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Rockets Build Bench From The Deepest Of Pools

Chandler Parsons has received most of the press, but he's not the only important player the Houston Rockets need to replace, as they also gave away Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik for essentially nothing in terms of present assets. Even worse, because the Rockets were already pressed close to the salary cap, they were forced to shop in the free agency bargain bin for Lin and Asik's replacements, signing a few European free agents and second round picks on minimum-salary deals.

The guys they are bringing in - Joey Dorsey, Jeff Adrien, Nick Johnson, Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington - have proven nothing at the NBA level. Nevertheless, there's still reason for optimism about their ability to contribute immediately, as no front office in the NBA has done a better job of finding players off the street than the Rockets. Houston jump-started the careers of Patrick Beverley, Greg Smith and Troy Daniels, all players the rest of the league passed over.

A former second round pick of the Miami Heat in 2008, Beverley had refined his game after bouncing around Europe for a few seasons, but few NBA teams noticed a guy who had slipped through the cracks the first time. He was brought in to back up Lin, but he eventually won the starting PG job due to his superior defensive and spot-up shooting ability. He is one of the best bargains in the league, a starter on a 54-win team who makes only $1 million a year until 2016.

Coming out of college, Smith had the size (6’10 250 with  7’3 wingspan) and the athleticism to play in the league, but he didn’t get a lot of publicity on a bad Fresno State team and went undrafted in 2011. In three seasons with the Rockets, he put up per-36 minute averages of 13 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 62% shooting. Still only 23, he signed a guaranteed contract with the Dallas Mavericks this offseason and looks headed for a long NBA career.

Daniels was one of the best shooters in the country at VCU, but his one-dimensional game caused him to go undrafted and he wound up in the D-League. After averaging 21 points a game with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers while hoisting 12 3’s a game, the Rockets gave him a shot on the biggest stage of the sport. He responded with a game winner in Game 3 and a 17-point scoring outburst in Game 4 of their first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers.

With their most recent signings, Houston is gambling they can find the next versions of those players. Dorsey, Adrien, Canaan, Johnson and Covington all have holes in their games, but they also have skill-sets that could allow them to thrive in roles on a second unit. That’s what separates the Rockets from a lot of other NBA franchises - they aren’t afraid to give younger players chances rather than recycling brand name players and established veterans on their last legs.

At 6’9 260 and 6’7 245, respectively, Dorsey and Adrien were caught between positions in their first runs through the league, without the height of a center or the skill to play out on the perimeter. However, either would be an interesting frontcourt partner on the second unit for Donatas Motiejunas, a 7'0 stretch 4. Playing behind Dwight Howard should also minimize their lack of size, since few NBA teams play two traditional centers in their rotation anymore. 

Neither Johnson nor Canaan is a pure playmaking PG, which is why they both slipped into the second round, but they both have the athleticism and scoring ability to create shots against second-unit defenses. Canaan, the Rockets second-round pick in 2013, spent last season in the D-League, where he averaged 22 points a game. Johnson, their second round-pick in 2014, was a second-team All-American and Pac 12 Player of the Year as a junior at Arizona last season.

Covington, like Canaan, spent most of last season in the Rio Grande Valley, where he averaged 23 points and 9 rebounds a game on 44% shooting while taking 8 3’s a game. At 6'9 215, he has the size and shooting ability to be a stretch 4. He was undrafted out of Middle Tennessee State because of concerns about his level of competition in college as well as his position at the next level, but he has the athletic ability to at least hold his own defensively on a second unit.

There's no guarantee that any of the five will make it, but you could have said the same thing for Beverley, Smith and Daniels. What all three needed was a chance, which doesn’t always happen for young players on the fringes of the NBA. Far too many teams are blinded by NBA experience, bypassing more talented guys for “proven veterans”. Just as an example, at the same time the Rockets signed Beverley, the Mavs brought in Mike James to be their backup PG.

However, for teams looking to round out their bench, the upside of looking under every nook and cranny for talent is clear. Alan Anderson, Gerald Green, Chris Copeland, Anthony Parker, Pero Antic - the list of NBA rotation players who played in the European leagues grows every year. They don't cost much money and they don't cost anything in terms of assets. That's what a lot of teams don't understand - there's no shortage of professional basketball players out there.

The NBA is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to professional basketball players. By the time guys reach their prime, they are at least 3-4 seasons removed from college. Whether or not they played in the NBA, they have learned how to last as pros and have been forced to mature on and off the court. Even if we assume the top 450 in the world are in the NBA (and they aren’t), players right outside that group can improve dramatically in their mid to late 20’s 

If Canaan, Johnson, Covington, Adrien and Dorsey don't stick in Houston, they'll bring in more guys with NBA measurables and resumes that are just as good until they find some players who do. While their bench is a question mark coming into the season, my guess is they’ll figure out a mix that works by the playoffs. There's so much talent in the world there's no reason for any of the 30 NBA teams to have a bad bench. You just have to be willing to give guys a chance.

How Boozer Fits With Lakers, Julius Randle

On the surface, the Los Angeles Lakers' acquisition of Carlos Boozer doesn't make a lot of sense. At 32 and going into his 13th season in the NBA, Boozer is on his last legs. He's going from starter on a good team to starter on a bad team and there’s little chance he makes it back. If he plays on a contender again, it will be as a reserve. The Lakers are signing Boozer to put up empty numbers while blocking the development of Julius Randle, the No. 7 overall pick in the draft.

However, as weird as it might seem at first glance, Boozer could be the perfect veteran mentor for a young PF like Randle. His steep decline with the Chicago Bulls, as well as his hefty contract, has masked how good a player he was in his prime. Boozer is a two-time All-Star with a gold medal on his resume who has made over $125 million dollars in the NBA. Not many guys taken at No. 7 end up with that type of career, much less ones who fall all the way to No. 34.

For all his flaws, it's hard to consider Boozer's career anything but a resounding success. Once you get out of the first round, NBA teams are just hoping to find guys who can stick in the league and possibly crack a rotation. Glen Davis, the No. 35 overall pick in 2007, has had an excellent career for a second round pick and he's never been able to hold down a starting job. Boozer was a starter on two teams who made the Conference Finals - the 2007 Jazz and the 2011 Bulls.

Despite averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds a game on 66% shooting as a junior at Duke, Boozer fell in the 2002 draft because of concerns about his tools. At 6’9 260, he had only average size for an NBA PF and he didn’t have the type of exceptional athleticism that would allow him to make up for it. The odds were stacked against him - he entered the league without a guaranteed contract and had to earn his way onto the roster, much less the starting line-up.

After two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boozer signed with the Utah Jazz in fairly controversial fashion and immediately became one of the building blocks for an up-and-coming team. In his first season with the Jazz, he averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds on 52% shooting. From 2006-2010, Utah was one of the best teams in the NBA. They won an average of 51 games a year, got out of the first round three times and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2007.

The Jazz were one of the main reasons why Tracy McGrady never made it out of the first round, as they knocked a 50+ win Rockets team out of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007. With Boozer and Mehmet Okur, Utah had two big men who could make it rain 20+ feet from the basket and drag Yao Ming out of the paint. Since they ran so much of their offense through the post, it negated Houston's ability to defend on the perimeter with McGrady, Shane Battier and Ron Artest.

Those Jazz teams aren't remembered that well because they had a stumbling block of their own - the Lakers. As effective as Boozer was when matched up with a slower defender like Yao, there was little he could do against a frontcourt duo as long, skilled and athletic as Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. L.A. beat Utah in the playoffs three years in a row - they gave the Jazz problems upfront with the power game (Bynum and Gasol) and with the speed game (Gasol and Odom).

Against elite competition, Boozer's physical limitations were exposed. The same happened in 2011, when the Bulls were the No. 1 seed and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Boozer wasn't quite big or athletic enough to dominate the Heat's undersized front-line. If Derrick Rose had stayed healthy and they had gotten another chance at the Big Three, the Bulls likely would have closed games with Taj Gibson, a much better defender than Boozer.

Boozer never had Randle's physical tools - he was only as successful as he was because he was a fundamentally sound player, at least on the offensive side of the ball. In his prime, Boozer was automatic from mid-range and was very effective with his back to the basket. He didn't make the game any harder on himself than necessary and he knew how to leverage his strength to create good looks at the basket. These are things Randle will need to learn as he tries to navigate the NBA paint.

Like most college big men, Randle will have a big adjustment process at the next level.­­­­ He goes from big fish in a small pond to a medium sized fish in an ocean. For the first time in his life, he will no longer be one of the biggest players on the floor. He might have seen a half-dozen NBA caliber big men at Kentucky - he will see that many in a weekend in the NBA. He needs a more consistent jumper and he needs to learn how to finish with his right hand around the basket.

These aren't things that will happen for him overnight, which isn’t a huge deal. Randle is only 19 - if he had stayed four years in school, he would have been in the 2017 draft. The Lakers don't need to put a ton of pressure on him in the first few months of his career. Playing him behind an established veteran like Boozer will force him to earn his way on the floor and it will give his coach the leeway to bench him if he's not doing the right things or developing good habits. 

Unless the Lakers are contending for a playoff spot in March and April, Randle will eventually get as much floor time as he can handle as a rookie. There's no need to force-feed him minutes on a bad team in November and December. Boozer is 32 and Randle is 19 - Randle was in first grade when Boozer entered the league. There's a lot he could learn from him, both on and off the court.  And if Randle learns a few things, this season won't be a total waste for the Lakers.

Chris Bosh's Return Keeps Heat Relevant

When LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland, everyone expected Chris Bosh to sign with the Houston Rockets and form a new Big Three. Instead, in the second most shocking move of the day, Bosh stayed with the Miami Heat, signing a five-year $118 million extension.

After four years in the shadow of LeBron and Dwyane Wade, Bosh is once again back in the spotlight - he will have to be the franchise player he once was with the Toronto Raptors and that the Heat are paying him to be. 

While Bosh has had a secondary role with Miami over the last four seasons, he’s still one of the most potent scorers in the NBA. The Heat offense was based around spacing the floor for LeBron and Wade. They both got large stretches of time running the second unit, while Bosh rarely got a chance to play without at least one of them on the floor. He didn't get many post-ups or isolations - his points primarily came within the flow of the offense.

Bosh went from a usage rating of 28.7 in Toronto to 22.3 in Miami and from 16.5 field goal attempts a game to only 12. Despite being used like a role player, he kept making All-Star teams because of how remarkably efficient he was, averaging 16 points on 52% shooting last season. Those are the efficiency numbers you would expect from a first option forced to play a smaller role. Bosh took a step back for the good of the team, not any decline in skills. 

When he was given a chance to play without Wade or LeBron, he showed he still had the ability to fill it up. The most notable instance came in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers, where he scored 37 on 15-26 shooting, including the game-winning three. If he regularly got the chance to put up 20+ FGA’s a night, he would have some huge scoring games. He can score at will - at 6'11, he's an elite shooter, ball-handler and athlete for a player his size.

As the primary option for Toronto, Bosh averaged 24 points, 11 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 52% shooting. He was carrying that franchise - Andrea Bargnani was the second leading scorer and Hedo Turkoglu was their third. Without Bosh, the Raptors went from 40 wins to 22 and became one of the worst teams in the NBA. This year’s team, which made the playoffs for the first since time since he left, has only two players remaining from his teams. 

And while he isn't quite as explosive as he was in his mid 20’s, he's a much improved player. The biggest difference is the three-point shot - he went from taking 0.3 a game in 2010 to 3.2 in 2014. Not only does the it open up the floor, the shot gives Bosh more space to attack his defender. Opposing big men can't leave him alone on the three-point line and very few can move their feet well enough to guard him when he's handling the ball 25+ feet from the basket.

It's hard to say exactly what his scoring averages will look like next season, but they should go up fairly dramatically. If he gets 15+ FGA's, he could easily be at 23-25 points on a very high percentage, which would put him back in the discussion with guys like Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love for best PF in the NBA. He's not the rebounder they are, but he's the most complete player of the bunch, with the ability to score, shoot, pass and defend.

Passing is one of the other elements of Bosh's game that he hasn't gotten the chance to utilize in the last four seasons. He had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio for most of his time in Toronto - he can find guys off the dribble as well as hit cutters out of the post. Featuring Bosh, letting him play with the ball in his hands a lot more and expanding his role in the offense will be one of the primary ways the Heat adjust to life without LeBron next season.

LeBron's departure means Wade will resume his role of face of the franchise, but there's little question whose the better player of the two stars left in Miami. Wade's been in steady decline due to his waning athleticism and lack of an outside shot, but Bosh’s game, based on length and shooting ability, will allow him to be a high-level player indefinitely. Even if LeBron had stayed, they would have needed to reorient the offense around Bosh as the 2nd option. 

Losing LeBron creates a gaping hole on both sides of the ball and it’s hard to see a scenario where Miami competes for a title without him. They also have much less room for error, especially with Wade’s knees.

If Wade can only play 50+ games, Miami no longer has the firepower to compete without him. Going forward, they will need to do a better job of filling out their supporting cast than they did when they had LeBron. Nevertheless, all is not lost.

There's no way to replace the best player in the world, but he's not leaving behind a completely empty cupboard in South Beach. Josh McRoberts is a massive upgrade from the various players - Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem - who shared the frontcourt with Bosh last year.  Bosh and McRoberts upfront will give the Heat some of the best floor spacing in the NBA. And with Luol Deng at SF, they have the nucleus of a 50+ win team. 

Chris Bosh is a 9-time All-Star who has averaged 19 points a game on 50% shooting in his career. He's a primary option who also doubles as a high-level interior defender and floor spacer. Even when he wasn’t putting up big numbers, he was one of the most valuable players in the NBA - the only other big man in the who can dribble and shoot 3's like him is Dirk Nowitzki. Bosh can't fill LeBron's shoes, but as long as he's around, Miami will be relevant.

LeBron Opens Up His Own Finishing School In Northeast Ohio

The end game for LeBron James is not to bring one title to Cleveland, but to bring a franchise that could compete for titles well into the future. When LeBron watched the Spurs dismantle the Heat in the Finals, he saw what to strive for.

Jason Kidd's Great Escape

If Jason Kidd plays it right, he can be the Scott Brooks to their version of the Thunder. Kiddís already proven heís a more flexible strategist than Brooks, so hitching his wagon to that type of young talent could give him nearly unparalleled job security.

Draft Report: Andrew Wiggins Of Kansas

When Andrew Wiggins was playing AAU basketball, a transition setting where he could make direct-line runs at the rim, he surely looked like the best prospect since LeBron James. You can only see the holes in his game when heís forced to play in the halfcourt.

Spurs Win Championship On System Over Sentimentality

While the Spurs' stars are well into their second decade in the league, they had the younger and more athletic roster. That became obvious over the course of the series, as the Spurs zipped the ball around the court and blew the Heat off the floor.

Zach LaVine: Everything's Contextual

From a tools perspective, Zach LaVine is one of the most talented guards to come into the league in a long time. Heís not as big as Andrew Wiggins, but heís every bit as athletic and heís far more skilled.

Finals In Their Prime

The Heat don't have an answer for Tim Duncan and the Spurs don't have an answer for LeBron James. The difference between the two all-time greats at this point is age and stamina.

Masters Of Space

If the last two NBA Finals are any indication, there's no stopping the trend of the corner three-pointer. A generation from now, you may not be able to play in the NBA if you can't shoot 3's.

The Big Mistake: Measurables Vs. Situation

When you are scouting a player in college, you have to scout his teammates and his coaching staff too. Just look at what's happened to Thomas Robinson and Andre Drummond in two NBA seasons.

The Tools: Five Basic Areas To Identify

The key to evaluating young basketball players and how their game will translate to the NBA is developing a universal framework that can be applied to every prospect.

Why Lance Stephenson Will Be Worth Every Penny

Just like Lance Stephenson, James Harden excelled in the role he was forced to play on the team that drafted him, but he was ready for a much bigger role. Donít mistake opportunity for talent, especially not with a 23-year-old.

The Gospel Of Length

The Thunder are the Oakland A's of the NBA, a franchise determined to build a perennial contender without breaking the bank in terms of payroll. The Heat sign ring-chasing vets; the Thunder run a finishing school for guys with supersized arms.

NBA Mock Draft, Version 1.0

With the Cavaliers, Bucks, 76ers, Magic and Jazz owning the first five picks, we can begin to examine what will go into the decision-making process of the the first 14 selection.

Clippers Vulnerable Without Perimeter Stopper

The player who could have really helped the Clippers was Eric Bledsoe. He was moved to get a more traditional SG in the starting line-up, but they might have wanted to try the Bledsoe-Paul combination before just giving up on it.

C.J. McCollum: How The BPA Rule Fails Outside The Top-5

With Damian Lillard entrenched at PG, Portland used a lottery pick on a guy who can't play more than 10-15 minutes a game in a playoff series. That's not a great use of resources for a small-market team without many other obvious ways of upgrading their roster in the offseason.

Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Centers

There should be a bumper crop of behemoths in the college game in 2015, who will look to make their mark in a sport traditionally dominate by guards.

Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Power Forwards

In contrast to small forward and center, where very few players can fit the prototype of size, athleticism and skill, there are usually too many power forward to go around.

Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Small Forwards

A small forward who canít shoot 3ís has to have the game to be a primary offensive option at the next level, since the ball will naturally wind up in their hands. As a result, itís become a bit of an all-or-nothing position - thereís no such thing as a role playing SF who canít stretch the floor at the next level.

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