Forecasting Team USA without Durant

August 8, 2014 by

Losing Kevin Durant (don’t worry Thunder fans; he’s fine) is a serious blow to team USA’s goal of winning a gold medal in the newly minted FIBA Basketball World Cup. Not only was KD the best player in the entire tournament, he was also the focal point of Coach K’s offense and according to reports out of the Las Vegas training camp, the heart and soul of the team. He’s the guy everyone else looks up to. It’s a big loss to drop your most talented, most central, and most respected player.

Quick list of all the players that team USA expected to be available for this tournament who for various reasons are not:

Kevin Durant
Paul George
Kevin Love
LaMarcus Aldridge
Blake Griffin

That’s a full complement of big men, less Anthony Davis, and it is the two best wings on the team. Love, Aldridge, and Griffin have been out of the picture for some time now, but George and Durant comprised the team’s starting forwards as recently as last Friday. How will Mike Krzyzewski and his staff adjust their game plan, and who will make the final roster?

No one in the player pool or the rest of the world for that matter can approximate what Durant does. He’s a 6′ 10″ quick forward with guard skills and limitless range and possibly the best one on one scorer in the game today. You don’t just replace that skillset. In 2010 KD undressed the rest of the world with his combination of length, quickness, and shooting touch to the tune of 33 points per game (in a 40 minute contest). Without him the team will need to leverage athleticism for transition buckets and maybe use Duke’s motion offense to a higher degree. Thankfully the team is loaded with great point guards. Overloaded maybe.

Speaking of point guards, let’s take a moment to figure out that position and how losing Durant and George, two playmaking wings with range and speed, might impact which PGs make the final roster. The available pool contains: Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, John Wall, and Damian Lillard. The team has 12 roster spots, and it will need at least 4 bigs and 4 wings, leaving no more than four available slots at guard. At least one of these All-Star caliber guards is off the team. Rose is a lock. By all accounts he’s been the best of bunch since day one at training camp. Rose will function as a penetrating creator off the dribble and in the pick and roll. He’s also a quick-footed defender who can harass opposing ball-handlers in the open court. The most obvious candidate to back-up Rose and possibly pick up some minutes beside him is Steph Curry. Curry is the premier shooter off the dribble in the league and another strong pick and roll distributor. With the loss of Durant, shooting will be at a premium, and Curry seems like a sure thing.

If you consider minute distribution, there are only 80 total guard minutes in a 40 minute game. Rose, Curry, and presumed starting big guard James Harden could split those minutes equally between them and play less than 30 minutes per game each. If Harden picks up some minutes at the small forward slot, a move made more likely with the injury to George, that would make a little space for one of Irving, Lillard, and Wall. Of the three Lillard is the best shot-maker, Irving is most familiar with Coach K’s offense, and Wall has the most size and thus the best chance to defend big guards alongside another PG. Personally I think taking Wall is a no-brainer here. His size and speed add versatility to the position. Irving and Lillard both have their merits at the double secret reserve guard spot, but Coach K will probably go with the more trusted and familiar Kyrie.

Reports had the staff favoring energy bigs like Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee playing short minute bursts off the bench. Faried may have to start now. There are other options. Chandler Parsons has enough size to play a small-ball power forward in place of Durant, but he’s a poor substitute for the MVP, and the skills he brings may not make up for his lack of size defensively and on the boards. The team could also choose to play a bigger brand of basketball and pair Anthony Davis with either DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond. Drummord shoots free throws worse than Dwight Howard on horse tranquillizers, so he’s probably out as a crunch time player at least.

Replacing Paul George is less of head-scratcher though the drop in talent is still an issue, and the damage to the team’s depth is incontrovertible. George’s role was to be the team’s wing stopper on defense, to finish on the break, and in the half-court to play off the ball with hard cuts and space the floor with spot up shooting. Klay Thompson, who seemed like a lock to back up both the shooting guard and small forward positions, is the obvious replacement. Klay is a good on-ball defender, has good size, and he’s a deadeye shooter. He’s not the athlete that George is, but he’s a good fit. Starting Thompson depletes the bench of one of it’s best two way players. Those extra minutes will be picked up by the combination of Kyle Korver, Chandler Parsons, and Gordon Hayward. None of them is a proven defender at the wing, but I’d lean towards Korver who is the NBA’s premier distance shooter and smart enough to use Coach Boeheim’s zone defense principles to his advantage.

Final Roster Prediction:

G – Derrick Rose
G – Stephen Curry
G – James Harden
G – John Wall
G – Kyrie Irving
F – Klay Thompson
F – Kenneth Faried
F – Kyle Korver
F – Chandler Parsons
F – Mason Plumlee
C – Anthony Davis
C – DeMarcus Cousins

I would anticipate starters of Rose, Harden, Thompson, Faried, and Davis, but that PF spot could go a lot of different ways. I think team USA will still be favored to take the gold, but the roster and game plan have been compromised in some serious ways, and it will be a real test for some young guys who are unproven in international play.

Eastern Conference – Post LeBron and Lance Signings

July 18, 2014 by

Is it possible that I haven’t written an article since the before the end of round of one of the playoffs? All things are possible through our faith in LeBron, hallowed be his essay. But putting faith aside, I’ve had a crazy summer and am coming back with a vengeance today (possibly followed by another 3 month absence).

Let’s catch up on the things we’ve missed:

Spurs = incredible. Should be favorites to repeat until we see some kind of improvements among the Thunder / Clippers / Surprise WC Contender. Tim Duncan did not go to some other super-duper star level with this 5th championship. He was already there. Anyone who doesn’t view Tim as a top 10 player all time isn’t paying attention.

Heat flaws that we detailed during the season did come back to bite them just a bit in the Finals. Less aggressive defense than the last two years. More turnovers. Poor rebounding. Too much reliance on only taking excellent shots (layups, free throws, open threes), and when a good defense finally took those things away, they just weren’t used to taking tough contested shots (particularly James who could have been more assertive with his midrange game against a sagging Spurs defense). On the other hand, if Bosh and both PGs hadn’t gone ice cold from beyond the arc, the whole series might have been different.

Also a 4 time MVP and the consensus best player in the league just changed teams of his own accord and left the best team in the East for the 2nd time in 5 years. This is a bizarre league sometimes. I want to take the rest of our time in this post to consider the Eastern Conference in the wake of the dissolution of its 4-time Finals representative.

LeBron James bolting for Cleveland completely disrupts the power dynamics in the East. Everybody outside of Miami is proud of LeBron for making this family / community decision and bringing his market growing powers to a city in need of a boost. I concur, but I’m a little disappointed that this Heat team won’t get its best chance to make it 5 straight NBA Finals, which hasn’t happened since Bill Russell’s Celtics.

The Heat, who managed to keep Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, still have a ton of talent (particularly if Wade can pick up his shot attempts without killing what was a career best year for shooting efficiency), and depending on how they revamp their system, might actually remain a contender to make the Finals. I genuinely think that 2011 team could have made and possibly won the Finals with Luol Deng instead of LeBron and an upgrade at center with the rest of LeBron’s salary. That was four years ago. This team’s chances hinge entirely on what Wade has left in the tank. If he can go back to being a 2400+ minute, 30%+ usage first option creator, they have a strong chance to make it to the Finals. If not, I don’t see it happening.

However, another transaction from a top East team has cleared the way for basically anything to happen. The Indiana Pacers lost Lance Stephenson, who was pretty clearly their second best player and the one guy with the most potential to join Paul George as cornerstones for the future. Lance was Indi’s most creative pick and roll player, most aggressive slasher, and a great wing defender who played two positions and even provided some back-up point guard skills. Without him the Pacers could slide back to the pack, and with the Heat a huge question mark as well, there has to be a lot of hope among the other teams out East.

Chicago is the default favorite in many expert opinions (Vegas has the Cavs) based on the signing of Pau Gasol and the return of Derrick Rose. I need to see both of them perform at a high level before I’ll get excited about them and this team in general. The rotation is interesting. Rose and Kirk Hinrich at the guard spots, Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell and the rookie Doug McDermott at the wings, and Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson up front. They need to stay healthy or add a little depth, but they sound terrific on paper. The offense can’t be any worse than last year, and if the defense holds, they stand to improve. But Rose has to show us what he’s got before we can put them ahead of the pack.

Cleveland by virtue of LeBron is immediately a Finals contender. People who are concerned about his fit with this relatively young team need to relax. James can fill any skill gaps. We got used to him operating in that Hakeem Olajuwon mid-post, but if the Cav shooters aren’t up to spacing the court for him, he can do other things. Put him in a high pick and roll / pop set with Kyrie Irving, and good things will happen. Let him set a strong down screen for a curling Dion Waiters, and force the defense to switch a guard onto him on the block or leave Waiters open on the wing. He’s a man-mountain with all the skills the modern NBA has to offer. He’ll fit. Especially if they pull a trade and bring in Kevin Love to clear up that big man shooting issue.

Atlanta is interesting because people are probably not paying enough attention to their under-the-radar All-Star center pick up of Al Horford. This was a very well-coached team with great chemistry who competed at both ends last year, and they were missing their best player for most of the season. They are the Chicago of the South East division with much much much better shooting and not as much continuity and defensive dominance. Okay. They are nothing like the Bulls. But they are getting their best player back from injury, and they do have the potential to make a huge leap this season.

Washington lost Trevor Ariza, which I think will hurt them because he was doing a really good prime Bruce Bowen impression for them with more athleticism to boot. My main man Paul Pierce has lost a step and isn’t up to defending guards any more which means Bradley Beal and John Wall will have to guard their position every night instead of handing off the best opposing perimeter player. This is a very solid team with a spectacularly talented point guard and solid players at every position. Depth could be an issue, but they will be a tough out in the playoffs.

Toronto stayed the course, holding onto all the chief assets from last year’s run. They should be better with more experience together. Kyle Lowry was a top 4 guard in the East last year and may be again, and his back up is very solid as well. I don’t know if the overall talent level is high enough (what positions do they “win” against say the Wiz or Cavs?), but they have continuity and they compete hard, so in the upheaval of the Eastern Conference, you can’t write them off completely.

The Nets are headed downhill unless they get a remarkable return to form (from five years ago) from Deron Williams. That is really their only hope for getting better after losing Pierce.

The Knicks are looking to 2015 and don’t even want to be great next year. I keep hearing from New York representatives that Andrea Bargnani is going to have a bounce back year, and I keep asking myself “bounce back to what?” Hasn’t the mystique of being a #1 pick worn off yet? Carmelo Anthony came back, and they picked up Jose Calderon for a respectable PG presence. Those two factors coupled with the institution of a system offense by Derek Fisher might be enough to make the playoffs, but they aren’t contending.

The one other playoff team from last year that looks to be improved is Charlotte. The HORNETSNOTBOBCATS picked up Lance Stephenson which adds a lot of strength and versatility to their wing rotation. They can roll out Lance, Gerald Henderson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with each playing in the low thirty minute range. That could make for some very nice perimeter defense and very shaky shooting. Losing Josh McRoberts will hurt as he was a legit 6’ 10” and could pass and shoot out of the high post. They need to find another complementary big to pair with Al Jefferson. Speaking of Big Al, he needs to come back healthy and repeat his excellent performance from last season. If Kemba Walker continues his upward trajectory, and they can plug a couple holes, this is a very solid team. Probably not a contender, but who knows. If Lance makes a leap, they could be a threat. Maybe. Unless Lance does something insane and Michael Jordan clubs him to death with a Brand Jordan 7-iron.

2014 Playoffs – Paul George Shines as Pacers Fall in Game 5

April 29, 2014 by

Take a look at the following list of playoff games. It is the only good thing I have to say about the Pacers’ effort last night and in most of the games in their first round match-up against the Atlanta Hawks.

Player Pos Date Opp FG% 3P% FT% ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS GmSc ▾
Patrick Ewing C-F 1990-05-04 BOS W .750 .889 2 13 5 7 2 3 44 46.4
Michael Jordan G-F 1989-05-13 NYK W .560 .500 .846 2 15 9 6 1 3 40 41.4
Gary Payton G 2000-05-03 UTA W .478 .429 .909 2 10 11 6 0 4 35 34.8
Charles Barkley F 1986-04-29 MIL W .632 .538 6 20 6 6 2 4 31 34.5
Hersey Hawkins G 1991-04-30 MIL W .600 .500 1.000 2 10 6 6 1 0 26 31.8
Paul George F 2014-04-28 ATL L .563 .571 1.000 0 12 6 6 0 3 26 28.4
Scottie Pippen F-G 1991-06-12 LAL W .455 .500 .917 4 13 7 5 1 7 32 28.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/29/2014.

Not bad company, huh? The only reason that the list is this short is that Basketball-Reference’s game data for the playoffs only goes back to the 1986 post-season, but still, Paul George is the first player since Gary Payton in 2000 to post at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals in a game. Interesting list of players too. Jordan’s not a surprise. Neither are Barkley or Pippen. Ewing is. He’s not really known for getting in passing lanes or for being a prolific assist producer, while his two rival All-NBA centers, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon, were both great thieves and passers. Interesting thing about Pat showing up here is that he did it against a very solid Celtics front line, and it just goes to show how when Pat Riley came in he nerfed Ewing’s offense while making him the dominant defender of his generation (by the advanced stats anyway). Hawkins is totally out of left field, mostly because he played with a rebound-hungry big man lineup. Surprised by the lack of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Clyde Drexler. Kobe Bryant always played in a more conservative defensive scheme, so his absence isn’t a shock. Allen Iverson and Chris Paul are two theft-artists I could have seen making this group as well.

Should we talk about the Pacers’ utter collapse? I’m not sure I can give any better insight than Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons have in their various podcasts and articles on Grantland. The Hawks are just beating them into the ground with superior guard play, superior big man play, and superior teamwork. They are the more together squad, and they are earning their victories. We can just look at one number and see how much the effort and effective has reversed for these two teams since the regular season. In the regular season, Indi led the league in defensive rating, points allowed per 100 possessions at 99.3. Against the Hawks in the post-season they are giving up 105.6, which would not even make the top 10 in the regular season. The Hawks on the other hand had a DRtg of 106.4 in the regular season, barely above league average. Against the Pacers in the post-season their defensive rating is down to 102.9 good for 3rd best overall for the playoffs and a figure that would put them top 5 in the league for the regular season.

The good things for the Hawks and the bad things for the Pacers are all the same. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap are outperforming George Hill and Roy Hibbert, while the Atlanta team cohesion steadily improves, and the Indiana identity fractures. Indi gets a chance to right the ship, but it’s hard to take them seriously as contenders anymore, and even if they somehow overcome the odds and wins this series, you’d have to favor the Wizards (assuming they continue to outplay the Bulls) in the next round.

Coach Kerr?

April 28, 2014 by

I don’t know anything about the meetings taking place between Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr right now, but I thought this take by ESPN.com’s Mike Wallace in a public chat was pretty funny and pretty much right on:

Michael Wallace
(2:08 PM)

Here’s the irony about that potential situaiton in New York. Kerr is more qualified than Jackson to run the franchise, and Jackson is way more qualified to coach the team than Kerr. I’d be more in favor of the two switching jobs.

I could get behind that move!

Donald Sterling: All Wrong

April 28, 2014 by

I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about this. Everything I had read or heard about the topic made it pretty clear that if Donald Sterling said what he is accused of having said, then he was in the wrong, and his attitude has no place in the NBA or in 21st century society for that matter. It all seemed pretty open and shut. Then I saw the reader comments on an ESPN article that gave the reactions of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and was reminded that there are two sides to every story even if one of them is idiotic. So I’m going to give my two cents and keep them relatively factual.

Part of Sterling’s alleged racist remarks as printed in a Deadspin article:

“…I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? … Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?”

Aside from coming off like a plantation owner circa 1800, and assuming that the answers to these rhetorical questions are all expected to come in the affirmative, every point is wrong.

Sterling does not give his players, coaches, or management team anything. He pays them for their services. He made a business decision and hired each individual to perform a job. And according to Forbes, he made good investments in these employees as the Clippers team is valued at $565 million and netted $15 million in operational revenue last year.

Sterling does not “make the game.” “The game” is a live entertainment product that is “made” of a team of athletes working together to compete against another team under agreed upon rules. Sterling purchased a franchise with the rights to field a team (for $12 million dollars by the way), leased a space to put on their games, and hired the players and staff. That is not “making the game.” It is performing one essential task in a complex system necessary for this particular entertainment product to be successful, and no more or less important than the actual players who fans come to see.

Finally, 30 owners did not create the league. The NBA was founded in 1949 when two other leagues merged. There were initially 17 franchises, but they quickly contracted to an eight team league. The subsequent expansion and promotion of the league into the giant success that it is today occurred while the Clippers were a floundering nothing of an organization best known for season ticket holder Billy Crystal and their cheapskate owner, who was willing to lose with a substandard roster year after year while the likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan increased league popularity and artificially enhanced the value of his team.

Not only are Sterling’s alleged statements backwards and mean-spirited, they are also self-aggrandizing and inaccurate. I don’t know how a sports league is expected to penalize the owner of one of its franchises, but I hope while Adam Silver and company are reviewing the list of allegations, pride and ignorance are listed among them.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 86 other followers