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!

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!

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.

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.

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.