Checking in on the 76ers’ Spending Habits

By Zach Wilson

During the NBA shutdown, I recorded a podcast where I laid out the teams which I was most interested in. Philadelphia was high on my list, yet I didn’t even bring them up, because I was simply sick of talking about them. They’ve almost been intriguing for so long that it’s the new normal. It’s like a relationship: by the two-year mark, what used to make the butterflies in your stomach go wild, suddenly goes cold…unless that’s just me and my lack of emotion?

Just when I thought this team couldn’t get anymore interesting, or weird, or entertaining, they go and hire a coach who has managed to blow multiple 3–1 leads, and a general manager who put together a starting lineup where their center was 6-foot-5. I will say, I wonder if Daryl Morey had an epiphany watching his extreme-small-ball experiment in Houston fail and decided to go to a team whose starting five includes two centers and two power forwards.

All that aside, Morey is respected as one of the top general managers in the league. He is known in NBA circles as a guy who gets what he wants, and not in the sense of a spoiled rich kid, but in that he will do whatever it takes to get the guy he’s set his sights on.

Morey is someone who has often coveted stars, and is willing to trade every asset he has to acquire one. Entering a situation in Philly where he has two stars, (yet four guys who are paid like one) it will be interesting to see if he is set on acquiring a third, or at the very least, a player who fits alongside his two All-Stars. Ideally, that would mean a player who can create offense, run the pick-and-roll, and space the floor for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Even though it seems that Elton Brand has full support from the 76ers’ ownership, I wonder if they felt like they had to get someone with more experience in charge. Brand’s first offseason didn’t necessarily go as planned (or maybe it did, and it was just a poor plan).

During their second-round series in 2019, Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick were the biggest thorns in the side of the eventual-champion Raptors (still love saying that). I was surprised the Sixers didn’t make a stronger effort to keep the two of them. That Philadelphia team put up the toughest fight against Toronto, and who knows? If Kawhi Leonard’s shot doesn’t fall, Philly could have taken the series in overtime and smashed their way to a title.

Last off-season, Elton Brand was like a kid with their parents’ credit card in a wide open, coronavirus-free mall. Al Horford is a nice jacket. He’s serviceable, but it takes a specific outfit to truly make him pop. Not to mention the rumors that the only reason he was signed was so he couldn’t play on an opposing team to guard Embiid. Brand’s in-class rival really wanted that leather jacket, but there was only one left. Brand didn’t like the jacket that much, but he bought it, so they couldn’t—only to find out that none of his outfits worked with the jacket. Now, he’s on FaceBook market place looking to dish it out for the low.

I don’t even know what piece of clothing Tobias Harris is. It’s almost as if someone told Elton Brand that keeping the team together was the smartest thing he could do, and he should do anything in his power to keep them together, and so he did, no questions asked. Brand must have known Butler would be the tougher of the two to negotiate with, so he went to Harris first, and by the time that monstrosity of a deal was complete, Jimmy was out the door and on a plane to South Beach.

I can relate to Brand on a personal level with that one. Whenever I have a checklist of tasks to complete, I always start with the simplest one so I can check it off and feel productive. Then I push off the big stuff ’till it’s too late, and my assignment worth 30 percent of my grade is three days overdue, and I need to get at least an 80 percent on my final exam to pass the class, and I’m more stressed than if I would have just completed that task at the start (not a personal story).

If you enjoyed the clothing analogies, I do have some for a couple young stars on this Philadelphia team. Embiid is a really fancy and expensive white shirt. You get complimented on it every time you wear it, but that thing stains like a mother****er. Simmons, on the other hand, is a Nike hat with the logo peeled off. The hat still does its job, and looks nice, but a big aspect of it is missing, which takes it from an elite-level hat to a great hat.

All the speculation surrounding Philadelphia trading one of Embiid or Simmons has gone off the rails. For two consecutive years, the Sixers ran tremendous starting lineups around their two stars (Simmons, Redick, Covington, Saric, Embiid, then Simmons, Redick, Butler, Harris, Embiid). It’s not about those two not being able to coexist, it’s about surrounding them with the correct pieces. Sure, they may not mesh quite as well as those satisfying video compilations on YouTube (I could watch them for hours), but if you surround them with three-point shooters, the whole floor opens up for those two to dominate.

The guys who will likely be shopped are the remaining pieces of the starting five, with Horford and Harris the most likely candidates. Neither of those two are bad players—in fact, in the right situation, I think both of them could still play valuable roles—but the ideal role for them just isn’t in Philadelphia, and paying them a combined $60 million per season is hard to swallow. My guess is Morey steps in and attempts to trade them for some shooting, and a guy who can handle the ball in a pick-and-roll. Whether they swing for the fences and target Chris Paul, call Indiana to check on Victor Oladipo, or maybe take a little bit more of a conservative approach on a player like Buddy Hield, I have to believe that one of those two won’t be on the roster next year.

The second question comes with actually making a deal that works. It’s difficult to imagine anyone sees either of those two as positive values on their current contracts, but as mentioned previously, it’s not like either of them are bad players. A sweetener would likely have to be involved, whether that’s a draft pick, Josh Richardson, or even Matisse Thybulle. I have to imagine Philly is going to stay as far away as possible from trading Thybulle (but then again, with Morey at the helm, you never know); he showed some serious three-and-D potential and is the exact type of player you want to surround Simmons and Embiid with.

As I write this, my copy of Tanking to the Top by Yaron Weitzman just got delivered to my door. For those not in the know, it’s a book outlining the insanity of the 76ers’ rebuild, and how it brought them to contention.

It will be interesting to see if this current regime can actually take the 76ers franchise all the way to the top. The additions of Morey, Doc Rivers, and Dave Joerger creates the strongest coaching/management staff this team has seen in a very long time.

Morey, and the NBA as a whole are all about efficiency, and with talented players like Simmons and Embiid, you can most definitely find efficient ways to score, while standing at the top of the charts defensively. I can’t imagine this team transforms into three-point bombers like the Houston Rockets, but I can imagine they will stray away from the mid-range a lot more than they have in recent years.

The East, while there are a handful of good teams, is extremely open. In fact, the entire league is open. And, as Morey famously said in 2012; “If you’ve got a five percent chance to win the title…you’ve gotta be focused all on winning the title.” Morey certainly is a guy who is known to go all in, and if it doesn’t work next year, then maybe the Simmons and Embiid pairing does get split up. But I would expect them at the very least, to play one more season together.

Three Free Agents With One Specific Skill That’ll Make Them Some Money

By Matt Esposito

Can’t say I’m proud of this article title. At this point I’m basically daring Editor Nick to usurp my percentage share of the website, forcing him and Zach into an unforeseen power struggle. Hopefully, the rest of my article wins back some good favor, as I suddenly find my writing career depending on positive feedback from loyal readers. Crap.

To make things worse, my piece is a nichey deep-dive into three rotation-level players. After you scroll your way past the words and straight to the video clips, you may understand why I focused on Torrey Craig, Jevon Carter and Brad Wanamaker. If you’re still here by now, then that means you’re either a hoops nerd or my mother. Or both. So, fellow nerds (or Mom), let’s begin this dorkfest by examining the underdiscussed, elite nature of Torrey Craig’s shot-blocking ability.

The Helpside Savant

Back in the good old days, when this website was but a fledgling little bird, I wrote about the way wings and forwards are changing rim protection. I used a couple of Raptors, one Jayson Tatum and an Andrew Wiggins used to demonstrate how teams are more frequently relying on lanky help defenders to deter shots in the paint. I struck out looking by not including Craig in that article, but I can make up for it now.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, Craig’s physical profile married his IQ, and that couple produced a beautiful, shot-blocking baby. While the restricted free agent has no issue hanging step-for-step with guards and swatting their attempts, his help defense has the most appeal. Craig’s rim protection bails out bigs such as Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee when they get switched onto guards and dragged out to the perimeter.

Like your chemistry teacher calling in sick on a quiz day, Craig’s timing is impeccable. He sniffs out drives and rotates over like a seasoned veteran, which he kinda is. Despite only having played three seasons in the Association, Craig is 29 years old. He understands that to stay in this league he must display fearlessness while also doing the little things. So far, so good.

The numbers say so, too. Cleaning the Glass reports that Craig has placed either in the 91st or 96th percentile for block percentage for his career. But will this elite skill earn him another contract? Definitely. How much money will this contract be for, is the question? Being a career 32 percent three-point shooter could lower his value. Yet, 32 percent is not an awful number, even if it is certainly below-average. Expect Craig to be signed at a bargain. Then, expect some fanbase to be bragging about it about four months later.

The Full-court Monster

A former Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, we all knew that Jevon Carter would be a bulldog in the NBA. Players who pick up their man and press them the entire length of the court are becoming a rarity in today’s game. Jevon “94 Feet” Carter is one of them, though, and I love him for it.

Cleaning the Glass pegged Carter’s steal percentage for last season in the 88th percentile, but this story goes further than the numbers. Carter wreaks havoc by picking up his man directly after the inbound pass. To boot, he hardly ever gets burned on these plays—if anything, he’s more likely to pressure the ball-handler into a turnover. When you see guards grow visibly frustrated by Carter, please know that a Phoenix fan is somewhere in the desert smiling.

Carter’s ability to steal the rock is truly remarkable. Our friend John Voita at Bright Side of the Sun summed it up better than I can:

“Jevon is a hustle player. His BBall Index perimeter defensive numbers fortify that mantra. His passing lane defense (bad pass steals + deflections per 75 possessions) is 4.3, an A- rating and in the 87%tile in the league. His pickpocket rating (loose ball steals per 75 possessions) is good enough for an A rating and in the 92%tile. And his real adjusted turnover rate is in the 98%tile in the league.”

As a restricted free agent, Carter finds himself in a similar situation to the aforementioned Craig. Where they differ, however, is their three-point shooting. Carter made 33.3 percent of his triples during his rookie year but bumped that number up to 42.5 percent during his sophomore campaign. With strong facilitating skills to go alongside his defense and perimeter shooting, don’t be shocked when some team pays a premium for Carter’s skill set.

The Catch-and-Shoot Threat

Continuing our theme of underdog success stories is Brad Wanamaker, another restricted free agent who most recently laced them up for the Celtics. If you ask ten different Boston fans about Wanamaker’s season, you’ll get ten different responses, a handful of awkward sounding ‘F’ words, and at least one person from Quincy sidetracking into a conversation about how “it’s called gravy, not marinara sauce!”

Regardless, no one can deny that the former EuroLeague stud was an exceptional catch-and-shoot player. Taylor Snow showed just how good Brad was. Why write when you can steal someone’s tweet, right?

Playing on an undermanned Celtics team this postseason, Wanamaker’s role became more critical to his team’s success. Many Celtics faithful were pleasantly surprised with his performances, as Wanamaker proved that he has more to offer than dependable defense. It’s hard to ignore someone shooting 44.4 percent from deep during the postseason. With defense you can count on and a reliable three-point jumper, Wanamaker may extend his NBA career a little bit longer. Even if he doesn’t, we can still enjoy one of the fastest triggers you’ll see in the game.

Thanks, Timi!
Recap

Boston can likely bring Wanamaker back on the cheap. They may, however, opt to roll the dice on a more promising prospect, whether that’s Tremont Waters or someone else, to fill their backup guard spot. If so, then look for a contender to offer Wanamaker a minimum contract to fill out their roster.

Despite Craig hitting only 26.2 percent of his postseason triples, teams will still chase after his skillset. Wing defenders are a premium commodity, and Craig would be a candidate for an All-Defense team if he received more minutes. Jevon Carter would be too. I’m not sure what the market is for these specialists, but they’re bound to make some general managers look very smart.

Checking in on the Bucks’ Existential Crisis

Featured Image By Christian Petersen / Getty Images

By Andrew Lawlor

Nothing gold can stay. Just two seasons ago, the Milwaukee Bucks were the darlings of the NBA, a small-market team with a young, likable superstar that captured the hearts of neutral fans, along with the East’s top seed. But now, it looks like dawn might go down to day. After two ignominious early playoff exits in a row, the Bucks face Giannis Antetokounmpo’s free agency after this coming season. If he does leave, they immediately exit the ranks of title contenders. This is the Bucks’ most dramatic season yet.

The Bucks could be tempted to run it back. After all, this same roster is a little over a year removed from a double-overtime Game 3 loss against the Raptors from going up 3–0 in the Eastern Conference Finals that likely would’ve secured them a Finals bid. This season, they were rolling through the regular season when play paused due to the pandemic, and then they had to come back months later to play in the playoffs without the home-court advantage they had earned.

But even adjusting for extenuating circumstances, the Heat sure looked like an unsolvable problem for the Bucks. The series was not close; the Heat won 4–1, and it did not feel like they were particularly lucky. Antetokounmpo did miss time with a sprained ankle, but even that did not even have that great of an impact; Milwaukee was already down 3-0 when it occurred. The Heat had answers for everything the Bucks tried. Their strategy of walling off the paint from Antetokounmpo’s drives strangled Milwaukee’s offense, and their outside shooting and ball movement used the Bucks’ defensive strategy of keeping Antetokounmpo inside as a help defender against them. It is easy to see Miami using this strategy again against Milwaukee should they meet again, and now that it is out there, Boston has the personnel to do it too.

When Miami dared the Bucks’ players outside of Antetokounmpo to beat them, no one other than Khris Middleton could step up. Eric Bledsoe’s shooting woes have hindered him in the playoffs for several seasons in a row now; it seems like he just won’t be able to get it done when it matters most. On the wing, there is no one outside of Middleton who consistently offers shot-creation, defense, and shooting all at once. They have very little in the way of young players who could grow into that role either; only 2018 first-rounder Donte DiVincenzo offers much in the way of potential. When teams try to make Milwaukee’s non-Antetokounmpo, non-Middleton players beat them in next year’s playoffs, it will likely work unless Milwaukee makes major changes.

It will be tough for the Bucks to upgrade their roster. They are over the salary cap, taking them out of the running for the big free agents, though there are not many of them this year. They will be able to use an exception to sign a mid-tier guy, like one of the Morris twins or Jae Crowder, but that is unlikely to land them a true difference-maker. To acquire one, Milwaukee is probably going to have to swing a big trade.

The obvious answer for Milwaukee is to replace Bledsoe with a point guard who can shoot from outside and threaten the defense off the dribble. Bledsoe, despite his struggles in the playoffs, is still a decent trade asset; point guards who can get to the basket, make plays for others, and defend are not easy to find. With Oklahoma City rebuilding, could the Bucks tempt the Thunder with Bledsoe, DiVincenzo, and some picks for Chris Paul? The Wizards seem determined to hang on to Bradley Beal, but what if their season starts poorly? The Bucks have also been linked with trading for Victor Oladipo. There are guards to be had should Milwaukee opt for that path.

But the Bucks should be careful. There has been a lot on the internet about how the Bucks have to do something if only to prove to Antetokounmpo that they are willing to take a big swing after last offseason’s ill-fated decision to let Malcolm Brogdon walk. But I wouldn’t go that far. If the Bucks take a big swing and miss, that just makes it all the more likely Antetokounmpo leaves. He is not going to stay in a bad situation just because the owner is willing to spend. If he wanted that, he’d just sign with the Knicks. Still, it is urgent that the Bucks acquire another player who can create his own shot. It was a glaring weakness this postseason. They just have to get someone who is actually an upgrade, like Paul or Beal.

The Bucks are certainly in a precarious position. This time next year, they could easily be waving goodbye to Antetokounmpo as they stare at an aging roster led by Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez with no good prospects. But for this season at least, they still have the back-to-back reigning MVP. They are very much a title contender. With the right moves, they could get to the top. You have to risk it to get the biscuit

Checking in on the Raptors’ Greek Freak-Sized Free Agency Plans

By Zach Wilson

Featuring Blake Murphy & Vivek Jacob

As a Raptors fan, confidence is an unfamiliar emotion. Any relatively sustained stretch of success was often preceded by the departure of an All-Star, whether it was Vince Carter, Chris Bosh. Then, when they finally rostered a couple all stars who wanted to stay in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, they just weren’t able to get over the King-sized hump in Cleveland.

It took ’till a fateful summer morning in July of 2018 for Toronto fans to feel true belief in their team. The acquisition of Kawhi Leonard made Raptors fans hold their team to a new standard—one which the team lived by winning a championship the following season. Even after Kawhi’s decision to leave and go to Los Angeles, Toronto fans did not waver back into their old ways.

That confidence is still there today— albeit in a new form—which puts Toronto fans in unfamiliar territory once again. As mentioned previously, the Raptors often had trouble keeping their own All-Star-caliber players on their roster, but now it seems the team, front office, and fanbase is dead-set on acquiring Giannis Antetokounmpo in the 2021 offseason.

The front office has made it a goal to have max-cap space available in 2021 for a few years, and with Masai’s sustained success, and his dated-back relationship with Giannis, Toronto fans finally have the results to justify their newfound confidence.

Toronto Raptors: How realistic is the Giannis Antetokounmpo trade talk?
https://tipofthetower.com/2020/05/09/toronto-raptors-rumors-giannis-antetokounmpo-trade-talk/

With the way Toronto, Miami, Dallas, and quite honestly, general NBA fans are discussing Giannis’ free agency, it’s as if he has the freedom to sign a new contract this offseason.

Well, I’m sorry to every fanbase (aside from Milwaukee), but he kind of does. Giannis is super-max extension, and is free to sign that deal this off season. If he does, every bit of this Giannis frenzy goes out the window. If he doesn’t? We could see a lot of teams make a run at opening enough money to offer Giannis the max next offseason—and Milwaukee’s brewing catastrophe could finally boil over.

As it currently stands, the only players under contract for the Raptors in the 2021–2022 season are Pascal Siakam, Matt Thomas, Dewan Hernandez, and Norman Powell (who has an $11.6 million player option). It is also a safe assumption that OG Anunoby will receive a rookie extension, and you can be 90 percent sure that Kyle Lowry will remain a Raptor.

The Raptors however, do have the ability to essentially run it back next season with a very similar team to this past year, which, even after what could be considered a disappointing playoff performance, was very successful .

Everyone from last season team remains under contract through next year, except for three players. The thing is, they are three guys who played key roles for the team both this past season and during the Raptors’ championship run: Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka.

The general belief is that Toronto will only have the cap space to maintain two of the three. Even though I still fully recognize the defensive prowess which Marc Gasol brings to a team, I have to believe that Masai Ujiri and his front office will take a run at VanVleet first, Ibaka second, and Gasol third.

I had the pleasure of talking with Blake Murphy, who covers the Raptors for The Athletic about Toronto’s current situation with their three free agents. Murphy expressed how the Raptors want to do what they can to keep VanVleet on the roster, as he plays a large role in their culture—and their next championship window—if they can land a coveted star either through free agency in 2021 or via trade.

It does seem as though there will be several teams interested in VanVleet’s services as well. Teams such as New York, and Detroit are expected to make a run at the 26-year-old point guard. The most attractive thing about signing Fred is that he is good enough to help a win-now team, yet young enough to fit the timeline of a potential rebuild.

I would expect VanVleet to receive deals around the three-four year mark, probably earning roughly $15–$20 million annually. Blake Murphy also told me that Toronto likely has a walkaway number, for which will be too expensive to pay a third/fourth option, but that is likely north of $20 million annually.

Fred VanVleet expected to get contract similar to Malcolm Brogdon; Knicks  interested, per report - CBSSports.com
https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/fred-vanvleet-expected-to-get-contract-similar-to-malcolm-brogdon-knicks-interested-per-report/

As for the centers, this is where it gets interesting. Both Ibaka and Gasol are above 30 years old, however Serge is still four years younger than Marc. Serge seems to be aging like fine wine, and only getting better with age, and Gasol is on more of a downward slope as he ages closer to retirement, or potentially playing overseas.

Based off that small excerpt, it would seem that Ibaka is the easy choice. However, Gasol, for as much as his offense has faltered, is still one of the most important defenders on the Raptors. Gasol registered the best defensive rating out of anyone on the Raptors last regular season (minimum eight minutes per game) at 98.9.

Blake Murphy also gave me his thoughts on what the Raptors will do as far as their centers go. He brought up a running theme amongst the majority of teams this offseason, and that’s the importance of 2021 cap space. Murphy did note that those may have just been projections of his own feelings, but he can’t see neither Ibaka or Gasol signing anything past a one-year deal should they remain in Toronto. He also mentioned that it will likely be an inflated deal, as money for this upcoming season isn’t necessarily an issue.

My personal prediction is that the Raptors sign Fred to a four-year deal, with a player option on the final year, for somewhere around $75 million. As for the frontcourt, I believe the Raptors bring Ibaka back on a one-year, $18 million deal, and that Gasol will not remain in Toronto, whether that means he joins another NBA team, or goes back to play in Spain, as was previously rumoured this off season. These signings allow the Raptors to remain competitive this upcoming season, while still keeping the books open for a potential Greek all star next off season.

I also exchanged messages with Vivek Jacob about some non-Raptors free agents, that he’d like the Raptors to consider. He brought up two players:

Nerlens Noel: We saw a lack of athleticism hurt Toronto against Boston to the extent that Robert Williams was able to play meaningful minutes. Assuming only one of Ibaka or Gasol returns, offering Noel a 1-year mid-level to be the backup makes sense. Whether Noel would be interested in that is the bigger question.

Harry Giles: A more realistic option, Giles should be intrigued by the opportunity to play for a stable, successful organization after starting his NBA career with the Kings. Again, a 1-year flier.

Vivek, like many others, preached the theme of one-year deals. Both of these options are certainly intriguing, as Toronto has lacked athleticism at the center position for a while, even before Ibaka and Gasol when they were starting Jonas Valanciunas. That’s no disrespect to any of those players, but none of them would necessarily be considered athletic freaks during their tenure with the Raptors.

Another athletic center to keep an eye on is Montrezl Harrell. This has nothing to do with rumours, and everything to do with my personal speculation. Between the Raptors being the only team he follows on Instagram, and Harrell naming his AAU team the “Team Trez Raptors,” Harrell and the Raptors have either already locked in on a deal, or he is putting together a fantastic troll job, and I personally appreciate it either way.

Toronto should have an interesting offseason ahead—and that’s before we even get to the loss of Nate Bjorkgren to the Indiana Pacers, the new uniforms, and the mystery behind where they’ll be playing their home games if the border remains closed.

As per usual, Masai Ujiri has not let any of his plans slip out to the public. However, they can’t keep secret their 2021 cap space, Masai’s previous relationship with Giannis, and the fact that Giannis is the perfect fit for this roster. The Raptors used to lose their stars before they reached the pinnacle; now, they’re a destination for players hoping to join them at the top.

Checking in on the Bulls’ Plodding Rebuild

Featured Image By Dylan Buell / Getty Images

By Andrew Lawlor

On draft night in 2017, the Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the pick that would become Lauri Markkanen, kick-starting a rebuild for a squad that had made the playoffs as the eighth seed the previous season. Three years later, Butler just led the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals, while the Bulls do not have much progress to show for their efforts.

The Bulls have not won more than 27 games in any of the past three seasons, and have not come close to the playoffs. This past season, they went 22–43 and were one of the eight teams to be left out of the Orlando bubble. In response, Chicago made big changes, bringing in a new GM (Arturas Karnisovas), assistant GM (Marc Eversley), and head coach (Billy Donovan).

Donovan has a respectable history, a stark contrast to Jim Boylen, the man he is replacing. After a long and successful career in college basketball at the University of Florida, he went 243–157 in four seasons with the Thunder, reaching the Conference Finals in his first season in 2016 before famously losing in seven games to the 73–9 Warriors. Granted, that team had Kevin Durant, and Donovan never won a playoff series after Durant left. But Donovan has managed to keep Oklahoma City afloat in the regular season despite many personnel changes; without Durant, he ran everything through Russell Westbrook in his MVP season, then incorporated Paul George, then embraced a youth movement around Chris Paul.

Donovan has issues; his offensive sets in Oklahoma City have long inspired criticism for a lack of ball movement. But he managed to go 44–28 this season with a young core even after Westbrook and George left in the offseason. He has overseen the development of countless young players, like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, and Luguentz Dort. He may not be perfect, but he can get the job done. (Also, he won’t do anything that will cause his players to visibly shake their heads in disgust on the court.)

Despite the Bulls’ lack of success over the past few seasons, the roster Donovan inherits in Chicago has talent. It starts with a promising young core. Zach LaVine has progressed every season in the NBA, and just averaged 25.5 points per game on 45/38/80 shooting splits. He even plays some defense now! Coby White is another guard who can fill it up, and just averaged 13.2 points per game on 39 (okay, that one’s not so great)/35/79 shooting splits in his rookie season. In the frontcourt, Wendell Carter Jr. has shown a lot of promise, particularly on defense, and Lauri Markkanen is a seven-footer with a good three-point shot, though his game has stagnated in other areas.

The Bulls also have some solid veterans surrounding their young core, including a high-quality three-and-D wing in Otto Porter Jr., plus guard Tomas Satoransky and big man Thaddeus Young. They also have two absolute bulldog defenders in Kris Dunn and Shaq Harrison (though both are restricted free agents). All in all, the roster is not bad!

So why hasn’t it worked? Part of it is certainly poor coaching. Boylen put the team in bad spots on offense, and everyone struggled as a result. But part of it is also an unbalanced roster. Of the players listed above, only Satoransky and Dunn displayed any sort of passing acumen last season, and neither of them had the ball in their hands much.

 If the Bulls don’t blow it all up (and it seems like they won’t after they hired Donovan, who allegedly did not want to stick around for a rebuild in Oklahoma City), they need to add more playmaking and wings to help this squad fit better.

The solution to the playmaking issue could already be on the roster. White was just a rookie last year, so he could grow into a passer, even if he was in the 14th percentile of Cleaning the Glass’ assist-to-usage ratio for guards (LaVine was better, clocking in at the 65th percentile for wings, but was not good enough to lead the offense and is less likely to get better). Carter Jr. also provides an interesting possibility. Playmaking centers dominated the playoffs this year, and Carter Jr. projected as one coming out of college, drawing pre-draft comparisons to Al Horford. He has not been used in this way so far, but putting some playmaking responsibility on Carter Jr.’s shoulders could help juice the Bulls’ offense.

Donovan had the Thunder bigs pass more than the Bulls’ did last season

Outside of the current roster, the Bulls also possess the fourth pick in this year’s draft. They could look to add a pass-first point guard like LaMelo Ball (if he’s still available) or Killian Hayes. Among other options, Deni Avdija intrigues as a possible point forward-type player.

The Bulls should also be looking to add wings. The best teams in the NBA are full of forwards who can defend and shoot threes. Just in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics have Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward; the Raptors have Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Norman Powell; the Heat have Butler, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson; even the Bucks have Khris Middleton, Donte Divincenzo, and Wes Matthews. The Bulls have Porter Jr. and…Chandler Hutchison? Denzel Valentine? It’s bleak.

Porter Jr. is good, but the Bulls don’t have anyone else who can capably play the wing. Plus, Porter Jr. has missed large portions of the last two seasons due to injuries. The Bulls desperately need to add depth at the wings. Devin Vassell is an option for a three-and-D wing in the first round of the draft, especially if they trade down, and they should also be looking at wings in the early second round. There are also plenty of guys who can help in free agency; guys like Moe Harkless, Jae Crowder, or Alec Burks could be very helpful at reasonable prices.

If these options are not good enough, the Bulls could look to make a big trade. They probably are not going to trade LaVine for picks, but they may trade a lesser piece for a better roster fit. Many of the Bulls’ most interesting trades center around Markkanen. He has not meshed well with Carter Jr. so far in his career (they had a -0.5 net rating on the court together this season), but still carries value around the league due to his three-point shooting. The Bulls would be selling low on him, but perhaps they could ship Markkanen to a team in need of immediate frontcourt shooting (Celtics? 76ers? Suns?) for a first-rounder.

The Chicago Bulls are going to improve this season, simply because they have a huge upgrade in coaching. They should be a popular pick to increase their win total significantly, and are likely to make a run at the playoffs. But the Bulls need to make changes to turn this roster into a true contender. This offseason, they should be looking to add playmakers and wings.

Checking in on the Pacers’ Looming Heartache

Photo by Madison Quisenberry/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s an old play that’s been running through my head lately. It was 2013, and top-ranked Indiana (University, that is—we’re back to college for this one) was locked in a duel with third-ranked Michigan at home. Up by four late in the game, Indiana got a three-on-two opportunity in transition with Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo flanking Jordan Hulls. Hulls saw Oladipo lurking behind both defenders and threw him an alley-oop.

It was an awful pass—a running, one-handed flip from the wing that, had Oladipo not caught it, would have landed in the corner and bounced straight into the tunnel. But Oladipo, who had done some Optimus Prime shit that year, caught it anyway, and because Oladipo had done some Optimus Prime shit that year, the world braced for the impact of Oladipo throwing down a tomahawk on the fabric of reality.

Except, well, Oladipo didn’t.

There are hundreds of missed dunks every year, but that one’s stuck with me more than most (most). I thought about it when my dear, sweet Cleveland Cavaliers passed on Oladipo for Anthony Bennett. I thought about it when the Oklahoma City Thunder sent Oladipo back to the scene of his near asteroid-landing in exchange for Paul George. I thought about it when Oladipo’s knee exploded early in 2019. And I thought about it when the news broke last month that Oladipo wants to leave the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers have lived much of their existence as a thoroughly good professional basketball organization. Since 1990, they’ve missed the playoffs just six times and have never finished lower than 10th in the East. There have been times where they came agonizingly close to blasting through that ceiling—behind Reggie Miller in the 1990s, with Ron Artest and Jermaine O’neal in the 2000s, and most recently, in the early 2010s, on the back of Paul George and vertically outstretched arms of Roy Hibbert. But each time the Pacers threatened, their title aspirations were crushed into dust by superpowers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and WhereverLeBronJameswasinanygivenyear.

Jettisoning George for Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the summer of 2017 was supposed to glue the Pacers to the passenger’s seat for another few years. Oladipo and Sabonis looked like solid young pieces, the kind who typically inspire optimism but whose shine rarely escapes the silhouette of an All-NBA wing. A few Pacers of old (Darren Collison and Thaddeus Young, human incarnates of Indiana’s ‘thoroughly good ethos; also Lance Stephenson) and new (Cory Joseph, Bojan Bogdanovic and Myles Turner, young(ish) players who’d flashed with varying brightness), rounded out yet another thoroughly good Pacers rotation.

You’d be forgiven if that’s all you see right now—the Pacers, taking after their namesake and peeling out to retool for another lap in an endless race against monumentally spec’d-out opponents. Maybe that is what’s happening right now. But if this iteration of the Pacers is headed to the scrapyard, it’s not because they lacked the parts—it’s because they blew a gasket before they could ever get going.

Between the established juggernauts up north (Milwaukee, Toronto) and the rising ones (Boston, Philadelphia) along the east coast, it should’ve been impossible for the Pacers to stand out after trading their star. The Pacers did it anyway, winning 48 games in year one post-PG, and earning themselves a duel for the ages on one of this millennium’s most hallowed proving grounds: a playoff series against LeBron James.

Generations of up-and-comers, from Kawhi Leonard to Jayson Tatum to the very man who Indiana traded for Oladipo, have entered the LeGauntlet and emerged a star. He only (“only“) scored 23 per game in his series, but make no mistake: Oladipo eviscerated the Cavs the entire series, never more so than in his Game 6 masterpiece to stave off elimination. A year after hitting the reset button, Indiana had already come back to life.

You know what happened next. Like George, Oladipo followed up a postseason bout with LeBron by suffering a nightmare-fuel leg injury. But these Pacers were never the type to go gentle into the night. With an Oladipo-sized hole in the offense, Bogdanovic showed out as the Pacers’ new primary option, and the rest of the team stepped up. When Bogdanovic leveraged his play into a payday in Utah, the Pacers got themselves another pair of All-Star-level players in Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon. And when nearly half of their rotation bounced alongside Bogdanovic, they swapped in Jeremy Lamb, TJ Warren, TJ McConnell, and Justin and Aaron Holiday without missing much of a beat. When Oladipo returned, he’d be coming back to an even better team than the one he left.

But as hard as they fought, the Pacers missed a few punches. Instead of evolving into the prototypical modern three-and-D center Ibaka never became, Turner has somewhat plateaued into the thoroughly good one Ibaka did become and could also be on the move. Stocked with thoroughly good players like Bogdanovic, Sabonis, Brogdon, and Warren, the Pacers have gotten swept in the first round in back-to-back years by teams with qualifier-free stars in Boston and Miami. And of course, although there have been sightings, the Victor Oladipo who rampaged through the King’s court has yet to fully reappear—and may not ever do so in a Hickory jersey.

Every year, young and exciting cores leap toward the stratosphere only to crash and burn during ascent. Such is the nature of the NBA. But these Pacers survived a multi-car pileup and salvaged enough parts to build themselves back up better. They’d done the hard part. And now, when all the pieces should be falling into place, they’re falling apart instead.

Maybe this is all premature. After all Oladipo and Turner are still under contract, and the Pacers have a new coach who Oladipo appears excited about. I’d like to think it is—that thoroughly good is this team’s floor and not its ceiling, that the Oladipo-George parallels diverge after their injuries, and that this isn’t just another lap for the Pacers. Because if it’s not, and there’s one tragic difference between George and Oladipo: Oladipo never took his best shot.

If it is in fact over, though, the Pacers will bounce back. Given their history, they’ll likely be right back in the playoff race sooner rather than later. Maybe the next thoroughly good Pacers team finally, finally blasts through the ceiling into qualifier-free greatness. Until they do, though, and probably even for a while after, I’ll be thinking about Oladipo, soaring through the rafters, unbound, unfulfilled.

Checking in on the Detroit Pistons’ New Regime

By Andrew Lawlor

It is a new day in Detroit. After years of mediocre front offices making misguided moves, the Pistons have a new general manager in Troy Weaver, who comes over from the Oklahoma City Thunder with a good reputation around the league. Weaver had been with the Thunder since 2008, and was part of the front office when the Thunder drafted and developed Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams, among others (Kevin Durant was drafted the year before Weaver got there). 

It is good that he can draft well, because Weaver is walking into a bleak situation. The Pistons have an aging, oft-injured, expensive star in Blake Griffin, and not a lot else. Griffin could still get back to his best; he is 31, and only one year removed from an All-Star season in 2018–19 in which he averaged 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. But even then, Detroit was only good enough to land the eighth seed and a first round sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, and the East has gotten stronger since then. When Griffin was limited to 18 games last season, the Pistons were a lottery team.

With his age and injury history, it is tough to count on Griffin. He has missed a lot of games over the past several seasons, and, even when healthy, his once-otherworldly athleticism is gone. But he can still play, and has added passing vision and better outside shooting to make up for his lost athleticism. Griffin is scheduled for a hefty $36.6 million paycheck next season, with a player option the following year. He has certainly earned that, given his play earlier in his career, but it will be nearly impossible to move him for anything other than a similar gargantuan contract (Russell Westbrook? Al Horford?). The Pistons’ best bet is probably keeping him on the team through the end of his contract in 2022.

Beyond Griffin, the roster is weak, but Detroit may have unearthed a potential star in Christian Wood. After yo-yoing between the G League and NBA with several other organizations, he shined for the Pistons last season, averaging 13.1 points per game in only 21.4 minutes. Wood can score inside (73.5% field goal percentage inside 5 feet on 4.4 attempts per game) and out (38.6% from three on 2.3 attempts per game), and, at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, has the length to block shots inside.

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Wood’s defensive ability at this point is mostly theoretical, as he only blocked 3.4% of opponent shots while he was on the floor, and allowed opponents to shoot 56.9% at the rim on 4.1 attempts per game, middle of the pack numbers for a center. He is pretty lanky right now and can get bullied under the rim, but has the potential to develop into a good rim protector.

Unfortunately for Detroit, Wood is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and is sure to draw plenty of interest around the league. While betting big on a player with a limited track record is risky (see Hassan Whiteside), the potential reward for signing a center with Wood’s scoring ability is immense. The pandemic may depress the free agency market, which could bring Wood’s price down. But the Pistons should be major players for Wood (provided he wants to come back of course). They should be willing to go high to retain him, even as high as $20 million per season. They have no other potential stars on the roster, and are not going to be players in free agency otherwise at any point in the near future. After dumping Andre Drummond, they have the money.

The Pistons have not drafted well the last several years; of their first-round picks between 2013 and 2018, only Luke Kennard is still on the team, and they famously took him one spot ahead of Donovan Mitchell. Last year’s first-rounder, Sekou Doumbouya, has a lot of length and athleticism, but played like the raw teenage rookie he was last season. Down the depth chart, young players like Svi Mikhailyuk, Bruce Brown, and Luke Kennard can play but do not offer much reason for excitement.

Detroit will not win many games this season. It is time instead for Weaver to evaluate what he has, and see what works. Maybe they can pick up another Wood-type off the scrap heap. Maybe one of these young players can thrive in an expanded role. Who knows?

The past several years have been a rough time for Detroit Pistons fans. They have not won so much as a single game in the playoffs since 2008. The team is going to struggle this year, but they have a new front office who will run things differently. They have the seventh pick in the draft this year and a clean cap sheet starting in 2022. This is only the beginning of their journey.

Featured Image By Duane Burleson / Getty Images

Free Agency Preview – Jakob Poeltl

By Matt Esposito

Nothing about the pronunciation of Jakob Poeltl’s name makes sense to me and my Americentric world; a sure sign that I could use more culture in my life. Like me, your favorite NBA team could also use more Poeltl. While the Spurs have a contractual edge on signing the 25-year-old restricted free agent, he may look for more playing time with another squad, and several could come calling.

Despite being an analytics gemstone, Poeltl has registered 46 career starts in 276 career games and logged only 17.7 minutes per game last year. Recently, he told News 4 San Antonio that he is going to look at “a few other options and maybe find something that fits the concept better…when it comes to my career and my development, my role and the playing time are in the foreground.” Does he deserve more playing time, however?

Over the past three seasons, Poeltl has posted exceptional block, offensive rebound and effective field goal rates. According to Cleaning the Glass, he hasn’t finished below the 80th percentile in any of those categories since his freshman year in San Antonio. What’s more, he is an impactful dribble handoff (DHO) player. With Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat leading the way in popularizing DHO strategy, expect that skill set to be in higher demand in upcoming seasons. That, paired with his excellent short-midrange touch, makes Poeltl an enticing free agent.

Touch in the Short Midrange

Poeltl does much of his damage near the rim, but because he lacks the requisite explosiveness to be a lob threat,  he spends most of his time underneath it. Specifically, CTG informs that he took 26 percent of his field goal attempts from the short midrange last season. He sank an outstanding 49 percent of those shots, a slight but noticeable increase from last year’s 47 percent clip.

While Poeltl should not be asked to carry an offensive load, it would be interesting to see what he could do with a few more touches per game. What the center surrenders in vertical gravity, he makes up with soft touch, a high release, and solid instincts. A competent big man who can do things other than dunking, Poeltl has earned more scoring attempts.

Dribble Handoff

Currently rostered on the Spurs are a handful of playmaking guards. Derrick White, Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker (not to mention DeMar DeRozan, if he returns) each have experience in the DHO game. Many of them have found success running this set through Poeltl and his concrete, 7-foot frame. Both his assist percentage and assist to usage ratio provide the proof:

Courtesy of CTG

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then expect Bam Adebayo to be blushing all year long. In a copycat league, teams will likely adopt the staple play that led the Heat to the NBA Finals. This puts Poeltl’s best offensive skill in high demand. Not only are his screens and passes perfectly timed, but he has shown real chops as a short-roll passer.

With Devonte Graham, Terry Rozier and perhaps a draft pick like LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards, the Charlotte Hornets could find themselves in need of strong DHO players. Plus, they have the cap space to outbid most suitors. Chicago may have a similar guard/wing-heavy roster and the full mid-level exception to work with.

Rim Protection

Despite playing south of 18 minutes per game, Poeltl finished 12th in blocks per game among all players this season. In fact, he had more total blocks than defensive stalwarts Adebayo, Jarrett Allen and Giannis Antentokounmpo. It’s no wonder that Poeltl placed in the 93rd percentile for block percentage (CTG). Without an elastic wingspan or elite springiness, Poeltl still protects the paint. But how?

Compensating for his lack of athleticism, Poeltl is a bright defender with top-notch court awareness. He stays ahead of plays, times block attempts to avoid fouling, and thrives in drop pick-and-roll coverage. Yet, he isn’t a liability when dragged out onto the perimeter. Poeltl uses angles to his advantage and lets his instincts do the rest. His knack for blocking or altering three-pointers is a testament to his innate feel for the game.

Fits & Possible Contract

Aron Baynes has played his way into a sizable payday, giving the Phoenix Suns a need at the backup center position. Poeltl won’t see a minutes increase there, but he will have an important role as the Suns try to break a decade-long postseason drought. They can afford to overpay for Poeltl’s services and might be happy if they do.

Poeltl’s former team, the Toronto Raptors, could find themselves suddenly without both Marc Gasol and/or Serge Ibaka. The Austrian big man might just nab a starting role for his old club and could do so for a nice chunk of the MLE ($9 millionish.) These teams, alongside Charlotte, make sense for Poeltl.

Don’t forget about his current team, either. LaMarcus Aldridge is set to be a free agent after next season, and the Spurs could move on from him. Perhaps they trade him to a contender and kickstart a rebuild. Both of those scenarios suggest a starting role could be on the horizon for Poeltl. If Poeltl does re-sign, I might consider it a harbinger that Aldridge’s time in San Antonio could be coming to a close. Regardless, expect Poeltl to earn between $5–8 million in restricted free agency.

PODCAST BONUS! – Listen to Zach talk to Jeff Garcia of Locked On Spurs about all things San Antonio related. Garcia gives insight on Lonnie Walker’s inconsistency, DeMar’s player option, and the Spur’s upcoming draft pick.

Free Agency Preview – Christian Wood

By Andrew Lawlor

In Mario Kart on Nintendo 64, the mother of all tracks is Rainbow Road. With its length and difficulty, it separates the pros from mere amateurs. Racers have a choice at the beginning of the track. If you jump off the edge, and time it juuuuuuust right, you bypass a large part of the track and give yourself a huge advantage over your opponents. But you have to nail it exactly; if you miss, you tumble through the abyss of space for what feels like forever, only to be dropped back at the beginning, too far behind everyone else to make a comeback.

Betting big on Christian Wood is a similar proposition; it is an incredibly risky proposition, but the potential reward is amazing. In his fourth NBA season and first real run at significant playing time, Wood was excellent, the rare big man who can hurt teams both inside and from the perimeter on offense. Even though he has only played a little over 100 games in his career, including only 14 starts, the 24-year-old Wood has shown enough to be considered one of the best options in this limited pool of free agents.

Elite Inside Scoring

One of the fundamental truths of basketball is that taller players have an advantage because they are closer to the hoop. Even with all the small-ball that has swept the league in recent years, that is still true, as evidenced by the Lakers’ dominance in the paint throughout their championship run. Christian Wood has elite size; he is 6-foot-10, with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he can jump out of the gym. He is an incredible lob threat who can jump up and corral passes from insane heights and throw them down. According to Cleaning the Glass, Wood shot 77% at the rim, ranking him in the 89th percentile among big men.

Three-Point Threat

What separates Wood from most bouncy big men is that he can hit threes as well. He shot 38.6% from three on 2.3 attempts per game— well above average, especially for someone of his size. Prior to last season, he was just a 30.9% shooter on 42 career attempts, but he has a high release and good form (and took significantly more attempts this season than ever before), so it is likely the improvement is sustainable. The percentage may come down a little as defenses start to key on him outside, but this can help him in another way: Wood is an incredible inside threat, and if defenses have to watch for him popping to the three-point line, it makes it that much harder to prevent him from getting to the rim. This showed up in his play-type numbers this year; Wood averaged 1.5 points per possession as the roller in the pick-and-roll, an elite number.

In one of his best games last season, against the 76ers on March 11, Wood showed how he could put it all together on offense:

Passing Needs Improvement

The missing piece for Wood’s offensive game is playmaking. He struggles in this area, averaging a paltry 1.0 assist per game, with a 7.3 assist percentage and 0.36 assist-to-usage ratio, according to Cleaning the Glass. Those are all poor numbers, even for a big man. As defenses adjust to Wood, they will throw more and better defenders at him and force him to make a pass. He needs to improve in this area to continue to be effective on offense. But the bar is low. As a center with great scoring ability, he only needs to make basic reads for his passing to be effective.

Defensive Potential

Owing to his immense length (again, he has a 7-foot-3 wingspan), Wood has a lot of potential on defense, but was closer to average than great this season. He was decent at blocking shots (66th percentile among big men in block percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass) and jumping passing lanes (48th percentile in steal percentage), but not incredible. He is a good rebounder, with Cleaning the Glass putting him in the 54th percentile for offensive rebounding percentage and 75th for defensive rebounding percentage. At the rim, he allowed opponents to shoot 56.9% on 4.1 contested shots per game, solid but not elite. Since Wood came off the bench for most of the season, he was often playing against opponents’ benches. It will get tougher for him to put up these numbers against better lineups. He has not shown enough to be relied upon as a primary rim-protector for a good team, but he could get there. He has the tools.

Fits

While Wood does not have a long track record and has shortcomings to his game, he should be highly sought after this offseason. Bobby Marks estimates Wood to get the mid-level exception, $9.3 million per year. If that is really his market, every team in the NBA should go after him. Any team could use a big man who can score in the ways Wood can, and if he can develop his passing and defense (I’m more bullish on the defense), he could be great. In this year’s market, there are not a lot of other players you can say that about—and the only ones you can (Anthony Davis, Brandon Ingram) are likely staying put.

Because of this, teams that have no other opportunities to sign stars should go higher than the mid-level exception to sign Wood. The Pistons, Sacramento Kings, and Charlotte Hornets are not traditional free agent destinations and are at various stages of rebuilds. While many teams might understandably prefer to save their free agency dollars for next offseason, when far more talent should be available, Wood provides a good opportunity to land a potential star. For these teams, having money for next season is not going to get them that star; Giannis Antetokounmpo is not coming to Sacramento.

What Wood has shown so far is stardom, just in an extremely small dose. If it is at all likely that that is who he is going forward, then Detroit, Sacramento, and Charlotte should bet big on him. Sure, it is a risk to spend a ton of money on such an unproven player, but for these teams, the alternative is overpaying a veteran or taking on a bad contract to pick up a mid-to-low first-round draft pick. Neither of those options is as likely to result in acquiring a star as signing Wood. Teams should be willing to bet big on Wood, even going as high as $15–20 million per season.

Featured Image By Tim Fuller / USA Today Sports

Predicting Three-Point Shooting for the 2020 NBA Draft Class

Featured Image By Michael Hickey / Getty Images

By Andrew Lawlor

The NBA revolves around shooting these days, so it is crucially important for draft prospects to be able to shoot. We have seen countless talented prospects (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Justise Winslow, etc.) falter over the years in the NBA due to a lack of a reliable jump shot.

But it is hard to predict how shooting will translate from college to the NBA. The college three-point line is shorter, for one. For another, the seasons are shorter and amateur teams often play far less open offensive styles, so most players have not taken a high volume of attempts.

One good way to evaluate shooting is to use a statistical technique called Empirical Bayesian probability (see here for a good explanation). Using this technique, we regress a shooter’s three-point percentage towards the NCAA average three-point percentage, weighted by how many attempts the shooter had.

What Empirical Bayesian probability does is regress all players’ three-point percentage towards the NCAA average, but with a stronger regression for players with fewer attempts. The effect is shown in the graph below, with three-point percentage plotted on the x-axis against Empirical Bayesian three-point percentage (lighter dots represent shooters with less attempts):

The basic idea is that, if you have gone 6-for-10 on three-point attempts, you are probably not a 60 percent shooter (so we regress you heavily towards the average), but you probably are better than someone who is a 20-for-100 shooter (we are more confident they are a bad shooter since they have taken a large number of attempts).

A college player’s Empirical Bayesian three-point percentage has a slightly stronger relationship with NBA three-point percentage (0.13 R^2) than his raw college three-point percentage does (0.11 R^2), as shown below:

The leaders in Empirical Bayesian three-point percentage among this year’s college class are as follows:

NameSchool3PA3PEmpirical Bayes 3P percent
Aaron NesmithVanderbilt1156040.2 percent
Saddiq BeyVillanova1757938.9 percent
Desmond BaneTCU1988738.7 percent
Markus HowardMarquette29412138.1 percent
Cassius WinstonMichigan St.1697338.0 percent

Using this statistic, I created a regression model for NBA three-point percentage based on Empirical Bayesian College three-point percentage, Empirical Bayesian College free-throw percentage, Empirical Bayesian shooting percentage on long twos (which includes basically all two point jump shots), Empirical Bayesian College three-point rate (the percentage of field goal attempts that were threes), and position. All statistics were taken from the player’s last season in college. Only players who had taken at least 100 threes in the NBA were included in the training set. I used data from Bart Torvik’s site, which is a great resource for college stats.

The R-squared value for the model is .155, meaning the model explains 15.5 percent of the variance in NBA three-point shooting percentage in the test set. The mean absolute error (MAE) of the model is .028. Since the model is predicting percentages, that means it was off by about 2.8 percent on the average player. The model has a root mean squared error (RMSE) of .039 on the test set. These error numbers are decent, since no one can predict shooting percentage with absolute certainty, but could stand to improve. 

The model is very conservative. It never predicts a player to have an NBA three-point percentage above 40 percent, and only rarely predicts shooters to be below 30 percent. The best prediction in the training dataset came for Tyler Herro, who was predicted to shoot 38.4 percent from three in the NBA (he has slightly surpassed that, shooting 38.9 percent in his career). Luke Babbitt (38.3 percent), Ian Clark (38.2 percent), Luke Kennard (38.0 percent), and Bryn Forbes (38.0 percent) all also had high projections. On the other hand, Andre Drummond (27.4 percent) had the lowest projection in the set.

There have been some misses. Seth Curry (projected 37.2 percent, actual 44.3 percent), Duncan Robinson (projected 37.9 percent, actual 43.7 percent), and Michael Porter Jr. (projected 32.2 percent, actual 42.2 percent) have all shot far better than projected, especially Porter. Porter only played three regular season games in college, shooting 30 percent from three in those games, so his low projection is explainable, and a good reminder that scouting is very important. Relying solely on his statistics did not come close to telling the full story. As for Curry and Robinson, they are two of the best shooters alive, and are outliers that are hard to predict.

Of this year’s college draft prospects, The model predicts Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley as the best shooter, with a projected NBA three-point field goal percentage of 38.2 percent. Sam Merrill (38.0 percent), Isaiah Joe (37.8 percent), and Markus Howard (37.3 percent) all also profile well. Meanwhile, Precious Achiuwa (29.0 percent), Lamine Diane (30.5 percent), Xavier Tillman (30.8 percent), and Isaac Okoro (30.9 percent) do not project well. 

Among top prospects, Anthony Edwards (33.2 percent) does not project well due to a poor college three-point shooting percentage. James Wiseman (31.3 percent) and Onyeka Okongwu (31.8 percent) also do not project well, but they are big men, so that is more acceptable for them.

Below, see a table of NBA prospects shooting projections, including an 95 percent confidence interval (there is a 95 percent chance they will shoot in that range in the NBA).

NamePredicted NBA 3P percentCBS Sports Draft Ranking
Immanuel Quickley38.2 percent52
Sam Merrill38.0 percent51
Isaiah Joe37.8 percent19
Markus Howard37.3 percent50
Ty-Shon Alexander37.0 percent67
Aaron Nesmith36.7 percent13
Nate Darling36.6 percent90
Cassius Winston36.6 percent39
Malachi Flynn36.3 percent45
Tyrell Terry36.3 percent20
Skylar Mays36.2 percent49
Payton Pritchard35.7 percent47
Tyrese Haliburton35.7 percent3
Elijah Hughes35.7 percent40
Jordan Nwora35.6 percent37
Malik Fitts35.2 percent60
Jalen Harris35.2 percent55
Saddiq Bey34.9 percent16
Grant Riller34.8 percent24
Nico Mannion34.6 percent33
Desmond Bane34.5 percent23
Killian Tillie34.5 percent53
Mason Jones34.4 percent56
Devin Vassell34.3 percent14
Kira Lewis Jr.34.1 percent10
Jaden McDaniels34.0 percent32
Tyrese Maxey33.9 percent11
Patrick Williams33.8 percent9
Jalen Harris33.6 percent55
Tre Jones33.6 percent34
Cole Anthony33.2 percent18
Anthony Edwards33.2 percent5
Obi Toppin33.1 percent7
Cassius Stanley33.1 percent27
Jahmi’us Ramsey33.1 percent36
Devon Dotson33.0 percent35
Zeke Nnaji33.0 percent43
Jalen Smith33.0 percent28
Isaiah Stewart33.0 percent31
Reggie Perry32.8 percent58
Tyler Bey32.8 percent42
Saben Lee32.8 percent59
Paul Reed32.7 percent44
Josh Green32.7 percent25
Ashton Hagans32.5 percent46
Daniel Oturu32.2 percent41
Robert Woodard II32.2 percent29
Onyeka Okongwu31.8 percent6
James Wiseman31.3 percent4
Vernon Carey Jr.31.3 percent38
Isaac Okoro30.9 percent15
Xavier Tillman30.8 percent26
Lamine Diane30.5 percent48
Precious Achiuwa29.0 percent17

A previous version of the above table had a column with incorrect ranges. This column has been removed.