Friday, July 19, 2013

No Basketball Offseason: #IKnowItsSummerLeagueBut

Summer League has been rolling for weeks (between Orlando and Las Vegas) and I've loved every second of it.  True, Summer League blowouts leading to garbage time have produced a couple epic naps; but still, summertime basketball with lower level NBA talent is better than baseball nothing.  If you’re not familiar with Summer League ball, teams (22 this year) field teams based on draft picks, 2nd year players, and a few free agents that haven’t been picked up by any team.  The Free agents are usually a collection of players that were eligible for the preceding draft who went undrafted, American-born players that have been playing overseas, and D-League players.

The Las Vegas League is also holding an inaugural tournament to see who wins. But honestly, in Summer League isn't everyone a winner (except for the guys that don’t make the roster, they are decidedly not winners)?

Note: As much as I love statistics, they are too odd in Summer League to really take seriously.  The quarters are only 10 minutes; and playing time is allocated more in accordance with seeing the roster’s capabilities than they are about winning. So these assessments were based more on the eye test, than any analytic review.

There are a few players that have stood out thus far, but before I get to them a note. IT’S JUST SUMMER LEAGUE.  Remember that list of players I told comprised the rosters? Dominating there doesn’t mean that they will be breakout stars, or that your particular squad is due for a breakout year.  Case and point, the year before Charlotte’s epic regular season meltdown it had one of the best records in the Vegas league.  The lack of any other basketball and the NBA logo may lead you to believe this is just like regular season. Resist this notion. Summer League tunnel vision has killed several fans, probably.  I’m not saying don’t be excited if your team’s late second round pick plays well, or if your second-year player looks like he has turned the corner; but just temper your enthusiasm with the knowledge that it isn’t the NBA finals.

Players that I've noticed doing work:

CJ McCollum: Portland has done it again; they’ve taken a guard out of an obscure basketball conference and may have simultaneously secured the inside line on back-to-back Rookie of the Year candidates. McCollum joins Patriot League alum Damian Lillard on the Trailblazers.  Both are combo guards that are as comfortable filling up the hoop as they are dishing to teammates.  Don’t be shocked if McCollum supplants current shooting guard, Wes Matthews, in the starting lineup sometime in the season in order to get a dual combo guard backcourt a la Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge.

Ray McCallum: Similar name, similar game to CJ. Another combo guard who is a bit more pass-first than his Portland counterpart.  He’s going to struggle to get significant minutes in the regular season because Sacramento just traded for Greivis Vasquez and already had Isaiah Thomas on the roster.  Still, he has a calmness and intelligence about his game that supersede his age. He also displayed a real chemistry with 1st round pick Ben McLemore (who was simply too streaky to make this list, but provided the highlight of Summer League).

Reggie Bullock surprised those not familiar with his sweet stroke and tenacious defense

Kelly Olynyck: OK, he didn't play in Vegas (Boston didn't send a team to Las Vegas) but still, he was really good when he did play in Orlando Summer League.  He knocked down the long jumper, handled the ball well, and physically handled himself in the low post.  Moreover, he displayed that same soft touch around the rim that led to him being one of the most efficient players in the country for Gonzaga last year.  I know I said McCollum was a ROY candidate, and he is, but Olynyck is my early pick to win the award.  He’ll be featured on a team that isn't overflowing with talent, won’t have a great backup, and will have Rondo to gift-wrap him at least half a dozen points nightly.

Dennis Schröder: He's Rajon Rondo.  Seriously.  I thought he got that label since the Nike Hoop Summit because he was simple built like him physically. Nope. He runs, jumps, and generally carries himself like Rondo.  Even his gait is something out of a Rondo impersonator video.  Moreover, his game reminds me of the All-Star point guard. He defends voraciously and finds teammates as easily in the halfcourt as he does in transition.  Even his pronounced weakness, his jumpshot, is identical to Rondo's Achilles heel. Obviously he isn't as good as the elite point guard yet, but the similarities are downright eerie.  

Tim Hardaway Jr.: he didn't play much because a sprained left wrist has sidelined him (if there is a hint of injury to a player under contract in Vegas they get shut down), but he went for 20+ when he did and showed that penchant for scoring that his skills belied.  Coming into the draft I felt he was the most ready to play day one of the NBA season of all the shooting guard prospects, and the knicks absolutely got a steal with their 25th pick. He’s got the tools; able to create his own shot, a consistent jumper (March Madness be damned), and athleticism to finish at the cup and defend his position. Plus, he’s as polished a rookie as you’ll find because of his pedigree and pick up games vs professionals that he has participated in for years.

Cody Zeller: I was filled with trepidation when the Bobcats took him. Not because he couldn't play, but because I thought the organization wanted him to be their answer at the Center position.  I audibly exhaled when the team took Al Jefferson, allowing Zeller to play the stretch four that he fancied himself.  He has looked comfortable on the perimeter, putting the ball on the floor and finishing with running baby hooks as well as quick post possessions.  Even more impressively, he has shown and recovered at the perimeter surprisingly well for a guy that spent most of his defensive possessions in college in the paint.

Chicago added another wing scorer to supplant a former glaring roster weakness

Victor Oladipo: The Magic decided to play Oladipo at the point in the Orlando Summer League. Obviously he won’t play there during the year, but it was interesting to see him running the offense and bringing the ball up the court for people who (like me) had questions about his ability to handle the ball and get his own shot.  I still have those concerns.  He had a nearly 1:1 assist to turnover ratio.  Still, he looked comfortable with the ball in his hands; and between his athleticism (which was clear on both sides of the court) and his work ethic, he should be fine.
NBA Experienced  Players

Austin Rivers: I disagreed with a lot of people (some of whom can be found on 620 am the Buzz every Saturday morning at 9-11 am) on Rivers.  No, I don’t think he is Russell Westbrook or Kyrie Irving.  He isn’t an elite athlete and doesn’t possess great court-vision.  Even with what he isn’t, he is still a good backup point guard.  And if you tell me that that isn’t important, then you didn’t watch Jarrett Jack and the Warriors during their playoff run; where Jack was HUGE for them with timely baskets while spelling Curry from his point guard duties.  Rivers can be that guy. He is a shoot first (and second, and third) point guard.  But that’s why he’s perfect to run a second unit where the offensive talent is usually far inferior to the starting lineup.  This Summer League, he has displayed all of his offensive gifts (namely the ability to read pick and rolls well and the ability to pull up off the dribble and make difficult shots) and done so efficiently. The Pelicans have a lot of talent that may play in the backcourt this year (Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Tyreke Evans), but Rivers has played well enough to earn relevant minutes next year.

Jonas Valanciunas: The Toronto big man has always shown flashes of talent.  The last month of the regular season, the little-known Center was averaging 15 points 7 rebounds and nearly two blocks a game. Now his notoriety is the only thing little about Valanciunas, the Raptors’ big has added muscle to his frame and ruggedness to his game (I just thought of that line; like right now). He has been a dominant post presence this summer.

Looks like Marquis Teague may be able to fill in for Nate Robinson as the floor general for Chicago's 2nd unit 

Will Barton: After an unremarkable rookie year with the Blazers that included two short stints to the D-League, Barton will be looking to contribute to a much-improved Portland team.  He’s incredibly athletic and is capable of playing the point guard, shooting guard, and small forward positions.  He has a nose for the ball and took full advantage of his Summer League minutes. Barton seems like he could be a good glue guy/bench player that could give a thin Portland roster an added capable body.

PJ Tucker:  Tucker took the long way to get to his current position in the pros.  He was drafted by Toronto in the second round. Then (after not being re-signed) played in Europe, and finally fought his way back to the NBA.  He has transformed himself into a quality perimeter defender due to his strength and dogged determination.  He has always had a physical inside game despite his relative lack of height (6’4”).  His tough-minded approach has impressed the Suns executives and they were extremely pleased that he was amenable to playing in Vegas.  He displayed the defensive tenacity and improved outside game that they were hoping to see from him. Also, HE WENT TO ENLOE HIGH SCHOOL!!

Thomas Robinson: Three teams in two years isn't a good look for anyone that was a lottery pick just last year.  And every time I see him, I wonder what made Sacramento and Houston give up on him so quickly.  He was a terror on the boards in Vegas, gobbling up everything on both the offensive and defensive glass.  He finished around the rim and on the break with his athleticism, and showed that solid big man jumper out to 15-17 feet.  He reminds me of a tougher, if slightly less athletic, Blake Griffin.

Andre Drummond: Another Orlando Summer League player, Drummond really made me question why he was even out there.  Physically, he was the most dominant player I've seen all summer.  He’s 280 pounds, nearly 7 feet, and moves like a small forward.  He is raw offensively around the rim, even with his delicate touch around the cup.  He can show and get back on pick and roll plays, which is huge given the prevalence of that offensive set in the league. I know I said I’d chill with the stats since this is Summer League, but this is technically from the regular season: according to @statcenter out of the 3900+ minutes the Pistons played last year, Drummond and Greg Monroe played together for a total of 452 minutes.  I have no idea what Frank Lawrence was doing, but I’m sure that we will see these two sharing the court much more often this year.

Anyone catch your eye that I miss? Or you disagree with any of my picks? Let me know in the comments

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

No Basketball Offseason: Part 1

The Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn't allow for any of these trades to be more than proposed until the 10th of this month, but the shock of deals like the ones the Celtics and Nets pulled off was felt all the same.  Here are some of the biggest "signings" and free agents still on the market.  

Deals done in principle:   

I don’t know if you heard, but Dwight Howard is a free agent. There had been several teams mentioned to be in the running as Howard; Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks,  LA Lakers, and Golden State all made their pitches to the All-Star center at some point during the offseason. Howard may have lost his sterling reputation with the fans and the media over the past few years, but he still led the league in rebounding and blocked shots per 36 minutes despite playing through two major injuries.  While he may no longer be deemed to be the best overall Center in the league, he is still the best defender and, at 27, still capable of improving offensively.  That said, if it goes bad in Houston he may no longer be considered a superstar.

The Clippers were a mediocre 3 point shooting team last year and between Reddick, Dudley, and first round pick Reggie Bullock, they have bolstered a glaring weakness.  Remember, 8 of the top 10 three point shooting teams made the playoffs (and in the finals the Heat and Spurs were both top 5).  The shooters should space the offense out and allow the burgeoning post games of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to flourish.

He’s a solid pickup for a team that doesn't seem to have a clear vision for their future.  I would've liked to have seen him join a better squad, but whatever.

The 76ers have decided to completely demolish their team.  After suffering through a 34-48 season (and paying Andrew Bynum to model his new hairdos) management has decided to start the clock on their lottery selection early.  The Pelicans, on the other hand, are looking to rebound from their poor regular season performance of last year by adding the best point guard the team has had since…well, you-know-who left for the brighter lights of the LA Clippers.  If shooting guard Eric Gordon can stay healthy (and actually wants to stay on the team) New Orleans suddenly has a highly formidable back court to go along with its budding star, Anthony Davis.

Oh look, it’s New Orleans again.  The Pelicans are taking a bit of a chance on Tyreke Evans, who wowed the NBA with his Rookie of the Year performance in 2009-10.  Since his promising start, Evans has been shuttled in and out of the Sacramento lineup at various positions.  As the number one option on the team, he left fans wanting.  As perhaps the fourth best option on the Pelicans, he could be dynamic. 

The Nets have mortgaged their future to win now.  In a league full of teams nosediving to get ready for the robust draft class of next year, it’s refreshing to see a team interested in winning now. A starting lineup that boasts former All-Stars at each starting position is rare…but so is beating out the Heat in the East.  Make no mistake; this is a championship-caliber team with championship aspirations. The Nets added a winning culture with three former champions, but the window is incredibly small with the aged veterans that they’ve added.

I won’t lie, this is the first move in a long time that I immediately loved as a Bobcat fan. Jefferson was among the most efficient players in the post last year.  Add that to the very reasonable 3 years and $41 million we are giving him and the addition of Cody Zeller and the lineup is shaping up nicely. It’s an odd feeling as a Bobcats fan that your team may be too good for its own good.  With our surge of talent and teams’ tepid resistance to losing, I’m frightened we may be just good enough to miss out on the top-tier talent of the 2014 Draft class.

Despite their much celebrated defense, the Bulls have struggled to score in the Coach Thibodeau era. They added a wing player with a propensity to score in Dunleavy.  

Golden State just added another talented wing player to add to the growing collection of wing players.  I won’t lie, I’m not as big on this addition. Clearing this cap space essentially meant not re-signing vital parts to their second unit, who were huge for them in the playoffs.  Iggy is coming off his best postseason, but his addition means less minutes for Thompson/Barnes.  Barnes will probably play the four more often because of his success at the position after David Lee went down to injury.  The team also signed Mareese Speights, to help replace departed big Carl Landry (4 years, 27 million to the Kings).


The Clips shipped Bledsoe out,  so they needed a backup PG to spell CP3.  They did marvelously by scooping Collison on the cheap.  I really don’t know what happened to this young man.  There was a time when he was considered part of the up-and-coming point guards.  When Dallas brought in Derek Fisher to start over him in Dallas, I knew that time was officially dead.  Still, he’s great in the open court, and feeds into the Clippers up and down pace they have come to be known for.  Additionally, maybe former PG Doc Rivers could help get his career back on track.

56 million, four years, one crowded paint area.  When I first heard about this deal, I assumed Josh Smith’s arrival would mean the departure of Greg Monroe or Andre Drummond (both of whom are incredibly talented). Instead, it means that Josh Smith will play the small forward.  Any Hawks fan knows the limitations of Smith’s jump shot.  I have no idea how the spacing will look. This just doesn't make sense, offensively at least. Defensively they’ll clog the lane well.  I’m not sure Josh Smith is physically capable of defending SFs on a night in and night out basis.  Usually, as players get older (even athletic ones), they don’t move from the paint to the perimeter.  Will definitely be an interesting experiment.

Dominoes fall. Once Josh Smith decided to leave Atlanta, they needed another undersized player to play alongside Al Horford to force Horford to continue playing out of position at the Center.  I like Atlanta; I have no idea why. I just want them to stop this mediocre run they are on that always leaves them vacationing right outside the draft lottery.  There’s talent on this team, and they look to add either Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis sometime soon this offseason, but the fan base seems listless and the team seems to not have any real direction.

Jack opted out of his contract with the Warriors.  His performance in the postseason warranted it.  He proved he could run the second unit, or allow a team to put him at point while their starter moved down to the two-guard.  Jack will serve a similar role with the Cavs as he did the Warriors; he joins another great point guard in Kyrie Irving. He and Earl Clark ($9 million for two years) are quality pickups for a team looking to appease Irving into re-signing after this year.

Free Agents still on market

Andrew Bynum: After playing as many NBA minutes as you and I last year, Bynum is a free agent.  He has struggled with knee problems for his entire career.  His last two seasons with the Lakers were his healthiest, and he showed flashes of pure dominance.  Still, the health questions and confusion about his commitment to basketball will keep his next contract short and relatively inexpensive.  Bynum has reportedly declined workouts and medical examinations, but will submit his medical records.  In a season where boom or bust is preferable to mediocrity, he’s oddly perfect.  Suitors: Cleveland, Atlanta, Dallas. UPDATE: Bynum signed a 2 year, $24 million deal with the Cavs.

Andrei Kirilenko: Did you know that AK has made over 100 million dollars for his career? Not bad for a glue guy that hasn't averaged over 13 points a game in 7 years.  He can guard multiple positions, and you never have to call a play for him.  AK reminds me a lot of Tayshaun Prince. UPDATE: Kirilenko signed for 2 years and 6 million dollars with the NETS.

Jeff Teague (Restricted): Neither Teague nor the Hawks seem to want to continue their relationship.  Recently, there have been talks of a sign and trade with the Bucks for Brandon Jennings. I've always liked Teague, he just happens to be in the Golden age of PGs.  Still, he’s athletic and feisty and can really contribute to a team. UPDATE: The Hawks matched the 4 year $32 million offer sheet from the Milwaukee Bucks meaning Teague will stay there.

Brandon Jennings (Restricted): Jennings and Monta Ellis were a terrible fit from the beginning.  Both love to shoot, and like having the ball in their hands.  Jennings is a high volume shooter, regardless of who is on his team.  Despite shooting a career high from the arc (37.5%), Jennings only shot 40% from the field.  For a guy with such a quick first step, it’s a bewildering set of statistics.   

Monta Ellis: Jennings’ backcourt mate declined his $12 million player option to become a free agent.  Ellis is another high-volume, low-efficiency scorer.  I think the interest in Ellis has been a little lukewarm because teams don’t think he can be a number 1 on a team; and because of his need to have the ball in his hands, he may not be able to be a number 2 either.  Suitors: Hawks, Sacramento. UPDATE: Monta Ellis signed with the Dallas Mavericks for 3 years and roughly 30 million.

Greg Oden: He had the 6th highest PER when he got hurt…in 2009.  That was the last time Oden graced a basketball court. Insert whatever “you can’t teach size” cliché that you would like to here, but he defends, rebounds and finishes around the basket really well; an absolute throwback of a big man.  I want this to work for him, not least of all because he could play when he was healthy.  The Heat have been in talks with him as early as last year, but he decided not to rush his rehab from his injuries.  I wouldn’t be shocked if a contender grabbed him just to keep him from joining the defending champions.  Suitors: Miami, San Antonio, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Memphis Grizzllies.

Gerald Henderson (Restricted): Not at all the most ballyhooed player on this list, but is a legit player.  I’m really hoping that the Bobcats re-sign the 6’ 5” shooting guard.  Henderson is a tenacious defender and has improved steadily on offense, a testament to his work ethic.  On an anemic team, I often wished he were more selfish, but he has continued to get more confident with the ball in his hands.  Could be a steal for the right team.

Byron Mullens: No Qualifying offer extended to this Bobcat.  Mullens was a pleasant surprise for the Charlotte franchise. He is a stretch four that has more recently shown the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim.  He still doesn't rebound or defend at a particularly high level, and perhaps that (and Cody Zeller’s arrival) made him expendable. UPDATE: Mullens signed with the Clippers.

Nate Robinson: Nate Robinson made $1.1 million last year.  After multiple injuries gave him a chance, he took full advantage of it for the Bulls.  I’m a little surprised I haven’t heard more about his destination choices given how otherworldly he was in the postseason.  I don’t think he’s a starter, but he’s a great option to run your second unit.

Anthony Morrow: He’s a scorer.  Put him in the Chris Douglass-Roberts “I have no idea why this guy isn’t on a roster and contributing somewhere” list.  So for those keeping track, the list is two. UPDATE: Morrow signed with the Pelicans. Per club policy, the terms of the contract weren't made available.

Tyler Hansbrough: Psycho T had no contract offer from the Pacers and has become a Free Agent.  I’ve always felt that he could play, and his per 36 min numbers (15 points and 10 rebounds) indicate that he can.  But will he get enough time anywhere to show it? UPDATE: Hansbrough signed a two year deal with the Raptors.

DJ Augustin: Augustin went from starting on the Bobcats, to getting scarce minutes on a contender, to looking for a job. He's a quality shooter and decent decision-maker off the pick and roll.  A defensive liability, but what backup point guard is perfect? UPDATE: Reached a one-year to deal with Toronto.

Austin Daye: Daye is a 6’11 200 pound 3 point shooting threat.  Sadly, the Kevin Durant comparison ends there.  He’s only 25, and I keep thinking that he will “figure it out” and be a consistent contributor.  But after he didn't get ANY significant minutes for the Grizzlies (a really poor shooting team) I’m beginning to wonder if my faith has been misplaced.  If he doesn't find his way soon, he may never locate it.

Chase Budinger:  Another “if he could only get it together” player.  Only “it” for Budinger is his health.  The college dual-sport star is really athletic (he played semi-pro volleyball during the lockout) and has a feather touch from deep.  His constant, nagging injuries will make him a project for some club. UPDATE: Signed a 3 year, $16 million with the T'wolves

Kenyon Martin: I don’t know if we’re going to go through the “why isn’t Martin on a team” only to watch him get signed and immediately contribute, again or what.  I hope not. He’s an energetic big with an underrated ability to score around the rim.

Chris “Birdman” Anderson: (See above) UPDATE: Re-signed with Miami for the league minimum $1.7 million one year deal.

Nick Young: He’s got JR Smith’s mentality, just not as good.  Shocking no one has taken him. UPDATE: The Lakers signed local boy Young to 2 year, $2.3 million

J. J. Hickson: Hickson keeps producing, and he keeps getting shipped off.  He’s the new Jim Jackson.

Mo Williams: Williams shooting efficiency has plummeted since parting ways with LeBron.  I’m shocked too. Still, he’s a heady player that has played in enough big games to contribute to some contender, right? Certainly if Jason Terry is still valued, Williams has to be too.

Nikola Pekovic: I don’t know why I put him last, because he was sensational (16 points, 8 rebounds) in his expanded role for the Timberwolves; just a rugged presence inside and a staple if you have a stretch 4.  The Wolves drafted Gorgui Dieng, but they have formally extended an offer to him.  If they can stay healthy (a huge if for this team) they have the talent to surprise some people next year.