Friday, July 22, 2011

Pooh is NBA worthy

Pooh proved to me he is worthy of being a backup NBA PG
The Kings did not pick up the option year in Pooh Jeter's contract. Pooh ranked tied for 50th in NBA Point Guard efficiency last season as a rookie off the bench for Sacramento. While you may think 50th is not so hot - consider that there are 30 NBA teams. Each has a starter and a backup (30 x 2 = 60). So any player ranked in the top 60 at his position is a guy that is (or at least should be) playing minutes in the NBA.

The one thing Pooh excels at is making the pass ahead to the open man. He proved on many occasions that easy baskets are available in the NBA if the point guard looks up the court and finds willing runners in 'early offense'. Beyond that - Jeter was enthusiastic and a model citizen by all accounts.

Will Isaiah replace Pooh?
Isaiah Thomas was drafted by the Kings with the final pick of the 2011 draft. The Washington Point Guard showed flashes during the 2010-11 season of looking like a player that would willingly get his teammates involved. That was not always the case however - especially during Thomas' first two seasons when he seemed more intent to "get his" from a scoring standpoint. If Thomas can continue to work on being a more of a true Point Guard while remaining a scoring threat - he could prove to be a viable replacement for Jeter off the Kings bench.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Father Time and the NBA

Camby, born in 1974. 
I recently took the time to look at the year of birth of the top 15 players at each NBA position (based on the Efficiency Rating). The hope was that I would see a trend or glean some sort of crucial insight to when players are ascending, peaking, and descending. The 75-man pool of players (5 positions x  top 15 players) had a range of 16 years, from the 1989 born Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans, and James Harden - to the 1974 born Steve Nash and Marcus Camby.

Because the range was 16 years - I thought it would be convenient to group all the players into four categories: 1989-1986 born players ("freshmen"), 1985-1982 born players ("sophomores"), 1981-1978 born players ("juniors"), and 1977-1974 born players ("seniors").

Griffin, born in 1989
  •  Blake Griffin  Clippers 1989 
  •  Michael Beasley Wolves 1989 
  •  James Harden Thunder 1989 
  •  Tyreke Evans Kings 1989 
  •  Kevin Love Wolves 1988 
  •  Russell Westbrook Thunder 1988 
  •  Kevin Durant  Thunder 1988 
  •  Derrick Rose Bulls 1988 
  •  Stephen Curry Warriors 1988 
  •  JaVale McGee Wizards 1988 
  •  Thaddeus Young Sixers 1988 
  •  Eric Gordon Clippers 1988 
  •  Landry Fields Knicks 1988 
  •  Andrew Bynum Lakers 1987 
  •  Marreese Speights Sixers 1987
  •  Ty Lawson Nuggets 1987 
  •  Marcus Thornton  Kings 1987 
  •  Al Horford Hawks 1986 
  •  Roy Hibbert Pacers 1986 
  •  Ramon Sessions Cavs 1986 
  •  Rajon Rondo Celtics 1986 
  •  Rudy Gay  Grizzlies 1986 
  •  Reggie Williams Warriors 1986 
  •  Dwight Howard Magic 1985 
  •  Chris Paul Hornets 1985 
  •  Al Jefferson Jazz 1985 
  •  Joakim Noah Bulls 1985 
  •  Paul Millsap Jazz 1985 
  •  Josh Smith  Hawks 1985 
  •  LeMarcus Aldridge Blazers 1985 
  •  Monta Ellis  Warriors 1985 
  •  J.R. Smith Nuggets 1985 
  •  Lebron James Heat 1984 
  •  Carmelo Anthony Knicks 1984 
  •  Marcin Gortat Suns 1984 
  •  Deron Williams Nets  1984 
  •  Andrew Bogut Bucks 1984 
  •  Andre Iguodala  Sixers 1984 
  •  Raymond Felton Blazers 1984 
  •  David Lee Warriors 1983 
  •  Kevin Martin Rockets 1983 
  •  Danny Granger  Pacers 1983 
  •  Amar'e Stoudemire Knicks 1982 
  •  Dwyane Wade  Heat 1982 
  •  Nene  Nuggets 1982 
  •  Tyson Chandler  Mavs 1982 
  •  Tony Parker Spurs 1982 
  •  Tony Allen Grizzlies 1982 
  •  Gerald Wallace Blazers 1982 
  •  Zach Randolph  Grizzlies 1981 
  •  Carlos Boozer Bulls 1981 
  •  Jose Calderon Raptors 1981 
  •  Andrei Kirilenko Jazz 1981 
  •  Joe Johnson  Hawks 1981 
  •  Pau Gasol  Lakers 1980 
  •  Luis Scola  Rockets 1980 
  •  David West Hornets 1980 
  •  Matt Barnes  Lakers  1980 
  •  Lamar Odom Lakers  1979 
  •  Baron Davis  Cavs 1979 
  •  Corey Maggette Charlotte 1979 
  •  Dirk Nowitzki Mavs 1978 
  •  Kobe Bryant Lakers 1978 
  •  Chris Andersen  Nuggets  1978 
  •  Shawn Marion Mavs 1978 
  •  Manu Ginobili Spurs 1977 
  •  Paul Pierce Celtics 1977 
  •  Tim Duncan  Spurs  1976 
  •  Kevin Garnett Celtics 1976 
  •  Brad Miller Wolves   1976 
  •  Chauncey Billups Knicks  1976 
  •  Andre Miller  Nuggets   1976 
  •  Ray Allen Celtics 1975 
  •  Steve Nash  Suns 1974 
  •  Marcus Camby  Blazers 1974  
In looking at the list - one trend that is clear is that the majority, 65.4% in fact, are players that would be classified as "freshman or sophomores". These players are 29 years old or younger. The juniors and seniors (players aged 30 and older) represent only 34.6% of the list. 

Ray Allen takes care of himself. 
The three oldest players on the list are three guys that either don't carry a lot of weight on their frame, or are known as consummate professionals that take care of their bodies. Camby, Nash, and Ray Allen are the only players ranked in the top 15 by efficiency at their respective positions that were born in 1975 or earlier. Since "Father Time" is undefeated - our list and a little common sense says that the end of the road may be closer for the four players born in 1976 that seem to have less pep in their step these days than the aforementioned Camby, Nash, and Allen. Those born in `76 include Brad Miller, Chauncey Billups, Andre Miller, and Tim Duncan. 

Where youth is concerned - the Oklahoma City Thunder are the only team with three, top-15 (efficiency at their position) players.  This data supports the overflow of media attention for the Thunder as the "team of the future". Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden are the talented trio.

Teams that have an efficient duo in the "freshman" category include: the Clippers with Blake Griffin, and Eric Gordon, the Wolves with Kevin Love and Michael Beasley, the Kings with Tyreke Evans, and Marcus Thornton,  the Warriors with Steph Curry and Reggie Williams, and the Sixers with Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights. 

LeBron was born in 1984. He should still be ascending. 
The largest group is the "sophomores" with 26 players. These guys - born between 1982 and 1985 are between the age of 25-29 years old. These players are established in the NBA and all should be approaching their prime. Portland is the only team with more than two players in the group. Their trio of LaMarcus Aldridge, Raymond Felton, and Gerald Wallace makes for a solid established core. Other teams have dynamic duos that fall into this age group. Miami has LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade. The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. The Warriors can boast Monta Ellis and David Lee. Utah has talented BIG's in Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Denver's J.R. Smith and Nene are in there too. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Casspi out. Hickson in. Kings improve but still have questions.

"Crispy Crusty", as one caller called him,
brings energy and transition finishing skills. 
The Sacramento Kings were busy up to the NBA lockout deadline with a last day trade of Omri Casspi and a conditional first round pick to Cleveland for J.J. Hickson. I like the deal. I'm sorry to see Casspi go but I too would have pulled the trigger on this trade. Hickson is younger (22), more efficient, and higher ranked at his position than Casspi (23). But this is not to say that I think Casspi won't be a legit player in the NBA.

I believe with extended minutes - which he should get in Cavs-land, Casspi will become a more efficient player. To achieve that however - Casspi must become better at sharing the ball. He is passionate and energetic, and very self-confident. He moves well without the ball, and he reacts quickly, playing at NBA speed. On the other hand, Casspi needs to have more confidence in his teammates (and coaches).

In my opinion Casspi WAS justified in thinking he should be playing more while with the Kings. The inefficient Donte Greene ate into Casspi's minutes, particularly late in the season. Casspi only appeared in three April games - averaging not even five minutes per contest.

Hickson shows promise as a young BIG that, had he stayed in college, would have just completed his Senior season. Instead - he will have three years in the NBA under his belt whenever there is NBA action again. Hickson has excellent hands, a strong base, and enough athleticism to get rebounds outside his area. He can also score on the low-block; absorbing hits and powering though. Hickson has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio in each of three NBA seasons but, in my opinion, decision making is still his biggest weakness. His 67% free throw percentage could obviously improve as well.

Hickson is a Power Forward.
I've heard that Sacramento may play Hickson some at Center which I am not sold on. In my book - Hickson is strictly a classic Power Forward. He can block some shots but he is not an NBA caliber rim defender. He would be giving up too much size on a consistent basis playing the FIVE.  Honestly - Sac still needs to sign a defensive presence down low if Samuel Dalembert is not returning (and most guesses are that he is not). I don't think you can expect Hassan Whiteside to go from being a non-factor to suddenly being a rotation player.

In case you were wondering - by efficiency rating the Kings BIG's break down in this order based on their play in the 2010-11 regular season: DeMarcus Cousins .534, Hickson .529, Jason Thompson .478, Darnell Jackson .385 (yuck).

The John Salmons deal probably helps the Kings in one way. Defensively. Salmons actually is not even as efficient as Casspi or Francisco Garcia. But Salmons certainly moves his feet one-on-one more quickly than Garcia. I've often thought Garcia has been unfairly described as a poor defender. True - his initial foot movement is not top-tier. But Garcia recovers as well as any wing player. He has uncanny timing and an ability to 'dig back' and get his fingertips on many balls. Garcia has averaged 45 blocked shots per season (including 09-10 when he played just 25 games). Tyler Honeycutt, a Kings second round draft pick from UCLA, is as good or better than Garcia in the shot blocking area.

Greene is ONE with Kings fans. 
Back to Salmons, the unspoken benefit of his return could be if he takes whatever minutes Greene was getting. That is, if Greene continues to ignore his own obvious gifts of size versus the rest of the NBA Small Forward talent pool. Greene has to learn to take his game inside-out rather than outside-in. He had mismatches and size advantages throughout last season but rarely, if ever, hurt shorter defenders in the mid-post.

Despite Greene's ability to accept a defensive challenge - the truth is he wounded the Kings on many nights with poor shots. To be specific - Greene needs to turn down some of the three-point shots he jacks in favor of getting a closer look at the hoop. To do that - he will need to improve his ball-handling ability and come up with a few basic low post moves. This past season he had more turnovers than assists which is a now a career theme. We are three years into Donte Greene the NBA player and he is at 32% from three-point range. He seems to shoot it well enough from the corners but from straightaway he struggles.

While I am critical of Greene - he is also one of my favorite players in the NBA. He genuinely connects to the fans. His borderline O.C.D. pre-game routines are pure entertainment. He cheers for his teammates as much as any guy since M.L. Carr.  And I still believe when I look at Greene's mobility on a 6'11" frame - that he can raise his efficiency and become the player that so many envisioned he would be. He has the tools.

Sacramento's Small Forward efficiency looks like this: (based on the 2010-11 regular season): Garcia .390 (41st at SF in the NBA), Salmons .366 (41st at Shooting Guard), Greene .301 (67th at SF). ...Honeycutt is another possibility.

Evans is proof that playing Point Guard doesn't mean you
ARE a Point Guard. 
Some may say - why not run Tyreke Evans as a Small Forward? The answer is simple to me. He doesn't shoot the three-ball well enough to honestly stretch defenses. Evans is at 27% for his NBA career from beyond the arc. Even though Evans is listed at 6'6" - which is small for a SF, he has a standing reach of 8'8" which would put him solidly in the SF pool. (Garcia's standing reach is an inch shorter than Evans').

So Tyreke would be best served as a Shooting Guard. He can play Point Guard. He may not be the pass-first, all-sharing Point Guard that everyone wants but his 1.83 to 1 career assist-to-turnover ratio is not horrible either. It just isn't in the range of guys you would call "pure Point Guards". For example - if you don't know this stuff off the top of your head - here are the assist-to-turnover ratios for ten really good Point Guards on teams that win:
The assist-to-turnover king is CP3

  • Chris Paul 4.42 to 1
  • Rajon Rondo 3.25 to 1
  • Kyle Lowry 3.16 to 1
  • Andre Miller 2.87 to 1
  • Raymond Felton 2.77 to 1
  • Ty Lawson 2.75 to 1
  • Tony Parker 2.57 to 1
  • Chauncey Billups 2.42 to 1
  • Derrick Rose 2.24 to 1
  • Russell Westbrook 2.12 to 1
(Again Evans is at 1.83 to 1.)

The point of all this is that the Kings are headed into a season (whenever that is) with Evans, Marcus Thornton (also a TWO), and draft pick Jimmer Fredette as the guards that figure to play the most. Fredette's highest assist-to-turnover ratio ever at BYU was 1.71 to 1. Last season it was a very non Point Guard like 1.22 to 1. It is undeniable that Fredette has a great chance to raise his assist-to-turnover ratio playing with NBA caliber finishers. But it is also a bit of a gamble to think you can win in the NBA with a three-guard rotation of all TWO guards. 

A couple of players that don't figure to get major minutes are Pooh Jeter and Isaiah Thomas. Jeter boasts "real Point Guard" numbers at 3.18 to 1. Isaiah Thomas had his best season in three years at Washington in 2010-11 with a 2.05 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.