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!

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!

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.

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.

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.