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Why The Warriors Should Trade For Kevin Love This Summer

After reporting that Kevin Love may be on the market for the first time in his career, a wide variety of teams have surfaced as potential landing spots. The pursuit of Love differs from some other major sweepstakes because the current Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it functionally impossible for him to sign a long-term extension as part of any trade. That means we could see this saga continue in some form even if he wears a different uniform in November, similar to what happened with Dwight Howard and Chris Paul in recent years.

While there should be 29 teams interested in one of the league’s best players, many franchises fall out of contention for a trade because of lack of compelling assets or unwillingness to trade what it would take to get him. Of the remaining teams, the Golden State Warriors stand out because they possess the pieces to make a move without sabotaging their present or future, while also fitting Love’s strengths and weaknesses with their remaining roster.

How Kevin Love would help in the immediate

While Kevin Love’s primary weakness sticks out like a sore thumb, his strengths are legitimately impressive. Simply put, he has been one of the ten best offensive players in the entire league for the last few seasons long before his likely peak. If you like Offensive Rating, his last two healthy seasons were two of the 20 best over the last three years for players with a heavier offensive load.

PER? #7 and #14 even if you relax the restrictions a little more. Love also stands out because he makes that impact from the power forward position, a rarity even as the position evolves and gets deeper. I should also note that in most circumstances a player gets more efficient when lowering the proportion of possessions he uses, something even more likely happen with better teammates, especially one like Stephen Curry who can do so much damage with the ball in his hands. Shouldering less of the load could help Love on both ends of the floor.

The stats are there but what makes Love far more interesting for the Warriors is how well he fits with Golden State’s current talent. Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala can anchor the defense and bookend power forwards in a way that protects them well. I attribute part of David Lee’s improvement on defense to playing heavy minutes with those two since they provide him with both easier assignments and additional cover if something goes wrong. (Of course he deserves credit as well for shedding some weight and being more active on that end in 2013-14.)

On top of that, Love and Curry would have a chance to become the best pick-and-roll combination in today’s NBA due to their combined shooting prowess. Love became one of the best shooting big men in the league somewhat out of the blue, having only attempted 19 threes his rookie year and not breaking 33% from deep until his third season when he exploded for 88 made threes on 41.7%. That shooting would be a major help for the Warriors because Andre Iguodala did not force opponents to respect his range last season. Having a third floor spacer would open up the lane for the guards to penetrate and also create some fascinating fast break looks since Love is one of the best outlet passers in a long time and also works as a trailer three point threat which teams often lose track of.

Love also makes sense with the Warriors because of his excellent defensive rebounding. While he has been a poor defender for most of his NBA career, defensive rebounds end possessions and help reduce second chance opportunities that can be hard for even the best defensive units to handle. Love was fifth in Defensive Rebounding Rate last season, with only Kevin Garnett, DeMarcus Cousins, Omer Asik and Andrew Bogut ahead of him. The Warriors taking a place in the top-five of that category as a team last season played a major role in their overall success on defense.

While Minnesota’s overall Rebound Rate was largely the same with and without Love last season, the gains came from improvement on the offensive boards, which makes sense because their other PF’s did not spend as much time away from the basket. Using NBAWowy, we can see that Minnesota’s Defensive Rebound Rate dropped 3.1% from what would have been tied for eleventh in the NBA with Love to third from the bottom in the league without him. 

The Bridge

Many of the challenges of being a general manager stem from having to balance future and present success. In many situations, working towards one of these goals actually helps the other- think of a hit on a draft pick or a smart trade. Unfortunately, other times they run against one another and create some of the toughest decisions in sports.

Thinking about this balancing act for the Warriors requires moving forward in time about three years. Stephen Curry will be an Unrestricted Free Agent for the first time and we have learned over the last few years that the first shot at true freedom can be incredibly unpredictable. Since the difference in finances between staying with the same team and heading somewhere else are muted on max-level players, the Warriors have substantially less leverage than under previous Collective Bargaining Agreements. That means the franchise must have affirmative reasons for Curry to stay that will be present at that point since the current CBA basically eliminated extensions for players like him as discussed above.

Keeping that in mind, we need to imagine what the team could look like at that point. Bob Myers has structured the salaries so that Curry, Bogut and Iguodala all expire at the same time. This helps open up some possibilities but remember that whoever remains among Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli will be on new contracts that likely pay them substantially more than they make presently. Unfortunately, Golden State will not have a ton of different ways to improve the team without shifting around players already on the roster since they are without draft picks for 2014 and 2017 while also likely carrying enough salary to not have available cap space much if at all between now and then.

Additionally, we have also seen a substantial reduction in the value of expiring contracts in the last few years. Once a desirable commodity around the league, shorter contract lengths have helped lead to less bulky deals that franchises are desperate to shed. That means that even if the Warriors wanted to take the uncertainty out by trading either Bogut or Iguodala in 2016 or 2017 they are unlikely to get a quality player in return. It would be possible but not fair to bank on even with so much we do not know. It is also worth noting that Bogut will be 32 and Iguodala will be 33 when Curry becomes a free agent so they will be firmly on the downside of their careers.

Love could become the bridge between the current teams and the next generation of the franchise if he can be locked up in the 2015 or 2016 offseason. He will be young enough then at 28 to be both a short and long-term selling point for Curry as well as other potential free agents. Without bringing in someone like Love in the interim, management will have to rely more heavily on personal connections and whatever success the team has in the next three seasons. At best it stands as a harder pitch to make given the context. 

Why the Warriors are extremely unlikely to acquire Love in 2015

Should we get through another 12 months of Kevin Love in Minnesota, the Warriors would have a very shaky chance of acquiring him due to their salary obligations already on the books. While we do not know exactly where the 2015-2016 salary cap line will be, the combination of Curry, Bogut, Iguodala and Lee make it prohibitively unlikely that they will have the space to sign a max-level player outright. In fact, adding in cap holds for Thompson and Green (which would be lower than any extension either would sign) makes it so that even shedding Lee’s deal for no 2015-16 salary (like what they did to acquire Iguodala last summer) would not be enough.

In effect, the only way the Warriors could get Love at that point would be as a giant favor from Minnesota if, and only if, they were Love’s preferred destination since teams like the Los Angeles Lakers should have the space to sign him outright. In order for the Warriors to get Love then, some combination of existing assets would need to go to a team with plenty of leverage since they would represent the only way it could happen unless management was willing to sacrifice even more assets to get under the cap.

That reality means that the 2015 trade deadline functions as a drop-dead date for any realistic chance at bringing Love in unless he elects to pick up his player option while still in Minnesota. 

What I would give up

While we do not know exactly what Minnesota might want for Love, it proves easier to explain what I would be willing to move in order to make a deal happen.

One way of explaining the process is to put players/assets into tiers:

Tier One: Stephen Curry – not on the table

Tier Two: Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut – Take one

Tier Three: Everything else (including Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, the 2015 No. 1 pick after the draft and David Lee) – Pretty much any combination would be OK as long as the total package works as a valid trade. I would hesitate to add Barnes and Ezeli in combination with one of the Tier Two players, but would probably cave if Love showed an interest in committing long-term even though he cannot firm that up right now.

Additionally, the Warriors can and should offer to take back any non-Pekovic contract Minnesota would like to move. In a strange twist, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger and JJ Barea would all make a degree of sense on Golden State’s roster after a Love trade. Corey Brewer would fit less if Draymond and Iguodala were still on the squad, but it would still be worth it.

Will it actually happen?

We have absolutely no idea what Minnesota would want in return for their best player since Kevin Garnett should they even decide to entertain trading him.

If they want players who can contribute immediately, Golden State can put together an incredibly strong offer. A deal built around Klay Thompson, David Lee and Harrison Barnes could give the Wolves three starters, two of which would still be on cheap rookie contracts. No other suitor can offer that level of immediate help while still retaining a team good enough that Love would be interested in sticking around. Houston and Chicago have good collections as well but neither meshes particularly well with what Minnesota already has in players like Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic should Flip Saunders see them as building blocks.

However, if Minnesota wants anything other than immediate help the Warriors fall down the list dramatically. With only one tradeable first round draft pick (2015 after the completion of the upcoming draft), the Warriors would have to hope that the Wolves really like some of their young players in order to find their potential offers more compelling than the picks and young players franchises like the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics can offer. 

Conclusion

If a move to acquire Love can be made, Bob Myers and the Warriors front office would be wise to do everything they can to get him. Love makes sense with both Golden State’s current team and their future aspirations. Their unusual combination of young talent and a lack of long-term salary flexibility makes this offseason the best time to strike though the trade deadline could be possible as well.

If Minnesota values players who can help immediately, which I consider likely with their lack of recent success, the Warriors can put together a competitive offer. Should the Wolves see David Lee as an asset (and remember they tried to sign him when he was a free agent all those years ago under the David Kahn regime), it makes the possibility that their offer would be the best that much greater.

Marcus Smart: Why College Coaching Even Matters For Top-5 Picks

- The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for just $3.99.

Marcus Smart just lived through the worst possible timeline at Oklahoma State. Everything that could have went wrong when he decided to return to school, went wrong. His team collapsed, going from being ranked in the Top 5 to sneaking into the NCAA Tournament and losing in the first round. Things got so crazy he actually went into the stands in a game at Lubbock. He was in a very dysfunctional situation, which you have to take into account when evaluating him. 

Season

G

MP

FG

FGA

FG%

3P

3PA

3P%

FT

FTA

FT%

RB

AS

ST

BK

TO

PF

PTS

2012-13

33

33.5

4.6

11.3

.404

1.2

4.0

.290

5.1

6.5

.777

5.8

4.2

3.0

0.7

3.4

2.8

15.4

2013-14

31

32.7

5.3

12.5

.422

1.6

5.3

.299

5.9

8.1

.728

5.9

4.8

2.9

0.6

2.6

2.9

18.0

Smart’s stats improved slightly, but there wasn’t the quantum leap scouts look for in a player’s second year of school. Efficiency was the main knock on him as a freshman and he did little to settle those doubts, with almost negligible improvements in his field goal and three-point shooting percentages. The most encouraging sign was his assist-to-turnover ratio, which jumped from 1.26 to 1.84, an indication he improved as both a ball-handler and decision-maker.

If he were playing for John Beilein at Michigan, he would have had a much easier time racking up stats. Beilein runs a stable program and fits players into roles - he spreads the floor with 4 3-point shooters who can attack the rim and moves the ball from side to side. The situation at Oklahoma State was a little different. Along with Scott Drew at Baylor, Travis Ford has been doing less with more for years. This season, all his chickens came home to roost.

There’s no reason a team with Smart, Markel Brown and LeBryan Nash should have played that poorly and it speaks very poorly of Ford as a coach that it happened. He had a shocking amount of talent yet still managed to waste it. Those three guys could have played for any team in the country - they could have started at Kentucky. Oklahoma State’s annual disappearing act has hurt Brown and Nash’s chances of being drafted and it will cost Smart a lot of money.

Ford started the season with only one competent big man on the roster - Michael Cobbins. There are no waiver wires in college like there are in the NBA - a coach can’t just pick up a forward in the middle of the season. As a result, when Cobbins tore his Achilles in January, the team completely fell apart. The Cowboys were 12-1 with Cobbins and only 9-11 without him. A good coach has contingency plans on his roster, so he doesn’t end up in a situation like that.

Beilein lost Mitch McGary for the season, which is a significantly bigger loss than Cobbins. The difference is he had other big men who could play - Jon Horford and Jonathan Morgan. They weren’t world beaters by any stretch, but they could be trusted with minutes, unlike some of the stiffs Ford recruited. He was forced to play LeBryan at center for large stretches of the season and that was never going to work. You didn’t see Beilein playing GR3 as a 5.

Just as important, Beilein ran a consistent halfcourt offense with motion and ball movement. Ford’s offense, on the other hand, was basically controlled chaos. Oklahoma State had a 6-man rotation and they were dramatically undersized upfront - they were constantly playing from behind and they were trying to play as fast as possible. The end result was some very sloppy basketball, with Smart being asked to go 1-on-5 against a set defense too often.

Smart was shooting 30% from 3 and taking 5 a game. You don’t see that on a well-coached team. At a certain point, a good coach will tell a player that he doesn’t need to shoot that many 3’s at such a low percentage - there are other things they can do. Smart was regularly taking step-back off the dribble 3’s and there are maybe three guys in the world who can make that shot at a high percentage. He’s a decent shooter who thought he was Stephen Curry.

So while he’s not a great shooter by any means, he should be more efficient in a more structured offense. Smart doesn’t need to shoot 15-20 times a game to be a really good player at the next level. He’s a rare PG who can impact the game as a passer, rebounder and defensive player. At 6’3 225 with a 6’9 wingspan, he’s much bigger and more physical than most NBA PG’s. He had a 26.9 PER because he stuffs the stat-sheet - points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

There are a lot of undersized SG’s who try to pass themselves off as PG’s - Smart is a PG with the size to play SG. There’s a big difference. A player like that is how you can have a two-PG starting line-up - the Suns can play Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic together for most of the game because Bledsoe can match-up with any type of guard in the NBA. Smart isn’t as athletic a Bledsoe, but he’s big enough to make up most of the difference on defense.

Smart is an ideal player for a rebuilding team because he can be successful next to any type of guard. You can play him next to a PG or next to a SG and still be sound defensively. While he lost some money on his first contract in the league, he should be able to make up for it in his second. He shouldn’t have rushed the stands, but what happened on the court had more to do with Ford. He’s a bad coach who is probably going to lose his job next season.

LeBryan Nash is the only big piece left from last year’s team and there isn’t a lot of talent in the pipeline behind him. Ford’s pipeline of McDonald’s All-Americans out of the Dallas area has dried up - when a mediocre coach’s recruiting starts to fall off, that is usually the kiss of death. If Smart had spent the last two seasons at Michigan or Kentucky or Kansas, he would be viewed differently. College coaching matters, even for players projected to go in the Top 5.

- This was an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for $3.99.

Which Types of Players Benefited The Most From Change In Way Fouls Called? (Part 1)

There has been a lot of discussion of what happened when the NCAA changed its foul enforcement rules in 2013-14. Three trends seemed clear. Points per possession were higher, free throw attempts were up, and turnovers were down. But I have not seen any discussion about how this impacted different types of players.

Let me classify players into five groups. First, I break out all big men, essentially all players over 6’8” tall. For teams that do not have at least three rotation players 6’8” or taller, I will also classify some shorter players as forwards, based on stats such as rebounding.

I next break out the point guards based on Verbal Commits recruiting classifications. Then I adjust based on a few measured stats. If a guard has an assist rate over 20%, I reclassify him as a PG, even if he was a SG out of high school. If a guard has an assist rate under 8%, I remove him from the PG group, even if he was classified as a PG out of high school.

That leaves me with a large group of off-guards and wings. I classify these players into three groups based on how often they shoot threes. For players that take over 66% of their shots from three point range, I classify them as three point specialists. For players that take under 33% of their shots from three point range, I classify them as non-shooters. (These are your typical wing players.) The remaining players that take 33-66% of their shots from three point range are your typical perimeter players that can drive and shoot.

Obviously not every player fits into one category, but for now this is how I grouped the various types of players. I am going to look at all D1 players who played at least 30% of their teams minutes in 2012-13 (before the rule change) and 2013-14 (after the rule change).

Number of Observations

2012-13

2013-14

Point Guard

634

639

Three Point Specialists

143

133

Drive and Shoot

514

522

Non-Shooters

315

316

Big Men

974

981

The next table shows that not every position on the floor is equally efficient. Three point specialists are typically the most efficient, but that is partly because they shoot less. On average, three point specialists use only 16% of the possessions when on the floor. All the other position types average 20-21% of the possessions used when on the floor.

The non-shooters tend to have some of the lowest efficiency ratings, but keep in mind that I have broken out this group based on their tendency not to shoot threes, so it isn’t a surprise that they are less efficient. The more interesting fact is that PGs tend to be a little bit less efficient. Part of this may be the fact that teams feel obligated to have a PG on the floor at all times, even if he is less talented. A team can get by without a true SG (see North Carolina last year), but no team can really run its offense without a true PG. And thus you get some less effective PGs who play major minutes.

Another thing to keep in mind is that ORtg isn’t a perfect measure of player value. When Dean Oliver developed the metric, he wanted to assign some credit for made shots to the assisting player and players that got offensive rebounds that led to the basket. But even though he had a strong basis for his formula, nothing says that his weight for assists is accurate for every team in every situation. If a PG drives into the lane and collapses a defense, and there are two passes for the wide open shot, he might not get any credit for creating the opportunity. Some PGs are more valuable than the measured stats indicate, and some PGs are less valuable.

Moreover, non-shooters at the wing position are typically some of the better defensive players. These are typically tall athletic players who help stop opposing scorers. Thus just because PGs and non-shooters are showing up as less efficient here, doesn’t mean that teams are making a mistake by putting these players on the floor.

ORtg in 2013-14

10th percentile

Median

90th percentile

Point Guard

88

103

116

Three Point Specialists

97

110

126

Drive and Shoot

93

106

119

Non-Shooters

87

101

113

Big Men

93

106

119 

Next, I want to look at how each type of player was impacted by the rule changes. My expectation was that the impact of the new foul rules would not be uniform. For example, I would expect a rule limiting hand-checks or impacting block/charge calls to benefit PGs more than three point specialists.

On the other hand, there tends to be a bit of an equilibrium situation in team defense. Even if a rule change has a smaller direct impact on a three point specialist, when devising a game plan, teams still have to weigh costs and benefits. And if an opposing PG is now more dangerous because of the new block/charge and hand-checking rules, that might result in the best defender spending less time on a good three point shooter and more time on the PG. That might still benefit the SG indirectly.

Regardless of whether the effects are direct or indirect, here is how the ORtgs changed for these groups from 2012-13 to 2013-14.

Difference in ORtg

10th percentile

Median

90th percentile

Point Guard

+3

+4

+3

Three Point Specialists

+6

+3

+5

Drive and Shoot

+5

+4

+4

Non-Shooters

+5

+4

+3

Big Men

+5

+3

+4 

The overall trend shouldn’t be a surprise given the higher points per possession across D1. If you run a t-test, the difference in the means of the two distributions is statistically significantly different, meaning that on average players were clearly more efficient in 2013-14, after the rule changes.

But I was shocked to see that the rule changes tended to impact all positions fairly equivalently. Spot up shooters gained just as much as big men and point guards.

There seems to be some evidence that the new rules helped bad players more, as the 10th percentile generally shows a larger improvement. Turnover prone players tend to have the worse efficiency ratings, and the worst players had fewer turnovers last season. But for the most part, the new rules benefited players with all sorts of variation in skills.

But even if the raw ORtg changes were equivalent, the changes in foul calls and turnovers were not identical. Next week I will discuss how different types of players benefited in different ways from the rule changes last year.

Kawhi Leonard Delivers Spurs The Present And Future

Kawhi Leonard is the connector of present and future on the Spursí legendary dynasty of championship contention. Gregg Popovich has persistent belief, they all do around the Spurs: One day, Leonard will grow out of his role as a foundational part Ė and become the foundation.

Top-10 American Players In 13-14 Euroleague

RealGM has ranked the Top-10 Americans who were most productive and had most success in 13-14 Euroleague season. Five players from this ranking (Dunston, Rice, Dentmon, Brown, Delaney) played in the Euroleague for the first time in their career.

LeBron James Vanquishes Spurs' 'No Guard' Scheme

LeBron James didnít complete the everyday starís task. He vanquished the Spurs, tarnishing San Antonioís version of a rulebook against James once and for all, if only for one night.

LeBron James' Body Unravels In Sweat Of NBA Finals Opener

The most dominant player on the planet has also been the most indestructible, treating injuries with tape and pressure, not rest Ė and suddenly, on the grandest stage of professional basketball, a catastrophic malfunction left LeBron James at his bodyís mercy.

College Basketball Greatness Is Always Fleeting

In the major conferences, no team has improved more than three years in a row right now. Iowa St., Oklahoma, Houston, Wake Forest, and Virginia have all made improvements for three straight years.

The OKC Window Has Barely Begun To Open

The Thunder Big 3 are still two years away from being the same age as LeBron, Wade and Bosh were when they united and they didn't have 2-3 lottery picks entering their prime to serve as a supporting cast.

The Kevin Love Q+A

While working through the many twists and turns related to Kevin Love reportedly being on the market for the first time, it made sense to put together an article formatted as a Q+A to address some of the bigger questions and misconceptions surrounding what has and will go on.

These Pacers Have Some Growing Up To Do

The Pacers are a very good basketball team, despite what the Internet would like you to believe, but issues with maturity and mental toughness have kept them from playing consistently since the All-Star break.

With LeBron Limited, Paul George Delivers Life Into Pacers With Superstar Performance

No oneís amassed the identical amount of energy and physical toll defending LeBron James in the last two years, no one but Paul George. Before each matchup across the regular season and late in the playoffs, James and George pound each otherís chests in acknowledgement, and then the understudy thrusts into duty.

Lottery Lowdown (Late-May Edition)

With the lottery out of the way, we can begin to examine which teams represent good and bad fits for the teams in a position to draft them.

Scott Brooks' Anti-Meritocracy

Instead of going with the players who earned the right to be on the floor, Scott Brooks went with veterans who had more playoff experience. Playing Derek Fisher over Jeremy Lamb is the canary in the coal mine for Brooks.

Draft Report: Adreian Payne Of Michigan State

Adreian Payne is a stretch 4 with elite athleticism and prototype size for the position. He has a lot of Serge Ibaka in his game. Payne is one of the most complete big men in the country and his skill-set can improve every team in the league.

Only The Elite Survive To Late May

While the apparently parity of the first round was a refreshing and encouraging development for the NBA, we saw the teams ranked first, third, fourth and sixth in net efficiency during the regular season advance to the Conference Finals.

As Cavaliers Win Draft Lotteries, LeBron James Continues Enhancing Legacy

LeBron James continues to vindicate his free agency decision of 2010, but time and time again the Cavaliers validate everything for him. Winning and losing. Organizational structure. Worthy sidekicks.

Players In NCAA With Biggest Jumps In Points Per Game

Itís easy to look at the summer as a chance to earn money, play video games, and catch your breath. But for a select few players every year, the time they put into the gym results in huge gains in every measurable category.

Lance Stephenson Backs His Mouth As Pacers Reestablish Formula To Beat Heat

Indiana isnít afforded Lance Stephenson behaving like every other 23-year-old, nor afforded his lapses in judgment. So, yes, Stephenson had issued a challenge on the eve of this Eastern Conference final series, a calculated approach to work Dwyane Wade, work his legs to swell on the court.

The Logic Of The Prokhorov/King Model

As soon as Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets, he began pouring money into the roster with seemingly no regard for costs. Billy King pushed their payroll to stratospheric levels and they're no closer to The Finals, but it remains a sound business decision.

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