Tag Archives: Al Horford

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.

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.

Some Quick Hit Thoughts On The 2019 Playoffs

Lately I’ve been working on my post-tournament prospect rankings which will be out very soon.  After I post my big board I’ll start posting scouting reports.  Since the NBA playoffs just began (Nets beat at Sixers, Magic beat at Raptors, GSW win vs Clippers, Spurs beat at Nuggets) I’ll post my scouting reports periodically.  Interspersed with my scouting reports I’ll go over certain NBA matchups.  But for me I don’t want to over analyze the NBA playoffs like some have.  In the west Golden State is the clear favorite with home court advantage.  The only team I could see give them trouble will be Houston.  Houston has done a tremendous job of course correcting their season with mid-season acquisitions of Danuel House, Kenneth Faried, Austin Rivers and Iman Shumpert.  An argument can be made that Houston is a deeper team now then they were last season.  Last years version of Trevor Ariza was better than any player they’ve just acquired but the depth in comparison is better this year.  The series versus Golden State last season was a 7-8 man rotation for the Rockets with Gerald Green getting major minutes.  Now the Rockets can go 8-10 men deep with a better bench unit and possibly keep players fresher.

The next question becomes will the Golden State vs Houston series come to fruition?  The major roadblock is of course Utah.  Last postseason divisional round Houston beat Utah in five games.  Houston really is a bad matchup for Rudy Gobert; make him play in space, on the perimeter and guard multiple ball screens per possession.  The only thing that I could see derailing the Rockets would be Donovan Mitchell going off like he has over this past month.  Over his last 15 games Mitchell is averaging 24.6 points, 4.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 46.6% from the field but most importantly 47.1% from three on 6.1 attempts per game.  If Mitchell can continue his three point shooting barrage then that could affect the way Houston guards him on pick-and-roll.  Maybe instead of switching they blitz him and as a result can bend the defense in favor of the Jazz.  I could see the Jazz pulling off the upset if Gobert has a bigger presence in the paint offensively and Mitchell’s gravity changes the way Houston guards pick-and-rolls.  I wouldn’t count on it though.

As far as the other series go in the west, I really could care less.  Denver’s only chance at making noise in the playoffs was based off getting home court advantage throughout the playoffs.  Now instead of playing the Clippers in the first round they get San Antonio which has been playing much better defense compared with their sluggish start to the season.  The Spurs just beat the Nuggets game one.  The Nuggets obviously aren’t out of it yet but the Spurs might have the upper hand due to the difference in experience and the lack of go-to scorers the Nuggets have.  In the end does it really matter who wins this series?  And it feels like everyone is picking Oklahoma City to beat Portland.  The Thunder did beat the Trailblazers 4-0 during the season and without Jusuf Nurkic the series seems insurmountable for Portland to overcome.  So naturally I’m picking Portland.  They have home court advantage, Paul George is still dealing with shoulder issues and I trust Damian Lillard the most in this series.  But again, neither team pose a serious threat to Golden State.  Although, one of these four teams have to make the western conference finals.  I’ll pick Portland for the sake that they’re underdogs against Oklahoma City and a nice redemption story after losing last postseason to the Pelicans.  

In the East my pre-season pick was Boston then as the season went on I started to favor the Bucks.  Out of all the eastern conference teams, Boston is best designed for the playoffs while Milwaukee has the best fit.  Boston has a slashing, three point shooting scorer of a point guard, with a mismatch problem at center and a bunch of switchable big wings.  Remind you of any team out west?  That’s why I think they are best designed.  Al Horford was and still is a mismatch problem for Joel Embiid and he will force Brook Lopez to exit the paint on defense.  Kyrie is the do-it all offensive point guard and they have a slew of big wings that can switch, shoot threes and attack closeouts.  Yes, Boston hasn’t been quite the team we expected them to be before the season began.  Even though they might be well designed they haven’t been able to get on the same page all season. That is obviously my biggest reservation but then I remembered how everyone counted them out before last postseason began since Kyrie was hurt.  They were one game away from making the finals.  I kind of think when pushed against the wall this team finds ways to win.  For Milwaukee it’s more simple.  They’ve been the best team in the league all season due to fit.  Giannis as the fulcrum of a 5-out motion offense that has shooting at every position.  They have the pieces that fit the best out of all the possible eastern conference teams and they have home court advantage which helps too.  I honestly can’t make my mind up.  Boston or Milwaukee?  The easy answer is Milwaukee since they have the best player in the conference and home court advantage.  But I still like Horford being a mismatch problem to defend on pick-and-rolls.  The injury bug is a problem for both teams as Marcus Smart is out for Boston and Malcolm Brogdon is out for Milwaukee.

The reason why I’m not talking Toronto and Philadelphia isn’t because they both lost their first series game.  Overall I just think Kawhi has one foot out the door, OG Anunoby is hurt and Kyle Lowry’s playoff failures are still a thing.  For the Sixers, Embiid is dealing with another knee issue, their bench stinks and the lack of shooting is a major flaw.  I know that’s over simplifying both teams and if I’m wrong then I’m wrong but I think Boston and Milwaukee are best suited to win the east and give Golden State problems.  

This postseason could be very interesting for this reason: I really think the two best teams in each conference will play each other in the divisional round and not the conference finals.  Boston vs Milwaukee and Golden State vs Houston will both happen in the divisional round but both series could determine the actual winner of the conference.  Or at least, that’s what I think.

On Further Review: Boston Celtics vs Philadelphia 76ers

On an incredible stretch run of basketball winning 20 of 21 games how did the Philadelphia 76ers lose in five to the undermanned Celtics?  Even with Boston having home court advantage the Sixers seemed to be the favorites due to Bostons injury woes and momentum.  The Sixers were trending towards a matchup with Lebron in the Eastern Conference finals.  Philadelphia had two budding superstars and with the mid-season acquisitions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova a deeper team.  So what went wrong? How did everything come crashing down on the hottest team in the league in a matter of five games?  Was the winning streak a mirage? Was the matchup problem with the Celtics that egregious?  Now with Lebron in the Western Conference there’s a chance this potential rematch can determine the outcome of the Eastern Conference.  If these teams meet again during this years postseason both rosters will look different.  I want to examine what struggles the Sixers went through and explore what triumphs did Boston achieve last Eastern Conference semifinals.  I also want to analyze the effects of the new rosters and what impact they will have if a postseason rematch happens.

The Sixers were up four points with a minute left to go in overtime during game three and up four points with a minute and thirty-seven seconds left to go during game five.  Now those leads aren’t insurmountable and one possession games can be fickle with terribly blown calls, a convenient bounce of the ball, head scratching turnovers and weirdly called fouls.  But there’s no question the Sixers should’ve closed those games.  They are the type of games you have to win.  I’m about to probe this series and go over what Philadelphia did wrong but a couple minutes is the difference from changing the narrative completely.  I’m not even going to include game two where the Sixers were up five points with five minutes and forty-eight seconds left to go in the game.  At least that scenario is less deplorable for the Sixers.

The end of game three and game five bring me to arguably the most important factor of Philadelphia’s descent: finishing games and situational basketball.  Before I go more in depth here’s a video I made breaking down some of the 76ers end of game mishaps:

This was on the coaches for not making the correct play call adjustments and the players for not being poised enough to make the correct reads.  Game three was tied and with five seconds left to go JJ Reddick throws a bad pass for a turnover transitioning Boston into an easy fast break bucket.  Apparently the play the Sixers were running called for Simmons to get the pass from Reddick off an Embiid screen.  The problem was Simmons never turned his head around but Reddick threw it anyways.  Some might chalk that up to a miscommunication but Reddick has to identify the action more properly and hold onto the ball and adapt accordingly.  Bottom line is if Simmons isn’t looking don’t pass the ball even if the play calls for it.  Reddick should’ve known better.

Luckily Marco Belinelli made a last second buzzer beater to send the game into overtime.  Ben Simmons gets an offensive rebound with seventeen seconds left in overtime and the Sixers were up one.  You might be thinking to yourself that Simmons pulled the ball back out, got fouled and made the game a three point difference.  Makes sense, right?  If that’s what you’re thinking than you’d be wrong since Simmons immediately shot the ball, Boston got the rebound and called a timeout.  The Celtics ended up running a simple but clever play knowing that the Sixers were switching most everything off-ball.  During the play Embiid gets switched out onto Jaylen Brown off a Horford pindown and Tatum cross screen, clearing out the paint and lobbing an overhead entry pass to Horford for the easy two.  The Celtics were dictating the terms of the game.  But don’t worry though.  The Sixers still have five seconds left to give themselves a solid chance at winning.  Surely they can get a good shot off?  Well, not quite.  Simmons doesn’t throw a clean inbound pass to Embiid and Horford picks the ball off for the win.  Oh good grief.

Most of game three errors can be attributed to unforced turnovers and not knowing what the situation called for.  Game five on the other hand had a lot to do with basic fundamental missteps.  With a minute twenty-seven left to go in the game five Dario Saric and Ben Simmons miscommunicated on a pick-and-roll coverage leaving Horford open for a lob pass.  Next Boston possession Simmons gets beat at the point of attack by Jayson Tatum.  Tatum missed the layup attempt but both Saric and Simmons remained flat footed while Marcus Smart explodes for the easy put back.  Next Sixers possession Saric commits an unforced turnover then the next Celtics possession Simmons gets beat backdoor for a Tatum layup.  That was the go-ahead bucket and the Celtics never looked back.  Simmons was terrible at defense with two minutes left to go in the game: not boxing out, floating off-ball, not staying balanced containing dribble penetration, biting on fakes in the paint and overall looking lost on defense.  Simmons was bad at defense but this was a team effort at being unclutch.  The Sixers were -21.2 points per 100 possessions throughout the playoffs during games that had five minutes left to go and the score being within five points.

The end of game performance and unforced turnovers were frustrating but the rate at which they occurred were just mind boggling.  You can somewhat blame the Sixers youth for their blunders but they did lead the league during the regular season with 16.5 turnovers per game so clearly this was a major problem all year.  Also the Celtics were a young team too being lead by a rookie in Jayson Tatum.  I don’t know how legit of an excuse being young is then.  Maybe the biggest culprit of error for Philadelphia was coaching and game strategy.  The Sixers run a motion styled offense with a bunch of ball reversals, screen aways, cut throughs, fills, curl cuts, long curls, backdoors, ball movement and player movement. They were second in the NBA with an assist percentage of 66.3% and a pace of 102.2 possessions per 100 possessions which ranked fourth.  The Sixers offense was about bending the defense to find open shooters and pushing tempo to get into their early offense. After the mid-season acquisitions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova the Sixers had an offensive rating of 111.5 offense which was fifth best during that stretch.  Combine that to their already stout defense lead by defensive anchor Joel Embiid and the Sixers ended up winning the final twenty-two of twenty-seven games.  With a team humming on all cylinders how did the coaching and strategy breakdown?

Boston presented Philadelphia with a few matchup problems.  For starters Boston singled Joel Embiid in the post and made Philadelphia’s shooters into drivers.  Embiid normally good in the paint sported a .97 points per possession from the post during the regular season but a .81 points per possession from the post in the playoffs.  If Embiid is failing in the post then why would anyone leave their shooters?  The only time I noticed the Celtics doubling Embiid was when he had great position around the restricted area.  The Celtics were content on letting Horford or Baynes guard Embiid one-on-one in the post and close off air space for the Sixers shooters.  The Celtics would lock-and-trail shooters on off-ball movement and would switch on-ball depending on personal reads.  Boston was forcing the Sixers shooters to create separation on their own.

The Sixers had a solid group of shooters during the regular season making 36.9% of threes which was tied for eighth best.  However outside of Dario Saric and JJ Reddick no one was able to attack closeouts proficiently.  Even when the Sixers shooters got solid looks from three they still missed some with Belinelli shooting 31%, Covington shooting 25%, Ilyasova shooting 21% and Philadelphia shooting 31% from three as a team during the Celtics series.  Add that to their inability attacking closeouts and that’s a recipe for complications.  One way the Sixers combated this issue was dribble pitches and dribble handoffs with Embiid and Reddick as a two man game from the wings.  Embiid would stretch out the Celtics defense bringing Horford or Baynes out of the paint.  Embiid is also a brilliant passer and Reddick has terrific foot work off screens using variations of stunts, fakes and set ups to create enough daylight for wider passing angles.  The Sixers also maintained off-ball actions trying to free their shooters through pindowns, flares, staggers, hammer passes and rescreens.  Essentially doing what they know how to do: motion offense.

Philadelphia was having trouble getting their shooters space so they ramped up motion based plays.  The problem was that Boston’s defense was built to switch off-ball so no matter what action you ran it could still be cut off, in particular when you’re using players who can’t create off a live dribble.  For the most part the Sixers had spot-up shooters who couldn’t off-dribble pull up or get to the rim.  If that was the case then why not use more spread based pick-and-roll offense?  During the regular season Philadelphia was last place in possessions when using the roll-man out of pick-and-roll and second last when going with pick-and-roll ball-handler.  This just highlights how much the Sixers used pick-and-rolls to stabilize their offense even though it’s a very effective play especially when using the roll-man.

Throughout the series with Boston every time the Sixers used a high side pick-and-roll with Simmons/Embiid surrounded by shooters Boston had their help side defense tagging Embiid on his dive leaving a shooter wide open.  When the Sixers ran simple spread pick-and-roll either the dive-man got an easy layup attempt, a shooter was left open or the ball handler had more space to contort the drive.  The Celtics couldn’t just switch their way out of this action and had to scramble help defense.  As a result the Sixers shooters had more space to operate.  But for some reason the Sixers rarely went to it and stuck by with motion.  The few times they did go to pick-and-roll the outcome would typically be positive.  I found that to be a huge adjustment mistake by the Sixers coaching staff.

The Sixers coaching staff ended up making a lineup adjustment starting TJ Mcconnell game four over the struggling Robert Covington which worked out well but it didn’t fix the root of the problem.  Mcconnell has dribble drive moves that can collapse a defense and create movement for his shooters but it was only a band-aid.  It was a temporary fix because the court was still shrinking for the Sixers even though they were able to manipulate driving lanes better.  It isn’t an advantageous situation when you have Embiid in the post with two non-shooters on the perimeter. Sometimes the Sixers off-ball cutters would run into Embiid when he was working the post.  Simmons was doing Embiid no favors either by being passive on his drives and routinely picking up his dribble resetting the offense.  I don’t know if it was because Simmons isn’t confident at the free throw line but time and time again Simmons misread driving angles and had poor body control on his floaters. Simmons shot 28.6% on paint attempts not including restricted area shots. The Celtics did put Marcus Morris and Al Horford on Simmons sagging off him at times helping maintain dribble penetration but there were still opportunities that Simmons didn’t leverage.

Defensively for Philadelphia the Celtics would occasionally space out Embiid with Aaron Baynes in the corner or Al Horford on a high side pick-and-pop.  Taking Embiid out of the post to leave the rim unprotected left the Sixers back end more vulnerable.  Early in the series Embiid was late on his rotations when recovering drop coverage versus an Al Horford pick-and-pop.  Embiid does a solid job on switches but can struggle to cover space in a hurry due to lack of acceleration and change-of-direction.  The adjustment was to put Embiid on Marcus Morris more since Morris isn’t involved in pick-and-roll situations as much.  But again this is only a band-aid since it doesn’t fix how porous the paint is without Embiid protecting it.

The Sixers were not scrambling well on the Celtics side-to-side swings, dribble penetration and weak side shooters.  When you have Embiid recovering late and perimeter defenders like JJ Reddick getting beat by first step attacks it’s an uphill battle for the defense to overcome.  Robert Covington was one of the better defenders in the league sporting the third best defensive real plus/minus at +4.24 during the season.  Surly he was able to stifle first step moves or setup dribble drives?  Yet again even he was having trouble containing dribble drives getting beat by pivots, rip-thrus and exhibiting poor balance.  Covington looked like a deer lost in headlights this series.  At times he was unplayable and looked like the undrafted player he is.  The Celtics would also headhunt Marco Belinelli, JJ Reddick and TJ Mcconnell since they literally couldn’t guard anyone.  The Celtics had a few players who were tough to guard out of the triple threat stance and with no one protecting the glass the Celtics would routinely attack Reddick with Brown or Belinelli with Tatum; the Celtics didn’t have to worry about weak side block attempts.  Overall the Sixers didn’t have the foot speed to bottle up the Celtics perimeter scorers.

This series was combination bad matchup and not so stellar coaching.  Maybe if the Sixers had more versatile players the coaching staff would’ve engaged the Celtics with different tactics.  And again maybe I’m reading too much into it because a couple minutes is the difference from the series being turned upside down.  Or it could just be that the inherent flaws the Sixers possess lead them to blunder play after play late in the game.  Are the Sixers doomed to repeat the issues of the 2018 playoffs in 2019?  

One of the Sixers biggest needs this off-season was a perimeter scorer.  The Sixers three best scorers are Embiid who isn’t efficient from three and is post heavy, Reddick who is a liability on defense and Simmons who can’t shoot.  The Sixers wanted to go after Paul George, Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard but struck out on all three.  This remains a huge issue going forward as late game scoring devolves into one-on-one basketball quite often.  Philadelphia needs a three level perimeter scorer if they want a better chance at beating Boston. The Sixers also lost Belinelli and Ilyasova this off-season and replaced their shooting with Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet and to a certain extent Furkan Korkmaz.  Muscala is a lesser known name coming from Atlanta but is a career 37.8% three point shooter.  Shamet is a rookie but shot 44% from three his last two years of college.  Korkmaz dealt with injuries during his rookie year last season but deserves a crack at the rotation since he’s been able to showcase his scoring ability during the summer league and preseason.  There’s a lot of unpredictability in trusting three obscure players but I actually like all three to fill the void as shooters.  Being able to defend though is a different discussion.

To fill in the gaps defensively for the Sixers they went out and drafted Zhaire Smith and traded for Wilson Chandler.  Both players have the size and athleticism to be apart of a switching defense, something that was lacking versus the Celtics.  Chandler seems to be dealing with a hamstring injury, it doesn’t appear to be too serious but hamstring injuries can never be taken too lightly.  Smith on the other hand could be out for the season with a broken foot.  Even if he comes back late in the year he’s still starting from behind.  Smith has the defensive acumen the Sixers crave but is super raw offensively. Taking away that season of development might mean that Smith will be unplayable during the playoffs.  Zhaire Smith being hurt was a big loss for the Sixers hopes at beating Boston.

Internal development will also be key for the Sixers battle against Boston.  Simmons needs to shoot better from the free throw line and mid-range.  The media is clamoring for Simmons to start shooting threes more but I just want him to step into a mid-range pull-up.  Just that alone will affect the defensive alignment for the opposing team.  Embiid needs to improve his outside jump shot but that’s more of a luxury at this point.  And finally the man of mystery Markelle Fultz needs to mentally be over his shoulder injury.  If Fultz can play like the draft hype imagined then he could be the x-factor the Sixers need.  He can create separation on his own, initiate offense for others, take it to the rim with ease and force pressure on Boston’s defenders.  His release on his three point shot is still low but confidence might be the objective to forge in this scenario.

There really isn’t much to say about Boston’s new roster since health is their main goal.  The Celtics are the ones with the vantage point over the Sixers in terms of perimeter defenders and three level scorers.  The Celtics are built perfectly for the modern day NBA but staying healthy is an ambiguous aspiration.  Getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back and maintaining their well-being might determine a possible rematch against the Sixers.  The Celtics biggest roster move this off-season was drafting Robert Williams who might be a couple years away but has the potential for an immediate role as a rotational big-man.  The Sixers lost to the Celtics without Hayward, Irving and Williams last postseason.   After Philadelphia made marginal moves to upgrade their roster this off-season are they ready to win a potential rematch?

Well it could take Boston a few months to reintegrate Irving and Hayward plus Philadelphia could end up using more pick-and-rolls with Markelle Fultz getting additional playing time.  So there’s a chance Philadelphia plays better than Boston in the early months but it’s obviously how you play during the postseason that matters most.  As of now it doesn’t look good for Philly if a postseason rematch happens.  Losing Zhaire Smith was a big blow and banking on internal growth is a fortuitous ask for the Sixers.  The regular season does tend to be volatile with injuries, trades and breakout stars.  Six months from now is a long ways away and a lot could happen between then.  The Bucks offense looks really good during the preseason and the Raptors are stacked.  By no means is a Sixers/Celtics rematch in the works but as a basketball fan it sure be enjoyable to watch.

    *All Stats Provided by NBA.com*

How Boston Got The Go-Ahead Bucket Versus Philadelphia

I’m either going to do a write up or podcast previewing both conference finals but I wanted to briefly break down the sequence of events that lead to Boston beating Philadelphia in five:

Personally, I would’ve called an offensive foul on Dario Saric but I was fine with the no call.  Even though Marcus Smart seems like a mismatch in the post for the 6’10 Saric Smart keeps a strong base, doesn’t bite on the rip-thru and frustrates Saric into a forced back down.  That’s not quite the efficient look I would’ve ran with 43 seconds left.  Horford gets the loose ball, starts a break and wisely kicks it out to Terry Rozier.

Brad Stevens doesn’t call a time out to draw up a play and instead trusts his players during crunch time.  Rozier and Horford proceed to set up a side pick-and-roll.

JJ Reddick and Joel Embiid do what most teams run when covering side pick-and-rolls and “ICE” the action; using the sideline/baseline as an extra defender.  And while Saric is technically in solid position I personally would’ve been more aggressive on the coverage.  Instead of zoning up between Horford and Smart I would’ve denied one pass away and forced Rozier to lob it over to Marcus Smart above the break.  Smart is a worse three point shooter than Horford and the extra time for the pass to make its way over to Smart increases recovery time on rotations. 

But with Saric zoning up Rozier delivers a bounce pass to Horford starting a sequence that lead to the go-ahead bucket.  You can already see Jayson Tatum start his move to the basket with Ben Simmons ball watching.

Smart play by the rookie.  Tatum anticipated the ball reversal and with Ben Simmons ball watching Tatum backdoors to the basket.

TJ Mcconnell did the best job he could on the help but the play was unsalvageable.  The next play was a missed layup than turnover by Joel Embiid.  There might have been a foul on Embiid’s release by Aron Baynes but that’s a tough call to make at the juncture of the game.

I really liked this play because it felt like a microcosm of the series: even though the Sixers had more talent, when it came time to close the game the Sixers either committed unnecessary fouls, terrible turnovers or boneheaded mistakes.  Overall this was a bad matchup for the Sixers. Having Horford as Ben Simmons kryptonite, length/athleticism on the perimeter minimizing space for the shooters and Embiid having his troubles in the post knocked Philadelphia out of their rhythm.

The Sixers still have a bright future and I’ll eventually do a write up about their possibilities this off-season.  For now….Cleveland vs Boston.