locked in he could potentially guard all five positions. His jumper isn’t consistent but he has nice form so with time could be a lethal stretch four. Doumbouya has shades of Pascal Siakam, be it the spin move or running the floor in transition. Though he is only 18 he already weighs as much as Siakam and is only one inch shorter than him. If the Pistons could move up in the Draft, taking Doumbouya would be a massive step in the right direction.

2019 Free Agency Team needs – Chicago Bulls

Photo credit Jeff Haynes

With the NBA season concluding in a few weeks, its the perfect time to focus on Team needs for the upcoming 2019 Free Agency. 10 teams have at least one max salary slot, while 13 other teams are over the cap and will only have use of the Mid-Level Exception.

The Chicago Bulls enter 2019s Free Agency in a relatively stable position. They have all their players on rookie contracts bar Zach LaVine, Otto Porter and Cristiano Felicio. This means their cap situation is healthy, with only 81 million on the books for the coming season.

Though its good that they only have long-term money tied up in Zach LaVine, they are still uncertain about their who their future cornerstones are. LaVine is their best player and a piece for the future coming off his best season in the league. Lauri Markannen is the other piece they are building around, he has definite All-Star potential. Outside of these two players they have a need for scoring at the Point Guard position. Management have said they aren’t giving up on Kris Dunn, but have made it clear they need to upgrade at the Point. They also need defense and three point shooting up and down the roster. Otto Porter has two years left on his max deal after coming in at the deadline via a trade for Jabari Parker. Though Porter is overpaid at around 25 million a year he is a strong three and D player in the league. His salary may have some value as an expiring deal next year, but the Bulls should hold off trading him unless they can find an excellent deal. Their strategy should be to build through the Draft then take some low cost flyers on players they can develop.

Point Guard

There aren’t many high upside Point Guards in this year’s Free Agent market. D’Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier and Delon Wright are the best young guards available, but Russell and Rozier will likely command large pay days in other markets. With Ja Morant and Darius Garland likely off the board when the Bulls draft at number seven, they can either try and draft Coby White with the seventh pick or throw an offer sheet at one of the aforementioned free agent point guards. A two way player like Coby White would be the best fit next to Zach LaVine.

Coby White is mocked at number seven currently on a lot of Draft Boards. Though he isn’t an elite passer he has a good feel for the game and makes solid reads in both transition and half court sets. His two way ability is what makes him a strong prospect for the Bulls. Standing around 6’5 his frame isnt huge, so he may struggle to cover large shooting guards. But he moves well from side to side and is only 19 so can still add bulk to his frame. White has a great first step and is very quick across the floor. He is a competent three point shooter at 35%, his mechanics are solid and he has a step back he can use also. His off the dribble game requires some work but he has the physical tools to master it.

If all else fails as far as getting a top level guard through the Draft or Free Agency they should look at signing a stopgap option on a two year deal. A player like Darren Collison or Cory Joseph would fit the bill nicely. Its important the Bulls only roll their cap space over and don’t get caught overpaying in Free Agency.

Three and D options

To preserve cap space for future years the Bulls are smart to look at young guys who can come in and play for their next contract on low value deals.

Glenn Robinson III would be a good low cost option who could have potential upside if he can stay fit. Robinson has improved his teams defense by an average of 2.5 points per 100 possessions each of the last three years. He rebounds his position well, defends without fouling and is a career 41% shooter from corner three spot also. A deal worth around 3 million with an non-guaranteed second year or a team option would suit the Bulls nicely.

If Dorian Finney-Smith isn’t brought back by the Dallas Mavericks he would be an excellent fit on the Bulls. Finney-Smith is a 6’8 wing who has improved his shooting each year he has been in the league. He is an excellent offensive rebounder for his size and has showed on defense that he can defend multiple positions. Though he only shot 31% from three in the last year, he has played under 200 games in the league and is a hard worker off the court.

Jake Layman could be another intriguing prospect to bring to the Windy City. Only used sparingly by the Portland Trail Blazers in his first two years with them. Layman played 71 games this year, impressing plenty of people with his defense and finishing around the rim. At 6’9 he is a big small forward who can guard smaller players on the perimeter too. An excellent offensive rebounder, he finished at the rim at 74% last season. This ranks Layman in the top 10% at his position. An improving three point shooter, he shot 36% on above the break threes this year too. Though the Blazers have his Bird rights, its not a guarantee they bring him back. Layman is only 25 and on the improve, so a two year deal worth four or five million or so a year could be enough to lure him away.

Warriors – Raptors Game One points

The Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors squared up in Game one of the NBA finals in Toronto yesterday. Led by Pascal Siakam’s 32 points, the Raptors comfortably put the Warriors away 118 – 109. Kevin Durant was cleared not fit to play, while DeMarcus Cousins was cleared for his first game since injuring his thigh in the first round of the Playoffs.

Draymond Green couldn’t guard Pascal Siakam

This Game was Siakam’s coming out party in this Playoffs. Though he had massive games in all three previous playoff rounds, his 32 points was a Playoff career high. The Warriors geared their defense towards shutting down Kawhi Leonard. By putting Draymond Green on Siakam, Coach Steve Kerr thought Green could help off of Siakam and shut Kawhi down. Siakam saw this as an opportunity to take it right to Green though. Siakam’s size advantage coupled with his ball handling and crafty post moves meant he was able to score on Green a massive seven times out of ten. Though Green is a great man defender he struggled to body up Siakam, and as he had picked up early fouls this made the job on Siakam even harder.

Marc Gasol’s game is a perfect for the Raptors

When Marc Gasol was traded to the Toronto Raptors at the trade deadline, Masai Ujiri knew he was getting an elite defender who could stretch the floor with shooting and passing ability. Gasol has surpassed expectations this postseason with his defensive savvy and timely scoring. On the Memphis Grizzlies he had almost double the usage he has now for Toronto. Not bothered by having less touches, he has been excellent at setting screens and passing out of the low post. He was a +8 in yesterdays game, his best rating since game five of the 76ers series.

In yesterdays game he defended all the way out to the perimeter when needed. He also hit two three pointers and had a game best 107 defensive rating when he was on the floor. The Warriors smaller lineups may struggle to defend him down low as they don’t have the massive rim presence that previous Raptors opponents had.

Fred VanVleet has improved as the Playoffs have gone on

After shooting a measly 12% in the series against the 76ers on only two points a game, Fred VanVleet bounced back to the tune of 47% shooting against the Bucks. Yesterday he was five of eight from the field and was a team high +11. His quickness and use of off ball screens mean he is a threat from anywhere on the court. While his catch and shoot game is also strong, his shooting came on in the last series when he was able to shoot three pointers from Kawhi Leonard drives. Not known as an elite defender, yesterday when guarding Stephen Curry he limited him to only one of six shooting. This is an added bonus for the Raptors if VanVleet can continue to limit Curry.

RJ Hampton – NZ Breakers signing

Photo credit – FIBA

This morning on ESPN show The Jump, five star rated recruit and projected 2020 top 10 pick RJ Hampton announced he was signing with the NZ Breakers. This was massive news all around the Basketball world. After some LaMelo Ball rumours, this signing has lived up to the hype. The Breakers lost last years import and star player Shawn Long to a fellow NBL team. With other import signings on the horizon the Breakers have started their free agency with a bang.

Hampton is a legitimate NBA prospect with Star upside. Though the Breakers have generated a ton of hype with this signing, its clear that this guy has come to play. He will be looking to solidify or even improve his projected draft position.

Scouting

Hampton is a 6’5 Point Guard out of Little Elm High School in Texas. He was chosen as the Texas High School Player of the year. He became the first non senior to win it since Justise Winslow, who went on to be a top 10 pick for the Miami Heat. Though Hampton has a good size frame he is skinny and will want to bulk up in the next 12 months. He has just turned 18 though so has time on his side in this regard. In comparison, this years projected number two pick Ja Morant is an inch shorter than Hampton and weighs ten pounds less.

Offense

The first thing that you notice when watching Hampton is his athletiscm. Dunking off one foot he has great elevation and can finish well around the rim with finger rolls or soft touch finishes off the glass. He has nice long fluid strides and uses an array of spin moves and Eurosteps to get past defenders and finish around or through them. Though he sometimes struggles in contact against bigger players, he is crafty enough at the rim to either use an under hand finish or a change of direction to get past these larger opponents.

He has a tight handle and can change direction or stop on a dime. Hampton loves to finish with his right, though he is comfortable dribbling with his left he tends to go back to finishing on his right. At the next level he will need to use his left more but he has the dribble and body control to aid with this development.

He has a nice sweet shooting stroke and is comfortable either shooting off the dribble or the catch. With nice smooth mechanics, his long arms give him a high release . He is comfortable shooting above the break from both sides, and can pull up inside the arc, from the elbow area or the baseline. His use of screens with a dribble to either side is excellent, he can create space to get his shot off easily.

Hampton has a strong basketball IQ and has already shown he can make strong reads to cutters, or skip passes to shooters. Though he is a score first player, he makes good passes in transition also. To be an elite shot creator for others he will need to be able to pass off both hands. With limited open floor video he may have some of these skills in his repertoire. But he will need to show them on a regular basis at the next level to solidify a strong draft position.

On the less glamorous end of the floor Hampton is a good help defender, he has quick reactions and leaping ability to block shots. He has good hands defending the ball on the floor, but does struggle to get through screens sometimes due to his size. Overall though he has good lateral movement and can body up drivers from the outside. In the limited game video that isn’t highlights of him dunking, he shows good overall defensive skills.

The Breakers have a real winner on their hands for the 2019/20 season. A knockdown shooter who has explosive skills in transition, Hampton’s signing is the biggest news in New Zealand hoops since Steven Adams was drafted into the NBA. Here’s hoping he can get consistent game-time in the NBL to show he has what it takes to make it to the NBA.

Value Free Agents 2019 – Thaddeus Young

Age – 30

Previous Salary – $13,764,045

Indiana Pacers – they have his bird rights

2018/19 season – twelve points, six rebounds, two assists.

Thaddeus Young is a premium role player in the NBA. At 30 years old he has just come off one of the best seasons in his career. An elite defender at the power forward position, Young played defense at an ALL-NBA level this season. Whether defending out to the perimeter on smaller players or in help defense off the ball, Young has multiple high level skills on the less glamorous end of the floor.

Offensively he has a well rounded game with a strong package at the rim, and then a hook and jump shot within ten feet. In his three years with the Pacers he has shot 34.6% from three. Though this isn’t elite he only takes two shots a game, and shooting around league average means he has to be guarded out there. Young knows his game so well, his shot profile shows he takes 90% of his shots from three point range or between the rim and ten feet. He scored on 51% of his hook shots this year, strong efficiency on almost two attempts a game.

On the defensive end, Young averages 1.5 steals a game. Andre Drummond is the only big man outside of Young to average more than 1.5 steals a game. This ranks him in the 96th percentile for his position also, per Cleaning the Glass. His decision making on defense is also excellent, he only fouls on 3% of possessions. In the below clip Young is protecting the rim and sees the mismatch with Al Horford being guarded by Tyreke Evans. He calls Evans away as he sees Jayson Tatum wants to throw the entry pass to Horford. Using his long arms he anticipates the entry pass then gets in front of Horford, poking the ball away and recovering it.

http://3ball.io/plays?evtt=5&p2id=201152&playId=0041800131_541

His anticipation, especially when defending or helping on pick and roll defense is exceptional. His help instincts arent matched by many bigs in the league. His long arms enable him to poke the ball away and he can cover multiple spots on the floor. In this clip he is guarding Lebron James on the perimeter, he bodies Lebron up and sends him left. Lebron gives the ball up to George Hill in the corner, when Hill drives baseline Young stunts to him and then anticipates the pass back to an open Lebron. He then jumps back to the post and steals the ball.

https://cdn-b-east.streamable.com/video/mp4/r9k3y.mp4?token=53J-sdz5RWObmDn4_4g-zQ&expires=1558930980

Young may end up back on the Pacers without taking any free agency meetings with other teams. But prospective teams should look to throw him an offer still. He has only missed 34 games in the past seven seasons and is peaking at age thirty. His defensive presence and versatility along with a well rounded and unselfish offensive game makes him a perfect complementary piece on a playoff contender. In the past regular season Young had the same amount of win shares as Russell Westbrook and Tobias Harris. He may not have the hype around him in free agency that Harris has, but he would provide similar total value.

A four year deal worth fifty million would represent Young’s value nicely. Though it remains to be seen if this is on the Pacers or another team, he will again provide value beyond the box score to whichever team he ends up on.

Bargain Basement Free Agents 2019 – Part two

In Part one, we focused on five free agents that teams over the cap could pick up cheaply and get value out of next season. Here’s the link to that article if you missed out.

https://steviecozens.com/2019/05/21/bargain-basement-free-agents-2019-part-one/

Seth Curry

Age – 28

Shooting Guard

Unrestricted Free Agent

2018/19 season – eight points, one rebound, one assist.

Seth Curry has come off an excellent year for the Portland Trail Blazers. Signed to a one year deal after missing all of last year due to injury, he played in the recently completed Conference Finals. Shooting an impressive 45% from three in the regular season, this ranked him in the 96th percentile for shooting guards. Though he only stands 6’2 he is a pesky defender who plays hard. He struggles against bigger players but his offense is strong enough to keep him on the court. Curry is also a career 50% shooter on corner threes.

While he isn’t a top level passer, he can hold his own in the pick and roll. He can also play some minutes at back up point guard if need be. In the Blazers series loss to the Warriors, Seth was very effective with an overall net rating of only -2. After a strong year at age 28, he looks to be past his injury issues. Three point shooting has good value in the market, so this may mean a deal of around the four – six million range. A three year deal in this range would represent strong value to potential suitors.

Cory Joseph

Age – 27

Combo Guard

Unrestricted Free Agent – Indiana Pacers have his early bid rights

2018/19 Season – six points, two rebounds, two assists

Cory Joseph had an up and down year for the Indiana Pacers. Struggling with his offense, his inconsistent shooting gave him the lowest field goal percentage since his rookie year. On the less glamorous end of the court he played the best defense of his career. Registering career highs in rebounds, assists and steals he helped Indiana to another Playoff appearance. They were a better team with him on the court, as evidenced by his +5.0 on / off rating. He also had a career high in offensive fouls drawn at 24, this was second only to Thaddeus Young on the Pacers team.

Per Cleaning the Glass he ranked in the 87th percentile for Combo Guards when it came to Steals this season. If prospective teams see his bad shooting year as a one off, then he can be a good acquisition as a backup guard. He wont drop 30 or 40 points a game but he matches up well against smaller guards and is a strong help defender. Its likely he will be in the 4 – 7 million range this season, At 27 a three to four year deal may suit both him and potential teams.

Wayne Ellington

Age – 31

Shooting Guard

Unrestricted Free Agent

2018/19 Season – ten points, two rebounds, one assist, one steal

Wayne Ellington finished the season on the Detroit Pistons, after first being traded by the Miami Heat and then waived by the Phoenix Suns. One of the most consistent three point shooters in the league, Ellington struggled to get playing time for the Heat due to fit and injury issues. He was back to his best when he hit the floor for the Pistons though. His on / off rating showing they were +5.0 points a game when he was on the floor. A career 38% shooter from three point range, he also hoisted at least 6.4 attempts a game the last three seasons.

High volume floor spacing is at a premium in the NBA these days, and as Ellington can hold his own on defense he will continue to get paydays in this league. He can defend without fouling and as a help defender he also jumps passing lanes to get steals. Paid 6.2 million the last two years on the Heat, he can expect a similar pay day this summer. He may get a two or three year deal at less money if he wants a bit more job security. With the wing class being weak this summer, maybe his price goes a little higher if a few teams want him

Joakim Noah

Age – 34

Center

Unrestricted Free Agent

2018/19 season – seven points, five rebounds and two assists

Joakim Noah is an intriguing entry on the list of Free Agents this summer. After securing a buyout from a nightmare situation in New York, he reappeared the Memphis Grizzlies. He seemed re-energized on a Grizzlies team that made multiple trades throughout his tenure. They were an average +5.7 points better per game in the 42 games he was on the floor. He finished at the rim at a career high of 62%, while throwing down 42 dunks as well. His foul drawing and rebounding were also close to career highs, showing the effort he was putting in on a tanking team.

While it may be a different story on a winning team, Noah is a former defensive player of the year who has strong playoff experience. If his injury and drug issues are behind him, he could be a good addition to a rebuilding or playoff team. Noah will have earned over 140 million when his stretched deal with the Knicks concludes. This will probably mean he would be happy to be on a roster at the veteran minimum.

Bargain Basement Free Agents 2019 – Part One

Though 2019s Free Agency class is loaded with star players, eleven teams have the majority of the cap space. Of the remaining 19 teams, 13 are over the cap and will only have use of the mid level exception. The other six will have under 20 million to spend. Though a lot of focus will be on where Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard will end up, fans of teams over the cap will see every move their front office makes being just as important. Over a two part series you’ll find a list of free agents that teams with limited budgets can bring in to make an impact.

Carmelo Anthony

Power Forward

Unrestricted Free Agent

2018 / 19 season – 13 points 5 rebounds

This may be the most controversial entry on this list, Carmelo Anthony was waived by the Rockets after 10 lackluster games this season. Though many scribes think the league has passed him by, if a team needs instant offense and shot creation in the half court, Melo is your man. Though he may not have the drive game he once did, he can still exploit mismatches in the mid-range. He isn’t a great passer or a passable defender anymore, but he can shoot over smaller players and hit threes.

If a team was to take a chance on him it would only be at the vet minimum. He has made over 250 million in his career so would be happy only earning the league minimum. At around two and a half million this isn’t a massive long-shot for prospective teams.

Marcin Gortat

Center

Unrestricted Free Agent

2018/19 Season – five points, five rebounds

After five years playing for the Wizards and twelves years overall in the league, Marcin Gortat was waived by the LA Clippers this past season before the Playoffs. Traded to the Clippers in exchange for Austin Rivers, Gortat was only used sparingly this year. A traditional center in every sense of the word, Gortat never developed a three point shot. An excellent defensive rebounder, he is still one of the best screeners in the NBA.

Though Gortat’s at rim finishing has flagged recently, he still has value as a backup big. He won’t show up in the box-score like he used to, but he does the dirty work required from your big man. Still a strong defender in the post, he can deter opponents at the rim without fouling. Gortat has also made plenty of money in his career, so would likely accept a deal at the veterans minimum.

Jared Dudley

Power Forward

Unrestricted Free Agent – Brooklyn have his Bird Rights

2018/19 season four points two assists

Jared Dudley is one of the most respected veterans in the NBA. Having played for six teams in his twelve years in the league, Dudley is an excellent defender capable of defending bigger players. After trash talking Ben Simmons in this years playoff series, Dudley played the role of enforcer on the court for the Nets. An excellent three point shooter, he has only shot below 35% once in his career.

Dudley is another player that doesn’t impact the box score massively, but his + 3.0 net rating this season for the Nets shows he still makes his team better. At 33 he still has a few good years left, his presence in the locker room and three and d play make him a strong pickup for any team. A multi-year deal worth around five million a year would be good value for a team that needs help on the wings.

Ish Smith

Point Guard

Unrestricted Free Agent – Detroit Pistons have his bird rights.

2018/19 season – eight points two rebounds three assists.

Journeymen Point Guard Ish Smith has been a real late bloomer for the Detroit Pistons. Since going undrafted in 2010, Smith bounced around multiple teams before getting a three year deal in the Motor city. He has proven himself as a backup point guard for the Pistons and now has a passable three point shot. Hitting 38% of his corner threes with the Pistons, Smith has a well rounded offensive game for a point guard. An excellent passer, he rebounds his position well and is a popular guy in the locker room. Even though he is thirty, due to his journeyman career he doesn’t have a lot of miles on the clock. The Pistons may require a better defender and decline to bring him back. This would provide another team an option on a point guard with recent playoff experience.

Jeff Green

Power Forward

Unrestricted Free Agent

2018/19 Season – twelves points five rebounds

Gone are the days of Jeff Green commanding large salaries. A known commodity in the league now, he has given great value on his last two contracts. Playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers last year he proved a reliable option, starting games as they made the NBA Finals. This year Green was one of the Washington Wizards most consistent players, averaging twelve points and five rebounds while playing 77 games. He had career highs in two point shooting and free throw shooting, both marks were good enough for top 20 in the league. Green also finished at the rim at a career high of 74%, per Cleaning the Glass this ranked him in the 90th percentile for Power Forwards.

He is 33 years but has also only missed 34 games in the last seven years. Green is at the point in his career where he would like some security as far as length of contract goes. A three year deal at around four or five million a year would provide good value for both team and player.

Where to for the Wolves – Part three

In the last two articles we focused on the free agents that the team could resign or let go, and then the current roster and how they performed over the last year. If you weren’t able to read the first two articles, here’s the link to them!

Part One
https://steviecozens.com/2019/05/05/where-to-for-the-timberwolves-part-one/

Part Two
https://steviecozens.com/2019/05/12/where-to-for-the-timberwolves-part-two/

In Part three we will look at the Draft and then any potential moves the Wolves could make on Draft night or around July 1st. After last nights Lottery, the Timberwolves know where they are picking in the upcoming NBA Draft. Never having a great record when it comes to moving up in the Draft, they settled into the 11th pick and can now focus on workouts with potential draftees.

Trade Jeff Teague

As far as their wing positions go, the Wolves are locked in for the immediate future with the current players on the roster. Even if Andrew Wiggins was to be traded, that would still leave Robert Covington and Josh Okogie as the incumbent starting wings. As Andrew Wiggins probably wont be traded this season at least, their is a logjam on the wings. This may mean that the Wolves look at drafting a scoring guard that can create off the dribble. By trading Jeff Teague and resigning Tyus Jones they can open up guard minutes, they can start Tyus and then take the pressure off the young guard they bring in.

As Jeff Teague’s 19 million salary is expiring this year, they could get off this money by attaching two secound round picks. At worst they could give up next years first rounder. Bar a disastrous season, next years first rounder would be around the late teens in a relatively weak draft. If they need to give this up then it wouldn’t be the worst thing to do as they have no need for Teague anymore.

Draft Needs

Looking ahead to the Draft, the Wolves are in desperate need of three point shooting. Though a full season of Dario Saric and Robert Covington will help with this, they need a prospect who can hit threes at above league average. If they could get to the rim easily as well, this would be an added bonus. Last year the Wolves ranked 26th in three pointers attempted and 15th in shots attempted within three feet of the rim. If new POBO Gersson Rosas decides a guard isn’t the right way to go, then they should look at a defensive minded big to play next to Karl Anthony-Towns. This could mean not bringing back Taj Gibson, and would also give Dario Saric a hurry up in his development. Though Saric is a good fit next to KAT offensively, he has no rim protecting abilities.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker

If its a guard they want, Nickeil Alexander-Walker could fit the bill at number 11 in the Draft. A combo guard out of Virginia Tech, Alexander-Walker stands 6’6 and weighs 205 pounds. He isn’t an amazing athlete but can play on and off ball, while he also has an excellent basketball IQ. While he is quite skinny, he has wide shoulders so will fill out nicely with NBA training and conditioning.

Though he is more comfortable as a team rather than man defender, at 6’6 with a reputed 6’9 wingspan he has all the tools to succeed at the next level. He can use his body to cut off passing lanes, so if he can add some bulk he will be able to defend bigger players due to his length. He took a step as a secondary play maker and showed high IQ to find cutters and shooters.

Though NAW’s shooting mechanics have been questioned in some places, he has a quick release which allows him to shoot threes off the dribble. He is more adept at hitting them off the catch though. In his two years at Virginia Tech, NAW improved inside the arc while also getting to the line more often. He can operate in the pick and roll and he uses crafty finishes at the rim off both hands. Though not that explosive at the rim, he uses his length and smarts to get around shot blockers. His excellent decision making separates him from other prospects. Whether it be making the right read in transition or handling out of the pick and roll. He seems mature off the court and has shown tremendous improvement from one year to the next at Virginia.

Brandon Clarke

If Rosas decides to go for a defensive big man, then Brandon Clarke from Gonzaga may be the ideal fit. A 6’8 big who projects to be an elite defender at the next level, he averaged a mind boggling 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes this season. His defensive instincts are excellent, he has excellent timing on his blocks and tends to make the right decisions.

Though not an excellent defensive rebounder, he grabs his fair share of offensive boards. As a junior in college, his ball handling is advanced for his height and he has above average passing ability. Though his shot is limited he has shown some touch around the rim which may translate to range further out . At only 6’8 his best role may be a small ball center, but this could present match-up issues on defense. Though he is 6’8 he doesn’t have the biggest wingspan, and relies on athleticism for a lot of his blocks. The Timberwolves would still do well to draft Clarke, he would be an instant upgrade for them defensively next to Karl Anthony-Towns.

Where to for the Timberwolves – Part Two

In Part two of the three part series we look at the key players still on the Timberwolves roster, how they went in the 2019 season and what to expect from them next year. If you didn’t read part one you can catch it here.
https://steviecozens.com/2019/05/05/where-to-for-the-timberwolves-part-one/

New President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas had his first press conference at Target Center today. Though not a lot can be taken from an introductory press conference, Rosas is a massive addition for the Wolves. He was a key part of a Franchise that made two Conference Finals. While also acquiring superstars like James Harden, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. He also played a massive part in drafting Diamonds in the rough like Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell. Rosas may not bring over all of the analytics heavy style that the Houston Rockets play. But the heat will be on coach and players alike to play a style that suits today’s NBA.

Current Roster

Karl Anthony-Towns

Season Stats

24 points 12 rebounds 3 assists.

Shooting

Field 51.8% Three Point 40% Free Throw 83.6%

Karl Anthony-Towns is the centerpiece for the Wolves future. Not only does he carry the weight of being the leader of the team and their best player, he carries the hopes of fans who are expecting a return to the Playoffs and maybe even a championship. KAT recently inked a 190 million maximum deal that kicks off next season. Bar something disastrous happening, this means he is in Minnesota for the next five years.

This was KATs fourth season in the league and arguably his best. The raw numbers showed he truly belongs in the ALL-NBA conversation, 24 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists. What stood out the most was his efficiency. He was the only center to shoot 40% from three point land, while also taking the second most threes of any center, behind only Brook Lopez. KAT also attempted the second most field goals this past season for a center, while maintaining the fourth best True Shooting percentage. Efficiency coupled with volume represents greatness for shooters, KAT will look to continue this efficiency while potentially taking more threes.

Defensively KAT took a step forward this year, in both effort and execution. Though he led the NBA in personal fouls, he showed enough improvement on this end to think he can be a legitimate defensive center in this league. If he is able to make another leap on the defensive end, this would go a long way towards the Wolves being a perennial Playoff team.

Andrew Wiggins

Season Stats

18.1 points 4.8 rebounds 2.5 assists

Shooting

Field Goal 41.2% Three Point 33.9% Free Throw 69.9%

Andrew Wiggins is the name on a lot of peoples lips this off season. Asked about Wiggins, Rosas said he wants to develop and work with him to try and get some improvement. Even if Wiggins was traded in the off-season, their cap situation would mean they would end up with an inferior player. Rosas was also quoted as saying if they were to trade him they probably wouldn’t get someone with the upside of Wiggins. Also if they did get off future salary by trading him, that wouldn’t improve their situation this year.

Everyone knows how bad Wiggins was last year, a few great games were surrounded by a lot of bad games. His counting stats were very average, but it was his efficiency which really killed the Timberwolves. He had one of the worst shooting season in NBA history for someone of his usage. This type of efficiency means he will make the team a lot worse when he is on court.

Their are two key stats which show lack of effort and confidence. Wiggins first three years in the league he rated in the 90th percentile for his position in drawing shooting fouls. The last two years this has dropped significantly where he is now only in the 70th percentile. The second key stat is his finishing at the rim. Last year he was in the 82nd percentile at the rim, this year he is down to the 41st percentile. Considering his physical tools, finishing at the rim should be the least of his problems. If Rosas and co can fix this issue that will go a long way towards making him more efficient.

They also need to eradicate the long two pointer from his offensive repertoire. He takes 18% of his shots from this distance and only hits on 32% of them. There’s no point focusing on Wiggins deficiencies any longer, but Rosas and co will try and fix these by pushing him to shoot threes and layups only. Attitude and effort will be the other two key work-ons. Only time will tell if they can make any of these changes.

Robert Covington

Season Stats

14.5 points 5.7 rebounds 1.5 assists

Shooting

Field 43.3% Three Point 37.2% Free Throw 77.3%


Robert Covington is the next key piece on the Wolves roster. A premium role player in both contract value and his on court play, ” ROCO ” is the best three and D role player in the league. His steal % this year would have been good enough for third in the league had he not been injured for the second half of the season. He also ranked in the 98th percentile for blocks at his position. Returning from injury this year, he is the perfect piece to push a pace and space style of play that complements the Wolves roster. Covington’s fit on the roster is ideal, his defensive strengths are the perfect example for perimeter buddies Wiggins and Josh Okogie. Here’s hoping they can take his lead to better the team’s defense.

Josh Okogie

Season Stats

7.7 points 2.9 rebounds 1.2 assists

Shooting

Field 38.6% Three Point 27.9% Free Throw 72.8%

Josh Okogie is the next cab off the rank as a cornerstone piece for the Wolves. Drafted 20th last year, he was one of the steals of the first round. At only 20 years old he showed defensive ability that belied his age. He also flashed athleticism around the basket that will encourage fans to look past his shooting struggles. A high point of this season was watching Okogie block James Harden’s patented step back three. Highlight plays like this don’t make a career but he has all the tools to be a great NBA wing. He aggressively looked to finished at the rim rather than settling for contested jumpers, drawing fouls at an excellent rate also. If Okogie can develop a passable shot he can potentially have a reputation and career like his buddy Covington.

Dario Saric

Season Stats

10.5 points 5.5 rebounds 1.5 assists

Shooting

Field 45.4% Three Point 38.3% Free Throw 87.5%

Dario Saric was the other main piece that came over when Jimmy Butler was traded to the 76ers. A versatile player who is an excellent all round shooter, Saric had a tough first year with the Wolves. He struggled coming off the bench, but once he was inserted into the starting lineup he finished the last three months of the season averaging 47% from the field and 41% from three. Dario’s style of play fits well with KAT, he is a good passer and cutter while having good ball handling skills at 6″10.

He can shoot the three from the corner or above the break. He also finishes well around the rim, hitting a career high 68% this season. Not a great rim protector, Saric will need to work on his defense around the rim to increase his playability at the end of games. He will benefit from a full off-season with the team, and potentially a rookie extension.

Keita Bates-Diop

Season Stats

Points 5.0 Rebounds 2.8 Assists 0.6

Shooting

Field 42.3% Three Point 25.0% Free Throw 64.3%

Keita Bates-Diop was drafted 48th in last years Draft. A four year player out of Ohio State, Keita was on the back end of the bench under Thibs. It wasn’t until February that he started playing meaningful minutes. Under the watchful eye of Luol Deng, Keita showed some nice touches on both ends of the floor. When he played between 10 and 19 minutes this season he had a +1.6 net rating. Though his jump shot didnt fall at a consistent rate he finished strongly at the rim when given the opportunity. He didnt embarrass himself on defense, and has the physical tools to improve on this end. On a cheap three year deal, if Keita can be a 10 – 15 minute night consistent player this will provide good value for a team that is likely to be over the cap for the forseeable future.

Jeff Teague

Season Stats

Points 12.1 Rebounds 2.5 Assists 8.2

Shooting

Field 42.3% Three Point 33.3% Free Throw 80.4%

Jeff Teague had a forgettable season for the Timberwolves. In an injury plagued year he played a career low 42 games. His shooting was a struggle for a lot of these games. His three pointer regressed heavily, while he finished poorly at the rim. Interestingly though, Teague fed Towns heavily in those games, and ended up with a career high 8.2 assists per game. Teague may still be a starting point guard in this league, but he looks to have lost a little of the quick first step that got him to the rim so well in his younger years.

After opting in to the last year of his deal, he will be paid 19 million this year. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him traded as his expiring salary could be attractive to a team with cap space. If Teague is healthy he can help this team, but the Wolves are better to give playing time to one of the young guys.

Gorgui Dieng

Season Stats

6.4 points 4.1 rebounds 0.9 assists

Shooting

Field 50.1% Three Point 33.9% Free Throw 83.0%

Gorgui Dieng had an up and down year as the most experienced member of the Timberwolves. In his 6th year in Minnesota he played the least minutes since his rookie year and had a concerning stretch midseason when it looked like he may drop out of the rotation all together. There were reports that Gorgui was very unhappy under Coach Thibs, but he pulled out of his slump under Coach Saunders and had a strong last month of the season. He has been developing his jumper and is still a solid rebounder also.

His defense is the biggest worry for Wolves management. Fouling heavily and making bad reads may have been the reason he played sparingly in the middle of the season. When he started for the team in years gone by, he was always a net positive in the on / off data. The last two years he has been a net negative overall in both seasons, this may be because he never gets to play next to Karl-Anthony Towns. When Towns and Dieng played together in 2016/17 they had a net rating of +1.6 in the season. Rather than use assets to trade Gorgui, they should look utilize his strengths and play him in the right lineups.

Cameron Reynolds

Season Stats

5.0 points 1.6 rebounds 0.7 assists

Shooting

Field 42.3% Three Point 41.2% Free Throw 88.9%

Cameron Reynolds was brought in on a ten day contract in February. After impressing with his shooting prowess he was then signed to a deal for the rest of the season with an guaranteed second season also. A five year player out of Tulane, Reynolds is a 6’8 wing signed purely to shoot the three ball. He flashes some defense in limited opportunities, and has the physical tools to guard opponent wing players. Shooting 41% on 2.7 three pointers was enough for the Wolves to sign him for a bit longer. As his deal isn’t guaranteed for next year they can have a full training camp to look at him and decide if he is worth keeping for the upcoming season.

Thanks for reading Part two. Part three will be out next week with team needs for the upcoming Draft.

Where to for the Timberwolves – Part one

The Minnesota Timberwolves had a wild 2019 NBA season. Coach Tom Thibodeau was fired. Jimmy Butler was traded, and the memory of the 2018 Playoff run quickly faded. As injuries ravaged the roster they nestled into a Lottery position in the upcoming Draft. Putting this year behind them, lets look at where the team can go in the next 12 months. Here is the first part of a three part series detailing where improvements can be made for next season.

Roster

The current roster has eight players under contract for next season with total salary sitting at 109 million. This years salary cap is also 109 million but this may drop depending on attendance numbers in the playoffs. Most importantly for the Wolves they have Karl Anthony-Towns locked in for the next five years. He does have a stipulation in his contract that if he makes All-NBA then he will be bumped up another five million for next season. In both situations they are at the cap, meaning they are unable to be a player in this years free agency, outside of using their mid-level exception.

The MLE is given to teams that are over the cap and is approx nine million this coming year. It can be used for one player or multiple players depending on the teams preference. Including their upcoming first round draft pick, the Wolves will have nine roster spots filled. They will need to sign free agents using the MLE or bring back players whose bird rights they have. If they have a player on the books for three years they own their bird rights and can then go over the cap to resign them. Early bird rights are similar where you can go over the cap to resign the player if you have had them on the team for two years. The only difference being that they can only give 130% of the previous seasons salary.

The first job of new President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas will be to establish some structure around the roster and who the Wolves want to bring back. Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones should be at the top of the priority list.

Tyus Jones had a strong year where he continued to showcase his strong passing ability and savvy court vision. Tyus decision making and passing game are both very sound, and he makes the right reads on defense. His shooting efficiency is a work on, he ranks in the bottom 20% in the league for effective field goal %. Considering all of the above and that he is only 22 years old, Tyus would be worth bringing back somewhere around the 6 – 7 million a year range. A four year deal in this range may suit both the franchise and Jones.

Derrick Rose is slightly more complicated. Rose was a steadying presence on and off the court in a year where the team struggled with injuries and in house issues. Headlined by a 50 point masterclass against the Jazz, Rose showed an improved three point shot and finished at the rim at a career high also. Bringing him back for the right dollar amount would be a smart move. They can offer him the MLE, but with a long injury history a four year deal may be risky. The injury that had Rose shutdown for the rest of the year was his elbow rather than his troublesome knees. If Wolves medical staff deem that there is no long-term damage to his elbow, then a potential three or four year deal worth approx 30 million may suit both parties.

Taj Gibson and to a lesser extent Luol Deng should the next priorities for the front office. Taj provided excellent leadership on and off the court in his two years with the team. An excellent defender, Taj provided strong offense in both his two years in the twin cities. While a slight decrease in efficiency at the rim this year may be a sign that he is slowing down, Gibson would still be worth bringing back around the four or five million a year range.

Luol Deng languished on the Lakers bench for 81 games in 2018, not playing one single minute after an appearance on opening night. After negotiating a buyout at the end of 2018 he joined the ” Timber-Bulls. ” Coach Thibs deemed him surplus to requirements in the rotation and only played him in garbage time. This changed when Ryan Saunders replaced Thibs, he started playing Deng regularly. In 22 games he was efficient on offense while the team was 14 points better when he was on the court. If Deng could be brought back on the minimum he could be a good end of bench rotation option.

If management decide to make the above moves, this would leave two empty roster spots still. Per Cleaning the Glass, none of the rotation players were in the top 20% finishing at the rim for their respective positions. A slasher who can finish at the rim and provide some impact off the bench would be a nice fit for this team.

Depending on how they choose to spend their MLE, Glenn Robinson could be an interesting prospect for them. Robinson is only 25 and has shown ability to finish at the rim and from three point land. After coming off some injuries he could be an option on a cheap deal. Another option could be Wizards wing Jeff Green. Gone are the days of Green demanding massive salaries, but he can be an efficient scorer and good defender. He was in the top 10% of players for at rim finishing, while shooting the three ball at a league average 35%.

Five NBA players in need of a change of scenery

Every year in the NBA there are injuries, trades and players being waived. Often the best trades a team can make are when a player struggling on their current team is given a second chance on a new team.

Zach Collins

Portland Trail Blazers sophomore Zach Collins is a prototypical NBA center. Seven feet tall with shooting and shot blocking ability, he was a worthy tenth pick in last years draft. Collins had a strong rookie year and looked to be the long term back up to Jusuf Nurkic.

This year it was expected Collins would play in more small ball lineups when Portland looked to stretch the floor. Contrary to this, Portland have played him less as the year went on. Playing 21 minutes a game at the start of the season this is down to 12 in February. Coach Stotts has also played Collins at the four this year. Though a versatile defender, he is not quick enough to defend small ball fours and cant attack off the dribble. With Enes Kanter being acquired on the buyout market, Collins has had nights where he didn’t suit up at all.

Improving in every area statistically while also bulking up, Collins still looks to be a starting center on a good team. It says a lot that Kanter was signed to play backup center ahead of him though. Moving him in the off-season with two years on his rookie deal looks to be the best option for both him and Portland.

Gary Harris

Shooting guard Gary Harris is in his fifth year in the league with the Denver Nuggets. As a three and D wing he is of high value in the league. Drafted 19th in 2019, he has improved his game every year and is the Nuggets best guard defender. Switching often between guard and small forward, Harris has flashed improved play making in half court sets and in transition.

Harris was rewarded for his strong play and potential with a four year 84-million extension. With this in mind it looked likely that Harris would be the starting two guard for Denver.

Injuries to Harris and the development of point guard Monte Morris has meant the Nuggets now need a rethink. As Jamal Murray isn’t a true point guard, playing him with Morris has meant the Nuggets are more well rounded than when Harris and Murray play together. In addition, Denver has had its second best season since the 1976.

Jamal Murray has star potential so this may mean Harris is expendable. Denver fans may see trading Harris away as a negative, but the franchise can pride itself on its talent development. This off-season will be an interesting one for Denver as they shape their team for the coming years.

Bradley Beal

Bradley Beal is one of the best shooting guards in the league. Now a two-time All-Star, Beal has the all round skills and pedigree to be a future Hall of Famer. This year he has mastered using his off hand at the rim and can be now considered an elite scorer.

Though Beal is having the best season of his career, the Washington Wizards are going through their toughest year in recent memory. Superstar John Wall tragically slipped over at his home, rupturing his left Achilles. Wall is predicted to be out for all of next season, just as his 170 million extension is beginning. Washington then traded away young wings Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre at the trade deadline. These moves may signal that a full scale rebuild is imminent.

Beal’s trade value wont be any higher than this summer. At age 26 with two years still left on his deal, Washington are able to get maximum value for him.

Beal may decide he doesn’t want to spend his prime with a team who are in the draft lottery. While Washington may also see the value in moving their best asset for draft picks or young players.

Andrew Wiggins

Much has been made of Andrew Wiggins star potential. With the body and skills made for NBA stardom, the former number one pick’s first 3 years were very promising. Rookie of the year. 23.6 points a game in only his third season and a max deal to boot.

This was as good as it got for Wiggins though. The introduction of Jimmy Butler seemed to hurt him, but he only has himself to blame for his lackadaisical play. Butler’s criticism of Wiggins was on the money. Lack of effort and application on both ends has been the story of the last 2 years for him. At six foot eight with a seven foot wingspan, Wiggins has all the tools to be an All-Star.

A mammoth contract combined with regressing play might mean the Timberwolves try and move him. Ex-Coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t get the best out of Wiggins, but it would take a brave team to punt on him with 121 million salary owed for the next 4 years. The best move for all parties may be sending him to a new team where he can be the focal point on offense.

Jaylen Brown

Jaylen Brown was drafted third by Boston in 2016. Taking a massive leap last year, Brown was one of Bostons best in their unlikely playoff run while Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were injured.

Showcasing a sweet shooting stroke from deep coupled with an improved handle, Brown was a main option in the playoffs. His play in the Conference Finals seems a distant memory now with Boston struggling to integrate Hayward and Irving back into the lineup.

Brown’s best position is small forward. Though able to play at shooting guard, Brown doesn’t have the play making ability to be a second ball handler. Jason Tatum’s ascension to NBA stardom has pushed Brown’s star potential out of the spotlight. Also, Hayward’s max deal means they need to find minutes for the 2017 All-Star.

Boston may think the time is right to free up the logjam on the roster before they have to give Brown a new contract.

How the Indiana Pacers are thriving in the Playoff race

The Indiana Pacers are in the Eastern Conference playoff race for the second straight year. After losing four straight games when All-Star Victor Oladipo went down for the season, they have gone on a massive eleven and six run since. Lacking another star in Oladipo’s absence hasn’t stopped them from rising to the third seed in the East.

League best defence

Myles Turner has driven this Indiana team to have the best defence in the league. He also leads the league in blocks, is third in defensive rating and third in defensive box plus minus. Turner’s 2.8 blocks a game ranks as one of the best shot blocking seasons in the last twenty years.

Veteran power forward Thaddeus Young has been another big part of Indiana’s success this season. Young’s excellent defence has him ranking in the top twenty in the league in steals, defensive rating and defensive win shares.

The key to Indiana’s league best defence has been forcing turnovers while allowing less shots at the rim. An excellent defensive rebounding team, they have allowed the third least two pointers in the league also.

Career highs all round

On the offensive end Indiana has seen Bojan Bogdanovic take a massive leap this year. Averaging a career high 14.3 points per game last year, Bogdanovic has broken out to the of tune of 18 points per game this year. Remarkably he has also reached career bests in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, assists, and steals.

Domantas Sabonis has also taken the next step in his young NBA career. In his second year in Indiana, Sabonis is a legitimate candidate for Sixth Man of the year. On only 24 minutes a night Sabonis is averaging fourteen points, nine rebounds and three assists.

As the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers struggle for chemistry on the court, Indiana are playing an established system where everyone is buying in. Come the playoffs, teams with strong defence usually end up going further. If they can keep this level of play up, they will be a nightmare for anyone in the Eastern Conference.