Category Archives: sports

UPDATE

I just wanted to give an update since it’s been a bit since I posted an article.  I’m shifting my focus towards the NBA draft and scouting rather than NBA topics although I’ll still talk about free agency, the playoffs and events I deem worthy of a post.  For quick hit thoughts on the NBA check out my twitter.  I don’t post on there that much either but I’ll try to do so more usual.  My twitter will just be strictly scouting, NBA draft and NBA topics. (@oldmanbball1)

In the meantime I’ve been doing nothing but taking notes for scouting grades and scouting reports.  I’ve briefly shared some thoughts on a couple of players on my twitter.  I should’ve been sharing my reactions more frequently but I wanted to lock down my grading criteria for my new scouting grades.  No more draft big boards since I think my bias will undoubtedly show through and cloud my judgement.  Read my last article about my thoughts on draft biases.  I also don’t think draft big boards reliably emphasize my true analysis about particular prospects.  That’s why I wanted to minimize bias as much as possible, broaden my assessment and sticking purely to grades was the best option.

I wanted to scout 5-10 games per player before I published anything online and considering I’m at 100 players scouted to date it’s taking me a bit.  Next season I’ll have articles up more regularly once the college season begins, talking about initial impressions and being more engaged.  I was just really focused on making my grading system as legit as possible even though over time changes will inevitably be made.

I wondered if I should grade prospects Pro Football Focus style and grade based on a per play expectancy.  Every play is graded on a sliding -2 to +2 point scale.  I decided against that since so much of basketball is communication driven and a lot of that data could be noisy.  Instead I went with a list of criteria and certain markers to meet.  Over the last four years I’ve taken a substantial amount of notes and have complied a grading rubric.  The players will be graded on “offense”, “defense”, “star potential”, “role potential” and “system dependence” all on a 1-99 scale.  The grading system will have slight differences and weights for ball handlers, combo guards, wings, small ball fours and bigs.

“Offense” will be broken down into these categories: shooting, scoring, finishing, screen setting/roll-man, driving/handle, feel, off-ball movement and passing/creation.  Each category will have certain set markers and the more the player fulfills the better the grade.  For example on “finishing” certain markers include extension around the rim, fast-to-slow two step gather, one step gather, off hand finishes, off foot finishes, euro steps, side steps, body control etc.  Obviously something like screen setting will hold more weight for bigs and creation more for ball handlers.

“Defense” will be broken down into team defense, creation, on-ball defense and IQ.  Just how it was with “offense” the more markers the player meets the better the grade.  For example on team defense certain set markers include communication, how do they defend at the nail, low-man position, overall weak side principles, can they cycle through rotations or do they just make the initial rotation, do they go vertical at the rim or stay grounded etc.  Things like straddling the line between ball handler and roll man on pick-and-roll contain defense will be graded with more weight for bigs rather than ball handlers.  Pick-and-roll defense will fall under team defense.

The next three grades are pretty experimental.  “Star potential” deals with upside but not how likely they’ll meet that upside and “role potential” deals with what NBA role they can attain and how likely they can achieve that selected role.  For example someone like Cam Reddish last year would’ve had a high “star potential” grade with 3-and-D swing forward as their potential role BUT a not too flattering “role potential” grade.  Someone like Matisse Thybulle would’ve had a not too flattering “star potential” grade and a 3-and-D wing role with a high “role potential” grade.  Now someone like Zion Williamson would’ve obviously had a high “star potential” grade AND “role potential” grade as a do-it-all combo big.  

The reason why I wanted to make “star potential” and “role potential” was to give more context to the grades.  Just because a player has a high “offense” and “defense” grade doesn’t automatically make them a candidate to be a star player at the next level.  Someone like Ty Jerome would’ve had high “offense” and “defense” grades but that wouldn’t have met I think he’s some star player in the making.  I think making that distinction was important.  Obviously this is new and something I’m tinkering around with.  It won’t be perfect from the start and errors will be made.  If it ends up confusing a bunch of people then I might second guess myself.  My hope is that in time it will be a nice component to scouting.

The last grade is the one I’m on the fence on.  “System dependence” is all about system fit and situation.  Both factors play such a crucial role in a players success that I thought it needed a grade on it’s own.  It’s one thing to identify system fit and situation as important in terms of scouting, it’s another to approximate a grade.  That was the original plan, to give “system dependence” a 1-99 grade just like the other four grades.  This was partially the reason why I’ve delayed posting.  But the more I thought about it, the more I nixed the 1-99 grade.  Instead I’ll just list the teams I think the prospect would flourish under and the teams the prospect would deteriorate or stagnate under.  For example I would’ve listed Tyler Herro Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta favorably and Orlando, Detroit and Charlotte unfavorably.  “System dependence” is still a work in progress but nevertheless think incorporating situation and fit are vital to a players prosperity.

Switching from a draft big board to a grading scale will hopefully minimize bias, improve clarity, enhance accuracy, and expand on details.  Like with every other test run there will be bugs to fix and things to get better at.  Along the way I’ll give more updates to clarify any irregular matters.  I do have a twitter (@oldmanbball1) account now so if there are any questions contact me there.

Stop Looking At My Bias

I’m biased.  You’re biased.  We’re all damn biased.  Being biased in sports isn’t an inherently bad thing as long as you are self-aware and can subside your impulses.  Everyone in sports has their preferences but as long as you take inventory of your viewpoints and self-diagnosis objectively than managing dogmatic convictions might seem plausible.  If you leave your biased beliefs unchecked, well, that could lead to a cycle of groundhog day returns.  Controlling your bias might seem like a waste of time and unpreventable but it doesn’t hurt identifying one-sided sentiments.  Step one is acknowledging your biased, step two is self-reflecting and step three is monitoring your tendencies.  This bode of action might not work for everyone and it might not work for me either but I want to at least try to mitigate as many errors as possible when doing my NBA draft big boards and overall scouting.  I’ve written multiple scouting reports and have only done big boards for the 2018 and 2019 drafts. Checking these biases now could help me improve upon my love for talent evaluation:

 

 

  • I really like/overrate role players

 

~ If you’re a reader of my website, this was obvious.  For the most part I’d rather write articles about Maxi Kelber, Danuel House, Sterling Brown and Gary Clark over star players.  Heck, the next article I was thinking of writing about was on Kenrich Williams, underrated role players and breakout role players.  I also ranked prospects who I thought were projected to be good role players in the NBA higher than most mainstream outlets: Grant Williams at 11, Talen Horton-Tucker at 16, Chuma Okeke at 17, Tyler Herro at 18, DaQuan Jeffries at 23, Josh Reaves at 26 and Terence Davis at 27.  I’m still regretting ranking Matisse Thybulle at 28 and Nickeil Alexander-Walker at 21 and their careers haven’t even started yet.

 Probably one of the biggest reasons why I favor role players so much is the history of NBA champions personnel.  Whether you’re talking about good role players like Danny Green, Trevor Ariza, James Posey or great role players like Andre Iguodala, Robert Horry and Shane Battier throughout history these players help facilitate champions.  These are the players that make sacrifices to their box score stats, guaranteed money and have positive impacts on chemistry.  These players are important towards building title contenders but their obviously not the most important piece.  Drafting and signing superstar players is of course the best thing when it comes to winning titles.  Compare a player like Cam Reddish who has the potential to become a star player and a player like Grant Williams who might not have the ceiling of a Reddish but more potential to have greater impact towards on-court success, who do you rank higher?  Maybe that’s just a philosophical question on draft strategy but I at times do find myself ranking someone higher just because I don’t have enough potential role players ranked highly. This ties into my next bias.

 

 

  • I overrate “potential”

 

~ How can I overrate role players AND “potential” at the same time?  This just might be an issue of finding a delicate balance between the two biases moving forward.  However I often fall for prospects who have “potential” just because there’s a perceived chance he might became a “star”.  Players who are long, athletic, play at a scarce position or who have shown just enough of a skill set that indicates potential future success; Kevin Knox at 9, Marvin Bagley at 1, Lonnie Walker at 7, Zhaire Smith at 10, Darius Bazley at 5, Kevin Porter jr at 10, Romeo Langford at 12, Cam Reddish at 14 and Nassir Little at 15.

Now it’s only a year into the 2018 class and the 2019 class hasn’t even played yet so making definite determinations on these players is a little premature.  That’s not the point though.  I’m just identifying my potential blind spots to help bolster my ability to scout players.  A lot of times players with high “potential” their careers can be decided by situation.  How different is Jaylen Brown’s career if he gets drafted by Phoenix and not Boston?  Would Kelly Oubre’s career be different if he got drafted by Miami or Indianapolis and not Washington?  Same goes for role players.  How different is Draymond Green’s career if he didn’t get drafted by Golden State? Would Danny Green be a good role player if Cleveland never cut him resulting in San Antonio snatching him up?  Situation dictates success for most players outside of the truly elite.  Doing team specific big boards or post-draft big boards make more sense.

I like doing big boards in a vacuum because you get to see where that person stands on trends, prospects, positions and skill sets.  Moving forward I have to create some type of scale that will help sort out players with “potential” and role players.  I have to raise the requisite level of skill I use as a baseline when it comes to grading players with “potential”.  It doesn’t matter how long, athletic, mobile you are, if you can’t shoot over 40% on your two pointers, can’t make sound decisions on the move or have good processing speed on defense then I will have to readjust my outlook.  And just because someone projects to be a role player at the next level doesn’t mean they will have a significant on-court impact regardless of box score stats.  I have to do a better job classifying role players moving forward.  

 

 

  • I take player comparisons too personally 

 

~ Some might call me a basketball fan.  Others might say I need to get a life.  One thing is for sure, I take basketball very personally.  So when people in the mainstream, twitter or popular draft websites say that Tre Young is the next Steph Curry, well, I get heated.  When I hear people say that Young can be just as good of a shooter as Curry, I lose my mind.  I regard Curry as the greatest shooter of all time and arguably the second greatest point guard of all time.  Not only does he have a diverse portfolio of shooting ability but he’s also crazy efficient simultaneously.  He’s one of, if not the greatest off-ball player that I’ve ever seen.  His ability to manipulate his off-ball movement to his teams advantage plus his ability to be crazy efficient while having a diverse shot portfolio is the main reason why I hold him in such high regard.  And oh, he’s a pretty good playmaker too.  So comparing anyone to Curry is going to set me off since I think he’s one of a kind.

I ended up ranking Tre Young twelfth on my 2018 NBA draft big board.  Not really having anything to do about his talent but to push back the aggrandized opinion of Young that most people covering the draft were stating.  One of the very first articles I have on this website is talking about my first impressions on Trae Young.  The article really isn’t the greatest representation of my scouting ability since I was so new to the process and have evolved my talent evaluation approach.  I keep up a lot of my old articles just to show the progress I’ve made over the years.  In that article there was a brief excerpt detailing why people need to pump the brakes on Young Link.  At the same time I wrote at the very end that Young has “Damian Lillard with better passing ability potential” and yet I ranked him twelfth on my big board.  Something isn’t adding up.  Why do I think a ball handler who can create unbelievably well and has a diverse shooting portfolio is the twelfth best prospect?  A lot of it had to do with his defensive issues, handle concerns and overall efficiency but ultimately my love for Steph Curry fogged my thought process.  I have to separate my fandom from methodology.  Since I’m such a huge fan of someone doesn’t mean I should ignore proper talent evaluation.  I also need to disregard the noise too.  Whatever outside factors are saying should have no bearing on my big board. This ties in to my next bias.  

  

 

  • I rank players higher/lower than the consensus just to try to act smarter

 

~ Everyone wants to be the first to discover a prospect.  If that player pops at the next level that means you have an incredible foresight.  Everyone wants to project the next draft sleeper, steal and bust.  If you can routinely find hidden gems during the draft process than clearly you know what you’re talking about.  If you can outsmart mainstream voices than surely more people should be taking notice of your work.  Everyone is trying to prove themselves, develop a resume and stand out above the fray.  One way of doing that is making bold, risky picks; taking gambles on players you might not otherwise just for the sake of out-thinking the guy on TV.

This is primarily what happened when I ranked Marvin Bagley one and Luka Doncic two on my 2018 NBA draft big board.  Don’t get me wrong, I still really like Bagley and would say I was higher on him compared to the consensus even if I had ranked Doncic at one instead.  I still think Bagley can be a starting center on a championship team but he won’t be the driving force like Doncic can. Having Doncic at one seemed too inevitable for my first big board.  I wanted to make a gutsy call on my number one prospect.  Bagley was someone that had mixed reviews coming out of college due to his lack of defensive prowess and questionable long range jumper.  What gave me enough reason to take a chance on him as a possible number one was his athleticism, size, scoring ability, quick second jump, potential switch ability on defense and capable pick-and-roll nightmare skill on offense.  

I wanted to outthink people I respect just because it was a “quick” way to be noticed.  Same thing can be said about me ranking Darius Bazley at five.  I wanted to have a prospect ranked super high based off the fact he wasn’t graded favorably among the consensus.  I still like these prospects regardless but have to control my urge to take unnecessary risks for the sake of being “smart”.  I have to be reasonable with myself and not do anything outlandish just for the sake of looking shrewd.  I have to be more calculated and cool headed when it comes to my love for the game and not make a spectacle out of the scouting process.  

  

 

  • There’s probably more I can’t see

 

~ There’s probably other biases that I just can’t see because I’m so conditioned scouting a certain way that I normalize my tendencies.  Identifying my biases and working to pacify them will be an ongoing process.  I want to improve my ability to evaluate talent.  I thought doing more than just watching a bunch of game tape and analyzing the game of basketball can be an alternative way to address my technique. 

 

  • Grading Scale

~ I don’t even know if I’m going to do big boards moving forward.  I’ve always wanted to scout players on a grading scale.  I think if I just stick to objectively grading players on a scale that would remove most of my biases.  Can the player dribble proficiently with both hands?  How diverse is their finishing ability?  Can they pass on the move?  How fast can they process offensive actions?  How advanced are their live-dribble moves?  All these are yes or no questions on a varying scale.  Looking back on my first two big boards they are riddled with flaws and biases.  As of now, I’m leaning towards a grading system when scouting players.  I was thinking about grading players on offense, defense, star potential, role potential and system dependence.  Stuff like IQ would be all encompassing when grading offense (offensive feel) and defense (defensive IQ).  Star potential would deal with mostly a players upside and physical profile while role potential deals with the likelihood that they achieve their NBA roles (lead initiator, floor spacer, 3-and-D wing, hustle big).  And lastly system dependence would deal with figuring out if their game can adapt to all types of NBA offenses like motion, drive-and-kick, ball screen heavy, flow, spread, post heavy, etc.  I’m obviously still figuring out the kinks but I’ll try to be more thorough when I post my first scouting report for the 2019-2020 season.

My Favorite “Breakout/Sleeper” Candidates (Returning to College)

Last season’s returning college class was great.  There were four upperclassmen taken in the top ten and six taken in the lottery.   Players like Ja Morant, De’Andre Hunter, Jarrett Culver exceeded expectations but were still projected to be potential lottery picks even before the college season started.  Even players like Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and PJ Washington had lottery buzz before the season started.  This years crop of players returning to college as of now is looking pretty…meh.  When looking at NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com’s 2020 NBA mock draft there are no returning players mocked in the top ten.  Heck, the first college returnee on ESPN.com’s 2020 mock draft is Tre Jones at 16 and there’s five in total mocked in the first round.  This year’s incoming freshmen/international class is deep in terms of quality NBA starting talent.  There isn’t a generational talent like Zion Williamson but there’s plenty of rotational players with upside. The closest thing to a sure fire number one pick would be Cole Anthony but as of now that’s something that will need to play itself out during the season.

Typically speaking, are all of these highly touted freshmen/international prospects going to have as good of a season as most are expecting?  No.  There are overhyped freshmen every season that fall out of favor when it comes to talent evaluation or physical ability.  Players like Bol Bol, Trevon Duval, Skal Labissiere, Louis King, Luguentz Dort and much more know this fact all too well.  That means either some lower graded freshmen/international player will have a surprisingly good season or a returning upperclassmen has an unexpected breakout season; enough so to launch themselves in serious draft consideration.  

The list of players that I’m about to talk about aren’t the college returnee favorites like Tre Jones, Tyrese Haliburton, Charles Bassey, Jalen Smith, Ashton Hagans, AJ Lawson or Ayo Dosunmu that are listed highly on NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com’s mock draft.  I wanted to identify my personal favorite “breakout/sleeper” candidates for the upcoming 2020 season, ones that I’m most looking forward to watch.  Even though I have these players listed under “breakout/sleeper” that doesn’t mean they aren’t on people’s draft radar already.  It just means players who aren’t being heavily considered on current popular mock draft boards (NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com) that have the potential by seasons end to boost their draft stock significantly: 

 

Obi Toppin, 6’9, PF/C, (RS)SO, Dayton, 21.4 years

(ESPN.com: 43, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ It’s tough putting Obi Toppin on this list since he’s mocked 43rd on ESPN.com’s 2020 mock draft.  I guess since I consider Toppin the best returning bigman (only because Killian Tillie never stays healthy) and would mock him in the first round.  He’s also pretty old for a player who only played one season of division one basketball.  I don’t even know if he’s going to have a proper “breakout” season since the offensive system at Dayton doesn’t exactly highlight his skills.  The Dayton offense looks to be a Princeton styled offense which has Toppin cutting most of the time.  Personally I’d like to see him more as a ball screener in a spread offense, whether that be pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop.  His screen setting ability does need to improve since he tends to avoid contact and dive early.  He does have great timing on his dives to the rim but hardly ever did I see him delay his roll and break open extra passing lanes.  Still, his length, athleticism, soft hands, touch around the rim and one foot leaping ability help with his overall rim-running prowess.  Toppin actually has a solid intermediate game displaying movement two point jumpers now and again.  I would like to see his decision making improve when being the release value but he still can make plays with his respectable feel for the game.  I would also like to see Toppin spot up more.  He rarely shot from distance and when he did showed capable rhythm and touch.  I want to see him attack closeouts and display his dribble drive game more often next season.  With the offense that’s being run at Dayton I don’t know if Toppin will get that opportunity but on the rare occasion of him doing those actions he looks more than adequate.

On defense Toppin showed his positional versatility being able to bang down low with burly bigs and stay in front of jitterbug guards.  He still needs to gain more muscle if he wants to consistently go toe-to-toe with NBA frontline players.  But his ability to play on the balls off his feet, his lateral quickness, end-to-end speed and length help when defending multiple positions.  For the most part he’s a solid team and on-ball defender.  Nothing special but won’t beat himself. At times he has bit on fakes and lost position but made up for it with great recovery speed.  He’s the type of player who will thrive chasing down blocks.  I would like to see him fight at the rebounds apex more often.  I don’t know if that’s to prevent an injury but sometimes he seems too grounded.  I think he’s being somewhat undervalued due to the offense ran at Dayton and personally have a first round grade for him.  Until Killian Tillie shows me he can stay healthy the best returning bigman is Toppin.

 

Keyontae Johnson, 6’5, SF/PF, SO, Florida, 20.2 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Keyontae Johnson really is an undersized power forward.  Heck, I think he can play some small-ball center as well.  Even though he’s listed at 6’5 he weighs 225 pounds, has wide shoulders, strong bulky frame, ample butt, lengthy arms and large hands.  He also apparently measured his vertical at 41” but even without that recording his explosion on tape shouldn’t be up for debate.  That explosion and his intuitive ability to track down rebounds helped Johnson post 10.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, 9.4% offensive rebounding percentage and 16% total rebounding percentage.  His defense was the first thing that I took note of.  He’s definitely a better on-ball defender compared to a team defender.  It’s not like he’a a bad team defender, it’s just that more times then I would’ve liked Johnson was a split second late on his assignments.  Sometimes he’s too locked in on the ball and has to quicken his recognition on back end rotations.  He can cover ground at a fast pace so as long as he aligns his head with his movement Johnson should become a more than suitable team defender.  But his on-ball defense and switchability really stood out. Johnson has a big, muscular frame and is still quick at the same time.  He has decently fluid hips and does a good job staying attached even when he gets beat.  He can be taken to the post by bigger forwards and do an admirable job holding his ground.

On offense Johnson is pretty limited.  He’s more of a straight line driver with little wiggle and finishes most of his drives with jump stops.  He has an average first step but is still able to draw fouls at a fair clip.  Johnson does a good job playing the game low so when he’s able to get a beat on his defender does a good job creating distance with his shoulders and chest and finishing around the bucket.  He has a good feel for off-ball cutting and does most of his damage around the basket.  His jump shot probably needs more extension on his set/release point to raise his follow through.  He did manage to catch-and-shoot at an average clip but anything off the dribble needs to improve.  He’s more of a ball mover on offense but at times has made some nice passes with anticipation.  Johnson probably doesn’t have the upside of some of the other returning upperclassmen and really maxes out around high level role player. With a quality freshman class and the transfer of Kerry Blackshear the Florida Gators should be a lot more talented this year compared with last season.  That should only boost Johnson’s role on the team and could be someone by seasons end with more hype.

 

Aaron Henry, 6’6, SF, SO, Michigan State, 20 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ As the season went along last year Henry got better and better.  He ended up starting and contributing for a team that went to the final four.  Henry plays the game with such balance and has a good center of gravity it helps him move about the court with as little wasted motion as possible.  He is a sound defender that plays well on-ball and team defense.  His low defensive stance helps defend 1 through 4 and his communication skills help him process the game.  Having a strong defensive anchor supports his upside as a total package defender.  There is still room for improvement as he can float on defense, ball watch and commit silly fouls.  He was a freshmen under Tom Izzo last year and Izzo doesn’t give much rope.  I mean during Jaren Jackson’s freshman season he barely cracked 20 minutes per game at the end of the season.  Henry should be able to afford more leeway his sophomore season.

Henry impressed me the more I watched him on offense.  I thought he was just going to be a straight line driver and floor spacer but I was pleasantly surprised by his skill set.  For starters his dribble drive game is more diverse than I expected with variations of pivots, jabs, step offs and pump fakes.  He can use this array of set ups while attacking closeouts.  He can finish with touch, hit runners and make jumpers on the move.  Even with all that said Henry is still pretty limited as a live-ball creator but has shown these flashes of skill which is a good place to start from.  He’s not really quick twitch in the lane and is still developing counter dribble drive moves.  His passing is pretty underrated making some pin-point passes right before the play breaks open.  His overall sharp IQ should help in aiding his developmental process.  Henry will be getting a greater opportunity to showcase his skills this season and has a chance to make the sophomore leap. 

 

Nate Hinton, 6’5, SG/SF, SO, Houston, 20.2 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ I really like Hinton.  The guy is just a good basketball player on both sides of the ball.  His handle in comparison to the other wings on my list (Johnson and Henry) is probably the furthest along in his progression.  He can actually grab-and-go defensive rebounds and jump start the offense.  He has a serviceable go-to live-ball move with a right-to-left push cross, has decent stop and go moves with balance and can accelerate/decelerate in the lane.  This could be a reason why he gets to the line at a good clip with a 32% free throw rate.  With that said he still doesn’t have the most advanced handle and still needs more counters, shiftiness plus more rim attacks.  Also, his first step seems to be pretty average but his solid control and stability help him with downhill speed.  But the bottom line is that his handle and live-ball skills are further along when compared with his peers and gives him a head start with his maturation.  Additionally, he’s growing his off the bounce pull-up game and can make tough movement two point field goals.  That will help enhance his overall scoring ability.  He also has some appeal as a playmaker even though it sparsely happens displaying passes on the move, out of the pick-and-roll and one hand passes cross court.  It kind of feels like a skill laying dormant and could be a huge x-factor in his development.  Maybe he never showcases his passing capability but from what I’ve seen there’s potential gains.

He should improve upon his 33.7% three point shooting percentage this season.  Mechanically speaking he does dip the ball down pretty low at times but has a quick trigger with his follow through.  Developing core strength and getting stronger in general should help with power and accuracy which should improve his shot.  His 85.7% free throw percentage is a fair indicator of potential shooing success in the future as well.  On defense Hinton plays with energy and hustle.  He’s a hard nose defender using his brawn and leverage to body up his man.  Off-ball he can get his assignments mixed up occasionally but overall has a manageable IQ plugging up the gaps and shrinking the court.  It also helps that he has good timing in the passing lanes and creates events on defense.  Overall Hinton has two-way wing ability.  His role should expand with Houston and so to should his draft stock.  

 

Paul Reed, 6’9, SF/PF, JR, Depaul, 20.3 years

(ESPN.com: 51, NBAdraft.net: 36)

~ It’s funny.  Out of Toppin, Johnson, Henry, Hinton, Reed and Pickett, Reed is probably the player I favor the least but is still mocked on both ESPN.com and NBAdraft.net.  Go figure.  I debated even having Reed on my list since there’s nothing “sleeper” about him at this point in time.  I’ve been a fan of Reed for a while and think he has major upside nevertheless.  So to keep in theme of upperclassmen that I favor for next season Reed would have to be on that list.  The very first thing that stood out about Reed is his long limbed profile.  His height, length and athletic ability really does fit well with the modern NBA.  Depending on how his skill set develops he could play small forward all the way up to center.  He does have to get stronger if he wants to absorb the heavy blows at the next level however.  I personally would’ve liked to see Reed involved more as the screener in pick-and-roll’s since he can be a devastating dive man and can function better with more space popping out from a ball screen.  He can drive in a straight line and spin back to the basket in the lane.  Most of his live-ball moves are pretty sluggish.  I mean, he does have a crossover but it’s pretty slow.  He has good overall touch, solid leaping power, body control exploding off one foot which makes for efficient finishing.  He didn’t shoot that many three’s but has a high release point along with solid touch gives Reed sufficient room to improve.  He’s more of an extra pass type of player but has made drive-and-kick passes on occasion.  Although he can be a black hole on offense and get tunnel vision.  He needs to do a better job taking advantage of his scoring ability and create for others.

Reed is a mixed bag on defense.  You see his potential and upside as he can traverse through large swaths of ground at a brisk pace.  He displays great creation skills and sports solid block and steal percentages (2.3%steal, 6.8%block).  But the guy just has poor fundamentals.  He can’t flip his hips on defense which hurts defending at the point of attack.  He plays back on his heels too often and needs to play on his toes for better mobility.  He commits careless fouls which can be highly frustrating.  He goes for the ball instead of staying sound with his responsibility which ends up knocking himself out of position.  He has underwhelming recognition skills on defense.  He can make the initial rotation but struggles to cycle through multiple rotations.  Reed is by no means a terrible defender but just infuriating to watch someone with such defensive upside be prone to that lack of detail.  He has the baseline ability and tools to become a lottery pick but until he establishes better habits his future might restricted.         

 

Jalen Pickett, 6’4, PG/SG, SO, Siena, 19.8 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ It feels like most people following the NBA draft knows Pickett by now and the term “breakout/sleeper” really doesn’t apply to him.  I just think there’s a very good chance by season’s end Pickett will have first round draft consideration.  I had to put him on my list especially since Pickett isn’t mocked by either ESPN.com or NBAdraft.net.  Does this mean I like Pickett more than other returning guards like Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, AJ Lawson and Ayo Dosunmu?  Well, yea.  You can make the argument that those four other point guards have better first steps, better athletic ability and higher ceilings.  But they all have their question marks as well. Lawson is taller but I don’t trust his touch, Hagans and Dosunmu have quick first step’s but need to be a better shot makers and Jones can’t shoot threes.  I guess I favor Pickett more because of offensive versatility.  I think Pickett has more potential to become a Fred VanVleet type combo guard in the NBA in comparison to the others.  Pickett can set firm screens, move well without the ball, make tough movement shots, catch-and-shoot and make good decisions attacking closeouts.  

Pickett might not have a swift first step and top notch athletic ability but is a good leverage scorer using his butt, base, shoulders and footwork to create scoring angles.  He then takes these scoring advantages and uses them to support his ability to create for others.  He does need to tighten his handle as it can be high at times and he needs to finish with his left hand more often.  His long distance shot has a high release point but has a slight hitch in my opinion.  As long as he buffs that out then I think he can raise his three point percentage especially considering he has solid touch and a good unassisted make rate.  His mid-major competition level might be covering up some of his defensive capacity since Pickett doesn’t have explosive athletic ability.  He gets by defending with his strength, broad shoulders, long arms, functional movement and processing speed which helps create on defense.  Those traits will have to carryover at the next level if he wants to be a plus defender. Pickett doesn’t have the upside of some of the other returning guards but his game could translate better to an ever growing versatile league.  

 

DEEP SLEEPER 

Kessler Edwards, 6’8, PF/C, SO, Pepperdine, 19 years

(Not even close to being mocked anywhere)

~ He’s probably more likely to be a four year player than a second year breakout candidate.  Still, even after his senior season at college I don’t know how credible an NBA prospect he will be then.  He’s definitely a long shot to make the NBA.  But after watching some games from his freshman season there is a slight chance he becomes draft relevant.  For starters his physical profile is the most NBA ready quality about him.  He’s long, with good explosion and closing speed.  He can also cover ground in a hurry.  His overreliance on his athleticism to make plays is a problem though and he needs to develop better functional speed.  On defense his hand eye coordination is probably his best trait.  Add that to his long arms and he creates defensive events at a solid rate.  His defensive footwork is sloppy, his IQ is maybe average and he needs to be more focused off ball.  With that said he did show pick-and-roll versatility, doing an admirable job switching, hedging and recovering, and downing the roll.  That skill alone is in demand around the league and could be what propels his career.

On offense Edwards was mainly a spot up shooter.  He has a low set/release point but since he’s long armed and tall he gets his shot off over most defenders.  Developing core strength will be important to quicken his release over time.  Probably the next best thing he does on offense is diving off pick-and-rolls.  Being a great rim-runner makes sense with his athleticism, length, hand eye coordination, leaping power and touch around the basket.  He doesn’t really have a handle, mostly will attack a closeout with a 1-2 plant and release.  But his overall shot creation and live-dribble game is pretty much non-existent at this point.  I admit this is a long shot but it’s fun following prospects throughout their college career.

 

Honorable Mention

Anthony Lamb, 6’6, SF/PF, SR, Vermont, 21.6 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Good leverage scorer; dips shoulder into defender, strong base and smooth footwork to create scoring angles.  Promising long distance shooting traits that should help translate to the NBA.  I’d say he’s an average NBA athlete with a strong frame and board shoulders.  Nice touch around the rim, gets to the line at a fairly high clip and makes tough movement two point jumpers.  Average to above average IQ on defense.  Needs to improve processing speed if he wants to consistently defend at the next level.  Overall by years end could be regarded as a second round prospect.  He’s more of an undersized power forward and his role in the NBA could be bench/rotational scorer.

 

Devin Vassell, 6’6, SG/SF, SO, Florida State, 19 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Vassell didn’t play that much this season, only played in short spurts.  Has a long limbed frame that needs to fill out over time but solid NBA athleticism.  He was mostly a catch-and-shoot three point shooter on offense for Florida State but shot well from deep overall.  Most everything about his game seems at least average: vision, team defense, on-ball defense, finishing and handle.  His shot creation and off the bounce game are probably his bigger question marks.  Overall he looks like a potential 3-and-D wing in the NBA.

 

Quintin Dove, 6’8, SF/PF, SR, UT-Martin, 21.2 years

(Not even close to being mocked)

~ He’s another long shot to make the league like Kessler Edwards.  He transferred from a community college last season so he only has one year division one under his belt.  He’s a questionable defender, extremely foul prone and needs to tighten up his decision making.  So yea, long shot.  I guess what intrigued me about Dove was his physical profile, offensive rebounding, active hands on defense, he’s really good around the rim, actually has somewhat of a straight line handle, got to the free throw line at a good rate, shot 81% from the line, made some difficult shots and his jump shot looks to be translatable to the next level even though he hardly shoots any threes.  He really has to pop on defense, foul less and shoot more threes to get on any draft radar.     

2019 NBA Free Agency Bonanza *UPDATED*

*UPDATED 7/12*

These are my very brief, initial reactions to free agency.  I’ll keep updating this post as soon as more news breaks.  Take a deep breath:

 

The Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed to trade Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, 2024 and 2026 first round picks (protected 1-4), and two pick swaps (2021 and 2025).  (Link)

~ I like this move more for the Thunder than the Rockets even though I think Westbrook is an upgrade over Chris Paul.  Now is Westbrook that much better than Paul?  No.  Paul is the better three point, free throw and mid-range shooter plus is the better defender.  The skill gap to some degree actually favors Paul over Westbrook.  But over the last three seasons Paul has played 61, 58 and 58 games respectively.  He’s six feet tall, 34 years old, has brittle hamstrings and major durability concerns.  Being durable is a skill and it’s the deciding factor in why I favor Westbrook over Paul.  Not only is Paul’s availability a major question mark but his skill has slightly eroded over the last season as well.  He’s still a fine defender but is declining as a shooter, lost a step on his drives and can’t hit movement twos like he used too. 

His dependability during the playoffs and long stretches of the season were concerns for the Rockets.  With Harden getting older they needed another ball handler by his side that could sustain the offense for long periods of time without him.  Westbrook can definitely do that.  He will take over the role Chris Paul played the last two seasons in Houston and be the secondary ball handler.  With Clint Capela as his rim-runner and Harden, Tucker, Gordon as his floor spacers, Westbrook will have the most space he’s had to operate in a long time.  On the flip side though this could hurt the space for Harden.  Westbrook is a poor catch-and-shoot player and is inactive off-ball.  That stagnation could shrink the court for Harden with defenses loading up even more not worrying about Westbrook.  Will the Rockets be able to make the necessary changes to Westbrook’s game at age 31?   The human element between Chris Paul and James Harden was apparently a bigger problem than we realized for Houston but their games still did mesh well overall.   

I think at the very least this puts the Rockets in the running for a top three seed during the regular season in a stacked west.  But in terms of playoff basketball I don’t think this makes them that much better than teams like Denver or Utah let alone the LA teams.  Unless Westbrook becomes more efficient from three, the free throw line, pull-up and catch-and-shoot then any team he’s on during the playoffs will be at a major disadvantage.  The Rockets want to do everything in their power to make sure they optimize Harden’s remaining prime years.  Making this trade does that.  That doesn’t mean they will win a championship but at least the Rockets are better suited for a title run now with Westbrook instead of Paul.  Giving up two first round picks was the cost of doing business.  In four to six years the Rockets may still be a competitive team, or, maybe they’ll suck. It’s hard to project that far out but as of now those picks have a fair amount of value.  The Thunder could end up winning this trade by a mile at the end of the day.

The Thunder now have a war chest of draft picks.  They are in full rebuild mode while most of the league is in “win now” mode in a wide open league.  The Thunder are looking five to seven years down the road when players like Kawhi Leonard, Lebron James, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are aged past their primes.  That’s their timeline to rebuild and they have a leg up on the competition.  I feel bad for Chris Paul.  He really is one of the best point guards of all time and this could be how his career ends.  Who is willing to trade for that contract?  Unless the Miami Heat do something stupid then Paul is stuck on the Thunder for the foreseeable future.  If the Thunder by some miracle flip Paul I’ll update this post but that would be some miraculous feat.      

 

Kawhi Leonard agrees to a four-year, $142 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.  The Oklahoma City Thunder trade Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for their unprotected 2022, 2024, 2026 first round picks, Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 first round pick and protected 2023 first round pick, and the rights to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.  (Link)

~ The NBA is wide open now after these moves.  There is no elite superteam that is the overwhelming favorite for the first time in a while.  That will undoubtedly heighten suspense throughout the regular season and playoffs.  Something that will be very interesting to monitor is Paul George’s shoulder surgery and recovery.  He might miss all of training camp and some of the regular season.  I wonder how that affects the start of the season and beyond for the Clippers.  But it sounds like the Clippers had to make the trade for Paul George if they also wanted Kawhi Leonard.  Before this past week it always seemed like the Clippers were his preferred destination but after the Lakers got Anthony Davis and acquired max cap room they were the “in vogue” team rumored to be favored in the Kawhi sweepstakes.  Heck, from all the noise I heard this past week I thought Kawhi to the Lakers was only a matter of time.  What a twist ending!

This must have been a shock to the Oklahoma City Thunder who were preparing for the upcoming season fully expecting Paul George to be on the roster.  Why would they think otherwise?  That’s how they approached the draft and proceeded through free agency.  Well, I guess acquiring five first round picks and two pick swaps and a solid rookie point guard is a nice consolation prize.  Danilo Gallinari has one more year left on his deal so I wouldn’t expect he’s apart of Oklahoma City’s long term plans.  After trading away Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul the Thunder are in full rebuild mode.  They will probably try to flip Gallinari and players like Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Dennis Schroder.  This was for the best.  Even with a healthy Paul George the Thunder were never true title contenders.  It’s better to be a year early then a year too late trading away coveted players.  They got great value in return for Westbrook and George right this instant.  You never know how the market will change a year from now.  It’s going to be a long road back to the top for the Thunder but they have a nice head start to get there.  

The Clippers seem like winners because they got Kawhi Leonard as a result of the Paul George trade but with the amount of risk involved there is no concrete conclusion to this deal anytime soon.  Giving up that many first round picks sounds so crazy but given the move for the Clippers those first round picks will surely be late first rounders, or at least that’s what the Clippers hope for.  The Clippers calculated that they will be a competitive playoff team for the foreseeable future which would mean giving up late first round picks.  Also with Miami getting Jimmy Butler those first round picks might not hold as much weight as they once did.  The Clippers thought that the value of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will be greater than three late round picks by the Clippers, two mid round picks by the Heat and a couple of pick swaps.  Now even though that calculation on paper makes sense there are always unintended circumstances.  Kawhi Leonard and Paul George haven’t been the most durable players throughout their careers.  Expecting that both players will stay healthy and play at a high level for the next seven seasons is wishful thinking.  That’s the down side of a trade like this and could come back to haunt the Clippers when it’s all said and done.  There’s obviously a lot of variables involved in a trade like this for the Clippers but it was a gamble that they were willing to take.  Kawhi Leonard is a top three player in the league and before his shoulder injury Paul George was an MVP candidate.  The Clippers are expecting to win a title which would mean the juice was worth the squeeze.   

Should the Clippers be considered title favorites?  Even though the league is wide open with no overwhelming favorite the Clippers right now seem like the slight title favorite.  The Lakers are obviously still heavy favorites to win the title as well but missing out on Kawhi means they need to build their bench ASAP.  Until that happens though it’s tough to say what the Lakers are for sure.  But the Clippers on the other hand have a complete roster: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Pat Beverley, Lou Williams, Landry Shamet, Maurice Harkless, Montrezl Harrell, Jerome Robinson, Ivica Zubac, Rodney McGruder, JaMychal Green and other free agent signings.  What would be their crunch time five?  Pat Beverley, Lou Williams, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Montrezl Harrell?  If Maurice Harkless can actually make a three point shot for a change he could be interesting in a closing lineup.  If Shamet gets hot from deep he could be interesting in a closing lineup.  Rodney McGruder is an underrated 3-and-D wing, he could be interesting in a closing lineup.  The possibilities are endless.  But like I stated earlier, Paul George’s shoulder injury could be a cause for concern.  If he’s healthy though then it’s going to be tough to beat the Clippers.

Don’t feel bad for the Raptors.  They won a freaking championship that otherwise doesn’t happen without Kawhi.  The Raptors gamble paid off even though it seemed pretty likely that Kawhi was leaving.  The Raptors also lose Danny Green to the Los Angeles Lakers.  Even with the departures as long as Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell continue their maturation process the Raptors should still be a competitive team in the comically weak east.  The Bucks and Sixers seem like the clear favorites in the east but the Pacers should be intriguing as long as Victor Oladipo comes back healthy.  

Overall this was a game changing move that shook up the whole league.  We knew going into free agency that Kawhi changing teams was going to alter the league but no one had a clue this was going to happen.  I respect the move by Kawhi.  Ultimately he didn’t want to join Lebron but beat him.  This will be legacy defining for sure.  I can’t wait until opening day! 

 

Kevin Durant plans to sign a four-year, $164 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets.  Kyrie Irving plans to sign a four-year, $141 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets. (Link) De’Andre Jordan agrees to a four-year, $40 million deal with Brooklyn Nets.  Apparently Durant and Irving and willing to take slight pay cuts to make the Jordan deal work. (Link)

~ I’m going to bury the lead for a second…why in the world did Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving take a pay cut to accommodate freaking De’Andre Jordan?  Do they not know about Jarrett Allen and Nicolas Claxton?  The deal would make more sense if the Jordan contract was only for a season but we’re talking about four seasons for an average at best starting center, that’s a little unnecessary.  Jarrett Allen is better, younger and cheaper when compared with Jordan.  They also just drafted Claxton who has promise as their backup center with upside.  I just don’t get signing Jordan.  I guess being good friends with Kevin Durant has some advantages, huh?

With that said clearly the Nets have positioned themselves arguably better than anyone else has at long term title contention.  It all rides on Durant’s health but assuming he’s maybe 80% of what he was the Nets are still in great shape.  They have a nice core of young players that include Allen, Claxton, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, Caris LeVert and Rodions Kurucs.  Add that to Irving and a healthy Durant and the Nets would have a roster that possesses shooting, length, versatility and depth.  This also might not be their final roster and most likely have a move or two left to make.  Depending on how healthy Durant is when he returns the Nets might be favorites to win the 2021 title.  

 

The Warriors acquire D’Angelo Russell from the Brooklyn Nets apart of a sign-and-trade deal with Kevin Durant.  To make the deal work financially, the Warriors had to trade Andre Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies for a 2024 first round pick.  D’Angelo Russell signs a four-year, $117 million deal with the Warriors. (Link, Link)

I think the fit with Russell in terms of offense will actually be pretty good when Klay Thompson comes back.  I think people are overreacting to Russell as a ball dominant guard.  Russell can create his own shot, shoot off-ball, attack closeouts and pass with anticipation, all pillars of the Golden State offense.  He has the skill required to fit inside the system, it’s more of a mindset alteration that needs to take place for Russell to excel with the Warriors.  Re-signing Kevon Looney to a three-year, $15 million deal is a big deal since the Warriors had to give up their best wing defender Andre Iguodala to make the deal with Russell work.  Iguodala is one more injury away from retirement but was still a high impact defender even at his old age.  As of now it looks like the Warriors don’t have a replacement for Iguodala, unless rookie Jordan Poole and second year veteran Jacob Evans are ready to take on that role. 

That’s why Looney is important.  He gives the Warriors another plus defender and a vertical spacer.  One of the main reasons why the Warriors death lineup worked so well was because they had three terrific perimeter defenders to go along with an excellent team defender to clean any mistakes.  A starting five of Curry, Russell, Thompson, Looney and Green doesn’t exactly fit that mold but still has the potential to be championship worthy.  Since they are hard capped this season it will be hard to find roster upgrades.  That was the case until Willie Cauley-Stein and Glenn Robinson iii took minimum contracts.  If the Warriors can continue to find young, athletic players willing to take pay cuts on a yearly basis then that will help mightily with their bench.  Adding 3-and-D wings should be the priority for next off-season.  The question now becomes: When will Klay Thompson come back?  Will their young players develop in time?  How will they round out their bench unit?  And can they flip Russell for other assets at the trade deadline?

 

Julius Randle has agreed to a three-year, $63 million deal with the New York Knicks. (Link)  Taj Gibson has agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal with the New York Knicks.  (LinkBobby Portis has agreed to a two-year, $31 million deal with the New York Knicks. (LinkReggie Bullock has agreed to a two-year, $21 million deal with the New York Knicks. (Link)

~ Once again the Knicks missed out on the elite free agent prospects.  They are now changing course and setting their eyes towards the 2021 free agent class when Giannis, Bradley Beal and other high profile players become available.  So what the Knicks have decided to do with the massive amount of cap space they have is spend it on two-year contracts.  It’s not a bad idea and better than overpaying players on long term contracts like Tobias Harris and Terry Rozier.  The issue I have is with who the Knicks are signing and how that affects the development of their young core which should be their number one priority.  The Knicks signed Portis, Gibson and Randle who all play the same position and might take away from Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson’s development.  Probably their best pickups were signing Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington who are much needed in terms of floor spacing.  But then the Knicks signed Elfrid Payton even though their ball handlers should primarily be RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith and Allonzo Trier for development purposes.  

Having a massive amount of cap space in today’s NBA shouldn’t be looked at like a burden.  It feels like the Knicks just wanted to get rid of their cap space as soon as possible with disregard to value.  Instead, smart teams look at cap space as a commodity.  Teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks take on unwanted contracts to obtain assets.  In the last 24 hours alone Andre Iguodala was dumped to Memphis with a first round pick attached and Maurice Harkless dumped to the Clippers with a first round pick attached.  Both contracts we’re less than two years in length, fit the 2021 timeline, could be flipped for more assets at the trade deadline and fit well with this young roster.  Iguodala and Harkless are both players that won’t take possessions away from the youth movement and can play without the ball.  Then with the remaining salary cap space sign one to two year deals to compliment the roster or try to find more contracts to absorb into cap space for draft picks.  I get what the Knicks are trying to do but I think they are going about it all wrong.

 

Tobias Harris has agreed to sign a five-year, $180 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. (LinkAl Horford has agreed to sign a four-year, $109 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. (Link)

~ On top of the quality draft picks and players the Sixers gave up to acquire Tobias Harris they are now overpaying him with a massive $36 million annual contract.  You would expect Harris to be a top 20 player with how much they’ve invested in him.  When Sam Hinkie started his rebuild with Philadelphia did anyone expect that the player the Sixers would eventually go “all in” for is a borderline all-star caliber player?  I get that the Sixers had to do it since they pumped so many resources into obtaining Harris but the caliber of player you would expect in return for the high price the Sixers paid should be better than freaking Tobias Harris.  Don’t get me wrong I like Harris as a player and think he fills a major need for the Sixers but I just think the Sixers went a little overboard in terms of price tag.

Horford is another good player that I like but again I think a $27 million annual for a player that just turned 33 coming off a season where he had knee tendinitis is a little excessive.  I get that most players are overpaid in todays climate anyways but typically title contending teams do a better job looking for value.  With that said though, the Sixers should once again be atop of the eastern conference race especially if Kawhi leaves.  Everything is relative to outcome.  If the Sixers win the east then these deals, which I consider to be overpays, will be worth it.  I do question the fit of Embiid and Horford as a front court duo and without JJ Reddick I wonder do they have enough shooting but their defense will be the driving force of the Sixers success next season.  They now need players to step up during crunch time of playoff basketball. 

The Miami Heat send Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trail Blazers, Josh Richardson to the Philadelphia 76ers and a protected 2023 first round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers.  The Portland Trail Blazers send Meyers Leonard to the Miami Heat and Maurice Harkless to the Los Angeles Clippers.  The Philadelphia 76ers send Jimmy Butler to the Miami Heat where he agrees to a four-year, $142 million deal. (Link)

This deal has gone through so many changes but I think it’s finally official.  The Clippers must be happy.  They didn’t have to do anything and yet they get a first round pick, a solid 3-and-D wing on an expiring contract plus they still have max cap room for Kawhi.  The Trail Blazers wanted a starting caliber center since Jusuf Nurkic was going to miss time with his leg injury.  Whiteside is on an expiring contract and should fit well within Portland’s defensive system.  Interestingly enough Portland loses a good chunk of their wing rotation from last year.  Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless played heavy minutes along the wing for Portland last season and have moved on to other teams.  Portland will now have to rely on veterans Rodney Hood, Kent Bazemore and inexperienced Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little and Gary Trent jr at wing.  I’m interested to watch Simons and Little especially. 

I like Josh Richardson on the 76ers.  He fills a need left by JJ Reddick, is on a fairly priced contract and still has room to grow being only 26 years old.  He can catch-and-shoot efficiently, play make in a pinch and defend the opposing teams best guard.  These are the type of contracts that title contending teams should strive to obtain.

Miami didn’t have may options to improve.  They have one of the worst cap sheets in the NBA and didn’t even make the playoffs last season.  Without a conceivable way to add star talent Miami had to give up their best asset, Josh Richardson, a future first round pick and Hassan Whiteside who lost his starting job late last season.  They were able to keep Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones jr which was important for Miami.  They have a fairly balanced team and should be a playoff team nonetheless.  But how far they advance is another question.  Dion Waiters and James Johnson will have to get in better shape than they were last season.  Dragic will have to stay healthy.  Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Derrick Jones jr will have to continue their development process.  Miami got better in the immediate but at what cost to their long term prospects?  Their next best way to pair another star player with Butler might have to wait until the summer of 2021 when Miami will have max cap room.  Will Pat Riley wait that long however?  He doesn’t seem like the patient type.

 

 

Kemba Walker agrees to a four-year, $141 million deal with the Boston Celtics.  Terry Rozier agrees to a three-year, $58 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets.  Both deals are apart of a sign-and-trade with each other. (Link)

~ The deal for Kemba in terms of value is obviously an overpay but I still like the overall fit on-court.  The Celtics now turn their attention on finding a cost efficient big man, maybe someone like Maxi Kleber or Cheick Diallo.  The Celtics probably aren’t competing for a title unless their young players make serious advancements.  I’m still bullish on the Celtics young core.  Add that with Kemba, Hayward and a cost efficient center the Celtics should still be a competitive playoff team with a lot of room to grow.  

Terry Rozier at a $19 million annual is another overpay but this one is tough to justify.  At least with other overpays you know what you’re getting, with Rozier I have no clue the type of player the Hornets just signed.  There’s a scenario where he’s an all-star caliber player but another scenario where he disturbs his teammates player development process with his poor shot selection and play on the court.  The Hornets need to focus on developing PJ Washington, Cody Martin, Miles Brides and Malik Monk.  Do you think Rozier will amend that development process or inhibit it?  I get why the Hornets signed Rozier because on paper it makes sense: add a young point guard to our already young core deprived of a starting point guard.  I just wonder how good Rozier actually is and how he fits in Charlotte’s  player development process. 

 

Malcolm Brogdon agrees to a four-year, $85 million deal with the Indiana Pacers as apart of a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks.  The Pacers are sending to the Bucks a 2020 first round pick and two second round picks. (Link) The Pacers also sign Jeremy Lamb for three-years, $31.5 million. (Link)

~ The Pacers were a fun, unexpected team last season that surprised a lot of people.  If it wasn’t for the Victor Oladipo injury maybe they win a playoff round.  After today that team is now totally different a year later.  Goodbye to starters Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Thad Young, welcome TJ Warren, Jeremy Lamb and Malcolm Brogdon.  It’s going to be hard to tell if the Pacers are better or worse now especially since Oladipo might take a season to regain form after his injury but let’s assume that Oladipo comes back healthy.  Brogdon is better than Collison, Bogdanovic is better than Lamb and Warren is better than Young in my opinion.  So on paper I can make the argument the Pacers are a better team.  The question boils down to fit and obviously Oladipo’s health.  A starting five of Brogdon, Oladipo, Lamb, Warren and Myles Turner is a pretty enticing starting five.  I actually like the fit of the Pacers starting five more than the Sixers starting five even though the Sixers starting five has more talent. Jeremy Lamb will be the x-factor.  If he can improve his shooting, creation and perimeter defense then that could be the tipping point for the Pacers success.  I actually think the Pacers sneakily had one of the better free agency’s.  Oladipo coming back healthy will be vastly important though.

 

Khris Middleton has agreed to a five-year, $178 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. (Link)  Brook Lopez has agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. (LinkGeogre Hill has agreed to a three-year, $29 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks.  (Link)

~ It seems the Bucks were able to bring everyone back except for Nikola Mirotic and Malcolm Brogdon.  The loss of Brogdon is obviously the bigger issue.  He provided good shooting, tertiary playmaking, clutch scoring and high IQ defense.  Making that up will be a challenge for the Bucks.  They now have to rely on their young players taking another step in their development.  DJ Wilson in the front court and Donte DiVincenzo and Sterling Brown in the back court will all have to contribute in high pressure playoff moments if the Bucks want to win the east.  Giannis taking another step as a shooter will alleviate some of the pressure as well.  The Bucks also just signed Wes Matthews at the vet minimum which is a bargain deal.  This move will help mitigate the loss of Brogdon but the Bucks will still need Wilson, DiVincenzo and Brown to step up.

 

Ricky Rubio agrees to a three-year, $51 million deal with the Phoenix Suns. (Link)

~ I guess this was what the Suns had in mind when they traded TJ Warren to the Pacers for nothing.  They wanted to make sure they were able to have enough money to sign D’Angelo Russell and losing a good scoring wing for nothing was the price.  Enter Rubio who hurts his hamstring every other month in the NBA.  He isn’t a good shooter or scorer but can play make and defend well.  I guess Rubio provides skills that the Suns are lacking in even though he isn’t a good all around point guard.  Rubio will give the Suns a stabilizing ball handler who can create for others while Devin Booker can do more off-ball movement shooting. 

Giving Rubio this expensive contract still means they had to move some salary to make it work.  That’s why the Suns traded former number four overall pick Josh Jackson and De’Anthony Melton for Jevon Carter and cap relief.  Jackson hasn’t panned out over his first two seasons in the league and his off the court problems were starting to get tiresome; I guess the Suns looked at him like a sunk cost.  However this should be another reminder of the Suns poor track record when it comes to talent evaluation and player development.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see Josh Jackson develop better habits and progress his skill in the right nurturing environment.  Maybe that’s Memphis or maybe its not.  But continually squandering top ten picks over and over is a major indictment of an organization riddled with head scratching moves.

Kristaps Porzingis agrees to a five-year, $158 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks. (Link)

~ This one is pretty self-explanatory.  The Mavs have already invested heavily in Porzingis and now both sides are making the commitment to each other.   When healthy Porzingis is one of the best front court players in the NBA.  In a league where massive overpays happen all the time this deal could actually be a bargain if Porzingis continues his career trajectory. 

The Mavs also re-signed Maxi Kleber to a four-year, $35 million deal.  Back in November of last year I wrote an article talking about how much I like Kleber and how title contending teams should snatch him up at great value (Story).  With noticing the other contracts given out to front court players this off-season a $8.75 million annual for Kleber is solid value.  I can’t wait to see a Porzingis/Kleber front court with Luka Doncic as the initiator.    

 

Harrison Barnes agrees to sign a four-year, $85 million deal with the Sacramento Kings.  Trevor Ariza agrees to sign a two-year, $25 million deal with the Sacramento Kings. (Link)   Dewayne Dedmon agrees to sign a three-year, $41 million deal with the Sacramento Kings. (Link)  Cory Joseph agrees to sign a three-year, $37 million deal with the Sacramento Kings.

~ Even though the Kings over paid for most of these contracts I still like the idea behind the fit with Marvin Bagley, De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield.  For the Kings to bring outside talent through the door sometimes it has to involve minor overpays.  I was actually surprised that Barnes took a $21 million annual contract.  It’s an overpay for a player of his caliber but I was expecting him wanting a higher annual after opting out of a $25 million player option.  Then the Kings signed Ariza and Dedmon to slight overpays but I personally think could end up as fair deals in terms of what they bring in production and on-court impact.  They needed a center after Willie Cauley-Stein decided it was time to move on so they replaced him with a solid rim-protector that can shoot threes.  They’ve also been in need of swing forwards for the longest time so they sign Ariza who is the quintessential 3-and-D wing plus Barnes who can be their good enough wing scorer. 

The Cory Joseph deal is probably the one I question the most.  I thought that was pretty unnecessary with Yogi Ferrell being a cheap competent backup point guard.  Cory Joseph is the better defender but unless there is some partial guarantee after his first year than it’s kind of a pointless deal.  Did the Kings acquire enough talent to make the playoffs?  Maybe.  Being a playoff team in the loaded west isn’t a guarantee but the Kings still did a good job in terms of fit.  They’ve at the very least put themselves in great position to make a run at the playoffs.

 

JJ Reddick has agreed to a two-year, $26.5 million deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. (Link)  Details are still pending but Derrick Favors has agreed in terms to sign with New Orleans Pelicans.  (Link)

~ I guess new general manager for the Pelicans David Griffin really thinks that they can contend in the loaded west.  Why else make these moves if he thinks otherwise?  Getting Reddick’s shooting will be a huge plus for a team devoid of shooters and signing Favors gives the Pelicans a starting front court mate for Zion since Jaxson Hayes is a long term project at center.  I don’t see the Pelicans making the playoffs though and question the overall impact these moves will have on player development.  These deals aren’t bad moves since they’re short term deals and won’t tie up salary cap down the road.  I just wouldn’t have playoff expectations if I were David Griffin.

 

Ed Davis has agreed to a two-year, $10 million deal with the Utah Jazz. (Link)  Bojan Bogdanovic has agreed to a four-year, $73 million deal with the Utah Jazz. (Link)

~ Bogdanovic was one of the better scorers on the open market that wasn’t a max player.  He can create his own shot and is one of the better shooters in the league.  His defense will become an issue the deeper into the playoffs the Jazz go but since the Jazz needed another shot creator to pair with Donovan Mitchell I think it’s a relatively fair signing for the price tag.  With Derrick Favors going to New Orleans the Jazz needed another front court player.  Ed Davis is the perfect value contract that fits the system.  These are the types of contracts that I tend to favor: good value AND good fit.  The Jazz are making bold moves to compete for a title this season and I like what I’ve seen so far.

 

DeMarre Carroll has agreed to a two-year, $13 million deal with the San Antonio Spurs.  (Link)  Rudy Gay has agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal with the San Antonio Spurs.  (Link)

~The Spurs didn’t make any big splashy moves.  They brought back Rudy Gay on contract that is a slight overpay but only for two years.  When Gay was healthy last season he was a steady contributor and much improved three point shooter.  The Carroll contract is solid value and solid fit so clearly I’m a fan.  Carroll doesn’t produce or play defense the way he once did but provides the Spurs with a player of need at swing forward.  The Spurs have a bunch of guards but lack depth at swing forward.  Every year people want to count out the Spurs from making the playoffs but every year they prove people wrong.

 

Al-Farouq Aminu has agreed to a three-year, $29 million deal with the Orlando Magic. (Link)  Terence Ross has agreed to a four-year, $54 million deal with the Orlando Magic.  (Link)  Nikola Vucevic has agreed to a four-year, $100 million deal with the Orlando Magic. (Link)

~ What the hell are the Magic doing?  What’s their roadmap to success? It’s been about seven years since the Dwight Howard trade and I still don’t know what the Magic are doing.  They snuck into the playoffs last season with quality veteran play from Vucevic and Ross but have accumulated high level draft picks over the years that need time on-court to develop.  I thought the Magic were going to realize the ceiling a team lead by Ross and Vucevic had and turn over the 2019-2020 roster to the youth movement.  Boy was I wrong.  Not only did they re-sign Vucevic and Ross to big money deals but they signed another veteran, Aminu, at a position they don’t really need.  So what about Mo Bamba?  Did they spend a top 10 pick on a backup center?  What about Jonathan Isaac? Did they spend another top 10 pick on a backup power forward?  What about Chuma Okeke who they just drafted in the first round?  Are they going to play Aaron Gordon out of position?  I just don’t get the plan for their front court players and as of now it looks like a logjam to me.

 

Jonas Valanciunas has agreed to a three-year, $45 million with the Memphis Grizzlies. (Link)  

~ I was personally looking forward to watching the Jarren Jackson and Brandon Clarke front court play a ton of minutes together but I guess Memphis thought otherwise.  The Grizzlies didn’t have a traditional center on their roster so this move does make sense but I just hope Valanciunas is more of a placeholder starter with Jackson getting the bulk of the minutes at center.  The Grizzlies have made major investments in Jackson and Clarke so giving them on-court time to develop should be a priority.  I’m assuming Valanciunas is a placeholder center and nothing more.

 

Patrick Beverly has agreed to a three-year, $40 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. (Link)

~ I guess this deal signifies that the Clippers are only going after one max salary player.  Makes sense after the moves today.  We’ll see if they get Kawhi or not later in the week.  Overall I like this deal.  Good value and good fit.

2019 NBA Draft Reactions

I’m going to go through certain drafts that standout to me for good or bad reasons:

 

Atlanta Hawks: De’Andre Hunter (4), Cam Reddish (10), Bruno Fernando (34)

~ Would’ve it been better to keep the 8th, 10th, 17th and 35th picks in the draft compared with the 4th and 10th?  Yes, in terms of value the Hawks definitely could’ve done better.  I still like what the Hawks did though when it comes to system fit.  I had Hunter ranked 7th, Reddish ranked 14th and Fernando ranked 31st on my big board.  Ever since General Manager Travis Schlenk took over the Hawks they’ve had a concise plan with a blueprint to follow.  Whether it will work is a different discussion but the overall competence Schlenk has displayed is impressive.  Hunter and Reddish project well as 3-and-D switchable wings with Reddish possessing more upside with Fernando projecting to be an athletic rim-running big man that has room to grow on defense.  The upside of a unit that includes Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Bruno Fernando, Omari Spellmen and John Collins will be a super fun story line to watch next season.

 

Brooklyn Nets: Nicolas Claxton (31), Jaylen Hands (56)

~ I had Claxton ranked 13th on my big board and didn’t even contemplate ranking Hands.  The Nets might look drastically different next season and the fit between Claxton and Jarrett Allen is interesting.  Nevertheless, Claxton selected at 31 is one of my favorite value picks in the draft.  The defensive upside he brings alone makes the pick worthwhile and there is untapped, raw offensive potential just waiting to be developed.  I think the Nets have shown they can develop raw talent well.

 

Boston Celtics: Romeo Langford (14), Grant Williams (22), Carsen Edwards (33), Tremont Waters (51)

~ I had Langford ranked 12th, Williams ranked 11h and Edwards ranked 38th.  Clearly, I really like this draft for Boston even though there were still some players left on the board at 14 that I rather have over Langford.  The Celtics have a ton of options this summer so it’s too early to tell what exact roles these rookies will have.  Langford gives them another big switchable wing, Williams gives them a skilled big and Edwards could be their backup scoring guard.  With Al Horford and Kyrie Irving leaving, the Celtics ended up finding solid young replacements that fit the bill.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland (5), Dylan Windler (26), Kevin Porter jr (30)

~ I had Garland ranked 9th, Windler ranked 24th and Porter jr ranked 10th on my big board, so I obviously should love this draft for Cleveland, right?  I get what the Cavs are trying to do.  They are a team in total rebuild mode so just getting as much talent in the door as possible is priority number one.  The issue turns into a question of fit.  Does Garland, Sexton, Windler and Porter jr fit?  What system will they run?  Who will be the primary ball handler?  In terms of talent and value I should love this draft but I just don’t see a blueprint.  The Hawks are following a blueprint in their rebuild.  The Grizzlies are following a blueprint in their rebuild.  Whether or not it works isn’t the question, it’s the fact that plans and strategies tend to mitigate mistakes.  I just don’t see a plan with the Cavs.  Now that doesn’t mean it won’t work, like I said in terms of talent and value the Cavs did a great job.  I’m just curious how they’re going to put this together.

 

Dallas Mavericks: Josh Reaves (Undrafted)

~  The Mavericks didn’t have any picks but still did a good job.  Reaves is my 26th ranked prospect.  I thought he might go undrafted since he wasn’t on many media sites mock drafts.  I like his fit with the Mavs.  A 3-and-D wing that plays off of Luka Doncic and can playmake in a pinch.  I think Reaves has practical fit on the Mavs as a solid rotational piece.

 

Denver Nuggets: Bol Bol (44)

~ This was interesting.  I didn’t have Bol Bol ranked in my top 40 due to medical concerns.  I’m just a guy that watches a lot of basketball, I don’t have inside sources.  So when I saw Bol Bol fall I guess I turned out to be right, the league must have the same concerns or he’s medically red flagged.  Denver doesn’t exactly need Bol Bol.  They have Nikola Jokic and Micheal Porter jr has their frontcourt but the potential to get a player with lottery talent this late in the draft is too hard to pass up.  It’s a good gamble by Denver.

 

Golden State Warriors: Jordan Poole (28), Alen Smailagic (39), Eric Paschal (41), Dedric Lawson (Undrafted)

~ I had Jordan Poole ranked 36th on my big board and I thought I ranked him too high.  Most media sites didn’t have Poole ranked that high so I thought I was overrating him.  As it turns out the Warriors apparently overrated him too.  I don’t hate the pick but I just would’ve drafted other players like Kevin Porter jr, Keldon Johnson and Nic Claxton.  He’s still a great deep range shooter, very quick and has touch around the rim.  I just don’t get why they aren’t addressing a two-way big wing that can replace Iggy as he retires.  Is that supposed to be Poole?  Jacob Evans who they drafted last season?  Then they get three more players, all of whom are frontcourt players.  I’m assuming that means Kevon Looney is gone?  Smailagic has potential as a skilled big but I question his mobility.  Paschal could end up being a nice fit next to Draymond but at that point in the draft why not go for Bol Bol?  Ever since Travis Schlenk left to go to Atlanta in 2017 I’ve started to double guess the Warriors draft moves more often.

 

Houston Rockets: Shamorie Ponds (Undrafted)

~ Again, another team with no draft picks but I still come away loving what they did.  The Rockets had one of the better undrafted rookies last season with Gary Clark and they look to duplicate that success with Ponds.  Ponds was ranked 30th on my big board and I was pretty surprised he didn’t get drafted.  Ponds is someone who can create his own shot, play on or off-ball and can playmake in Mike D’Antoni’s system.  He might not have excellent size but he’s very skilled with a solid IQ.

 

Los Angeles Lakers: Talen Horton-Tucker (46)

~ The Lakers who didn’t have any picks to start the night ended up trading back into the second round.  I had Talen Horton-Tucker ranked 16th on my big board, so this draft pick gets a thumbs up by me.  The only thing I question is potential fit issues.  He isn’t a shooter and the Lakers are in desperate need of shooters.  Still, Horton-Tucker is one of the youngest players in the draft, has good touch around the rim and has a decent IQ.  I guess he fell due to conditioning concerns?  That was one of my worries when I wrote up his overview but thought that with better diet and an NBA training staff he could work himself into better shape.  Maybe it has something to do with his body type and teams were concerned he’d never be in shape.  Horton-Tucker still can create his own shot, has good feel for the game and has solid fundamentals on defense.  I’m iffy on the fit with Lebron and Anthony Davis but still like the value and his upside due to age and skill.

 

Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant (2), Brandon Clarke (21)

~ Do I even need to say anything?  I had Morant ranked 3rd and Clarke ranked 6th on my big board.  The Grizzlies are now in full rebuild mode after trading Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.  The future trio of Morant, Clarke and Jarren Jackson will be one of the most interesting subplots to the NBA season.  The amount of athletic ability and frontcourt defensive prowess is remarkable for such a young group of players.  This could end up being a draft that transforms their franchise for the next decade.

 

Minnesota TimberWolves: Jarrett Culver (6), Jaylen Nowell (43), Barry Brown (Undrafted), Naz Reid (undrafted)

~ I was a big fan of the job the TimberWolves did in last years draft by selecting Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop.  They’ve definitely outdone themselves this year.  Culver was my 2nd ranked prospect. All it took was the number 11 pick and Dario Saric to get draft Culver at 6.  His offensive game will take time to develop in the league but could be a day one defensive plus player.  Nowell didn’t make my top 40 but let’s just say he was ranked 41st.  He has a good frame and athletic build and nice potential to be a tertiary playmaker.  Then Minnesota signs undrafted Barry Brown jr from Kansas State who is one of the better defenders in this draft.  To top it off the TimberWolves signed undrafted Naz Reid who I’m not a fan of but still has a ton of upside as a big man who can maybe space the court and take it off the dribble.  I really like what the TimberWolves are trying to build around Karl Anthony-Towns.

 

New Orleans: Zion Williamson (1), Jaxson Hayes (8), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17), Marcos Louzada Silva (35), Zylan Cheatham (undrafted)

~ The New Orleans Pelicans draft boils down to what did they put around Zion?  I personally have always envisioned Zion being a small ball five. That’s why I’m on the fence about Hayes.  Hayes was my 19th ranked player on my big board and he has rim-running, paint protection potential.  He actually had a good free throw percentage and touch around the rim so maybe he develops an outside shot but until that happens he mostly gets his points in the paint.  I like the thought of Hayes and Zion together defensively but wonder how will it fit on offense?  Nickeil Alexander-Walker was my 21st ranked prospect but more importantly he is a good spot up jump shooter and will be a much needed floor spacer.  With the 35th pick the Pelicans took Marcos Louzada Silva.  I don’t know much about Silva outside of his Hoop Summit performance where he looked like a potential 3-and-D wing with solid physical tools.  Cheatham was my 35th ranked prospect and to get him as an undrafted rookie is good value.  He projects to be a backup swing big.  Only time will time how well the Pelicans do supporting Zion.  As of now I don’t hate what they did but don’t love it either.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Darius Bazley (23), Luguentz Dort (Undrafted)

~ Bazley was my 5th ranked prospect on my big board which should tell you all that is needed to know.  I’m clearly much higher on Bazley than most draft sites and the Thunder share my sentiment.  As long as Bazley becomes a respectable three point shooter then the fit with Russell Westbrook and Paul Gergoe will work.  I’m not the biggest Dort fan either but to sign him undrafted is terrific value. Dort and Bazley both fit the mold of Thunder players: long and athletic.  I think Bazley in the right environment could be one of the steals in this draft.

 

Orlando Magic: Chuma Okeke (16), DaQuan Jeffries (undrafted)

~ This one is weird for me.  I had Okeke ranked 17th and Jeffries ranked 23rd on my big board.  I clearly like both players but I just don’t know if I would’ve drafted Okeke this high especially with the players that were still left on the board.  I get that the Magic didn’t have another draft pick until 46 and he might not have been available.  It’s just that all I heard pre-draft was Okeke projected to be an early to middle second round pick.  There could’ve been a chance he was still on the board when the Magic picked next at 46.  With that said, I really like the player.  He has to be redshirted for a season but when healthy has 1st round upside.  If Okeke ends up playing well and becoming a starting caliber player than this pick looks terrific.  At the end of the day if you like someone then go get him and that’s what Orlando did with Okeke.  I think the Magic got great value with Jeffries.  He is projected to become a 3-and-D swing forward and a nice complementary piece.  My biggest cause for concern is that the Magic don’t have the best track record in terms of player development and they already have a decent amount of long wings in their pipeline.  My worry is Okeke and Jeffries deal with a logjam and don’t develop properly.  I like the draft by Orlando in terms of talent but I’m apprehensive about the player development situation.  What the Magic do in free agency and how they mold their roster will matter heavily.  

 

Portland Trail Blazers: Nassir Little (25), Jaylen Hoard (Undrafted)

~ I had Little ranked as my 15th best prospect.  I still have my reservations when it comes to Little developing into a positive on-court impact player but the value and fit are amazing.  Portland does not have many ways to upgrade their roster due to salary cap implications.  They were in need of upgrading their wing position with limited options.  What so happens to fall in their lap?  A potentially two-way big wing scorer who will be on a cost-controlled contract for the next four seasons.  Little might take a while to develop and might not be on the same timeline as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum but this just made way too much sense for Portland.  

 

San Antonio Spurs: Luka Samanic (19), Keldon Johnson (29), Quinndary Weatherspoon (49)

~ Keldon Johnson was my 20th ranked prospect and Quinndary Weatherspoon was ranked 33rd on my big board.  I don’t know much about Samanic outside of the NBA combine but he did look to have some big man floor spacing ability with mobility.  I can see the upside with that pick.  I think Johnson has 3-and-D starting wing potential and Weatherspoon has backup scoring guard potential.  The Spurs have an interesting young nucleus of Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, Bryn Forbes, Davis Bertans, Jakob Poeltl, Luka Samanic, Keldon Johnson and Quinndary Weatherspoon.  The Spurs are one of the best when mining and developing talent and this draft could be a continuation of that success.

 

 

Scouting Report: RJ Barrett (Rank 8, Tier 3)

Scouting Report:

RJ Barrett (Rank 8, Tier 3)

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

6’7/6’10 wingspan/202 pounds/19 years/FR

I guess I have some explaining to do.  Typically every year there’s at least one overhyped prospect and my choice this draft is RJ Barrett.  I understand that he might not have been in the best situation at Duke since they didn’t have much shooting so let’s just focus on the facts.  Barrett shot 30.8% from three, 66.5% from the free throw line and excluding post-ups 52.2% around the basket.  He wasn’t a particularly good off-ball player posting a .952 points per possession on all catch-and-shoot chances which ranked 41st percentile, .689 points per possession on “off-screen” situations which ranked 22nd percentile and .949 points per possession on all “cut” plays which ranked 24th percentile.  So he wasn’t a good shooter, has questionable touch and can’t do much off ball?  Basically he better be the primary creator on whatever team he goes to because if not I question what role he’s going to play.  I guess either people are just hoping for substantial improvement or they really think the Duke situation was that bad.

So let’s go over the tape.  One of Barrett’s skills are his playmaking ability.  He uses his height to look over the defense and toss skip, pocket and over the top passes around the floor.  He’s pretty solid at the two-man game between ball handler and roll man.  Though I wouldn’t call him a primary ball handler but more of a tertiary ball handler due to his average feel and problems with misdiagnosing plays.  He’s decent at live-dribble but he’s not really a shifty ball handler.  He can use euro steps, cross steps and behind the back dribble drive moves but make no mistake Barrett is a power driver. He has long, strong strides on his drive and can dip his shoulder into the defender to dislodge for space.  His hips aren’t that fluid and he tends to straight line drive in the paint with his left hand.  A lot of times on layups he would switch the ball from right to left hand while midair wasting motion in this manner.  I guess he doesn’t trust his right hand all that much yet but that will be a problem if not remedied.

On defense he’s a decent on-ball defender, a questionable team defender and below average at defensive creation.  He’s best when on-ball locked in, sitting down in his stance and remaining balanced. He’s listed at 6’7 with a 6’10 wingspan and a good not great athlete.  That physical profile helps him well defending dribble drive moves. Although at times his positioning and footwork would be off giving Barrett a tough time to adjust on the fly.  He can make initial rotations weak side and help defense but struggles to process the next move.  He’s slow to identify his man off a scramble, will lazily fly by for closeouts at times and get lost looking for his matchup while defending early offense.  He has average instincts on defense and isn’t much for creating events.  He averaged 1.5 blocks+steals per 40 minutes.  Not impressive numbers for an NBA wing.

One of the reasons why I like Jarrett Culver so much is growth potential.  If you look at his high school senior season, freshman season and this past season he grew exponentially.  If you look at Barrett since the FIBA U19 World Cup in 2017 how much has he grown since then?  He’s pretty much the same player while Culver was the 43rd ranked shooting guard in ESPN’s 2017 class and now he’s a possible top five pick.  I just think this is who Barrett is. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that but I just think at pick three you want more growth potential.  I mean he’s still in my top 10 so it’s not like I’m going overboard with criticism…I think.

* All stats provided by Synergy Sports Tech and Hoop-Math*

Scouting Report: Darius Bazley (Rank 5, Tier 2)

Scouting Report:

Darius Bazley (Rank 5, Tier 2)

6’9/7’ wingspan/209 pounds/19 years

~ Sometimes you have to put your name on a couple prospects.  Especially in a draft as uncertain as this one there seems to be a few potential gems hidden outside the lottery.  That’s where Darius Bazley steps in for me.  He was the 13th ranked player coming out of high school by ESPN and decided to skip college and play in the g-league.  For whatever reason, he changed his mind about entering the g-league and planned to work on his body and skills leading up to the draft.  I obviously didn’t know much about him until I saw his performance at the NBA combine 5-on-5 scrimmages portion.  What really impressed me was the fact that he was 19 years old, hasn’t played organized basketball in over a year going up against a bunch of players who were 19-23 years old who just played college basketball 2-3 months prior and became one of the standouts nonetheless.

He stands in at 6’9 with a 7’ wingspan and an impressive 8’11 standing reach.  He also proved to be a bouncy athlete with a 37 inch max vertical and quick change-of-direction potential sporting a 2.95 shuttle run which was sixth best.  The thing that got me to start taking Bazley more seriously was his handle.  He had a pretty low, tight and in control handle with combo dribble drive moves.  He took players off the bounce with either a pump fake or decently quick first step.  He made turnaround two point jumpers, one dribble pull-ups and and-1 buckets.  He was quick off his feet for offensive putbacks, reverse layups and one-legged lay-ins.  His passing ability took me by surprise too.  It wasn’t all good with some forced passes and misguided transition throw aheads but he did make some standout plays.  One of them being an off-the-dribble behind-the-back pass to Ignas Brazdekis and the other being an off-the-bounce drop off pass to the man at the dunker spot.  When I watched some of his high school tape he showed pretty solid passing skills, it’s the instincts that need to improve.

His left-handed long distance shot looked workable.  I watched some of his high school games at Princeton (OH) and his mechanics have definitely improved since.  In high school they were really slow, his elbow had inconsistent arrangements and the shot came out at an angle.  His shot at the combine was quicker, his elbow placement was much smoother and the shot was actually lined up with the basket.  Obviously he still needs to tinker with his mechanics but making progress at this young of an age is a positive indication of shooting success.

He was a decidedly better on-ball defender than team defender.  At times he missed rotations, misread angles and lost his man.  His ability to cover ground in a timely fashion does give Bazley upside as a developing team defender and considering this was his first organized game in over a year it’s tough to judge but questioning his feel for the game is an inevitable concern.  On the other hand he was defending smaller, quicker players well, had a solid time playing different pick-and-roll coverages and was able to defend in the post. His long lanky legs gave him a big base to work with and his wide shoulders shoulders should fill out over time.  Add that to his length and athleticism and we’re talking about a potentially versatile swing forward on defense.  There was one play where he pressed the ball handler on a side pick-and-roll, the ball handler threw a pocket pass to the screener slipping, Bazley recovered well, picked up the screener at the free throw line and contested a post attempt for a miss.  That one play alone showed why I think he has tremendous upside on defense.

The transition to the NBA will take time.  His last taste of organized basketball was a year ago in a high school gym.  It’s probably going to take him at least a season or two to acclimate to pro speed.  On a few instances during the combine it looked like he was averse to the physical nature of the game.  Gaining strength and bulking up will be very important for Bazley.  He did just turn 19 years old.  As long as the franchise who drafts him is patient then they could reap major benefits.  Is ranking Bazley at five too high?  Probably.  But with so much skepticism towards this draft a player who is long, active with quick feet, has a budding shot, solid handle and passing skills…well, that sounds like a player to take a risk on.

Scouting Report: Darius Garland (Rank 9, Tier 3)

Scouting Report:

Darius Garland (Rank 9, Tier 3)

6’3/6’5 Wingspan/175 pounds/19.4 years/FR

 

Darius Garland tore his left meniscus five games into his freshman season.  That was unfortunate since he was on a roll offensively through four games.  It’s frustrating to grade him with the lack of game tape.  At times I think he’s a top five talent due to his shooting skills but other times I question his defense and wonder what role will he have on a championship caliber team.  He’s listed as 6’3 with a 6’5 wingspan and weighs in at 175 pounds.  A meniscus tear isn’t an athleticism altering injury but if Garland’s frame can’t mange NBA punishment that’s a long term problem.  Just like with most smaller stature players, Garland will need to add strength and bulk up.  Since he’s super agile and fast with solid quick twitch reactions he will need to be careful with paint drives and laying out his body on finishes.  Smaller players bodies tend to break down fast in the NBA and hopefully whoever drafts Garland will properly monitor his conditioning.

The main reason why he’s ranked number nine on my big board even though he’s only played four games has to deal with his shooting.  Unlike Ja Morant and Coby White, Garland has a more capable translatable shot.  His mechanics are the most natural out of the three guards; nice quick motion, power comes from the lower body and hips, loads up off his toes, set point has variances but seems high enough and solid touch.  He shot 47.8% from three and 1.441 points per possession on all jump shots which ranked 99th percentile albeit on a small sample size.  He was deadly off the dribble shooting 56.2% on his two point jumpers.  He can step back off either foot, sharp pull up, side step and pull back with nimble shake to his rhythm.  He can use change-of-pace dribble moves to influence defenders habits and dictate which angle to exploit.  His abrupt stop-and-go movements off the bounce and combo dribble drives moves help create separation for himself.  He also can use his shooting gravity off-ball, cut off screen and make movement three pointers.  That’s something I want to see more of in the NBA.

Entering the paint is one of Garland’s pluses but his finishing ability needs some improving.  He isn’t terrible around the rim sporting a 60% field goal percentage but the physical nature of the middle modifies his timing and power around the rim.  It felt like he would short arm some lay in’s and mostly jump off two feet around the hoop not trusting his body control on one legged leaps.  I also think he’s a better playmaker than he gets credit for.  He had a 13 assist to 15 turnover ratio and sported .647 points per possession on passes out of the pick-and-roll which ranked 9th percentile.  He clearly looks for his shot first, has tunnel vision and can’t identify the simple pass in a timely fashion.  The numbers don’t support his playmaking ability and the tape doesn’t either but in spurts I’ve seen good creation.  A lot of that has to deal with keeping his head up, trusting his teammates and not over dribbling.  Sometimes he will pick up his dribble too early if he sees a second man come his way.  Continuing his dribble and prolonging the play will also help in terms of playmaking.

His defense is somewhat concerning.  Obviously his frame doesn’t do him any favors, his on-ball defense waivers even though he has lateral quickness and his team defense is still a question mark.  I sometimes wonder how much of a difference there is between Garland and Carsen Edwards due to the fact they have similar builds and offensive styles.  Ja Morant is an elite play maker and Coby White is 6’5 with some play making ability.  On the other hand if Garland can’t playmake at the next level why is he ranked so much higher than Carsen Edwards who he compares well with?  That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with and I always fall back to dribbling ability and lateral movement.  I also can’t get the 2018 NBA combine scrimmages out of my head when it comes to Carsen Edwards.  He didn’t play well in a simulated NBA environment and became a motive for him to return for his junior season.  I trust Garland to be that much better of a shooter, scorer than Edwards as well.  Still it’s a valid question and part of my concern with Garland’s value.

 

* All stats provided by Synergy Sports Tech and Hoop-Math *

Scouting Report: Coby White (Rank 4, Tier 2)

Scouting Report:

Coby White (Rank 4, Tier 2)

6’5/6’5 wingspan/191 pounds/19.3 years/FR

 

Coby White is one of my biggest movers on this ranking.  A lot of that has to do with his scoring prowess.  For this draft class Coby has top level scoring instincts, can shoot threes in a variety of ways and is an improving play maker.  Being long, athletic with a good frame is great for potential but if you can’t dribble, shoot and create for yourself then that potential’s value is cut in half.  Even though Coby is listed at 6’5 he doesn’t have that big of a frame.  His shoulders are pretty slight with average size hands and a build that might not fill out.  The hope is that over time he will develop strength albeit with a slender frame.  His physical advantage is speed and quickness.  Coby might even be faster than Ja Morant but doesn’t have the vertical explosion to match.

Coby might not be an above the rim player but has craft and touch in his arsenal.  He shot 67% on all his attempts around the rim and only 17.9% of those were assisted.  He can change hands mid air on lay up attempts, go up-and-under for stealthy finishes and put soft english on the ball to fit over longer players.  He’s a decently versatile leaper around the rim with same foot, same hand lay in’s but tends to jump off two feet around rim.  I think as soon as he gains longer body strength he should use one footed leaps around the rim more frequently.  He has a quick first step with speed down hill with a multitude of hang dribbles, push crossovers, behind the back moves and hezi jimbos.  His sudden stop-and-go movements get defenders leaning and his blazing speed gets himself into the lane.  When he gets into the lane he likes to use a left-to-right spin move for separation and uses his momentum wisely to carry his body in space creating angles whether that be on step-backs or fallaways.  Unfortunately his handle can be too high, leaving the ball out in front exposed for deflections.  He needs better control and a steadier center of gravity.  Moving side to side can be an issue as well as White can be loose with his dribble.  As I said earlier, the hope is that additional core strength will improve control.

White is a score first guard that needs to see the court better but can make plays off the pick-and-roll since the game is slowed down.  Possessions that include passes off the pick-and-roll, White sported a 1.407 points per possession which ranked 97th percentile.  When he gets sped up White doesn’t see the court as well as he could but with a ball screen he does a good job looking for cutters and weak side action with one handed skip passes on occasion.  He can turn the corner off a hedge even with a dribble that’s high but what’s most impressive are his splits through doubles or hedges.  That was probably one of the first things I noticed about White, his ability to split pick-and-roll coverage’s.  That’s such a useful move to get the offense a 5-on-4 advantage on his way to the rim.  Although when he did split the coverage when he pulled up off the dribble White sported a .629 points per possession which ranked 27th percentile. Having better shot selection, more strength and body control should help with his off dribble game.

Just like with Ja Morant, White has a lower release point.  White had an inconsistent release point though and at times it was as low as his chin and as high as over his head.  Having a fluid set point definitely quickens your shooting mechanics but unless you get the ball high enough on the follow through and develop core strength then the shot may be prone to contests.  Luckily for White he does a good job of step backs, pull ups and momentum altering shots that create space to get the shot off.  He also sported a 1.339 points per possession on catch-and-shoot situations which ranked 93rd percentile.  Even in a limited fashion at North Carolina White displayed good instincts off-ball.  He set good cross and up screens plus pin-downs using his shooting gravity at times to distort the angles of the court.  He was more active off-ball than Morant and it’s something that I think is underrated when talked about Coby White.

White also tried on defense unlike Morant did this past season.  Coby isn’t the biggest, strongest or most vertically explosive player but he gave multiple efforts, fought over screens and used his quickness to his advantage.  Yes, when he did get caught up in a screen it took him time to recover but remarkably White did a solid job whipping his inside foot over screen setters to get skinny over screens.  He would then stay attached to the ball handler and hustle even if he was behind some.  White was actually a decent team defender collapsing middle on drives, walling off weak side attacks and cutting off drives at the nail then recovering back to his own.  Sometimes after making the initial rotation Coby would get stuck in the muck and at times he missed his sink-and-fill assignments but overall Coby was an above average team defender.  His quickness allowed him to stay in front of players but at times he over gambled and lost position.  Playing on his toes more, working on his lower body and strengthening his butt would help in terms of on-ball defense.

The importance of creating a shot for yourself can’t be understated.  It’s obviously important to have other skills and a baseline of NBA athletic ability but during the playoffs players who can’t dribble, shoot and create buckets for themselves are impossible to play.  White got better as the season went on and considering we’re talking about ACC play that was highly impressive.  I don’t know if White will ever be a starting point guard on a title team but can he be a highly productive rotational piece on a title team?  I think so.

 

* All stats provided by Synergy Sports Tech and Hoop-Math*

 

 

Scouting Report: Ja Morant (Rank 3, Tier 2)

Scouting Report:

Ja Morant (Rank 3, Tier 2)

6’3/6’6 wingspan/175 pounds/19.8 years/SO

 

I’m not as sold on Ja Morant as everyone else seems to be.  Memphis has already announced they are selecting Morant well in advance of the actual draft and he ranks number two on most big boards I’ve seen.  The hype for Morant is for real.  Now you may be asking the question, “Hey OldMan?  If you’re not high on Morant then why rank him number three?”  Fair question random reader.  The number one reason why he ranks so high on my big board is his shot creation ability; whether that be creating for himself or his teammates.  He has one of, if not the best first step in the entire 2019 draft class.  He uses a variety of quick twitch hesitations for his primary dribble drive move that creates separation.  Combine that with an assortment of crossovers with either hand and he breaks down the defense like a pro.

Morant is quick to process on offense, has a good feel for play maturation and solid passing instincts.  If the defense loses a player baseline get ready for an on time lob pass by Morant.  He’ll look off defenders for no look passes, draw defenders in the paint for dump off passes and find cutters with ease.  Morant doesn’t just sit back and take what the defense gives him but rather manipulates defenders into getting the play he wants.  His ability to read the game in layers and play make off it will always be a coveted skill in the NBA.    

He’s pretty ambidextrous with his handle and finishing ability.  He can leap off either foot, two foot leap for power and slam dunk off one foot in transition.  He doesn’t quite have great touch but rather good touch around the rim sporting a 61% field goal percentage around the basket.  His body control can improve on his finishes and I think gaining more strength would help improve his overall touch around the rim.  Morant can make tough shots off the dribble but wasn’t really asked to do much off-ball.  Improving as a movement shooter will be important since he won’t have the ball in his hands as much as he did sophomore season.  He wasn’t that active off-ball on offense but did sport a 1.133 points per possession on all catch-and-shoot situations which ranked 72nd percentile.  He did that on only 45 possessions though so the sample size isn’t hefty.  He also sported a .778 points per possession on all catch-and-shoot plays his freshman season which ranked 20th percentile.  He uses a one motion shooting technique for his follow through on his jump shot.  It lowers the release point but quickens the mechanics.  He needs to gain more lower body and core strength to help him with his long distance accuracy.  Since he shot 81% from the free throw line his two seasons at Murray State, has pretty solid touch around the rim and improved as a shooter from season to season gives me enough indication of potential shooting success in the NBA.

Like I said at the beginning of this report I have my concerns.  For starters he was a far better transition player than half court player which is somewhat concerning.  He scored 1.197 points per possession on all transition plays which ranked 78th percentile but on half court plays scored a .885 points per possession which ranked 58th percentile.  He also took a lot of risky passes through tight seams on the court for a fair amount of turnovers which could make for a messy adjustment period at the next level.  His off-ball offense is cause for pause, his small frame could ultimately be a problem, he needs to work on his strength and his shot isn’t a guarantee that it’ll translate to the pros.  His top tier play making ability and shot creation prowess are what’s holding me back from ranking him any lower.

The biggest concern I have however is his defense.  The amount of times I saw him blatantly let the ball handler he was guarding pass by just to attempt a back tap from behind at the ball was ludicrous.  He was more concerned about making a play on the ball instead of being a sound defender.  He’s done that as an off-ball defender too by reaching and swiping down instead of playing gap protection.  I get that his usage was 33% and he had so much to do on offense.  He was pacing himself throughout the game and expended a lot of energy on the offensive side of the ball.  I’m just worried he developed bad habits his sophomore season.  His defensive stance is either hunched over or straight up.  Rarely did I see him sit in his stance and use his butt as an anchor.  He floated off-ball with lackadaisical effort at times and needs to be more alert on give-and-go’s plus backdoor passes.  He hardly lock-and-trailed his man and shot the gap mostly or avoided screens all together.  It’s not all bad though.  Morant has shown that he’s capable of hugging the lane line and making rotations on help defense.  He also used his quickness and lateral agility to stay in front of ball handlers but only when he felt like it.  His athletic ability was a major redeeming quality on defense as that’s how he made up for his mistakes.

Having a consistent long range shot, gaining strength and putting effort in defensively are points of contention that Morant has to improve upon in the NBA.  Even with all my concerns I have Morant ranked third.  The substantial selling point is obviously his shot creation and play making talent.  Those still are in demand skills and very important for playoff basketball.  Pairing Morant with Jarren Jackson is a nice way to kick off a rebuild and should help with Morant’s progression.  

 

* All Stats provided by Synergy Sports Tech *