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NBA Playoffs sports

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.  

  

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NBA Playoffs Podcast sports Video

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

Categories
NBA Playoffs sports

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.

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NBA sports

So This Is How You Repay Me?

In terms of roster construction, the Houston Rockets have been a roller coaster ride all season.  For starters they didn’t re-sign Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute over the off-season and traded Ryan Anderson, De’Anthony Melton to the Suns for Marquese Chriss and injury prone Brandon Knight.  It was pretty clear that these were salary cap saving moves on the Rockets part since giving Clint Capela and Chris Paul big money contracts have put them well into the luxury tax.  The Rockets thought that they could find 50-80% of the production that Ariza, Moute, Melton and Anderson produced for a fraction of the cost through league minimum contracts.  As I pointed out over the summer I wasn’t the fondest of these moves especially letting Ariza walk.  I didn’t think that this was the best time to be “cost effective” while the season before they traded for Chris Paul in what was described as an “all-in” move.  If the Rockets are in win now mode then why not re-sign Ariza and make another run at the Warriors?

Even though I wasn’t a fan of these penny pinching moves I understood the premise and waited to see who they would sign to replace Anderson, Melton, Moute and Ariza.  To my dismay they signed Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams. I still assumed the Rockets were going to be great offensively but after the moves they made thought surely their defense would fall off from being ranked in the top 10 the season prior.  It was worse than what I originally thought.  The Rockets started the season off 1-5 through 6 games and 11-14 through 25 games.  The obvious was becoming obvious for Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets.  Their season was on the brink and they had to righten the wrongs they made over the off-season.

The Rockets first move was to let Carmelo Anthony go.  He’s still technically on the roster since the Rockets are trying to find a trade partner instead of just releasing him but nevertheless he’s not with the team.  They also benched Michael Carter-Williams and then later on traded him to the Bulls to free up a roster spot.  They also cut James Ennis’ minutes down from 26 from the start of the season to 14 over the past month.  Morey and the Rockets made up for those questionable off-season moves and signed Austin RIvers to a rest of the season league minimum contract.  Rivers has been a great pickup averaging 13.3 points on 39.7% from three in 11 games so far with the Rockets.  The Rockets also converted undrafted rookie Gary Clark from a two-way contract to a pro contract by using a portion of their taxpayer mid-level exception for three years in length.  I dedicated a whole article during November detailing why the Rockets should convert Clark’s contract from a two-way to a pro style contract; obviously I’m a fan.

But one of their most significant moves was the pick up of Danuel House jr.  Even though signing Rivers and Clark were moves I liked they were still searching for a requisite replacement for Ariza.  Then here comes House jr who is averaging 9 points on 39% from three and playing solid team defense through 25 games with the team.  Over the last month House is averaging 11 points on 47% from three and has been giving the Rockets an adequate level replacement for Ariza on the cheap.  House has a +5.4 net efficiency rating while on-court which was better then the team’s overall net efficiency rating of +2.1; clearly House was meshing well with his new team.  House was cut during training camp by the Warriors even though he played pretty well over his last few pre-season games.  The Rockets ended up picking him up after he cleared waivers, placed him on the Rockets g-league affiliate the Rio Grande Valley Vipers then signed him to a minimum contract.  

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Since the Rockets wanted to convert Clark from a two-way to a pro style contract they had to free a roster spot.  You can’t convert a two-way contract without a free roster spot.  So the Rockets put House on waivers, freeing a roster spot and signing Clark to a three year deal.  The Rockets then used their newly opened two-way contract on House so they didn’t lose him.  However from that point forward House became an integral part of the Rockets new found success and started 12 games with Chris Paul and Eric Gordon injured.  The two-way contract only allows a player 45 days to be spent with the pro team and the rest of the time with the g-league affiliate.  With the 45 day time frame about to expire the Rockets and House were working on a deal to keep him with the pro club after trading Michael Carter-Williams away and freeing up a roster spot.  This is where it gets complicated.

The Rockets don’t have many options in the way of signing players due to being a taxed team.  They only have the league minimum, the taxpayer mid-level exception and a players bird rights to make roster upgrades outside of making trades of course.  So when they have a quality young player like House they don’t want to lose him after one season.  The options for Houston to sign House to a long term deal would be through the league minimum or the taxpayer mid-level exception.  It was recently reported (Link) by Tim MacMahon of ESPN that House turned down the Rockets initial contract offer of three years league minimum non-guaranteed deal.  After House obviously turned down that deal the Rockets offered him a three year league minimum guaranteed deal which House still turned down.  House wants to capitalize on his recent success and either wants a portion of the taxpayer mid-level exception or a one year minimum deal which would make him a restricted free agent this summer and possibly sign a bigger contract with another team.

The Rockets have already used a portion of their taxpayer mid-level exception on players Isaiah Hartenstein and Gary Clark as a result only having $3.9 million remaining.  You might be asking yourself, why won’t the Rockets just sign him with that then?  Are the Rockets being cheap again like they were with Ariza?  The problem is the Rockets want to keep the remaining money on their taxpayer mid-level exception so they can have a leg up on the buyout market come February.  If players like Demarre Carroll get bought out the Rockets are going to want a bigger salary incentive so they can have an advantage over teams like Golden State or the Lakers.  The Rockets might also be hesitant to use the taxpayer mid-level on House because while he has been rather good for the Rockets it has been a small sample size.  House did play for the Suns last season, shot only 26% from three and has been inconsistent from three for most of his basketball career shooting 33.8% from three during his 4 years at Texas A&M.  Why make a heavy investment in House for the Rockets when they think they can do better on the buyout market?

House and his agent the Raymond Brothers see the market as booming for his skill set as the NBA is low on quality 3-and-D swing forwards.  If House signs a rest of the season one year deal worth the minimum he would be a restricted free agent this summer and the Rockets would have the right of first refusal which means they could match any offer made on the open market for him but the Rockets are limited in what they can offer due to stipulations in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  For starters the Rockets don’t have his bird rights and only have his non-bird rights which means they can pay him only 120% of his last contract which would be around $1.7 million.  House and his agent clearly think they will get more than that on the open market.  So to match any deal made for House (not above the taxpayer mid-level) the Rockets would have to use their new taxpayer mid-level exception which is worth $5.3 million in total.  The Rockets however want to save that to re-sign Austin Rivers or for some other free agent.  That’s why the Rockets want to avoid signing House to a rest of the season one year deal since they might not be able to re-sign him even though they hold his restricted free agency.  That’s why the Rockets are offering House a three year deal at the league minimum because after the deal is up the team would own his bird rights and can pay him whatever at that point.  But House and his agent want to cash in on his recent success as soon as possible and either want to be a free agent this summer or the Rockets use a portion of their remaining $3.9 million taxpayer mid-level to sign him now.

With the two sides not coming to an agreement House will be sent down to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the meantime.  The Rockets are in a pickle.  They don’t want to lose House but they don’t want to use their best modes of upgrading their roster for a g-leaguer who had a good month of basketball.  They want to re-sign Austin Rivers this summer and they want to go hard after buyout candidates in a month and to do that they are going to need their taxpayer mid-level exception.  With the recent injury to Clint Capela, House and his agent think they have some leverage in this situation.  While somewhat true James Harden is on a tear scoring 30 points or more in 17 straight games.  So for the Rockets they think they can hold out giving what House wants since Harden could make up the difference in lost scoring plus Eric Gordon should be back soon.

I’m going to assume the Rockets hold out on making a final decision on House until players start being bought out around the trade deadline.  If they don’t see any player worth the the taxpayer mid-level then they probably re-sign House with the exception.  But if the Rockets sign someone with the $3.9 million taxpayer mid-level things will get interesting.  Will House and his agent cave and sign the three year guaranteed minimum deal?  That really is the going rate for a player in House’s position and maybe they don’t want to over estimate the market for a g-leaguer who played well for a stretch of a month.  Or will House hold out until the Rockets give up and sign him to a rest of the season league minimum deal?  The Rockets are looking to sign a player to a 10-day contract to replace House in the meantime; this could have a huge impact on who blinks first.  I understand why both sides are doing what they’re doing.  House is betting on himself while the Rockets want to keep him long term without using any of their best options to sign another player.  The buyout market is about a month away.  Can the Rockets afford to last that long without House?  Will James Harden tire himself out carrying the weight of an undermanned team? 

I like House a lot and think the Warriors misevaluated him when they cut him during training camp.  He’s probably playing over his head right now because James Harden makes everybody better.  House might not be as good if he were on the Charlotte Hornets but there is still value he brings to the Rockets.  Veterans like James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams and Carmelo Anthony weren’t having the type of success House is having with James Harden and it’s not a guarantee that bringing someone in after the trade deadline will match House’s production.   I’m not sure what the exact salary figure would be to entice House to re-sign with the Rockets but I’d use it now and worry about the buyout market when the time comes.  Again though, I have no problem with Houston holding out on House since they think a lot of his success is derived off James Harden and they can find another g-leaguer to take his spot for less money.  Most likely House’s production isn’t sustainable and he falls off some but at the rate he’s playing paying him around $2.5-4 million a season for three years at 25 years old would be a bargain even with a drop off.  Maybe nobody like Marco Belinelli or Ersan Ilyasova gets bought out like last season and the Rockets are just posturing.  Maybe when the Rockets give House his contract he stops playing so well and reverts back into a g-leaguer.  But what I do know is that House is playing good at a position of need, he fits with the team and ever since he was inserted into the starting lineup the Rockets have joined the contenders conversation again.  Overall this is a situation to monitor because the Rockets could easily bungle this up and let a coveted 3-and-D swing froward walk.       

     

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NBA Play Breakdown sports Video

Vote Yes On Gary Clark!

Is Gary Clark integral for the Houston Rockets success?  Probably not.  Is giving him a roster spot make or break for the Houston Rockets?  No.  Does anyone know who Gary Clark even is?  Doubtful.  But is it better to give Clark a roster spot rather then sending him down to the G-League?  Yes, I think so.

Gary Clark was a highly regarded prospect in many NBA draft expert circles during this past years draft.  Coming out of Cincinnati and winning AAC conference player of the year Clark didn’t have the upside of a potential star player but did display role player abilities like high defensive IQ, hustle and spatial awareness.  He wasn’t the greatest one-on-one defender, had a limited handle, is 23 years old going on 24 and had an inconsistent shot.  His upside and overall package of skill wasn’t that enticing for rebuilding teams.  But as far as role player on a contending team potential Clark was a standout.  He ended up going undrafted while the Rockets were quick to act by signing him to a two-way contract.  That means he only has 45 days with the pro club while spending the rest of his time in the G-League. Clark has an “exhibit 10” clause included in his two-way contract which means at any time during the season the Rockets can convert his contract to become a standard NBA deal.  He would be a full time member of the pro club officially.  The Rockets would need an empty roster spot to execute the clause though.

The defense of the Houston Rockets has been much maligned nine games into the season.  The reported news of defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik coming back will certainly help but during this nine game stretch there already has been a slight improvement over the past few games.  The Rockets didn’t alter their defensive pick-and-roll coverage and stuck with a switching concept amid the rough start. Getting Chris Paul and James Ennis back helped plus not playing Michael Carter-Williams was a smart decision as well.  But a player that has so far demonstrated that he fits within the Rockets scheme has been Gary Clark.  The Rockets were having trouble with v-back rotations and filling the low man.  Some of that could be attributed to poor execution of switches, communication and ability.

Clark has come in and given Houston quality minutes off the bench especially on the defensive side.  Clark fits the switching scheme Mike D’Antoni wants to establish and the help skills on defense that the Rockets are deficient at so far.  Clark possesses the body type to switch standing 6’8 with a 6’10 wingspan but does have trouble containing quicker players on the perimeter and can over help at times.  Although, in comparison to Carmelo Anthony, Clark is a defensive stalwart.  The sample size is small but I’m going to go over some plays that highlights Clark’s help defense:  

While Clark is banging in the paint versus Caleb Swanigan Seth Curry drives past Clint Capela who was switched onto him.  Clark doesn’t hesitate on the drive and rises for the block:

While Clark is guarding Doug Mcdermott Tyreke Evans crosses over James Ennis and attacks the rim.  Mcdermott fills the weak side corner but Clark pivots and walls off Evans:

Cristiano Felicio gets the ball on a rim-run while Clark is guarding Antonio Blakeney in the weak side corner.  Clark being in great low man position makes a fine contest on Felicio:

Cameron Payne blows by Isaiah Hartenstein with Clark cutting off the drive going vertical:

Carmelo Anthony doubles Domantas Sabonis in the post leaving Myles Turner open.  Clark sinks onto Turner and strips the ball causing a turnover:

On offense Clark is still super raw.  His overall offensive game could be what holds him back from keeping a roster spot.  He needs to work on his screen setting skills, the consistency of his follow thru on his three point shot and being able to attack closeouts.  He isn’t shy to shoot the three averaging 3.4 threes per game on 11.4 minutes per game.  While only averaging 29.6% from three the sheer fact he’s shooting that shot has kept defenses somewhat honest defending the perimeter.  The offensive system that D’Antoni runs doesn’t call for a player like Clark to have the ball in his hands all that much.  Clark’s role is to set screens, dive or pop, space the corners and bring energy when going after loose balls.  Clark has been great at finding a body to box out, attacking the rebound while in the air and timing his jump at the rebounds apex.  While other players remain flat footed staring at the rebound Clark attacks the ball and fights for position.  His overall hustle and touch passes to the corner have given Clark positional value on a team in search for “3-and-D” wings.

Clark no doubt needs to spend time in the G-League to refine his skills.  But given his skill set and fit within both offensive and defensive schemes his contract needs to be converted to a standard deal asap.  Clark has the best defensive rating on the team with a commanding 98.5 points per 100 possessions, the next closest is James Ennis at 104.9.  If the Rockets want to cut someone then why not cut the player who is sporting a -19.9 net efficiency, has a partially guaranteed minimum contract and is steadily losing playing time: Michael Carter-Williams.  Gary Clark could be a Luc Mbah a Moute replacement and give solid minutes during a potential playoff run.  As it stands now with his two-way contract he wouldn’t even be able to play in the playoffs.  Like I said earlier this isn’t make or break. But if the Rockets are serious about contending for a title this year then having a player like Clark over Carter-Williams would be for the better.

Categories
NBA sports Trade

A Very, Very, Very Random Trade Idea

The Houston Rockets defense stinks.  I think most people thought there would be some kind of regression due to losing Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik.  But so far they are the 4th worst defensive team in the league sporting a defensive rating of 114.7 points per 100 possessions while starting the regular season 1-4.  Ouch.  The Rockets have been without Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight and Nene during the five game stretch and losing Chris Paul to a suspension hasn’t helped their struggling defense either.   Houston has centered their defensive concept  around switching.  When you have the appropriate players to execute a switching scheme it’s arguably the toughest defense to score on since the defenders have less space to recover. Unfortunately as of now the Rockets don’t have the personnel to properly switch most ball screens.  Maybe when Chriss, Nene, Paul and Knight come back the ability to switch will be less of an issue but the amount of blown weak side assignments due to players being out of position or poor communication has handcuffed the Rockets defense so far.  Smart teams have also head hunted the mismatches as a consequence from uneven switching.

The Rockets are in desperate shape.  They recently offered the Timberwolves four 1st round draft picks for Jimmy Butler and coach Mike D’antoni has said “the Rockets awful defense needs a do-over.”  Counting on players like Gerald Green, Eric Gordon, Carmelo Anthony and James Harden for defensive prowess was fool hearted from the beginning to rely on.  A defensive minded coach would have altered the Rockets defensive scheme to more of a hybrid between hedging and drop coverage until the Rockets get more capable players to execute a scheme entirely built off switching.  Maybe the trade for Jimmy Butler goes through and the Rockets get one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA to fit their defensive scheme. However that still won’t be enough to contend with the Warriors and it still seems like coach Tom Thibodeau will sabotage any offer made to not trade Butler.

A Butler trade is shooting for the stars.  It’s a super risky deal to pull off with Butler being a possible free agent this summer and not being able to resign him will be a setback for the Rockets.  So I was thinking of trade idea that would be more risk averse but obviously not as flashy as the Butler trade.  The idea is centered around trading Zhou Qi for Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks.  The Bucks are off to a hot start with new coach Mike Budenholzer and a revamped 5-out motion offensive system deploying Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez as stretch bigs.  That system is not really the greatest fit for Sterling Brown since playing within a motion offense calls for players to have solid spatial awareness, good decision making and fine tuned skills which isn’t Browns game.  So far Brown has lost minutes to players that fit the system better like Donte Divincenzo and Pat Connaughton.    Both players are newly acquired this season while Brown was a second round pick last year.  I’ve been a fan of Brown since the pre-draft process last year and have followed his progress closely.

Brown shot 35% from three his rookie season last year and had a  +.67 defensive real plus/minus which ranked 13th among shooting guards according to espn.com.  A very solid rookie year for a player that’s 6’6 with a 6’10 wingspan trending towards a “3-and-D” wing player in the NBA.  He’s still only 23 years old and clearly needs more time to develop but would be a practical roster move for a team without many options.  The Rockets run a spread pick-and-roll system on offense with a switching concept on defense as previously mentioned.  Sterling Brown would be a great fit within those constructs playing off of Harden/Paul’s play making and Capela’s vertical spacing.  Brown can make open threes, attack a closeout in a straight line and is suitable to play in a switching defense.  Brown also dealt with a horrific ordeal with a local police officer in Milwaukee that if you want to read up on click this (Story).  Brown had to deal with this unfortunate situation for most of his off-season and could use a change of scenery to distance himself from that toxic situation.  

Zhou Qi, the 7’1 center, was a second round pick for the Rockets in the 2016 draft.  Qi has had his offensive moments during summer league being able to step out, shoot long distance and rebound at a high clip.  He’s currently dealing with an injury but has recently returned to practice.  Qi could be a nice project for the Bucks as the stretch big for their future center spot while Brown could be that “3-and-D” wing the Rockets so desperately need at the moment.  Brown has one more year left on his contract after this season at $1.618 million that’s non-guaranteed while Qi has 2 more years left at $1.618 and $1.752 million both of which are non-guaranteed also.

This isn’t a trade idea that’s going to make headlines.  It might not even be on the bottom ticker on ESPN.  But as far as a low risk high reward deal for both teams then this trade idea makes sense to me.