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MCW & Giannis: Why The Eye Test Still Matters

A year later, if the NBA could do a redraft of 2013, two guys would go a lot higher - Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Carter-Williams, after leading Syracuse to the Final Four as a sophomore, slipped to the Philadelphia 76ers at No. 11, due to concerns about his jumper and his offensive efficiency in college. Giannis was the mystery man of the draft, a Greek teenager with no real experience or statistics who the Milwaukee Bucks took at No. 15.

It didn’t take long for MCW to make a splash. In his NBA debut, he led the 76ers to an upset of the two-time defending champions with a preposterous stat-line of 22 points, 7 rebounds, 12 assists and 9 steals. Philadelphia became the feel good story of the league, although injuries and a fire sale at the deadline soon put a damper on that. MCW, one of the only rookies in position to rack up statistics, took a commanding lead in the ROY race and never looked back.

Giannis came on a bit more slowly, but he soon became the only reason to watch Milwaukee Bucks games. At 6’9 210 with a 7’3 wingspan, his length and quickness jump off the screen. Like MCW, a 6’6 PG with a 6’7 wingspan, Giannis came into the NBA a one of the longest and most athletic players at his position. That’s why they were both successful as rookies and they have such promising futures - they are really long and really fast. It’s not more complicated than that.

If they were more athletes than basketball players, their physical tools wouldn’t be so remarkable. However, since they do have the skills necessary to play their respective positions, they have a huge advantage over everyone they face. The best players in the NBA tend to be the ones with above-average height and speed for their position. All things being equal, the taller player has a huge advantage in a sport where the nets are raised 10 feet in the air.

At 6’6, MCW is the tallest PG in the league, so he has a much easier time racking up assists, steals, rebounds and blocks than his peers. Even though he can’t shoot, you don’t see many PG’s who can impact the game in as many ways as he can. He isn’t doing anything different in the NBA than he was doing in college - he averaged 12 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists a game at Syracuse. You just don’t see a player with his combination of skills, size and athleticism very often.

Once the draft came around, though, people focused more on what he couldn’t do than what he could. With the rise of advanced metrics, efficiency became the most prized asset in a prospect and MCW shot only 39 percent from the field in college. The real problem was his college offense - Syracuse played a 2-3 zone, which slowed down the tempo of the game, and they didn’t have a lot of shooters on the perimeter, which allowed defenses to crowd him on the drive.

MCW was an “eye test” guy all the way. When he faced Indiana in the Sweet 16, he tore up Victor Oladipo, another future lottery pick. MCW was too tall, too fast and too quick - he could go wherever he wanted on the court and create easy shots for all of his teammates. The scouting report is the same then as it is now - if he ever consistently made 3’s, he would be one of the best players in the NBA. Even if he didn’t, his size and speed would make him a productive player.

Philadelphia was an excellent landing spot for him in terms of racking up statistics, but he would have made an immediate impact on almost every team in the lottery. If Marcus Smart had stayed in the draft, the domino effect would likely have pushed MCW down to No. 13, where the Dallas Mavericks were set to pick him up. MCW on the pick-and-roll with Dirk Nowitzki would have been unfair - his skill-set would have made a lot of teams better this season.

The same principles apply to Giannis. There are a few NBA players who are as long and as fast as him, but there is no one who is longer and faster. That’s what the “eye test” really means - are you able to see that Giannis is really tall, really fast and really long? Congratulations, your eyes still function. When judging Giannis, there was nothing else for teams to go on. Before the draft, he was playing for the U19 team on a lower division club in Greece.

Unlike most international prospects, Giannis had not been in international competitions or played at the Hoop Summit. The son of Nigerians who had illegally immigrated to Greece, he didn’t have a passport for most of his childhood. His story is like something out of a Disney movie - a coach riding his bike spotted him and one of his brothers in a park. Even after he declared, most people assumed he would go to Spain for 1-2 years before even thinking about the NBA.

Before the draft, the only film you could watch on Giannis was a few of his youth-league playoff games that DraftExpress posted on YouTube. There were no statistics and the level of competition wasn’t great, probably not better than a high-school state tournament in the US. The film was grainy, but Giannis was running point, making ridiculous passes and handling the ball at a very high level. It didn’t matter who he was playing - the physical tools translated.

When you see a 6’9 player with elite length, skill and athleticism, you have to figure he is a pretty good at basketball. The same goes for an athletic 6’6 PG with MCW’s skill-set. When you are evaluating young players, the statistics can only tell you so much. In Giannis’ case, there were no statistics to go on at all. Nevertheless, there are still ways to find steals in the draft - look for the tallest, longest and most athletic guys at each position. It’s really that simple.

The Eastern Conference At The Deadline

Thursday at the NBA trade deadline, we saw a total of 26 players, seven second round draft picks, and zero blockbuster trades. On Friday, we covered how the 10 players that ended up on West teams will shape the playoff race, and now we are looking at the 16 that were sent to the D-League…whoops, I meant the Eastern Conference.

While the Western teams made a few smart, calculated trades to improve depth (Steve Blake to the Warriors) and cut costs (possible buyout for Jason Terry from the Kings), the East had the biggest deals of the deadline. The East deals included the only two All-Stars dealt (Antawn Jamison and Danny Granger), the two best players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), and the smartest player (Professor Andre Miller, PhD).

The Brooklyn Nets traded their disappointing – but playoff tested – guard, Jason Terry, for the Sacramento Kings' disappointing – and never played in a playoff game – guard, Marcus Thorton. Thorton, who once averaged 21.3 points per game, is a solid sixth man and capable of scoring in bunches when needed though he has struggled badly this season. He will likely provide relief for Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson down the stretch of the season. However, adding his extra $730,000 in salary means paying a ridiculous $3.3 million in tax, bringing their total to over $88 million on taxes alone…for a team that won’t get out of the first round.

The Cleveland Cavaliers traded for 76ers' center, Spencer Hawes. He will likely anchor their team right to where they were destined to be before they traded for him…the lottery. Hawes is a talented 7-footer who leads all centers in three-pointers made and percentage, is an elite passer for his position, a good scorer and rebounder, and a capable body on defense when he cares. Forced to play on a hapless Philadelphia team, Hawes had no reason to try over the past few months, but as he heads into free agency this offseason, expect his production to go back up for the Cavs. Despite the addition of Hawes and recently acquired Luol Deng, this team is unfortunately still coached by Mike Brown, suggesting they are likely doomed to miss the playoffs and then ultimately lose Hawes and Deng to free agency for nothing.

Professor Andre Miller, PhD left his classroom for winter break on December 30th and has been M.I.A. ever since. However, after being traded to the Washington Wizards, you can rest assured Professor Miller will be making a teaching once again. Miller, who was restless under indecisive rookie head coach Brian Shaw will be a capable backup behind John Wall, likely helping lead this Wizards team to homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Charlotte Bobcats made a good deal at the trade deadline. Say it with me: “The Bobcats did something right.” They traded valuable but redundant point guard, Ramon Sessions to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Jeff Adrian for Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal. Ridnour is a terrific backup point guard who can play behind or with Kemba Walker, while Neal is an outstanding shooter who won an NBA Finals game last season by scoring 24 points in 25 minutes!

In the only move that might affect the NBA Finals this season, the Pacers trading former All-Star forward, Danny Granger to the 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. Turner is a do-it-all forward who has fallen out of favor league-wide because he has failed to live up to the hype of a second overall pick. Turner should play with the first unit as well as anchor the second for the Pacers. His ball handling will allow George Hill, Paul George and CJ Watson to get free and take uncontested shots while giving them insurance –albeit expensive at an $8.7 million qualifying offer or whatever long-term offer he receives – in case Lance Stephenson leaves in free agency. Additionally, Allen started in the playoffs only two seasons ago and is a capable big man off the bench. Most importantly, Larry “The Legend” Bird signed off on this trade, thus, it must be great.

The last set of trades involved the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks. Each team gave up players that weren’t part of their future and received cash, second round draft picks, and laundry service for a year in exchange for helping another team out. The Heat traded Roger Mason Jr. and cash for a pick they will likely never see in order to open a roster spot for Caron Butler (Tuff Juice wants to go home!). The 76ers, who were involved in a league-high four deals during the trade deadline ended up with five second round draft picks and five players that won’t be buying property in Philadelphia. Finally, the Hawks acquired Antawn Jamison from the Clippers and enough cash to take him out to a nice dinner before buying out his contract.

Compared to the four West teams that made a deadline deal, eight of the top ten Eastern franchises made a deal with only Chicago and Detroit remaining inactive. Whether this reflects the fragility of the Eastern Conference standings (5th place through 11th is separated by just 5.5 games), or the strength of the mighty teams in the West (3rd place in the East would be 10th in the West) is anyone’s guess. With that said, all these moves outside of Indiana and Miami are moot because none of them are making the Eastern Conference Finals.

Indiana Pacers Vs. Miami Heat, Round III starts May 20th – Get ready, America!

Nate Wolters Continuing Unheralded Ascent

Nate Wolters was minutes into being drafted into the NBA in June, and the franchise that selected him with the No. 38 pick – the Washington Wizards – had already traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers. For 15 minutes on draft night, Wolters believed this would be his new team, that he’d report to the Philadelphia organization within the next few days.

“I thought I was going to Philadelphia, and my agent texted me, so I never thought I was going to Washington,” Wolters told RealGM. “It was kind of surreal when I think about it.”

Palpable relief and enjoyment filled Wolters, and he learned soon that it took a second trade to place him in a strong circumstance. Less than a half-hour later that night, John Hammond and the Milwaukee Bucks’ front office pulled off a deal to acquire Wolters.

“I’m happy I’m here,” Wolters said. “It’s definitely a pretty good situation.”

As it turns out, the Bucks executed a shrewd move in dealing for Wolters, and the 22-year-old has the look of a steady, reliable point guard long into his NBA life. He doesn’t lean on his athleticism, but rather his elusive craftiness and smart decision-making, especially as a cautious passer early in his career.

Four years at South Dakota State crafted Wolters into a confident ball handler, and he concedes he’s continuing to surprise people. He’s put up a staggering 34 assists to five turnovers through six games as a pro, a first-year player’s model of a nearly perfect quarterback rating. His coach, Larry Drew, and veterans have been enamored by his work ethic, his wise approach already. As Drew says, “Nate’s a gamer.”

Yes, injuries to Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight have allowed Wolters to take a larger role than he imagined this rapidly, but he’s limited a category – turnovers – that most rookie point guards pile up.

“I’m taking care of the ball pretty well, but I’m also being careful trying not to make mistakes,” Wolters said. “It’s a really small sample size, so we’ll see how it goes moving forward. We’ve got a lot of good players too. I’m learning what I can do, what I can’t do.”

Growing up in Minnesota, Wolters had been fond of Steve Nash and carefully watched his calculating approach, and he laughs when someone mentions that he could emulate his game after the two-time MVP. Even so, Wolters has layers of the court vision that Nash perfected and he still tunes into games Nash plays with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“When Nash is on, he’s one of my favorite players to watch,” Wolters said.

Wolters made his NBA debut at Madison Square Garden and remembers an early sequence when he crossed over his defender, drove to the rim, and was met by Tyson Chandler who bothered his shot release. He quickly learned: This isn’t college basketball anymore. These are physical big men lurking for him.

“When you get in the lane, it’s not 6-7, 6-8 guys, like in college. It’s seven-footers,” Wolters said. “I have to be a little more crafty, and it’s a harder finish, a lot harder to get shots off in the lane. Those lessons and this opportunity will definitely help as my career goes forward. There’s a lot to learn still, but each game I feel I’m getting more comfortable.”

From an under the radar collegiate career at South Dakota State University to the second round of the NBA draft, the first trade, then another, was so surreal for him. Fifteen minutes after the 76ers landed him from the Wizards, the Milwaukee Bucks pushed to acquire Nate Wolters, and they brought a guard hardened out of the Midwest a little closer to home. 

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