Saturday, June 22, 2013

Why the Spurs didn't become Champions and a look at Tony Parker

I thought I would take a look at the post I made a month ago about how the Spurs could become champions to see what went wrong for the Spurs. Or if I was just completely wrong in my initial post. Smart money is on the latter.

Point by point, let's take a look.

1. Limit turnovers.

Game #, # of Spurs turnovers, Win/Loss, turnover differential:

Game 1: 4, (W), 4 less TOs than Miami
Game 2: 16, (L), 10 more TOs
Game 3: 12 (W), 4 less
Game 4: 18 (L), 9 more
Game 5: 18 (W), 5 more
Game 6: 13 (L), 2 more
Game 7: 14 (L), 2 less

Nothing really surprising there. Three of the Spurs four losses in the series came when they committed more turnovers than Miami. The only exception was Game 7 when Danny Green turned back into a pumpkin, Manu Ginobili raised legitimate questions about if he was shaving points and LeBron James raised legitimate questions about whether or not he was human. You give Miami additional opportunities to run in transition, and you are probably going to lose.

2. Dominate at the positions you hold advantages at.

Tony Parker injuring his hamstring in SA's game 3 blowout really put a damper on this one. After carving up the Lakers/Warriors/Grizzlies to the tune of 23 PPG, 4 RPG and 7 APG on 48/38/80 shooting, Parker averaged a 16/2/6 on 41/29/73 shooting in the Finals. Not only that, but it allowed LeBron to guard him in crunch time late in the series without expending too much energy, as Parker couldn't move as fast as he normally did. Duncan had a nice series with 19 and 12 a game on 49% shooting, but it wasn't enough. Have to tip your cap to Chris Bosh for defending Duncan surprisingly well in the post on a number of 1 on 1 situations.

3. Make LeBron work on both ends.

LeBron found himself guarding Kawhi Leonard for most of the series, and Leonard held his own on both ends of the floor. Leonard averaged a 15/11 on 51/35/71 shooting. Leonard was able to hit the three at a respectable clip to keep LeBron honest with his defense. He was able to get to the rim with consistency, and take smaller defenders to the post when the matchup was favorable. Gregg Popovich couldn't ask for a whole lot more from a 21 year old kid.

4. Attack Dwyane Wade

Danny Green did a wonderful job of this...from Games 1 to 5. He wasn't so much attacking Wade off the dribble, but he did make Wade pay for his ball watching by rotating to open places beyond the arc and nailing his threes. Green hit 25 of his first 38 three pointers in the series before missing 9 of his last 11 in Games 6 and 7. Just think, if one more of those threes in Game 6 found their way in, we may be talking about Finals MVP Danny Green today.

5. Hit the glass. Hard.

Game #, # of Spurs rebounds, Win/Loss, rebound differential:

Game 1: 37, (W), 9 less rebounds than Miami
Game 2: 44, (L), 8 more rebounds
Game 3:  52 (W), 16 more
Game 4:  36 (L), 5 less
Game 5:  36 (W), 2 more
Game 6: 45 (L), 3 more
Game 7: 43 (L), even

Not much correlation here, due to Miami deciding to go small around Game 4. Erik Spoelstra was willing to sacrifice size/rebounding in Birdman Birdman Anderson for more spacing/shooting with Mike Miller/Shane Battier. Popovich adjusted getting Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup and progressively cutting Tiago Splitter's minutes from 25 in Game 1, down to 4 in Game 7. This played right into Miami's strengths, as they would much rather go small and surround LeBron with shooters. The Pacers were able to make Miami pay with Hibbert/West. Tiago Splitter was not.

And that was pretty much the story of the Finals. SA played into Miami's hands by going smaller, and it paid off initially with Danny Green/Gary Neal shooting the lights out, but it couldn't be sustained. Dwyane Wade turned up the energy on both ends of the court, and made a handful of terrible shots. And LeBron James did LeBron James things. Check his numbers for Games 6 and 7, with Miami's back against the wall: 34.5 PPG, 11 RPG, 7.5 APG on 47/40/85 shooting. By the way, those numbers are on 7.5 three point attempts and 10 free throw attempts per game. When LeBron James is shooting 10 free throws a game, he is hard to guard. When LeBron James is hitting 40% of his three pointers, he is harder to guard. He did both over the closeout games of the series, which made him completely unguardable. Oh yeah, there's also his world class defense due to his ability to wreak havoc on the floor due to insane physical gifts and an amazing basketball IQ. Consider the fact that there isn't a defensive mismatch for LeBron James. He can hold his own for possessions at a time against a Chris Paul, a Kevin Durant or a Dwight Howard. And he's 28 years old. And still improving. Good luck teams not employing LeBron James for the next several seasons.

One more basketball related note.

There's been a lot of love for Tony Parker recently, and it's deserved. He's an excellent player. But it appears he was underrated for so long that he's now becoming overrated. In the past couple of weeks, I've heard that he's the best point guard in the game, that he's an irreplaceable part for San Antonio and that he's the best player in the league not named LeBron James. I disagree WHOLE-HEARTEDLY with all three statements. Parker made his first All Star game in 2005-06. In the eight seasons since then, Parker has averaged between 16-22 PPG, 6-8 APG and shot between 48-55% from the field every season. My point is that Tony Parker has BEEN good. For many years now. This season he didn't set a career high in points, rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, FG% or 3P%, so what makes him the best now? Who didn't know Tony Parker was good? He benefits from that Spurs system and there are a number of point guards that I think could thrive there. How do you think a guy with Chris Paul's all around skill would work with a million picks being set for him, shooters on the perimeter and Duncan in the post? Or an explosive guy like Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook? Or a shooter like Steph Curry? Or a scorer like Deron Williams? I'd LOVE to see a guy like Kyrie Irving in that system. Again, this takes nothing away from Parker, who is fantastic, but to say he's the best PG in the game seems extreme to me.

Some Random Thoughts

You've been doing fantastic work with the draft stuff.  I can't hope to compete with that.  Instead, here are a handful of random thoughts I've had recently:

Before the NBA Finals started, I thought we were going to be getting a 7 game series, full of classic games.  Every game coming down to the fourth quarter.  Every late possession would be intense.  The first game seemed to back me up.
We all know where it went from there.  The next three games were blow-outs, and the next one looked that way before the Heat mounted a furious rally, only to be turned back and go down meekly.
But games 6 & 7 were amazing.  Game 6 had a tremendous ending that may end up as one of the greatest games I've seen (at the very least, one of the greatest endings I've ever seen).  And game 7 was a back and forth affair the entire game, with an extremely tense ending.  Those last 2 games are as good as the NBA Finals could be.  The fact that the middle games weren't overly competitive doesn't even matter to me.  I wanted the Spurs to win, but I'm not really upset with how the series turned out.

The Tigers have been up-and-down this year, but they're 40-32 and 3 games ahead of the Indians in the division.  The starting pitching has been terrific (not so much this past week, but in general they've been darn near untouchable), but the offense has quite a few nights off, and the bullpen is shaky (to say the least).    But Valverde (who has been absolutely terrible, naturally) has just been optioned to the minors, and Alburquerque is back on the team.  So things are looking up.
Still, I'm slightly worried about Verlander.  Through 92 innings, he has a 3.72 ERA, his highest since 2008.  His location doesn't look quite as sharp.  There are reasons to think he can turn it around (the main reason being that he's still Justin Verlander), but I'll probably address that in my next post.  There's too much to go into here.
I'll be up in Comerica (behind home plate) in a couple weeks for a game against the White Sox.  Can't wait.

Have you seen Puig?  I've found myself watching quiet a few Dodgers games (again) this year.  There's been a lot of hype about him, and a lot of backlash to that hype.  Through 17 games (69 plate appearances), his line currently looks like this: .455/.478/.773.  That's insane?  Is he going to keep that up?  There's no way he does.  There's no way a .552 BABIP is sustainable, even for a guy with his speed.  He is striking out 20.2% of the time, and only walking 1.4% of the time.  Every single one of those numbers points to a huge regression in his line.
But, when I watch him play, I don't really care about any of that.  His power is amazing.  His speed on the basepaths is amazing.  His arm in the outfield is amazing.  He's a ton of fun to watch.  I know his numbers will drop-off.  But, right now, I really don't care.  I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.  (Or when he falls off of it.  Whatever.)

I'm still upset that I'm in black-out range for the Reds.  I'm 90 minutes away, which means I can't watch their games unless they have the Saturday game on Fox.  Which they have tonight.  But I'm still not happy, because the Tigers play at the same time, which means that the Tigers game will be blacked out.  To say I'm not happy with MLB's black-out rules would be an understatement.

Football season is just around the corner and I couldn't be more excited.  The Packers are looking good.  Love their draft.  I hate that Desmond Bishop is gone, but I think Nick Perry is going to have a huge year.  There are a couple of (potentially) great running backs lining up behind Rodgers.  I think they're going to have a great year.
They come through Cincinnati in week 3.  Thinking of heading up for that one.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

NBA Draft Chronicles Part Four: Victor Oladipo

This is the fourth and final part of my personal NBA draft chronicles. In this part, I will be focusing on Indiana SG Victor Oladipo.


















 Strengths

-Hustle. A Kidd-Gilchrist/Noel type of motor that will keep him in just about every play and getting NBA minutes for a long time.

-NBA ready body. 6'9 Wingspan. 42 inch vertical leap, as seen in the picture above. Weighed in a 213 pounds at the NBA combine, so worrying about if he can add weight like Ben McLemore, is not a concern.

-Improved tremendously during his time in college. I will let the numbers speak for themselves. Note the efficiency.
 





 -Attacks the rim agggessively. He has an almost Westbrook-esque level of aggression when attacking the basket. The whole "Clear out at the top of the key and let Victor blow past his defender with terrifying athleticism" play seemed to work well for the Tom Crean and the Hoosiers.

-Finds ways to be useful and stays in his lane. His first two years of college before his shot improved helped him in terms of moving without the ball, being in the right spot for offensive rebounds or tip ins and filling lanes correctly in transition. He rarely attempts maneuvers that he knows he can't complete.

-Has tremendous defensive potential. Long arms, great hands and quick feet give him the ability to defend three positions. Could be extra valuable with the number of quality point guards in the league today.

Weaknesses

-Offensive game. While he has shown massive improvements, he still needs to work on rounding out his offensive game. He scores a majority of his buckets in transition and needs to work on his isolation offense. With his athleticism, he will often find himself matched up against a slower defender. Capitalizing on those mismatches could be easy buckets for him. He drives to the bucket so hard that he often doesn't appear to have a Plan B. Adding a mid range game and the ability to pull up off the dribble would make him much harder to defend.

-Not a great ball handler by any means. Again, he's pretty good going straight forward, but changing direction is not his forte just yet.

-Height. As aforementioned, long arms and great athleticism will help him mask this, but he's still only 6'4 in sneakers. Bigger guards will be able to shoot over him.

-There are concerns that his shooting numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. 60% FG shooting is impressive, but it's an unsustainable figure and more of a credit to his shot selection than his actual shooting skills. 44% from 3P is great, but he hit less than one per game and played on a team with two other 44%+ 3P shooters and first rounder Cody Zeller in the middle. What happens when he is shooting an NBA distance three pointer without that type of talent around him to space the floor? Adding credence to this argument is the fact that most of his shooting percentages peaked in December and proceeded to drop in every following month.

Ceiling/Floor

No numbers comparisons here. I could have forced some comparisons but between Oladipo's pedestrian numbers his first two years in college, and the comparisons in mind not staying until their junior year in college, it didn't seem fair.

Best case scenario: Andre Iguodala....now. I mention "now", because Iguodala has now found a solid role as the "fill in the blanks" guy in Denver. 13/5/5 and nearly 2 SPG on 45% FG shooting is a fine player. It's not a $15 million dollar a year player (Iggy's current salary), but that's neither here nor there. Iguodala was at his best in the Olympics filling in the blanks and playing great perimeter defense while LeBron/Durant/Melo did LeBron/Durant/Melo things. Miscast as a #1 option after Allen Iverson left Philly, Iggy averaged a 20/5/5/2 and lead the Sixers into the playoffs.  This may have been the worst thing to happen to him (from an expectations standpoint, not a financial one), as he inked a 6 year/ $80 million dollar contract that offseason. Oladipo isn't the type of passer/facilitator that Iguodala is, but if he can land in a situation that allows him to emulate Denver Iguodala and not Philadelphia Iguodala, he can carve out a nice career for himself.

Worst case scenario: Avery Bradley. Bradley missed the first couple of months of the season due to injury, and came back at the start of 2013. In the 12 games he played with Rajon Rondo (before his season ending injury), Bradley averaged a 8/1.5/1/1 on 41/33/33 shooting. I checked those numbers three or four times to make sure I had my stats in line. Sadly, they're legit. So Rondo going down would be Bradley's time to shine, right? After all, he was ranked above John Wall in some high school rankings and was a first round pick after his one season at Texas. Surely, he'd take flight without Rondo around. Nah. In the 44 games (postseason included) games without Rondo, he averaged a 9/2/2/1.5 on 40/31/83 shooting. That whole "shooting" thing is a tough racket in the NBA, it appears. Still, Bradley played fantastic defense and was rewarded with a second team All Defense selection for his troubles. You pray that Oladipo can pass those shooting numbers and come close to matching Bradley's skill on defense.

Best fit

Sacramento- The Kings could use a guard that doesn't care about getting his shots up. Between Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette and Toney Douglas, the Kings didn't have one guard last season that could really affect the game without shooting much. Oladipo would be a nice pick for them.

Worst fit

Phoenix- Same reasons as for McLemore: the talent is just not there in Phoenix. He wouldn't have a star to play off or young talent to really grow with and may be asked to do much to soon out of necessity.

Conclusion

I was trying to avoid the obvious comparison because they were everywhere, but it makes too much sense. Oladipo is going to be Tony Allen with a slightly higher ceiling. They are nearly the same exact size, play with a similar fire and make their money on the defensive end. It's a recurring theme with this draft, but would you want Tony Allen with a top 5 draft pick? No, but you could do a lot worse. In that respect, I feel Oladipo has the highest floor of any of the candidates I've taken a look at. Barring injury, I can't imagine anyway that Oladipo doesn't become an elite perimeter defender over the next couple of years. That's insanely valuable now, as we watch a guy like Tony Parker get to wherever he wants on the court at any time. Can a guy become an All Star player when his main skill is hustle? That I don't know. I do know that regardless of his perceived ceiling, if you can draft a guy like that and count on him to chase around All Star caliber perimeter players for the next ten seasons, it's a solid pick.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

NBA Draft Chronicles Part Three: Ben McLemore

Back at it with part three of my personal NBA draft chronicles. In this part, I will be focusing on Kansas SG Ben McLemore.


Strengths

-That shot. That beautiful shot. McLemore is excellent as a catch and shoot guy and is still expanding his offensive repertoire. He already has legit NBA range and shot 49/42/87 in his lone season in college, so he has 50/40/90 potential as a professional.

-Explosive athleticism. Rare to see a dead eye shooter with that type of athleticism.

-Untapped potential. McLemore was a late bloomer in high school and missed his first year at Kansas due to some academic troubles. There are legit arguments that a lot of his passive nature was due to him wanting to fit in on a Kansas team with a number of upperclassmen. If you agree with that camp, then McLemore has barely scratched the surface of his potential.

-A willing passer, if not a great one (a slightly negative assist to turnover ratio). An unselfish player, and by all accounts, a great teammate.

-Don't see him as a lockdown defender, but should be more than capable of defending his position. The physical tools are there for him to be a solid defender.

Weaknesses

-As mentioned above, McLemore is very passive.  He doesn't appear to be the type to call for the ball or to punish a weaker defender until the opposing team is forced to make a switch. Wanting to fit in with a team of upperclassmen is fine, but there are times when McLemore completely disappeared from the ball game (5 points on 2-7 shooting in the Big 12 Championship game, 7 points (3-12 FG)  in a double overtime game where he played 49 minutes, 2 points (0-9 FG) in the third round of the NCAA tournament to name a few examples).

-Creating offense for self. Even if McLemore was looking to score buckets, his means of doing so are limited at this point in his career. He gets an overwhelming majority of his points in transition and in catch-and-shoot scenarios. Isolation scoring and shooting off of the dribble are underdeveloped parts of his game. Part of his allure, is the fact that he has been able to score without these parts of his game. With his athleticism and pure shot, he could be a lethal scorer at the next level. But he will need a lot of help getting his points early in his career.

-Not a great ball handler. College defenders were often able to poke the ball loose or force McLemore to pick up his dribble. He definitely needs some work there.

-His frail frame gives him trouble finishing in the paint. To his credit, he appears to have a frame that can support more weight without sacrificing athleticism, but 189 pounds probably won't cut it as a NBA shooting guard when you have the likes of Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert waiting underneath the basket for you.

-Defensive consistency. As mentioned earlier, the tools are there for him to be a solid defender, but the commitment is not. I'm not too worried about this, as I feel that this is something that many young players struggle with. Some time in the NBA and the right coach should be able to keep his focus on defense where it needs to be. 

Ceiling/Floor

More numbers comparisons. Check the freshmen numbers of three sharpshooting SGs, all lottery picks.




Pretty similar numbers here until you recognize that Player B played about 10 minutes less per game than Players A or C. Player A is Ben McLemore. Player B is Ray Allen. Player C is JJ Redick. To be fair, Allen and Redick were 18 years old during their freshman seasons, while McLemore was 20 years old. Ray Allen is probably McLemore's ceiling. Redick is probably his floor, in my opinion. That may sound like an insult to anyone that hasn't watched JJ Redick play basketball in years, but I assure you it is not.

Coming out of college, Redick was 6'4 190. McLemore was 6'5, 189. Both were primarily catch and shoot guys that struggled creating their own offense. Redick was worked hard to turn himself into a guy that can score in a variety of ways, as well as set his teammates up to score. Watching his game develop in Orlando was a delight, and I'm hoping he takes his talents to Memphis next season to be the offensive spark off the bench that they need. The difference between McLemore and Redick is painfully obvious: athleticism. (What were you thinking?) Redick had to bust his hump to overcome an average vertical leap, slow footspeed and a negative wingspan. McLemore was blessed with explosive leaping ability, good agility and long arms. If he works at his game, the Ray Allen comparisons may not be too far off. If not, he'll still find NBA minutes as the guy that casual NBA fans think that JJ Redick is: catch-and-shoot guy and not much more.

Best Lottery Fit

Charlotte- That team could use some shooting in the worst way. He'd likely fill in for free agent Gerald Henderson, and would provide some much needed spacing for Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He and MKG could be great complements to one another.

Worst Lottery Fit

Phoenix- They are in the rare position of being an awful team in a brutal conference, yet they have neither building block talent or enough cap space to lure multiple big time free agents. Tragic. McLemore could be the start of a rebuild, but he'd be on his own for at least a year or two.

Conclusion

After James Harden, there is not a lot of talent at shooting guard in the league. You still have Kobe, but he's coming off a tough injury. You have Dwyane Wade, but he's falling apart at warp speed. Who's left? Eric Gordon? Joe Johnson? Demar Derozan? Eek. The chance to be an elite SG sooner rather than later is definitely there for McLemore. If he shores up his offensive limitations, I don't see any reason why he can't reach that level. A team that is able to play to his strengths could see immediate benefits. He'd be potent coming off of screens like Rip Hamilton in Detroit or Ray Allen in Boston, until he gets enough of an offensive game to call for the ball and work in isolation situations. Whether he has it in him to develop that part of his game remains to be seen.