The case for Tyus Jones to start for the Timberwolves

Tyus Jones

Perhaps it’s a miracle that Tyus Jones is still on the Timberwolves. After reports stating Jones was considering asking for a trade at the end of the season, sweet talker Tom Thibodeau convinced him otherwise. I can only imagine Thibodeau calmly telling the 2015 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player that he will get more minutes next season. However, will Thibs stay true to his word and play Tyus the minutes he deserves? Doubtful. Anyway, Tyus did enough last season that proved he belonged in the NBA, and after being a part of the best statistical Timberwolves lineup last season, Jones might have a case to be the starting point guard.

For Starters

Tyus Jones is 22-years-old. Going into his fourth season in the NBA, Jones has already made great strides in his NBA career. As the 24th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, many NBA fans were doubtful Jones could succeed in the league because of his size. Standing at just 6’ 1” (probably generous), Jones makes up for his lack of size in other areas of his game.

As a rookie, Jones appeared in just 37 games. He managed just 4.2 points and 2.9 assists per game in those contests he played in. In his second season, and his first under Tom Thibodeau, Jones’ games played increased to 60. However, playing just 12.9 minutes a night, Jones managed to muster just 3.5 points and 2.6 assists per game. Last season, Jones took a big step. In his first season as the primary backup point guard for the Wolves, Tyus appeared in every regular season game. Jones increased his minutes to 17.9 a night and even recorded some starts when Jeff Teague was down with an injury. Posting 5.1 points and 2.8 assists a night, Tyus had his best statistical season. However, it was his advanced stats that did the talking.

 

Advanced Stats

Tyus Jones was by no means a top point guard in the NBA last season. However, he was a serviceable backup, and even better when he got run with the starters. In his 11 starts last season, Tyus averaged 9.4 points and 4.9 assists per game. Even more impressive was the fact that the Timberwolves’ starters with Tyus Jones had the best net rating over any other lineup the Wolves ran last season. In addition, it wasn’t a small sample size. Tyus logged over 261 total minutes with the Wolves’ starters during the 2017/18 season. The team net rating alone makes an interesting case for Tyus to get more time with the starters, and maybe even move into the starting rotation.

 

Defense

Is Tyus Jones a great individual defender? No. But, he is a great team defender, and team defense goes a long way in the NBA. Tyus isn’t great at containing guys one-on-one. I mean it’s pretty difficult to contain 6’ 4” athletic freaks at point guard in the NBA. However, Tyus is good at jumping in passing lanes, and he has a knack for creating turnovers. Per 36 minutes last season, Tyus averaged 2.3 steals per game. In his 11 starts with the Wolves, he recorded 2.9 steals per game, including a whopping seven steals in a win against Phoenix. Coach Thibs loves defense, and while Tyus isn’t always the biggest plus defender, he plays enough team defense to prove his worth on that end of the court.

Improvements that need to be made

The biggest area that Tyus Jones needs to improve is shooting the basketball. If Tyus wants to be a starter in the NBA, with his body type, he needs to be able to knock down shots. A career 34.1% from three isn’t going to cut it. If Tyus was to start for the Wolves, he would be playing off the ball a lot. When Jones plays off the ball, he needs to hit consistently from three with open looks.

 

Reality

In reality, Tyus Jones won’t be starting for the Timberwolves this season, unless Jeff Teague goes down with an injury. Teague is a veteran in the NBA and is too good on the offensive side of the ball to come off the bench. But, Tyus needs more minutes, especially with the starters. If that means getting closer to splitting minutes with Teague, then that’s what needs to happen. If that means playing alongside Teague at times, that’s okay as well. Thibs needs to get more creative with lineup combinations this season, something he’s always been hesitant to do, especially with young players. Tyus can make a great impact on the 2018-19 Minnesota Timberwolves, he just needs the opportunity.

 

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Lonzo Ball vs. Rajon Rondo: Who should start for the Lakers?

Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers go into the 2018-19 season with the NBA’s most interesting roster for those who like to play mix-and-match with lineups.

LeBron James, of course, drives a lot of that intrigue. He has spent most of his 15-year career as a point guard who is listed at small forward, who sometimes plays power forward and shooting guard and center. The only job LeBron hasn’t taken on yet is that of the sixth man.

But after the Lakers acquired LeBron this summer, their subsequent additions combined with their existing talent made for a curious collection of players.

Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lance Stephenson are three more Lakers who can realistically play up to three positions.

JaVale McGee is an athletic freak who is talented enough to be a starting center in the league, but still would give plenty of coaches pause with his infamous mental mistakes. Josh Hart had a solid rookie season for L.A. and followed it up with a great summer league, but he’s a wing player on a team loaded on the wings. So how much do those two get on the court?

Then there’s the point guard situation.

One year ago, the Lakers took Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick in the draft and made it clear that he was meant to be the face of the franchise’s future. Even when Lonzo struggled shooting the ball, when he was benched for the entire fourth quarter of some games, and when injuries limited him to just 52 games last season, Lonzo remained L.A.’s starting point guard.

It was reported even before LeBron joined the Lakers that he wanted to get away from playing de facto point guard so much, therefore his arrival didn’t necessarily mean Lonzo’s days as L.A.’s point guard were over.

But the Lakers’ signing Rajon Rondo made things complicated.

A four-time All-Star who has led the league in assists three times, the 32-year-old Rondo is still one of the best point guards in the league. Last season with the New Orleans Pelicans he was mostly quiet, but then broke out during the playoffs, averaging 10.3 points and 12.2 assists per game and helping the Pelicans upset the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round before falling to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.

Rondo reminded the basketball world that he’s still a game-changer and still has a lot left in the tank.

When Rondo agreed to join the Lakers on a one-year contract worth $9 million, it gave L.A. three of the best passers on the planet: Lonzo, Rondo and LeBron. The latter two are actually two of the greatest passers the sport has ever seen.

So assuming LeBron sticks to his plan, who is going to be the Lakers’ starting point guard?

Here’s how Rondo and Lonzo stack up.

 

Offense

Prolific scoring is not part of the scouting report for Rondo or Ball. The book on Lonzo is that he’s a willing shooter who too often misses the mark. The book on Rondo is that he avoids shooting whenever possible because he’s made peace with his weaknesses.

Ball scored 10.2 points per game as a rookie, connecting on 36.0 percent of his field goals, 30.5 percent of his three-pointers, and 45.1 percent of his free throws. While normally the free throw shooting would be most alarming, Ball only attempted 1.4 free throws per game. Whereas his 5.7 three-point attempts represented more than half of his shot output, so his lackluster long-range shooting was a running story line throughout the season.

Everybody had theories on what Ball should do to fix his shooting issues. Some said it was his form, some said it was a lack of confidence, some said it was simply a slump that would fix itself in due time. He’s only 20 years old and going into his second NBA season, so it’s not like he’s settled into being whatever he’s going to be as a pro.

Rondo, on the other hand, is what he is at this stage in his career. He’s 32 years old, entering his 13th season in the league. He’s a career 46.3-percent field goal shooter, 30.9 percent beyond the arc, and 60.4 percent at the line. He rarely shoots threes (1.2 attempts per game) and is sometimes cautious to a fault when it comes to pulling the trigger as a shooter.

The strength of these two point guards is their passing and ability to run an offense.

Ball is a brilliant passer. In his one season at UCLA, he led all NCAA Division-1 players with 7.6 assists per game. Last season, he finished second among NBA rookies with 7.2 assists. He had two triple-doubles, and nine double-doubles with points and assists. There’s a reason Lakers president Magic Johnson is so enamored with Lonzo; he really does have that proverbial third eye when it comes to playmaking.

Rondo has that same vision, but his is just a bit better. Chalk it up to experience having been in the NBA much longer, but Rondo is a mastermind at not only making great passes, but also manipulating defenses and orchestrating offenses to get his teammates in the spots he wants to make those passes. Rondo had two triple-doubles and 17 double-doubles (points and assists) last season. He also had two games of 20-plus assists.

If Ball is a passing prodigy, Rondo is an established genius.

Advantage: Rondo

 

Defense

By all statistical measures, Ball is a better defender than Rondo.

Last season, Ball averaged 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks per game, compared to 1.1 steals and 0.2 blocks for Rondo. For his career, Rondo averages 1.7 steals and led the league once with 2.3 steals per game, but in recent years he has not been as prolific in his thievery.

Ball posted 2.5 Defensive Win Shares and a Defensive Box Plus-Minus of 2.5 last season, while Rondo recorded 1.7 and -0.7 in those advanced categories.

Rondo is known for his long arms, but he stands just 6’1″ and is mostly limited to defending other point guards. Ball, at 6’6″ and with room to get stronger, can potentially defend up to three positions.

The Lakers are going to be built around LeBron, and the idea of building a team around a specific player is to play to his strengths and hide his weaknesses.

Given that LeBron will turn 34 years old this season and is going into his 16th pro season, his defense can only be expected to continue to decline. That means L.A. needs to put defenders around him, ideally the kind of long, energetic defenders who can keep up with high-powered offenses like the Warriors and Rockets. Ball fits that profile.

Advantage: Ball

 

Intangibles

There is already a traveling circus element to these Lakers, and Rondo and Ball each have a hand in that perception.

Rondo has a history of clashing with teammates and coaches, dating back to his time with the Boston Celtics — you can read all about it in Ray Allen’s book From The Outside. It’s no coincidence that he’s now on his fifth team in the five years since Boston first traded him.

Lonzo Ball is by all accounts a great teammate who doesn’t rock the boat … but of course he arrives at the boat with LaVar Ball, his controversial father. One player’s carnival-barker relative should not really be a problem for a professional sports team, but such is the media climate in 2018, where LaVar is a topic the Lakers constantly have to address.

Durability is a concern with both Rondo and Lonzo.

Rondo has missed significant time in recent years with a variety of injuries, while Ball missed 30 games of his rookie season with a knee injury, then had minor surgery on his knee this summer. It’s too early to call Ball injury-prone, however.

The obvious edge in experience goes to Rondo. He has more than a decade under his belt in the league. He’s won a championship and played in over 100 playoff games. He’s played with everyone from Kevin Garnett to Dirk Nowitzki to Anthony Davis. Lonzo plays with a veteran savvy uncommon for someone his age, but he’s really just getting started and there’s a lot he hasn’t seen that he can only learn with time.

Another thing to consider is the contract situation.

Rondo is in L.A. on a one-year deal. It feels like an experiment, given that he hasn’t been with any of his last four teams for more than one season — not to mention this entire Lakers’ season is taking on a trial-and-error vibe. Ball, meanwhile, is still on his rookie contract and could potentially be with the Lakers until 2022 before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. With the Lakers having made a bigger investment in Lonzo, it would make sense to give him the keys to get his chemistry with LeBron, Ingram and Kuzma flowing sooner than later, because that’s the team’s core for the next few years.

Advantage: Ball

 

Final verdict: Lonzo Ball

For a team that is trying to win right now, Rajon Rondo would seem like the better option at point guard. He’s a championship-experienced veteran who runs an offense better than anyone in the NBA and gets the ball where it needs to be. He also steps his game up in the playoffs to another level.

Lonzo Ball seems like the better option for a rebuilding or rising contender situation, with his age and inexperience and the fact that he’s still working out the kinks in something as basic as his jump shot.

But for these Lakers, the right call is to start Ball, while making sure to give Rondo enough minutes to keep him engaged and motivated.

With LeBron on the team along with scorers like Ingram, Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Beasley, there shouldn’t be much pressure on Lonzo to score. He can focus on doing what he does best, and if the jumper starts to fall, that’s a bonus.

Rondo, a veteran who is aware of his place, hopefully won’t be too salty about coming off the bench. So far he’s saying all the right things, but you never know how a career-long starter will react when he’s actually not in that role anymore. Assuming he’s of the belief that finishing is more important than starting, the Lakers would be smart to have Rondo on the floor in high-pressure, crunch-time situations later in the game — particularly in the postseason.

Rondo may very well be the better overall player right now, but Lonzo is the better option for L.A. as its starter.

 

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Five NBA Stars that won’t be on the same team next year

NBA Stars

The NBA landscape is always changing. There was clear evidence of that once again this summer. LeBron headed to the Lakers, Cousins joined Golden State, and Anthony Tolliver returned to Minnesota. This trend seems to be picking up steam in the NBA, rather than losing momentum. Next offseason will provide more changes in the NBA, but it could be a historic amount of star players swapping teams. Here’s five NBA stars that won’t be on the same team next year.

 

Jimmy Butler

What a rollercoaster ride it is being a Timberwolves fan. That’s right, I’m a Wolves fan. Possibly the biggest mistake that I’ve ever made, but I love it. The Timberwolves just ended a decade-plus playoff drought last season. Now, it looks like they could be in for another long run. While Minnesota is positioned to make the playoffs in the West with a healthy Jimmy Butler, if the team doesn’t advance past the first round come April, things will get even uglier than they already are.

It’s no secret that Jimmy Butler is a free agent next summer. It seems he’s made it known himself. This summer has been full of storylines about the Timberwolves with Butler not being happy with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler is seemingly unhappy with the young guns’ work ethic. So, now the entire Wolves fanbase is panicking about whether Butler will leave after just two years with the team. While the issues with the Wolves can be worked out with a solid season, it appears Jimmy Buckets is headed to the exit doors.

 

Kevin Durant

Surprise, surprise. Kevin Durant isn’t going to finish his career in Golden State. Sure, he could be taking one-year deals with the team to maximize his future earnings, but Durant is also keeping the door open to leaving the team he’s won two rings with. Durant seems to be taking a LeBron-like path in his career. He left a team that he never won a championship with to join a championship-caliber team. Now that he has two rings, maybe three after this season, Durant could look to try and win elsewhere, much like LeBron did returning to Cleveland.

Maybe next summer is too soon for Durant to bolt the Bay Area, but with the reported tension in the Warriors’ locker room last season, I think Durant will be in a different uniform come next season.

 

Kemba Walker

Poor Kemba Walker. As one of the top-tier point guards in the NBA, Walker has made the playoffs just twice in his seven-year career. Walker hasn’t been surrounded by great talent in Charlotte and it’s time for him to leave next summer. Kemba is an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019, and he needs to go someplace with a better supporting cast. Walker has the talent to lead a team to the postseason and do some damage, but it’s not happening in Charlotte.

Kevin Love

Kevin Love just signed a huge contract to supposedly stay in Cleveland with the Cavaliers. Love signed the contract because he got a great financial deal. What we aren’t sure of is why the Cavs offered Love the contract. Is it because Cleveland views him as an important piece of their future? Is it because Love would be easier to trade on a long-term contract? We won’t get a true answer until the next two-three years play out. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t take a guess.

If I was a betting man, I think Kevin Love was signed in Cleveland to be traded. The Cavaliers have the potential to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, but they aren’t contending for a title anytime soon. The Cavs are bound to go into a rebuild and that would mean unloading Love for future assets. That is exactly what I think will happen next summer in Cleveland.

 

C.J. McCollum

If the Blazers don’t do any damage in the playoffs this season, it’s time to get some scenery changes underway. The Blazers are stuck in the middle of the pack in the West and can’t seem to perform in the playoffs. If similar happenings occur this season, the Blazers will shift their attention to a different gameplan. Switching that gameplan would involve trading Lillard or McCollum. I can’t see the Blazers trading Lillard, so McCollum would be the option.

McCollum is a high-tier shooting guard that is a very valuable player in the NBA. However, with Lillard and McCollum paired together, the Blazers haven’t been able to do much damage in the postseason. It will be time for the Blazers to make a change and trading McCollum is the gut-wrenching move that they will need to make.

 

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Minnesota Timberwolves Burner Account Tweets

The NBA is at an all-time high. The main reason the NBA is gaining popularity is because of the on-court play. However, the off-court activity has a great impact as well. In addition to the madness during free agency and at the trade deadline, burner accounts have begun to play an interesting role in the NBA. It first started with Kevin Durant replying to a fan from what was supposed to be a second account. Unfortunately for Durant, the message was sent from his main account. Then, this summer, Bryan Colangelo was caught with burner accounts that gave secretive information about the 76ers. So, with all these burner accounts, I decided to create some fake tweets from fake accounts. The first team I looked at was the Minnesota Timberwolves Burner Account Tweets.

 

Jeff Teague

The first-year point guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves had an up-and-down season. Long time Timberwolf Ricky Rubio was loved by fans around Minnesota everywhere. What the Wolves should’ve done at point guard is the main topic of the first burner tweet.

Jeff Teague

Andrew Wiggins

The Timberwolves signed Andrew Wiggins to a max contract last summer. Even though the team showed faith in Wiggins, Wigs effort on the court last season remained subpar. Wiggins’ contract and effort provide a great second burner tweet.

Andrew Wiggins

Jimmy Butler

At this point, everyone knows about Jimmy Butler’s frustration with the Timberwolves’ young players and their effort levels. That alone made for an interesting Jimmy Butler burner account tweet.

Jimmy Butler

Taj Gibson

It seemed like Taj Gibson was one of the only Timberwolf players last season that didn’t have an rumors flying around his head. In a lot of ways, Gibson holds the Wolves together, on and off the court.

Taj Gibson

Karl-Anthony Towns

KAT is one of the most exciting young talents in the NBA. Towns is in line to receive a max contract this summer, after the inevitable meeting with Glen Taylor to make sure Towns is committed to winning. That meeting that Taylor had last summer with Wiggins is where this burner tweet stems from.

Karl-Anthony Towns

Tom Thibodeau

If you watch the Minnesota Timberwolves, you know that Tom Thibodeau loves to yell. What is his favorite word? ICE. ICE.

Tom Thibodeau

Talking Thunder With Andrew Schlecht

I was recently able to speak with Down To Dunk and OKC Dream Team podcast host Andrew Schlecht. We talked about a number of Thunder topics including which young wing might pop, how Russell can change, how great Steven Adams is and much more! If you aren’t listening to Down To Dunk or OKC Dream Team, you need to start right now!!! It’s great content for any Thunder fan. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewKSchelcht. I hope you enjoy this!

Tyler: I noticed on your twitter account you threw a poll out asking who the best reserve wing for the Thunder will be. Abrines, Ferguson and TLC were the three guys listed and Ferguson finished last. You have been talking TFerg up on the pod saying he will shine off the bench. Why do you think people refuse to get excited about his second season?

Andrew: It’s all based on Summer League. Summer League is a tough place to analyze anybody. I mean, you can see little things here and there, and I remember the first time I thought Steven Adams was going to be good was when I saw him in summer league setting screens like he did.[1] Ferguson not shooting the ball well played into that. They gave him a completely different role then what he will have on the Thunder, like being a facilitator, and you could just see him thinking about everything. That’s what raised a lot of red flags. We have to realize he will play the same role as last year while being stronger and having more experience. The coaching staff and the players like Russell and PG love this guy. Billy has always kind of favored athleticism, and at the end of the day I think it will be between TFerg and Abrines, and I think he will lean toward TFerg.

Tyler: Speaking of Billy, I tend to think of myself as a Billy Donovan truther. I have always tried to focus on the positives he has done. My theory is simply having continuity from one season to the next will be huge. He hasn’t had two years in a row with that consistency. Do think that will help him, and what could we see from Billy this year?

Andrew: Yeah, I think it’s a good point. Billy has been in the NBA for three seasons now and had three completely different teams. I don’t even know what kind of coach he is to be honest, and I don’t think he has been given a shot to show that yet. I have been in the locker room and have seen the stuff he has put on the board, but it doesn’t really seem like it has translated onto the court. I think we will find out what kind of coach Billy is this year. We have seen really good things from him like the 2016 run to the West Finals. As we both know they were one Klay Thompson flamethrower away from the Finals.[2] Then onto the next playoff run. I don’t think he was good against Houston, and I don’t think he was very good this last year. I think he is a good coach. I know that Russell and Paul George believe in him, and that can be half the battle sometimes with your superstars. I think he will finally get a fair shake.

Tyler: Russ and Paul believing in him is huge, but let’s say the team underachieves this year again. Do you think their trust in him will begin to wane and you could see some potential stress on his job?

Andrew: Yeah, I think that is something you’d have to look at. He will have two years left on his contract. He is heading into that year where you have to figure it out. I know that Sam Presti loves him, and that is a big deal. If the ownership group and GM believe in the coach they usually get to stick around. If they don’t then they usually go find somebody else, but I’m under the belief that Sam Presti has found his guy in Billy Donovan and they are going to give him a real chance to prove it. I don’t think anything would happen this season unless they lost in the first round again, but I wouldn’t anticipate that. If that were to happen and they were the 6th seed and lost in the 1st round, then I think the following season he would be under the microscope. But as of right now I don’t think he is in any danger.[3]

Tyler: Let’s talk about Russell. He is such an interesting player. At worst he is the 8th best player in the world, but he does have some flaws. I recently published an article about these and how he can improve to maximize the team’s potential.[4] There are a couple things I want your thoughts on. There are about four or five possessions a game that Russ simply wastes rather than continue the flow of the game or get other guys involved, and we see him force a three or force an early shot. Second, when he is off the ball he doesn’t really move, but there have been instances where he will float around or come off a screen, set a quick screen and immediately go on the attack. Why hasn’t he been willing to do a little more of that in his career especially since Durant left?

Andrew: Yeah, the screening stuff has been there his whole career. I did a study with Michele Berra and Vantage Sports during the 2016 season when Durant was still on the team, and Russ just never screened at all. He would some out of timeout plays, but to me it’s just a lack of willingness. That is where it lies. Is he willing to set the screens? Billy loves off the ball movement. He values screening and Russell hasn’t really been a guy to do that at all. They do have a guy now who can handle the ball better than anybody they have had in while in Dennis Schroder. If Russell is going to change then this will be the season to do it, and we can kind of see what the rest of his career will look like if he is willing to play off ball. I think it’s really all about him being willing to shoot threes off the ball. If he can just be willing to catch and shoot more, his three point percentage will go up.

As far as the possessions he will waste or the dumb possessions. That isn’t going to go away. That is part of what makes Russell, Russell. He is a reckless player at times, but sometimes being that reckless will lead to greatness. I will just point to the 2017 season against Denver when he hit the record for triple doubles and hit that amazing shot to win the game.[5] That same recklessness that takes dumb shots earlier at the end of the third quarter is the same that wins the MVP and that game in Denver. I don’t think the organization has any interest in eliminating that or trying to get that out of him because they know you kind of have to take the good and the bad with Russ.

Tyler: That remind me of a game that same season against Washington where Russ was having an awful shooting night, but hit two clutch threes at the end of the game. I think it was Nick Gallo that asked Russ about his mentality. Russ just gave a smile and gave one of my favorite quotes saying, “I ain’t ever gonna stop”.[6] That’s Russell Westbrook right there.

Andrew: That’s exactly right. You want him to stop taking the dumb shots and forcing things, but that’s just Russell. In some ways the Thunder have created a monster with him, but also, they have a guy who won MVP two seasons ago and not many teams have that. It’s always going to be a wild ride with Russell Westbrook as your alpha dog.

Tyler: Is Steven Adams the greatest interview ever?[7]

Andrew: He’s awesome. He’s really down to earth and tries to answer your question. He’s really smart, and that is one of the most underplayed things about him. He might have the best basketball mind on the team. He knows the game so well and is such a student of the game. He is incredibly funny and great in the locker room, but if you want a technical basketball question answered, he’s the guy to talk to. He will really give you an insightful answer.

Tyler: How confident are you one of the young guys is going to pop in the near future on a 1-10 scale?

Andrew: An 8. I think they have some really talented guys. TFerg is at the top of that list. The Thunder really like Hamidou Diallo, and they have him on a nice contract.

Tyler: I was surprised by how polished Diallo looked in Summer League.

Andrew: He showed quite a bit. He was impressive no question about that. You also have to take into account that he was told to just go out there and play. If I had to bet I would put him behind TFerg and Abrines in terms of who will become a top 8 rotation player.

Tyler: To close us out I have a few rapid fire True/False questions for you.

Tyler: First, OKC will finish as a top three seed in the regular season.

Andrew: True

Tyler: Russell Westbrook will finish top three in MVP voting.

Andrew: False

Tyler: The national media will end their irrational hate of OKC after this season.

Andrew: False

Tyler: The Thunder’s new City Edition Jerseys will be worse than last years.

Andrew: True. I kind of liked the grey ones.[8]

Final notes from the Interview:

  1. A Kyle Singler emergency pod will probably not happen if he gets jettisoned.[9]
  2. I go to a University in Indiana and Andrew gave some insight in how to deal with the irrational Paul George hate. Shouts to him for that.
  3. The future of Abrines is quite murky with the Thunder after this year.
  4. After talking to Andrew I want to meet Steven Adams more than ever.

I’d like to thank Andrew for agreeing to chat with me for a while. I have been a big fan of his for a few years now, and it was great to chat Thunder basketball with him. I look forward to listening to Andrew in the future and perhaps chatting with him again. One last time, if you aren’t listening to Down To Dunk or the OKC Dream Team podcasts YOU NEED TO START RIGHT NOW!

  1. I love this point on Adams Summer League. It makes me wonder how many NBA dreams were crushed by a bruising Steven “Khal Drogo” Adams screen. ↑
  2. This is the part where I try not to cry during our chat. ↑
  3. Thank goodness. Any coach who casually drinks from the prop Gatorade in the post-game presser is a coach I want to have. ↑
  4. It’s fun and it’s about Russ. Definitely worth checking out. ↑
  5. Are you really a Thunder fan if that shot doesn’t give you chills? ↑
  6. Other favorite Russel Quotes are “Sting for Who” and “Shoes make an outfit” ↑
  7. It is my dream to ask Steven a question and him respond by referring to me as “mate”. ↑
  8. Here we learn to go to Tim Duncan before Andrew for fashion advice… ↑
  9. Andrew assured me he won’t be on the team come September. ↑

 

Where the Detroit Pistons Stand

Pistons

Being stuck in mediocrity is a dangerous place in the NBA. Not being bad enough to tank, but not good enough to win playoff games is the most difficult spot to be in as an organization. It’s an even more precarious situation if you have an expensive roster. The Detroit Pistons find themselves in these dangerous waters.

Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are all under contract the next two years eating away at around 60% of the cap this season and nearly 70% the following season. That’s comparable to what the Houston Rockets are paying their three highest paid players for the next two seasons and one of those guys is  named Ryan Anderson. Houston was one win away from the finals last season while Detroit was four wins away from finishing .500. The trade for Griffin last season was one that stunned the NBA world and it was an effort by Detroit to gain relevance again. Was it worth spending around 30% of your cap space on a big man with an injury history as rich as Griffin’s? The Pistons are already shedding out a significant amount of money to Center Andre Drummond and they only managed to go 11-14 with Griffin in the lineup after the trade deadline. Not exactly a record to boost the confidence of Detroit hopefuls.

Piston fans are not without hope. Their team isn’t bad enough to tank and the organization clearly has no intentions of doing so. Griffin is a top 15 player in the league when healthy and is one of the most elite passing big men in the game. They will boast an elite rebounding team and will be in the mix for a top 10 defense. They have the good fortune of playing in a conference where one star and a scrappy defense can get you into the playoffs and make a series interesting.

Dwane Casey
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The hiring of Dwane Casey can’t be understated either. Adding an elite head coach to any roster means improvement and the Pistons won nearly 40 games last year and now have a full season with Griffin. There will be two playoff spots up for grabs in the East this season (maybe 3 if Dwight Howard causes the Wizards to spontaneously combust).  With the addition of an elite head coach and having their new All Star for a full season this team has a ceiling of being the 6th seed in the conference.

Detroit fans are going to be in for an interesting ride. There will be times they want the front office to simply blow it all up and start from scratch with Dwane Casey at the helm. But this team will have stretches where they impose their physical will and look like a team capable of pushing a higher seeded team to the brink. Questions over Reggie Jackson’s future will dominate a lot of story-lines and might not be answered at all this year. The Pistons are yearning to be relevant again and while it might not happen this year, they certainly have the makings of a team that could surprise a few people.

 

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NBA Sleepers

We all have that player.

I was convinced that Jared Sullinger was going to be a superstar. The dude was a man among boys in college and I thought it would translate to the NBA. Plus, he had soft touch you rarely see in big men. Welp, I was wrong. Dead Wrong. As of now, Sully is playing in China AKA basketball’s version of The island of misfit toys.

Who else could be headed that way? Time will tell. As of now, I am here to tell you all about some players you should not give up on yet. We begin with a former lottery pick who plays for the Miami Heat.

 

Justise Winslow

It seems as even though his own team wants to move on from him…

Fortunately, Winslow survived the draft day trade rumors and is still playing ball in Miami. This is certainly good for the former Duke product, as playing alongside someone like Coach Spo can only help Winslow achieve his potential.

Why am I still so high on Winslow? Although he has failed to display them consistently, the lefty has all of the traits you want in a starting wing. Take his shooting ability, for example.

On paper, Winslow’s shooting stats don’t pop out at you. Take a deeper look, however. Justice took 54 percent of his triples from the corner last season, and nailed 40 percent of them. He has the potential to stretch defenses, which is covetable in today’s game.

Winlow can do more than simply bang corner threes, though. Miami can and has run some of its offense through Winslow. His passing vision is underrated, but I like Winslow more for his ability to score via the pick and roll. I lined up this YouTube video so all you have to do it click play, then watch Winslow consecutively weave his way into nice scoring opportunities off of screens.

Defensively, Winslow has some hidden tools as well. Sure, we know about his strong frame, quick feet, and solid wingspan. Yet, his timing as a shotblocker may prove worthy as coaches turn to super-small ball lineups. Again, I did the work so you don’t have to. Click play and watch until the end to see how Winslow can serve as a Jerami Grant/Draymond Green rim protector.

With his spacing, pick and roll potential, and defensive versatility, Miami should continue to be patient with Winslow. Other teams would be wise to poach him as well.

 

Willie Cauley-Stein

Before last season, people were ready to give up on WCS. The former Wildcat has loads of potential, but reports suggested that he may be obtainable. Check out what the plugged in Marc Stein had to say about Cauley-Stein during the 2016-17 season.

“Keep an eye on Kings big man Willie Cauley-Stein. Word is Sacramento is open to moving the second-year big man, who wants more of a role than he has under new Kings coach Dave Joerger’

Interesting, indeed. Of course, WCS stuck around and had a good year as a starter last season. Still, Sacramento is stacked with big men. They already have Harry Giles, Skal Labissiere, Deyonta Davis, and drafted Marvin Bagley III. If Giles and Skal take steps forward this year, Sacramento may choose to let WCS walk in free agency and opt to retain future cap space.

Yet, Cauley-Stein is certainly worth an investment. WCS is as nimble as they come for big men. He is a near 7-footer with a 7’3″ wingspan and runs like a wide receiver. Probably because he used to be one. The athletic tools are there for him to switch on screens and also defend the paint.

We catch a glimpse of this nimbleness in Cauley-Stein’s per-36 numbers. Now, there is a reason guys do not play 36 minutes, but this statistic can still be a useful projection tool. So, what do his numbers look like?

Per 36 Minutes Table
Season Age Tm G STL BLK PTS
2015-16 22 SAC 66 1.2 1.7 11.8
2016-17 23 SAC 75 1.3 1.1 15.5
2017-18 24 SAC 73 1.4 1.2 16.4
Career 214 1.3 1.3 14.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/4/2018.

Glance at his steal and block numbers, also known as STOCK. Averaging over one steal per game and one block per game indicates that WCS has active enough hands and feet to switch onto guards. There is another number which stands out to me, however.

Cauley-Stein may be more than a gravity puller on pick and rolls. The guy may actually be a facilitator as well. When I saw his assists numbers from last year, I was encouraged to go back and watch some more film. After all, big men who get 2.4 or more assists per game deserve more film study.

To clarify, I do not expect Cauley-Stein to operate from the pick and roll the same way Al Horford and Blake Griffin do. Yet, WCS can make the right pass. He often finds himself with a tons of space, because opposing teams want him taking jumpers. What happens when WCS finds himself in these situations. Good stuff.

Consider this clip of him playing against the Warriors and their tough defense. WCS is actually be pressed really hard by Andre Iguodala. What does he do? Cauley-Stein actual does a little crossover, then fires a bullet pass to a cutting Bogdanovic for a floater. I know. I had to watch it a couple times too.

Fast forward to the 1:03 mark of that same clip. David West is giving WCS a lot of space, and for good reason. The Kings decide to run some off-ball stuff for Bogdanovic again. This time WCS makes a smart bounce pass to BB as he cuts in for a layup.

The Kings know that WCS only draws attention as a screener. Everyone dares him to shoot, so Sacramento has drawn up some off-ball stuff for other players to do when WCS has the ball near the free throw line. If they were smart, Sacramento would look to do more of this and even get Marvin Bagley involved in some big-to-big passing as well. Don’t give up on the guy just yet, I expect him to turn his career trajectory around during the 2018-19 season.

 

Shabazz Napier

I know. Here goes my UConn bias again. Despite having earned another contract, Napier hasn’t lived up to the hype of a former first-round pick. Yet, I would argue that Napier has 6th man written all over him. Think Dellavedova during the Cavs title run.

Why am I still high on Napier? Excellent question. Yes, I know he has bounced around to four teams in what will be five years. But, Napier has a skill set that matches what today’s head coaches are looking for. Plus, he experienced a minor breakout year in Portland. As the stats tell, last season was his best yet.

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm Pos G MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT% TRB AST PTS
2014-15 23 MIA PG 51 19.8 1.7 4.5 .382 0.8 2.3 .364 .786 2.2 2.5 5.1
2015-16 24 ORL PG 55 10.9 1.2 3.7 .338 0.6 1.9 .327 .733 1.0 1.8 3.7
2016-17 25 POR PG 53 9.7 1.4 3.5 .399 0.6 1.7 .370 .776 1.2 1.3 4.1
2017-18 26 POR PG 74 20.7 3.0 7.2 .420 1.1 2.9 .376 .841 2.3 2.0 8.7
Career 233 15.7 1.9 4.9 .395 0.8 2.3 .363 .802 1.7 1.9 5.7
2 seasons POR 127 16.1 2.3 5.6 .415 0.9 2.4 .374 .824 1.8 1.7 6.8
1 season ORL 55 10.9 1.2 3.7 .338 0.6 1.9 .327 .733 1.0 1.8 3.7
1 season MIA 51 19.8 1.7 4.5 .382 0.8 2.3 .364 .786 2.2 2.5 5.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/4/2018.

Even more impressive are his numbers as a starter. When filling in for Dame Lillard, Napier put up a stat line of 16, 4 and 4 while banging 38 percent of his triples. Not bad.

So why wasn’t Napier more successful in Portland? I will answer my own question with another question. If C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard were your two best players, would you try and squeeze in more minutes for Shabazz Napier? Me neither.

It may be hard for Napier to find minutes in Brooklyn as well, but I like his chances. The Nets have done a wonderful job with player development as well as targeting under-the-radar guys with untapped potential. If the Nets acquired Napier, they did so for a reason. He will play behind Russell and Dinwiddie, but Napier will wiggle his way into some playing time eventually.

What will he bring to this squad? Napier can facilitate, but is more of a scoring guard. He takes 41 percent of all his shots from three, and drains a good amount of them. Napier’s assist percentage is not too high for a distributor, but this is because he is often asked to lead the second units in scoring. Yet, he is a natural scorer who relies on his shiftiness and sneaky athleticism to get buckets.

Oh, and the shiftiness is real. Watch this eurostep and pass which leads to a three-ball.

In fact, I recommend watching the whole clip.

If Napier can find minutes next season, he can display his talent. Not only is he one of the most clutch players out there, he is also one of the hardest workers. Don’t bet against this man.

 

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