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2019-20 Rookie Review: Remember Trashing The Cam Johnson Pick?

(Image by Tomek Kordylewski)

By Matt Esposito

I certainly do. But I mean, that’s life. We should have never unlearned the old grammar school adage, “always pick the older, bigger kid in dodgeball.” Am I going to fact check this next claim? No. But I’m pretty sure Cam Johnson was the oldest player drafted last year. At 6-foot-8, he’s a monster of a shooter as well. Don’t forget your childhood lessons, folks.

The brass in Phoenix certainly didn’t. After receiving a poor draft grade from just about every (and I use this next term lightly) respectable hoops site, the Suns rocked with Johnson anyways. The rookie saw 20 minutes per night and is one of the top two shooters in his draft class, if not the overall best.

You are right to question some of Phoenix’s personnel decisions based on their history. DeAndre Ayton will be very good. Luka Doncic still should have been drafted first. The Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss selections? Tough. But this one they nailed and that Mikal Bridges trade will look great in time, too. Let’s explore what Johnson excelled at before nitpicking some room for improvement.

Shooting, Obviously

I don’t know if you readers are Harry Potter fans but if you don’t pronounce “obviously” like Severus Snape then what’re we doing here? Is there a crossover market for NBA/Wizardry fans? Am I losing you?

Well, Johnson was a magical shooter this season (brought you back, didn’t I?) He shot 39.7 percent from deep on over four attempts per game. Specifically, Johnson’s percentage of 3-pointers taken from the corner placed in the 99th percentile, according to Cleaning the Glass. He was good from there, although not elite (more on this later.) Yet overall, he is currently in the 81st percentile for 3-point percentage. Los Suns knew precisely how to use their rookie.

Zach Milner from The Stepien nicely detailed how Cam’s fast release and sound shot preparation guaranteed that his jumper would translate to the League. In the brief clip below, you can see how smooth his mechanics are. What’s more, they give him unlimited range.

Phoenix has an elite spacer and on the cheap. Things are looking up! Expect him to greatly increase his 3-point volume next year. Regardless, Johnson can do more than bury triples, as we will discuss next.

Attacking Closeouts

The only thing that results from daydreaming about my college years is a low feeling of nostalgia and some regretful texts to exes. When thinking about Johnson’s days at UNC, however, I wonder how many failed to observe that he was also a talented passer.

In the NBA, teams will closeout hard on Cam. Fortunately, he plays one step ahead and can attack these contests. After pumping then driving, Johnson is quick to spot who the help defender has left open. When he does, teammates can expect an accurate, timely pass.

Johnson uses his lower body prep to indicate that a shot is coming. Defenders almost have to bite. Some of the assists seen above are not remarkably sexy, but they are unquestionably winning plays that elevate an offense.

Although Johnson shot an unimpressive 57 percent at the rim this year, that is likely the result of getting used to NBA length and physicality. Expect that number to progress next season. He should only get better at attacking closeouts and finishing amongst the trees. You can already see the touch is there. So, what does he need to work on most this summer?

Nitpicking His Corner Shooting Form

Remember those corner triples I was talking about? Cam loves shooting from that spot but hit a middling 40 percent of them (CTG.) That’s right around the 61st percentile, far from elite although still good. It would be foolish to think that Johnson cannot become a premier corner stretcher, however.

Take a second to watch five examples of his corner shooting form. You’ll notice that some of them are closely contested while some are not. Nevertheless, it seems like Johnson expects contact and braces for it. How do we know? Pay attention to his lower body. Watch how his legs adjust for balance upon landing.

The last three shots results in uninspiring left/right misses. When I see a girl approaching me, my lower back sweats. When Cam sees a defender closing out in the corner, his legs swing forward. We both have psychosomatic giveaways. Incidentally, we both have room for improvement.

There are times when kicking out a leg is the correct form. Ask that Irving guy how he mastered the pull-up J, he’ll confirm. But sometimes it throws the entire body off balance. Left/right misses inform us that that might be what is happening here.

Off Season To-Do List

Cam should work on feeling comfortable taking shots in tight spaces. He it only 16.7 percent of his treys with a “tight” defender on him. That number jumped to 37.3 percent when he was “open.” Top tier shooters perform better in each category.

Maybe we’ll see some of those cute broominyourface videos from his postseason workouts. Whatever he chooses, Johnson should work on getting off a well balanced, clean shot with a defender right next to him. It’ll likely be the difference between becoming Duncan Robinson or Furkan Korkmaz; two excellent floor spacers with long careers ahead of them, but one definitively better than the other.

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Are These 4 Players Changing What We Think About Rim Protection?

By Matt Esposito

What is more en vogue in today’s NBA than unearthing hidden gem prospects who take the form of athletic, omnipositional players with monstrous wingspans? Executives are longing to uncover the next OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam or Jaylen Brown.

Why? Defensive pliability is at a premium in today’s game. Teams are constantly searching for ways to keep rangy, offensively gifted bigs on the floor despite their defensive shortcomings. Ideally, every team would find a Jonathan Isaac and pray he develops a 3-point shot but alas, guys like Anthony Davis and Jaren Jackson Jr do not grow on trees.

Therefore, we’ve seen a movement among coaches to utilize these Draymondian players to clean up the mistakes of other less mobile defenders. What does it require? Length, strength, agility and smarts. Who are some players currently being used in this mode?

Andrew Wiggins – Golden State Warriors

Counterintuitively, raw block numbers are not always a reliable source of rim protection/paint deterrence yet, Andrew Wiggins swatted 1.4 shots per game during his time with the Warriors.

Deeper, more complex analytics help tell his story. A metric I’m head-over-heels for, Regularized Adjusted Deterrence (RAD), identifies how successful players are at stopping opposing teams from taking shots in the paint. Check out where Wiggins 2019-2020 season falls.

In other words, Wiggins is preventing just over 1.5 shots in the paint when he is on the court; a finish good enough for the 91st percentile. How is he doing it? A bit of a positional change gave Wiggins more rim protecting responsibility. According to Cleaning the Glass, he spent a career low of his minutes at shooting guard and a career high at power forward.

The Warriors tasked Wiggins with often switching onto whoever necessary. What’s more, they depended on him being able to hold his own against stronger, taller players, or use his elite athleticism to compensate. When switched onto players his size or smaller, a disciplined Wiggins reminds us all of his defensive potential by deterring shots at the rim and forcing opponents into fadeaways. Examples below display both how his length and strength lead to blocks and his knack for transforming rim drives into low value pull-ups.

Next year, Golden State could roll out a super small lineup of Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Marquese Chriss and Wiggins. Do not be surprised if their defense returns to something close to its former glory, with Wiggins rejecting shots after switches.

Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics

With a standing reach only 1.5 inches shorter than Anthony Davis and a wingspan bordering on 7-feet, it was a matter of time until Coach Brad Stevens relied more heavily on Tatum to protect from the weak side.

Currently in the 80th percentile in our RAD metric, teams take about one less shot in the paint when Tatum is around. His offensive breakout this season was one of the more notable storylines yet, Tatum has combined his switchability and IQ to become an emerging defensive star as well.

Below, his switch onto Chris Paul and change in body positioning forces CP3 to dish to the corner. Step one is making Paul opt out of a paint shot. Step two is darting to the corner to sell out on a block attempt.

In this next clip, Tatum becomes the de facto backline protector as Daniel Theis slides to the perimeter. His timing is wonderful and Tatum does the job well; something Celtics fans got used to this season.

Despite being switched onto Rajon Rondo, Tatum is the Celtics paint enforcer during this next play. We can tell because he abandons Rondo to sit in the paint and block Kyle Kuzma.

A time will come when Stevens becomes even more reliant upon Tatum to deter opponents from driving to the rim. For now, however, he is able to hang with players such as AD and stay with attacking guards. Tatum’s shot blocking is one of the main reasons Boston is a top five defensive team this season.

OG Anunoby & Pascal Siakam – Toronto Raptors

Talk about a couple of fellas whose wingspans would give Jay Bilas hot flashes. While the Raptors employ former blocks leader Serge Ibaka, these two Toronto do-it-alls have also been a great help to the cause.

Before we dig into the tape let’s look at the metrics. Siakam has steadily improved as a paint deterrent. At the beginning of his career teams were taking an average of 0.95 more shots in the paint but now they are 0.65 less shots per game there. Anunoby’s growth is even more impressive. Teams took 3.32 extra paint shots during his rookie year and that number is now a negative value!

Both of these men have the footspeed to rotate over to the hoop. OG does so here against a dominant dunk threat in Rudy Gobert.

The reason OG looked so fearless in that previous example could be due to his strong, 230 pound frame. Here, it comes in handy when it literally keeps a giant Deandre Ayton out of the paint before blocking his shot. How many 6-foot-7 guys can do that?

Siakam is no slouch, either. While he is not a muscular as his teammate, Siakam’s length makes blocks possible that other players could not accomplish. It may look like I’m picking on the Suns, trust me I’m not. I just couldn’t resist this clip of Pascal getting around Ayton to swat a shot.

This time I will pick on the Timberwolves. Siakam is not deployed at center at the same rate he was during his earlier years but, he still sees some time there. The Raptors will let loose both Siakam and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in a protector-by-committee approach. His weak side rejection of Karl Anthony-Towns is proof that this scheme works.

With both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka – two players aging but in remarkably dissimilar ways – coming off of the books, Toronto has some decisions to make. Although Ibaka is not the deterrent he once was, a lineup where he is surrounded with OG and Pascal could make for a strong backline.

What are our favorite experts saying, however? Well, some agree with me and some don’t, which is what we love about basketball punditry!

Lior Kozai – freelance sports journalist, written for Raptors Rapture

“I think it comes down to smart positioning, along with the obvious length and athleticism. They’re really good at reading plays while defending off the ball, and anticipating what’s coming next (whether that’s a pass, where that pass is going, or whether it’s a drive). I’d say OG especially showed some shot blocking prowess this year and is incredibly strong — when he shifts over to help on bigs, he can often contain them.

Brady Klopfer – writer and reporter, SB Nation

“I think there have been a few nice things out of his defense . . . the improved block rate and steal rate is promising, even though it’s not sustainable. definitely a sign that he was being a little more active. Still, all and all, he wasn’t good defensively in his short stint. But I think it’ll be hard to judge him on that end of the court until we see him with a healthy Draymond and a good Warriors team. that will be the test.

Adam Taylor – writer/podcaster for CelticsBlog & The 450 Times

“People have underestimated Tatum’s growth on the defensive end. His weak-side blocks have become a regular occurrence, leading to him being ranked in the 86th percentile among wings. Playing in Boston’s “switch everything” system, Tatum’s growth protecting the rim has been undervalued this season.

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2019-20 Rookie Review: Coby White Has One Glaring Weakness

(photo by Tomek Kordylewski)

By Matt Esposito

Last year, I had Coby White 10th on my big board. There were some aspects to love. White displayed the potential to become a legitimate three level scoring threat; a skill with a premium placed on it in today’s league. He also routinely showcased an advanced shot creation package filled with stepbacks, sidesteps and crossover pull-ups.

There were some question marks, however. How would his subpar wingspan and average positional athleticism translate to the NBA? What’s more, White often missed wide open teammates due to playing with tunnel vision and a score first mentality. This was topped off by a handle that is surely polished for shot creation purposes but, lacks functionality for setting up teammates.

White was a terror throughout his last 10 games, averaging 24.7 points on over 40 percent shooting from deep. This would suggest he could become a starting guard in the NBA. Evidence from the whole season, however, might indicate that he is better suited for a high impact, high volume bench scoring role ala Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford. To become a solid starter, White must improve one particular skill: his ability to playmake off the bounce.

High, Loose Handle Impacts Scoring

When people first think about his handle, most envision Coby White using a combination of hesi moves and crossover dribbles to shed a defender. Like Eminem for angsty, suburban teens, you could tell White has looked to guys like James Harden for inspiration. Those moves can be effective and when they hit they look flashy. Plus, when done well, those moves serve a purpose.

More frequently, however, White lets the ball fly above or right near his shoulder. Considering he does not get too low to the ground when handling, this is a major concern. He has a low launch point and short arms to begin with. Such a high dribble gives defenders the millisecond needed to contest and alter his shot.

Frustratingly, we’ve seen White handle the ball like a true pro before. This leads me to believe that his affinity for scoring off of hesitation moves created a default of sorts. In other words, that ball comes so carelessly high off of the floor because it mimics the hesi move White loves to do before pulling up. When a clean shot isn’t there though, he must continue his dribble or force a shot that is contested.

Every time Coby fails to turn that high dribble into a jumper, the backpedaling defender gets a chance to return to proper defending position. It often results in blocks, which Bulls fans saw a lot of this year. A lower dribble negates this chance and puts the pressure on defenders not to foul. It also will make for a tighter, cleaner pull-up release.

Limits Vision, Impacts Creating For Others

Let me clarify. There are specific instances and ballhandling moves that Coby White excels at. His crossover jab is filthy. In fact, any type of crossover from him is deadly. Oh, and when that hesitation, deceleration dribble is kept relatively low, it leads to elite level scoring moves. Keep that sassy, unoriginal hate-tweet in your drafts, I think White can be a special player.

Still, there are particular moves White needs to tighten up. His behind the back dribble can come and go. When it goes, like in the example below versus the Nets, it precludes him from spotting open men. Having to regather the handle commands your vision and takes it off of teammates.

It also leads to missing wide open cutters despite multiple teammates pointing out the right pass. It results in obliviously eurostepping into awaiting bigs and failing to spot perimeter shooters in the process. Fastbreaks suffer as well. All can be seen below.

Guards of White’s draft stock should not dribble the ball off of an opponent’s foot during transition. Nor should they have to recollect the ball during behind the back moves. When this happens, White doesn’t see easy assist opportunities. His teammates were literally holding defenders away from perimeter shooters. Multiple men were open during backdoor cuts – one of them being a legendary dunker – and White missed them all.

This, combined with his tendency for tunnel vision around the hoop, could lead to frustrated teammates and a stagnant offense. Rewatch the video and you’ll see some examples.

Limits Vision, Impacts Creating For Himself

For a rookie, Coby White showed that he could one day become a bailout shooter when the shot clock is winding down. His wiggle can be well, wiggly, and I’ve already mentioned which ballhandling moves work well for him. In spite of this, White can be caught staring at the ball as he pounds it into the floor before lofting midrange twos.

In this next clip, not only does White gain the step on Ky Bowman but, he nicely shoves him away for extra space. He never lifts his head up, however, and can only travel after being surprised to see a help defender in his face. This could have been a 8-10 foot, uncontested pull-up jumper. Or, White could have taken advantage of his jump stop to shoot over the helper. He never saw him coming.

Early targeting” is a key to pull-up shooting. Kyrie Irving is a master of this. Whenever White eyes down a defender or stares at their feet, his hand-eye coordination suffers. This is reminiscent of my tee-ball days, before I knew I needed glasses.

Spotting the hoop early before your shot helps make for a cleaner, more high percentage attempt. Improving handle plays a prominent role in this as it unlearns tunnel vision by making the player more confident to scan the court with his head up, something White didn’t do in the play above.

Offseason To-Do List

White must work on his handle. Yes, his shot creating package is special but his ability to keep that ball on a string to create for others is lacking. It has ripple effects, too. There is enough footage in this blog alone which shows teammates growing upset when White misses a pass or fails to make the right read.

Some consider ballstopping to be a sin in today’s game. I think that iso scorers still have a role and some ballstopping can be tolerable. But when White is running with starters he needs to keep his eyes up and ensure that thing is flying around. Unlocking his handle is the key to that. It’ll allow him to scan the floor when he plays and find open men.

Additionally, Chicago’s new brass also has some homework to do. They must take a long, hard look at White to chart out his developmental route. If they envision him a starter then improving his handle, vision and feel for the game is a must. According to Cleaning the Glass, White is in the 13th percentile for assist to usage ratio. In other words, he does not look to set up teammates often at all.

Although I can already hear the pushback from Bulls fans, Chicago could be best suited to transition White into a full time bench scorer. Think Ben Gordon. White is a score first guard who truly struggles to create meaningful offensive chances for others. That’s okay! He can be an impactful player who helps winning in that role. Chicago might want to see how Coby develops this offseason and make a decision whenever their next season begins. But what does the Twittersphere think?

Opinions From Smarter Bulls Writers

There are folks out there whose opinions on White’s rookie year are surely brighter than mine. Let’s look at their quotes about his first season.

Rob SchaeferNBC Sports Chicago:

On what White did well – “For Coby, the scoring ability at all three levels is obvious and tantalizing. And fortunately, he was able to parlay that into consistent, tangible results by the end of his rookie season. It lends credence to a lot of optimism moving forward”

On areas for improvement – “Defense and playmaking are going to be the popular two answers for this one. I lean more towards the latter. His size and competitiveness at the 1 alone should make him viable enough defensively if there’s solid infrastructure around him. Where he can really make the jump from sparkplug scorer to legitimately impactful player is if he bumps his assist count into the 5 or 6 per game range. Make opponents fear kickouts on drives (cause he gets downhill so fast) and use the gravity he naturally creates to his and the team’s advantage.”

On starting vs coming off the bench – “All of that is to say: For now, I’d say on a good team, White’s best role is as the first sub off the pine with the sole focus of shooting flames from his fingertips. But Bulls are not currently a good team. So, if they don’t go lead guard in the draft, his best fit (in the context of a rebuilding squad) is continuing to start and seeing how he responds. Someone as mature, hard-working and talented as he is should be given more than one season (which was fraught for so many reasons) to prove he can grow into the role the Bulls need him to play.”

Josh J.Bullish Hoops

On what White did well – “Coming into his rookie campaign, Coby White definitely exceeded my previously set expectations. He showed flashes of being an elite shot maker, a viable passer and willing defender as the season progressed.”

On areas for improvement – “n terms of areas of improvement for White entering his sophomore year, him making strides as a playmaker is extremely important if he wants to become a legitimate point guard. Not necessarily am I asking him tripling his assist count, but more so improve his ability to make consistent actions out of the pick and roll while being able to find cutters and open shooters. He trains with Chris Paul every summer, who hard can that be?”

“Aside from passing, for me personally watching every Bulls game this season, he has to learn where his spots are from the floor. He shot 39.4% from the field this year and struggled to stay consistent until the backend of the season, where he was 47% from the field and 41% from three. The more he gets to his sweet spots on the floor, the more his efficiency will increase.”

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How The Miami Heat Are Torching Defenses With One Specific Set

(Image by: Tomek Kordylewski)

By Matt Esposito

Coach Spo, who stole both my nickname and chances at coaching the Heat, has reignited Miami into fringe title contention. How so? By relying upon an offensive scheme that simultaneously unlocks the best talents of Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson: the dribble handoff (DHO) or, regular handoff.

To some, handoffs seem unsophisticated and elementary, akin to the relative who continues to wear hawaiian shirts at weddings. But while Uncle Jeremy was hitting on his second cousin who is half his age, I was studying Heat film. Turns out, Miami is way more successful at generating easy offense than your uncle is at avoiding incest.

Coach Spo and company elect to run DHOs with more frequency than any other team. In fact, they do so for 9.6 possessions per game which results in a frequency rate of 8.8 percent. For context, 23 others teams don’t even run north of seven DHO sets per game. Why do the Heat rely on this scheme so much?

Well, it works! Miami possesses ideal personnel to create a variety of high percentage/high value looks from this play. After all, if you wanted to maximize the DHO you would design a team that had a strong, passing savant, springy backdoororers (just made that up) and a 6-foot-7 3-point cheat code. Fortunately for the Heat, they have Bam Adebayo, a slew of athletic wings and Duncan Robinson to fill those roles.

Speaking of Bam and Duncan, let’s unpack the four main ways they work the handoff together before examining how it creates easy attempts for others…

#1. A pro at running through picks to create space, Miami usually tasks Robinson with gliding past an initial screener before Bam’s handoff turns into a screen. With a high, quick release, Robinson demonstrates why he hits a wild 45.8 percent on 6.9 catch and shoot triple attempts per game.

#2. To create confusion, Miami also deploys Robinson as the first screener. Teams have to respect Bam’s ability to fire backdoor passes therefore, they act to prevent that from happening, which allows Duncan just enough space for the DHO. Watch the entire clip so the slo-mo can do justice.

#3. Robinson does more pre-catch sexiness by being the one who fakes setting the screen. Teams believe a backdoor cut to be coming and instead lose ground as Duncan frees himself for the handoff.

#4. Lastly, Robinson pretends to be the one who will be the cutter. Instead of using a Goran Dragic pick, he flees the opposite direct to let loose one of the prettiest jumpers you will see.

Now that we’ve seen the most common ways Miami runs their Bam & Duncan handoff sets, how it creates spacing should be apparent. Both a remarkable screen setter and disher, Adebayo frightens teams when he operates from the perimeter. When married to Robinson’s elite floor spacing, opponents never know which way Miami will beat them.

The anxiety of Utah’s defenders is palpable in this next clip. They know that the very second Duncan and Jimmy shake free from their rub, Bam is going to rip a backdoor pass to Butler. This is all due to Robinson’s prowess as a catch and shoot DHO player.

When unable to get his shot off, Robinson slips a pass to Bam who has moved into the short roll. The defense is slow to react to Bam’s kick out pass and Kendrick Nunn torches them on a drive. Duncan’s shooting creates the short roll space that ultimately leads to the drive and score.

This concept rings true again in this next play. Defenders lose Derrick Jones Jr when they react to Bam getting that short roll bounce pass. The rest is history.

But the handoff madness doesn’t stop here, folks. No, Coach Spo is too smart to not build more sets off of it. The mere threat of a Duncan shot attempt can create for others. Here, he opts to set a screen instead of receiving the handoff and it again frees Nunn to attack. Bam’s role gravity also provides spacing for Nunn.

The danger of this shooting threat becomes even more evident during the following play. Robinson blurs into your screen like he is going to take the DHO. He slams the breaks, however, and sets a pick for Nunn. The confused defense looks like an old Nintendo glitch and Nunn is able to pop off for three.

What the Heat are doing in these sets is incredibly hard to defend. Robinson must be draped at all times. He is the essential havoc wreaker and Spo knows this. With Bam as the facilitator, Miami can manipulate defenders into surrendering open triples, hard drives or backdoor cuts.

What’s more, this duo is only getting started. Take the diagnosis of noted Heatologist Richard Anselmo, for example: “I think the sky’s the limit for Bam. Defensively he’s already one of the better players in the league. As his offense gets better (and it is – he can hit a mid range jumper now) he will be a star. DRob is a specialist, a knock down shooter.”

Both of these hoopers have yet to reach their respective primes and the Heat must have plans to keep them around. Adding another star to the mix during the 2020-2021 offseason could take this team back to the promised land, with this set being a continued staple of the offense.

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Inside Jayson Tatum’s Evolution Into An Elite Defensive Player

By Matt Esposito

That’s right, I said it. In the midst of his offensive leap forward, some may have not noticed how much of a pest Jayson Tatum has become. Fortunately, highlight God Tomek Kordylewski – a contributor for multiple, reputable Boston Celtics sites – nudged me to bring this development into the light. Specifically, Tomek asked me to uncover how much Tatum has improved on defense since his rookie year.

Tatum’s defensive arc throughout his three year career is not one that began at square one. Rather, he entered the league receiving praise from Brad Stevens, who expressed that the rookie was”beyond his years” and “savvy” as a defender. Despite showing enough defensive prowess to be a starter as a rookie, Tatum was not without flaws. But first, let’s look at the positives.

His first season resulted in a steal percentage in the 67th percentile, a foul percentage in the 65th percentile and an awesome block percentage landing in the 86th percentile for his position (Cleaning the Glass). Additionally, his defense rose to the occasion during the heightened intensity of an Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron James.

Yet, both his foul percentage and block percentage dropped during his sophomore campaign. Why did this regression happen? Tatum was in the midst of a positional shift; one which saw him spend more time as a power forward. Unfortunately, he was simply not physically ready to handle the responsibility of guarding bigger players.

Evidence of this could also be seen during his rookie year. During those first two seasons Celtic fans often saw JT get bullied towards the rim by more veteran, stronger players.

Now, however, he successfully battles against some of the game’s most gifted scorers. Watch him fight off Kawhi Leonard’s attempt to establish post position. Then, check out how he uses his length to contest the shot without overcommitting.

In fact, his strength and length combination is so effective that Stevens can confidently set Tatum on Anthony Davis. It may not look special, but Tatum’s ability to deny Davis paint position and force him to face up is truly impressive.

Tatum also used to struggle with fighting through screens. During his first two years he was often frustrated when bulky screen setters bumped him during the chase.

Now, however, Tatum is the one initiating the physicality. A kinder, superstar whistle (or lack thereof) certainly helps but, watch Tatum disallow the effectiveness of this screen while on route to disrupt a shot.

Early on, Tatum’s wingspan and standing reach were pegged as what could potentially be special defensive tools. Yet, there was a time he did not know how to take advantage of them with any consistency.

Today, he blends those attributes with his feel for the game to jump passing lanes and recover for weak side blocks. Only 18 forwards have ever averaged at least 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks for a season during one of their first three years in the NBA. Tatum is in good company, as that lists includes All-Defensive mainstays like Andrei Kirilenko, Shane Battier and Draymond Green.

Still, it took time to develop this skill. Although he has great lateral quickness, guards could still beat Tatum off the dribble. He did not always know how to recover by weaponizing his length, opting to bump attackers while playing a step behind instead of adjusting for a clean contest.

Today, however, teams know that Tatum is a shot-alterer. He has learned how to avoid fouling and time his block attempts. Andrew Patton of B-Ball-Index.com came up with a metric that determines how effective a player is at impacting the opposing team’s shot attempts at the rim.

Check out his single year RAD (SY RAD); a unique stat where a negative value is better than a positive one. Teams attempted 0.62 more at-rim attempts when Tatum was in the game during his rookie year. Now, they attempt a significant 0.93 less paint attempts.

courtest of B-Ball-Index.com

While Leonard takes this next attempt in the paint, it comes as he is moving away from the rim and fading backwards. Tatum’s length disrupts Leonard’s handle and Leonard is also unable to bully his way to the hoop. Lastly, the contest forces an airball. This is All-Defensive Team level play, folks.

To boot, speedy, bulldogian guards like Russell Westbrook are starting to get the picture too. Tatum absorbs Westbrook’s arm shove just enough to regain balance and reject the shot. Plays like this make it feasible to think Tatum could actually switch 1-5 one day soon.

The Celtics once more have one of the best defensive teams in the Association. This could be due to Tatum continuing his transformation into a power forward, where he now spends 63 percent of his minutes. When he’s there, Boston places in the 93rd percentile for opponents points per possession with a 51.0 effective field goal percentage.

And remember when scouts said Tatum needed to add weight? Well, we can put those criticisms to bed. This picture of his back tattoo does the talking for us. Remember how his defensive stats dropped during his sophomore year? Take a glimpse at how they rebounded (pun intended.)

courtesy of Cleaning the Glass

Going forward, expect Tatum to garner All-Defensive Team votes and receive that honor sooner rather than later. His drive to become one of the best to ever do it is more palpable than ever, and starting to show itself on the less glamorous end of the court. The rest of the league should be on notice.

BONUS! – For those wanting mor Tatum defensive highlights, check out Tomek’s video!

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New Stat Reveals Milwaukee’s Best Paint Deterrents Are Not Who You Think They Are

By Matt Esposito

Ask me how many times I wanted to exchange sexy for new in this article title. Approximately 2.4, which is incidentally the number of blocks per game Brook Lopez is earning this season. Yet neither him, his brother nor the reigning MVP are the Bucks best paint deterrents, according to an enticing new metric.

Andrew Patton of BBall-Index created an easily decipherable, user-friendly analytic that helps shed some light on how Milwaukee has formed one of the best defensive teams ever. Specifically, a metric called RAD reveals which players most limit an opponent’s best looks.

Patton was able to simplify the analytic by writing that…

“RAD and Q-RAD are defensive statistics that attempt to measure how a player deters the offense from taking high efficiency shots. Made or missed shots do not matter in this context, only attempts.”

BBball-Index.com

In essence, the stat is used to determine how effective a player is at limiting field goal attempts at the rim. Additionally, Q-RAD factors in the success of surrendering long midrange jumpers while also accounting for at-rim attempts and high quality 3-point looks. It is a way to measure how adept players are at making opposing players take the least valuable shots.

The top 20 performers in this category feature four Bucks regulars yet, they are not the players you may think. When we consider Milwaukee’s paint deterrents, the first names that come to mind are Giannis and those dual 7-foot-6 wingspans of the Brothers Lopez. Despite those players providing wonderful rim protection, they are not the ones featured in the highest percentiles.

Rather, Pat Connaughton, George Hill, Wesley Matthews and Khris Middleton appear. They rank 5th, 8th, 10th and 16th, respectively, among all qualified players in the NBA. This is when you say “hmmm interesting” and stroke your chin beard. Connaughton’s chart will demonstrate how this metric works.

Connaughton is in the 99th percentile for limiting opponents shots at the rim. Specifically, teams take just about 3.5 less rim attempts when he is in the game, which is why the stat has a negative cal. For context, Joel Embiid leads the league with a score of about 4.87. When we think of players who make people think twice about going to the rim, behemoths like Rudy Gobert and Mr. Embiid come to mind. So what the hell are some Bucks wings, guards and forwards doing on this list?

Coach Bud and the Bucks implement a strategy that maximizes this personnel. Connaughton, Hill and Matthews all stand 6-foot-5 or shorter but boasts wingspans that measure 6-foot-9. Middleton’s extends to just shy of 7-feet. Their directive is to almost always fight over screens and funnel players towards the hoop.

There, Towering anchors like Giannis or Dem Lopez Boyz are typically waiting for them. These bigs often meet the ballhandler at a point in the paint that dissuades them from driving any closer. Instead, they often opt for awkward, low-value midrange shots. A good example of this fightover/dropback mentality can be seen below.

On the surface, this does not make terribly clear how that group of four keeps opponents away from the paint. If anything, it suggests just the opposite. Aren’t they encouraging players to go towards the paint where the protector is? Yet, sending bigs to drop back works in tandem with our deterring wings and forwards. Film of Connaughton further details how.

Arguably the best screen setter in the league, Domantas Sabonis, gives Doug McDermott a DHO. Instead of getting a closer look at the rim with a continued drive, or drawing the big before lobbing to Sabonis, McDermott pulls up for a midrange 2-pointer. Connaughton’s length and leaping ability tallies the block. But the wing deterrence from him comes before the shot.

Notice how the Bucks didn’t even have a plan in place that could allow switching. They all know to fight over the picks. The sagging big allows just enough time for Connaughton to make up lost ground. By fighting hard over the pick Connaughton lessens the chance of a stop-and-pop triple. The waiting big man leaves McBuckets with one option; to take a low-value 2-pointer.

This fightover/dropback approach takes two to tango. They work together to channel players into a spot on the court where jumpers are still difficult but yield only two points, not three. But don’t take my word for it. Instead, rely on Brian Sampson, an insightful Bucks writer who runs the Bucks Film Room account. He suggests that,

“Part of what makes Brook Lopez and the Bucks aggressive drop defense so effective is the bigs are only asked to defend the pick-and-roll attack for a limited time. “

– Brian Sampson

Next, he continued to explain the essential role Milwaukee’s non-bigs play in squeezing opponents into taking midrange shots. Plus, he delineated how important they are to the traditional rim protectors.

“Guys like Bledsoe do a great job getting skinny and fighting through the screen, applying pressure on the ball-handler to quickly make a decision. If those guards took their sweet time getting back to their man or were consistently knocked out of position by the pick, it would be a nightmarish two on one scenario for Lopez and the defense.”

– Brian Sampson

Below, the lanky Sterling Brown (who also has good RAD/Q-RAD scores) gives visual support to Sampson’s explanation as he battles with a screen before getting beat to the rim. Watch his teammates disrupt the lane and force a pass, only to have that next attempt stuffed. Teams have to be aware of all the Bucks defenders due to how their scheme insists upon them weaponizing their length and athleticism in the paint.

The clip below is perhaps an even better example. Every single Buck becomes a disruptor, whether by reaching in to try and strip the ball or going straight up for a contest. The savvy Hill reads the escape kickout pass and nabs a steal.

Don’t believe me when I say that the Bucks go crazy during closeouts? Unsure if they really form a wall of wingspan in the paint? This next clip should ease those doubts.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I do see the irony of detailing paint deterrence by showing clips of people getting stripped or blocked in the paint. But opposing players are aware of this no-fly zone around the rim. It is the reason Midrange Jesus Kawhi Leonard was stymied in the video above.

Often times opponents are persuaded out of field goal attempts at the rim or are forced out of the paint completely, like in the following video. Fadeaway 13-footers on the baseline with the shot clock winding down are not high percentage shots, folks.

Some signs your defense is awesome: Forcing TJ Warren – who loves himself some shot attempts – to kick the ball out of the paint. Making Domas not even consider going to the block; a technique he used to become an All-Star. Giving former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon no other option than to take a low percentage, wrong-footed push shot from 12 feet out. Yeah…no one even thought about going to the hoop.

Before the season was suspended, Milwaukee was on pace to finish as what some consider to be the best defensive team in league history. Their length across positions is astounding. When paired with a brilliant coaching scheme to capitalize on these physical attributes, the Bucks find themselves limiting an impressive amount of opponent attempts from the paint.

To boot, they routinely score high in Q-RAD; the metric that accounts for forcing opponents into long range 2s and their propensity to attempt high quality triples. The Bucks are either using their length to make players think twice about going to the hoop or, selling out to contest perimeter jumpers. In fact, they rank first in total disruption and 3-point disruption as well as third in rim disruption.

Still, it would be unreasonable to suggest that Los Hermanos Lopez and Giannis are of less importance when it comes to limiting at-rim attempts. Their mixture of defensive IQ and physical attributes factor into every team’s game plan. So, which players are most deserving of credit when considering paint deterrence? Make time to watch Bucks games when/if the season resumes and hand out your own rankings!

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What is Lonnie Walker’s Ceiling?

By Matt Esposito

Originally asked by VP of Basketball Operations for A.N.D Sports Entertainment, Richard Anselmo, this delectable morsel of a question was a blast to try and answer. Despite slipping out of it, Lonnie Walker came into the NBA as a lottery level talent. His athleticism, shot-creating package and measurables were evident. Yet, Walker has not totally exploded for San Antonio yet, leaving us to wonder what his ceiling could be.

Not only does Walker have the skills to become a stud, he has an outside chance of becoming the most famous Lonnie ever. The rapper Common currently holds down the top spot but it may not be for long, especially if Lonnie the hooper can take advantage of some of the gifts he came into the league with. So, what are those gifts anyway?

Let’s start with the measurables. Not many players his size are blessed with a wingspan that stands just over 6-foot-10 and a 40 inch vertical leap. Plus, he seems to have fully recovered from a right knee meniscus tear suffered during his rookie campaign. Not sold? Modern medicine and rehab practices don’t do it for ya? Check out this slam from Walker as he discards the Knicks more than their own fans do. When in Rome though, right?

To categorize Walker as merely an energetic, bouncy wing would be selling him short. Dating back to college conference play, Walker nailed 36.1 percent of his triples on 108 attempts. During his rookie year this number of attempts shrunk to 33 and incidentally, Walker hit them at a 33 percent clip. This year, however, Walker has taken 71 total 3-point attempts and is converting at a 40.8 percent rate. What’s more, he’s in the 97th percentile for above-the-break 3s, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Although Walker more frequently attempts the closer, corner 3-pointer, his better shooting percentage comes when shooting further away. This could very well prove to be an anomaly, hinting that with a larger sample we will see an inversion of these numbers. Yet, the former Hurricane shoots an easy ball by using good balance and a compact stroke. Again, the sample size isn’t very reliable yet but, Walker is still shooting 40 percent on all catch and shoot triples this season.

Let’s get back to Rich’s question: What exactly is Lonnie’s ceiling? Is it high, like the ones in homes that show off an oversized Christmas tree during the holidays? Is it a thiswascoolinthelate80s popcorn ceiling? After all, the league is saturated with long arms who have 3-point capability. If this assessment stopped here, I would predict Walker to be a serviceable, starter level wing and then spend my time thinking about more ceiling types. Yet, LW has a little somethin’ extra to bring to the table.

Walker exhibited eye-catching shot-creation moves while in college. He’s proven adept at sidestepping, stepbacking (I hate how that sounds, ew) and changing pace. Crossovers have been a specialty as well. Ask Gordon Hayward.

Or Bruno Caboclo, who was just two years away before this nasty crossover/stop-and-pop combo, but has since went back to being two years away from being two years away.

I’m not sure which one it is, but one of the Martin twins ended up on the wrong side of a highlight reel. All kidding aside, the way Walker deploys his crossover in order to decelerate is evidence of star potential.

As of now, though, he has only revealed one trick up his sleeve of separation moves: the crossover. A slo-mo video of his shaking Donovan Mitchell shows how Walker combines his handle and quick-twitch athleticism to lose defenders. But, where are those other tricks previously mentioned?

Thank god for college tape and one of my old scouting reports that was dusted off for this piece. The film below shows a high level inside-out dribble, sidestep combo, another crossover stepback, and a game winning stepback against Boston College. Although they may lay dormant until Coach Pop trusts Lonnie enough to break them out, the shot-creation skills are there.

Why doesn’t Pop trust him enough yet? Per Cleaning the Glass, Walker is in the 81st and 66th percentile for short and long midrange shot frequency, respectively. But, he ranks only in the 25th and 54th percentile for finishing those shots. His mechanics look serviceable so Walker may simply need more reps to get those percentages up. Considering San Antonio has zigged when the league has zagged, Walker’s ability to get his own shot in the midrange could be a coveted skill for the Spurs.

Offensively, Walker creates for himself, which raises his ceiling to borderline All-Star. Defensively, he has started to show better competitiveness and effort. After claiming his intention to become a “defensive gnat,” Walker has started to let his physical gifts do the work for him.

When he fights over screens and deploys his length to his advantage, good things happen and it is not difficult to discern why.

Walker’s agility is on full display here. Look at how quickly he covers ground before registering an impressive block.

It is this next block that proves more telling, however. After being caught flat footed and prepping for a screen that was never used, Walker recovered to reject the specimen known as Jaylen Brown. This flash of defensive ability is special.

What’s more, Walker has shown signs that he may be catching up to the speed of the game. He reads this pass to the corner like a pro; a feat not easy for neither young players nor veterans. Perhaps it is no coincidence that when Walker is on the court his team places in 79 percentile for opponent effective field goal percentage.

One of my earliest comparisons for Lonnie Walker was “Good JR Smith,” proving that not only was I feeling particularly assholie when I wrote that but, I might have sold Walker’s ceiling short. One of my other comparisons was Ben Gordon; a former 6th man of the year who hovered on the fence of All-Star play for fiesty Bulls teams. I feel good with that ceiling for Walker, and the Spurs should too.

2019-20 Rookie Review: Is Brandon Clarke The Steal Of The Draft?

(image by Tomek Kordylewski)

By Matt Esposito

Nothing brings on self doubt more than seeing the player you have ranked 7th on your Big Board fall to the 21st pick in the draft. That is exactly what happened to Brandon Clarke; a 6-foot-8 trampoline with deceptively good touch.

Earlier in the year, The Playgrounder dove a little deeper on Clarke’s specific fit with Jaren Jackson Jr, arguing that Memphis has the best young frontcourt in the NBA. Although he lacks good positional length, Clarke is a vertical pick and roll threat, versatile defender and developing shooter. Plus, his touch on floaters is heavenly. Let’s outline his rookie year plusses before covering the minuses.

Athleticism Making Plays That Others Cannot

Clarke does not have a Zionesque physical profile but he is in the tier below. He overcomes his 6-foot-8 wingspan by using quick twitch athleticism to spring above others. This is particularly noticeable on the pick and roll. An improving screener, Clarke has learned to better time his rolls or slips.

This is a key development for Memphis. Surrounding Ja Morant with floor spacers and pairing him with the gravity of Clarke will make for a potent offense in time. Defenders are forced to focus on protecting the paint rather than the perimeter.

Above, Clarke displayed how he makes finishes possible than others simply can’t. His two-footed leaping can turn any pocket pass into a dunk. He avoids contesters in the air by hanging there like Prince in Chappelle Show. The Grizzly’s ballhandlers can toss that ball in the vicinity of the rim and feel confident that Clarke will make a play. For his team, Clarke unlocks scoring chances that opponents don’t have the luxury of having.

His Midrange Game Though…

Our friends at Cleaning the Glass tell us that not only is Brandon Clarke in the 75th percentile for all midrange attempts but, he is currently in the 94th percentile for midrange makes. How does he convert so well in this area?

Clarke combines both his vertical leaping ability and floater/push shot mechanics to excel in this range. 7-footers are quick to close out on him when he opts for these short roll shot attempts. When this happens, the undersized Clarke knows he must explode off of the court and use a high release to avoid the block. Watch him do so below.

He routinely made this play against Mitchell Robinson, and I could have included more clips but decided to spare the Knicks center! What’s more, Clarke does not only mitigate the rim protection skills of 7-footers but, he does so off the dribble while moving to his left. Impressive stuff!

These short roll opportunities should come more frequently for Clarke. Opposing bigs will scheme to blow up these floaters by meeting Clarke early during the roll. Perhaps help defenders will tag him. Either way, it’s another example of his awesome paint gravity. There are areas for him to improve, however.

3-Point Shooting, Especially From The Corner

Please…please watch this video of Brandon Clarke taking jumpers at San Jose State University. Once you watch that and then learn that he sank 40.4 percent of the 52 3-pointers he took this year, you’ll be amazed.

Clarke has reworked his shooting form more than an aging Hollywood star reworks their face via plastic surgery. The results have started to pay off. Unlike most bigs when transitioning to perimeter spacing, he chose to take more attempts from above the break than from the corner.

Confusingly, Clarke is in the 98th percentile for non-corner triples yet remains in the 44th percentile on corner treys (CTG.) This is a tad bit concerning. Watch the tape and see for yourself how clunky his corner 3-pointer looks.

The last 3-pointer in the video is the most disconcerting. Clarke has developed a little bit of the old Lonzo Ball shooting form. His shooting hand placement points too far away from the target, causing him to loose accuracy during the release. The good news? This is fixable. The bad news? You may have to watch some ugly left/right misses in the meantime.

Offseason To-Do List

Clarke’s progression as a floor spacer is nothing but encouraging yet, I get the feeling it could be fool’s gold for now. Don’t get me wrong, he is trending in the right direction. His free throw percentage – a positive indicator of perimeter spacing – has improved by over 20 percentage points since his rookie year of college.

Rather, I’m suggesting that coaches could push for Clarke to take a higher volume of triples next year. If that’s the case, expect his percentage from deep to lower into the 34-36 range. Defenders will be prepared to close out on him, which could be challenging for Clarke.

According to NBA.com, he took the majority of his 3s with a defender at least six feet away from him and nailed 45.2 percent of them. When a defender was between four to six feet away, that number dropped down 22.2 percent. Yikes.

This offseason, Clarke must continue his positive growth as a floor stretcher. This means constant monitoring of his shooting mechanics. Plus, he needs to practice taking shots when not wide open. With a great work ethic, however, Grizzly fans will be impressed in the long run. Just don’t get upset if his percentage drops with a larger volume next year!

2019-2020 Rookie Review: What Is To Become Of Michael Porter Jr?

(Image by Tomek Kordylewski)

By Nick Faggio

Every rookie entering the league is evaluated on their positives and negatives. Each and every rookie brings a particular level of NBA readiness, or lack thereof. When it comes to Michael Porter Jr., he brings some good, some bad, and a little bit of ugly.

During high school, MPJ was the top ranked prospect in the 2017 class. Bringing a great amount of hype and potential to Missouri, Porter would injure his back within his first two minutes of game time. He would go on to miss over three months of college ball, and play only three games that season. MPJ would slip to 14th in the draft, which many considered a steal for the Denver Nuggets.

The vast amount of college minutes that Porter Jr. missed would allow his poor basketball IQ and many flaws to go unnoticed come draft day. Or perhaps the lack of playing time hid some of those qualities. Regardless, it’s time to discuss what he did well during his first year and where he struggled.

Shooting Touch, High Release & Physical Profile

Michael Porter Jr. is 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot wingspan. His length, to go along with his quick, high-release combines for a hard to guard jump shot. Porter’s jumper can be shot over contesting defenders of any position. Shown in the video below, MPJ has no problems getting shots up and over the lengthiest of NBA defenders. There is little anyone can do to truly alter his release.

You can’t teach height. It leads to a major reason that MPJ is shooting 42% from behind the arc. Porter is accustomed to his high release and when given extra time to ensure pre-shot balance his shot becomes even more potent. Yet, his lower mechanics are not as flawless.

Lower Body Shot Prep & Footwork

When it comes to MPJ’s footwork, he showcases some mixed results. Coming around screens in particular, the Mizzou product is hit or miss when it comes to planting his feet correctly. Watch the video below, it’ll do a better job describing it than I can.

The first half of the clip demonstrates good footwork when coming off of screens. Denver can use MPJ as essentially a guard during these sets, and his 6-foot-10 frame will give him the advantage at getting his shot off. In the second half of the clip, however, MPJ displays poor footwork and tries to compensate by kicking out his legs; a indication that he needs to regain balance. This can be improved upon with repetition and is something that will be revised as MPJ continues his NBA career.

Offensive Boards

Let’s get back to the positive skills he showed during his rookie year. Michael Porter Jr has a knack for hunting down offensive rebounds. Porter is solid at attacking the glass and gaining extra possessions. Watch this video below to see how MPJ demonstrates good instinct in grabbing offensive boards.

MPJ excels at evading his defender and swooping in for the offensive board. A trait that he has displayed in the college level as well, his 7-foot-wingspan allows him to wrestle for rebounds amongst the most aggressive rebounders the league has to offer. Plus, he has a little bit of youthful bounce to him.

This is a skill that should help earn playing time. Gaining extra possessions is an art form and one that is overlooked. Plus, it suggests a player has instincts or what we call feel for the game. This feel does not show up everywhere on the court, however.

Tunnel Vision

Michael Porter Jr. can flash glimpses of tunnelvisionitis that could make any scout or fan sour on him. He shows an unhealthy amount of symptoms. I only play a doctor on TV but the medical consensus is that it will take many months of film-watching to fully recover.

Sometimes MPJ quite literally dribbles with his head down. Just watch the video below, the proof is in the pudding (and now I’m hungry…)

On the fast break in particular, MPJ often runs the court like he is playing one versus five. Failing to spot the open man in transition and even in the half-court, Porter’s eyes are glued to the rim. The many charges and turnovers Porter causes can be easily avoidable and must be atop his to-do list of changes to his game. Although his instincts for grabbing boards indicative otherwise, these avoidable turnovers show that MPJ may actually lack feel for the game.

Offseason To-Do List

All in all Michael Porter Jr. has weaknesses just like any other rookie. But here at The Playgrounder we value playing style, mentality and feel, which gives us pause about MPJ’s current hype train. We’re still buying a ticket but don’t be surprised if we get off a stop or two early.

To continue his growth, MPJ must take care of his body. It is concerning whenever a teenager has back issues. Get right and stay right, Michael. We want you to succeed and health is a top priority.

But, how do you unlearn tunnel vision. MPJ would do well to watch film on a guy like Kristaps Porzingis. Dallas uses KP like a 7-foot two guard, running him through pin downs, flare screens and pick and pops. Denver has already introduced MPJ to those sets. Practicing his footwork is essential. To develop feel for the game, spending scrimmage time with pass-first players can help yet, I’m not sure there is a true cure for this.

Denver management and coaching has some homework as well. Porter has literally compared himself to a mix of Kevin Durant, Giannis and Tracy McGrady. Seriously, that happened. Nugget brass and MPJ must get on the same page.

Denver may (rightly) want him to develop into a 3&D forward with a ceiling that looks like a more athletic Danilo Gallinari with some defensive potential. Porter could have a different trajectory for his career; one which sees him develop into a shot creating, high usage forward. This is an interesting storyline and one we all should be looking forward to following.

BONUS: What Are The Expert Saying?

We reached out to James Siegle of Hoops Habit to get his opinion on Porter’s rookie season. Siegle provided his breakdown and has a noticeably higher outlook on MPJ than we do. Differing opinions is why we do this, folks! Enjoy.

On Possibly Starting

“Michael Porter Jr. would be starting for many squads right now, and this likely isn’t a question of “if” he’ll be an impact player, but “when”. He’s looked phenomenal offensively when given extended court time, and he possesses a unique, Kevin Durant-like efficiency to his game.”

On His Performance

“We caught a glimpse of the player Porter could be in January, as he averaged 12.3 points per contest (in 21.4 minutes), while shooting an insane 52.2 percent from the field and 48.0 percent from 3-point range. He’s shooting 42.2 percent from deep on the season, which is actually second-best on the team. He’s also better on the boards than advertised (10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes) and cuts well around Jokic, which is a necessity in Denver.”

On His Defense

“Porter struggled to earn playing time due to his defense, and the problem resides particularly in his defensive awareness. Playing on this deep Nuggets team didn’t help matters, although the February trade should have cleared minutes for him. At some point next season, Porter’s offense will be worth any defensive liability.”

Adam Mares, the VP of Creative Production at DNVR Sports, also was kind enough to lend us his thoughts. Check out his take on MPJ’s first true year in the League.

On What He Needs To Improve

“We only saw about 700 minutes from him so it’s hard to say what things are most urgent. The reason he didn’t play more minutes this season is because he’s pretty lost on the defensive end. So his steepest learning curve will likely come from film study more than skill development. But as far as skill set, a better handle will really unlock his 1 on 1 game. He’s a phenomenal shooter and can get his shot off against anybody but an improved handle will help keep the defense honest. Lastly, like most rookies, he’ll have to improve his strength in order to hang with the best wings and forwards in the game.”

Finally, Matt Huff capped us off with his opinion. Catch Huff writing for Crown Hoops and be sure to throw him the follow.

On His Future Role In Denver

“Despite getting limited run-time this year, one can clearly see the potential is there for Michael Porter. The defense still leaves something to be desired, but one look at his per 36 numbers shows how lethal of an offensive weapon he can be for Denver. The Kevin Durant comparison is still a bit far fetched to me, but one can definitely understand it. His game is as fluid as they come and with more minutes, he very well could be the missing piece the Nuggets need. Porter could become the wing that will help form a big 3 with Jokic and Murray.”

2019-20 Rookie Review: Grant Williams Is A Coach’s Dream

(Image by Tomek Kordylewski)

By Jesse Cinquini

There’s so much more to the game of basketball than scoring. Yes, it may be what draws eyeballs, but in reality it’s merely a component of the sport. Since the league’s inception, there has existed valuable albeit non-glamorous contributors who embrace doing the dirty work. Setting picks, taking charges, fighting for loose balls. These aren’t recorded on the stat sheet per say, but that doesn’t mitigate their importance to winning.

Grant Williams, a 21-year-old former Tennessee standout, epitomizes the phrase “winning player”. The rook became a mainstay in Brad Stevens’ rotation due to his jack-of-all-trades skill set. It’s time to explore how he earned that rotation spot and what he needs to improve upon.

Adept Screen-Setter

What Williams lacks in height (6’6″) he makes up for with brute strength. Weighing in at 236 pounds, Grant’s physique is eerily reminiscent to that of Draymond Green’s (although he lacks Draymond’s notorious wingspan.) And if Green has proved anything over his illustrious career, it’s that undersized tweeners have a place in the modern NBA.

Also like Draymond, Williams is an upper-echelon screen-setter. For a perimeter-oriented club such as Boston, the value of setting solid, bone-crushing picks cannot be understated. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker all shoot the ball from deep with above-average accuracy. Is Grant’s ability to dispel defenders partly responsible for the trio’s scorching three-point shooting? You betcha.

His picks resulted in numerous open looks for the Celtics’ stars, particularly in catch and shoot situations. Williams’ screens oftentimes halt the opponent dead in their tracks. Grant’s muscle takes wings out of the play, thus giving Boston’s perimeter marksmen ample room to fire.

Williams occassionally functioned as a sealer as well. He must’ve learned a thing or two from his teammate, Daniel Theis. Sealing helps to open up what would be a clogged painted area. It creates driving lanes for scoring opportunities at the basket. Most important of all, it prevents rim protectors from stymieing said shots.

Grant’s prowess as a screener and sealer points to his tremendous feel for the game. His basketball IQ is off the charts. Want proof? Mosey on down to the next section of this rookie review.

Underrated Playmaker

There’s a years old adage that goes as follows: “he was one step ahead of the play.” A legend such as Larry Bird is probably who you associate this saying with. Make no mistake, I am in no way comparing Bird to Williams. But Grant displayed that he can in fact think ahead of the defense when facilitating the rock. He’s not going to wow anyone with playmaking wizardry. Rather, Williams reads the defense intelligently and makes timely passes.

Grant ranked in the 81st percentile among all bigs in assist to usage ratio, according to Cleaning the Glass. With the ball in his hands at the top of the key, he can spot cutters diving to the cup. His vision in the half-court is excellent; he surveys the floor and is able to thread the needle with pinpoint dimes. Not only that, he’s also capable of orchestrating the fastbreak. Grant has a tight handle for a big; he doesn’t appear out of control when dribbling the length of the court. The same cannot be said for many of the league’s interior players.

Williams’ quality facilitating is a trait that blends beautifully with Boston’s personnel. Considering they’re loaded with gifted offensive talents, the neophyte has the teammates he needs to continue to rack up assists. On most other teams, there would likely be more pressure on Grant to score. But the Celtics aren’t most other teams. They’re a title contender with a bevy of weapons, so they don’t necessarily need him to put points on the board.

Blocks, Strength In The Paint & Footspeed

Defensively, Grant came into the league with a particular question mark surrounding him. No one would question his core strength but, would he be long enough to defend the rim? Additionally, would he have enough footspeed to guard quick fours and switch onto guards along the perimeter?

Williams showed he might have just enough agility to make those switches. Plus, on the occasions he gets burnt he makes up for it by using his high IQ. Grant is no stranger to shading attackers into the help or bumping guards early into their drive to slow them down. Also, check out his recovery speed during a weakside block at the end of this clip.

What also stood out from William’s rookie year was his show of literal strength. Despite being undersized for either the four or five slots, he still spent 37 percent of his time as a center. Sam Vecenie delineated how his strength testing numbers were almost off of the charts during his draft combine days. This attribute helped im successfully man the paint at time for the Cs.

Thanks, Sam!

Below, take a minute to watch how his forcefulness keeps defenders from gaining ground towards the bucket. Although Williams may not be able to play as a small ball five for too long of stretches, Stevens can have confidence strategically playing him when he spots a weakness to exploit.

Offseason To-Do List

Improve the jumper. It took Williams 20 games to find the range on a three-pointer. He missed his first 25 treys as a pro. Admittedly, he did fare better from beyond the arc to cap off the season. Although, it wasn’t enough to salvage what was a disappointing maiden campaign in terms of outside shooting.

On 1.4 tries nightly, just 24.7 percent of Grant’s triples found the bottom of the net. As the year progressed, it got to the point where teams were daring him to shoot. He averaged 0.9 wide open threes per game. Williams has to make the opposition pay for sagging off of him. Developing a respectable shooting stroke should be tops on the youngster’s to-do list.

Perimeter woes aside, there’s a lot to like about the Swiss army knife forward. The multitude of ways in which Grant impacts winning is what’ll lead to him enjoying a prolonged and successful NBA career. There’s no doubt he’ll be a fan favorite in Boston before long.

2019-20 Rookie Review: P.J. Washington Is More Skilled Than You Think

(Image by Tomek Kordylewski)

By Matt Esposito

Taken at the 12th spot in the his draft, P.J. Washington went right around where I had him pegged on my personal Big Board (16th.) Prior to the draft, Washington benefitted from receiving solid results on his physical measurables. He appeared bulky enough to hang with stronger players and claimed a wingspan just over 7-foot-2 inches.

Yet, his athletic testing measurables dropped drastically. Despite being a talented passer with a developing 3-point shot, some questioned how Washington could reach his potential at the next level? Well, Washington put many of those questions to bed. What did he do so well and where does he need to improve?

Perimeter Shooting, Specifically From The Corner

While at Kentucky, many questioned if Washington’s outside shooting would translate to the NBA. His form had been fine tuned but it was nothing near perfect. Regardless, PJ was able to hit 49 percent of his corner triples, good enough for the 97th percentile. This corner shot would become incredibly important for Washington as he hit only 33 percent of his above the break bombs.

Inverting the knees while bending them before the shot has helped. His lower body mechanics do not need much tweaking at all. His upper half mechanics are decent enough, too. Although he sacrifices a quicker release, dipping the ball before the shot seems to be an effective tool for PJ.

Hitting such a high percentage of corner 3-pointers has opened up other parts of his game. Washington’s shot chart shows his affinity for taking them. Throughout the course of the season defenders wisened up to this tendency. When they did, Washington often took advantage by passing to open men or attacking closeouts.

Courtesy of Cleaning the Glass
Playmaking For Others

Many things peak in college. Consider my entire entity as a being, for instance. Washington showed flashes of his passing ability at Kentucky but it truly reached another level in the NBA. In fact, one could argue that professional league spacing has unlocked this part of his game.

PJ’s assist percentage and assist to usage ratio are both above average and impressive for a rookie forward (77th and 66th, respectively.) How did he accomplish this? Washington recognizes closeouts and drives past defenders to draw in the help. When he does this he is more than capable of spotting the open man.

What’s more, he uses lookaways to deceive the defense before shoveling out slick passes. His vision is still underrated. Watching him operate from the post is a treat. Washington has eyes in the back of his head and his timing is excellent. It is in this way that he creates easy offense for his teammates, making him someone they must love playing with. Check out all of these examples below.

Defensive Versatility

It was fair to question if Washington would have the foot speed to guard wings and enough height to guard fives. Surprisingly, PJ demonstrated he could do so. Advanced metrics like defensive real plus/minus were kind to him. Another, more detailed metric liked him as well.

Washington spent plenty of time guarding players across four different positions. My buddies at BBall-Index.com are responsible for the graphic below. Take a glance at the time PJ spent defending 2-5.

Now, being a multipositional defender does not necessarily equate to being a good defender. The plus/minus score helps us clarify but the tape does an even better job. Washington does not possess remarkable agility but the pace of the game was not overwhelming for him; something that traditionally plagues rookies. Additionally, he displayed solid fundamentals and a knack for being in the right spot.

I can hear my old AAU coach screaming “fake and retreat!” during this next play. After the switch, PJ darts at the ballhandler then backs away. He’s baiting him to make a pass to the rolling Julius Randle and his retreat towards him prepares PJ for a possible steal. Next, he sticks with the play, keeping his hands high and causes a deflection. This is high IQ stuff.

Washington averaged just under 1.0 blocks per game this season, a number that could actually increase with more minutes. Although he will likely not see too much time as a small ball five, rewatching clips of his rim protection enforces the notion that PJ is a smart defensive player who can hang just well enough on perimeter switches before using his wits to alter shots.

His stance during this switch is great. Plus, PJ knows to shade Kendrick Nunn into the help defender. When Nunn evades the helpers, Washington uses that time to get himself into perfect position to block Nunn. Very smart. In the example below, Washington shows how quickly he adapted to the pace of the pro game. He immediately sees this corner swing happening and sells out for a corner rejection. The speed of recognition here is encouraging.

Between the floor spacing, passing and defensive awareness and hustle, Washington should rightfully earn a place on the All-Rookie Team. So, what does he have to work on this offseason?

Offseason To-Do List

PJ took 42 percent of his shots at the rim but his conversion rate is in the 20th percentile. Yuck. He struggles against elite NBA size and length. What’s more, his free throw rate is in the 24th percentile. When combining those numbers with a review of the film, it becomes evident that Washington has not yet grown comfortable handling contact in the NBA.

Sometimes, he initiates the contact but has trouble finishing, throwing up awkward attempts with his off hand.

Other times, he avoids contacts altogether which results in shot attempts he may not be athletic enough to finish.

At Kentucky, PJ showed soft scoring touch around the rim. Yet, wingspans only become longer in the NBA. He must find a way to overcome these tougher contests. In college, he found success working from the post. We know he is a passing threat from there, so dedicating more time to that dying art could be worth it.

Additionally, Washington could work on strengthening his core. He was not overly explosive as a Wildcat but has some moments. Trying to max out his athletic profile would be a huge boost. Charlotte fans should be happy, however. They have an intelligent swiss army knife on their team for the foreseeable future.

BONUS: What Are The Experts Saying About Washington?

We reached out to an up and coming sports writer who specializes in covering the Hornets. He was helpful enough to provide us with his opinion of Washington’s rookie season. Check out what he has to say below!

Chase Whitney – The 450 Times & SB Nation:

“PJ Washington is a Swiss Army knife, and even at a young age, the improvements that he has to make are pretty minute. If he stays on his current path, he’ll be just fine. His long-range shooting, half-court passing, and perimeter defensive awareness have already improved a lot since he got to Charlotte, and he’s always been a savvy paint scorer and defender.”

“The only ‘weak spots’ in his game right now (I use quotes because they’re not very weak) are free-throw shooting, mid-range pull-up shooting, and shot-blocking. His 64.7 free-throw percentage is due to climb based on how good of a shooter he is, and with more time learning the positioning and timing of NBA defense, he’ll grow as a shot-blocker. If PJ ever develops a break-you-down-off-the-dribble game from the second level, he will be an extremely good player. Watching him grow and accept more responsibility on both ends of the floor in his second season is going to be very exciting.”

Best Free Agency Fits For Danilo Gallinari

By Nick Faggio

Too many articles and blogs waste time on their introductory paragraph. It’s a Sunday morning, the sun is shining and I have a cup of joe. Let’s just dive right in, shall we?

Portland Trail Blazers

Danilo Gallinari to Portland would further solidify the Blazers as a legitimate threat for a championship run. Gallinari would take some of the strenuous weight off the aching backs of Lillard and McCollum. Although Portland has an all time great scorer in Carmelo Anthony at power forward, his age and weariness result in spotty scoring performances. Right before the league went under, a season-high 25 point performance for Melo was succeeded by a loss to the Suns where he totaled just 7 points. Melo is a free agent after this season, and Portland should swap him out with the younger, taller, better Gallinari.

With Melo out and Galo in, there is an upgrade in almost every aspect of Portland’s power forward position. Galo’s splits of (19.2 / 5.5 / 2.1) outweigh Melo’s (15.3 / 6.3 / 1.6) and Gallinari shoots 44% from the field and 41% from 3, compared to Melo’s 42% field goal, and 37% 3PT. The stats supporting why Gallinari is a better signing than Melo doesn’t fool anyone, but why should Gallinari, a star in a weak free agency summer, choose Portland?

Although we do not know the severity of lost cap space this summer due to a suspended season, Portland has the highest team payroll in the entire league this summer at $137,371,388. They would likely have to work a sign and trade with Oklahoma City. Yet, OKC could use some of the young wings that Portland has to offer. Sign and trades are tricky but, this is a move to watch.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers are one of the teams with the highest necessity for Danilo Gallinari. They could use his shooting, and his height would compliment their monster line-up. The dilemma in between Philadelphia and Gallo is Philly’s very limited cap space. Gallinari is not taking any veteran minimum, so the Sixers need to clear up cap to make the deal.

The first step of clearing cap, is dumping Al Horford’s 4-year/ $109M deal. Horford makes $27.25M a season and has been moved to the bench in a struggling Philly offense. The next step for Horford? Out of Philadelphia completely. Horford still has three years left on his expensive deal. The Sixers need to deal him elsewhere as a salary dump.

Finding a trade for Horford will be troublesome as the 34-year-old had a sharp decline in production this season. Any team willing to take on his contract will need to be convinced that he their system can bring him back to his Boston Celtic form.

If Horford can be shipped to a team that has the cap space to absorb his contract, the 76ers can throw an offer to Gallinari. An offense lacking three-point shooting will use Gallinari to the best of his ability. Philly will begin to repair their underachieving record, and return to their 52 win-caliber team just last season. Plus, fans could be calling for a change if their season ends in a disappointment, which it surely might.

Dallas Mavericks

If Danilo were to suit up for Mark Cuban next season, he would be the needed piece to put the Mavericks back in Finals contention. A big three of Gallo, Luka, and Kristaps would immediately put Dallas within the top teams of the Western Conference. Throw in their effective role players and this lineup has the potential to bring Dallas back to their 2011 glory days.

Aside from the starting lineup, Gallinari brings matchup versatility for coach Rick Carlisle. His ability to play a couple positions while shooting 40% from three on 7.3 attempts will unlock championship caliber potential for this Mavericks lineup. An even better Luka Donicic and healthy Kristaps Porzingis will only compliment this group’s potential for the 2020-2021 season.

The Mavericks have limited cap space this summer, as they owe ten guaranteed salaries and await two player options. The chances of Dallas signing Gallo rest on the shoulders of… Tim Hardaway Jr.? If THJ declines his player option, an extra $19M in cap space will become available, neccesary money for Gallinari to even consider Dallas.

In a weak free-agency class, Gallinari is one of the hottest commodities. The 11-year vet has voiced his wish to join a team where he is the X-Factor that gets them over the playoff hump, and Dallas has exactly that waiting for him. Dallas and Gallo will have to wait until the money is right before even entering a discussion, but owner Mark Cuban is unafraid of doing whatever it takes to bring in another star.

Miami Heat

Take a second and flashback to this year’s trade deadline. A potential three-team trade between Memphis, Miami, and OKC was nearly completed. This deal would have sent Gallinari to Miami, as he would fill the shoes of Meyers Leonard who would have been headed to OKC. The deal fell threw, but Miami could still covet Gallinari.

Miami is known for their constant pursuit of bringing free agents to South Beach but they are still prepping for the Giannis Antetokounmpo sweepstakes next offseason. The Heat could offer Gallo a one year deal around $24.9M per year. This would keep their cap clear enough to make a run at Giannis while retaining competitiveness for next season.

Gallo could be incentivized to take a one year deal, too. The unknowns of the salary cap for next season will impact free agency decisions. It might be in his best interest to reenter the market next offseason in search for a longer, more lucrative deal. The Heat should be ready to pounce if this is Gallinari’s intent.

2019-20 Rookie Review: Cam Reddish Surprised Us In The Pick & Roll

(Photo credit – Tomek Kordylewski)

By Matt Esposito

As the number five overall player on my 2019 Big Board, Cam Reddish seemed to be built in a basketball factory if that factory was ran by a hoops-crazed Willy Wonka. That positional size. That fluidity. That effortless stroke. Seeing Reddish slip to the 10th pick gave some serious Paul Pierce draft day vibes. Even his fellow rookies thought Reddish would have a stellar (read: the best) career among his draft class.

The beginning of his career was anything but stellar. Yet, Reddish’s statistics and play improved steadily with each passing month. Concurrently, (that SAT vocab prep is really paying off) as his confidence grew so did his willingness to display his bag of scoring tricks. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Regardless, check out his monthly development. The order of the months begins with October at the top of the chart and ends with March at the bottom.

Courtesy of basketball-reference.com

As Reddish’s points per game, offensive rating and true shooting progressed, so did his flirtiness as a pick and roll ballhandler. In fact, Cam impressed not only as a scorer but as a facilitator as well. Atlanta may have the complimentary scorer for Trae Young that they so desire. Continue on to see just how he wowed in this area despite not being utilized too often in it.

Pick and Roll Scorer

At Duke, Reddish was often deployed as a tall shooting guard. He was instructed to come off of pin down screens, provide spacing on the perimeter and dart to the corners during fastbreaks for triples. There was little emphasis on him running pick and roll sets and suddenly I’m mad at Coach K again.

It was somewhat surprising, albeit encouraging to see Reddish given more ballhandler responsibility. Yet, Cam showcased some elite separation moves when maneuvering screens. Having a picturesque release and 6-foot-8 frame, the pre-shot set up is incredibly important. Hawks fans should drool when watching Reddish dribble his way off of picks and into stepbacks, floaters, hesitation pull ups and rip through drives. All can be seen below.

Did Reddish sink these looks with regularity? Not really. But rookies are not supposed to. Do not be discouraged to learn that he only scored 0.72 points per possession as a pick and roll handler. The eye test is far more uplifting and useful. When Cam is under control and balanced, his shot is as mouthwatering as lickable wallpaper (great Wonka callback, Espo.) It keeps defenders honest and opens up driving lanes to the hoop.

What’s more, I had underrated how he used those handles to create for others. When Reddish breaks down a player he continues to scan the court. It adds a dimensions to his game that I did not foresee during his college days.

Pick and Roll Facilitator

As the season progressed you could see Reddish become more comfortable with the pace of the game. In fact, when watching some of his pick and roll passing clips, the former Blue Devil could even look a little too nonchalant. His growth in confidence was palpable and Atlanta benefitted from it.

It helps that John Collins and the sneakily impressive Bruno Fernando (not too mention Clint Capela) are strong lob threats off of the roll. Reddish proved adroit at using crossovers, hesitation and patience to run his man into the screen. From there he showed his chops dishing pocket passes, well placed lobs and assists with useful english on them.

Once more, Reddish weaponizes his height. Many of his pick and roll assists are reminiscent of a big-to-big mantra. How is a backpedaling center supposed to simultaneously defend a driving Reddish and prevent a lob? Correct answer: he cannot. Reddish puts the ball where only the roller can get it and it pays off.

Offseason To-Do List

According to Cleaning the Glass, Cam in the 19th percentile for at-rim field goal percentage. Yikes. He seems to have won half of the battle; his ability to get to the rim is good enough. So, where does he struggle?

Reddish needs to put on some good weight. There were multiple time this year he either missed a dunk attempt or was blocked during it. When rewatching these attempts it becomes clear that Reddish is either avoiding contact by moving away from the rim on dunks and/or not strong enough to jam it through the contact.

Luckily, Reddish has a frame that suggests he can pack in some muscle. Eat a couple Wonka Bars (last reference, I swear.) Those shoulders look prime for bulking up. With some extra time in the weight room and some more pick and roll reps, Reddish could become the second star in Atlanta and make them rethink their heliocentric offense.

A 2019-20 Detroit Pistons Autopsy

The season has ended early for some of our beloved NBA franchises. Here at The Playgrounder we decided to do a postmortem of sorts. Specifically, we wanted to focus on five categories: what the team did well, where they struggled, free agency needs, 2020-21 expectations and a final prediction.

What did the Pistons do well?

Knee tendinitis plagued Luke Kennard for a sizable portion of the season — but when healthy he served as a dependable offensive threat. Over 28 games, the 23-year-old averaged 15.8 points and 4.1 assists on outstanding efficiency as both a facilitator and scorer. According to Cleaning the Glass, Kennard ranked in the 81st percentile in points per shot attempt for his position and 90th in assist percentage. To boot, he nearly managed to record 50/40/90 shooting splits (44.2/39.9/89.3). He shouldn’t be underrated as a passer for much longer.

Then there’s the emergence of Christian Wood. Detroit shipped former all-star Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers shortly before the February trade deadline, and as a result Wood was handed the starting center spot. He only started 12 games before the season was cut short, but Christian put the league on notice during this three-week span. As the man in the middle for the Pistons, Wood put up 21.9 points along with 9.4 rebounds in 34.8 minutes and displayed a diverse skill set. Christian possesses a smooth handle, silky jumpshot, and has pogo sticks for legs. Succinctly, he’s a matchup nightmare for a majority of bigs. Wood’s the new top dog in Motown for the time being, and he’ll have the opportunity to stuff the stat sheet once again in 2020-21 if re-signed.

What did the Pistons struggle with?

Blake Griffin couldn’t catch a break. He enjoyed a spectacular 2018-19 campaign with Detroit, but a nagging knee injury kept Griffin sidelined for all but 19 games. And when Blake suited up, he appeared a hobbled shell of his former self. Griffin shot the rock with dreadful efficiency, as he converted on only 35.2 percent of his attempts from the field — by far a career-low. Also, for the first time in his nine-year pro tenure he posted a negative amount of win shares (-0.1). The question is: can he return to all-star form? Probably. Griffin’s only one year removed from making the All-NBA Third Team.

As is the case with many of the league’s cellar dwellers, Detroit lacked cohesion on the defensive end. Hence they found themselves among the NBA’s worst in a handful of defensive statistics. The Pistons ranked 28th in opponent field-goal percentage, 27th in opponent points in the paint, and 26th in blocks. Detroit got outmuscled in the paint all year long. Hopefully Christian Wood will mature into a paint deterrent who can shore up an unimposing front line.

Free Agency Needs

Re-sign Wood. Detroit would be foolish to let him walk unless another team overpays for his services, which is an unlikely scenario. After all, very few squads actually have the cap space to throw a monster deal at him. Couple that with the fact that the 2021 free agency class projects to be historically stacked, and franchises are going to want to retain financial flexibility. So the Pistons shouldn’t have a lot of competitors in the Christian sweepstakes.

Detroit could certainly use a backup big that can protect the rim and block shots. Enter Bismack Biyombo. He’s far from a sexy name, but he’ll make his presence known inside. Biyombo averages 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes for his career. Bismack is a dirt-cheap option who could adequately anchor the second unit’s defense.

2020-21 Expectations

I think Detroit will surprise some folks. Blake’s knee should be in tip-top shape by next season. Kennard and Wood will take steps forward in their development, and Derrick Rose is still a great floor general. Plus they have one of the NBA’s better coaches patrolling the sidelines in Dwane Casey. This team could make a push for the eight seed in the Eastern Conference if all goes right. They’ll be competitive as long as they avoid the injury bug.

Prediction

The Pistons will win wind up with around 40 wins. Whether that’ll be enough to secure a postseason berth remains to be seen. The East’s lower tier playoff teams oftentimes finish with sub .500 records, so it wouldn’t be inconceivable for Detroit to slip in.

People are sleeping on the blue and red. They have the talent necessary to be competitive next season, unlike other teams who did not receive an invite to Orlando.