That’s right, it doesn’t feel good when someone calls you trash, does it? Okay, I’ll drop the tough guy act and return to my meek, bookish self. Still, someone has to stand up for Andre Drummond, and as a Connecticut native and UConn cult leader, I’ll take up the mantle.
There’s been a heavy dose of Drummond slander drifting along the NBA Twittersphere lately. My fellow Celtics fans scoff at Drummond-for-Hayward swaps with the condescension of a Harvard grad whose daily routine includes knowing “the real Thai spot” and reminding people who never asked that “MIT is not part of the Ivy League.”
There’s a technical term for when snobbishness is born from inaccurate analysis, one coined by yours truly. Players who don’t mesh with the modern NBA game and seemingly suck because of it are suffering from the Nate Duncan Effect; a theory which states that if you don’t fit the mold of a modern player then you must inherently be bad at basketball. Yes, there are those who think that the Drummonds and Julius Randles of the world have no place in the league because they aren’t floor stretchers, switch-happy defenders, or elite shot-creators. Let’s right the ship on Mr. Drummond.
A possible free agent,all signs are pointing to Drummond opting into the last year of his contract. Good for him. Cleveland may have a defensive conundrum while playing him and Kevin Love together, plus this begs the question of them re-signing Tristan Thompson. But those are inquiries for another day. Alas (alas? All this Ivy League talk is going to my head), there are those who think Drummond isn’t worth the $28 million he will earn if he opts in. They’re right. But Drummond still has value and can impact winning on a good team.
Let’s start with the physical profile. Not many people are 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. Oh, and that narrative about Drummond being a plodding big? Let’s kill that right now. I’m not saying Drummond is crossing guys up like vintage Kyrie, but he’s not exactly Marcin Gortat out there, either.
It’s hard to look at this agility and size combination and believe that Drummond does not have the baseline level of athleticism needed to succeed in today’s game. Offensively, he does not have the pick-and-roll lob gravity of mononymous stars such as Giannis, Zion, or Bam. He still has some pop, though, and whichever team he sticks with for the next couple of seasons will squeeze the last drops of bounciness out of him.
Drummond possesses a different type of gravity, as well. He has averaged 13.8 rebounds per game throughout his career and more than a third of them have come on the offensive glass. A perpetually underrated skill, Drummond’s rebounding creates an exorbitant amount of extra chance points for his squad. Just how good is he? Here is a list of his offensive rebounding percentiles from Cleaning the Glass: 98th, 100th, 100th, 100th, 96th, 99th, 100th, 96th, 89th.
While perusing CTG, another stat popped out. In the 2017–18 season, Drummond finished in the 78th percentile among bigs for assist-to-usage ratio. Coach Stan Van Gundy had finally recognized Drummond’s passing skills and put them to use, having the big man create out of the low post, high post and perimeter. The addition of Blake Griffin put the kibosh on Drummond’s passing evolution butthe 2017–18 headlines don’t lie. Drummond has some latent talent as a creator for others, a trait that a smart coach will pick up on.
Let’s talk about defense. Is Drummond someone you want switching onto guards during pick-and-rolls? Nope. Granted, those types of bigs are rare, yet the ability to guard 1–5 is what earns someone a max contract. Fortunately for Drummond, the league is relying more upon drop coverage, something he is decent at.
If Brook Lopez—a wrongsideof30, below-average defensive big not known for his footspeed—can earn his first All-Defense Team selection in his 12th season, then Drummond has a shot at being a meaningful rim protector. It may take the right team and a helluva coach, but it’s surely doable. What Drummond already has going for him is his knack for getting his paws on the ball. Andre is in some pretty good company on this deflections list:
There are a lot of hardware-winning defensive players on that list, huh? While Drummond won’t reach those heights, the center didn’t simply stumble his way into elite defensive stats. Over his past three seasons, Drummond has averaged a positionally absurd1.7 steals per game while also tallying 1.7 blocks. It is yet to be determined if he would get played off of the court in a late-round postseason game, but to ponder on that is to miss the point. Drummond has some stuff to work with defensively.
It will likely take a strong supporting cast of backline help-defenders and a savvy coach at the helm, but Drummond has the potential to become good enough defensively. It is merely a glimpse, but the way he helped win this tight game versus the Cavaliers (pre-trade, of course) is impressive.
Am I alone in thinking that Drummond can take his defensive game to unbeforeseen heights?Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com and I had a conversation about just this.
“He can clog the paint, he can get his hands in the passing lane…The way that J.B Bickerstaff said it to me, is that he feels like Andre can be that guy…he has the skill set, he has the tools, he has the intelligence, he has the athleticism.”
Well, where does all of this leave us? Is Drummond going to make a triumphant return to the All-Star Game and reshape the narrative of his career? With the inexperienced talent on his team, I wouldn’t bank on it happening this year. If Andre eventually signs somewhere else, however, the opportunity is there for him to maximize his god-given abilities.
Does this mean Danny Ainge should fire up TradeNBA.com and bring Drummond to Boston? No. Gordon Hayward is the better player and is of more value to that team. Should any true contender look to add Drummond’s services? Probably not. But to conflate this with the notion that Andre is a bad basketball player is poor analysis. The kid can hoop. His rebounding is elite and he possesses a treasure trove of skills waiting to be refined. Some smart team is going to figure this out—and when they do, I will be waiting here with an ‘I told you so.’
BONUS – Speaking of Chris Fedor…he joined us to discuss all things Cavalier related, ranging from the draft to free agency and everything in between. Click HERE to listen!
The Los Angeles Clippers had themselves a successful regular season. They won 49 games and finished second in the West, and looked primed for a postseason battle with the Lakers. Instead, they ended up (embarrassingly) blowing a 3–1 lead, to the Denver Nuggets in the second round. It ruined the opportunity to finally see both Los Angeles teams play against each other in the Western Conference Finals.
It was one of the worst ways imaginable to end a season that had many saying they were the favorites to win it all. For several years now, the Clippers have had the talent to win a championship, but no matter what, no matter who’s on their roster, they eventually implode in the playoffs and find themselves back at square one.
During the regular season, the team barely played together due to a combination of injuries and load management. But they managed to have a successful season and remain near the top of the standings. In the Orlando bubble, Sixth Man of The Year Montrezl Harrell had to leave because of a death in his family. Lou Williams, also left at one point, because of a close friend’s death. While in Atlanta, he decided to go to Magic City, which was not the best idea considering he’d be going back to the bubble and had to quarantine, and he missed multiple games as a result.
After yet another lackluster performance in the playoffs, it was obvious something was going to change with the team. Doc Rivers and the Clippers ended up parting ways, and now he’s the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. The Clippers hired former assistant coach Tyronn Lue to succeed Rivers as their new head coach.
The Clippers still have questions to answer though. Will sixth man Montrezl Harrell still be with the team? He will become an unrestricted free agent, so there’s a strong chance he could end up somewhere else. According to Shams Charania Harrell and the Clippers have mutual interest in a new deal. While they weren’t consistent in the playoffs, he and Lou Williams have become a lethal bench duo that proved key to the team’s regular-season success.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the team’s superstar duo. Leonard was (mostly) as good as everyone thought he’d be. George’s struggles came in the playoffs, but he eventually broke through his demons and started to look like himself again. He talked about the fact that he was dealing with depression and anxiety. The bubble proved to be one helluva tough place for so many of the players, so George’s openness about his mental health was important and refreshing.
Unfortunately, both of them disappeared in the fourth quarter of Game 7, leaving the door open for the Nuggets to win the series.
Reports came out that after the Game 7 loss against the Nuggets that George gave a speech about perseverance that was apparently met with eye rolls. It’ll be interesting to see if the entire team can create better chemistry for next season. They had a little too much cockiness and pettiness throughout the season that they’d yet to really earn.
For the last several years, the Clippers have had fantastic teams which included Chris Paul and Blake Griffin early on. The one thing they couldn’t do is perform at the highest level to earn themselves a championship.
This offseason, they need to keep looking for ways to improve the team. Whether they trade away one of their superstar duo or break up their bench, they need to do something that’ll hopefully take them all the way next season. When they traded for George, they traded like 75 draft picks, so developing via draft is really not going to happen. No matter what they do, they’ll also need to develop great chemistry. Perhaps, the kind of chemistry that the Lakers had that got them their 17th championship……hehe.
(Site Owner’s Note: Karin is a Laker’s fan and I’m a Celtics fan and she ha earned one year of bragging, not a day more.)
And you thought that this nation was divided over politics? Well, guess what: The real division lies within Celtics Nation, where C’s faithful argue over Gordon Hayward’s future with the team. Soon enough we will know whether or not he opted into his contract; one that was scheduled to be worth $34 million but could be worth much less due to the impact COVID-19 had on the league’s finances.
Some may chalk these Hayward rumors up to the due diligence of his agent, Mark Bartelstein. After all, the man’s job is to quite literally get his client the most money possible. This could be a clever play to pressure Danny Ainge into re-signing Hayward for a hefty amount of cash. Would Ainge really let Hayward leave for a team like Atlanta without getting anything in return? Very un-Danny like if you ask me.
I lied. That would be super Danny like. Recently, Ainge has let both Al Horford and Kyrie Irving walk in free agency despite rumors of their departures popping up while they were still tradeable. If Hayward feels he’s trapped in a role he’s overqualified for, he could follow Irving and Horford out the door. Should he leave, there should be no shortage of suitors; every team in the league is in the market for a player with Hayward’s skillset.
Last season, Hayward scored 20 or more points in 21 of his 52 played games. I spent the last week watching John King break down election results, so I’m a math guy now. In other words, Hayward scored 20 or more points 40 percent of the time. Considering he shuffles between being a third and fourth option and owns the lowest usage rate between Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, that’s pretty impressive.
Hayward is one of the most efficient forwards in the NBA. Ben Falk of Cleaning the Glass (future employer? *cough cough*) gives us useful tools for understanding Hayward’s scoring prowess. The chart below shows his shot accuracy from different spots on the court. The seasons included span from his pre-injury days in Utah to his most recent season in Boston.
Although it took him a year to find his range again, Hayward actually improved his efficiency in many areas. Forced to adapt to his post-injury athletic limitations , Hayward found ways to develop his midrange game (more on this later). He is a magician at snaking pick-and-rolls into pull-up jumpers. Ask the Timberwolves; they’ll tell ya.
Bet you didn’t think he had this up his sleeve either?
Hayward’s knack for scoring despite a relatively low usage rate (for a star player, that is) makes him a perfect fit for Boston. As Tatum and Brown both expand their games, the offense will more frequently run through them more. That Kemba guy isn’t going anywhere either. The Celtics need a low-usage, high-efficiency scorer who can defer to younger, better players. Hayward does that and more.
Gordon’s playmaking contributions cannot be understated. Cleaning the Glass measures out the willingness of a player to pass into an assist (assist-to-usage ratio); of the Celtics’ core playmakers (Tatum, Brown, Smart and Kemba), Hayward had the best percentage. In fact, it wasn’t even really close; Kemba and Jaylen both finished this season below the 10th percentile for their respective positions. Tatum landed in the 42nd percentile and Smart, who has never dropped below the 92nd percentile, fell to the 73rd.
Hayward’s deference is critical to this team’s success. It is the reason we haven’t heard any takes about chefs and kitchens and whatnot. Perhaps embracing this role made sense to Gordon. It is difficult to find your rhythm after a major injury comeback, and distributing could be the best way to help your squad. Whatever the reason, Hayward showcased his playmaking skills all year long.
Another reason Hayward may have opted out of shots could be due to his physical limitations. You don’t need to watch him for long before realizing Hayward lacks the pop he once had. Defensively, he is able to cope by being a smart, hard-nosed competitor. Offensively, however, this often leads to hesitation, passivity and blocked shots.
Prior to his injury, Hayward consistently placed in the upper half for his position for how frequently he took shots at the rim. Last year, Hayward dropped to the 32nd percentile, passing his previous career low by over 20 percentage points. That’s a big drop—like, a Peyton Manning-not-being-to-throw-20-yards-anymore drop off. Watch how Hayward hesitates before jumpers or fails to execute at the rim:
It looks like he no longer trusts his explosiveness. There are moments when he pauses instead of lifting for a dunk. Other times, he battles among the trees, gets stuffed, and then looks around for a foul call. To be blunt, it is sad to watch. It’s always tough to watch a star come to grips with their waning athleticism, especially when it is due to catastrophic injury and not age. What sucks even more? Hayward will likely never recover any of the bounce he once had.
Fits & Potential Contract
Hayward is stuck between a rock and hard place. In honor of the beloved Nickelodeon character’s cartoon home, we call this the Patrick Star Dilemma. (Ok, maybe we don’t, but I want it to stick.) Nonetheless, Hayward has two choices this offseason. If he finds himself tired of the passive, playmaking role he has in Boston, Hayward can look for a higher usage situation. Teams with cap space like Atlanta and Phoenix can both give that to Gordon. Plus, those teams want to make the postseason, and although it will be tough to crack, Hayward can help them move toward that goal.
Ultimately, however, those clubs will likely fall short of reaching Hayward’s postseason desires. Opting in or re-signing with Boston gives him the best chance at making the Finals. There is a catch, though. Pretend Hayward signs a reasonable four-year, $80 million deal. That contract could be combined with picks and young assets like Romeo Langford or Grant Williams to land an upgrade for Boston. Considering what we know about Ainge, it is fair for Hayward to question just how stable a long-term home in Boston would be.
I love when a team zigs when the rest of the league zags. Stylistic differences are good for the league; it is better when not every game looks the same. With that in mind, what Jeff Weltman has been building with the Orlando Magic is fascinating.
Since Weltman was hired in 2017, the Magic have focused on building the tallest, longest, most athletic team possible, jumpshots be damned. He has spent first-round picks on Jonathan Isaac (7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan), Mo Bamba (7-feet, 7-foot-10!!!! wingspan), and Chuma Okeke (6-foot-8, 7-foot wingspan), while adding Wes Iwundu (6-foot-6, 7-foot wingspan) and Melvin Frazier (6-foot-5, 7-foot-1 wingspan) in the second round.
Weltman has not stopped with the draft, adding Michael Carter-Williams (6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 wingspan) and Al-Farouq Aminu (6-foot-9, 7-foot-3 wingspan) in free agency and trading for Markelle Fultz (6-foot-4, 6-foot-8.5 wingspan) in an effort to rebuild his career. It is clear that Weltman has a type. He wants to envelop opponents with length and athleticism, building a strong defense while betting that raw offensive games can develop with some seasoning. In Steve Clifford, they have a strong defensive coach who can teach players and develop good schemes. With the amount of length they have, they could play like the Raptors this past season, absolutely strangling opponents and scoring just enough to scrape by.
The results have been mixed so far. Isaac is the greatest success story; he has developed into one of the best defenders in the NBA while showing signs of growth on offense. Unfortunately, Isaac suffered two brutal knee injuries last season, and will miss the entire 2020–21 season as a result. As for the other players, it is still early, but none of them has shown enough to be considered a reliable starter in the NBA; Fultz still cannot shoot, Okeke missed his entire rookie season due to injury, and Bamba, while maybe not quite as raw as when he came into the league, is at least very rare.
The end result is a roster that is strong on defense (10th in defensive rating last season), but anemic on offense (23rd). Almost nobody on the team can shoot; the Magic finished 26th in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage, and Evan Fournier (39.9 percent) was the only rotation player who shot above average from three.
The Magic have spent each of the last two seasons winning a little, reaching the playoffs, winning the first game of their first-round series, and then promptly losing the next four games in a row. But their modest success is more because of Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, and Aaron Gordon, holdovers from before Weltman was there.
This is a problem, because there is a clear ceiling to the team with those three as the best players, and it is around the seventh or eighth seed in the East. Fournier and Vucevic are both skilled offensive players, but neither is particularly athletic or good at defense. Both are also getting up there in age (Fournier is 28, Vucevic 30). Gordon is long and athletic at 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan and a coupleimpressive dunk contest performances to his name. But he has never developed much of a three-point shot (31.9% for his career) and does not protect the rim, making his fit in most lineups janky.
To fully optimize their roster, the Magic should trade at least one of Gordon, Vucevic, or Fournier (who has a player option he will likely accept) and take a step back this season while waiting for Isaac to come back.
Since the East will be stronger next year, it would be tough for the Magic to simply run everything back and get into the playoffs again. If there is no drop off from any of Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston, Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia, or Brooklyn, the Magic could be hard-pressed to improve on last season’s eighth-place finish. And with Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington looking stronger, even that spot will be tough for Orlando to reach.
Gordon, Vucevic, and Fourner do not get the Magic to where they want to go; they cannot form a truly elite defense with Vucevic and Fournier playing key roles. Gordon is the one with the most trade value; at 25, he is the youngest of the three, and he is still on a cost-controlled contract for the next couple of seasons. As a result, his name comes up often in trade rumors, and they may be able to get a good player who better fits their core for him.
It is unlikely they get as much for Vucevic or Fournier, but they could trade them for picks if they want to really embrace the tank for next season. This may be a tough sell, since Orlando only recently (somewhat) regained relevance for the first time since Dwight Howard left. But the 2021 draft projects to be extremely strong, and they do not have another way to add a star to this roster. With Isaac out, they have an opportunity to be very, very bad while they wait for him to come back. Plus, they could give Bamba and Okeke more playing time and responsibility without veterans playing ahead of them.
Even if they do not make major moves, Orlando needs to add shooting. It will be impossible for them to get much better on offense without doing so. They do have their own first-rounder this year (15th overall), putting them in position to potentially add a young piece who can space the floor.
Orlando does have good pieces to build around, even if Weltman’s plans have not exactly come to fruition. Their defense is already good, and could get even better if they double down on long, athletic players. The offense is more of a question mark, but it could get there. The NBA is better when teams experiment like this; let’s see if it works.
“Zach, I’m gonna start up a trade idea article when we’re done with the podcast, if you wanna join in just let me know.” – Me
“Idk what I would even do with Russ, send him to Barcelona.” – Zach
Welp, not the most auspicious start to a blog, but at least we know Zach’s thoughts on the former MVP. For what it’s worth, I spent a half hour googling the possibility of an intercontinental trade between the NBA and Liga ACB. I decided to stay stateside with my fake trades, however.
This Shams tweet was sandwiched in my timeline between news about democracy’s current implosion and a certain Jeffrey Toobin fellow. Don’t worry, I didn’t scroll past it. If anything I did a doubletake. Earlier that day the talk had been about some possible James Harden trade destinations. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited. You can tell because I’m moving right along and not including any hyperlinks in this paragraph.
Trade # 1 – Orlando Finally Does Something Cool
Well, I guess taking a chance on Markelle Fultz was kinda dope. Besides that, Orlando was in need of a shot in the arm. They’re a playoff team that loves to win the opening game of the postseason but then slowly bleed out after. Adding Russell Westbrook doesn’t exactly scream “championship parade!” but it increases the chances the Magic could *gulp* advance past the first round.
A team with Vuc, Russ, Fournier, the perpetually underrated Terrence Ross and a hopefully healthy Jonathan Isaac would be pretty damn competitive. On the flipside, Houston gets their paws on Aaron Gordon; someone destined to be their small-ball five and the most athletic pick-and-roll player Harden will have ever played with. It truly is an excellent fit. Fultz is a wildcard asset and Khem Birch would bring size. Call it into League office already!
Trade # 2 – Each Team Hates It But Does It
Yup, you read the subheading correctly. Houston gets a floor-spacing big who proved he could be an elite defender in the right scheme. Turns out, the Rockets need just that. Eric Bledsoe it a tough pill to swallow, mostly because of his contract. That’s the price you pay, however. At least he can defend the opposing team’s best guard. DJ Wilson is in there to make the cap work. Plus, I’m not mathematician but Houston gets to shave about $10 million-ish off of their books. Their owner may be looking to do just that.
Milwaukee has to do something, right? If not they risk losing Giannis. With Chris Paul rumored to be headed for Biden-flipped-it! Arizona, pickings are getting slim. Enter Westbrook. A trio of Middleton, Giannis and Russ will either implode Biden-flipped-it! Wisconsin into a gravitational blackhole or make the Finals. There is no in-between. Call it into League office already!
Trade #3 – A Bird In The Hand…
is worth two in the bush…lol. The Pacers have a Victor Oladipo problem. The idea of re-signing Oladipo to a large extension gives me the same sensation as when I see a police officer pull out behind me, even though I know I’m not doing anything illegal. Bad vibes all around. For Houston, however, they can take a gamble on someone once considered to be as talented as peers like Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray. Plus, Jeremy Lamb returns to his ancestral draft home.
Indiana takes the sure thing in Westbrook. And when I say sure, I mean someone who will shoot you out of as many games as he will shoot you into. Still, the Pacers have a tough time acquiring stars in free agency so they must look to other means. A squad of Westbrook, Brogdon, Turner, Sabonis and TJ Warren is…really freaking good.
BONUS – Shout to TradeNBA.com, the best trade machine alive.
BONUS BONUS – Rumored Westbrook suitors that I’m not buying
Detroit Pistons: With a Sekou Doumbouya, Luke Kennard and a decent draft pick, Detroit may be looking to rebuild. Derrick Rose is on an expiring and could be flipped for a late first *cough-Celtics-cough.* Blake is allegedly healthy and his contract is more tolerable than what you think. I’m not sure they want to go all in right Westbrook right now.
New York Knicks: It is easy to talk yourself into the idea that new management wants to make a splash. Westbrook is the perfect player for Madison Square Garden however, new management may actually be…dare I say…competent? I’m counting them out.
Charlotte Hornets: The Michael Jordans are rumored to want Westbrook. MJ probably has an obsession with Russ’s competitive demeanor and Nic Batum helps make the trade logistics work. But does Westbrook and some combination of the stud PJ Washington, Terry Rozier/Devonte’ Graham, and an underrated coach make any sense at all? Nope. Which is why I might have just talked myself into this…
When Chris Paul was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, all we ever heard anyone say was that he was washed, he’s too old, he’s on a decline, he’s a chemistry cancer, on and on…Only for him to come back like Jay Pritchett and someone 30 years younger than him. Not the perfect analogy, but you get the point.
The Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul trade was viewed as a simple swap of two of the worst contracts in the league. Daryl Morey (or James Harden, or Tilman Fertitta—who really knows at this point) wanted to get Chris Paul and his attitude out of Houston. Russell Westbrook was far from a perfect fit, but that’s a conversation for another time.
The Oklahoma City Thunder entered the 2019–2020 season with what looked to be the most randomly thrown together group of players we have ever seen. A giant New Zealander who looks like he could kill a bear with his bare hands; an Italian who is honestly one of the best offensive players in the league; a guard from Germany who was viewed as a cast-away; a young, promising Canadian; and a point guard who was seen by most people as washed and overpaid.
Not many people (me included) thought the Thunder were going to make the playoffs. I personally had them finishing tenth in the West, so I wasn’t too far off, but in no universe did I see them winning 44 games and coming this close to a home playoff series.
A lot of that had to do with the revitalization of Chris Paul. As mentioned before, people only wanted to bring up the negative, but never wanted to mention his nine All-Star appearances, and case to being ranked as a top-five point guard of all time.
Paul managed to secure a spot on the All-NBA second team, and almost lead the Thunder past his former team in the first round of the playoffs. If you haven’t noticed already, Chris Paul still has game!
It is extremely rare for a player to make an All-NBA team, then hit the trade block a few months later, without forcing his way out. The obvious reasoning is his contract. It’s hard to justify paying Paul a combined $85 million over the next two seasons. There are only a few players who I would comfortably give that to (Luka Doncic, LeBron James, etc.), and even then I’m hesitant.
It’s a lot of money for anyone, let alone a guy who starts this upcoming season at 35 years old. A lot of teams feel that, as much as they want Chris Paul, they shouldn’t have to give up much of an asset for him. I understand Chris Paul and his immense bag of money won’t demand a high first-round pick, but I have to believe that a player of his caliber, despite the contract, should warrant a decent return.
That brings me to a question that has kept me up at night for the past month (well, it’s either that or the countless hours of video games): Why do the Thunder have to trade Chris Paul? Sure, a complete tank for a top-end pick would be fantastic, but they’ve already accumulated approximately 500 first round picks from the Rockets and the Clippers.
I’m all good if the asset being returned for Paul is a useful one. Someone like Donte DiVincenzo, or a first-round pick would be nice! But if the asset being brought into Oklahoma City is a late-second rounder, or even worse, if Paul goes for a straight salary dump, why not just run it back?
It’s not like the Thunder were on the brink of the playoffs, and just snuck in. This team was dominant all year and nearly finished in the top half of the Western Conference playoff bracket. It’s easy enough to keep all your players, re-sign Gallinari to a one year deal (which it seems like he might end up with anyway) and go shock the world again.
At the very least, if the attempt at another competitive season flops, you can always trade Chris Paul at the deadline. Then, in the absolute worst case scenario where Paul looks like Michael Scott running past the speed tracker, you only have to eat his contract for two more seasons. At that point, you are paying a ton of money, but at this stage of a rebuild, that money isn’t going to go anywhere else productive. Paul can at least give you strong veteran leadership.
I really hope the Thunder don’t trade Chris Paul for the sake of trading him. In fact, I selfishly would love the Thunder to run it back. They were one of my favourite teams to watch this season. With the rise of Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley and the continued progression of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, this team has the potential to be even better.
The smartest thing for the Thunder to do is probably trading Chris Paul, as he looks like he may be the best player available in the trade market (assuming AD back to the Lakers is a done deal). But if they can’t get anything of value for him, I have to see Sam Presti as a smart enough general manager to pull in the reins, reevaluate, re-sign Gallinari, and look at competing for one more season.
In this era of big twos, the Washington Wizards are often forgotten. It is easy to see why: John Wall has been hurt or ineffective for much of the last three seasons and Bradley Beal, while great last year offensively, was a zero on defense. The team is thin beyond them; when last we saw them, they were busy going 1–7 in the season restart bubble after a string of opt-outs, including Beal. But Wall is looking healthy again, and Beal just finished second in the NBA in scoring with 30.5 points per game. If Wall is back to his best, Washington could make some noise in the East.
It was not that long ago that Wall and Beal were one of the NBA’s most promising duos. Wall was one of the fastest players in the NBA, a whirlwind in the open court who was impossible to contain. He is a five-time All-Star who averaged 23.1 points and 10.7 assists per game in 2016–17, the last time he was healthy for a full season, good enough to earn him his only All-NBA appearance.
Beal was a great second banana to Wall, using his shooting to take advantage of the space Wall created. In that 2016–17 season, he averaged 23.1 points per game while shooting 40.4% from three on 7.2 attempts per game. That year in the playoffs, the Wizards took the top-seeded Celtics to seven games in the second round, with Beal and Wall combining for 49.1 points per game. Beal was 23 and Wall was 26; Washington looked like a team on the rise.
It all came crashing down hard. In 2018, Wall showed up toUSA Basketball training camp overweight. The Wizards’ locker room imploded as Wall and Beal clashed. Injuries have limited Wall to just 73 games over the last three seasons, including none in 2019–20. All the while, losses mounted. The Wizards have not been back to the playoffs since 2018, even while playing in the weaker Eastern Conference. It is hard to trust this team.
But since Wall has been hurt, Beal has expanded his game. He has thrived since taking on a larger playmaking role, averaging 6.1 assists per game last season, a career-high. He has improved his handle and is now better at finishing through contact; according toCleaning the Glass, Beal shoots at the rim more often and gets fouled more than he did earlier in his career, while maintaining similar levels of shooting accuracy. All the while, he’s kept up his tremendous marksmanship, shooting 35.3 percent from three and 84.2 percent from the line. He is a genuine All-NBA candidate in his own right, and made the All-Star team in 2018 and 2019.
Elsewhere, the Wizards have developed some young talent. Every team in the NBA needs dynamic young wings; the Wizards have Troy Brown Jr., who showed some great passing ability in his second season. Davis Bertans, should they choose to re-sign him, is a flamethrower from deep. Rui Hachimura, Isaac Bonga, Thomas Bryant, and Mo Wagner have each showed varying amounts of promise. These pieces were not enough to get the Wizards to contention last season, but they start to look wonderful as tertiary options if Wall is back to his old self.
Wall’s health is the big if for the Wizards. Wall is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, the same injury that has robbed DeMarcus Cousins of his athleticism. Wall depended on his blinding speed at his best. If the injury saps him of some athleticism, or if he struggles to stay healthy, the Wizards will be in trouble. Wall’s massive contract will tie them down, and Beal may want out. But if Wall can make a comeback (and if all chemistry issues with Beal are put to rest; they are playing nice for now), the Wizards could be a threat.
This election day, after casting my vote, I needed a way to distract myself until results started to trickle in during the PM hours. Turns out, Bobby Portis was useful for something this year after all! Okay, maybe I’m being too harsh on him. If the New York Knicks decline their team option, the 25-year-old big will hit the market as a free agent, making a review of his season a worthwhile endeavor.
Plus, Portis is secretly one of the league’s most intriguing talents. Although he lacks star potential, Portis can still explode for 30-plus points on any given night, and do so efficiently, too! What specifically makes him so interesting? Portis is a case study on how the modern game values big men. On one hand, he’s an evolving three-point threat with underutilized passing chops. On the other, he’s not really capable of protecting the rim or defending quicker players during switches, and he refuses to abandon his archaic post-up/face-up game.
Portis’ career is at a crossroads right now. Yes, he’ll land on some other team if New York refuses to bring him back. Yet, Portis could play himself out of the NBA if he spends the next couple of seasons forcing shots and attempting to show off a face-up game that is far from game-ready. There remains an outside chance, however, that a smart coach will extend Portis’ career by deploying him as a floor-spacing, pick-and-pop big who can also create for others in the second unit
Over the past two seasons, Portis has taken a positive step forward as a perimeter shooter. During that time, he hasattempted 378 triples and sank 37.6 percent of them. This equates to over three attempts per game; a significant amount for someone averaging only 23.2 minutes per game during that same stretch. His 31.7 percent three-point attempt rate this season was a career high.
Feeling the Darwinian forces which lurk inside many a general manager closing in on him, Portis evolved his game to become a floor-spacer. Like many of his positional peers, his three-point form is far from perfect. Still, Portis shoots an easy-enough ball, and his high release mitigates his relatively slow trigger. But what can we project about his three-point shooting going forward?
Portis hit a solid38.5 percent of his triples that were classified as “open” by NBA.com. This percentage fell to 23.1 when coverage was “tight.” Fortunately, only 2.2 percent of his shots came against tight coverage. My guess is that whoever coaches Portis next will find a way to get him more open looks from deep than ever before. If this happens, expect Portis to hover between 36–39 percent for the foreseeable future. Check out his form for yourself.
There isn’t much statistical evidence to prove that Portis is a capable passer. According to Cleaning the Glass, Portis has placed above the 50th percentile for assist to usage ratio just once in his career. Nothing to brag about, frankly. So what has me bullish on the possibility of him creating for others in a greater role next year?
It takes courage to stomach an evening of New York Knicks basketball. Fortunately, I have the intestinal fortitude of a Great White Shark. Portis showed promise as a passer this season. He sees the game one play ahead, and is learning to take advantage of closeouts. The key to unlocking this skill is convincing Portis to keep the ball moving and opt out of poor shot attempts. Hopefully, it isn’t too late to teach this psychotic dog new tricks.
Like Game of Thrones zealots ditching their fandom during the show’s final season, I too abandoned my love for Portis’ offensive usage with the quickness. Far too often he tried to display his off-the-dribble game; he showed some promise, yet it’s far too underdeveloped to be considered a threat. Portis has exhibited above-average footwork and a solid handle for his position, but this doesn’t mean he should be hoisting stepback jumpers.
Perhaps it was his dreadful post-up numbers that led him to work on this part of his game. Regardless, it isn’t working for him. If he wants to keep playing in this league, it is imperative that Portis exchanges both his face-up and post-up game for more three-point shots. The tape supports this call for change.
Portis is a frustrating defender; he can move his feet on offense, but when he’s on defense, they often appear stuck in the mud. His physical profile suggests he can be a net-zero defender. Although not terribly explosive, Portis possesses a 7-foot-2 wingspan and we’ve seen promising agility on the offensive end.
Part of his defensive shortcomings are due to his poor feel for the game. Portis is often late on rotations or out of position. To be fair, the Knicks are late on just about every basketball trend ever, so they bear some of the responsibility for his defensive woes. For much of last season, they played Portis at the four next to Mitchell Robinson. This left Portis to defend quicker, smaller fours, who dragged him all over the court. Portis’ feet couldn’t keep up, and he was forced to play defense with his hands.
Wherever he finds employment, that coach had better be sure to play Portis defensively as a center. In this day and age, you can’t line Portis up across from the Tatums, Ingrams and Siakams of the world.
Fit & Potential Contract
With his team option worth over $15 million, expect the Knicks to let Portis walk. While he was a perfectly fine player for a rebuilding team, he simply isn’t worth that much money. If New York does bring him back, however, read the tea leaves. He could be used as cap filler to bring in an expensive guard like Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul. Surely, both Oklahoma City and Houston wouldn’t mind getting Portis’ expiring contract in exchange.
Toronto would be a smart fit for Portis, although I’m not sure the Raptors would take a chance on him. If one person can limit Portis’ defensive flaws while maximizing his newfound range, it is Nick Nurse. For what it’s worth, Portis wouldn’t even require all of Toronto’s mid-level exception.
I don’t love Phoenix as a destination for Portis, but he could wind up playing there. If the Suns swing and miss on Christian Wood and Aron Baynes signs elsewhere, Portis could be a cheap consolation prize. Wherever Portis ends up, a one-year, prove-it deal would be nice for all parties involved.
Do you know that group of dads that convenes in the middle of the court once or twice a week? Crack open a couple cold ones, talk about their kids’ sports teams, but ultimately, they all have one goal in mind: take an hour’s leave from the hectic demands of their families inside the house.
That’s how I picture the head coaches of the Atlantic Division. A few dads are new to the neighborhood, one has been around for quite a while, and the last has only lived there for a couple years, but has already made a huge impression on the rest of the neighbours.
Either way, this neighborhood seems to be the cream of the crop. All the parents have been quite successful in their professional lives, and their kids are slowly growing into very respectable young men and women.
I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a collection of neighbours with so much testosterone, and these meetings in the courts could begin to get testy.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Dads of Atlantic Avenue!
Brad Stevens is the longest tenured Atlantic division coach. Entering his eighth season as head coach of the Celtics, the man who seems like he lacks human emotions is often looked at as one of the top coaches in the league.
Stevens is the dad who has owned his house forever, keeps it clean as can be, and no one in the neighbourhood ever has any complaints about him or his family. When every other parent is bragging about their kid’s three-touchdown game, or highlight filled weekend, Stevens just stands and nods as his son’s no hitter goes un-talked about.
After taking an extremely young Boston team, lead by Jayson Tatum, who is still only 19, Stevens was looked at as an extremely valuable asset. As much as he most definitely was (and still is) a fantastic coach, the takes being thrown out were scorching hot—including this tweet from editor-in-chief at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver:
Stevens is still quite young for an NBA coach at only 44 years old (despite being able to pass for an underaged student trying to purchase alcohol). He’s adapted well to the league’s new style of play is well-trained in his X’s and O’s. Stevens is commonly known for his creativity and out-of-timeout plays. Boston’s 2018 playoff run featured some highlights, including these gems in the Celtics’ second-round matchup against the 76ers:
Stevens’ most difficult task this season will be working in the chemistry of four all star caliber players. There has been no signs of animosity between this Boston core, in fact I would say there have been signs of the opposite. But if Tatum continues to progress into the best player on the roster, Brown continues his ascent to All-Star level, and Hayward, if he’s back, stays healthy, Stevens could have four All-Star-caliber players on his hand.
It is extremely unlikely that four players from the same team get selected as All-Stars, which means one or two of them will have to take a backseat. The easiest answers are Hayward and Brown, as they are probably the weaker offensive players of the four. However, if Hayward picks up his player option, he could be playing for a contract this season, and Brown is only 24 himself, still looking to play his way into All-Star recognition.
This is a bit of a role reversal. Typically, Stevens is tasked with bringing the best out of young, developing rosters. Now, he has to sort out the details and divide touches amongst an extremely talented roster. (Not to mention their best option at center may be having Kemba stand on Tatum’s shoulders to protect the rim.)
Early in his NBA career, Stevens was quickly crowned one of the best coaches in the league. He has continued to live up to that title, but if Boston can’t make the Finals with the currently constructed roster, it will be interesting to see if the public opinion on him starts to shift. I can’t see Stevens moving out of his three-bedroom home anytime soon. He has the potential to be a lifer there. In a way, he’s like a dad to the group of dads, and the community would not be the same without him.
Even though Nurse is still very new to the neighborhood, he remains the second-longest tenured resident of Atlantic Avenue. Nurse came in and made an immediate impact on the outlook of not just the neighborhood, but the whole city. He added a driveway to an already-beautiful house, which pushed his place over market value. Oddly enough, that driveway is in a contemporary in Los Angeles now, but the point still stands: Nick’s house is a great one.
The opposite of Stevens, Nurse is as animated as can be. Nurse constantly runs up and down the sidelines, making an array of facial expressions, and even sometimes getting involved in the kids’ games, which makes Stevens and his personal fanbase extremely angry.
Nurse has only been a head coach in the NBA for two seasons, and has a Larry O’Brien, and a Coach of the Year award to show for it. Like Stevens, Nurse has been crowned early in his career as one of the best coaches in the league. Nurse does have more to proof to cement his place in that conversation, but it is important to not make early assumptions, as some did with Coach Stevens.
Nurse entered the league as an offensive genius, and was famously known for reinventing the Raptors offense in 2017, leading to their first place finish in the regular season. Even though the Raptors still have an effective offense, Nurse has shown his expertise on the defensive end of the floor as well by implementing a variety of zones, man coverages, and even some “janky” defensive schemes, as Stephen Curry would call them.
Nick Nurse recently got a well-deserved extension to remain in Toronto. I know Nurse and his entire Toronto family are hoping to adopt from Greece next year, but for this season, Nurse will remain as energetic as ever and will likely control the conversation during the majority of the dad-gatherings.
Have you ever moved out of a neighbourhood, or city, just to miss it so much that you had to move back? Well that’s Doc Rivers… sort of. This will be Doc’s tenth year living on Atlantic Avenue, but this time in a different house.
Doc (or should I say Glenn) Rivers is technically the old man on the block. As someone who coached the Boston Celtics for nine years, Rivers is quite familiar with the Atlantic division. However, Atlantic Avenue has changed quite a bit since the last time Rivers coached in the division. In his final season in Boston, the Knicks finished second in the East, and the 76ers and Raptors were well outside of the playoff conversation.
As much as Rivers is respected within the circle of dads, they also understand that he has his flaws. Rivers has won an NBA championship, and Coach of the Year award, but blowing multiple 3–1 leads does not sit well with everyone.
It often seems as though the biggest issue with Rivers’ teams is chemistry and players not understanding their roles. His son, whose job it is to take out the garbage, cleans the dishes. His daughter, who was supposed to clean her room, dusted the piano, and when he thought his wife was making dinner, it turns out he was supposed to.
Everyone on the block is aware of his chemistry struggles, but it does not take away from how smart of a tactician he is. You don’t maintain a position as a head coach for over 20 years by being bad at your job.
Between Rivers, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons, Philadelphia has created an elite group of voices, and the soundbites should be atop the league.
The basketball team on the other hand? Who knows. The talent is certainly there, and on all three levels: they have strong management, an experienced coaching staff, and a solid roster, which typically makes for a pretty good situation.
However, Philly hasn’t necessarily earned the reputation of a pretty good situation. Almost all of their money is allocated towards four players, and their contracts range from slight to egregious overpays. This is the first year of Morey and Rivers though, so I am willing to give it some time. Listen, I’ve written more on the 76ers over the past week, then I have talked to my mother, so if you want to read more on them and their interesting situation from me, just click here.
After some time off, the oldest man of the group is back in action! Tom Thibodeau is oldest amongst the circle of father’s, and certainly the loudest. He is not afraid to implement his seniority and his “old-head” mentality.
Right when his kids think they’re done with their chores, Thibs has a list of 30 more for them to get done. Before you know it, his kids have done 44 of a potential 48 tasks and are too burnt out to go play with their friends.
It takes a team with a certain mentality to thrive under Thibodeau. The young group in Minnesota didn’t take to him well, which I think has left people with a sour taste in their mouth when discussing Coach Thibs. It’s easy to forget that he coached a couple great Chicago teams to back-to-back first place finishes, and if it weren’t for a terrible injury to Derrick Rose, he may have a big, shiny ring on his finger.
Like Nurse, Thibs is quite animated to say the least. But not in a “kid in a candy store” type of way, more like the angry Italian dad in a 90’s sitcom.
I’ll tell you what could have been made into a televsion show. Does anyone remember the Jimmy Butler situation in Minnesota? Or was that 30 years ago with how long 2020 has felt? Well, whenever it was, Thibs was the coach during that whole fiasco. I’m not here to debate the importance and extent of intensity at practice, but it will be interesting to see what Thibs and the Knicks’ front office manage to do with his second go-around at coaching a young core.
One thing Thibs doesn’t have in common with his fellow fathers is a nice property to work with. Where the other dads have been refining their homes, Thibs is moving into a house that has inexplicably been on fire for nearly two decades straight. He purchased it as a project, and his goal is to have that place built up to be the nicest house on the block. After all, it’s right on the corner where the sun hits juuuust right; the best location in the neighborhood.
Every team in this division aside from the Knicks is not only projected to make the playoffs, but they are all believed to be around the top competing for the conference crown. All year when these men meet up to discuss politics, and sports, and whatever else old men talk about, Thibs will likely be showing up with an angry face. Hopefully he can find some bright spots in Barrett, and Robinson and whoever the Knicks take with the eighth pick, or his house could take a bit longer to spiff-up, while the rest of the neighbourhood continues to shine bright.
The young-buck, the new guy, the first-time home-buyer has made his way to the block! Steve Nash has a pretty good property to work with for his first home. A couple weeds here and there, including a couple that have the potential to quickly grow out of control, but if you work at them early and stay on top of them, you could have potentially the best garden in the neighborhood. Also, Nash’s father-in-law, Mike is moving in with them, and he’s a seasoned veteran when it comes to keeping a house. (Realistically, Mike D’Antoni could deserve his own welcome to the Atlantic Division. This group is so stacked.)
Brooklyn enters the season with a very different look from last year, and it could get even more foreign depending on what they do this offseason. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving making a return to the hardwood, Brooklyn has one of the most talented teams in the league, but there are also a lot of question marks to sort through. Who’s going to be on the team? Can Kyrie and KD keep their heads on straight? How will Kyrie and Kevin play coming back from injury? Who starts and who comes off the bench? Must I keep going?
It’s safe to say Nash has a lot on his plate for his first coaching gig, which would well explain why he brought in a couple familiar faces to help him coach this team to victory. With D’Antoni and Amar’e Stoudemire on the bench alongside Nash, I think it’s safe to say that the Nets will play in some part like the Seven Seconds or Less Suns.
There’s obviously some question marks surrounding how Nash got chosen for this gig, but make no mistake, he didn’t just choose this house; the house, the garden, and the driveway all had a very big say in getting him to move.
There should also be no question if the man is qualified enough. Sure, he may never have been a head coach before, but Nash is highly recognized as one of the smartest players of all time, and has spent multiple years helping the players in Golden State.
I don’t know if Nash will have much to say in the circle of dads; he only recently moved in and got invited out. It will be interesting to see who joins the circle on any given night. It might be Steve, Mike, Amar’e, Kyrie, Kevin…it’s a mystery who will walk out that front door to hang out with the fathers after dinner.
Nash has a big task on his hands. As a head coach, you always want a talented team, but that comes with big responsibility—especially when your talent comes in the form of a couple guys who are not shy to be vocal about their feelings.
Hopefully Nash can stay in the neighbourhood for a while. Maybe Mike will just take over the house after a year, maybe Steve will get a ring and be the king of the court, with this team and situation the possibilities are endless.
The Atlantic Division will be the most exciting division in the league, and part of the reason are these five dads right here. Every time two of these teams match up, it will be a battle. Hopefully a fight doesn’t break out in the middle of the street and the dads can keep it civil as they try to one-up each other for the Daddy O’Brien trophy.
On July 6, 2019, Jimmy Butler was traded to the Miami Heat. A little more than a year later, he brought them within two wins of an NBA championship. Butler’s arrival gave the Heat a swagger they were missing and changed the entire dynamic of the franchise.
Talk about Butler usually ends up circling back to the drama that followed him when he played with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls. Was he a bad teammate? Did he deserve the backlash? His time with the Heat has already proven that all he needed was a fresh start and a place where he feels at home.
The Heat had themselves a nice regular season; they finished fourth in the East, had a candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year, an All-Rookie First Teamer, and a coach that many thought could’ve won Coach of the Year. In fact, Eric Spolestra continues to get better each year. He might just be the best coach in the East that doesn’t get enough recognition. Every year he coaches his ass off, and now he was able to lead his team to the Finals and help Adebayo develop into a budding star.
The Heat brought the heat, (haha get it? Sorry.) to the Orlando bubble. Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro broke out on the biggest stage. Herro showed he has a lot of confidence and happily takes any shot he wants. He wasn’t consistent but considering he’s a rookie, it should only be uphill from here. Robinson’s release is so quick you may actually miss it—ask just about any NBA defense. When he gets going, Robinson can score 20 points on you in an instant, and even get your assistant coach to hop onto Google during the game to find out who the hell he is.
Goran Dragic unfortunately suffered an injury in the Finals that kept him out for most of the series, and while he did play in the last game, it was obvious how much the injury was affecting him. But during the seeding games and playoffs, he led the team in scoring and emerged as one of the best players on the team.
The continued growth of Bam Adebayo was on full display, and he’s only getting better. He was a nominee for the Most Improved Player of the Year award and was named an All-Star for the first time in his career. And let’s not forget that amazing block against Jayson Tatum in the playoffs.
Recently, the Heat have emerged as a hotspot for potential free agents. Their impressive play in the Orlando bubble turned them into a sexy destination (or is it Pat Riley’s famous slicked-back hair that attracts everyone?). One name that has been floated as a candidate to join the Heat is Giannis Antetokounmpo. Pairing Giannis with Butler and the constantly improving Adebayo would give the Heat a lot of fire power and set them up for the foreseeable future.
Miami could also search the trade market for improvements. Shams Charania recently reported that the New Orleans Pelicans would be discussing trade talks around Jrue Holiday. Who could the Heat give up? There was some talk that the Heat would likely not include Tyler Herro in trades, so would they potentially trade Robinson? Although he’s actually quite perfect for this team, trading him could get them an all around better player.
One player that could leave is free agent Goran Dragic. Dragic averaged 16.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game during the regular season, and his playoff numbers were even better at 19.1 PPG, 4.4 APG and 4.1 RPG, so signing him should be a priority even though he’s getting older. But if they can get him, Holiday averaged 19.1 PPG, 6.7 APG, and 4.8 RPG this past season and would perfectly fill in Dragic’s role. So the Heat can go both ways and not lose anything.
(If you’ve noticed, yes I’ve tried to say Heat in various ways throughout this and I do not apologize.)
No matter what the Heat do from now until the start of the season, (which is literally next month), they’re in great shape and should be favored to make another run. They could add to the roster by bringing in a star, trading for some complementary pieces, sign or let go of free agents—and of course, they still have a coach that could slide his way up into Coach of the Year status.