After a frenetic summer filled with stunning free agent defections, big trades and exciting rookies, our heads are still spinning as we enter the 2017-18 NBA campaign. With so many new faces in new places, it leaves fans to wonder how things will shake out this year. Over the next two weeks, RealGM will attempt to ask (and answer) 10 of the more pressing questions you may have about the upcoming season.
- Which players coming off injuries have the most intrigue around them? And what are some of the questions facing them this season?
As we wrote about last week, this upcoming season will be the year “the Process” finally takes shape. A large part of how this nebulous 76ers future takes shape will depend on the development of the enigma that is Simmons.
Selected with the top overall pick of the 2016, Simmons immediately saw his “rookie” season derailed with a Jones fracture in his foot that required surgery. At that point, all the questions were about he was a weird yet talented prospect. Simmons has since seemed to slip from NBA consciousness. But now that he’s back and playing in real NBA (preseason) games, it’s going to be time to see what Simmons brings to the table.
What we knew about Simmons before teams went to camp was pretty basic: He can pass. He can handle. And he’ll play point guard. Other than that, there were no real clues for how the talented youngster used a redshirt year to improve his game. But thanks to glimpses during the preseason, we’re finally starting to get a feel for what to expect from Simmons.
It looks as if Brett Brown is going to let Simmons (and his team in general) push the ball early in transition. Getting out on the break will help highlight the best parts of Simmons’ skill set right now: He’s fast and athletic, he willingly moves the ball and can attack the basket.
At no point is it easier to both spot open players or find lanes to the basket than the first few seconds of a possession when a defense isn’t set. And though it’s just been the preseason, Simmons has more transition attempts than any other play type, according to Synergy data. If that trend holds up in the regular season, it will certainly help Simmons turn in a successful rookie campaign.
But as with most NBA novices, things get a little more complicated in the halfcourt. The general question for Simmons will be if he can score enough in halfcourt actions -- whether it be a pick-and-roll, post up or ISO call -- to open up his passing? Though that concept will immediately get tied into the talk about his jumpshot, Simmons doesn’t have to possess Dirk-like accuracy in order to be a threatening scorer.
Instead, Simmons will need select shots in his bag to open up those passing lanes. In pick-and-rolls, Simmons must be able to beat an under coverage (where the on-ball defender slides under the pick) with little touch shots or floaters in the paint. The same goes for any ISO calls he receives near the elbows or another spot on the floor. The difference with those, however, is Simmons will have to be adept at using little bumps or step-ins to create the space for those types of shots.
When it comes to post ups, Simmons will need a combination of a smart approach and simplified shot selection. Ideally, Simmons at point guard will produce a lot of matchups against smaller players. When faced with these, Simmons should keep it basic -- use his size/strength to crab dribble a defender into the paint and get to a simply jump hook. Do that enough times, double teams will come and Simmons can start spraying the ball out to open teammates.
Now against players his size or bigger, Simmons may be better of facing up and getting to “quick gos” (think Melo) or “rip-&-gos” where he can use his speed to get to the basket or get fouled. And if Simmons has no physical advantage, Brown needs to step in and either A) not call for it or B) use the post up as a vehicle for players off-the-ball to create offenses with screens or cuts.
How good Simmons is at these shots (and how often he gets to them) will go a long way in his success this season. And make no mistake about it, as a former top pick, everyone will be interested to see just how impactful the Sixers youngster will be.
Perhaps no player in the NBA saw his stock take a more volatile dive than Jackson over the past two years. During his first full season in Detroit, Jackson was a conquering hero after helping the team snap a depressing streak of six years without a playoff appearance. Than in part due to a nagging knee injury last season, Jackson saw his effectiveness plummet to the point where Stan Van Gundy essentially shut him down while the Pistons were still mathematically in the playoff hunt.
The impact of a player’s health on his overall performance is a tricky thing to evaluate. When it comes to Jackson, it’s clear his knee physically didn’t allow him to do certain things. But that limitation combined with Jackson’s general “volume scorer” approach to raise legitimate questions about whether Detroit was better off with him on the sidelines.
Given the team’s payroll, another lost season could easily put Van Gundy (who is also the team’s president) on the hot seat. That means there might not be much margin for error this season for Jackson. If his health limits his effectiveness once again or he fails to adapt to a more team-friendly approach, Jackson could very well find his starting spot -- and maybe tenure with the Pistons -- in serious jeopardy.
Two summers ago, the Grizzlies took a risk signing a player with a history of knee problems to a massive free agent contract. So far, it’s looking like that was a huge mistake. After 34 forgettable games in his first season, Parsons enters year two with Memphis as nearly a total afterthought.
With a looming ownership fight and a team treading water in a conference that’s seen an epic influx of talent, the last thing the Grizzlies needed was to completely strike out on a big time free agent. Luckily for Memphis, the presence of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley should keep them from completely bottoming out in hellishly competitive West. But this team needs rotation pieces to step up around those two in order to retain some form of playoff relevance.
The hope of Parsons becoming the multifaceted wing he was in Houston is certainly a pipe dream at this point. The $94 million investment Memphis made isn’t netting them a third core contributor behind Conley and Gasol. But the reason there is intrigue still surrounding Parsons is that if he can give the Grizzlies something from him, it could help the franchise stay afloat in brutally competitive West.
Word from around the team (and his head coach) suggest that the role the team is looking for Parsons to fill will be that of a backup stretch four. Given that the Grizzlies are loaded with wings and annually short on shooting, this makes a lot of sense. Spending $94 million and getting a backup power forward isn’t ideal, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help Memphis at this point given the state of flux around the franchise.
Because as of right now, it’s hard to see a rotation full of healthy, consistent contributors. If Parsons stays an oft-injured, ineffective vet collecting paychecks, it will not help Memphis’ slide down the standings. But if he can solidify at least one rotation spot, even in a bench role, it could help the Grizzlies hang onto to a playoff spot in the Western Conference for at least another season.
Of all the players on this list, Gay probably shoulders the most responsibility. Parsons is a wildcard. Simmons is on a developing team while Jackson plays for a middling one. Gay, on the other hand, is expected to be a core contributor on a contending team despite coming off a complete tear of his Achilles tendon.
The intrigue around Gay is two-fold. First, for a player his age, coming back from an injury like that is a tall task. Though past success stories can be found, it’s definitely not a lock that Gay comes back resembling the player he was before the injury.
The other fascinating part about Gay is the type of role he’ll occupy on the Spurs. In his early years, Gay was a volume-scoring, slashing wing capable of generating his fair share of highlight reel dunks. Now 31, those days or ripping the rim off are likely behind him -- and that’s more than fine for San Antonio.
With the Spurs, Gay will be a full time power forward for the first time in his career (a move that was made about four years too late). Instead of being a do-it-all wing, Gay will need to slide into a more simplified role. Instead of a volume scorer, Gay will need to become a volume shooter. If Gay winds up topping both his career high in 3-point attempts (4.8 in his second year in league) and career high in percentage (39.6 in 2010-11), itll bode well for the Spurs title chances.
On top of that, Gay will need to make good use of an underrated post up game. Given that he’ll be featured more as a screener than a handler in pick-and-rolls, Gay will need to a weapon in combating switches. If he can punish teams looking to nullify San Antonio’s buzzing side-to-side movement by swapping defenders, Gay will provide a huge boost to the team’s offense.
There is real potential for Gay to become one of the most impactful acquisitions of the summer. Yet at the same time, there’s a chance his injury could slow his return to a productive contributor, fading him more into the background of the Spurs deep and talented rotation. Which is exactly why he’s on this list.