Los Angeles Clippers Sneakily Leading the West

When the NBA’s power rankings for Week 6 came out, some were shocked to say the least. While flying under the radar, the Los Angeles Clippers have been ranked No. 1.

It’s easy to reminisce about the old Clippers squad that included their (former) face of the franchise Blake Griffin, and the rest of their front runners- Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. Those three combined with the skills of JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford and a hefty bench, it was long expected that the Clippers would rise to the top. Obviously, that never happened.

Today, Los Angeles is turning into the dark horse of the league. Not many have been paying too much attention to them, that is, until now.

The Clippers roster is young, and eccentric. It’s definitely full of names you wouldn’t likely make a team out of, and I think that’s why it’s working. This young LA team is currently on a five-game winning streak and looking to make it six tonight against the Washington Wizards. Clippers are already favored the win by 54.7%.

Doc Rivers has found a solid rotation and a hard-to-beat starting five including Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Marcin Gortat and Tobias Harris. Their last game against the Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley started for Gallinari who’s currently listed day-to-day with an illness.

Rookie Gilgeous-Alexander came into the league playing like he’s been here for a couple years. He was comfortable and aggressive, and he’s continued that trend. In his last 10 games he’s averaged 10.8 points and about three assists per game while shooting 46% from the field. The rookie teamed up alongside a vet like Beverley has been a great dynamic for the team. Also, Gilgeous-Alexander is getting the chance to learn the ways of the game from one of the most aggressive point guards in the league. It’ll be exciting to watch him grow as a player. Especially if he becomes the new face of the franchise, which it seems like he’s already on the road to doing so.

In the month of November, Harris has proved how important he is to this team. He’s averaging 20.9 points and 8.8 boards per game. He also has an active streak of 15+ points in 16 straight games.

However, it’s not just the starters. If you’ve watched even one Clippers game this season, then you saw the strength of their players off the bench. The days of one player being the only solid sixth man are gone. Lou Williams is always dependable, but the Clippers also have the advantage of Mike Scott and the monster himself- Montrezl Harrell. There’s several other power houses coming off the bench for LA as well, like the friendly giant Boban Marjanovic.

Both Harrell and Williams have scored double digits in their last five games. Against Golden State, Harrell dropped 23 while Williams dropped 25.

In just November, Harrell has been averaging 17 points per game while shooting 68% from the field. Some starters in the NBA don’t even make stats like that.

As a team, the Clippers are averaging 117.9 points and 46.8 total rebounds per game, while their opponents are averaging 112.8 points and 45.9 boards per game. The team is also shooting just below 40% from the three-point line and slightly above 50% from the field. They’re also shooting 82% from the free-throw line, while their opponents are shooting 77% from the stripe.

Los Angeles is currently leading the West, tied up with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies who all hold the same record of 11-5. The Golden State Warriors are just under them with a 12-6 record.

As much as we all foresaw the Clippers making a legit title run while they had stars on their roster, it just never really clicked. Only two months into this season and things are already clicking for this squad. It was great to have superstars on the team, but with a roster like this one, full of young and hungry players, success is more likely than ever now.

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Is there a Lonzo trade out there?

(photo cred Sportsnewsinstant.com)

Immediate follow up question: Should the Lakers even consider trading Lonzo?

Do yourself a favor and search “Lonzo Trade” on Twitter. Grab a coffee, maybe a snack wrap from McDonalds, and settle in somewhere cozy. Then look at all the angry tweets from Lakers fans, urging Magic and Pelinka to ship away their young point guard for a whichever talented guard exploded for their team that night. Last night, it was Kemba Walker (more on him to come.)

There is a case to be made for trading Lonzo, despite him still possessing a high ceiling. On the other hand, a case can be made that Los Angeles might be one of the worst fits for Lonzo regarding his development; he may never reach that high ceiling next to LeBron.

Therefore, this will be a blog of five parts: two quick arguments on why and why not Lonzo should be traded, two possible trade destinations and a final statement. Buckle up, folks.

1. Taking my Ball and going home

When the UCLA product was in his pre-draft process, it was easy to see how scouts fell in love with his ability to pass the ball. People were comparing Ball to Jason Kidd, and saying that his floor would be someone like Ricky Rubio, but with the potential to be a better shooter and better defender.

I cannot emphasize his extraordinary vision enough. Ball simply sees reads more quickly than other guards; some guards don’t even see them at all. Take this clip below, for example. Ball starts passing the ball to a cutting Kyle Kuzma before Kuz even leaves from his spot in the corner.

The majority of NBA guards either won’t see this read, or when they do, it is a step late which will force the cutter to either adjust for the score, or allow the defense to catch up. Ball’s feel for the game is innate, and it shows in his passing ability.

Ball’s defense has been encouraging as well. He has good lateral quickness, is a smooth athlete, and has a decent wingspan to match that 6’6″ frame. At times, his defensive IQ is just as good as his offensive IQ, and when the effort is there, Ball shows the potential to be a plus defender who is capable of guarding multiple positions. See for yourself.

At the end of the day, Ball has been both frustrating and tantalizing at times. His rookie season stats, however, put him in historic standing. Take a peak at home many players averaged at least 10 points, 7 assists and 1.5 steals their rookie year.

Query Results Table
Crit Crit Crit Crit
Rk Player Season Age Tm Lg PTS AST STL WS
1 Magic Johnson 1979-80 20 LAL NBA 18.0 7.3 2.4 10.5
2 Chris Paul 2005-06 20 NOK NBA 16.1 7.8 2.2 10.4
3 Ben Simmons 2017-18 21 PHI NBA 15.8 8.2 1.7 9.2
4 Mark Jackson 1987-88 22 NYK NBA 13.6 10.6 2.5 7.6
5 Phil Ford 1978-79 22 KCK NBA 15.9 8.6 2.2 5.7
6 Sherman Douglas 1989-90 23 MIA NBA 14.3 7.6 1.8 4.4
7 Allen Iverson 1996-97 21 PHI NBA 23.5 7.5 2.1 4.1
8 Jason Kidd 1994-95 21 DAL NBA 11.7 7.7 1.9 3.7
9 Tim Hardaway 1989-90 23 GSW NBA 14.7 8.7 2.1 3.3
10 Isiah Thomas 1981-82 20 DET NBA 17.0 7.8 2.1 2.3
11 Kenny Smith 1987-88 22 SAC NBA 13.8 7.1 1.5 2.2
12 John Wall 2010-11 20 WAS NBA 16.4 8.3 1.8 2.2
13 Lonzo Ball 2017-18 20 LAL NBA 10.2 7.2 1.7 2.0
14 Ricky Rubio 2011-12 21 MIN NBA 10.6 8.2 2.2 2.0
15 Gary Grant 1988-89 23 LAC NBA 11.9 7.1 2.0 -0.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/18/2018.

2. It’s your Ball now

Sometimes, we have a tendency to overthink the game.

Lonzo Ball’s best skill is his ability to create for others. In order to do this, he must have the ball in his hands often. Playing alongside LeBron James, Brandon Ingram and Kuzma, Ball does not have the ball often enough to maximize his impact on the game. Logic.

Specifically, I compared Ball’s average second per touch to other players who either were among the league leaders in assists or had a similar playing style to Ball. John Wall, Ricky Rubio and Ben Simmons, as well as a plethora of other creators, all averaged more seconds per touch than Ball (NBA.com) What’s more, they led Ball by considerable margins as well, as Lonzo averaged a mediocre 3.82 seconds per touch.

Yet, Ball finished the league 13th in total touches per game last season. There is conflicting data here. How can Ball get so many touches while not keeping the ball in his hands for too long?

The answer lies in the Lakers’ pace. They are 3rd in the league in pace, which means they get up and down the court a lot. They are 2nd in the league in fast break points and also 2nd in total possessions per game. These dudes fly up and down the court, and Lonzo is often the creator. His grab and go ability allows him to do this.

So what do we make of this?

Lonzo is a beast at finding people in transition. He makes full court outlet passes reminiscent of Kevin Love. Yet, Lonzo struggles in the pick and roll. In order to reach his ceiling, Lonzo has to improve this area, something of which he is surely capable of doing. Ball finished in the 17th percentile for pick and roll ball handlers last year, and despite improving to the 45th percentile so far this year, Lonzo still hasn’t mastered this part of his game.

With LeBron and other creators on the Lakers, Lonzo will not get the chance to develop fully into a complete NBA playmaker. If Magic and co. want Lonzo to be a transition god who takes 57 percent of his field goals from 3-point land, then so be it. But they would be wasting an entire area of his game which if developed correctly, could see Lonzo become one of the best point guards in the league.

As of right now, the Lakers are using him as a 3&D, grab and go fastbreak leader, although he can be so much more. If that is their plan for Lonzo, why not trade him for an established star who is a better fit besides LeBron? Speaking of which…

3. Charlotte, an old trading partner

We all remember how the Hornets gave Kobe Bryant to the Lakers, right? Perhaps now is a time for karma to swing back Charlotte’s way.

Kemba Walker is one of the most underrated stars in this game. His pick and roll game is elite. Kemba finished in the 92nd percentile as a PnR ball handler last year for a dismal Hornets team. The dude’s lack of team success probably leads to him being overlooked as one of the league’s premier guards. But let’s see how his last last season compares to the 2017-18 season of other stars such as Kyrie Irving, Dame Lillard, Kyle Lowry and John Wall.

Per Game Table
Rk Player Season Age G FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% eFG% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL TOV PTS
1 Kyrie Irving 2017-18 25 60 8.9 18.1 .491 2.8 6.8 .408 .568 3.9 4.4 .889 3.8 5.1 1.1 2.3 24.4
2 Damian Lillard 2017-18 27 73 8.5 19.4 .439 3.1 8.6 .361 .519 6.8 7.4 .916 4.5 6.6 1.1 2.8 26.9
3 Kyle Lowry 2017-18 31 78 5.2 12.1 .427 3.1 7.6 .399 .553 2.9 3.3 .854 5.6 6.9 1.1 2.3 16.2
4 Kemba Walker 2017-18 27 80 7.4 17.0 .431 2.9 7.5 .384 .516 4.5 5.3 .864 3.1 5.6 1.1 2.2 22.1
5 John Wall 2017-18 27 41 6.8 16.3 .420 1.5 4.1 .371 .466 4.3 5.9 .726 3.7 9.6 1.4 3.9 19.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/18/2018.

Kemba is right on pace with his colleagues. This year, he is putting up a crazy 28.7/6.1/4.5 stat line while taking 10.3 triples per game and making a wild 37 percent of them. He is wonderful fit next to LeBron too.

Not only does Kemba have the intangibles to play with LeBron, his on-court style meshes well with what the King needs. For instance, Kemba is more than a ball-dominant point guard. This season, he is taking 4.5 3-pointers per game on catch and shoot opportunities, and sinking 38 percent of them. Wow.  This shows that Kemba can move around on off-ball action when LeBron is handling the rock.

Yet, Kemba can also take some of the offensive load away from LeBron. He is a pick and roll savant who can dish to open teammates or hit a deadly pull-up. I’m not kidding about the “deadly” part. Walker hits 45 percent of his 10 pull-up attempts per game, and 37 percent of his 5 pull-up triples per game. So far this year, those are better numbers than what CP3, Lowry, Irving, Lillard, Wall and that Harden guy have put up. He is a late game closer, for sure.

On a one-year, expiring deal, Los Angeles would have to get a wink-wink deal from Kemba that he would resign. But, the man is an excellent fit next to Lebron. He will turn 29 this season and seems to be getting better as he grows older.

Charlotte has a lot of incentive to make this deal too. They have a promising young core in the much improved Malik Monk and Miles Bridges. They cannot let Kemba walk in free agency for nothing in return. Landing Ball would be a steal. Charlotte could bottom out and pick up a high draft pick this year, giving them four solid players to build around going forward.

I know what you are thinking: “Lonzo Ball has more trade value than Kemba Walker.” Well, not so fast. What are the odds Lonzo Ball turns into a two-time All-Star and ever stars a season the way Kemba has this year? A better question: What are the odds Lonzo Ball ever plays as good as Kemba is playing this year? Of course, we all have differing opinions. But, Magic Johnson and company should seriously consider reaching out to the Michael Jordan and the Hornets.

The Trade:

kemba-trade.png

4. What’s up, Milwaukee

This is the one I will catch a lot of pushback on, I can feel it. Well, pushback from Bucks fans, most likely.

If there is one player who will challenge Walker for most underrated in the league, it is Khris Middleton. The guy can defend four positions and beat you from all three levels offensively. This year, my guy is putting up 19 per game on 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from deep, on 7 3-point attempts per game, mind you.

A two-way star, Middleton will be receiving a max contract this offseason that likely starts around $30 million per year. Ouch.

The Bucks already have a team payroll of $126 million for this season. Let’s do some projecting here. Next season, if they resign solely Middleton and no one else, their salary will be around $110 million. Keep in mind that they still have to resign at least one of either Eric Bledsoe or Malcolm Brogdon, both of whom will not come cheap. Oh, and given that Brook Lopez is having the most efficient shooting year of his career (62.5 eFG percentage!) the Bucks may want to bring him back too.

Let’s be generous and say that Brogdon, and not Bledsoe, comes back for $12 million per year. That brings their cap up to $122 million. Congrats (sarcasm), you aren’t bringing back Lopez in this scenario, or the rejuvenated Bledsoe.

The Bucks would be cap crunched for years if they resign Middleton. He is a wonderful talent, but does a core of Giannis, Middleton and X take the Bucks to a title? Hmmm. Let me present to you another option.

Send Lonzo Ball to Milwaukee for Khris Middleton. Sell high on the guy and get a guard with All-NBA potential. Replacing Ball for Middleton will see the Bucks salary (before any signings) be at $89 million next year. This gives them the flexibility to bring back both Lopez and either Brogdon or Bledsoe.

Lonzo would be a much better fit next to Giannis than he would next to Lebron. Despite having the Greek Freak on their team, Coach Bud and the Bucks still run a ton of action through Bledsoe, their point guard. In fact, Bledsoe is assisting on 28 percent of their buckets while on the court. Pretty good.

The Bucks play a style of basketball that would allow Lonzo to take advantage of his push-the-pace style. They are 5th in pace this year and 8th in fast break points. A Giannis-Ball fast break connection should give you shivers. Yet, they also run a great combo of free-flowing sets and traditional pick and roll basketball, giving Lonzo a place to develop the PnR game previously discussed.

Calm down Bucks fans, and let me tell you why you should consider this trade. In all likeliness, the Bucks ceiling with Middleton falls somewhere short of an NBA title. In a Eastern conference with a talent-heavy top four teams, you need to take a gamble to acquire top-end talent. That is the way the league has always been and will always be.

Lonzo Ball is not currently top-end talent, but he has the potential to be. If he hits, then the Bucks would be looking at an plus defensive player who is one of the best playmakers in the league and can space the floor too. Plus, he is cheap right now. Locking in Middleton means that the Bucks roster will stay the same for the foreseeable future, for better or for worse. Acquiring Ball gives Milwaukee a dice roll at supreme talent and cap flexibility for the future. Throw in another asset for good measure.

The Lakers should be all over this deal. In a lineup of Middleton, LeBron, Ingram and Hart, the Lakers would have four plus defenders who are super switchy. Also, a lineup of those four plus Kuzma gives LeBron the coveted “four shooters” lineup we want around him. Can the Lakers get better talent than Middleton, however?

middleton-trade.png

5. Closing statement

Jimmy Butler is resigning in Philadelphia. KD is not coming to LA; if he wants to be better than LeBron then he cannot play with LeBron. Klay Thompson is most likely staying put. Will DeMarcus Cousins recover from his injury, and if so does he sign in LA? Who knows. Kawhi? So far, we have heard nothing further about him coming to LA and if anything, he looks mighty comfortable in Toronto.

What’s the point? The free agency market –  or better yet, pre-agency market –  does not look too promising for the Lakers. Shoot, they couldn’t convince hometown star Paul George to sign. Don’t get me wrong, the Lakers still have a great shot at landing Kawhi. But should LA really put all their eggs in that basket?

If they strike out in free agency, a real possibility, then what does LA do next? Why not trade for Middleton or Kemba and have the leg up on resigning them? Lonzo won’t be the player he was drafted to be there, so send him out for a good return before his trade value plummets even more.

Thoughts? @Mattesposito_

PS. Here is how the rest of NBA Twitter feels about this so far…

https://twitter.com/MattEsposito_/status/1063912269539655682

 

 

Buddy Hield is having a breakout season

The Sacramento Kings have started the 2018-19 season better than anyone outside of California’s capital city would have predicted, and third-year shooting guard Buddy Hield deserves a significant share of the credit.

Hield is tied for the team lead in scoring, averaging 18.7 points per game while shooting 47.4 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three-point range and 82.9 percent at the free-throw line. His 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game are also career-high numbers.

The Kings are 8-6 following Monday’s win over the Spurs. The franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 years is currently in eighth place in the Western Conference.

It’s unlikely Sacramento hangs onto that playoff seed — slow-starting yet star-studded teams like the Rockets, Jazz, Lakers, Pelicans and Timberwolves are all behind the Kings in the standings — but they have noticeably improved from last season, when they finished 27-55.

The Kings are trending in the right direction, with Hield enjoying a breakout season as one of the important pieces of their rebuilding project.

Two years ago, when Hield was crowned college basketball’s national player of the year by a majority of outlets, there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t go on to become a star in the NBA.

Hield averaged 25.0 points per game as a senior at Oklahoma, leading the nation in three-pointers and leading the Sooners to the Final Four. He was taken No. 6 in the 2016 draft by the Pelicans.

However, Buddy didn’t exactly take the league by storm. Midway through his rookie season, he was traded to the Kings as part of the DeMarcus Cousins deal.

The history of NBA stars who were discarded during during their first year by their first team is short, but it has happened before. Chauncey Billups and Joe Johnson come to mind — both of them were traded by the Celtics as rookies and bounced around for a few years before earning All-Star status.

Hield could follow a similar path. Early into his third season, he is producing at a consistently high level. And more important than his stats, Hield appears to be carrying himself differently. He is playing like he believes he is the best player on the court.

Hield may not be “The Man” in Sacramento (yet). That title could go to point guard De’Aaron Fox, who is tied with Hield for the team lead in scoring at 18.7 points per game. Perhaps it’s being groomed for rookie forward Marvin Bagley III, the No. 2 pick in the most recent draft. The Kings have one thing in common with the two-time defending NBA champion Warriors in that they don’t have a clearly defined No. 1 guy.

But Hield is at least carrying himself like he wants to be the Kings’ top guy. He is calling for the ball in the fourth quarter. He wants it at the end of quarters so he can take the last shot, like many stars do.

Another thing that stars do is respond strongly to a subpar performance.

On Oct. 23, Hield had by far his worst game of the season, scoring just five points in a loss to the Nuggets. He bounced back by scoring 20-plus points in six of his next seven games, including a season-high 27-point effort in a win over the Hawks.

The jump shot — and the range that comes with it — will always be the bread-and-butter of Hield’s game. But this season he is becoming more of a well-rounded scorer instead of a pure shooter. He’s also showing improvement as a ball-handler and passer. His Defensive Rating is even a career-best 100.9 this season, which ranks third-best on the Kings.

Hield is leading the Kings in shot attempts and ranks second in minutes played. Head coach Dave Joerger is keeping Hield on the court when it matters, and Hield wants the ball when it matters. And he’s producing when he gets it.

All-Star nods and having his name at the top of the marquee may still be a few years away for Hield, but this season it looks like he has put himself on a realistic road to what seemed like a certainty when he entered the league.

Thank You Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler

On Monday, it will become official. Jimmy Butler will be a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. Over the course of the past year and a half, Butler has put Minnesota fans through it all. He taught Minnesota how to love basketball again. Butler gave Wolves fans a sense of hope and optimism for the future. He got Minnesota back to the playoffs, a place they hadn’t been since the Kevin Garnett days. Then, he also taught Minnesota that they can’t be too fortunate. Right when fans were hopeful of the future, ready to make another run at the playoffs, Butler asked out. But, let’s forget about that and look back on the good times that Jimmy Butler provided for Minnesota. Timberwolves fans, it’s time to say “Thank You” to Jimmy Butler.

 

Jimmy Butler,

Thank you for bringing back basketball hope to the state of Minnesota. The 2017 NBA Draft had Minnesota buzzing after the trade for you was completed. Wolves fans finally felt like they had a legitimate chance at making the playoffs again for the first time since the 2003/04 season.

Thank you for giving out your phone number when you were introduced in Minnesota. Wolves fans bought in on that day. People could sense your determination and will to win, it was very apparent.

Thank you for playing with 100% energy and effort every game of the season. It’s not always the easiest thing to play at full effort, especially when you’re playing 40 minutes a game, thank you Tom Thibodeau. But, you didn’t complain. No matter how tired or out of breath you were, the effort was always there.

Thank you for providing Wolves fans and NBA fans across the globe with a number of classic GIFS. Especially my favorite video of you messing with Taj after a failed full-court heave.

Thank you for bringing the Minnesota Timberwolves back to the playoffs. It was a long 13 years for Minnesota basketball. It was quite the drought. I think half of Minnesota didn’t even realize we had a professional men’s basketball team anymore. But, that night at Target Center against the Denver Nuggets to get into the playoffs was special. Target Center was rocking, and there’s a chance we won’t see the Target Center like that again, at least in the immediate future.

Your time in Minnesota came to a sour end, and Wolves fans won’t be happy with that. But, for a franchise that had been missing the “it” player for over a decade, thank you for showing Minnesota what it’s like to watch winning basketball again.

Jimmy Butler Trade: Initial Reactions

Jimmy Butler

When the Sixers and Wolves get on the phone with the league office on Monday morning, it will all be official. Jimmy Butler is being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. The complete trade is as follows: the Wolves will send Butler and Justin Patton to Philly in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick. Initially, it looks like a deal that both sides should be comfortable with, at least given the circumstances. Minnesota finally gets to move on, and hopefully, start looking like a basketball team again. The Sixers get a third star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. For the purpose of this article, I will be providing reactions on the side of the Timberwolves.

 

It was time to move on

When push comes to shove, the Timberwolves had to trade Jimmy Butler. They already let the situation go on too long, and it was beginning to take a toll on the locker room. Media members who were in Minnesota’s locker room following their loss to the Kings last night described the scene as frustrated and beat up. Despite the players insisting that the Butler situation wasn’t affecting their play, it was hard to deny the lack of chemistry on the court for Minnesota early in the season.

 

Was this the best deal?

Perhaps Minnesota didn’t get the best deal. Their best offer could’ve came before the season when Miami reportedly offered Josh Richardson and a first-round pick to Minnesota. The Wolves balked and had to settle for what they could get. However, the deal they did get was not equal value, but good value considering the situation.

 

The new-look Wolves

Perhaps the biggest winner in this trade is Karl-Anthony Towns. It appears the Wolves are ready to run through the all-star center on offense, something Wolves fans have been pleading for all season. With Butler out of town, Towns and Wiggins will be the main scoring threats for Minnesota, and with all the talk about Minnesota not being able to win without Jimmy, those two players should be motivated. Additionally, getting Covington and Saric provide long-term stability to the roster that sets them up great for the years to come. While the team may flourish under a coach not named Tom Thibodeau, this was the first step in the right direction.

Robert Covington and Dario Saric
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

How the new guys fit in

If I had to guess, Covington and Saric should see themselves plug right into the starting lineup. While Thibs may decide to keep Taj Gibson in the starting lineup, with Saric coming off the bench, Saric needs to be the starter while Minnesota plays this season out.

The biggest upside to the return for Minnesota is the spacing that Covington and Saric provide. Covington is attempting 5.9 threes per game this season, while Saric is also shooting 5.4 shots from downtown this season. Minnesota has been focused on the three ball so far this season, and Covington and Saric will provide even better spacing for Minnesota when they enter the lineup. In Philly, Covington and Saric were a big reason why Embiid could be so efficient in the paint. Guys who were defending Covington or Saric could not sag off those guys to help on Embiid, because both players are effective shooters from three.

Another upside in the return for Minnesota is Covington’s defensive ability. Widely known as a great perimeter defender, Covington will likely guard the opposing team’s most effective player night in and night out. Minnesota is not a great defensive team, and while trading Butler will hurt their defense, adding Covington will make the drop off a little less hurtful.

 

Conclusion

As I have said all too many times, this was a move the Wolves needed to make. It was time, everybody knew it, and it was getting obvious on the court. While the Wolves likely won’t be contending for a title anytime soon, this was the first step in the right direction in getting Minnesota where they want to be.

Rookie Update: Trae Young’s game management

(photo cred: SB Nation)

A couple days ago, Trae Young and his Atlanta Hawks played the Miami Heat and came out victorious. While a win over a well-coached Heat team with a winning culture is certainly impressive, the most impressive feat was Young’s ability to make good decisions with the ball.

15 assists later, we see why Young was such a highly touted prospect.

Lucky for you, I am here to take you through this game, as well as others. Read on and find out exactly why Young has had a promising start to his career. Take a peek into his future and see how Young has adapted to the NBA game, and proving why scouts may be wrong about his game management skills.

Flashback: Where did we have Trae Young ranked?

Young was our number four prospect overall. His player profile highlighted some of the usual strengths for Young: NBA Range, extreme handle, excellent vision. It also profiled his weaknesses, such as his slight frame, shot selection, and inability to quarterback the game (or so we thought.)

During his initial NBA season, we expected Young to have some growing pains. He is going to take pull-up jumpers when he should pass instead, he is going to take contested shots among the trees, he is going to take 30 footers 9 seconds into the shot clock. Fine, okay.

Yet, what Young has shown so far is encouraging. With each game, his decision making has become better. While it may not always show in the turnover numbers, it shows in the eye test. Thankfully, there is plenty of game tape available.

Stick with me as I take you some early season progression of Trae Young’s game.

1. Pass this ball!

Earlier this year, against the Dallas Mavericks, Trae Young dazzled during the late stages of the game. Yet, he still made a crucial mistake when driving against forward Maxi Kleber.

Young beat Kleber off the dribble and darted towards the hoop, where rim-protector DeAndre Jordan was waiting. Seemingly, Young was scared by the prospect of DJ, and decided to cut back into Kleber in order to put his shot up. Consequentially, the shot was swatted.

Young missed a wide open Alex Len in the corner. Len has not been known to be a 3-point shooter, but check out his current 3-point numbers.

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm Lg Pos G 3P 3PA 3P%
2017-18 24 PHO NBA C 69 0.0 0.0 .333
2018-19 25 ATL NBA C 9 0.7 1.8 .375
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/6/2018.

Additionally, Len is taking half of his 3-pointers from the corner and hitting 37.5 percent of those attempts. What’s my point? Young should have kicked this ball to Len for a corner triple. Instead, he went back into the much taller defender and had his shot blocked. Check out the video below.

2. The right decision.

Bad decision by Young, correct? It seemed like he learned from this mistake, however. Look at what Young did against the Heat during the opening stages of their game. After beating Josh Richardson off the bounce, Young sees the monstrosity of Hassan Whiteside coming to protect the paint. So, what does he do?

This time, Young noticed that Kelly Olynyk was also coming over to be a shot blocker. Olynyk left his man, Omari Spellman, wide open. Young displayed his top-notch vision and slinged a gorgeous one-handed, left-handed pass to Spellman who drilled the triple.

The change in decision making here is noteworthy.  Will Young continue to make this good decision? No, not all the time. But his ability to recognize this shot-blocking threat and find the open shooter is nothing to be taken lightly. Simply put, not every starting NBA guard can make this read or deliver this pass. 

3. Using the body correctly

Guess what? Its Kleber time again! This time around, Young absolutely embarrassed Dennis Smith Jr with some nifty ball-handling (Sorry, DSJ!) Then, he takes on Kleber. Young is able to go strong into the chest of Kleber, and then bounce away from him. This gives him the space possible to put up a solid layup attempt, which goes in.

In the prior Young/Kleber clip, Young moved back into Kleber, but it did not create space. In fact, it eliminated space. Watch below and see exactly what I am talking about. This is what Young needs to do more of.

Young can finish around the rim, despite his small frame. He needs to pick and choose when to do so, however. Yet, the signs are showing that Young may be getting the hang of this.

4. Manipulating opposing big men

Out of all the Trae Young footage I have watched this year, this clip may be my favorite. And for good reason, too.

The Hawks run a horn set here, and the play is designed to free up either Spellman or Kent Bazemore for a 3-pointer. We know this because Len abandons his pick for Young and instead, runs crosscourt to set a screen for Bazemore. Bazemore (probably) has the option of going backdoor for a lob or coming around the pick to get a catch-and-shoot trey. He is well defended and the option for a pass is not there.

Young’s next read is to be for Spellman who popped to the perimeter. Yet, Young is doubled off of the pick, and has no clear angle to Spellman. What he does next displays his high-level basketball IQ and a growing sense of patience.

Young’s first two options are blown up, so he maintains his dribble and takes Olynyk one on one. KO’s upright stance is not ideal for the Heat. What’s more, capable defender Josh Richardson gets turned around, and in that instant he loses Spellman who cuts hard towards the rim.

So, Young fakes a layup attempt to free up the space needed to dump a pass off to Spellman. Trae has minimal room to make this pass, but sneaks it in there regardless. Spellman gets an and-one. Watch the entire clip for two angles of this play.

This play shows you the eyes that reside in the back of Mr. Young’s head. His playmaking ability is much better that what we saw during his college days, as he has more court to operate with. NBA spacing has done wonders for Young already, and he will continue to take advantage of spacing as his game grows. His ability to force opposing bigs into troubling situations is truly impressive sometimes.

5. Turning down good shots

Uhhhh….who thought we would be criticizing Young for turning down 3-pointers during his rookie season? Not me.

During this play, Young collects his rebound from a miss and resets the offense. Eventually, he gets the ball in a pick and roll and has tons of space for an open trey ball. Before I show you the film, take a look at how much space he has for the 3-point shot.

young 3 spacing.PNG

For a guy with such shooting prowess, this needs to be a pull-up 3-point attempt. Needs. To. Be. NBA analytic nerds probably cursed aloud when they saw this poor decision making. Young would go on to make a running jumper, but it was an inefficient shot that will miss more times than it goes in.

6. Pushing the pace with the pass

At Oklahoma, Young had an absurdly high usage percentage. My guy held the ball for what seemed like forever. Scouts worried if this would carry over to the League. So far, it looks like Young has made some substantial changes to the way he approaches offense.

Specifically, Young has placed an emphasis on pushing the pace. Yet, he is not always doing this by flying down the court with the ball in his hands. Young is letting that thang fly, and finding wide open players for both fast break 3-pointers and dunks. Example one is below.

Young never puts this ball down after receiving it with one hand. Love the celebration as well. In this next example, Young shows that he still has to learn when it’s the best time to make this pass.

As the Heat score this bucket, keep your eyes on Trae. He never takes his eyes off of Taurean Prince. Young rips a full court pass to Prince and hopes TP can make something out of nothing. Miami already has defenders back and the play eventually results in a travel from Len.

This is still promising, though. Young clearly already has great chemistry with Prince. Not only does he let Prince operate with the ball on a ton of possessions without interfering, but he constantly looks for Prince during breakouts. If anything, it may be Prince that needs to be more alert! The clip below will demonstrate what I mean.

Wrap up

We are still way to early into Trae Young’s career, but he is surely proving the “bust” scouts wrong. Mile Bridges has some words to say to these people.

Want some more Twitter stuff? Yes, you do. We all do. This one comes courtesy of a fellow stats nerd. With all the early season rookie hype going to Luka Doncic (as well as Wendell Carter Jr, among others), we may have overlooked Young’s hot start to his career. His first few games compare pretty well to another NBA legend.

Hmmmm….Of course, to project Young to be the next Big O would be irresponsible. But, Young is quieting critics everywhere. His decision making is constantly improving. Sure, he has to continue to nail down when to shoot the ball and when to make the right pass. This will come, however, as Young has shown he is trending in the right direction here.

Get on the bandwagon now, people. There is still room.

@Mattesposito

11/4 Timberwolves @ Blazers Rapid Reactions

Final Score: Blazers: 111, Timberwolves: 81

In what was a gloomy night with General Soreness, Jeff Teague, and Derrick Rose out, the Wolves showed little life. Tonight’s Rapid Reactions will be a little different. The reactions will be mostly from the fans, getting their thoughts on the game. Let’s dive in!

My Thoughts:

Your Thoughts:

As you can tell, all is good in Wolves land. Sleep well Wolves nation.

And as always, ice up, you don’t want general soreness.