The Dallas Mavericks have been looking for a star center for a little over 5 years now, and they seem to have a long-term fit at the position after trading a top-18 protected 1st round pick, Andrew Bogut, and Justin Anderson to the Philadelphia 76ers for 22-year-old Nerlens Noel. You’ve definitely seen analysis on the trade by now, so we wanted to breakdown some film and see what Nerlens Noel can potentially bring to the Dallas Mavericks. Continue reading “What does Nerlens Noel bring to the Dallas Mavericks?”
The Oklahoma City Thunder failed to make the playoffs last year, torpedoed by an injury to superstar Kevin Durant. Now, they face a surging defending champion in Golden State, who have come back from a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7 in the Conference Finals. I’m going to preview the much-anticipated finale to this series for each team, touching on what each squad can do to return to the Finals against LeBron James and the Cavs. Continue reading “OKC Thunder at GS Warriors – Game 7 Western Conference Finals”
After signing a 5 year max deal with Brooklyn (and spurning the Mavs), Williams dealt with injury and motivation issues. He played a step slow and steadily declined from his production as one of the top 2 point guards in the league. Popular opinion shifted to “How lucky is Dallas to have avoided Deron Williams?” now, 3 years later, Deron sought a buyout of his large contract and joined Dallas on a discount deal. Dallas hopes that Williams can thrive in their high tempo and IQ offense, and bring some stability to the backcourt on defense.
Rashad Vaughn’s College Stats
Rashad Vaughn’s Las Vegas Summer League Stats
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Rashad Vaughn is good at basketball. Like, really good. At the age of 19, he has a firm grasp on the art of scoring which would not look out of place among some of the more effective scorers in the league today. This is even more impressive because from a physical standpoint, while Vaughn has some good size to play the 2, he doesn’t really stand out athletically. He’s not all that quick, nor is he a flashy dunker. In fact, he tore his left meniscus in February, but he bounced back well enough to put up comparable numbers to his lone college season while in Summer League.
Justin Anderson’s Las Vegas Summer League Stats
Team: Dallas Mavericks
At the end of my last prospect breakdown for Maurice Ndour, I remarked that, “I like Ndour on the Mavericks as a long term development project. What he brings to Dallas is what their front office has started to recognize as an extremely valuable trait in the modern NBA- versatility.”
Versatility is the key word of the modern NBA. Players that have extraordinary physical tools and can defend multiple positions/score from multiple parts of the floor are so coveted that one of them just won Finals MVP.
Justin Anderson, or Simba, is a high floor prospect who has a prime opportunity to become a solid wing player given the minutes he’ll likely receive near the beginning of the season. He had a standout performance in Summer League and anchored the best defense in the nation at Virginia, and now he’s headed to the Dallas Mavericks as one of the best prospects they’ve drafted in the Cuban era.
So excuse me for my excitement.
Maurice Ndour’s Las Vegas Summer League Stats
Team: Dallas Mavericks
[Editorial Comment: Ndour has not cut his hair, the introduction to this article mistook Ndour and Jarrid Famous]
I was disappointed to see Ndour’s new haircut in this video from Mavs.com. Rest in peace, dreadlocks… You will be missed.
Really though, Maurice’s hair isn’t the only intriguing part of his repertoire: his physical tools are unique for a Power Forward, I mean the guy is 6’8″ without shoes and has a 7’4″ wingspan. His lateral ability and overall quickness are things you just can’t teach, and as you can see below, those tools are definitely working in his favor. Continue reading “Prospect Breakdown: Maurice Ndour”
Free Agents: Jason Maxiell (Unrestricted)
The Hornets took a big step towards relevance in 2013, but then promptly erased all of their momentum last season. In all fairness, GM Rich Cho really did make an effort that garnered some praise, but the gamble he took on Lance Stephenson failed immensely. Not only that, but Al Jefferson couldn’t replicate the success he had the season prior, in part because of nagging injury issues. It was up to Mo Williams, of all people, to save them from further embarrassment. Continue reading “2015 Offseason Preview: Charlotte Hornets”
Free Agents: None
It seems hard to believe, but the Jazz could very well be finished rebuilding. They’ve established a solid core with the exile of Kanter, which allows Gobert to be a perennial candidate for defensive player of the year. Questions are still abound, however – ones that Utah will eventually have to address in the long term.
For starters, Trey Burke still has shown nothing of note. In fact, due to his sheer defensive awfulness, he might just be a net negative. How long, in that case, can the Jazz continue to show faith to their starting point guard who was supposed to be in it for the long haul? And the almost as equally maligned Exum wasn’t so impressive, either. Fear not for Exum, however; he was just a 19 year old rookie coming from Australia, and advanced metrics even suggest that he brought a solid defensive presence to the team (or at least, miles better than the one from Burke). It’s way too early to cast him out, and I would expect to see his game leap as he becomes more confident in taking his chances at driving to the basket. Gordon Hayward is a borderline star who was the heart of the Jazz’s effectiveness, and his two-way play makes his current contract a bargain even before the salary cap jump. The return of Alec Burks will undoubtedly ease some of the scoring load off of Hayward, too; the stats from the first few seasons that DeMar DeRozan has played are comparable to those of Burks’ career. Derrick Favors has proven his ability as a defensive stalwart second only to Gobert, and can only grow from here, particularly on the offensive end. Favors exhibited more promise than the likes of other athletic big men by showing off a mid-range game, and more importantly, excelling at converting easy baskets close to the rim. Last, but not least, Gobert is set to have a full season of locking down everybody in sight now that Kanter’s toxic antics are just a memory. We might even see Gobert whip out a jump shot here and there next season, thanks to his focus on adding that component to his game over the off-season (he’s reportedly meeting Dirk Nowitzki’s shooting coach, Holger Geschwindner, to get a few pointers).
In the draft, the Jazz selected prospects Trey Lyles and Olivier Hanlan with the 12th and 42nd picks, respectively. Trey Lyles is considered to be one of the most intriguing prospects of the draft; although he is only a 19 year old freshman coming out of Kentucky, he already has NBA-ready size – he weighs 241 pounds, stands 6’10” in shoes, and possesses an enormous 9’0” standing reach. He’s quick enough to take advantage of traditional big men, and his soft touch around the basket coupled with his long arms is a good reason as to why he finishes so well in the paint. He is, however, an average athlete, and defense is not one of Lyles’ calling cards. Unless he can improve on that end, as well as work on the shooting touch that he showed flashes of in college, he comes across as a Terrence Jones type. That’s still a good rotation piece, and Lyles could get minutes coming off the bench for Favors. Ultimately, his youth is a big reason as to why the outlook on his career is optimistic. The first of Utah’s second round picks, Hanlan, is a 6’4” junior and combo guard from Boston College. Hanlan had a solid career at Boston, and is a polished prospect – both his scoring and distributing numbers are impressive enough for the Jazz to take a chance on. Still, the competition is stout at both guard slots, and the Jazz already have equally-as-impressive Bryce Cotton (who made waves towards the end of last season with his athletic play). Hanlan has received comparisons to CJ McCollum and Devin Harris, but only time will tell with regards to how he will actually pan out in the NBA.
From here on, the Jazz might be content to set pat. Their only free agents were Joe Ingles and Jeremy Evans; Ingles didn’t show anything overly special in his rookie year, but Utah seems committed to keeping him around, and brought him back for two more years. At the very least, all his years of experience in Australia and Europe have him very poised to the game, and the idea of Ingles as a point-forward seems enticing on paper. Evans, on the other hand, is one of the league’s better kept secrets, and was scooped away by the Mavericks for two years of the veteran minimum. At the very least, Utah will miss his presence as a positive locker room influence. But ultimately, it seems as if it was time to move on; Evans wasn’t going to get very many minutes with the Jazz, as has been the case for almost his entire career, and better talent just came up to push him further out of the depth chart.
Prediction: The Jazz have done well in building their current team, and keeping the band together for a few more seasons seems like a good idea. If they can build upon the previous synergy the team had after booting Kanter, the Jazz could be an elite defensive team next season. Keep in mind, however, the Jazz had one of the toughest schedules in the league before trading away Kanter, and their workload became significantly easier afterwards. I wouldn’t bet against Gobert, but it’s entirely possible that his impact was a little overstated. And while the Jazz started to win against playoff teams, going that late into the season, most of those teams weren’t playing at full capacity due to injuries or rest. I’ll predict the Jazz can make a very real push for the 8th seed thanks to their awesome frontcourt, a possible improvement from Exum, and Quin Snyder’s great coaching tactics, but this won’t be their year. Still, Utah is an up-and-coming team.
Free Agents: None
“There can only be one state of mind as you approach any profound test; total concentration, a spirit of togetherness, and strength.”
Nobody can seem to agree upon the Heat. Some people think Pat Riley has come out of nowhere to build a dark horse contender, and others believe that the Heat are being trumped up far too much. The upcoming season should ultimately prove who is right, and while the Heat are looking almost complete, they aren’t quite finished transforming.
The only free agent Miami decided to not keep was Michael Beasley, whose team option was declined. This isn’t a big surprise, Beasley’s defense was abysmal as always, and he didn’t shoot particularly well. In any case, a hearty round of applause should be extended to Riley for managing to re-sign Dragic while convincing him to leave some money on the table. Dragic might’ve had a down year when compared to his world-beating 13-14 campaign, but he came from a toxic situation in Phoenix and had to adjust to Spoelstra’s schemes on the fly. $90 million over 5 years is a lot more palatable than a $109 million deal over the same time period, especially with the rising salary cap, and the fact that Dragic will be 34 at the end of his deal. Luol Deng also accepted his player option, which can be seen as a win for Miami in light of their other moves. When Deng was off the floor, the Heat had an Offensive Rating of 98.0 (would rank 2nd worst), and when he was on the floor, the Heat had an ORTG of 108.2 (would rank top 12). Deng also shot a career high on eFG%, and the rest of his stats managed to keep in line with his career averages. Although one wonders how much slippage his defense might’ve seen, it’s unfair to judge Deng for his past two seasons – he was stuck in a no-win situation on the Cavs two years ago, and the many injuries last season halted Miami from creating a defensive identity. This all leads up to the decision of Wade, who made it clear he wanted to be paid after years of sacrifice, just like how Bosh was given big money not to leave for Houston. Wade opted out and gave Heat fans a real scare, but eventually was able to come to terms with a one year deal for $20 million. He still isn’t the highest paid player on the team (that honor belongs to Bosh), but it is certainly indicative of the respect that the organization feels for the greatest player in their team history. The scary thing is, this is actually closer to market value than one would imagine, if it weren’t for Wade’s spotty health.
Many will argue that Miami has won the draft, by stealing Justise Winslow with the 10th pick, and selecting Josh Richardson at 40. Winslow is somewhat undersized for a small forward, standing at 6’4.5” without shoes, but thankfully being bestowed with a 6’10” wingspan. Coming from Duke, Winslow has achieved legitimate success as a starter on Mike Krzyzewski’s championship squad. He averaged 12.6 points in only 29 minutes per game on a 48.5 FG%, 41.4 3PT% (with an impressive 2.8 threes attempted per game), and going 64.1% from the free throw line. Winslow also stuffed the stat sheet with 6.5 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, a block, and just under 2 turnovers per game. Being only 19 years old, the all-around game that Winslow has displayed is no small feat, and he is sure to receive some minutes right from the outset. Winslow can guard multiple positions from both a one-on-one and team perspective, and his rebounding ability should serve him well versus smaller power forwards. Still, sheer power won’t work so well for an athlete like Winslow when he squares up against the big dogs of the league, and despite his efficiency, Winslow isn’t the best at creating for himself or others. Finally, his shooting could be a fluke – although he improved upon his shot mechanics heading into college, he still had his struggles at the free throw line, which doesn’t really occur for proven NBA shooters (exceptions like Bruce Bowen do exist, however). Miami’s other pick, Josh Richardson, is no mere throwaway. The senior out of Tennessee has improved upon his game every year in college, finally exploding for 16 points in 36 minutes per game last season, and shooting 36% from three on 4 attempts per game. Richardson made sizeable improvements in his game on a yearly basis except for his two point shooting and his shot blocking (which is mostly irrelevant for a shooting guard). Clearly, to improve his three point shot and his free throws shows a lot of hard work, which could take him all the way to a major rotational role in a few years.
The Heat are trying to rid themselves of Chalmers, Andersen, and reportedly even Napier and McRoberts at the right price. Presumably, this would be to clear up space for the epic free agency after next season, but Chalmers and Andersen are both expiring contracts, anyway. Perhaps the front office has decided the two are out of place, and peddling them off to another team for practically nothing would be a move of addition by subtraction. After all, Chalmers will eventually have to give way to Napier, and Andersen’s effectiveness in anything more than limited minutes has been steadily decreasing (he just turned 37!). McRoberts would be a nice piece off Miami’s bench, but his upcoming salary of $5.7 million after next season is enough to break the bank- Zach Lowe states that he’s reportedly being offered for one or two 2nd round picks. As much as I want to say that I don’t see the point in trading away Napier because of his subpar rookie season, it wouldn’t look like an awful move if he were to be shipped away. I mean, any team in the league would absolutely rid themselves of Napier if it meant enough money to sway Kevin Durant with.
Prediction: If Wade can stay healthy, this team is back in the playoffs for sure. If Bosh comes back strong from his life threatening blood clots, he’ll be enough to make the Heat climb another few rungs on the playoffs ladder. Hassan Whiteside has been gaining national recognition for his defensive abilities, and don’t be surprised if he comes into the season as a more polished post player (perhaps with a jump shot, too). Dragic’s offensive versatility is a great fit next to Wade, and if he shoot at least in the high 30s from three, Miami becomes that much harder to guard. If Deng doesn’t face a severe drop in athletic skill, he can continue to provide the Heat with valuable all-around play. That being said, I just listed a bunch of ‘ifs’. Things might not turn out that way, and the health of that lineup is suspect, Wade especially. This isn’t even beginning to mention the state of the Heat’s bench; a rookie and someone who just missed a year due to injury (Winslow and McRoberts) might turn out to be the 6th and 7th men on this team… which is to say things could real ugly, real quick. The young guns in Napier and Ennis could be featured in larger roles if either one of them were to break out, but the opposite is just as likely. Finally, Tyler Johnson has improved leaps and bounds, it might be time to unleash his scoring prowess upon the league, even if he doesn’t offer quite as much bang as some would expect. With health, this team can be top four in the conference material, but otherwise? Maybe more of the same – the Heat would toil in mediocrity as the injuries and emphasized weakness of the bench brings down the team. In any case, I’m confident in Miami finishing within in the 4th seed range, and gaining a second round appearance, maybe even a shot at the chip.
Free Agents: Ryan Hollins (Unrestricted), Andre Miller (U), Reggie Evans (U)
Even when compared to the Knicks and Sixers, I would have to say the Kings are the biggest joke in the league right now. With more subterfuge than a House of Cards episode going on between George Karl, Vlade Divac, and DeMarcus Cousins, they were truly the messiest team heading into free agency.
Declaring the Cousins project a failure and blowing up a team that maybe, just maybe, started to go places is a sadly valid option. The end result of that path was widely thought to be sending Boogie to the Lakers for ten cents on the dollar, but now that all depends on the Roy Hibbert trade. Otherwise, the Celtics could very well pounce with their “Godfather” offer now, and it could happen if tempers irrevocably flare once more. If Ranadive (or Divac, who knows?) instead decides to can Karl, perhaps a new coach can be chosen with Cousins’ approval. Giving him that kind of authority is a dangerous game, but it beats the embarrassment of having to start all over again. Sacramento’s currently a hodgepodge of ill-fitting talent who should be enough to sway Cousins to stay, but the players they have acquired are very questionable. Rondo came off of an awful year with the Celtics and Mavericks, and by all means was a terrible offensive player (although he did arguably provide great defense). George Karl clearly has a history of butting heads with players, and if he slights Rondo, the situation becomes very toxic. This either makes Collison a bench player, or he starts next to Rondo – both are awkward fits. McLemore is still hated by advanced stats, but has improved, maybe enough to be a nice piece off the bench. Clearly, he hasn’t shown any starter-level play. The new addition of Belinelli specifically catered to Rondo, and while his three point ability hasn’t wavered, he was an awful defensive player for the Spurs. Rudy Gay turned in a decent season for Sacramento, but his value is capped. While he’s a fine volume scorer and adequate rebounder, he doesn’t provide much in the way of defense, and will look to play more power forward next to Cousins. This hasn’t worked well in the past, but if the whole team goes small, we could witness a shift in the effectiveness that Gay has at power forward.
With the 6th pick in the draft, Sacramento chose Willie Cauley-Stein. WCS is not, as many think, an admission that Cousins will inevitably be traded – many have noted that he provides the defensive presence and athleticism the Kings have sorely lacked (at the draft combine, he reportedly recorded a maximum vertical of 37 inches and stands 7’1” in shoes). This moves Cousins to his preferred position at power forward if Cauley-Stein is a day one starter (unlikely with Karl’s coaching methods). He’s a high risk/high reward player, who also showed off some nice shooting range with Kentucky, and he could be one of the very best players to come out of the draft. On the flip side, Cauley-Stein has a history of concerning leg injuries which gave teams some pause, but if he can work through those, he is absolutely the prototypical defensive big the Kings could use. I would peg him as a Tyson Chandler type, which could be very useful in the future.
The Kings have parted ways with Derrick Williams, but there’s no real love lost here; Williams was mostly atrocious in Sacramento, and definitely needed a change of scenery. Andre Miller has drawn interest from teams outside of the Kings, and they could stand to lose out on his services if he values winning a ring. Ryan Hollins provided, more or less, a warm body and six fouls a night – he doesn’t inspire much confidence as a presence on either end of the floor. Finally, if Reggie Evans is overlooked by contenders and pseudo-contenders alike, he could be picked back up by Sac-town; his rebounding numbers were as strong as you’d expect, despite his advanced age and limited minutes. Yet, with their remaining cap space (created by the atrocious deal that sent Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, and a protected 1st round pick to the Sixers + the right for Philly to swap 1st round picks with them in two future drafts), they have been spurned by a multitude of free agents, including Monta Ellis and Wesley Matthews. Rudy Gay has gone on the record to state that he’d be happy with recruiting Josh Smith from the Rockets to join his team, as the two are good friends. The collection of Kentucky players (from which Rondo and Cauley-Stein also hail) are going to go a long way in mending Cousins’ trust with the team. Smith could also be a legitimate option for the Kings when they go small, as the Rockets successfully displayed with his talents in the playoffs.
Prediction: I don’t see this panning out well at all for Sacramento. The defensive talent on the team doesn’t sound reassuring, and Rondo has been gumming up offenses for years. Even when a team ‘caters’ to his strengths, his sheer presence as a space-killer nullifies most of his work. Cauley-Stein is still a rookie, and therefore, not much can be expected of him in terms of transcendent play. Belinelli will get nowhere near the looks he got in San Antonio, and the Gay-Cousins experiment was only truly outstanding when Isaiah Thomas shared the floor with him. If Karl stays on the team, he runs the risk of alienating Rondo, Collison, and Cousins for a litany of reasons. If he is fired, the talent pool of coaching is just about as unproven as it gets, and Calipari would be a longshot to acquire, anyway. Despite mortgaging the future of their draft picks, I see this team regressing even further in light of the western conference contenders upgrading yet again, and DeMarcus Cousins might seriously think about leaving. For now, the burden of proof lies upon Sacramento.