Tag Archives: Sports

Stop Looking At My Bias

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

 

 

  • I really like/overrate role players

 

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

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

 

 

  • I overrate “potential”

 

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

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

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

 

 

  • I take player comparisons too personally 

 

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

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

  

 

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

 

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

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

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

  

 

  • There’s probably more I can’t see

 

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

 

  • Grading Scale

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

DEEP SLEEPER 

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

(Not even close to being mocked anywhere)

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

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

 

Honorable Mention

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

(Not even close to being mocked)

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

Kristaps Porzingis, I hardly knew ye

If one of the best young star players in the NBA walks into your office (and apparently his brothers too) and indirectly tells you he wants out, typically you would give it some time to sink in and contemplate your best course of action, right?  Apparently not the New York Knicks who within hours of the Porzingis sort-of-trade-request was on his way to Dallas.  Even if the Knicks were secretly shopping Porzingis for months, they should at least survey the landscape of the league at that point in time.  The type of player Porzingis is deserves at least a full day to mull over options.  The once bright spot of the tumultuous organization played for three seasons and 186 games before his ouster.  The way restricted free agency works makes it likely for a star player to stay 7-8 seasons with the team that drafted them.  In the case of the Knicks drafting Porzingis, it didn’t even last the length of a standard 1st round rookie deal.  The genesis of the deal revolves around the Knicks sending Porzingis and contracts no one wants (Tim Hardaway jr, Trey Burke, Courtney Lee) to the Mavs for Dennis Smith jr, two 1st round picks and expiring deals (Wes Matthews, Deandre Jordan).

I know there’s a lot of rumors floating around about this deal but I personally think if the Knicks would’ve offered Porzingis a max contract this off-season he would’ve taken it.  I understand he has the option of signing a one year, qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent the following season.  The qualifying offer would be about $4.4 million which means he loses about $23 million next season since the max for him would be around $28 million.  For a seven footer coming off an ACL injury getting guaranteed max money for 4-5 years would’ve been tough to turn down, no matter how inept the franchise is.

The next question becomes were the Knicks prepared to offer max money for him?  The answer should be a resounding yes but since they’ve been so cautious about rolling over cap space I’d honestly say it’s 50-50 whether they would’ve offered max money to Porzingis.  The Knicks plan now is to sign two max players this summer and hopefully get a top 2 pick in the 2019 draft.  That’s wishful thinking for a franchise that has struck out on every big name free agent except for the great Amare Stoudemire.  Also the draft odds are changing this year.  Instead of the worst record having the best odds for the number 1 overall pick, it’s now the bottom 3 teams with the same odds of getting the number 1 pick.  So clearly the Knicks master plan of signing 2 star players plus getting a top 2 draft pick this summer sounds doubtful at the moment.  Nothing is impossible of course but obviously the Knicks would need a lot of luck on their side this summer to pull this off.

The Knicks have to know their master plan is far-fetched and unlikely to happen.  That tells me they were more comfortable in their contingency plan compared to re-signing Porzingis to a max contract.  They were more comfortable with signing Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic compared to re-signing Porzingis at the max and signing another all-star caliber player to go along with him.  No offense to Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic who are both great players but if they end up becoming the Knicks free agency plan then their summer was a failure.  Anything less than two star players like Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard would be a failure for the Knicks.  That’s the internal pressure the Knicks put on themselves after trading a player like Porzingis away.   If the Knicks do somehow pull off getting Kyrie and Durant, well then obviously the trade will be looked at as a win.  But one could say an actual smart franchise doesn’t saddle themselves with toxic contracts and looks ahead to the summer of 2019 with Porzingis on his rookie deal and 2 max cap slots.  Now that’s a win-win-win.

I know it’s risky to give a seven footer who’s coming off ACL surgery max money but in this case I would’ve done that without hesitation.  Now maybe the Knicks know something that we don’t about Porzingis’ knee, maybe there’s a long term red flag.  If that were the case then clearly everything changes but as of now I’m going on the believe that nothing is long term serious.  Porzingis has the potential to be a top three player on a title winning team or if everything breaks right for him the best player on a title team.  Players with his skill set don’t come around often and the NBA is trending towards bigmen who can shoot threes, be versatile at pick-and-roll defense and play any type of lineup whether big or small.  Porzingis is 23 years old going on 24 with a new pick-and-roll partner who has an elite feel for the game and a coach who can get the best out of him.  As much as I love the Doncic/Porzingis pairing, the issue becomes filling out the rest of the roster with Tim Hardaway jr on their books until most likely 2021, Courtney Lee plus Harrison Barnes on their books until most likely 2020 and giving Porzingis a max contract.  They also traded away three 1st round picks in the next five drafts.  Finding that third star player to go along with Doncic/Porzingis will determine how much of a title contender they will become.  I don’t assume the Mavs think Harrison Barnes is that third guy either.  Right now the Mavs should be projected to have a max salary slot in 2020.  At this moment in time the 2020 free agent class looks pretty weak.  Understandably the market is fluid with ever changing trade requests by the month.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to package Barnes with draft picks and try to make an upgrade.  Either way, the Mavs are going to be one of the most fun teams to watch in the league when Porzingis gets healthy and the Knicks are going to need a tinge of luck if they want to make it out of this unscathed.

Should Anthony Davis Let It Be?

Within the next few days I’m going to post my preliminary top 20 prospect rankings.  I’m going to have brief summaries for each player and I’m about halfway finished writing that up.  But before I finish my rankings I wanted to quickly give my thoughts on the Anthony Davis situation.  We all know that any trade involving Anthony Davis will seismically alter the league.  For me the question comes down to preference.  Almost every player that has demanded a trade typically gave a preferred destination wish list.  Kyrie Irving wanted to go to Miami, San Antonio, New York or Brooklyn.  Jimmy Butler wanted to go to Brooklyn, New York Knicks or Los Angeles Clippers.  Paul George wanted to go to the Lakers.  And a while ago Carmelo Anthony wanted to go to the Knicks and Dwight Howard wanted to go to the Lakers.  Funny enough, outside of last two aforementioned players every other player got traded to a different destination in contrast to their wish list.  But in the two situations where the player got traded to their preferred destination, Carmelo and Dwight, both scenarios didn’t go as smoothly as planned.  The assets Carmelo was traded for expunged the Knicks of having a well rounded roster and Dwight didn’t mesh well with Kobe in Los Angeles.

So the question becomes does Davis have a preference and if so should he even let it be known?  A star player asking for a trade to a specific team tends to suppress the market since teams are now unwilling to give up as much for a rental contract.  Teams that were once ready to give up premier assets are now reluctant to talk.  Plus the star players team of choice holds more leverage in that scenario and could lower their offer.  We’ve also seen teams get spiteful before and not trade star players away to their preferred location aka the Pacers with Paul George and Spurs with Kawhi Leonard; both instances each player wanted to go to Los Angeles.  Maybe it’s better for Anthony Davis to let it be and not say out loud where he wants to go.  Let the market dictate his new location.  By saying your team wish list out loud we’ve seen teams act vindictive, the trade market becomes restricted and arguments between the team that owns the star player with the star players preferred destination become contentious.

I think the buzz around the league is Davis wants to go to the Lakers.  The dilemma ensues when the Pelicans don’t trade him before the deadline, wait until the summer and then Davis declares his intention to only sign with the Lakers.  That would screw over the Pelicans making them bitter, suppress the trade market and give leverage to the Lakers where the discussions will undoubtedly turn combative.  Because of the “Designated Player Rule” in the CBA where you can only trade for one designated rookie and one designated veteran from another team stipulates that the Pelicans can’t trade Anthony Davis to the Celtics unless it’s for Kyrie Irving.  Both Irving and Davis are designated rookies and since the Celtics acquired Irving through a trade that makes trading for Davis impossible until the summer when Irving becomes a free agent.  The only way the Celtics acquire Davis before the deadline is by trading Irving which I’m sure they don’t want to do.  This predicament really forces the Pelicans to wait until the summer where they can get the best offers possible.  But that’s if only Davis doesn’t say out loud his preferred destination suppressing the Celtics and other teams offers.

At the end of the day Davis controls the conditions of the trade market.  If he says out loud he wants to go to the Lakers then maybe that complicates his arrival in Los Angeles.  We’ve seen it happen before.  So maybe Davis should let the market be.  The Lakers are fortunate enough to have great assets so no matter what they can offer a top level deal for Davis.  Maybe Davis should let the conditions play out and in no time he will be wearing a Laker uniform.  Then again, if the Pelicans wait until the summer and the Celtics make Jayson Tatum available or the Sixers make Ben Simmons available then we’ll see how much Davis cares about going to the Lakers.  The Lakers should be considered frontrunners for Davis but far too often does thinking something will happen turn out to be false rational.

 

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.       

     

2018 Prospect Watch: Undrafted (final)

J.P. Macura PG/SG Xavier SR

6’5/203 pounds/22.7 age

~ Before Macura committed to Xavier his first choice was Butler.  Unfortunately for Macura, Stevens decided to go to the NBA that same year.  Macura ended up picking Xavier instead because of its toughness, coaching and winning attitude.  Three years later Macura goes 7 of 13 from the floor, 1 of 2 from three, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 18 points in the 2017 elite eight loss to Gonzaga; now he’s had his part in Xaviers 25-4 start to the 2018 season.  Trevon Bluiett will get most of Xavier’s notoriety and rightly so because of his scoring ability but Macura is the heartbeat of the Musketeers.  Macura talks trash to the opposing players, fans and sometimes even coaches.  It could come off like over the top abrasiveness, someone who the fans love to hate.  I just see someone who doesn’t like to lose and uses that brashness as an edge in the hope it could change one possession on the way to a win.

Out of the five players I listed as possible undrafted NBA candidates JP Macura and Jonathan Williams are my two favorites.  Macura’s biggest flaw is without a doubt his defense.  When Xavier plays a 1-3-1 zone Macura is fine within that structure but as soon as they go man-to-man it’s a different story.  He gambles on passing lanes too many times becoming out of position and breaking the the integrity of the defense.  He lunges too often when he should be vertical.  He has above average athleticism and can get blown by if he’s not in his proper stance.  His calling card on defense is effort and intensity.  I can’t recall how many times I see him fly into a play and grab a loose ball, a rebound or take a charge that changes the outcome of a play.  It really is infectious.  Macura has for sure made progress defensively every year since his freshman season but he needs to improve his stance, stay sound on drives/fakes and not to over extend himself.  Macura actually has solid length and deceptively quick feet so there is potential for improvement at the next level.  

Offensively is where Macura can make inroads at the NBA.  As a pick-and-roll player he has great court vision, awareness and presence of action.  Macura has a 1.073 PPP (points per possession) as a pick-and-roll ball handler which is excellent.  He does a great job looking off defenders, making pocket passes and finding cutters dropping off from the short corner.  He’s definitely revamped his PnR skills over the years.

His ball handling ability is a part of that skill too.  He has an array of change of direction, hang dribble and change of pace moves that he uses to manipulate a screen.  He’s been a mixed bag when it comes to isolation because the lack of elite strength, quickness and speed.  This year he is .25 PPP on isolation plays and last year he was 1.2 PPP on isolation plays.  Overall his ball handling and passing are major pluses when looked at the next level.

As far as shooting goes Macura’s mechanics are pretty inconsistent and yields average results.  He is by no means a poor jump shooter though.  He has a dead eye release, nice loading pocket and gets the ball off at the height of the jump.  Two things that seem inconsistent are his base and arc.  Sometimes the flick on his follow thru is short giving the ball extra air under it becoming a floater.  Also his base contracts every time he shoots; sometimes his knees will be touching than the next shot he will be shoulder width apart.  He’s already a 35% three point shooter so making slight adjustments will be beneficial at the next level.   

Macura projects to be a backup combo guard who makes hustle plays on defense, plays the pick-and-roll and shoot threes on offense.  I really think theres a chance he goes late second round but that’s more of a hope at this point.  No matter what he should be playing summer league ball come July fighting for a roster spot.

Honorable Mention: Yante Maten, PF/C, SR, Georgia…..Dakota Mathias, SG, SR, Purdue 

NBA Combine (Part 2)

This is an overview of the second scrimmage.  After I post this I’ll finish up the rest of the combine in part three, breakdown the final two scrimmages and give my final thoughts.  After the final combine post I’ll do my first mock draft; by then the lottery will be set and we’ll know who’s drafting where.

This lottery is probably one of the most anticipated lotterys I’ve seen in a long time.  If the Lakers fall outside the top three, not only do they lose their pick to Philly this year (Steve Nash Trade), but they also lose their pick to Orlando in 2019 too (Dwight Howard trade).  This scenario rarely happens.  If the Kings pick falls outside of the top ten then it goes to Chicago.  Also, if that Kings pick finishes ahead of the Sixers pick then the Sixers have the right to swap picks.  If the Pelicans pick falls outside of the top three then it becomes the Kings selection.  And again, after the lottery I’ll do a mock draft for both rounds but I’m anticipating changes to the current draft slots.

The second scrimmage of the combine was much better than the first one.  When I did my overview of that first scrimmage I couldn’t find any true standout player.  There were players who played marginally better than others but no one blew me away.  None of these players that participate in these scrimmages are perfect; far from it.  Even from players that I grade highly, there’s still blown coverages and assignments all over the floor.  I’m looking for a Pascal Siakam performance; a player who before the combine was maybe a fringe prospect to after the combine being selected 27th overall.

 Kyle Kuzma, PF/C, junior from Utah, had that type of performance in scrimmage number two.  Standing at 6’9 with a 7’ wingspan, Kuzma played 20 minutes with 20 points on 4 of 5 from three and 5 rebounds.  Kuzma was a guy that wasn’t on many mock drafts before the combine began; maybe a late second round prospect.  For his junior year he averaged 31 minutes, 16 points, 9 rebounds, on 55% from the floor and 32% from three.  His inconsistencies from three and defense were huge red flags.  Typically college front court players with poor block and steal rates hardly become good defenders once they hit the pros.  Kuzma put up .6 steals and .5 blocks per game, not good.  During the scrimmage you can see he was lost on defense but I don’t think that was all his fault.

A theme of the first two scrimmages has been the lack of communication.  Barley did I see on pick-and-rolls, dribble drives and weak side rotations communication between players.  That’s why when I’m trying to breakdown how a player did defensively it’s a challenge since communication is practically half the game.  So to continue on Kuzma, did he look lost at times defensively?  Sure, but rewatching the tape he was actually one of the only players talking and pointing out where to go.  There’s no trust between these players, they’re going to do what they think will get the eye of GMs and coaches.

Offensively, however, Kuzma was great.  His release point on his shooting stroke was at it’s apex, good rhythm and good motion.  He typically slipped screens he set but with good spacing and timing awareness between the ball handler.  Soft hands, good finisher, read plays well, made pinpoint passes and had great footwork.  He has an average handle and is strong hand dominant.  Overall I think Kuzma is so far my standout prospect form the first two scrimmages.  He reminds me of a better rebounding version of Channing Frye.  I didn’t know much about him until this scrimmage so I’ll try to find more tape so I can properly grade his defense.

If you look at the boxscore of this game PG freshmen Frank Jackson of Duke had a good performance with 13 points, 4 assists on 6 of 10 from the field.  It was such a good performance, apparently, that Jackson the next day decided he need not play in anymore scrimmages and hired an agent.  Jackson, who had a very rocky season at Duke, decided after one 20 minute outing he is pro ready.  I hope Jackson is ready for the D-League next year because that’s exactly where he will be.  Jackson was over aggressive on defense; positioning himself with wrong angles to guard the gaps.  On offense he mainly just attacked every time he touched the ball.  He did have a couple of nice pocket passes and dribble drive moves but I saw a guy playing so aggressive to fill the stat sheet and solidify his spot in the draft.  Point guard is so deep in the NBA.  At the very best he’s a backup point guard.  But for now, I see D-League next year.

Justin Jackson of Maryland looks like an NBA player.  The size of his body, his strength, the way he moves up and down the court, he looks like a modern day swing forward.  Unfortunately he has basic skills.  He does nothing great and every skill I can grade from him came back as “average.”  After watching this scrimmage I would suggest to him returning to school for another year.  Semi Ojeleye’s draft stock definitely took a hit.  In my measurements post I said I was disappointed in his length, and it sure showed why in this scrimmage.  He couldn’t finish over length, he had problems dribbling and he couldn’t make rebounds that he would normally make at SMU.  Nigel Hayes of Wisconsin looked nonathletic.  Kennedy Meeks looked like he wishes he was playing in the 90s.  Tyler Dorsey has backup point guard potential.  And Derrick White continues to impress me.

I’ll finish off on two players, both of whom I really liked in this game.  Jaron Blossomgame, SF/PF, senior out of Clemson seemed to be in the right place at the right time always.  He made good back door cuts, he found breakdowns in the gaps and he was probably the best sound perimeter defender of the day.  He needs to improve his jump shot but by no means is it broken.  Though, until his shot improves he might be stuck in D-League limbo.  He stands in at 6’7 with a 6’10 wingspan; so he has to use his fantastic athleticism when he’s guarding longer players.  He is close to turning 24 years old.  Maybe that’s why he looked so polished with a bunch of 19 year olds.  Being 24 years old is a red flag to most scouts.  Malcolm Brogdon might become the rookie of the year at 24 years old.  If the kid can play then draft him in the second round.

Davon Reed, SG/SF, senior out of Miami, measures in at 6’5.5 with a 7’ wingspan.  If Blossomgame was the best perimeter defender of the day then Reed was the second best perimeter defender of the day.  Again, one of the older players in the bunch, about to be 22 years old.  He was also a sound defender, moved his feet well, didn’t reach, kept his butt down and was making proper rotations.  Unlike Blossomgame, Reed has a nice jump shot.  Reed needs to improve his handle and decision making.  Reed could be a steal second round or undrafted prospect.

Like I said last post, this is one 40 minute game.  There’s no communication on defense, little coaching and the team is beholden to the guards.  This is just a small sample of what it may be like for prospects to play in a pro style system.  This is not an end all be all like some players make of it…..Frank Jackson.   I’m curious to see how these guys do again with one more day of scrimmages.  I’ll give my final thoughts on each player then.

SPIT TAKES

  • I’m a firm believer in stats regressing back to the mean.  For example, Otto Porter started off the season super hot from three.  He was shooting 46% from three pre-allstar break.  Lately he’s been struggling and only shooting 34% from three post-allstar break.  Typically things will average itself out.  So that brings me to my point about Steph Curry.  I think the more likely scenario when it comes to Curry and his shooting slump is regressing back to the mean.  He is a career average 43.6% 3pt shooter and this season he has shot 39% from three.  Everyone has been trying to dissect the why behind his shooting slump and for good reasons.  Maybe after the past two seasons he’s having a down year or his confidence is off.  It just feels to me that everyone is thinking since he’s slumping this late into the regular season he will most likely slump into the postseason.  I think the more likely scenario is that he shoots 45-50% from three the rest of the way out; get his average back to 43%.  I think there’s a better chance he will finish off this season super hot rather than continue his slump.  So with that said, with or without Durant, if Curry is shooting 7 of 14 from three on a nightly basis the Warriors win the title.  When you have a guy that dictates a defense’s reaction time when he’s 15 feet above the 3pt line it’s a wrap.

 

  • If I had to pick either Karl Anthony-Towns or Anthony Davis to start my franchise, I’d pick Towns.  They’re both equally good at rebounding.  Towns is younger so you get more years with him.  Davis is way more injury prone so durability goes to Towns.  Davis is a better defender than Towns, but for now.  If you compare Davis’ second season with the season Towns is having now than I would say Towns is more advanced with understanding of defensive coverages.  The same communication breakdowns that Davis suffered from in year two Towns shares as well in his sophomore year, however, Towns is a little less jumpy on fakes than Davis was.  I think this has been by far Davis’ best defensive year of his career but it took him 5 years to understand team defense.  You can see the same growth curve with Towns because understanding rotations as the last line of defense isn’t simple, takes time.  Defense goes to Davis, but again, for now.  Towns is a better shooter and a better all-around offensive player.  I’m going to get a lot of push back for this one but stats are facts and the facts say Towns already in year two is just as good offensively as Davis in year five.  Towns is a better shooter, passer and takes smarter shots.  Here are the shot charts for Davis and Towns, courtesy from NBA.com (Davis is on the top, Towns on the bottom:)

shotchartshotchart (2)

I’ve gone back and forth on this debate but my foot is down.  I’m going Towns.

  • Gary Harris is good.  He’s been improving with every year even though he has been oft-injured.  Since February 1st he’s averaging 17 PPG on 52% from the floor and 44% from three.  For the 19th pick in the 2014 draft that’s pretty good.  His handle is what he’s improved on the most.  An improved handle opens up the door for rim attacks, pick plays and mis-direction.  Now that he’s a good 3pt shooter closeouts on him have to be hard and Harris does a nice job throwing in moves to attack the basket.  His defense is kind of my issue.  He needs to do a better job of keeping his body in front of his man.  He gets blown by too often and reads flare screens terribly.  He should improve over time but since he’s short with a short wingspan and average athleticism he needs to be a heady defender or else he will always be a minus on that end.  The trio of Jokic, Murray and Harris is one of the better under-22 trios in the game.          

 

  • That brings me to my next point.  Nikola Jokic is a hot name in NBA circles.  They’re falling in love with his shooting, passing and transition skills.  He’s averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists on 58% shooting from the floor and 35% from three.  So you can understand why he’s the new “it” thing.  But the only issue I have with Jokic is his pick-and-roll defense and rim protection.  The guy is slow footed, can’t jump, or at least he doesn’t want to jump and is the beginning stages of understanding PnR coverages.  Like I said with Towns, it’s going to take time for him to understand back line defense.  But that’s not the issue.  The issue is his body movement.  He’s just slow and not athletic.  Even if he does read a play properly he’s slow to get there:    
    Screenshot (12)_LI
    Arzia blows by Hernangomez on the right wing. Jokic notices the blow by and should try to cut off the drive. He should try to establish verticalilty where the X is. He has enough time to get there.
    Screenshot (9)
    Jokic takes one slide, slowly, a good defender should already be into their second slide by now
    Screenshot (10)
    Instead of taking another full slide he chops his step and is out of position
    Screenshot (11)
    Game Over

     

This is just one play of many that I have noticed.  It isn’t even a pick-and-roll play, just a simple blow by that he doesn’t cut off.  The Nuggets perimeter defense is nothing to ride home about but still sometimes he won’t even move in the direction of the gap attack.  He’s good at one-on-one post defense but this isn’t 1999.  I like Nikola Jokic as much as the next guy but his defense is a problem that I’m not sure is going away.

  • If I were Boston I’d seriously consider trading Isaiah Thomas.  The only reason why I say this is because of the fact Boston owns the Nets first round pick which will yield either Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball.  I don’t want to put too much expectations onto Ball/Fultz but I can say with almost certainty that they are going to be max salary players when they come off their rookie deals.  Boston wants to save a max salary slot for a Paul George or Gordon Hayward type to contend versus the Cavs.  Boston has max money already being spent to Al Horford and Bradley, Thomas, and Smarts contracts are coming up summer 2018.  So that’s potentially max money to Fultz/Ball (only if they extend their contract after year 2 new CBA rule,) Thomas, Horford, Hayward, and another $20 million contract on Bradley and another $15 million on Smart and there is still Jaylen Brown too.  Something has to give.  Either they lose their depth and don’t resign Bradley and Smart or they don’t sign a big name free agent and trade for one.  I’d trade a package of Thomas, Jaylen Brown, Smart and Boston’s 2018 first (unprotected) and Memphis’ 2019 first (unprotected) for Jimmy Butler.  Boston would get out of cap hell and keep BOTH Brooklyn’s first round picks.  Isaiah Thomas is going to be 30 years old when his contract comes up for renewal.  That means paying a 30 year old, who isn’t a top 20 player, about $40 million per year for 5 years.  If I were Boston I wouldn’t let it get that far and trade him before his contract is up.