Apr 17, 2014 8:08 PM EDT
In a society where patience has gone out the window and only instant gratification matters, the poor play of the 2013 rookie class has many ready to write them off entirely. But while there isn’t an Anthony Davis in the bunch, this year’s draft had plenty of good young players who, for a variety of reasons, were not ready to make an immediate impact in the NBA. With so many freshman and sophomores taken in the lottery, the draft is a long-term project anyway.
If you look at this year’s lottery as a whole, one thing stands out. If a team is good enough to contend for a playoff spot, it’s hard for a rookie to get minutes. If a team is bad enough to where they can afford to give rookie a bunch of minutes, he will be putting up inefficient numbers on a bad team. From a statistical perspective, it’s hard for a rookie to be impressive in either situation. Chalk it up as a learning experience for all these guys.
1) Anthony Bennett: Pretty much nothing has gone right for Bennett since he was the surprise No. 1 pick last June. The GM who drafted him has already been fired, while shoulder surgery in the offseason caused him to show up to training camp out of shape. It was hard for him to find minutes on a Cleveland team that thought it was contending for the playoffs, and when he got on the floor, he didn’t do much besides hoist up a lot of shots and play abysmal defense.
The first thing he needs to do is get in better shape, since there aren’t many 6’8 260 forwards in the NBA. He has the talent - in college, he showed a rare combination of explosiveness, ball-handling and shooting ability for a 6’8 guy. The biggest challenge for him is learning how to impact the game without having the ball in his hands. The Cavs guards aren’t moving the ball too much - if you are going to score, you had better rebound, run the floor and move off the ball.
2) Victor Oladipo: Oladipo had a solid rookie season for a Magic team that had nothing but time to develop him. Going forward, the question is whether they commit to developing him as a PG or move him off the ball. While he has the length and athleticism to swing between both guard positions, he averaged only 4.1 assists on 3.2 turnovers as a rookie, an indication of a player not comfortable creating offense for others. Who they draft with their two lottery picks in 2014 will say a lot.
3) Otto Porter: Like Bennett, Porter hit the trifecta for a rough rookie season. He was drafted to a team with playoff aspirations, he had multiple veterans ahead of him on the depth chart and he got injured in training camp. He essentially took a redshirt season as a rookie, which isn’t the worst thing for a 20-year old who needs to put some weight on his frame. Porter has plenty of skill, the question is whether there will be minutes and touches for him in Washington next season.
4) Cody Zeller: The unexpected emergence of Josh McRoberts consigned Zeller to a small role as a rookie, playing 17 minutes a game behind McRoberts and Al Jefferson upfront. Like most rookie big men, Zeller needs to put on weight in the off-season in order to survive in the NBA paint. His 73 percent mark from the free-throw line is a good sign - he needs to be an outside-in 7’0 who plays in the high post and uses the threat of the perimeter jumper to open up the drive.
5) Alex Len: Like a lot of the guys in this year’s draft, Len was the victim of his NBA team exceeding expectations as a rookie. Instead of playing for draft position, the Suns ended up in playoff contention until the last week of the season, leaving little time to develop a raw 20-year-old lottery pick. Len is big (7’1 255), athletic and reasonably skilled and he’s five years younger than Miles Plumlee, which tells you how patient you need to be with young centers.
6) Nerlens Noel: After tearing his ACL toward the end of his freshman season at Kentucky, Noel was never going to have a big rookie season in the NBA. The Philadelphia 76ers took him as a long-term project and kept him off the floor the entire season. Noel showed plenty of promise at Kentucky, but he was also incredibly skinny as well as very raw on the offense. Larry Sanders didn’t start turning the corner in the NBA until he was 24 and Noel is still only 20.
7) Ben McLemore: McLemore wasn’t in Kansas anymore as a rookie, as he went from a featured role in Bill Self’s offense to scraping for shots next to Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. He’s got the stroke and athleticism to be an excellent SG in the NBA, but he has a long way to go in terms of shot selection and not too many guys to learn from in Sacramento. Going forward, he needs to focus on defense and moving the ball and the shots will come (hopefully).
8) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Caldwell-Pope got plenty of opportunities in the dumpster fire that was the Pistons season, but he didn’t do all that much with them. With Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith clogging up the paint, Caldwell-Pope had to serve as one of their main floor spacers and he shot only 30 percent from three-point territory. Like the rest of the Pistons, he would benefit from unwinding the logjam upfront and playing with more shooters around him.
9) Trey Burke: Burke broke his finger in the preseason and by the time he returned to the lineup, the Jazz season was essentially over. No rookie in this year’s class walked into more responsibility than Burke, who played 32 minutes a night in Utah and had the ball in his hands most of the time. He made the players around him better - averaging 5.6 assists on 1.9 turnovers as a rookie - he just needs more help on the offensive end from whoever Utah drafts this season.
10) CJ McCollum: Another lottery pick whose rookie season was short-circuited before it got a chance to get going. Damian Lillard and Mo Williams do everything McCollum does but better and the Trail Blazers were contending for a homecourt advantage in the playoffs for most of the season. Williams is likely gone in the off-season, but with Lillard entrenched in Portland, the question is whether McCollum is going to play next to him or be his backup.
11) Michael Carter-Williams: One of the real surprises of this year’s rookie class, Carter-Williams had the 76ers flirting with respectability in the first few months of the season. Once they dumped Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner, leaving Thaddeus Young as the only proven NBA player in the rotation, things got real bad real quickly. No rookie was going to fix that mess and a 6’6 PG with his athleticism and floor vision has a bright future ahead of him.
12) Steven Adams: The Thunder drafted the 20-year-old Adams as a project, so the respectable numbers he gave them as a backup center were a pleasant surprise. He’s a genuinely massive human being with excellent athleticism who isn’t asked to do much on the offensive end. Of course, it also helps to be replacing Kendrick Perkins. Oklahoma City is a notoriously patient franchise - they are probably grooming Adams to be the starter when Perkins contract is up in 2015.
13) Kelly Olynyk: After a dominant showing in Summer League, Olynyk was hit with a taste of reality in the NBA. While he put up good offensive numbers and he rebounded the ball well coming off the bench, he was never really in contention for ROY. The question is how he fits with Jared Sullinger upfront - does Boston need two offensive-minded big men who can’t move their feet on defense? There may not be minutes for them both long-term.
14) Shabazz Muhammad - Like fellow rookie Gorgui Dieng, Muhammad spent most of his first season with the Timberwolves from the bench watching the playoff push. In the limited minutes he did get, Muhammad showed one thing did translate from his UCLA days - this is a guy who knows how to get his FGA’s. Per-36 minutes, he took 17 FGA’s and made them at a 46 percent clip. Muhammad may never be a great defender, but he’ll be getting buckets off the bench for a long time.
Apr 15, 2014 6:33 PM EDT
Calibrating expectations for your core coming out of a first promising playoff run is one of the most challenging tasks a franchise must confront.
There is considerable risk in falling in love with the potential of your own players, convincing yourself to do nothing major, while a trade of a key component for a finishing piece endangers the status quo.
The Chicago Bulls won two games in the first round of the 2006 NBA Playoffs against the eventual champion Miami Heat. Luol Deng was becoming one of the league’s best emerging jack of all trades at just 20 years old, while Ben Gordon was a promising 22-year-old individual scorer. Tyson Chandler fit with the roster in regards to his age, 23, but he appeared to be slowing in his development after his fifth NBA regular season and an awful playoff series against the Heat.
The Bulls were positively in love with Deng at that point and their bold move to instantly improve their playoff chances was to sign a 32-year-old Ben Wallace away from a division rival. Wallace had won Defensive Player of the Year in four of the previous five seasons, but while a $60 million commitment over four seasons while trading away Chandler did send the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2007, and to be in position to nearly trade for Kobe Bryant, it also compromised any chance of becoming a sustainable contender with that core.
The Bulls won just 33 games in 07-08 in a disastrous season in which they traded away Wallace and won the lottery to draft Derrick Rose.
The Golden State Warriors were in a similar position last offseason after taking the San Antonio Spurs to six games in the Western Conference Semifinals. But with David Lee’s 2016 expiring contract virtually untradeable and clogging up any potential cap space, Bob Myers had limited paths to improve the roster.
While the Warriors were also a longshot pursuer of Dwight Howard, a deal came together for the Warriors to clear enough cap space to sign Andre Iguodala by sending the contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson (brazenly acquired in order to own the pick that became Festus Ezeli) and Brandon Rush, along with first rounders in 2014 and 2017 to the Utah Jazz.
Iguodala became the Warriors’ version of Ben Wallace, an older player that would accelerate their timeline of contention while also shortening its potential shelf life. Iguodala has been outstanding this season, ranking third in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus, and vastly improving the Warriors’ perimeter defense. Iguodala is a huge net positive and his versatility allows the Warriors to simply play Stephen Curry on the weakest of the three opposing perimeter players. Iguodala has been remarkably healthy throughout his career and has the type of game that should age well similar to someone like Shawn Marion.
With the addition of Iguodala and nearly a full season from Andrew Bogut, the Warriors jumped from 14th in defensive efficiency to 4th while remaining flat on the offensive side of the ball. A team that gives more than 3,000 combined minutes to Lee and Curry that finishes in the top-5 clearly is talented and committed as a whole to that side of the court. The Warriors haven’t been this good on defense since their second season in San Francisco when they had Wilt Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond.
Title contenders typically are in the top-10 in both offense and defense while also possessing one or more true superstars. The legitimacy of the Warriors’ title expectations begins with Curry, as he has grown into that legitimate superstar over the past 18 months while also remaining remarkably healthy. Curry will receive a ton of MVP votes this season, including a third place nod from Zach Lowe. The NBA’s biggest truism is that a superstar is needed to win a championship and the Warriors have one right now in Curry.
But even if he’s generously considered the third most valuable player in the NBA right now, he’s still a clear step below LeBron James and Kevin Durant, two players that haven’t even been able to reach the Finals without everything being absolutely right around them.
Bogut and Lee are fine players individually, but the lack of athleticism with them on the floor together limits the capabilities on offense, especially with Curry working as a playmaker off the dribble. The Warriors don’t get a ton of high percentage shots at the rim in the halfcourt, making them overly reliant on outstanding perimeter shooting.
The long-term concerns with acquiring Iguodala are how it stunted the development of Harrison Barnes and their inability to improve the roster with the loss of draft picks and without cap space.
Barnes has been an unmitigated disappointment this season, lacking all confidence and production following a promising playoff performance when he looked like a deluxe small-ball power forward. Those issues that plagued him at North Carolina and caused his stock to drop returned in even a worse way.
Draymond Green has earned his way to being called the most valuable power forward on the Warriors’ roster this season with his excellent defense and versatility on offense. Coincidentally, Green was the 35th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
The Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers may be similar to the Warriors in their ability to change their roster in any meaningful way, but they all have two players that can make the overall impact of Curry, while the Warriors just have him and a bunch of very good but not great pieces.
Curry will become an unrestricted free agent in 2017 during the same offseason as Iguodala and Bogut. Those three players will be 29, 33 and 32, respectively, while Klay Thompson and Green will be 27. Lee (34) will almost certainly leave during the previous offseason and it is hard to conceive of Barnes still being around based on what we’ve seen over the past year.
That core strikes me as one that will consistently win between 45 and 55 regular games and win a playoff series here and there to top out in the Western Conference Semifinals in a good season. Without a drastic shakeup or an improbable run similar to the Mavericks in 2011 with all of those perfectly placed veterans around Dirk Nowitzki, the Warriors would be a very unlikely champion.
There’s a quote from Doc Rivers in Paul Flannery’s excellent piece that can be applied just as easily to the Warriors as the Clippers.
"The one thing that I found interesting in Boston [was] when we were losing, we were losing with a championship mindset. We're winning here without one and we have to get that mindset. It's not just the players, it's everyone. When we started winning in Boston, we just fell back into what they were. They knew. They had been about winning. Here we don't because we haven't. That will be a task."
Joe Lacob deserves credit for shifting the expectations for the Warriors, but he appears to be doing so at the expense of appropriate internal expectations.
Lacob’s history with being unrealistic in evaluating his team began when he promised a playoff berth for the Warriors in the 11-12 season that was kicked off with the Charlie Bell amnesty mistake and ended with the club tanking for Harrison Barnes.
With the Warriors in the middle of a stacked Western Conference this season, Lacob has made comments to suggest Mark Jackson has underachieved this season as head coach. While I have reservations about some of Jackson’s coaching strategies, he has his whole roster buying into him (very difficult in today’s NBA) and I can only see the Warriors as being two or three wins better over this regular season with a more widely regarded head coach like Tom Thibodeau or Rick Carlisle.
The Warriors' playoff chances now appear to be dead on arrival with Bogut out with a fractured rib. How that changes the calculus on Jackson and what the team needs to address this offseason further complicates the situation.
But the strongest attribute of Lacob as an owner seems to be his insistence on remaining in the ‘deal flow’ and that constant tinkering by Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson around Nowitzki is what eventually led to their 2011 title. Curry has a similarly unique and unguardable offensive game and that will be the Warriors' model for roster improvement for the remainder of his tenure.
Apr 15, 2014 2:19 PM EDT
The crossroads of a franchise flashed before DeMar DeRozan, a text message punched to Rudy Gay signaling two paths. DeRozan stood inside the Los Angeles locker room in December with his Toronto Raptors teammates, hugging goodbye to Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray and some reaching Gay by phone, and privately many of them wondered: What’s next?
The Raptors could have crumbled under the weight of endless questions about their futures, put Dwane Casey on severe lookout for his job and faltered toward a lottery pick – or bonded inside a tight locker room with stabilizing newcomers from the Sacramento Kings, cleansed the playbook of dense isolation sets and implement a free-flowing style that has given a raucous fan base reason to believe in sacrificing basketball.
Mostly, DeRozan had to prove the organization’s old vision of him as a cornerstone, as an efficient guard and reliable leader. He needed to mature as a two-way, inside and out player. For DeRozan, the departure of Gay had been the precise sign. His stats couldn’t be empty anymore.
Masai Ujiri had entertained a serious reconstruction of the roster before the trade deadline, as he’s publicly stated, but DeRozan had already made clear in his mind: He had to stay – and win – with the Raptors.
“There was no doubt about my future here and I never had a doubt,” DeRozan told RealGM. “It was never a thought of leaving or nothing. I took an onus of myself to step up my game, especially when the trade happened because I understood what it feels like to be in a struggle and be in a tough season. Now, we have great relationships with each other, before it comes to basketball.
“That trade was our cue that everybody has to step up. It could’ve turned real ugly, real fast.”
So now, DeRozan earns his first showing in the postseason, a premiere stage for an All-Star scorer of his ilk. Around him, Casey’s mastered the pedal on this team, cognizant of when to motivate forcefully and subtly, and Kyle Lowry instigates balanced shots and sharp ball movement.
Before a dramatic reversal of a season, Toronto had been a meddling, mediocre group. There was no choice but to jolt the players and coaches with that first trade. They had no identity, no established system – only jump-shooting tendencies, external blame for the coaching staff and a perception across the NBA of me-first attitudes.
“When I got here, I read up on the team and people were talking about how they wanted the team to tank so they could get a good draft pick,” Patrick Patterson said. “They said the ball movement wasn’t there; that players were selfish holding the ball, a lot of isos, and that it wasn’t great basketball. I was unaware of that situation, what was going on, but I’m thankful for when I got here it wasn’t like that at all. People moved the ball, averaged high assists and bought into their roles.”
They started an alluring brand of ball, and it’s in turn made them an appealing franchise with which to remain. Casey admits he owes a tremendous amount to Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes for cultivating positivity among younger players, for providing calmness amid the ups and downs of a season and eliminating any locker room divides. With DeRozan locked into his contract potentially until 2017, with a priority to re-sign Lowry and with a firm front office, two pending free agents who are critical to the rotation, Patterson and Vasquez, are immensely open to returning on long-term deals.
Winning does this for any organization. After Chris Bosh left in 2010, the Raptors dwelled toward the bottom of the league, free agents losing sight of the city’s draw and fans’ backing. And now, they’ll be a desired destination.
“I wouldn’t mind staying with the Raptors at all,” Patterson told RealGM. “Toronto is a great city, and it has great basketball fans, which surprised me the most when I got here. I didn’t know the fan support was so great in Toronto.”
“If we stay together for three, four years … woo, this team will be scary,” Vasquez said. “We just got to stay humble.”
DeRozan kept his humility through the losing seasons, but he noticed increasing detractors of his game, his contract. He never implored Gay about his similar judgments, because he said he knew, “Being overlooked comes with [the league], and you use it as motivation. That’s all I did – use negative thoughts, critics as motivation.”
DeMar has some Rudy in him – the exciting athleticism and habit to fall in love with the jumper – and Gay received a maximum contract in 2010 for this blend in his repertoire. As Gay faded farther and farther away from the rim, regaining some of his old propensities with the Kings, DeRozan has shown far more determination to use his leaping ability and strength to attack the basket.
Now, Toronto gets homecourt advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and DeRozan promises these Raptors have a measured vision of advancing. This season was spiraling in two avenues months ago, uncertainties clouding DeRozan’s future and the standing of his point guard and coach and franchise. Sure, his GM received inquiries from teams searching to pickpocket the 24-year-old.
Every one of these Raptors was on the clock to see how this core would respond and how far these once misfit parts could go, and no one continues to outlast it more than DeMar DeRozan.
Apr 12, 2014
Five bigs with radically divergent styles could conceivably become the top-five picks of the 2015 NBA Draft, though it was a big point guard that had the best individual performance at the Nike Hoop Summit.
Apr 10, 2014
Unless you have LeBron James or Kevin Durant, you're not getting anywhere without a good center. Joel Embiid is the one guy from this class who brings instant credibility to the team that drafts him.
Apr 08, 2014
The Pacers have known all along that they need George Hill, but that has never been more apparent than now. He won’t receive any votes for an individual award, unlike many of his teammates, but that’s just fine with Hill, who would rather blend into the surroundings than find himself at the forefront.
Apr 04, 2014
The Knicks, Hawks and Cavaliers in an intriguing three-team race for the eighth seed. Here is how they have managed to remain in the hunt in difficult seasons.
Apr 02, 2014
For three seasons, Xavier Henry had been a meager part and less heralded talents rose above him in rotations. He was a five-star college recruit fleeting out of a role in the NBA.
Apr 01, 2014
The Raptors have taken 82 shots in a clutch situation, but not one player accounts for even a third of those attempts. The Raptors don't have an alpha dog, as they have a number of late-game options.
Mar 27, 2014
Despite the disaster of their season, the Knicks can still carry two positives into the summer -- the addition of Phil Jackson to the front office and the play of Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Mar 26, 2014
Upon his release from the D-League, Aquille Carr started a purifying process around him, eliminating distractions and creating a gym regimen.
Mar 24, 2014
If Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker aren’t scoring, they have a hard time impacting the game. While they were eliminated, Julius Randle is in the Sweet 16 thanks to his career-high six assists against Wichita State.
Mar 17, 2014
While RealGM has an excellent database of the draft picks that have been traded between teams, we wanted to put together a summary more focused on the upcoming draft.
Mar 12, 2014
Regardless of the Kings' short and long-term future, Isaiah Thomas has carved himself a place in this league at 5-foot-9 despite the growing trend towards bigger point guards.
Mar 11, 2014
John Wall had grown so accustom to the scene: a lackluster start to the season and segments of the Wizards' locker room slowly griping. This team meeting, teammates had settled upon the chair of the franchise’s max player.
Mar 08, 2014
The extra seasoning Roy Hibbert received in four years in college as an athlete and person was vital to his eventual success. Then a plodding big man, he has transformed himself into a two-time All-Star with Defensive Player of the Year merits through hard work and patience.
Mar 05, 2014
If Scott Brooks continues to be indisposed to the idea of “small ball” and playing Kevin Durant at the 4, he would be wise to give more minutes to Nick Collison while Kendrick Perkins is injured.
Mar 05, 2014
At Sloan, two of the most interesting panels dealt with the machinations of high-level negotiations between teams, and the problem of teams tanking which can be defined in two degrees of severity.
Mar 04, 2014
Most players have very little control over their destination for their first two NBA contracts, but the third contract creates a complete shift in power dynamics.
Mar 04, 2014
At this point, Kevin Murphy has done basically all he can do to earn a 10-day contract in the NBA. He hopes to continue winning in Boise for the time being, but the obvious goal is to earn another chance in the NBA.
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