Tag Archives: 2019

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.

King of the North

After Milwaukee took a two to nothing lead in the series against Toronto the general sense was doom for the Raptors.  The Bucks haven’t lost three games in a row and haven’t lost a home game where they entered the fourth quarter with a lead all season.  Marc Gasol wasn’t playing up to his standard and the Raptors bench unit were being outplayed.  The odds seemed stacked against the Raptors.  But sure enough the Bucks lost four games in a row for the first time all season and lost a home game where they entered the fourth quarter with a lead for the first time all season.  

Were the Raptors that much better than the Bucks?  I think not. We’re talking about a double overtime game three where the Bucks easily could’ve been up three games to nothing.  A pivotal moment in that game was fourth quarter with about two minutes and thirty seconds left.  George Hill was leading the break but multiple Raptors were waiting under the basket.  Instead of backing out the ball and setting up a play Hill decided to rush the break and miss a contested paint attempt.  The Raptors went on a five to nothing run over the next minute.  The Bucks would send the game into overtime but the whole complexion of the game could’ve been changed with one play. Heck in game six when the Raptors took the lead with nine minutes and forty-five seconds left in the fourth quarter that was their first lead since 6-3 in the first quarter.  

The Bucks took leads into the fourth quarter in both game five and six.  This series in many ways could’ve went Milwaukee’s way. Unfortunately for the Bucks their late game half court offensive execution, tertiary playmaking, three point shooting and secondary help defense took a nosedive.  Giannis became nullified in the fourth quarter with the Raptors playing more drop coverage on pick-and-rolls, collapsing middle with three defenders and sagging back on transition pushes taking away his driving angles and side steps.  It’s tough to score when you aren’t a proficient three point, free throw or mid-range jump shooter.  It becomes even more difficult to make precise decisions late in game on drive-and-kick opportunities, dump offs and timed passes to cutters.  It also doesn’t help when one of your most important shooters, Nikola Mirotic, goes in the tank and shoots 19% from three and becomes unplayable.  Shooting 31% from three as a team really makes it hard for Giannis to trust his kick out options, especially to a 17% from deep Bledsoe.  

The Bucks ran a 5-out motion offense with shooting at every position surrounding Giannis all season.  A lot of times when Giannis drove to the rim and helpside defense would rotate over that would trigger a weak side cut by the Bucks.  It was a simple but effective offense since Giannis draws so much attention.  The Raptors defense did a very good job snuffing out these actions late in the game.  They closed space fast with sharp closeouts on skip passes and kick outs, were communicating on every ball screen, under control on recoveries and on a string with every rotation.  Fourth quarter game five and six was some of the best defense I’ve seen the Raptors play all season.  The Raptors walled up the paint and forced the Bucks out of their game plan.  They were more capable of playing different styles of pick-and-roll coverage due to better two-way personnel in comparison to Milwaukee.  The Raptors switched or contained on most ball screens and that versatility through the Bucks out of rhythm.

The Bucks pick-and-roll defense at the end of game five and six were pretty lazy.  Several times did I see Milwaukee lazily give up the switch without fighting to stay attached.  The Raptors would run multiple ball screens forcing the Bucks big men and weak side defense to cover extra ground and put them in a vulnerable spot.  The Bucks communication would break down falling for hammer picks at crucial parts of the fourth quarter.  The Raptors would setup Pascal Siakam as the screener in many ball screens situations trying to get players like Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova to switch on Kawhi.  The Raptors ran variations of roll-and-replace and double ball screen actions quite often at the end of game five and six to move Milwaukee’s defenders into scramble mode. The Bucks had Giannis guard Marc Gasol and had Malcolm Brogdon/Khris Middleton guard Kawhi Leonard late in the game.  Middleton struggled trying to guard Kawhi and multiple times gave up middle. Brogdon actually did a commendable job trying to guard him even though Kawhi could easily shoot over the top.  Kawhi probably did the best job of his career trying to find shooters on his drive-and-kick chances during this series.  Having a player that can score proficiently at all three levels of the game makes a huge difference come playoff time.  The amount of attention that imposes on a defense changes the floor balance in favor of the offense.

It also helps when you get out of this world performances.  I can analyze this series as much as I want but maybe it was as simple as this: Fred VanVleet went 2-11 from three games one through three and 14-17 from three games four through six.  Maybe that’s all that needs to be said.  If Mirotic got hot from three and VanVleet stayed cold then maybe this is a five game series.  VanVleet wasn’t just a jump shooter though.  He was aggressive on his takes, playmaked in a pinch and took care of the ball.  Norman Powell really stepped up his game on both sides of the ball as well.  He played better than Danny Green for most of this series.  The bench for the Raptors straight up outplayed the Bucks bench games four through six.

The Bucks now go into this off-season with a lot of questions.  Nikola Mirotic, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon are all free agents.  Are they going to re-sign Middleton to the max even though we just saw him flounder in the east finals?  How much are the Bucks willing to spend on Brogdon?  Will Lopez continue to take a discount?  The Bucks need to get more versatile on defense while at the same time maintain quality spacing for Giannis and that could be an issue since their means of making upgrades could be limited.  Acquiring an extra shot maker would be nice and Giannis evolving his game outside of the paint is the next step in his championship quest. The Raptors now have the pleasure of playing the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.  The Warriors are the favorite even with Kevin Durant not playing.  But without Kevin Durant the Raptors clearly have a better shot at winning the title.  The Raptors counted on a supernatural performance by Fred VanVleet just to get them by the Bucks.  They’re going to need that and then some to beat the Warriors.  Getting OG Anunoby back healthy would be a plus for the Raptors.  Win or lose the Raptors have done such a good job at rounding out their roster with late first round picks, second round picks and undrafted free agents.  They made a risky move trading for Kawhi knowing damn well he might leave in a year.  This might be the only time in franchise history where they will have a shot at winning a title.  And heck who knows, maybe Kawhi doesn’t leave a well run organization playing in a weaker conference with a ravenous fan base and good coach.  Just a thought.

 

Quick Hit 2019 Playoff Notes

~ I don’t know why but I find it funny that two of the most impactful players this postseason are Rodney Hood and George Hill.  Both of whom made up the terrible supporting cast that Lebron had last NBA finals in Cleveland.  Hill was dealing with back spasms for a chunk of the playoffs last season but playing with Lebron brings a degree of pressure that I don’t know if Hood and Hill were prepared for.  Lebron is also his own offensive system and if you don’t fit within his construct then you may be dealing with a lot of DNP-coach’s decision.  This postseason has been different though.  With Enes Kanter dealing with a separated shoulder and Moe Harkless dealing with an ankle injury, Hood has stepped up for Portland.  With Malcolm Brogdon being out with a foot injury, George Hill has stepped up for Milwaukee.  Call it better health, opportunity, confidence, fit, role or whatever, but a couple buy-low trade chips are paying dividends for their respective teams.

 

~ Instead of picking Milwaukee outright over Boston, I decided to weasel out of a prediction and say whoever wins between Milwaukee versus Boston will win the east.  I was favoring the Bucks but I was worried they were going to remain steadfast in their core principles from the regular season.  I first had to see if they were willing to change their style of play during a series before I could confidently pick the Bucks.  In my last article I wrote about how Boston was a bad matchup for Milwaukee and it certainly showed game one.  The Bucks had to make the necessary adjustments if they wanted to turn around the series after a blow out game one loss. Mike Budenholzer has arguably been the best pickup this off-season and once again proved his worth by out coaching Brad Stevens with better coaching tactics.  After game one, the Bucks started Nikola Mirotic in place of Sterling Brown.  I’m a huge Sterling Brown fan but after game one it was clear that he isn’t a true shooting threat or a proficient enough driver which became a problem for the symmetry of the Bucks offense.  Mirotic gave the Bucks more size and shooting which helped open up better driving angles for Giannis.

It felt like the Bucks used Giannis in more screening situations especially late in game.  Whether that be Giannis the ball handler with a ball screen, Giannis setting the ball screen himself or Giannis setting off-ball cross screens, it felt like Milwaukee was forcing the Celtics to negotiate on as many screening scenarios that involve Giannis as possible.  On the other hand it felt like Boston didn’t utilize the Irving/Horford pick-and-pop as much like in game one.  A lot of that had to do with Milwaukee switching on the ball screen more often.

The Bucks switched on ball screens more often as compared to containing almost every ball screen in game one.  The Bucks don’t necessarily have the personnel to switch on defense but there’s still benefit to switching even with less than personnel: it affords time on recovery’s, helps contain point of attack moves and baits the offense into head hunting.  So instead of a smooth motion based offensive play for Boston you could get something like Kyrie dancing on Brook lopez.  The Bucks would then collapse on Kyrie’s drive in the paint and force a kick out, either resetting the offense or giving up a three.  Considering that Boston shot 30.7% from three this series, maybe giving them space on the perimeter isn’t that bad of an idea.  Boston also doesn’t really have a true post threat either so the worry for a big on small cross match in the paint is lessen.

The Bucks bench just dominated the Celtics bench.  I’ve already talked about George Hill but Pat Connaughton and Ersan Ilyasova were major contributors with Malcolm Brogdon giving them a boost last game.  Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier were terrible and getting Marcus Smart back wasn’t helping with offensive production off the bench for Boston.  No one on Boston could guard Giannis, too many times did Boston settle for jump shots and when they were down late in the game the offense felt too erratic with no purpose behind their actions.  Kind of like how it’s been all season.

I still think Boston was a bad matchup for Milwaukee but it just so happens that the Bucks have a great coach of their own to make the correct adjustments after game one.  Boston never rebounded.  And you know what else helps?  Having arguably the best player in the league, that’s what.  With Malcolm Brogdon coming back, the Bucks having home court advantage throughout the playoffs, Giannis playing at the top of his game and a coach who is showing he is more than capable of making in-series adjustments bodes well for title consideration.  I said before the playoffs started that who ever won the Boston-Milwaukee series will win the east and I’m obviously staying with that assertion.  The reason why I didn’t pick Milwaukee out right to beat Boston was because of matchup but with the Bucks displaying that they aren’t afraid to switch up their style gives me the confidence in saying the Bucks are the favorite to win the NBA title. (Assuming Kevin Durant misses the Finals)  

 

~  The Rockets better beat Golden State now that Kevin Durant is out for the rest of the series.  If they don’t, that would be a colossal failure and a wasted opportunity.  The Rockets moaned and wined about how they would’ve beat Golden State if it wasn’t for Chris Paul missing the last two games.  There’s no excuses now.

 

~ The other two series are entering game sevens.  My prediction before the second round started was Toronto over Philadelphia and Portland over Denver.  I’ll stick with my picks even though my confidence level is waning after watching the games play out.  I thought Toronto was going to beat the Sixers without much stress but clearly I overestimated Kyle Lowry and the Raptors supporting cast.  I still think whoever wins will lose to Milwaukee anyway. Portland winning at Denver for game seven is the tougher proposition.  Nikola Jokic has been one of the consistently great players throughout the postseason and Jamal Murray is asserting himself as the primary perimeter scoring threat.  The Blazers on the other hand are dealing with injuries to key players and expecting Rodney Hood to stay hot is a difficult trust exercise.  Both teams would have home court advantage versus Houston in the west finals even though the Rockets should be favored in both matchups.  

  

Sign Of Things To Come?

In my latest podcast I talked about how the Celtics were a bad matchup for the Bucks.  I also weaseled out of making a prediction since I was torn between both teams.  All season I thought the Bucks were the team that had the best on-court fit in the eastern conference.  A 5-out motion offense built around Giannis with shooting at every position.  Brook Lopez became instrumental with his floor spacing ability and paint protection on defense.  Even with having arguably the best player going in the league, the best record in the league, a top five offensive and defensive efficiency and a great coach, I wasn’t confident picking them over the Celtics.  A Celtics team a lot of people wrote off before the playoffs started, and with some justification of course.  They haven’t been on the same page all season, injuries have taken a toll and players haven’t progressed like they should’ve.  I still like the Celtics because of how they are designed; a pick-and-roll mismatch problem at center, a slashing scoring three point shooting point guard with big switchable wings.  That type of team design is built well for the postseason.

The regular season isn’t the playoffs.  It isn’t about doing one thing great, it’s about versatility.  Yes, the Bucks are a great defensive team but they were built primarily around a contain first pick-and-roll coverage.  In the playoffs you need to be diverse enough to cover pick-and-roll’s every which way.  Brook Lopez is great at one type of pick-and-roll coverage but can he hedge?  Switch?  And cover space in a timely matter?  That was my issue going into this series.  That was why I couldn’t in good faith pick the Bucks over the Celtics.  Game one confirmed my suspicion and if the Bucks don’t make the necessary adjustments they will lose this series.

To start off the game the Celtics had Horford defend Giannis.  They did the same thing to Ben Simmons last postseason.  Although, the difference is the Celtics are playing tighter gap protection on Giannis’ drives.

In the first play you have Jayson Tatum leaving his man along the perimeter to shadow Giannis with the help of Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris hugging the lane line to shrink space.  The next play you have Giannis in transition with Horford guarding him, Irving shadowing him, Morris in the middle of the paint and Tatum taking a dig at him from the corner.  The Celtics were keying in on Giannis.

The Celtics would also put Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris on Giannis when Horford was on the bench.  Horford actually did a good job cutting off driving angles and giving help defense time to crash down.  Boston was ok taking an extra step in on Giannis while giving extra space to the Bucks shooters.  Whether that’s because Malcolm Brogdon is hurt and they are giving his replacement Sterling Brown license to drive.

Or they don’t trust players like Pat Connaughton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic and Ersan Ilyasova to torch them from three and attack closeouts. 

The Celtics were switching on most ball screens and then would revert back to safer matchups on the weak side.  The Bucks did headhunt on occasion looking for better cross matchups like Terry Rozier defending Giannis but rarely did they go to that.  That should be something the Bucks try to exploit more in game two.  Overall game one the Bucks stuck with what they knew best.  They’re going to have to trust their shooters moving forward even if they miss open shots.  Those shooters are paramount for Milwaukee’s floor balance.  I would like to see DJ Wilson get more playing time.  I think his length and athleticism at the forward/center position can help in terms of positional versatility.  Until they get Brogdon back, they will be lacking another creator on offense and players like Pat Connaughton will have to play major minutes even though they’re struggling just to defend Boston’s point of attack offense.  Brook Lopez will have to make open threes while Bledsoe will have to be better off the bounce if they want this to be a competitive series.

Rudy Gobert and Brook Lopez are great drop coverage defenders.  During the regular season you can rely on that to win defensive player of the year and be apart of a top five defense.  Come playoff time it’s about versatility and how well you can cover space.

The Bucks were containing most everything on ball screens and hardly stunted at the shooter left open.  If Horford can make that above the break three consistently the Bucks will have to make adjustments asap.  Lopez, Mirotic and Ilyasova can’t cover ground as fast as they need to versus the Celtics ball screen motion offense.

The Celtics were bending the Bucks defense all game and making them scramble on exploitable matchups.

That’s part of the reason why I think DJ Wilson should play more game two.  He has the lateral movement to stay on switches and good change of direction ability to cover space in a timely matter.  It doesn’t help when, at times, the Bucks were struggling to contain dribble penetration, were slow to matchup and had poor communication.

This was my overall fear coming into this series and it played out terribly for the Bucks.

The Bucks are obviously not out of it yet.  They have to do a better job headhunting on offense, making open threes, stunting at the pick-and-pop shooter and covering space on defense.  Hopefully it’s not a little too late when Malcolm Brogdon comes back, he could be the difference maker the Bucks need to help with continuity.  Until then however Eric Bledsoe will have to step up his role on offense.  I said whoever wins this series will win the eastern conference and I stand by that claim.  Unless the Bucks make the correct adjustments, the Celtics could be that team.

2019 NBA Playoffs Second Round Thoughts

It’s been a long time since I did a podcast.  I stumble over myself, mispronounce words, go off on tangents and the mic is terrible.  Just another OldMan podcast:

1:10 – Why is Andrew Bogut playing?  Will the Warriors lose to Houston?

7:25 – Tip of the cap to Daryl Morey.  Is Houston better than they were last season?

11:30 – Is Steve Kerr an idiot?

13:30 – East Preview

15:40 – Milwaukee vs Boston

Post-Tournament Top 20 Prospect Rankings

*UPDATED 5/31/19* With the NBA combine and early-entry withdrawal deadline in the books I wanted to make the necessary adjustments to my ranking.  Nothing major.  Slight modifications were made to match with the final early-entry list and combine information.  I also left players like Bol Bol and Jontay Porter off my ranking due to injury concerns.

After watching the tournament I had to post an updated version of my rankings before I start posting scouting reports.  It wouldn’t have made sense if I posted a negative scouting report about a player I have ranked highly.  By updating my prospect rankings they will now be in line with my player breakdowns that are soon to be posted.  I’m trying to get at a threshold of games scouted before I start posting extensive breakdowns.  The more game notes I take the better.  With the NBA playoffs underway I’m going to post the player breakdowns sporadically but will still try to get as many out asap (Note: I haven’t watched much film on International Prospects so none are ranked):      

 

Tier #1

 

  1. Zion Williamson, FR, Duke, PF/C, 6’7, 18.7 years

~ Duh.  

 

Tier #2

 

  1. Kevin Porter jr, FR, USC, SG, 6’6, 18.9 years

~ Porter jr moves back up one spot.  If you just look at his box score stats you won’t get it.  If you look at his on and off court concerns you will think he’s too much of a risk.  He was also oft-injured for most of his freshman season.  Regardless of his baggage, I just really like how he maneuvers on a rope in traffic with his dribbling ability.  He can be knocked off his spots at times by stronger players but his live-dribble skills in tight spaces is arguably the best in this class. He’s also a tough shot maker with creation skills on defense.  He did rely on his stepback quite often even though it did create quick separation in an instant.  His poor free throw percentage and finishing ability are concerns.  But I do think the role he was playing at USC shouldn’t be his role in the NBA.  A spread pick-and-roll offense or drive-and-kick offense where he can be a primary creator and scorer would help his game flourish at the next level.  Porter isn’t going to be a player that can fit every system and won’t be able to mold his game from scheme to scheme.  Porter will be a perfect case study in situation dictates success.  In the right environment, support system and offensive scheme Porter jr can be a perennial all-star.

 

3. Ja Morant, SO, Murray State, PG, 6’3, 19.6 years

~ I moved Morant up four spots from my last ranking.  One of the big reasons why I moved him up so high and over RJ Barrett is due to long term faith in developing an outside shot.  His free throw percentage for his two seasons at Murray State was 81% which is a solid indicator of future shooting success.  His shooting mechanics can be a problem at the next level however due to his one-motion shooting technique.  One-motion shooting can quicken your jump shot but can lower your release point at same time.  He’ll need to add more core strength if he wants a more reliable long range shot at the next level.  On catch-and-shoot opportunities Morant shot 46.2% unguarded but only 26.3% guarded.  Morant will probably never be an elite shooter.  But as long as he can be an above average shooter with some shooting diversity added to his playmaking and scoring ability, his offensive game should translate.  Defensively on the other hand is a concern.  It was comical how bad Morant was defensively at times.  Blatantly letting ball handlers go by him just to attempt a back tap at the ball.  He got a lot of turnovers in the process but his defensive stance isn’t anywhere near what it needs to be at the next level.  Considering that three point shooting and defense are my two biggest concerns, it’s interesting to see him ranked third.  For one that tells me how weak this class is but secondly it should show what I think of his offensive creation skills.

 

4. Jarrett Culver, SO, Texas Tech, SG/SF, 6’7, 20.1 years

~ After an uneven performance during the tournament I have Culver ranked at four.  His first step is alright, he doesn’t have a consistent live-dribble anchor and his jump shot is still a work in progress.  His shooting mechanics are definitely something that needs improvement since it looks like he releases the shot starting on the way down.  All the tournament did is make Culver’s flaws glaring and emphasize his strengths.  Yes, Culver has trouble creating separation off the bounce.  Yes, his dribble drive stance can too hunched over at times.  And yes, his jump shot needs a better follow thru.  But where the high rank comes from is my projection.  If Culver measures out around 6’7 added with his good-to-great athleticism to go along with his creation skills off pick-and-roll, solid touch around the rim, versatile leaping ability and high level defensive play then projecting that his flaws can progress at the next level align with a tier two ranking.

 

5. De’Andre Hunter, (RS) SO, Virgina, SF/PF, 6’8, 21.3 years

~ Hunter moves down just one spot.  He ended up having a great championship game that overlooked what otherwise was a sub-par tournament performance.  Hunter is a plug and play 3-and-D wing. He just doesn’t offer that much live-dribble skills or creationism. He’s a better on-ball defender than team defender being out of position on certain actions and lingering off-ball too long.  But elite 3-and-D wings are still needed to construct title contenders.  He also possesses a high ceiling due to scarcity of position; 3-and-D swing forwards are in demand.  Hunter can also be cost efficient on his second contract due to lack of scoring prowess but will have a plus impact on-court.  Players like Hunter will be ranked highly in real plus/minus but be paid no where near what the other players on top of the real plus/minus leader board are.  Virginia in last year’s tournament lost in the first round without Hunter and this year Virginia wins the tournament with pretty much the same squad except this time Hunter plays.  I don’t know if Hunter will ever be an all-star but he sure can help a team win.

 

6. Grant Williams, JR, Tennessee, PF, 6’7, 20.4 years

~ Williams moves up four spots from my last rankings.  Grant Williams might not be an explosive athlete but he sure is a functional one.  He takes sharp angles on defense recoveries, he plays with a good low center of gravity, his defensive rotations are on a string and he uses his strong butt to carve out space.  His year after year improvement from the free throw line is encouraging for three point shooting success.  His shooting form is also pretty compact and repeatable too but I got the sense from Rick Barnes, Tennessee head coach, that he didn’t want Williams shooting threes and rather position himself in the post.  I think at the next level Williams will have more freedom shooting threes and the added confidence will go a long way.  He doesn’t really have live-ball skills; very limited off the bounce.  Most of his career he was a 17 ft and in type player.  He’s not breaking down a player off dribble any time soon but can make smart decisions when attacking a closeout or doubled in the post.  It’s really going to depend on how a team uses Williams skill set that determines his career path but I think he can produce, play good defense and have a positive impact on winning.

 

7. Darius Garland, FR, Vanderbilt, PG/SG, 6’2, 19.1 years

~ Garland moves down two spots from my last ranking.  I just wish he played a full season or even half season.  How different can Garland be when compared to other undersized scoring guards like Lou Williams and Eric Gordon?  Is that all he is or can he be a steady enough play maker to take his game to the next level?  His scoring ability and shooting portfolio give him a solid floor either way.  His injury history, size and defensive limitations are still concerns but dating back to his high school days he’s shown prowess as a shooter and scorer.  Also with how good the Clippers have been this season and how cost efficient Lou Williams is, maybe the role of a bench scorer with some play making ability and elite shooting should start to be looked at with greater reverence.

 

8. RJ Barrett, FR, Duke, SG, 6’6, 18.8 years

~ I moved Barrett down two spots from my last ranking.  If I’m wrong, I’m wrong but I think Barrett is one of the more over hyped prospects in this class.  Barrett’s overall long distance shooting, touch around the rim and free throw percentage are major red flags.  It’s the biggest reason why I’m lower on him then most other people. He also looked like just an average team defender with decent on-ball defensive skills.  He can always improve defensively since he has solid physical tools but too many times did I see him struggle to match up defensively during a scramble or poorly position himself defending at the point of attack.  But just like with Morant, Barrett’s live-ball creation skills, the ability to get to the line and pick-and-roll game make Barrett still very valuable at the next level.  The skills he needs to improve upon are all modern day necessities which makes me skeptic of Barrett even though I have him ranked eighth.

 

Tier #3

 

9. Tyler Herro, FR, Kentucky, SG, 6’5, 19.2 years

~ Herro stays ranked at number nine.  For a lot of young prospects they tend to regress as soon as conference play comes around.  Not Herro.  He improved as an on and off ball defender, was better at movement shooting and did more out of the pick-and-roll.  Herro needs to bulk up and get stronger if he wants to start finishing around the rim with efficiency.  I personally think he has the frame to fill out nicely overtime as he matures.  In the meantime, instead of attacking the rim off a closeout, Herro tends to pull up and use his excellent floater game.  Herro has fantastic touch but since he lacks explosion can be a little passive around the rim at times.  Herro is someone that I think can have a good showing at the 5-on-5 scrimmage portion of the NBA combine and rise up big boards as a result.  A lot of draft sites have him all over the board but it’s beginning to feel like more and more people are starting to buy into Herro.

 

10. Brandon Clarke, (RS) JR, Gonzaga, PF/C, 6’8, 22.5 years

~ Clarke moves up five spots from my last ranking.  If Clarke showed just a little promise shooting the ball I would have him ranked in my top five.  But guess what?  He didn’t.  Clarke in his three collegiate years shot 25% from three on .2 attempts per game and 61.8% from the free throw line on 4 attempts per game.  Yes, Clarke does possess good touch around the rim and some movement shooting 17 feet and in.  That could be an indicator for future shooting success.  Unfortunately Clarke is about to turn 23 years old.  I just would’ve liked to see more of an improvement with his feet set from the free throw line to the perimeter at this late of an age.  With that said I do think him as a rim-running, 17 feet and in type offensive player can produce at the next level.  Clarke off the dribble is really interesting because he can catch it at the perimeter, take two dribbles, spin right in the paint and leap off two feet for a power finish at the rim.  He has some live-dribble moves but I’m not holding my breath until he develops combo dribble drive moves.  On defense he possesses some switch ability, great vertical leaper at the rim and havoc creating plays on defense creating 6.1 stocks per 40 minutes.  His outside shot and off the bounce game will determine what ceiling Clarke has at the next level.  Either way he has a high floor regardless.

 

11. Romeo Langford, FR, Indiana, SF/PF, 6’6, 19.4 years

~ Langford’s pick-and-roll play is one of the biggest reasons why he’s still rank this highly.  I think Langford has a chance to be a strong wing scorer with a play making feel; those players don’t grow on trees.  Also if I had to bet on any prospect that shot less than 30% from three his freshman season and improve at the next level I would bet on Langford.  Langford shot 27% from three for the season but apparently he had a torn ligament in his shooting hand. When you combine that to his 72% free throw percentage, steady touch around the rim, inconsistent but manageable shooting mechanics, I would say Langford has a good chance being at least league average from three at the next level.  His defense was uninspiring.  He just looked average at all facets of defense: creation, on-ball, team.  It just looked like he was detached and wanted the season to be over.  I mean he didn’t even play in the NIT tournament. But when locked in defensively, he did show glimpses of good low man position ability and point of attack defense.  Langford could be one of those wings that if they don’t develop a three point shot will be a bench warmer but I think he possess enough other skills that his floor is higher than other swing forwards in this draft class.

 

12. Coby White, FR, North Carolina, PG, 19.1 years

~ Coby White was someone I was just considering last ranking and now he’s ranked twelfth.  I just wasn’t convinced about his scoring ability.  His long distance shot reminded me of Ja Morant; quick, low release and one motion mechanics.  He shot a bunch of step back jumpers and off the dribble pull up jays.  On 116 shots off the dribble White sported a .629 points per possession which ranked 27th percentile.  However throughout the season it did seem like he was putting more air underneath the ball and gave the shot more lift to shoot 38.5% from three during conference play as compared to 35.2% for the season.  Some of the biggest reasons why he’s now ranked has to do with his size, first step and defensive upside.  At 6’5, as long as he adds strength, he can be a solid combo guard with some small forward potential in small-ball lineups.  His first step isn’t elite but it’s pretty darn quick.  His overall herky-jerky dribbling style with combo dribble drive moves give him the ability to breakdown defenders off the bounce.  And for a point guard White was actually a good defensive player.  His on-ball could use some improvement but his effort level was still much better than Ja Morant.  White would whip his leg over screens to get a good angle and stay attached to ball handlers, collapse on drives and climb back to his own on kick outs.  Also, his off-ball movement on offense was pretty fair at times using cross, up or pin screens with decent relocation prowess.  As long as White continues his three point shooting ascension, he should carve out a nice role in the NBA.

 

13. Ty Jerome, JR, Virginia, PG/SG, 6’5, 21.8 years

~ Not only does Ty Jerome make my big board after being a player that “just missed the cut” last ranking but I have him ranked in the third tier.  His frame, athleticism and defensive upside are obviously big concerns.  It doesn’t look like Jerome has a wide frame to hold much muscle mass and it seems pretty slender.  His length will probably be average and I wonder if he takes part in the athleticism testing at the combine.  He might not have the defensive upside of most players on this list but his ability to give multiple efforts per play, have active feet on-ball and possess a high IQ to rarely be out of position make up for his deficiency in other areas.  Although when he does wall off a driver from the weak side, even though he wins the position and stays vertical, his average length can be easy to finish over at times.  He’s listed at 6’5 which will be a positive if true but his wingspan and hand size will be important factors moving forward. The main reason why he moved up so high on my list was offensive potential as a combo guard.  Jerome has a solid handle with sudden stop-and-go movements, a decent step back jumper and fantastic passing chops especially off pick-and-roll.  Jerome and Tyler Herro are similar prospects.  Both aren’t great at isolation scoring, getting to the hoop and exploding above the rim.  However, they are very patient with ball screens, waiting for the play to develop and identifying the open man before he pops free.  They possess some movement shooting off screens, can spot-up, off-the-dribble pull-up and are ideal shooters with touch on their floaters.  Jerome also isn’t afraid to leave his position to choke an action on off-ball defense causing turnovers.  Do both players have limited upside due to lack of physical profile?  Sure, but they have enough size to go along with skills that are becoming ever so important for today’s NBA.    

 

Tier #4

 

14. Nassir Little, FR, North Carolina, SF/PF, 6’6, 19.1 years

~  Little is frustrating.  He drops three spots from my last ranking.  I don’t even know why I have him ranked so high.  He feels like a Harrison Barnes type prospect.  A player that is primarily a scorer and nothing more on offense with some defensive potential.  Even though Little as a team defender was sub-par, I do like his defensive creation upside.  His positioning can be wonky defending dribble penetration but as long as he makes some tweaks to his footwork then his on-ball defense can translate to the next level too.  He’s an explosive rebounder and his 77% free throw percentage is a solid indicator for future three point shooting success.  He’s not going to be a pick-and-roll savant or playmaker off the bounce but he does possess a solid first step and some tough shot making ability.  Little is clearly more projection than reality but in a year where most prospects are flawed Little can be a lottery pick.  I also might have him ranked lower for my final prospect rankings, so there’s that too.

 

15. Keldon Johnson, FR, Kentucky, SG, 6’6, 19.5 years

~ Johnson moves down two spots from my last ranking.  I actually think Johnson should return to school for one more season to improve his draft stock because I don’t think it’s as high as it could be.  He isn’t great at offensive creation but does pretty much everything else average (or slightly above average) on offense. That’s not a bad thing per se but Johnson doesn’t possess one truly great skill.  He does possess nice foot work off screens, decent shiftiness in the lane and the ability to get to the rim.  His shot is also hard to trust since he wasn’t much of a long distance shooter in high school and he regressed shooting during conference play.  He also tends to leap off two feet most of the time which worries me at the next level.  Being able to leap off either foot around the rim helps throw off timing for shot blockers.  On around the basket buckets (no post-ups) Johnson sported a 1.106 points per possession which ranked 48th percentile.  Johnson may have solid speed and quickness but lacks above the rim explosion.  Defensively Johnson has the tools to become a solid wing defender but his team defense was a work in progress throughout the season having issues setting up in low man position.  He was also out done by Tyler Herro, his teammate, in terms of defensive creation.  This is now the second time Johnson moves down on my big board.  There’s still more games to be watched but I doubt he moves back up.

 

16. Cam Reddish, FR, Duke, SF/PF, 6’9, 19.5 years

~ Reddish falls two spots from my last ranking.  Take away the school on his jersey, his height and lofty high school recruitment ranking and I doubt anyone thinks Reddish is a first round pick.  But since he is 6’8 with a 7’2 wingspan and has good athleticism, Reddish is talked about like a top five pick.  I just don’t know many players who went on to succeed at the next level shooting 39.4% on two pointers.  How does a player who is known for his shooting have such mediocre touch around the rim?  He mostly drives in a straight line, doesn’t have much wiggle in the lane and alters his long distance shot when closely contested.  Reddish did shoot 7.4 three point attempts per game which is great volume. The ability to get your shot off when guarded on the perimeter and shooting 77% from the free throw line can be seen as indicators of shooting success at the next level.  He does possess nice defensive creation skills due to his length but his positioning, stance and communication are still meager abilities that need to be improved upon.  If I’m wrong about Cam Reddish then so be it but I think developing his game will be a major undertaking.  

 

17. Chuma Okeke, SO, Auburn, PF/C, 6’8, 20.6 years

~ Last year I wrote a series of articles under the title “prospect watch” and wrote about certain prospects that have the potential to be lottery picks some day.  Chuma Okeke was one of the players I wrote an article about.  The article is a little dated even after just a year.  For starters the way I grade prospects has evolved and secondly there’s more film to go off of.  I stated in the article that Okeke can be a Kyle Kuzma type player, which I still kind of agree with that statement.  But I actually think Okeke can be more of a cross between Kuzma and Boris Diaw.  A heady big that can play either front court spots, that isn’t overly athletic.  He uses his skills to affect the geometry of the court on offense with his pick-and-pop play and passing ability while possessing some switch ability and defensive creation.  Getting stronger, developing core strength and better conditioning will help Okeke explode on shots around the rim and not rely on head fakes.  His ACL injury is such a shame.  If he doesn’t get hurt a good argument can be made that Auburn wins the title.  At this point however why would he return to Auburn?  He might not even play until the end of the season and at that point his draft stock probably will decline.  But since his draft stock has value now he can rehab with a pro training staff and recover for his second season as a pro.  If I were a team that’s rebuilding, drafting Okeke makes a ton of sense.

 

18. Jaxson Hayes, FR, Texas, C, 6’11, 18.9 years

~ Hayes stays ranked at number eighteen.  I don’t want to repeat myself for the third time but my biggest concern is his offensive repertoire.  Can he do much outside of 5 feet from the basket at the next level offensively?  If you put Hayes in the Clint Capela role then obviously Hayes will flourish, but hoping that Hayes plays with one of the best pick-and-roll players in the NBA is wishful thinking.  His 74% free throw percentage is a nice indicator of shooting potential at the next level but Hayes never shot the ball outside the paint.  At least last season Mo Bamba was attempting to show scouts he could step out and stretch the court. There’s nothing wrong with being a Capela, Rudy Gobert type player but I just think the positive impact a play making or shooting center has on a team is the wave of the future for NBA centers.  

 

19. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SO, Virginia Tech, SG, 6’5, 20.5 years

~ One of my biggest fallers, Alexander-Walker falls eleven spots from my last ranking.  There’s still a chance I move him back up due to his three point shooting, playmaking ability out of pick-and-roll and defensive creation ability.  But this was now the second straight year where his production and on-court impact fell off during conference play and beyond.  He has trouble playing out of isolation and too often does he pick up his dribble early forcing himself into unnecessarily uncomfortable situations.  His skill set is similar to players like Herro/Jerome but one of the biggest differences between players like Herro/Jerome and Alexander-Walker are movement shooting.  Alexander-Walker has shot off baseline stagger screens before but he really is a spot-up, set feet type shooter.  I think as long as he adds more versatility to his shooting portfolio at the next level then he should earn a role with a NBA team.

 

20. Darius Bazley, Princeton HS (OH), PF, 6’9, 18.9 years

~ Easily the highest climber on my ranking is Darius Bazley.   Bazley sat out the entire year and didn’t play any basketball last season.  He was a top-15 ranked prospect by most recruiting websites but went the route of not signing with a college or playing in the g-league and instead improving through personal workouts.  Obviously I didn’t know much about him outside of some high school games and the amateur all-star circuit.  He has good versatile size at 6’9 with a 7′ wingspan and solid athletic ability sporting the sixth best shuttle run at the combine with 2.95 seconds.  But watching him play the five on five scrimmages at the NBA combine was going to be super important.  Since Bazley is one of the youngest prospects in the draft and sat out the year, watching him go up against older players who are coming off of playing college ball was going to be telling.

The five on five scrimmage portion of the NBA combine didn’t have as many first round fringe prospects like in years past.  Instead this year were mostly projected mid-to-late second round prospects invited to participate.  I was still impressed by some players like Nicolas Claxton, Zach Norvell jr, DaQuan Jeffries, Charles Matthews, Isaiah Roby and Jordan Bone but overall the talent level of the players were lacking and the style of the game felt more novice than pro.  But a clear standout was Bazley.  His ball handling ability at that size was the first thing to pop off the screen.  He had a fine first step for someone that big, showed decent foot work on finishes, nice touch around the rim and a shot that seems workable at the next level.  It looked like he made up ground in a hurry defensively and had solid on-ball defensive moments.  And again this is coming off sitting out a year to playing live action ball against older players.  That’s why even though the talent level of the scrimmages wasn’t as pristine as in years past, to be a standout nonetheless was impressive for Bazley.  He’s still very raw and the lack of tape is totally an issue in grading a prospect properly but with his physical profile, combine footage and the lack of great depth in this class pushes Bazley into my top 20 for now.

 

Players That Just Missed The Cut

  1. Talen Horton-Tucker, SG/SF, Iowa State, FR
  2. Matisse Thybulle, SG, Washington, SR
  3. Shamorie Ponds, PG, St. Johns, JR
  4. Kyle Guy, SG, Virginia, JR
  5. PJ Washington, C, Kentucky, SO
  6. Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland, SO
  7. Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga, JR
  8. Nicolas Claxton, PF/C, Georgia, SO
  9. Josh Reaves, SG, Penn State, SR
  10. Isaiah Roby, PF/C, Nebraska, JR
  11. DaQuan Jeffries, SF/PF, Tulsa, SR
  12. Terence Davis, SG, Ole Miss, SR
  13. Carsen Edwards, PG, Purdue, JR
  14. Quinndary Weatherspoon, SG, Mississippi State, SR
  15. Dylan Windler, SF, Belmont, SR
  16. Zylan Cheatham, PF, Arizona State, SR
  17. Cody Martin, SF, Nevada, SR
  18. Jordan Poole, SG, Michigan, SO
  19. Cameron Johnson, SG/SF, North Carolina, SR
  20. Zach Norvell jr, SG, Gonzaga, SO