Irving Roulette

From Believe-land to Achieve-land to Leave-land?

July 24, 2017

By J.  Patrick & H. Hart

If someone handed you a six-shooter loaded with one bullet, would you take your chances? If you have a brain, the ultimate decision should be a “hard pass.”

kyriegonext

If you’ll be patient, walk with us through the following (unintentionally dark) situational metaphor:

You’re the GM or President of Operations in Cleveland. From out of the offseason chaos theories, Kyrie Irving decides to request a trade, and now you’re handed a gun. Here, Irving is the loaded ammunition and your Cavs (with Kyrie) are the gun. The empty chambers in the drum represent possible “Irving destinations.” And Kyrie has found his way into the “Cleveland chamber.”

There are an interesting number of positive odds that a good trade can be arranged, but there are several plausible possibilities that project results which range from being a serious playoff contender to merely treading water as a gasping-for-air team. As such, to return to the metaphor, there are a number of chances where the trigger gets pulled and the return doesn’t necessarily alter current, future Championship predictions. And this is (or should be) the real point of concern: there are not many REAL trade possibilities that end with a better Cleveland right now. And this is really where our metaphor breaks down because a Cleveland destination doesn’t require pulling the trigger.

Note, however, we still find the gun and Russian roulette metaphor to be a decent representation for the probability the team could trade Kyrie and end up as good a (if not a better) title contender than last season’s squad. After some analysis, though, your correspondents would argue that despite all available chances to succeed, there’s no reason to see if you deserve something you can already enjoy. It’s kind of a singular scenario in its strangeness: the idea that a team that is a strong betting-favorite to make the NBA Finals (again) might also accidentally need or choose to hit the reset button two months before the next season (on the back of this trade request and rumors that LeBron may be gone after next season) is a rare scenario, and that it could happen is mind-blowing.

To us, no matter the “latest strife by Lake Superior,” there are too few reasons to pull that trigger. Trading Kyrie will most likely result in two casualties: the current edition of the Cavs and whatever squad receives the “second-coming of Melo.” Really, the Cavs are the holders of the power to hurt themselves more than any team with which they’d be making a trade. The answer is to keep Kyrie by assuring him he’ll get better treatment (hard eyeroll) this season and retake the leadership role in Cleveland when King James abdicates that throne. Further, keep in mind that this is not just a convenience to shit on Kyrie, or to say that it should be assumed that any non-Cleveland team, should they be given the chance to add Kyrie, will end up dead in the water if they do it (though, depending on the recipient, they certainly might be).

Simply put: Kyrie Irving alone doesn’t make you a title contender, and if he’s the best player on your team, you might not be better than a hopeless 7th- or 8th-seed. Irving is a good scorer with a great handle. He’s definitely a top-ten point guard in the league (he arguably makes the top-five’s fifth slot, but that’s a hard argument to sell without pushback), but that’s where our analysis tells us that’s not enough to carry any team the way Irving has said is his desire. Kyrie isn’t bad by any means, but there is sufficient evidence to argue that he’s not a top-three point guard in the league, nor is he really a top-five point guard. Kyrie was amazing in the postseason this past year, and he is definitely one of the most exciting players to watch, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s one of the best in the game.

There are a lot of bubble guys fighting for that last spot based off the numbers, so here’s a quick way to clarify Kyrie’s production compared to his counterparts: take their points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks, and combine them. In fairness, this is a tool similar to the “42 club” that Bill Simmons created to help quantify a measure for greatest seasons ever–note that this is a very useful metric–but we’re not using that lens; we’re exploring a basic number for a player’s general, per-game production. Plus, adding in steals and blocks will give us a more complete picture:

Steph’s number is 38.4.
John Wall’s is 40.6.
Westbrook’s is 54.7.
Isaiah Thomas’s is 38.6.

Kyrie’s number is 35.7.

Consider also, the calculation for several other guards with similar (or better) numbers:

Damian Lillard- 39
Kyle Lowry- 36.0
Chris Paul- 34.4
Eric Bledsoe- 34.1
Kemba Walker- 34

Just based on that perspective and those numbers, it would be fair to say Kyrie is the 7th best point guard in the league. That’s up for debate, of course, and is really more of a matter of opinion on how to build a team–it’s also something to go further into within a piece more specific to that topic. However, what really makes Kyrie an interesting case is that the he may actually be a better basketball player than a point guard.

We know that sounds strange, but if you think about how a traditional point guard runs the court and helps to create offense. Kyrie doesn’t really fit that mold. Kyrie is a hooper. A big baller, if you will. He’s a bucket-getter. That’s what he’s known for. He’s a pure basketball player in the simplest form. As such, calling him a point guard is actually more of an injustice than an accurate evaluation. Like The Beard in Houston, Kyrie is more of a shooting guard with a great handle; he just runs the point because–like some leadoff or “clean-up” hitters–they can handle the part, but mostly that’s just where the coach placed them in the lineup (perhaps out of a lack of better alternatives).

That being said, if you’re looking to add Kyrie to your team, it would make sense that you need another ball handler just as capable, if not more capable, of setting up the offense. I’m sure Kyrie can do it, but we all know LeBron is the one that sets the table in the half court set, and 5.8 assists per game doesn’t make that any more comforting. You would need someone with a similar skillset to ensure that you get the best version of Kyrie, otherwise you’re getting a guy who would just bring the ball down the court and play iso-ball all day. We’ve seen that movie far too many times with incredibly gifted scorers like Carmelo in New York, Durant and Westbrook when they both played for the Thunder, any team with Joe Johnson on it, and countless others over the years. Charles Barkley refers to it as “Hero Ball,” and it can be just as infectious as the opposite of that–a selfless, passing-oriented attack, like the sort deployed by the Warriors (in a way that has strongly impressed upon the rest of the league and challenged fogies who complain about the NBA being just one all-star being selfish–no direct, intentional sleight toward the Kyrie situation).

Pause for a moment. Let’s look at a new hypothetical, to consider something we just pointed out: Now, you’re the President of Operations for any one of the possible Irving destinations. If you decide to bring Kyrie on, you’ll need to compliment his talents with someone who has skillsets that are similar to LeBron’s when it comes to ball handling and facilitating.

Think about that. You need someone similar to LeBron in order to maximize your team’s potential. Someone like, say, LeBron fucking James. Remind us: how many players in the league are frequently compared to LeBron?

And this also raises two important questions: a) Who has a “Bron-esque” player AND the need for a top-10 point guard that has been vocal about running the show?, and (really the more interesting question) b) What more could you want in a teammate than LeBron?

And this is the most alarming thing about this whole situation. It’s not that Kyrie wants to be an alpha-baller, or that he wants to play in a different situation; it’s the fact that he doesn’t want to play with LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world–the greatest basketball player of his/our generation (at least). He hasn’t come out and directly said he doesn’t want to play with LeBron, but he asked to be traded away from a situation in which he would play with LBJ. We don’t view it as an insult; Kyrie wants to be the guy–it’s a common trait within the greatest athletes–and as long as LeBron is in Cleveland, the city’s allegiance is to King James. In a nutshell, at least one take-away from all this is that Kyrie has decided he would throw winning out the window if it means his stats are better and more people recognize him. If winning isn’t your absolute highest concern, then you may be in it for the wrong reasons. Huge red flag. Spectator Scouting Report: too much potential sacrifice and liability.

Even if Kyrie were to be traded (and it seems inevitable now), there are very few teams in the league that not only have the assets to trade for him, but also have the pieces to make him want to go there in the first place. And you really open up a can of worms if you think about it from the Cavs’ perspective: Who do you target? Where do you send him? Do you ship him out west where you’ll only play him twice a year? What pieces does LeBron want? Will they be enough to keep the Cavs relevant in the title discussion? Do you trade K-Love next if you ship Kyrie out? Would it even matter anyways? There are so many questions to answer it’s frightening. The biggest one of all, really, is what do you do that suits LeBron and gives you the best chance of keeping him moving forward? There are many many signs that point to LeBron leaving anyway, but if you let Kyrie go, LBJ’s departure is almost inevitable. Your only hope would be to get back pieces that compliment him now, that would be there for the next few years, and would give them depth, flexibility, and most importantly, prospects to build on moving forward.

If it sounds like a really tough mold to fit, that’s because it probably is. So, for S’s & G’s, we’ve been discussing the options, so we’ll run through a list of potential suitors we believe might be able to find the right chemistry with Kyrie.

Before we get started, though, let’s make one thing clear: we know there’s a short list of teams that he wants to play for, but if it doesn’t make sense for him to go there, they don’t make the list. … Here, we’re talking about teams like San Antonio, where the potential interest or lust may remain unrequited due to a lack of reasonably valuable, trade-worthy assets. This is fantasy as close as we can walk the line between dream and reality:

The Kings

There have already been a few reports about the Kings being and not being interested in Irving. The Kings were the first team that came to mind when the news broke that Kyrie had requested a trade. It could make some sense, too, for both teams. The trade that would make sense for them would read something like ordering a breakfast sampler. Here’s how it could go down: some combination of 1st- and 2nd-round picks over the next three years (eggs), either De’Aaron Fox (pancakes) or George Hill (waffle); then you choose your meat: Hield (sausage), Willie Cauley Stein (bacon), or Skal Labissiere (country ham, we like ours super salty); then you might choose a young player/veteran combo in Harry Giles (hash browns), Frank Mason (grits, it’s all southern on this side), or Malachi Richardson (oatmeal or cream of wheat, for the yanks); and finally you’d select a type of bread to fill out the sampler: here, for Irving, you could probably get Zach Randolph (cheddar biscuit, again, we all southern over here), or Vince Carter (whole-grain toast), or Kosta Koufos (toasted english muffin, for a weird nod to Europe).

Going through the full order, the smart GM would “order” something like this: 2018 first rounder (top-5 protected), 2018 & 2019 second rounders, De’Aaron Fox, Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles, and Kosta Koufos.

We don’t expect it to happen, but we’d sure as hell enjoy seeing it. Sacramento is one of the few teams with the necessary need and enough assets to offer Cleveland for the exchange.

Phoenix Suns

Much like the Kings, it doesn’t make perfect sense for Kyrie to join the Suns. Also like the Kings, the Suns have a bunch of assets they could unload for the star point guard. It would start with a straight-up swap of Kyrie for Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe and LBJ would be a fun duo to watch, and it would also help the Cavs save some money. Then you would throw in Phoenix’s 1st-round pick this year, and maybe Miami’s 1st-rounder that the Suns’ own. The Cavs could also save even more money by shipping out Shumpert, too, and picking up T.J. Warren and Davon Reed as replacements. Throw in either Alex Len or Alan Williams and you’ve got yourself a deal!

Of course this won’t necessarily make the Suns a playoff team, so it wouldn’t really work out, but don’t tell us that Kyrie and Devin Booker wouldn’t be possibly the most exciting backcourt to watch in the league.

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets might actually be a decent fit for Kyrie. They have two solid bigs who don’t demand the ball, and, if they were to add him, they would absolutely be in position to make the playoffs. A Kyrie-Millsap-Jokic “big three” doesn’t sound bad at all. In order for that to happen though, the Nugs would have to give up a good chunk of change. Two 1st-round picks are gone, and maybe a 2nd-rounder or two. Probably something along the lines of either Murray or Mudiay, with Murray being the preferred one, we sure. Then, the Cavs could start targeting more depth by looking at Jameer Nelson and maybe Wilson Chandler (they’d have to include one of their other big contracts in order to make cap space, though). You could probably also get away with snagging Will Barton or Malik Beasley too.

Of course none of this will be enough to entice LeBron to stay in Cleveland, but it would certainly give them something to build on in the future.

Minnesota Timberwolves

We don’t like the idea of Kyrie playing for Minny, but we’re not holding our breath either because it’s not clear that Thibs likes it either. We’ll humor Kyrie though, and play out one of his scenario’s. Obviously there would be a player swap of Kyrie for Jeff Teague. Then the T-wolves would have to throw in two or three 1st round picks because they don’t necessarily have a ton of assets to give up. If we were the Cavs, we would ask for their 2019 and 2021 1st-round picks considering their 2018 1st-round pick is top-14 protected, and a Kyrie-Wiggins-Butler-Dieng-Townes line up should not finish a lottery team. We’d also ask for Justin Patton, the Timberwolves first round selection this year.

This is definitely not what LeBron wants because it doesn’t help him win next year, and it doesn’t necessarily set the Cavs up for the future, so this doesn’t really work.

Miami Heat

This would be an interesting one. First, you’d want to trade Kyrie for Goran Dragic, who would work really well for the Cavs. He’s a great pick and roll guy who might actually inflate K-Love’s stats. Dragic is also an underrated scorer (he averaged 20 ppg last season). Next, you need to clear out some cap space and gain some young assets in the process. We’d also trade either Shumpert and/or Korver for Justise Winslow, if the Heat are willing to part with him. If not, then Rodney McGruder and Josh Richardson would be on our short-list. Throw in their 2018 2nd-rounder and their 2019 and 2020 1st-rounders, and this deal is starting to take shape.

This doesn’t necessarily give the Cavs more of an edge, but it definitely isn’t a huge fall out. In a perfect world, the Cavs would go after Kelly Olynyk, and have the most awkward tension in the frontcourt with him and Kevin Love. That would be amazing.

New York Knicks

The Cavs have two different paths they can go down: the first one involves going young, and essentially letting go of LeBron, because they won’t have the assets to help them win right now. The second path is a huge gamble, and it involves Melo.

If they go young, then Frank Ntilikina is the first piece of the trade. If you’re letting go of Kyrie, you might as well get a young PG prospect in the process. Next we’d get some insurance and go for Damyean Dotson, the team’s 2nd round pick this year. Mindaugas Kuzminskas would also be a nice piece to throw in. Then, if we’re the Cavs, we’d try and own the Knicks first round picks for the next two or three years and have them send two or three second rounders as well. This is New York we’re talking about, so anything is really in play as long as they remain as dysfunctional as they have been.

The Melo route opens up a whole other set of scenarios. If Melo goes to Cleveland, then they would almost certainly have to trade K-Love. If that were the case, then the Cavs might not be in that bad of shape moving forward. Between him and Kyrie they would almost certainly have four to six mid to high first round selections over the next two or three years.

There are obviously some other teams in play that aren’t mentioned here, like the Spurs (one of Kyrie’s preferred destinations). These are the teams that make the most sense though. While many of them are extremely exciting in theory, they don’t really make a whole lot of sense. Most of them end with the Cavs being in worse shape this year, losing LeBron after this upcoming season, and being in rebuild mode for the next five or six years, at the very least. This brings us back to the Russian Roulette analogy.

Making any of these trades is a gamble. And with the signing of Derrick Rose (1 yr, $2.1M) it seems almost inevitable that one will happen, you might actually be shooting yourself in the foot (or the head, in this case). Trading Kyrie almost automatically erases any shot at a title the Cavs have, which is the only reason LeBron is still in town. If Kyrie wants to be the man so bad, why doesn’t he just wait until LeBron leaves? Then, not only does he have his own team and some good supporting pieces already in place, but he’ll also have the city of Cleveland on his back. While Cleveland itself isn’t the first city a superstar athlete wants to be in, there’s no denying the Cleveland fanbase is amazing, particularly once they’ve accepted you as their guy.

It’s a weird catch-22 with the current tension. Letting Kyrie walk doesn’t sound like a fun proposition, but trading him away could make the Cavs situation go from bad to worse. Also, any team that takes him on is essentially putting their eggs in one basket. If Kyrie comes to town and fails to take a team on his back to the playoffs, then that franchise could ultimately be the one shooting themselves. And as a fantasy GM, we’d argue that taking on Kyrie might be too risky of a proposition for almost any team.

This leads to our final point: If getting rid of Kyrie doesn’t help LeBron or the Cavs out, if he can have his own team next year when LeBron presumably leaves, and if it isn’t worth the trouble for the team taking Kyrie on, then who wins this situation? It seems like no one really does, and when you play Russian Roulette, you don’t really win either. Just because you didn’t die doesn’t mean you gained anything either, except maybe a new appreciation for the life you have. Just because you have five chances to live and only one to die doesn’t mean you should take any chances in the first place. There are a number of better ways to remember how to feel alive, and any of those will nicely remind Irving remember where the “I” is in “team.” It’s gonna be a lot of therapy either way.

TAKING THE KIDS TO CAMP: SUMMER LEAGUE PREVIEW (3/3)

WHAT TO WATCH IN THE VEGAS GAMES

July 07, 2017

By J. Patrick

summer league logo

Summer League Header

In reality, the summer league doesn’t serve much of a purpose in the grand scheme of things. The month of July is really set aside in the NBA world to evaluate recently drafted and undrafted rookies, overseas players trying to break into the league, and active pros with less than four or so years of experience to see if and where their games have grown. Since these are all youngsters who won’t see the same amount of playing time (for most) when the regular season rolls around, don’t look too much into the stats that some players may put up. It’s easy to overestimate a guy’s ability when playing time is inflated and competition is decreased. Nevertheless, hoop junkies rejoice! Summer League is like a second Christmas for us.

Las Vegas Summer League, 7th-17th

The Las Vegas Summer League is the granddaddy of them all. The 10 day event will 67 games in total. The 7th through the 11th will be like a regular season, and the last six days of the event are like a playoffs in a way, with an elimination style tournament, with the championship game being played on the 17th, and a losers bracket being played out over the the last two days of the event.

Toronto Raptors

Unfortunately, the Raptors most interesting young prospect won’t be playing in summer league. OG Anunoby was their first sound selection this year, and may potentially be one of the best players from this years draft if he can recover from a string of knee and ankle injuries. The only rookie that should be fun to watch would be Kennedy Meeks, UNC’s big man. Meeks has the chance to make an NBA roster, and now is his chance to do it.

The interesting players to watch for the Raptors will be all second year players. Jakob Poeltl probably has the most to show out of the three, seeing as how Toronto is without a solid backup to Valanciunas. I loved his game at Utah, and it can still materialize and translate to the league, but he’ll have to show it here first. Siakam and Vanvleet both turned in ok rookie season. Siakam stepped in at power forward for a while and did pretty well. His role will grow this year with Pat P leaving to join the Thunder. Vanvleet spent some nice minutes at backup point guard when called upon. All three will have to step up and make good contributions in summer league if they want to take on additional minutes in the regular season.  

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Troy Caupain 21 G R
Justin Edwards 23 G R
Jordan Loyd 23 G R
Fred Vanvleet 23 G 1 yr
Malcolm Miller 23 G-F R
Will Sheehey 24 G-F R
Cole Huff 23 F R
Tidjan Keita 20 F R
Alfonzo McKinney 23 F R
Pascal Siakam 23 F 1 yr
Kennedy Meeks 21 F-C R
Goodluck Okonoboh 22 F-C R
Jakob Poeltl 21 C 1 yr
Jalen Reynolds 23 C R


New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans have an interesting roster. They’ve got some good experience on the roster, but I’m not sure any of them can really make a splash except for Quinn Cook, James Young, and Jordan Crawford. Both offer a skill the Pels severely need: outside shooting. Cook is the better shooter of the two, but is a little undersized even for a point guard. He’ll have to show he can make 3’s by the bucket load if he wants a chance to  make the final roster. James Young is an interesting guy. He’s been in the league three years without making any significant contributions. Despite that, he’s only 21 years old so he still has a lot of his career left. His physique could allow him to be a bigger two, or a prototypical 3 & D small forward if he can get a consistent three point game going.

Another experienced guard trying to make the roster is Jordan Crawford. He’s been out of the league a couple years, but he wasn’t a bad player at all when he was in the league. He’s a capable bench scorer (career 12.3 ppg) who isn’t afraid to hoist shots up. That could be why his career three point percentage is only 31%. He has a lot of similarities to Nick Young, or Lou Williams, except slightly less efficient. Still, he has a good chance to make the final roster based off experience alone. All of these guys will be battling with the rookie PG out of Duke, Frank Jackson. I don’t know if Jackson is ready for big minutes in the NBA yet, but we’ll get our first glimpse of the floor slapping blue devil in a few days.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Frank Jackson 19 G R
Peter Jok 23 G R
Mashawn Chamberlain 23 G R
Jordan Matthews 24 G R
Quinn Cook 24 G R
Isaiah Cousins 23 G 1 yr
Jordan Crawford 28 G 5 yrs
Royce O’ Neale 24 G-F R
James Young 21 G-F 3 yrs
Sanjay Lumpkin 23 G-F R
Cheick Diallo 20 F 1 yr
Axel Toupane 24 F 3 yrs
Jalen Jones 24 F R
Kaleb Tarczewski 24 C R


Brooklyn Nets

The sad, sad Nets. Next year will be an interesting year for the Nets, who added D’Angelo Russell via trade. Still, they have a good chance to win big in summer league, thanks to some experienced guards on the roster. I like the young crop of guards on their roster. Spencer Dinwiddie presents physical mismatches for opponents given is 6-6 height, and isaiah Whitehead was a nice surprise last year. He showed the ability to be able to score lots of points in a variety of ways. The guy I’m looking forward to the most is Caris Levert. Okay, I’ll admit some of it is fantasy related, but still, he’s an interesting young guy. He was one of the best rookies last year that showed a versatile skillset. Look for him to make big waves in Vegas this year.

They also picked up an interesting rookie in Jarrett Allen. The big man out of texas is a solid rebounder and a good rim protector. He should only get better with time. He gets most of his points in the paint, but playing under Kenny Atkinson will require him to become a better three point shooter, so that should be an interesting development. Regardless of how good or bad he does, Brook Lopez is playing for the Lakers now, so he’ll get all the minutes he needs his rookies year.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Jeremy Senglin 22 G R
Spencer Dinwiddie 23 G 3 yrs
Milton Doyle 22 G R
Rodney Pryor 23 G R
Isaiah Whitehead 22 G 1 yr
Archie Goodwin 22 G 4 yrs
Tahjere McCall 22 G R
Caris Levert 22 G-F 1 yr
J.J. Moore 26 G-F R
Kamari Murphy 23 F R
Jacob Wiley 22 F R
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 22 F 2 yrs
Nathan Boothe 24 C R
Vincent Poirier 24 C R
Jarrett Allen 19 C R
Prince Ibeh 23 C R


Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have a very interesting summer league roster. It is important that they perform well since they decided to go into all out tank mode. They traded Dwight Howard for little in return, and then resigned Paul Millsap for sign-and-trade purposes. So now it becomes very important that they find solid young prospects. One they added in the Millsap giveaway is Diamond Stone, a center for the Clippers. A couple players returning this year should be key cogs in their development. Taurean Prince started breaking out at the end of last season, and should dominate summer league this year with the added experience. Bembry should show some solid improvement too. He may be important for PG depth for the team. One of my favorite perennial summer league players is Bryce Cotton. He’s a small point guard that plays with a big heart. He should be fun to watch.

I want to see how John Collins performs against more athletic competition. He’s a solid power forward who I think will have a nice career, but he still has a good amount of developing to do. He’ll need to play strong defense against stronger opponents when the regular season rolls around. Another rookie to watch would be Mr. Irrelevant, Alpha Kaba. He still has to get a lot stronger and put on weight before he can start banging with bigger NBA centers, but he does have a lot of potential. A solid leaper with the ability to take the ball of the dribble to the basket, he may have success against slower competition. His jumper has a ways to go, but his mechanics are sound.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
DeAndre Bembry 22 G 1 yr
Bryce Cotton 24 G 2 yrs
Isaia Cordonnier 20 G R
Tyler Dorsey 21 G R
Trent Lockett 26 G R
Nate Britt 23 G R
Josh Magette 27 G R
Duje Dukan 25 F R
Quincy Ford 24 F 1 yr
Taurean Prince 22 F 1 yr
John Collins 19 F R
Richard Solomon 25 F-C R
Alpha Kaba 20 F-C R


Houston Rockets

The Rockets don’t have a lot of big names on their roster this summer, and their two biggest names, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell, have just been traded the Clippers. Nevertheless, this is an important summer league for the Rockets. The Rockets have a pretty solid starting five, but are now without a strong quality 6th man.With the trade that just went down they really need more solid role players to round out the rotation. Ray McCallum will be an interesting player to watch who could help shore up the backup point guard position. He has already spent time with three teams in the NBA, so his experience may help him.

The Rockets front office will probably be more concerned with the bigs. Kyle Wiltjer is gone, so the need for a solid backup power forward is now essential. The biggest need for the Rockets is a quality backup center for Clint Capela, and one that can step in if he gets injured, like he did this past year. Onuaku is worth watching, if only for the way he shoots free throws. He still has a good amount of potential, but someone who perhaps may have a little more potential, who will be an intriguing player to watch, is Isaiah Hartenstein. He’s a 7’1 American born German ball player, who runs the floor well, has good hops, and has a decent stroke from behind the arc. He’s only 19 and weighs 225 pounds, so his body still has a little ways to go, but his raw skillset is something I’m sure D’Antoni is drooling over. If he can do a decent job of protecting the rim, rebounding, and shooting, my money’s on him to have a roster spot by summer’s end. Given his athleticism he could even slot in at power forward, sort of like Porzingis does. His roster spot may already be solidified because of recent circumstances.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Ray McCallum 26 G 5 yrs
L.J. Peak 21 G R
George De Paulo 21 G R
Matt Jones 22 G R
Isaiah Taylor 22 G 1 yr
Troy Williams 22 F 1 yr
Cameron Oliver 20 F R
Eric McCree 23 F R
Chris Johnson 26 F 5 yrs
Isaiah Hartenstein 19 C R
Chinanu Onuaku 20 C 1 yr


Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets love foreign players. It’s a trend that’s been growing for a while, and Denver is leading the charge. Juancho Hernangomez, the second year forward from Spain, is set to make a big impact at summer league this year. This guy oozes talent uncontrollably. He has the height, wingspan, and athleticism to become an incredible power forward. He can run P & R’s well, cut on the baseline towards the basket, put the ball on the floor from the perimeter, and his three point game is still developing. I like this guy a lot.

Really, the only guard to watch for the Nuggets at summer league is Malik Beasley. He’n above average athlete that could be a run of the mill shooting guard if he develops properly. Perhaps my favorite player on the Nuggets roster is Henry Sims. Not because he’s the best, or really has a realistic shot of making the team, he’s just fun to watch. He’s been in and out of the league for five years now, but always impresses at summer league. His best attribute is probably his heart and desire to make it. Most guys don’t get up after falling down four other times, much less play as hungry as he does.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Monte Morris 21 G R
Dallas Moore 22 G R
Thomas Bropleh 25 G R
Nikola Radicevic 23 G R
Malik Beasley 20 G 1 yr
Howard Sant Roos 26 G-F R
David Walker 22 G-F R
Torrey Craig 26 G-F R
Juancho Hernangomez 21 F 1 yr
Xavier Johnson 23 F R
Vlatko Cancar 20 F R
Robert Carter Jr. 23 F R
Tyler Lydon 21 F R
Henry Sims 27 F-C 4 yrs
Petr Cornelie 21 C R


L.A. Clippers

This could possibly be a very important summer league for the Clippers. Depending on what happens now that CP3 has been traded to the Rockets, the team really needs more depth at the PG position. Yes, they got Patrick Beverley, but he won’t be enough to fill the void left by CP3. The Clips picked up Jawun Evans in the second round of this years draft, so he could be one candidate. For a PG, he’s a straight up scorer who can get it done from any level. The only thing that could possibly hinder him is his size. At 6’0, 185, he won’t be a physically imposing guard. Another guard to watch is Sindarius Thornwell, another secounder the Clippers picked up. Thornwell is a solid all around guard who helped South Carolina get into the final four in this years tourney.

Blake Griffin is back, and they brought in Gallinari, but that doesn’t mean the Clippers aren’t totally moving away from a rebuild. If that happens, it will become imperative that the franchise find solid young bigs. The Clippers aren’t totally in the dark here, either, despite trading away Diamond Stone, the second year center. They have one guy from last year I kind of like in Brice Johnson, but he will have to show up big in summer league to make Clipper fans breath a little easier. Brice Johnson only played nine total minutes last year due to a herniated disk in his back. He’ll need to add some muscle if he wants to be a center in the league, and he’ll definitely need to add a jumper (which was non existent at UNC) to his game if he really wants to contribute in L.A. Regardless of what happens at summer league, it may be time for coach Doc Rivers to break a cardinal rule of his. Doc doesn’t like playing young guys, much less having them on the roster, but with the Clips on the brink of going into rebuild mode, he’ll have to do it, whether he likes it or not.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Jawunn Evans 20 G R
Luke Nelson 21 G R
Nic Moore 24 G R
Sindarius Thornwell 22 G R
David Michineau 23 G R
Jaron Johnson 25 G-F 2 yrs
James Bell 25 G-F R
Anthony Gill F R
Michael Eric 29 F R
Isaiah Hicks 22 F R
Brice Johnson 22 F-C 1 yr


L.A. Lakers

The Lakers will be one of my favorite teams to watch this summer. They have a good mix of experienced guys and rookies. Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac are both returning for their second session of summer league, and should dominate without any trouble. New GM Rob Pelinka said that Ingram would only play a handful of games, and the same may happen with Zubac. Although I’m interested to see how well these two play, I’m far more interested in the rookies.

Of course there’s Lonzo Ball, the Lakers new rookie looking to bring showtime back to L.A. He shouldn’t have a hard time meshing with his teammates at summer league, or on the real roster. One guy that should be fun to watch is Josh Hart. I’ve been high on him for a while. He’s a bonafide scorer who can work well on and off the ball. He should be a nice addition to the regular season roster for this team, and provide some quality minutes at shooting guard. Another dark horse candidate to make the regular season is Thomas Bryant. He’s huge. At 7’0, he weighs 250 pounds. A year or two from now when he’s beefed up, he could be in the 270-280 range. He’s pretty athletic for his size and his long arms allow him to protect the rim pretty well. He’s just 19 and still pretty raw, so he might be relegated to the D-league his rookie year, but I like him as a prospect, and he should be a nice contributor in the league a couple years from now.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Lonzo Ball 19 G R
Gabe York 23 G R
Matt Thomas 23 G R
Josh Hart 22 G R
David Nwaba 24 G 1 yr
Vander Blue 24 G 2 yrs
Alex Caruso 23 G R
P.J. Dozier 23 F R
Kyle Kuzma 21 F R
Brandon Ingram 19 F 1 yr
Travis Wear 26 F 1 yr
Alec Brown 24 C R
Thomas Bryant 19 C R
Ivaca Zubac 20 C 1 yr


Milwaukee Bucks

I don’t really know what to make of this roster. I’m interested to see how a couple second year guys do. Thon Maker and Gary Payton II are coming to their second summer league. Maker is obviously a project, but showed that he might be a quicker project than we originally thought, so monitoring his progress will be fun. Gary Payton the second, son of former player Gary Payton, made a name and a roster spot for himself last year by playing really well at summer league. I’m interested to see if he has improved. He’ll need to if he wants to break into the Bucks backcourt rotation.

A couple Big Ten rookies to keep an eye on are the Bucks first round selection, D.J. Wilson, and undrafted rookie Bronson Koenig. Wilson has all the requisite tools that you look for in a big coming out of college these days. He’s tall, long, and has some good weight on him. His frame suggests he can get bigger too. He also shot the three ball pretty well in college and also protected the rim. Koenig is another interesting prospect. A Wisconsin native, and now an Wisconsin university alum, I’m sure his home state fans are rooting for him to make the roster. Like Wilson, he has pretty good size for a point guard. He also can shoot really well from deep, and can run an offense when needed. He also knows how to take a backseat to better players, which he did for two of his years at Wisconsin when he played with Frank Kaminsky.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Bronson Koenig 22 G R
JeQuan Lewis 21 G R
Gary Payton II 23 G 1 yr
Travis Trice 24 G R
Rashad Vaughn 21 G 2 yrs
Sterling Brown 21 G-F R
Reggie Upshaw Jr 22 F R
Jalen Moore 21 F R
Tim Kempton Jr 22 F R
Achille Polonara 26 F R
Tyler Robinson 22 F R
D.J. Wilson 21 F-C R
Thon Maker 20 (allegdedly) C 1 yr


Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers have a pretty set roster this year, so don’t expect anything big to come out of this team. That being said, they do have some interesting names. We’ll start with Sam Cassell Jr. Yes, the son of former star player Sam Cassell. Jr. didn’t quite get his father’s physical attributes, but it does seem his experience rubbed off on him, because he’s a very smooth, collected presence on the court. He might have a shot if fellow teammate Kay Felder fails to impress. I like Felder a lot, but his potential is a little shaky at this point. He still has insane athleticism, and some good moves around the rim, but he’ll have to show an improved ability to run an offense, better defense, and improved three point shooting. The Cavs still have Deron Williams as the backup PG, but he’s getting older so someone will have to eventually step up.

Two guys whose names you’ve already seen pop up on other rosters are Brandon Paul and Anthony Gill. Paul is 26, but could still have a nice role as a combo guard for some team out there. He has a decent handle and knows how to score. He dropped 20 points for the Mavs in Orlando this past week. Gill on the other hand, is more about athleticism than any one solid skill. For his height, he has great athleticism that allows him to move more like a small forward than a power forward. He doesn’t have a great offensive game, but he does cut to the basket very nicely and is a solid rebounder. If he wants any shot at making a roster he’ll have to show the ability to hit three pointers, which he hasn’t quite done for the Hornets summer league roster yet.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Kay Felder 22 G 1 yr
Sam Cassell Jr. 24 G R
Andrew White 23 G R
T.J. Williams 22 G R
Roosevelt Jones 23 G R
Brandon Paul 26 G R
Sir’dominic Pointer 24 G-F R
Anthony Gill 23 F R
Casey Prather 26 F 1 yr
Malcolm Thomas 27 F 4 yrs
Gerald Beverley 22 F R
Walter Tavares 25 C 1 yr


Phoenix Suns

The Suns, for the second straight year, should have another very exciting summer league team. Marquese Chriss should resemble a little bit of what Devin Booker did last year: dominate. Another returning Suns player that should only play a few games before being pulled is Tyler ulis. I’m not sure what he’s doing back here. I’m also excited to see how Bender has improved. The guy just oozes potential. He still has a couple of years before he’ll really start showing why he was the number three overall pick, but when he does, he should be something special, mark my words.

The obvious guy to keep an eye on will be Josh Jackson. The Suns 4th overall pick this year should be a great player in years to come. This will be his chance to learn on the fly how to score against bigger, stronger NBA players. He’ll have to refine his shooting motion and become a more efficient scorer if he wants to find more success his rookie year than is expected of him.

David Stockton is the son of former NBA legend John Stockton. It’s always fun to watch the children of star athletes try and escape from their father’s shadow.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Shaquille Harrison 22 G R
Ike Iroegbu 22 G R
Mike James 27 G R
David Stockton 26 G 1 yr
Tyler Ulis 21 G 1 yr
Davon Reed 22 G-F R
Tre McLean 21 G-F R
Josh Jackson 19 F R
Darion Atkins 23 F R
Marquese Chriss 19 F 1 yr
Alec Peters 22 F R
Derrick Jones Jr 20 F 1 yr
Dragan Bender 20 F-C 1 yr
Christian Wood 21 F-C 2 yrs
Chris Obekpa 23 C R


Sacramento Kings

Just a quick glance will tell you that half the Kings roster is on their summer league team. They have nine total players from the last three drafts on the roster. The biggest name is obviously De’Aaron Fox. He should be a treat to watch, especially his impending matchup with Lonzo Ball in Vegas. Buddy Hield should put on a couple big performances before he’s pulled from the team.

One guy that didn’t get talked about enough last year is Skal Labissiere. He was on fire at the end of last season. I would expect him to continue that trend in Las Vegas. I really want to see if the Kings gamble was worth paying off. Justin Jackson and Giles are both a couple years away from contributing a lot of minutes, but I’m curious to see what it might have been that Kings saw in them.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
De’Aaron Fox 19 G R
Frank Mason III 23 G R
Philip Scrubb 24 G R
Dominique Hawkins 25 G R
Buddy Hield 23 G 1 yr
Naz Mitrou-Long 23 G R
Malachi Richardson 21 G 1 yr
Justin Jackson 22 G-F R
Scootie Randall 27 G-F R
Luis Montero 24 G-F R
Harry Giles 19 F R
Jakarr Sampson 24 F 2 yr
Reggie Hearn 25 F R
Eric Stuteville 22 F-C R
Skal Labissiere 21 F-C 1 yr
Jack Cooley 26 C 1 yr
Georgios Papagiannis 20 C 1 yr


Washington Wizards

In truth, there’s only two guys on this roster who will probably end up making the roster come September. Still, I’m not sure Chris Mccullough or Daniel Ochefu will make any sort of impact on the team. Both are bigs, and both are without a lot of skill.

If there’s one guy I am interested to see on this roster, is Kris Jenkins out of Villanova. He’s the guy who hit that game winner on UNC two years ago. He’s a really good scorer who can get it done in a variety of ways. He’s not undersized for a small forward persay, but his height and wingspan leave a lot to be desired. He’ll also have to show the ability to hold hid own on defense when defending some of the league’s top small forwards.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Ian Baker 24 G R
Maalik Wayns 26 G R
Jared Cunningham 24 G 4 yrs
Max Hooper 23 G R
Rayshawn Simmons 23 G R
Danuel House 23 G R
Sheldon Mac 24 G 1 yr
Jalen Ross 23 G R
Kevin Pangos 24 G R
Marcus Keene 22 G R
Ike Diogu 33 F 5 yrs
Chris Mccullough 22 F 2 yrs
Mike Young 22 F R
Kris Jenkins 23 F R
Devin Robinson 23 F R
Daniel Ochefu 23 F-C 1 yr
Jaleel Roberts 24 C R
Isaac Humphries 19 C R
Jasonn Hannibal 27 C R


Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are in a weird spot as a franchise right now. They have some good cornerstone players, but they don’t have any shot at winning a title. They have some good young talent, but they’re not overflowing with it. The Grizzlies are in the weird middle ground a lot of teams are in where you don’t know whether you should build a contender out of what you have or if you should just go into all out tank mode. With Z-bo gone, they become that much more weaker, but with that also comes the chance for a couple young bigs to show their stuff. Deyonta Davis was the team’s first round selection last year. He’s a long and tall guy with a very rough skillset. He can block shots, run a pick and roll and shoot a little on the baseline. One guy he’ll be competing against for playing time is Ivan Rabb, the team’s first round selection last year. He has a lot of good things about him, but he’s also extremely inconsistent. He’s essentially a Jonathan Isaac-lite.

Another 2nd year guy to watch is Wade Baldwin IV. Mike Conley is a nice point guard, but he gets hurt far too often for me to feel comfortable with him. The Grizzlies need a good young presence in the backcourt in case he gets hurt. Baldwin should be that guy. He played really well in the D-league last year, and is crazy athletic. He’s a decent scorer, and an ok distributor. He’ll need to improve his ability to create his own shots around the rim and set teammates up to gain some real minutes.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Wade Baldwin IV 21 G 1 yr
Ray Cowels 26 G R
Will Cummings 23 G R
Kobi Simmons 20 G R
Wes Washpun 24 G R
Jeremy Morgan 22 G R
Dillon Brooks 21 G-F R
William Howard 23 G-F R
Wayne Selden 22 G-F 1 yr
Jarell Martin 23 F 2 yrs
Vince Hunter 22 F R
Ivan Rabb 20 F R
Victor Rudd 26 F R
Rade Zagorac 21 F R
Deyonta Davis 20 C 1 yr
Amir Williams 23 C R


Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers have two interesting rookies playing in this year’s summer league in Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan. Both are bigs that can play power forward or center. While Swanigan may lack the full height he needs to compete against 7 footers, he makes up for in strength. I really like Swanigan. He’s a big with a nice post up game and a good shooting touch. He shot 44.5% from deep in college. You also have to fight him (literally, almost fight him) if you want to get a rebound over him. He was a double double machine in college, averaging 18.5 ppg and 12.8 rpg last year. He should be able to contribute right away for the Blazers, who are a little thin at power forward. Zach Collins on the other hand, will be more of a project. Last year at Gonzaga he only averaged 17 minutes per game. A lot of it came down to foul trouble. In the same amount of court time he averaged 2.7 fouls, so he’ll need to work on body control and ways to defend without fouling. His outlook is good though, so long as he builds his skillset based on his strengths, which are quickness, good leaping ability, solid box out technique, and  soft shooting touch. He’s only 19, so he’s got a few years to figure it all out.

The Blazers have a couple interesting guards coming to summer league too. I like Tim Quartermain and Pat Connaughton. Quartermain is an even keeled guard who can handle the ball and drive the lane pretty well. If he wants to contribute to Portland in a major way he’ll have to really work on his shooting percentage. For Connaughton, it’s all about defense and consistency on the offensive end. He’s a great shooter, but he can’t seem to always find his rhythm. With his deceiving athleticism he should be able to defend better than he does.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Antonius Cleveland 23 G R
Tim Quartermain 22 G 1 yr
Pat Connaughton 24 G 2 yrs
Jordan Adams 23 G 1 yr
Markel Adams 25 G 2 yrs
Jorge Gutierrez 29 G 4 yrs
R.J. Hunter 23 G 2 yrs
Nick Johnson 24 G 1 yr
DeAndre Daniels 25 F R
Josh Scott 24 F R
Jake Layman 23 F 1 yr
Caleb Swanigan 20 F-C R
Keith Benson 28 C 1 yr
Zach Collins 19 C R


Chicago Bulls

The Bulls will have a lot of eyes on them in this year’s summer league for a couple reasons. A. they let their best player go. B. They need a couple young guys that they traded for and drafted to step up in order for the Jimmy B trade to not be a complete disaster. The two guys with the most eyes on them will Kris Dunn and Lauri Markennan. Dunn had an abysmal rookie year. It wasn’t totally unexpected, but he was supposed to have a better season than he did, shooting just 37% from the field and scoring only 3.8 ppg across 17 minutes. He’ll need to show a lot of progress this season, and it may help that he’ll get thrown to the wolves (no pun intended), as long as the Bulls let Rondo go or trade him.

Markennan should be fun to watch as he develops, assuming his game does grow. Right now he’s a skinny kid with a sweet stroke, but nothing more. Players with his build and skillset usually do pretty in summer league, i.e. Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Kaminsky, etc. His weaknesses are just as obvious as his strengths; he needs to get a lot stronger and he has to learn to be a rim protector. He’ll also have to learn how to bang down low with really strong and physical guys.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Kris Dunn 23 G 1 yr
Brady Heslip 27 G R
Denzel Valentine 23 G 1 yr
Antonio Blakeney 20 G R
Ryan Arcidiacono 23 G R
Cameron Payne 22 G 2 yrs
Paul Zipser 23 F 1 yr
Dejan Todorovic 23 F R
Chris Walker 22 F R
Jerrelle Benimon 25 F 1 yr
Lauri Markennan 19 F-C R
Nikola Janovic 23 C R
Amida Brimah 23 C R


Minnesota Timberwolves

Unfortunately, the T-Wolves first round pick this year, Justin Patton isn’t playing due to a knee surgery. Another rookie looking to open up a roster spot is Amile Jefferson, the senior out of Duke. He has a nice game, and one that could translate to the NBA. I think Jefferson could be a good back up for someone if he’s given the chance, and Minny might be that place.

I’d keep an eye on V.J. Beachum out of Notre Dame, whose a prolific scorer. He can absolutely bomb it from three point land, which is a skill the T Wolves will need this season. Shabazz Muhammad is nice player, but he isn’t the best 3 point shooter, so there could be room for Veachum if he can do what he does bat at summer league.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Marcus Paige 23 G 1 yr
Jake Gibbs 21 G R
Charles Cooke 23 G R
Levi Randolph 23 G R
C.J. Williams 27 G-F 2 yrs
V.J. Beachum 22 F R
Matt Costello 24 F R
Moses Kingsley 22 F R
Raphiael Putney 27 F R
Perry Ellis 23 F R
Deonte Burton 23 F R
Amile Jefferson 24 F R


Golden State Warriors

Believe it or not, this is an important summer league for the Warriors. Outside of the big 4, there roster is comprised of mostly veterans, outside of Shaun Livingston and Ian Clark. McCaw is attending summer league, but I doubt he’ll see much time, as his roster spot is all but solidified. The Warriors need some guys to show out at summer league to relieve some of the pressure on the vets on the team to have to log heavy minutes. Even though they are pretty set in their guard rotation, I like Bryce Alford, who may have come out a year earlier than he should. He had to play behind Lonzo, so his minutes were limited at times, but he has a strong body and decent handle. He’ll have to show that he can hit three’s with some consistency if he wants a realistic shot at making the roster.

The dubs paid for a high second round pick this year to select Oregon’s Jordan Bell. I like Bell a lot, and I think a lot of others do too. He’s got good size and speed to be a small ball four, and has a nice shooting touch from deep. His midrange game is decent, and he has a couple moves in the post. He should be an interesting guy to watch, seeing as how the warriors paid to move up in the draft to get him.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Bryce Alford 21 G R
Jabari Brown 23 G 1 yr
Derivadas Dulkys 27 G R
Dylan Ennis 23 G R
Alex Hamilton 23 G R
Patrick McCaw 21 G 1 yr
Xavier Munford 23 G 1 yr
Joe Rabon 23 G R
Tai Webster 21 G G
Noah Allen 21 G R
Elgin Cook 23 F R
Justin Harper 26 F 2 yrs
Jordan Bell 21 F R
Kevin Looney 21 F 2 yrs
Chris Boucher 23 F R
Jacorey Williams 23 F R
Darnell Williams 25 F-C R
Damian Jones 23 C 1 yr


Miami Heat

Refer to Orlando Summer League


Utah Jazz

Refer to Utah Summer League


San Antonio Spurs

Refer to Utah Summer League


Dallas Mavericks

Refer to Orlando Summer League


Philadelpiha 76er’s

Refer to Utah Summer League


Boston Celtics

Refer to Utah Summer League

 

TAKING THE KIDS TO CAMP: SUMMER LEAGUE PREVIEW (2/3)

WHAT TO WATCH IN UTAH’S GAMES

July 03, 2017

By J. Patrick

summer league logo

Summer League Header

In reality, the summer league doesn’t serve much of a purpose in the grand scheme of things. The month of July is really set aside in the NBA world to evaluate recently drafted and undrafted rookies, overseas players trying to break into the league, and active pros with less than four or so years of experience to see if and where their games have grown. Since these are all youngsters who won’t see the same amount of playing time (for most) when the regular season rolls around, don’t look too much into the stats that some players may put up. It’s easy to overestimate a guy’s ability when playing time is inflated and competition is decreased. Nevertheless, hoop junkies rejoice! Summer League is like a second Christmas for us.

Utah Summer League, July 3rd-6th

The Utah Summer League is a three day event taking place in the Jazz’s own arena, in Salt Lake City. There will be a total of six games played, with two games per day. There is no championship game.

Boston Celtics

There are lots of guys to watch for Boston. One guy, Schoochie Smith, may have the most interesting name in the whole summer league. The point guard out of Dayton is a smooth operator though, with fluid movement. He’s also a good pick and roll ball handler. This years top pick, Jason Tatum, will be the player with the most eyes on him, though. It’ll be our first look at his ability to handle bigger and more athletic competition.

Another forward to watch is Jaylen Brown. He started to come into his own at the end of the 2016-17 season, and really showed out in the playoffs. Given his years worth of experience, he should be the Celtics best player. One big to watch is Ante Zizic. I don’t think he got enough attention in the draft last year, as he went number 23 to the Celtics in the first round. He’s a legit 7 footer with nice athleticism. He could be the next croatian in line to break into the league. He can rebound, set solid picks, has a good post up game, and is a solid mid range shooter with a nice touch (and I’m sure he’s working on that 3 point shot being drafted by Boston). I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned a few heads and earned himself a roster spot.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Scoochie Smith 22 G R
Kadeem Allen 24 G R
Demetrius Jackson 22 G 1 yr
Jabari Bird 22 G R
Perrin Buford 23 G-F R
Semi Ojeleye 22 F R
Landon Lucas 23 F R
Terran Petteway 23 F R
Jason Tatum 19 F R
Jaylen Brown 20 F 1 yr
Roscoe Allen 24 F R
Abdel Nader 23 F 1 yr
Scott Wood 27 F R
Jordan Mickey 22 F-C 2 yrs
Ante Zizic 20 C R
Trevor Thompson 23 C R


Philadelphia 76er’s

No surprise here. Fultz will be the man everybody’s talking about at both the Utah and Vegas summer leagues. I know I’ll be anxious to see him play, considering I didn’t watch any of his games in his one year at Washington U. Two guys I did get to observe a bit more though, were Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Alex Poythress. TLC is a long, above average athletic shooting guard. His three point shot has a little ways to go, but it’s getting there. It will be essential that he’s added some muscle and his defense improves if he wants his role on the 76er’s to expand. Alex Poythress is a more solidly built player, but is just an average athlete. He also has a nice stroke from deep. For him, his task will be to show improved rebounding, tougher defense, and a more diverse offensive skillset.

Two prospects that should be fun to watch are two guards. Aaron Harrison has some NBA experience, and is looking to contend for a backup point guard job. In competition with him is Melo Trimble. Trimble played his college ball at Maryland and has a leg up on Harrison in the shooting department. Both will have a hard time getting onto the final roster, but I have a good feeling about Trimble.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Aaron Harrison 22 G 2 yrs
Markelle Fultz 19 G R
Larry Drew II 27 G 1 yr
Isaiah Briscoe 21 G R
Melo Trimble 22 G R
James Blackmon Jr. 22 G R
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot 22 G-F 1 yr
Daryl Reynolds 22 F R
Isaiah Miles 23 F R
Alex Poythress 23 F 1 yr
Shawn Long 24 F 1 yr
Kaleb Tarczewski 23 C 1 yr
Jonna Bolden 21 C R


San Antonio Spurs

Just like in the regular season, this summer league roster the Spurs put together looks like a winner. Dejounte Murray and Bryan Forbes both had their moments as rookies, and looked ok. Murray has the potential to be really good. I’d expect him to be a fun player to watch in Utah. Derrick White, the team’s first round pick this season, also has a lot of potential. He can run the offense, play good defense, and has good athleticism. His shooting is what will really earn him minutes though. He’ll have to do a good job shooting and show he can play defense against elite NBA talent if he wants to break into the rotation. The PG position should be fun to watch considering Tony Parker is going to be out for at least half the season.

There’s also some experience among the forwards in the summer league as well. Davis Bertans is an interesting player. He showed some flashes last year in a very limited amount of court time. He has good athleticism and is a very good leaper. His midrange game is decent and his 3 point game is okay. He’ll need to show solid defensive ability at both forward spots, and he’ll have to show more strength when playing at the power forward position. My dark horse player to make the roster is Cleanthony Early. He’s 26, and has spent a couple years in the league, but he hasn’t quite lived up to the reputation he earned in college as a scorer. If he can get his head screwed on right and ingratiate himself in the Spurs system, he’ll be a perfect combo forward for them. I like this guy a lot. I hope he makes it.  

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Derrick White 22 G R
Bryan Forbes 23 G 1 yr
Dejounte Murray 20 G 1 yr
Jeff Ledbetter 28 G R
Olivier Hanlan 23 G R
James Robinson 23 G R
Cleanthony Early 26 F 3 yrs
Jaron Blossomgame 22 F R
Livio Jean-Charles 23 F R
Shayne Whittington 26 F 2 yrs
Cory Jefferson 26 F 3 yrs
Davis Bertans 23 F 1 yr
Ben Bentil 21 F-C 1 yr
Cady Lalanne 24 C R


Utah Jazz

There will be three Australian players suiting up for the Utah Jazz this summer when Dante Exum, Mitch Creek, and Nate Sobey take the floor. Although Creek and Sobey made the summer league roster, there’s only a slim chance they make the regular season roster. The real one to watch is Dante Exum. For these older guys, they should be dominating the competition. There’s usually at least two or three vets that crush summer league and look like men amongst boys. If Exum isn’t that guy in Utah (he won’t play in the Vegas summer league), then he may very well not be making a lot of progress, which will probably see him out the door in Utah.

The Jazz walked away from the draft with a decent set of rookies. Williams-Goss is a decent ball handler that plays solid defense. If he impresses he could see minutes at backup point guard. Donovan Mitchell was the team’s first round draft choice, and could be competing for anything from a 4th guard spot all the way up to a starting role. Of course, all of that depends on the health of Rodney Hood, Exum’s development, and whether or not Joe Ingles and/or Gordon Hayward walks in free agency. The other first round pick of the Jazz this year, Tony Bradley, will likely serve as Rudy Gobert’s back up, assuming he puts in quality minutes this summer and has a strong training camp.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Dante Exum 21 G 3 yrs
Nate Sobey 26 G R
Donovan Mitchell 20 G R
Spencer Butterfield 24 G R
Nigel Williams-Goss 22 G R
Devondrick Walker 24 G R
J.P. Tokoto 23 G-F R
Mitch Creek 25 G-F R
Joel Bolomboy 23 F 1 yr
Eric Griffin 27 F R
Jonathan Holmes 24 F R
James Southerland 27 F R
Eric Griffin 27 F 1 yr
Tyler Cavanaugh 23 F-C R
Tony Bradley 19 C R

 

Stay posted for the final preview for the Summer League–it will be posted before the 7th.

Taking the Kids to Camp: Summer League Preview (1/3)

What to watch in Orlando’s Summer league

June 30, 2017

By J. Patrick

summer league logo

Summer League Header

In reality, the summer league doesn’t serve much of a purpose in the grand scheme of things. The month of July is really set aside in the NBA world to evaluate recently drafted and undrafted rookies, overseas players trying to break into the league, and active pros with less than four or so years of experience to see if and where their games have grown. Since these are all youngsters who won’t see the same amount of playing time (for most) when the regular season rolls around, don’t look too much into the stats that some players may put up. It’s easy to overestimate a guy’s ability when playing time is inflated and competition is decreased. Nevertheless, hoop junkies rejoice! Summer League is like a second Christmas for us.

Orlando Summer League, July 1st-6th

The Orlando Summer league is a six day event, featuring eight teams. Each team will play 5 games over the six day period, with a championship game on the final day of the tournament.

Let’s take a look at some key players and storylines for each squad that will be taking the floor in Orlando.   

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets are one of my picks to make it to the championship game in the magic city. The main reason for this is that the Hornets have three players that have seen real minutes in the NBA the past few seasons. Traveon Graham, Briante Weber, and Johnny O’Bryant all have experience against professional competition. In addition to these two, the Hornets lottery pick this year, Malik Monk, and second round pick, Dwayne Bacon, will be two guys to watch for. It will be interesting to see which one, or if both, have the handles to push for minutes at backup PG.

In addition to those names above, another guy to watch out for is Przemek Karnowski, the 7’1 bear of a man who played his college ball at Gonzaga. He was a fun guy to watch as the Zags made their way to the NCAA finals. For a 305 pound, 7 footer, he can move pretty well in the paint, but will he be able to do it against guys that are just as strong, and way more agile than him? It’ll be hard for the Polish born center to make room on the team, considering the arrival of Dwight Howard, and established bigs like Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky.

UPDATE: Malik Monk will not participate due to a sprained ankle

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Malik Monk 19 G R
Dwayne Bacon 21 G R
Briante Weber 24 G 2 yrs
Tyrell Corbin 23 G 1 yr
Gabe York 23 G R
Devin Williams 23 F 1 yr
Anthony Gill 24 F R
Quinton Stephens 22 F R
Kris Joseph 28 F 5 yrs
Mangok Mathiang 24 F-C R
Przemek Karnowski 23 C R


Miami Heat

The Heat are in an interesting position. They already have some strong young talent on the team, and are realistically only one or two pieces away from being a quality playoff team. Riley, Spoelstra, and his staff have done a good job finding young talent the last couple of years, so we’ll see if that trend can continue. In the draft this year the Heat took KU center Bam Adebayo. Obviously he isn’t challenging Whiteside for his starting role, but he should definitely see some quality minutes as backup center, and his athleticism could allow him to even play a little power forward if his jumper can see some drastic improvements.

Another center that should be fun to watch at this year’s summer league would be Zach Auguste, who went undrafted in 2016. The fiery big man has good athleticism for his size, and is a good defender and rebounder, which may be attributed to his motor. If he can show some improvement on the offensive end from a year ago, he may carve himself out a roster spot, or a D-league spot at the very least. On another note, a lot of sources say that Pat Riley is bringing in a lot of wing players for the summer league roster, so it’ll be interesting to see if any of those players have a real shot at the roster. A lot of that will come down to the health of Justise Winslow, the health/return of Dion Waiters, and the development of Josh Richardson, and the possible addition of Gordon Hayward, should he decide to sign with Miami this offseason.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
London Perrantes 22 G R
Justin Robinson 22 G R
Gian Clavell 22 G R
Matt Williams 22 G R
Zak Irvin 22 G-F R
Jamel Artis 24 F R
Sebastian Siaz 22 F R
Eric Mika 22 F R
Bam Adebayo 19 C R
Zach Auguste 23 C 1 yr


Orlando Magic

The buzz of the summer in Orlando will be this year’s number six overall pick, Jonathan Isaac, the 6’11 freshman out of Florida State. Isaac has a very high ceiling, and a good rough skill set to develop. Unlike Aaron Gordon, he has a decent jumper (that should still get much better as he gains more experience). Like Aaron Gordon, he is an uber athletic forward that is capable of guarding the 3 or the 4. Given his height and wingspan he will be pushed into playing power forward when his body develops. That is why you shouldn’t expect a lot from him in the summer league, or if he performs really well, don’t raise regular season expectation.

A couple former picks to look out for at the summer league would be Stephen Zimmerman and Marcus Georges-Hunt. Both were second round picks from last years draft. Zimmerman is an athletic big who sets solid screens. He’ll need to show an improved shooting touch and a stronger defensive presence in the paint if he wants to make the roster this year. MGS is a solid point guard with the prerequisite skills to be a good point guard, but he’ll also have to show an improved jumper if he wants to make the roster.  

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Tyler Harvey 23 G R
Josh Gray 23 G R
Kalin Lucas 28 G 3 yrs
Derrick Walton Jr. 22 G R
Marcus Georges-Hunt 23 G 1 yr
Patricio Garino 24 G-F 1 yr
Matt Costello 23 F 1 yr
Hassan Martin 21 F R
Reggie Cameron 22 F R
Wesley Iwundu 22 F R
Jonathan Isaac 19 F R
Jalen Jones 24 F 1 yr
Levi Randoplh 24 F R
Stefan Jankovich 23 F-C R
Shavon Thompson 24 C R
Stephen Zimmerman 20 C 1 yr


Indiana Pacers

The Pacers have an interesting group at summer league this year. For starters, they don’t have a true center on the roster. The closest thing they have is Rakeem Christmas, who has spent time on the court for the Pacers the last couple years. I would expect him to be a lock to make the team. Other than that, the roster is full of guards and forwards. No surprise there, as the Pacers are probably going to deal Paul George away at some point this offseason, or possibly wait until the regular season starts. One guy the Pacers like, that could help fill some of the void he leaves, is Georges Niang. He was a second round pick in last years draft and has almost the same build as PG-13, and has a similar skillset, but obviously with much less polish. He’ll need to show a versatile offensive game and decent defensive chops to help the front office recover from that gut punch they described.

Aside from the rather experienced team, the guy to watch in my eyes is T.J. Leaf. I wouldn’t expect a whole lot from the 20 year old power forward in his rookie year. He may not see the floor much, if at all. There’s a larger question that looms over him though: Will he be able to produce in another offense the way he could when being fed the ball by Lonzo Ball? It’s a valid question, and one that I’m sure will cause him to have his lumps his rookie year, but he has some solid skills, and should be fun to watch if he can get his offense going.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Jordan Lloyd 23 G R
Bubu Palo 25 G R
Isaac Hamilton 23 G R
Travis Leslie 27 G 4 yrs
Naz Long 23 G R
Trey Mckinney-Jones 26 G 4 yrs
Chris Johnson 27 G R
Augusto Cesar Lima 25 F R
Georges Niang 24 F 1 yr
Jarnell Stokes 23 F 3 yrs
Been Moore 21 F R
T.J. Lead 20 F R
Rakeem Christmas 25 F-C 2 yrs


New York Knicks

One obvious player to watch is Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks first round draft choice this year. While it will be interesting to see him play against semi-legit NBA competition, I wouldn’t expect a great showing from him. He just finished competing for the French League Championship on June 24th, and then flew directly to Orlando to begin practice with the Knicks summer league team. He may still be sore from just finishing his season. Another interesting guard the Knicks have on hand is Canyon Barry, the son of former NBA legend, Rick Barry. He was a solid shooter (just like poppa) at the University of Florida. It would be cool to see him make a push at a roster spot.

Nigel Hayes is almost certainly a lock to make the roster. Whether Melo stays or leaves (which is a possibility), Hayes can play the small forward position or slide in at power forward for small ball lineups. One of my favorite summer leagures, Maurice Ndour, is back again too. His game is perfect for this format, so enjoy watching all is iso post ups and face ups from the elbows. Marshall Plumlee is also an experienced player returning for another summer league.  

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Frank Ntilikina 19 G R
Chasson Randle 24 G 1 yr
Canyon Barry 23 G R
Ognjen Jaramaz 21 G R
Dominique Jones 28 G 5 yrs
Damyean Dotson 23 G-F R
Xavier Rathan-Mayes 19 G-F R
Nigel Hayes 22 F R
Louis Labeyrie 25 F R
Maurice Ndour 25 F 2 yrs
Marshall Plumlee 24 C 1 yr
Luke Kornet 21 C 1 yr


Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs opted to go with a team that is completely devoid of current players on the roster, except one. The one guy, Satnam Singh, probably won’t gain a lot from being here either. He doesn’t have much of an offensive game, and he’s strong enough to bully a lot of the competition around. I’m very very sad that we won’t get a taste of Dennis Smith Jr. I was also sort of hoping to see Dorian Finney-Smith too, but oh well.

I really like Brandon Paul out of Illinois. He’s a bigger guard with a nice handle who can play both guard positions. He could potentially have a shot at making the roster too, since the Mavs are young and thin at both guard spots. Johnathan Motley was a solid UFA pick up as well. The Baylor product put up 17.2 ppg and 9.9 rpg in his senior season. Draftexpress had him ranked 39th overall, so getting him without using a draft pick could be considered a steal if he actually produces for them.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Dwight Buycks 27 G 2 yrs
Jamie Smith 27 G R
Keith Hornsby 24 G R
Cat Barber 22 G R
Brandon Paul 24 G R
Luis Montero 23 G-F 1 yr
Ding Yanyuhang 23 F R
Jameel Warney 23 F R
Brandon Ashley 22 F R
Johnathan Motley 21 F R
Christian Wood 21 F-C 2 yrs
Satnam Singh 21 C 2 yrs
Ismael Bako 21 C R


Oklahoma City Thunder

I’m excited to see the Thunder’s first round pick from this year, Terrance Ferguson, perform at summer league. If his shooting touch is as good as advertised, he could be a great player to pair with Russ. He’s young, has good size, above average athleticism, and as mentioned, a nice shooting touch. The biggest need the thunder have is a wing that can shoot. Right now he’s a little on the skinny side, but he could eventually end up as a small forward if he fills out completely.

A little known fact that most people don’t really think about is that the Thunder were one of the first teams to get the whole draft-and-stash thing started. In the 2014 draft they drafted Josh Huestis late in the first round and immediately had plans to send him to the D-League. This was at a time when the D-league was just starting to be properly utilized to develop young talent. This is the summer where Huestis will have to show out if he wants to validate the notion that he was worthy of drafting with such a raw skillset. He’ll need to prove what all the Thunder players will have to prove: good shooting. It was blatantly obvious throughout the whole season that the Thunder need to give Russell some guys that will space the floor. Some other players returning for at least the second time is Domantas Sabonis, Semaj Christon, and Dakari Johnson. All three have some good qualities, but I’d like to see Sabonis take a big step forward and see some improvement on his defense, rebounding, and consistency from deep.

UPDATE: The Thunder haven’t released their full roster for summer league so I’ve only listed the players that have been mentioned being on the roster.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Semaj Christon 23 G 3 yrs
Daniel Hamilton 21 G 1 yr
Terrance Ferguson 19 G-F R
Malcolm Hill 21 G-F R
Josh Huestis 27 F 3 yrs
Domantas Sabonis 21 F 1 yr
Dakari Johnson 20 C 2 yrs


Detroit Pistons

Even though the Pistons took Luke Kennard 12th overall in this years draft, I wouldn’t say he should be the guy to watch at summer league, if you’re a Pistons fan. If you’re not, he still might not be, but that’s debatable. The guy I’d keep an eye on would be Henry Ellenson, the Pistons lottery pick from a year ago. Ellenson has the size and athleticism to play either power forward or center. Even though he only averaged 7.2 mpg in 19 appearances as a rookie, he played really well in the D-League, averaging 17.8 ppg and 8.9 rpg. With the possibility of Drummond leaving, and the trade quality of Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris, there may be some open minutes for him to show is ability, and possibly a starting job depending on how the Pistons first half of the season goes.

Kennard isn’t the only sharpshooter the Pistons are bringing on board for the summer either, as they added Derek Willis, a senior at KU, to the roster. The Pistons are a little thin at small forward so he has a good chance of making the team with strong play.

Name Age Pos. Exp.
Trey Freeman 24 G 1 yr
Pierre Jackson 25 G 3 yrs
Luke Kennard 21 G R
Lorenzo Brown 26 G 3 yrs
Dez Wells 25 G R
Michael Gbinije 25 G-F 1 yr
Derek Willis 22 F R
Will Davis II   F R
Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson 26 F R
Marcus Kennedy 25 F R
Hollis Thompson 26 F 3 yrs
Marcus Simmons 29 F R
Henry Ellenson 20 F-C 1 yr
Mike Tobey 22 C 1 yr
Eric Moreland 25 C 1 yr
Landry Nnoko 23 C R

NOTE: Stay tuned for the future previews of the summer league games in Utah and those in Las Vegas. Those posts will go up as soon as we can get the rosters from the teams and get some thoughts down.

 

Winning and Losing the NBA Draft

At-A-Glance Draft Analysis

23 June 2017

draft img 2

The night some dynasties were formed, some destroyed, and everything else in between.

Man, what a draft! … Who is still on that “the NBA’s too predictable” schtick?

This was honestly one of the funnest drafts in a while. Personally, there’s only been a couple like this for me. One being the pretty strong 2015 draft and the 2009 draft. The 2015 class was solid at the top, with the first 4 picks being fun to watch, before the talent drop off was noticeable. In 2009, the incoming class wasn’t necessarily the strongest class, but there were a lot of storylines that were fun to watch. Like the T-Wolves’ continual downward spiral when they took Johnny Flynn over Steph Curry; Hasheem Thabeet going number two overall; Blake Griffin going number 1, despite having to sit out a whole year. But enough of the past.

Unlike the 2015 draft–which, in retrospect, is now looking like a great class–this year’s draft class is 11 deep before the talent drop off begins (again, in retrospect). There were also many interesting storylines to go along with the talent on display: consider, for instance, the incredible number of freshmen being drafted (the top 11 players taken were freshmen); on the media-side, you had the Big Boss Baller himself, Lavar Ball, making waves for Lonzo’s rookie season [which was amazing, by the way]; and for drama, one blockbuster trade went down–and it may end up helping significantly shift the NBA landscape for years to come–and one trade was, to say the least, typical of one franchise, though not without a little dramatic weight of its own.

So, without further ado, let’s look at a few things that went down last night.

Winners:

Minnesota Timberwolves

Somehow the T-Wolves pulled off the heist of the off-season! Really, second to Golden State’s “poaching” of KD, it may even end up being the heist of the year.

This is not to say that the Timberwolves have any real title implications. Hell, they may not even make it past the second round of the playoffs. But the real take away here is that we’re finally talking about Minny being in a legitimate playoff race now. That’s not something Thibs and the boys were this past season, and it’s almost certain that they wouldn’t have been able to make the same jump on this upcoming season had they not traded for Butler, choosing instead to draft someone young and promising like Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr, Frank Ntilikina, or some other prospect.

The real winners in this pick are the NBA junkies.

Most of us have spent our time on NBA League Pass, drooling over the skills and talent that just ooze from KAT and Wiggins. Eventually though, by the fourth quarter, you find yourself saying, “These guys are special, and they have some quality players around them (Rubio, Deing, Muhammed), but they’re two or three years and one major piece away from being a legit contender.” And now, in one blockbuster trade, they have outfitted the squad with that one missing piece. Jimmy B. is shifting from running with a few star veterans now closing in on their expiration dates to a squad of spry youngsters on the Finals hunt. They should be in the playoffs next year, between the arrival of Butler, the second year of Thibs with the organization, and the (hopeful) continuing maturation and improvement of Wiggins and Townes.

This team is poised to be a top team in the coming years. It’s sort of ironic, because a lot of people could see the pressure already building, but it still felt like it was three to four years down the line. The formula has now been altered, and with the sudden arrival of Jimmy B., the  process is exponentially expedited.

Charlotte Hornets

One of the most relieving moments in the draft was Charlotte’s thoughtful pickup of Kentucky Guard Malik Monk at #11.

As a longtime Hornets fan, I’ve felt like we’ve always came out of the draft looking like clowns in some form or fashion. In the 2004 expansion draft, we lost out on Dwight Howard–ironic now that he’s on the roster from their pre-draft trade with Atlanta–and the number one pick; in the 2012 draft, we were (in the minds of some biased, jealous fans) cheated out of the number one pick a year after setting a new league record for worst winning percentage in NBA history–perhaps even more depressing is the knowledge that that record still stands, despite the dumpster fires that Philadelphia and Brooklyn have been the last few years. Charlotte still holds the top spot for the fewest wins in an NBA season, EVER.

The only thing worse would be having Phil Jackson as the GM.

Anyway, before bitterness gets the better of me, I should say we caught a break last night when Malik Monk fell into our lap at the 11th pick. Monk may be the best shooter and purest scorer from this year’s class, and, at the same time, he’s an underrated athlete and ball handler. Big things could be in store for him.

Charlotte was also able to get Dwayne Bacon in the second round via trade with the Pels. He isn’t the steal of the draft (Monk might be that guy), but he is still a very good pickup for the spot he was taken in. At 6’6” and weighing 205 pounds, he is a solidly built guard who is a decent to above average athlete. He was a great scorer in college, averaging 17.2 points over 28 minutes a game as a sophomore at Florida State. And though he was just an average defender in college, he has the potential to be a really solid defender in the league. His jumper still needs some work, but he has a solid base to improve upon with the Hornets. Best case scenario: he becomes an above average two way shooting guard in a few years–perhaps eventually comparable to Boston’s Avery Bradley.

Perpetually, the Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics are like the franchise you start on 2K: one day, after spending about two hours finessing the CPU teams with trades that gave you one or two more 2nd round or late 1st round picks, or a marginal player, you finally start cashing those picks in for mid to decent first round picks. Soon, you have four or five solid top ten projected picks for the next two or three years on top of your solid team you’ve already built.

Well, remarkably, that very nearly describes the current, real life Boston Celtics. And, as you might expect based on that analogy, the Celtics, once again, come out of this draft as a clear winner. Not only did the Celtics draft Jayson Tatum at #3 overall–Tatum, by the way, is a solid prospect and should be a solid pro if everything works out–they also drafted a pair of solid second-rounders as well in Semi Ojeleye and Kadeem Allen.

Ojeleye, who came out of Larry Brown’s solid SMU program, has generally been compared to Jae Crowder, except with a bigger body and a better jumper. Jae Crowder is a decent player already, and the prospects of having a bigger, better shooting version of him is surely very appealing. Kadeem Allen wasn’t on too many draft radars until after the combine and his pro day. He’s a 6’1 point guard with a 6’9 wingspan, weighs 195 pounds, and has a 35.5 inch vertical jump. A solid physique combined with decent athleticism, and that combined with tenacity and strong defensive chops makes him a solid prospect, especially for a second round pick. He may never develop into a star in the league, but he could be someone who hangs around for a long time because of his intangibles and physique–think, Jose Calderon.

Here’s the bottom line: the Celtics didn’t necessarily need a lot of help, but they very well may have gotten it anyway. Tatum should be a solid scorer even if it takes him almost a full season to get steady minutes on a deep team. Ojeleye and Allen may be solid players who stick around for a while if they maximize their potential, and Boston is a good place for developing talent to land.

Los Angeles Lakers

Not only did the Lakers get a big baller, they got THE big baller–signed under the Big Baller Brand, by the way. Marketing, drama, hype, and one father’s insanity aside, Magic’s first big move in LA got the Lakers their hometown guy, Lonzo Ball, who’s almost nothing but upside. It’s a new era in LA, or so the homers and many in the media wish us to believe. At 6’6, Ball was an extremely efficient shooter in college with decent athleticism–although, because of his wonky shot, there are questions about his ability to still shoot with such efficiency in the NBA. Coming out of college, his best attributes though are his ability to pass the ball and make his teammates better.

The ability to make your teammates better is a trait that teeters the line between being a measurable skill and an intangible. Chris Paul makes his teammates better by his ability to pass the ball, Rudy Gobert makes his teammates better by anchoring the paint on defense. Draymond Green can do both. And this is the caveat with taking ‘Zo: Ball isn’t anywhere close to being a good defender. In fact, you can bet on him getting scored on at will by elite point guards his first year in the league. However, he does play the passing lanes well, and his size suggests that he should be a decent defender someday. There is no shortage of Point Guards who are offensive forces but defensive flakes–the question will be how quickly and thoroughly he develops a reliable defensive game. Until then, as long as he puts numbers on the board, the Lakers should be more than happy to get him some NBA mileage. ‘Zo has the potential to be something absolutely special, even from day, so strap yourselves in, LA fans, this could be a fun ride. It also doesn’t hurt that he has the best dad in league history keeping things interesting from the sidelines.

Perhaps the best player to slide under the radar, however, was Josh Hart out of Villanova, who, as a senior, comes out of the draft as one of the more polished prospects. Hart is a strong Guard with good size and average athleticism, and what he lacks in eye-popping athletic prowess, he makes up for in scoring ability and finesse. He averaged 18.7 ppg his last year as a Wildcat, and he played a big part for their championship team from two years ago. He could be in line for big minutes, too, considering the Lakers really only have Jordan Clarkson as a solidified shooting guard on the roster. Another solid pick up was Kyle Kuzma out of the University of Utah, who unfortunately may not see a whole lot of minutes due to the presence of Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance Jr..

Losers:

Perpetually the Sacramento Kings

The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

Poor, poor Sacramento. The Kings are like adoptable animals that are just so incredibly ugly that they’re somehow kinda cute. And sure, they’re probably fine, but there’s still something about them that doesn’t quite sell. Despite being as peppy as the others in the litter, they’re incredibly physically disfigured, their hair is growing in patches and in weird places, and their eyes are beady and glassed over. That’s the Sacramento Kings, except, it must be remembered, that unlike any adoption facing a battle to be valued fully, the Kings have chose time and again to take the path leading to further handicap and disfigurement. Since 2004, when Webber, Divac, Bibby, Peja, and Turkoglu ran repped the purple crown, the Kings have become a danger only to themselves and to the poor souls who wind up on their roster.

Sounds about right. I really want to like this team, I do, but the front office is making it really hard. Adding De’Aaron fox is a great move, and was definitely the right one to make at the number 5 spot. I even like the 2nd round pick of Frank Mason Jr. This pick gives them insurance on either Fox (getting injured), or Darren Collison (getting hurt or used as trade bait). This is where their success in the draft reverses, despite, for some reason, many media outlets being willing to grade the Kings as draft winners. That assessment is not just wrong, it’s laughable.

The Kings can’t even tank effectively. Besides those first two draft assets, this was the typically utter disappointment we’ve come to expect from the Kings organization. Starting with Forever, this franchise has been plagued by bad management, and Vlade Divac, while he’s a really nice and likable guy, is no exception to the rule. If you have the number 10 pick, especially when it’s pretty well established that there were 10-11 solid prospects in this draft, do you trade back for players in a lower tier?  As a failing franchise, your objective should be to acquire the highest quality prospects, there is no reward simply for highest quantity of prospects. So, rather than holding and making a better pick, the Kings ended up receiving Justin Jackson and Harry Giles as the result of a trade with Portland. Both players have their questions marks. Giles more so than Jackson.

In addition to their intentional decision to get ripped off in the “Boogie” Cousins trade mid-season, it’s still hard to say whether or not they’re any better off. They have shown a desire to “rebuild their culture” over maintaining and building around their best tools; they traded a higher-quality professional piece for a few, more consumer-friendly tool-sets.

Either way, the Kings look like they always have (despite the De’Aaron Fox acquisition), a sheet of toilet paper. Literally a single square. Maybe they’re a slightly softer 2-ply, but that’s not even really good enough to wipe your ass with–just annoying enough to leave you sitting there in need of help, wanting for more and feeling foolish for the whole situation.

Chicago Bulls

Forget a super team, Chi-town can’t even seem to figure out the formula for a good team. On top of that, it seems like they’re trying to out-Sacramento Sacramento–and looking at what they’re left to work with for next season, one could make an argument that they’ve done it. It’d be impressive were it not so sad. You really have to feel bad for Bulls fans; they’re not the Knicks or the Nets, or even the Kings, but it’s bad enough to make the summer dreary. This winter in Chicago may be particularly bleak for fans.

Here’s what happened to the Bulls: They had Jimmy Butler and gave him up for a couple ok (as of now) prospects, and swapped the number 16 pick for the number 7 pick. First off, they shouldn’t have gotten rid of Jimmy Butler. When you have arguably the second or third best shooting guard in the league, and by far the best defensive one, you don’t give him up for anything less than a top 5 prospect or pick in the league. The Bulls did that on all fronts. They received Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn. While both guys have a lot of upside, Lavine is coming off an ACL tear injury and Dunn had a pretty bad rookie year. While both are very physically gifted in different ways, both of them combined don’t equal Jimmy Butler. On top of that, they moved up to the number 7 spot in the draft, but gave away their 16th overall pick. They probably could’ve kept their own pick and still traded Butler.

ON TOP OF THAT, they drafted Lauri Markkanen. A great shooter for a 7-footer, but that’s about all there is to his game right now. Not to mention they have worked with and given away an arguably better Lauri Markkanen in Doug McDermott, whom they drafted in 2014 and traded to OKC earlier this year for Cam Payne, Anthony Morrow, and another player unlike either Dougie or Lauri. We know Fred Hoiberg likes his power forwards to have some three point range, but this could, and probably will, come back to haunt the Bulls. Can you imagine what the atmosphere will be like when Jimmy and the rest of the new and improved Wolfpack shows up to play in Chicago? It should be a real madhouse on Madison, to borrow its historical nickname.

Plus, what really makes this whole situation hilarious is the fact that Thibs is the one who ripped them off. And there’s almost nothing worse than getting ripped off by an ex, who is now much happier and better off without you. So it was you all along, who knew?

Perpetually, New York Knicks fans

*insert crying laughing face emoji*

The Hornets have seen some pretty rough times, and there is an argument to be made (though not here) that Michael Jordan is as bumbling an owner and administrator as Phil Jackson, but I think I would take my lumps with my franchise before I would ever want to be a Knicks fan. My heart goes out to anyone who has to be associated with that franchise with Phil Jackson and Dolan. Phil Jackson might actually be a winner from this draft, because I’m convinced his objective is to piss off the entire fanbase. He accomplished that by drafting the Frenchman, Frank Ntilikina. I like him a lot, actually, but I’m not sold on him at the number 8 spot in the draft. At 6’5, he has a great height advantage for a PG, but he only just turned 19 years old, and weighs 170 pounds, so he has a few years to go before his body is ready for the riggers of the NBA.

The thing that really takes away from this pick is the fact that Dennis Smith Jr was still on the board. While I like Frank, I really like Dennis Smith Jr. He has the size and athleticism to compete from a physical standpoint right away. He also has the ability to run a team, and score at essentially every level. He should be the dark horse candidate for Rookie of the Year next season, but we will see. Unfortunately, the Knicks will have to see too. Have fun with that.

Just Another Business, Man:

The Cold, Hard Reality of the Business of Basketball

June 22, 2017

By J. Patrick

This league’s a bitch. Ask Bill Simmons if you need a second opinion.

NBA players get viewed through a different lens than the professional athletes in other sports–one that, more often than not, magnifies negatives and diminishes positives. Whether it’s fair or not, or whether it’s just in our nature, there exists a strong tendency to assume that when a great player (or just a young prospect) gets traded, it must be because there’s something wrong with him or that there is some form of dysfunction front office (although, where there’s real smoke, there’s fire, *cough* New York *cough*). If there are no issues with a player’s ability or within the front office, then the trade must be the product of the player’s personality (i.e., perhaps they’re selfish, or lazy, or maybe it’s because they want to be in a winning situation–or one that maximizes their brand and earning potential). And surely any personality issues and clashes with team personnel only add to any serious trade arguments, it doesn’t have to be any of these beyond an organization’s leaderships simply feeling the need to look elsewhere for answers to the question of what it takes to win a Chip. Sometimes that decision lands on a player (think about Shaq going to LA, LeBron going to Miami, or KD going to Golden State), and we see that what’s best for a player isn’t always well-received. Such is the fickle nature of the sports business; it’s too cold a system to feel safe from change.

Never forget that’s what the NBA is. Indeed, the prophet Jay Z provided scripture relevant to this point when he said, “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man.”

Yes, the NBA deals in basketball, which is a game, but it is also, one must remember, a specific brand of basketball. Just like the Euroleague, the Canadian League, the countless Chinese leagues, and the newly-branded, still developmental, “G”-league. That’s what makes being an NBA fan a tough proposition, you can be an NBA fan and not be a fan of the NBA in some structural/administrative capacity, just as the NBA is there for fans, but not necessarily for them.

So maybe the part-time fans have it right. A part-time fan is a person who says, “Yeah, I’m an NBA fan, I like Basketball, but I’m really a (insert player name) fan.” We ask only that you understand this: While we appreciate you, (insert player name) fan, you don’t know the heartache of a real NBA fan. Nothing is worse than seeing your team run with a blue-chip player in this league, only to see them either get dealt away–or to watch them just walk out the door because your franchise didn’t have enough to offer them (ask the 2010 version of Dan Gilbert). When you’re a part-time fan, you follow your player from team to team, so there’s no fear of him leaving.

That’s just the way she goes. The NBA is interesting for the way it’s franchises reshuffle rosters so frequently, but that’s also what makes it so nerve racking, and probably the reason my blood pressure is constantly in a prehypertensive state. This offseason has seen an abnormal amount of reshuffling too. It almost doesn’t feel right, like the calm before the storm. Recently, on his podcast, Bill Simmons described it like this: “The NBA this year is like a snowglobe that someone just picked up and shook the hell out of.”

PG-13 is the best player on the Pacers’ roster, and has been for a while, yet his name has circulated in endless trade rumors these last few days leading up to the NBA draft. The Hornets, in a rather shocking trade with Atlanta, received a top-ten center in Dwight Howard for essentially nothing in exchange. The Lakers said, without using real words, that they were moving on from D’Angelo Russell (and are almost undoubtedly drafting Lonzo Ball) when they traded him and Timofey Mozgov to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick in this years draft. Hell, even the Knicks–making a run for the top spot on New York’s list of most puzzling NBA organizations–are considering trading Kristaps, and the Clips are considering trading DeAndre Jordan.

In today’s league, where just last week, there were only two legit contenders in the Warriors and Cavaliers, where the word “dynasty” has recently graced the questions and columns of many sportswriters and talking heads (whether aloud or in secret), the recent moves and sudden scramble prompts an important question: If it’s been established that only a handful of teams can compete for a title, why do teams seem so desperate to dump established stars and young players with bright futures?

There are some obvious answers that make a lot of sense, and some not so obvious answers. If you’re running a business, like the Buss family and new Lakers front office executives Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, trading away the uncertainty of D’Angelo Russell makes a lot of sense. There have been questions about his maturity, his long term outlook as a prospect (aka: Kobe’s replacement), and his health. And viewed from that perspective, trading away a boom-or-bust prospect doesn’t seem like a bad idea when you can acquire Brook Lopez, an oft-injured center, for one year. Then draft another PG in Lonzo Ball anyway, and still have the chance to go after Paul George next year (and possibly LeBron, as some sources say). From a business standpoint, this seems like the safe bet, but that’s where things get tricky. After all, Russell is only 21 years old going into his third season, and as mentioned above, he was supposed to be the guy to supplant Kobe. Even though he’s had a rocky start to his career, he has some zeal to his game (like his unorthodox, but accurate mid-to-long range jumper, his drive and kick game, and his ability to work pick and roll plays) that makes him a player to keep an eye on.

The jury is still out, however, on whether or not D’Angelo Russell is a franchise altering player. And whether or not he even becomes a star player is another question, albeit one that may come back to haunt Lakers fans at any point during the next ten seasons. What if this ends up looking like the Isaiah Thomas trade (to Phoenix or Boston, take your pick)? Then, too, there’s always the possibility that George doesn’t come to L.A. at all, much less by the beginning of the draft tomorrow night. Wouldn’t that suck?

Perhaps more troubling from a fan’s perspective is the deal between the Hawks and Hornets that sent Dwight Howard and the 31st pick in this years draft to Charlotte for Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli, and the 41st overall pick in the draft. Paul Millsap is still an unrestricted free agent, but let’s face facts: If the Hawks resign him, some people believe it’ll only be for sign and trade purposes. If that’s true, then the Hawks will undoubtedly be in tank mode. *Cue up Drake’s What a Time to be Alive* They may as well go ahead and get rid of Tim Hardaway Jr. too, while they’re at it, and build around Dennis Schroeder moving forward. Either way, the Hawks are going to be bad for a few years, at least. While part of me feels bad for the fans who have to put up with an organization that doesn’t want to win, the fact that I’m a diehard Hornets fan really curbs my feeling sorry for them. You’ll hear no qualms from me about D-12 being shipped into Charlotte.  

Then there are franchises like the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks, where you can’t help but feel, for one reason or another, almost personally insulted as a fan. For Pacers fans, the jig is up. PG-13 woke up from a terrible dream in which he was playing in Indiana for the Pacers, and not in L.A. Oh wait, that’s real life. Not to sound demeaning (but this will be demeaning): how does it feel to know that your star player doesn’t want to play for you? The lights aren’t bright enough, your city doesn’t help build his brand like L.A. would, and honestly, L.A. is way cooler than anywhere in Indy. Ouch. That can’t feel good. The Knicks though? Oh man, that’s a rough one. If I were a Knicks fan I’d go ahead and throw myself off of the Brooklyn Bridge, or Queens Bridge. Any bridge will do, actually, so long as I wouldn’t have to continue investing myself in the most dysfunctional organization in the NBA, and perhaps all of sports. It’s impressive, really, especially considering the credentials of its leadership, and we could all laugh if it weren’t such a bad joke. Phil Jackson may be going senile if trade rumors are true, and he is really looking to move Kristaps Porzingis. For Christ’s sake, he’s 21 years old, he can stroke it from 3, he has a developing low post game, and he’s a budding rim protector (he averaged 2.0 blocks per game this past season). Skill sets aside, he obviously means a lot to the fanbase of the Knicks as well, as evidenced by his jersey sales, which ranked 7th in the entire league.

This is the cold, hard reality of the NBA though, and professional basketball in general. Any day could be your last day sporting your favorite player on your favorite team’s jersey. It could be the last time you get the chance to say, “Yeah, they have (insert player name), but we have (insert player name), so it’s all good.” In truth, there are only 8-10 truly untouchable players in the league. Then there are about 10-15 more guys that have an 80% chance of staying where they are. That’s only a total 25 guys. There are 400+ players in the league, not to mention D-league affiliates. So there is a large amount of uncertainty from year to year. Remember three years ago when the Warriors were considering trading Klay Thompson for K-Love when he was still a part of the T-Wolves? That should show you just how uncertain this league can be.

One of my favorite basketball books to date, The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam, perfectly highlights the typical situation you see in today’s league, from the way front office execs approach team building, to how things actually go down with roster changes, to how emotionally detached a coach has to be, and finally to the ever changing stability and structure of the NBA as a whole:

For Innman (GM and scout of the team), who dealt in the future, the decision (a personnel change on the roster) was not particularly hard; he thought Gilliam (the player being let go) was a good player, but erratic, and he believed that Dunn might develop into one of the premier defensive guards in the league. For Ramsay (the coach), a man who had been forced to adapt his emotions to the unsentimental profession he was in, it was a more difficult decision. He was giving up an important player from a championship team, a popular player who had delivered for him, and that meant he was changing, however peripherally, the texture of that team, and potentially changing the stability of it. There was some emotional reluctance on Ramsay’s part, but it was limited–this was professional sports, and it was a business…” “The core of the championship team had been changed. Nothing in the NBA stayed the same very long; nothing was that stable.

We are currently working on starting a new series of posts, that is sort of a book review/book club where we review our favorite hoops tales.