Friday, June 27, 2014

Rob Hennigan and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Smug bastard (pictured above)
I've defended Rob Hennigan many times in this space, and with good reason. He nailed the Dwight Howard trade when it was clear Howard was leaving. The haul as of right now, in terms of what we still have left: Vucevic/Harkless/Fournier/Payton/a 2017 first rounder still to come from the Lakers. He's shown a solid draft history. Three of the four picks (Nicholson, O'Quinn, Oladipo) he's made for Orlando coming into tonight have proven to be rotation players at least (Romery Osby, the fourth, is playing overseas). He fleeced the Bucks for Tobias Harris/Doron Lamb and only gave up JJ Redick, who was not going to re-sign in Orlando. He's just finally cleared the salary cap of Otis Smith's blunders. He got rid of Chris Duhon, Earl Clark and Jason Richardson's contracts in the Dwight deal. Last season was the end of paying Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu. This upcoming year will be the last year we have to pay Al Harrington and Glen Davis. He's done a masterful job since taking over the gig in the summer of 2012. Which made everything he did today so baffling to me.

The day for Orlando Magic fans started with news that Arron Afflalo had been dealt. Awesome. Afflalo had a very good season last year, and I was surprised to see him finish it in Orlando. He had a legit argument to make the All Star game and I thought he'd be traded while his value was at its peak. Then the trade deadline came, no trade. Coo coo. Surely he'd move on draft day. There were rumors of him heading to Charlotte, Denver and Chicago for draft picks in tonights draft. When I heard he was heading for Denver, I assumed it was for the 11th overall pick. Boy was I wrong. It was for SG Evan Fournier and a second rounder that became SG Roy Devyn Marble (top/bottom 5 name all time. I haven't decided which). Fournier is a Frenchman that wears #94 despite playing shooting guard and not defensive end. I had decided I wasn't going to like him before I read anything else and that was that. In the effort of being fair, I decided to look up Fournier's scouting reports and was pleasantly surprised.

I now have to root for this man. Send prayers up.
He went the pick after Andrew Nicholson in the 2012 draft, so I'm certain Hennigan scouted him plenty. He's 21 and just finished his second year, so we get two more years to evaluate him before deciding on his future with the team. He played and defended PG pretty well his rookie year, but an injury that kept SF Danilo Galinari out for the year forced him into more SF duty. Per 82games.com, his PER was higher and his opponents PER was lower when he played PG for 2012-13 and 2013-14. He's also a career 38% 3P shooter in his two NBA years. It looks like he'll be able to fill in for two or three positions in Orlando and provide some much needed shooting, and we get a two year look at him. I had my hopes set on a lottery pick for Afflalo, but he can opt out after the year and giving up a top 14 pick for one year of just about any player is not the recipe for success. Basketball gawd Zach Lowe also attested that Hennigan does his due diligence. He worked the phones with every NBA team and this was the best deal he could get. My biggest gripe was that even if this was the best deal you could get, wouldn't it have been available at the 2015 trade deadline? Perhaps but maybe Afflalo gets hurt. Or no one wants to give up anything of value for three months of Afflalo. Fournier also gets to start with the team from the beginning of the year. I guess, I'm ok with this deal. I guess.

Athletic things.
I like Aaron Gordon. I think he is going to be a good NBA player. I wasn't prepared to have him at #4 though. The rumors of us trading up to #1 and hopefully grabbing Andrew Wiggins had taken over my mind. When Wiggins went to the Cavs, I had conceded to the fact that we were going to roll the dice on Dante Exum. NAH. Gordon. I was legitimately caught off guard. He's a 3/4 tweener. He's too frail for the 4, but his game isn't really suited for the 3. He's not a great ball handler. He's not a good shooter. Word to Kirk Goldsberry.

Note: Blue is bad
Gordon made 23% of his midrange jumpers last year and hit a ghastly 42% of his free throws. This is the guy going 4th? Well, yes. He's a freak athlete, laterally and vertically. You can't teach this.



And he hustles. Very scrappy. Coaches dream. All that stuff. I can't help but be reminded of the last time we took a freak athlete revered for his hustle. You know, last year when we took Victor Oladipo. That seems like it's working out well because those guys find a way to make themselves useful. Gordon is a very willing passer, and a solid ball handler. He doesn't turn 19 until the middle of September. At the absolute worst, he's going to be a great defender and once his body fills out, he's the type of guy you'll want guarding the LeBron/Durant/Melo types in the NBA. Though his block/steal numbers don't show it because of Sean Miller's conservative defensive system, I think he has potential to defend the rim from the 4 position like Josh Smith/Serge Ibaka/Andrei Kirilenko. Miller's system values guys being in the right position at all times, over going for steals and blocks explaining Gordon's pedestrian numbers (around a steal and block a piece per game). He also shot an encouraging 36% from 3P, which isn't great by any means but shows that there is hope for him. He shows that Hennigan is placing an emphasis on guys high motor guys that are known for their defense. I can't be mad at that. I reckon.

The #12 pick found us taking Dario Saric, Croatian star that just signed a deal overseas that will keep him there for at least two more years. We soon traded this pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the rights to Elfrid Payton. Cool. I've been reading quite a bit on Payton and like what I've seen. Another great athlete that has shown an affinity for playing defense, like Gordon and Oladipo. Like Gordon and Oladipo, he also can't shoot. Like, at all. He hit 26% of his three pointers last year. He hit 26% of his jumpers inside the arc last year. He shot 61% of his free throws last year. He lead the nation in turnovers. But the recurring theme, between he, Gordon and Oladipo, is that they can all affect a game without scoring. Payton averaged 19 PPG, but also had 6 RPG, 6 APG and over 2 SPG. He was also third in the nation in free throw attempts. He's a rare mix of youth and experience. He played three years at UL Lafayette, but just turned 20 in February. He's three weeks older than Joel Embiid, who finished his freshman year at Kansas. There are questions about whether he can handle his own jumping from the Sun Belt conference to the NBA, but I feel like athleticism, hustle and a willingness to play defense will translate. He won the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year award as well as the Lefty Driesell Award as the nations best defensive player. My biggest gripe here is how we attained Payton.

"Why DO we drive on parkways and park on driveways? Trippy shit when you think about it man."
Philly drafted Payton at 10, and I heard that he was headed to Orlando in a trade before the #11 pick was announced. Doug McDermott went #11 to Denver, in a trade that landed him in Chicago. Saric went #12 to us. We then traded Saric, a future first rounder (one we acquired from Philly in the Dwight trade) and a future second rounder for Payton and a future second rounder. I absolutely hate that we had to give up a first rounder to move up two spots to get a guy that probably would have been there anyway. With no trade, Philly probably takes Saric to stash again. McDermott still goes to Den/Chi. We get Payton at #12. Instead, we have to give a first rounder back to Philly, and they are clearly a team that is not trying to compete any time soon. That pick is top 11 protected for 2017 and top 8 protected for 2018, meaning Philly could still end up with a nice pick from us. Granted, this is a pick Philly owed us from the Dwight trade so we won't go without in those drafts, but I just feel like we got fleeced and gave up something we didn't have to. Still, the point of acquiring said picks is to use them to get the players you really want. Hennigan really wanted Payton, and did what he felt necessary to get him. Again, it's hard to fault him for that. I suppose.

To recap, we turned an expiring Arron Afflalo into a swingman with some upside. Drafted arguably the best athlete/defender in the draft at #4 and ended up with a player being favorably compared to Rajon Rondo at #12. You could do a lot worse than that. I imagine our depth chart next season looks something like this:

PG: Payton/veteran PG signing. I'm hoping for Patty Mills here.
SG: Oladipo/Fournier
SF: Harkless/Harris
PF: Nicholson/Gordon
C: Vucevic/O'Quinn

That's another likely trip to the lottery, but that's fine. There are some legit assets in that lineup, and I figure we will take one last visit to the lottery next season before we start shooting for playoff appearances in the following years. We've opened up plenty of cap space so if a team shooting for LeBron/Melo needs to dump a salary quick, we can take it on and pick up another asset for it. Ok, so maybe Hennigan's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day wasn't so bad after all. I guess.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why the Spurs are Champions. Again.

That's right. A revisit to a revisit of a revisit. Or is it original visit? In any case, holy smokes. The Spurs blew the doors off the Heat in five games, and the Heats lone victory was by two points. I picked the Spurs in 6 without considering the Finals format had changed back to the 2-2-1-1-1. Knowing that, I wouldn't have had the guts to go Spurs in 5 so I would have went Spurs in 7. Just a quick look at the points I made before the Finals.

1. More of the same.

Yes. More ball movement, dribble penetration, corner threes, active hands and smart team defense. Great call by me. I really went out on a limb there. I said maybe a shot goes in or out and turns the tide in the Spurs favor. OR, they throw up the greatest point differential in Finals history beating the Heat by at least 15 points in each game. Whatever man, who's really counting?

2. Get something. Anything out of Tiago Splitter.

2013 Finals: 15 MPG, 5 PPG, 2 RPG, 0.4 APG, 0.4 BPG, 45% FG shooting
2014 Finals: 17 MPG, 6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2 APG, 0.6 BPG, 71% FG shooting.

The counting numbers aren't drastically different, but Splitter played MUCH better this time around. his numbers were up across the board, and that 71% FG shooting is eye-catching but the assist numbers are more impressive to me. Splitter had three multiple assist games, including one game with five, and a number of those lead to wide open three pointers. Also, a year after LeBron did this to him...



He did this to Dwyane Wade...



Was it goaltending? Yes. Did the Heat miss those two points? No. Much better Finals campaign for Splitter this year.

3. Kawhi on Wade?

I suggested that Pop might experiment with letting Leonard guard Wade and this is why I am not a NBA coach. Father Time locked Dwyane Wade up without help from Leonard or any of the other Spurs. Like Splitter, let's look at Wade's numbers from each of the last two Finals.

2013 NBA Finals: 37 MPG, 19.6 PPG, 4 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.9 SPG, 2.3 TOPG on 48% FG shooting, 77% FT shooting
2014 NBA Finals: 34 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 3.6 TOPG on 44% FG shooting, 69% FT shooting

Minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals, FG% and FT % down. Turnovers up. And this video, which I highly recommend watching all 11 minutes:



An awful, AWFUL campaign for Wade. Careless turnovers, effortless defense, minimal offensive impact. What concerns me most about Wade's offense, is that he doesn't facilitate anymore. When he gets the ball, he's looking to score only he can't score like he used to. He was never a great good three point shooter, his mid range shot comes and goes and he can't finish in the paint like he used to. He also has a player option for each of the next two years at $20 million+ per season. Good luck getting him to opt out of that.

4. Tony Parker's health

Total non factor. Parker averaged 18 PPG and 5 APG on 48/42/75 shooting, numbers very similar to his season numbers.

A couple of notes:

  • I'm so glad the Game 1 air conditioning/LeBron cramping up fiasco won't be a major issue. If this series came down to a game either way, we'd never hear the end of it.
  • The Spurs cap situation is interesting. Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and Patrick Mills are the only free agents. They are under the cap now and should be able to re-sign each of those guys comfortably. However, Duncan has a player option. Say he declines that $10.3 million, and decides to re-sign and stretch it over two years. Not a huge difference, but what if they can add another piece off the bench like Shawn Marion or Vince Carter, or shoot for the moon and hope a Pau Gasol takes less to come play 20 minutes a game in San Antonio. Unlikely, but man that'd be fun.
  • Hell of a series by Kawhi Leonard. A well deserved Finals MVP and I really look forward to seeing the type of freedom Pop gives him offensively in the coming seasons.
  • LeBron has to opt out, right? Even if he knows that he isn't leaving Miami for any reason, he has to at least put that fear in Riley to get him a better team, no? The only guaranteed money on the books for Miami next year is Chris Andersen and Norris Cole. Udonis Haslem has a $4.6 million dollar option that he'll probably pick up. Wade has an option that he's absolutely picking up. Bosh is a little trickier. I could see him exercising that option with Wade and James for one more go. I could see him opting out for one more big deal in a bigger role elsewhere. What I can't see him doing is taking less money and a smaller role in the offense to accommodate Carmelo Anthony coming to Miami. Carmelo to Miami is hard to imagine, but not impossible. I just can't see Bosh taking another step back to bring him in. Also, if I'm Miami, wouldn't I rather bring the crew together one more year and then shoot for Kevin Love next summer? 



Saturday, June 7, 2014

NBA Draft Chronicles Part One: Joel Embiid

Last years draft chronicles were a lot of fun so I'm bringing them back this year. This year Orlando has the 4th pick, a little disappointing after finishing with the third worst record in the league, and the 12th pick, thanks to the Dwight Howard trade. Here, I will be looking at the top prospects that I wouldn't mind seeing in Orlando. The rankings are in no particular order, as far as talent/potential/who I want to see in Orlando most. The first man up is Kansas C Joel Embiid.


Strengths

-Athleticism. Freak athlete for his size. Watch the video below and tell me if you think that's a 9 foot rim he's playing on. It just might be.



-Size. 7'0, around 245 pounds, 7'5 wingspan, 9'5 standing reach. He looks bulkier to me in that video than he did at Kansas so I don't think he'll have any issue putting on weight in the league without losing any of that athleticism. This makes him particularly interesting because potentially, he's big enough to punish smaller guys and quick enough to go around bigger guys. That versatility is a must in a NBA where the Heat have legit three peat hopes by going small and running everyone off of the court.

-Ceiling. Embiid, a Cameroon native, reportedly only started playing basketball in 2011. If that's the case, he's a relatively blank slate with outstanding potential. The amount of polish his game shows at such a young age (20) is remarkable, and you can't help but wonder what he'll look like at 25 if he's shown this kind of improvement thus far.

-Devastating potential on both ends of the court. He's drawn a lot of comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, which seem lazy at first because of the African connections/each started basketball late, but the similarities are there. He could become a consistent 20+ PPG scorer, grab 12 rebounds a game for the next decade or win multiple defensive player of the year awards. Or he could do all three. Think of the potential that Anthony Davis coming out of Kentucky, but two inches taller and 25 pounds heavier. Yeah.

-These GIFs. Look at them. Plz.

Look at the patience after the second defender comes. Note the pass out, the re-post and the shooters touch. He's 19 years old here.
Decent floor runner. Can finish above the basket in a pinch.


Can't ask for a better pass out of the double team.

Good Job. Good effort #22.

If Dwight Howard tried this footwork at 19, his feet would have exploded.
Weaknesses

-Durability. This is pretty much it. Embiid suffered a stress fracture in his back that caused him to miss the conference tournament as well as the NCAA tournament at Kansas. To be fair to Embiid, Andre Drummond suffered a similar injury his rookie year and bounced back just fine. Evan Turner suffered a similar injury his final year at OSU, and it hasn't stopped him from becoming a perfectly mediocre player. There are success stories, but people are still going to think back to Greg Oden and even Sam Bowie. The list of great big men derailed by injuries is enough to make any GM think thrice. I think the main concern is that Oden/Bowie/Walton/Daughtery/Sampson all broke down from years of basketball abuse. Embiid has been playing for three years. Embiid battled some knee pain at Kansas. Nothing major, but certainly not what you want to hear from a 20 year old big man that's only going to get bigger.

-Lack of polish. Literally every other weakness I can think of concerning Embiid will work it's way out in time, in my opinion. He could use some polish on his offensive moves. He needs to take care of the ball better. His defensive discipline needs some work. He fouls way too much (3.4 FPG though he only played 23 MPG). More finesse, than a banger so you wonder how he'll respond when a guy bigger than him really gets physical with him. Nothing out of the ordinary for a freshman big man and nothing here that would concern me long term.

Ceiling/Floor

Best case scenario: Hakeem Olajuwon. Maybe what we saw at Kansas was just the tip of the iceberg. He goes to a patient team and is allowed to develop his body and skill over time. He becomes a potent low post scorer with enough touch to step out and hit the 15 footer. He gets defensive rotations down pat and becomes an elite rim protector. He becomes a guy that can't be played off the floor because he's skilled enough to work in a half court offense or get up and down the floor in small ball. The chance of this potential is why I think he goes #1.

Worst case scenario: Tyson Chandler. I've seen Oden comparisons but I think those are a bit extreme. I don't think Oden ever moved as fluidly as Embiid does and Oden's body wore down over time. Embiid took a nasty fall and appears to have recovered just fine. Chandler is more fitting, to me. Say Embiid's body doesn't fill out and he still battles the injury bug here or there (Chandler has played 75+ games just four times in 13 seasons). He doesn't develop much offensive touch, but the defense is there. He's already a 70% FT shooter, which took Chandler years to develop, so you can't just foul him and eat the points. A very solid player.

Best fit

Cleveland. It's gotta be Cleveland, right? Spencer Hawes is a free agent, and assuming they pick up his option, Anderson Varejao will be in the last year of his deal. Embiid can come right in and play some backup minutes at center. He doesn't need the ball in his hands, which is perfect since he plays with two ball dominant guards in Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. He can be sorely needed rim protection for a team hoping to start minus defenders like Irving/Waiters/Anthony Bennett one day. The Bennett factor is huge to me. Defense might be his biggest concern and Embiid would help negate a lot of that. If he works out, it makes Bennett better and you get good ROI on both of your number one picks. He makes too much sense in Cleveland, but this is Cleveland we're talking about. They'll probably go with Noah Vonleh.

Worst fit.

Milwaukee. In Larry Sanders and Zaza Pachulia, the Bucks have a lot of money tied up in centers and I don't think either of them are ready to concede playing time to Embiid. Still, the length of some combo of Embiid/Sanders/Henson/Giannis is intriguing. Milwaukee spent a lot of money in FA last season in an attempt to make the playoffs. That money is still sitting on the roster, and even though they now have different ownership, who knows if they will want another push for the postseason in a weak East. This could lead to Embiid taking on too much too soon and not being allowed to develop at his own pace.

Conclusion

I agree with Bill Simmons (and may God help me if I ever write those words again), but Embiid is going first. There is talk that Cleveland is entertaining trade talks, but Embiid is going first no matter who the team is. The potential of what he could become is too much. Embiid could play alongside another traditional big, or be the center of a smallball crew on both ends of the floor. I'd weep tears of joy if he fell to #4 but there's no chance of it. As is, I think he goes #1 and hope he's able to stay healthy because he could really be a special talent. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How the Spurs can become Champions...Revisited!

Well, this is awkward. Just 12 months ago I wrote a piece called "How the Spurs can become Champions" and followed it up with a piece called "Why the Spurs didn't become Champions". I didn't exactly invent the wheel there with such intricate NBA knowledge as "dont turn the ball over against the Heat", and all of those points still stand true in the Finals rematch. Still, I'd like to touch on a couple of other things that I think the Spurs can do to win the title this time around.

1. More of the same.

The Spurs were 30 seconds away from winning it on Miami's court in game 6 until this happened.



That shot still gives me the chills. It took an all time performance from LeBron to close them out in Game 7. If the Spurs do the same things that they've been doing, a little luck may cause one of those Danny Green threes to rattle in or that Ray Allen shot to rattle out and that may be enough to make them champions.

2. Get something. Anything out of Tiago Splitter.

Listen. Tiago Splitter was unplayable in last years Finals and for his struggles, he was rewarded with a $36 million dollar contract. If my job followed such principals for my inefficiency, I expect a $40 billion dollar contract in my mail box by weeks end. Popovich went to a smaller lineup to match Miami's speed and sent Splitter to the bench and started Ginobili after Game 4 in last years Finals. If they can get anything, literally anything at all out of Splitter, they can probably pull this out. To do so, I believe that Popovich will split up the time that he and Duncan share the court, like he did against OKC. You may see some Boris Diaw starting, or even Matt Bonner.

3. Kawhi on Wade?

Popovich shifted Kawhi Leonard from guarding Kevin Durant to Russell Westbrook for games 5 and 6. The result? Westbrook shot 40% from the field those two games, 25% from 3P and averaged 4.5 turnovers per game. Most importantly, the Spurs won each game. Wade is having a fine postseason and shooting an uncharacteristically high 39% from 3P, albeit it on barely over one attempt per game. Maybe Pop decides to sic Leonard on Wade and take him out of the game. This would put the scoring onus on LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Bosh scored 27 points combined in the first three games against the Pacers before combining for 65 points in the last three. You have to figure that this series doesn't go any less than 6 games so you wan't LeBron James working as hard as possible for as long as possible.

4. Tony Parkers health

Parker tweaked his hamstring and missed the second half of Game 6 of the WCF. He's starting in game one, but in a series projected to be so close, him being at 75% instead of 100% might be all it takes for Miami to take advantage. If Parker is a step slow in any of his movements on offense, the Heat will probably ramp up an already aggressive defense. I imagine the Heat will force him into isolation situations early to see how healthy that hamstring is.

Having said that, I'm going with the Spurs here. I think they're better than they were a season ago, and I don't think the Heat are as good as they were a season ago. The Mills/Bellineli duo off the bench outperforms Gary Neal from last year. Splitter is playing better this year and I imagine that Pop will split he and Duncan's minutes rather than keep Splitter off the floor altogether. I think the Spurs have looked better this postseason against tougher opposition than the Heat have faced. I think one year with revenge on your mind trumps a year with repeat, even threepeat, on your mind. I think the Spurs win and I think they do it in 6 games.

Here's to a great Finals.