Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why the Miami Heat should take a chance with Andrew Bynum


After Andrew Bynum’s recent suspension by the Cavaliers for conduct detrimental to the team, the formerly dominating big man is on his way out of his second city in as many years. Both the 76ers and Cavaliers gambled hoping that Bynum would help their cause but that has ended poorly for both franchises. His unimpressive eight points and five rebounds per game this year on an abysmal 41.9 percent from the field culminated in what one Cavs insider brought to light:
To their credit, the Cavs only risked $6 million guaranteed on the Bynum but with his value at an all-time low, trading him will not permit them to take much home in return. This is the perfect situation for a Miami team that has no true starting center. Although they are working on rehabbing with Greg Oden, his ceiling is limited at this point. In a pre-game training session in Sacramento, Oden did not look very mobile.


I certainly would not put my money on sites where you can check your lines like SBO.ag because I don’t see him holding up for more than 15 minutes per game…if that. Chris Bosh has more than held his own this season, and just the other day reminded everybody that he is still a star in this lead despite being teammates with two superstars:


The Heat could use a true big man, nonetheless. It gives Bosh the freedom to spread the floor with his above-average ability to hit jumpers and puts LeBron back in his normal position at the small forward. Spoelstra has been a magician working the lineups for Miami and it is exactly because of this that he would have no problem integrating Bynum into his rotations.

Andrew Bynum’s main issue is not on the court, though, it’s off. And this is exactly why Miami is the perfect place for him. LeBron James has developed into a premiere leader on and off the court (just drop by his Instagram page and you’ll see that his camaraderie with his teammates goes beyond just his team-first mentality in game).

The combination of King James and team president Pat Riley is remarkably similar to another model professional sports franchise: the New England Patriots. With Tom Brady and Robert Kraft leading the way, the Patriots have felt comfortable enough to give opportunity to some of the NFL’s trouble-makers, including Randy Moss and Chad Johnson (or Ochocinco or whatever name he goes by nowadays…).

It only would take a small contract to see if Bynum is worth the trouble and in a low-risk/high-reward opportunity, if Miami can strike gold like they did with the recent pre-season pick-up of Michael Beasley, a three-peat becomes even more tangible.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Most underrated players in the NBA in 2014


Underrated players in the NBA can often be mistaken for small market players that do not get the recognition proportional to their talent. John Wall and Kemba Walker are a couple of names that come to mind in that light. Those guys headline the borderline stars who can’t quite make it over the hump because a) they are not on very good teams and/or b) their market is not conducive to media coverage. Those aren’t the guys I want to talk about here as underrated…we’re going down to five of the guys who grind it out as niche players that very few people outside of their teams’ respective fan bases give the accolades that they deserve.

Miles Plumlee – Phoenix Suns

Plumlee is one of the top rim defenders in the league…period. Only household names like Roy Hibbert (first in opponent’s FG percentage at the rim), Andrew Bogut (second), Serge Ibaka (third), Robin Lopez (fourth, and okay maybe he's not a household name), and Dwight Howard (fifth), are ahead of the Suns center who posts a stellar FG percentage for opponents at the rim (47 percent).

In a franchise with a history of not-so-great interior defenders (think Amar’e Stoudemire), Plumlee has been a force to help a Suns team with some of the best guards in the league. Plumlee’s great defense gives Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic the opportunity to run the fastbreaks that they do incredibly effectively. The Suns have caught everybody by surprise this year and their seven-footer has pleasantly contributed to that success. And this guy is only earning $1.1 million this year…

Draymond Green – Golden State Warriors

On a team headlined by two of the league’s best shooters, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors really needed a guy who could lock down an opponent’s perimeter threats. With the addition of Andre Iguodala as an elite perimeter defender, Green’s work as a defensive stopper has been ever increasingly glossed over.

Green is just a couple spots outside of the top-10 in defensive rating (per NBA.com, at least 25 games played and 15 minutes per game) at 93.9 points per game. Of note, five players with better defensive ratings are part of the stingiest defense in the league in Indiana (Hibbert, PG24, West, Hill, and CJ Watson).

Although Green’s free throw percentage has taken a steep nose-dive from 82 to 53 in just the past year, his value off the bench is as a guy who comes in when the Warriors need a three or a stop. This, in combination with his energy, is something that has kept his team in games…and occasionally moments like this happen.


His versatility and energy off the bench provide the spark that the Warriors need when opposing defenders lock onto Steph. The game-winner vs. Miami last year shows two things: 1) Draymond can step up when called upon in the biggest moments (as he also showed in the playoffs while knocking down huge threes), and 2) his coach has enough faith in him to give him the opportunity to have the ball in those moments. Curry couldn’t free himself off screen in that final play so a backdoor cut caught Shane Battier off-guard. Jarrett Jack knew that the play was designed for a move like that and was able to hit him. Ironically enough, the guy that Green beat to the basket (Battier) is exactly the type of player that Green is striving to be.


Arron Afflalo – Orlando Magic

At a scorching 22 points per game, 44 percent from three, and 86 percent from the line, Arron Afflalo is one of the best players at a not-so-deep shooting guard position. I realize that this is drawing a fine line from the Wall-Walker line of stardom but Afflalo is criminally underrated so I'm putting him in this conversation especially considering he is a clear front-runner to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award in 2014. So even though Afflalo's role on his team is far greater than the other four, by being in that conversation for most improved player, he deserves mentioning in this list.

Afflalo is one of only six players with at least 200 total points off catch and shoot opportunities (per NBA.com), trailing only Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, and Dirk Nowitzki in a category where great shooters shine. A lot of teams would love a guy like Afflalo who is on a 5-year/$37 million contract. His recent career-high of 43 points vs. the Sixers showed that this guy is capable of scoring from everywhere on the court.


The one thing that is worthy of note is that Afflalo is best in the mid-range game…an area that is quickly losing relevancy in the NBA "where efficiency matters." If this part of the game continues to go by the wayside, some players may suffer. Whether Afflalo is one of them remains to be seen, but with his all-around offensive game and the fact that he plays a position whose only big names are Harden, Kobe, and Wade, Afflalo has value to any NBA team in the playoff hunt.


Nicolas Batum – Portland Trailblazers

Portland’s success is worthy of notice in a Western conference that is extremely deep. (In stark contrast to the NBA’s E-league) and the duo of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are the faces of that huge surprise. While I did predict the Blazers to earn a playoff spot, I certainly did not see them sitting atop the West, as they are currently.

If it's not Afflalo, Batum has to be the most wildly underrated player in the league with an 18 percent usage rate and the best offensive rating in the league (per NBA.com/stats, played at least 25 games). While offensive rating is not the best measure of a player’s individual contribution to a team, it is a piece in the puzzle that explains just how valuable Batum is. The Blazers' forward's value on offense is both as a shooter (39 percent from three and 81 percent from the line) but also as a finisher where he hits 75 percent of his shots in the restricted area. By comparison, LeBron James is at 78 percent—on, of course, a significant larger sample size. His 14 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game are no small contribution.

Reggie Jackson – Oklahoma City Thunder

Jackson earned some additional playing time when Westbrook went down for the first time in his career during the 2013 playoffs. It would be remiss to say that Jackson took over successfully as the Thunder lost games 2 through 5 to the Grizzlies but he did contribute a respectable amount for a then-22-year-old second year player who had never started an NBA game before. 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, 92 percent from the line and 50 percent from the field?? And yet because the Thunder had such lofty expectations with the second-best player in the league on their squad, Jackson’s contribution went unnoticed. And it has been unnoticed by the media until this happened yesterday:


Scott Brooks noticed, though. Jackson’s minutes nearly doubled from last season to this season and it has had a tremendously positive impact on the team. Brooks’ stubbornness to stick with the five man-unit of Westbrook-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka-Perkins is questionable, but to see he has given the Jackson-Westbrook tandem in the backcourt some minutes is the right move. Per 82games.com, the most successful lineups that the Thunder have put out are with Jackson on the floor either running point or at the 2. He is the perfect man for a three-man rotation of guards in OKC. Just imagine if the first two were Westbrook and Harden...

Friday, December 20, 2013

How Kobe Bryant’s injury can help the Los Angeles Lakers


Kobe Bryant falling victim to another horrendous injury is no joke and certainly not a good thing for the NBA. But in a peculiar way, nothing better could have happened for the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant is lucky that the injury requires no surgery and “only” six weeks recovery time, but the reality is that there is no reason he should come back this season.

I completely agree with Charles Barkley, who said on TNT that the Lakers should shut down Kobe Bryant for the season. There is absolutely no benefit to Bryant returning and preserving his machismo in an effort to prove that he can sustain a level of greatness in the NBA. Father Time may be knocking on the door and nearly two decades in the NBA is a lot of wear on one human body. Even if he returned right at the six week mark, I would put my money at Sports Betting Dime on him having absolutely no chance at getting the Lakers past the first round.

Kobe had a sluggish start in returning from his injury. However, he began to show promise of returning to form in the latter half of his six-game stint this season so far, two games in which he put up 20-plus points on at least 50 percent from the field and both times 100 percent from the line (granted on only a total of five free throws).

However, as expected, his game is increasingly predicated on jumpers and threes and he is not there yet with either shot. In his six games played this season, he was 3-of-16 from three. You could put Dwight Howard at the free throw line beyond the arc and probably get similar results.

Kobe Bryant's shot chart for the 2013-14 season as of December 20.
Kobe also clearly was struggling to mesh with his new teammates. The Lakers were above .500 before the Mamba returned and now they’re back below that mark. That’s not to say that the Lakers are a great team without Kobe—just that they had some chemistry that he did break. Eventually that’s going to be resolved but the best time for that resolution is in the off- and pre-season.

The reality is that the West is so deep—with 10 teams at or above .500—that the Lakers have no business vying for an eighth-seed…and it won't happen in 2014. I discussed the Kobe Bryant conundrum a couple months ago and this is the awkwardly perfect break (no pun intended) where Kobe can rest and truly return to full strength while putting Los Angeles in the best position to join the #rigginforWiggins campaign. (A more in-depth discussion about tanking is in the works for a future article so I’ll hold off on further discussion about that for now.)

My instinct says the Mamba Mentality will win out and he returns to the court as soon as he can but if he and the organization take a step back for one second, the best option for both Kobe and the Lakers at this point is to keep him on the bench in a suit.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Iguodala Effect


Andre Iguodala has not impressed anybody with his own statistical brilliance. He didn’t do so during his tenure with the 76ers and Nuggets and thus far has averaged only 12 points, six rebounds, and four assists per game as a member of the Golden State Warriors. This was one of the reasons that he wasn't very popular in Philadelphia - a city that wanted a remix of the previously highlight-reel worthy AI, Allen Iverson. He seems to have found the perfect place in Golden State because how he impacts this Warriors team as a “glue guy” is clear when you look at how his teammates play when he is on and off the court.

Over the past two years, David Lee and Klay Thompson have been subject to occasional criticism from Warriors fans and analysts for what can sometimes be streaky play. Although last year I personally viewed Lee as a vital cog to the Warriors success, his play has dropped off a bit this year. Thompson on the other hand has been a "wait-and-see" type player as he is finding his way in his first couple years in the league. With his shooting and defense, nobody doubts this guy can play a very high level in the NBA. His highs have shown that, but last year his lows made people question his consistency. This year, Klay's performance has improved throughout his entire game (from driving to the basket to his defense) and in each of the past two years, he is undoubtedly an important half of the #SplashBrothers.

Andre Iguodala fits in here with a LeBron James-esque role. Although Iguodala certainly is not as great of a player, like LeBron, he really does make his teammates better. Lee and Thompson have both played 14 games (out of 36 and 39, respectively) with Iguodala on the floor and their performance from all over the floor staggeringly improves with that guy who only averages four assists per game out there with them.

David Lee
Iguodala On
Iguodala Off
Iguodala Effect
Restricted Area
63.2%
56.2%
+ 7.0%
In the paint
47.7%
36.2%
+ 11.5%
Mid-range
31.0%
21.9%
+ 8.1%
Left corner 3
----
----
----
Right corner 3
----
----
----
Top of key 3
----
----
----

Klay Thompson
Iguodala On
Iguodala Off
Iguodala Effect
Restricted Area
69.0%
60.7%
+ 8.3%
In the paint
53.8%
30.8%
+ 23.0%
Mid-range
46.9%
42.0%
+ 4.9%
Left corner 3
55.0%
38.9%
+ 16.1%
Right corner 3
44.4%
53.3%
- 8.9%
Top of key 3
49.1%
35.3%
+ 13.8%
Both Thompson and Lee took more than one shot per game from all areas except Thompson for the following shots: in the paint (Iguodala on), on the right corner three (Iguodala on), and for both corner threes when Iguodala was off the court. The area where Thompson took the fewest shots was also where the Iguodala effect was in the negative. Stats accurate as of December 18.

The same wild improvement cannot be seen in a player like Steph Curry but that does not come as a surprise considering Steph's style of play is much different than D-Lee and Klay. Curry is his own beast and his game is largely predicated on creating his own shot, something that he will do whether or not the former Nuggets star is on the floor. Klay is more of a spot-up shooter and Lee needs spacing on the floor to get shots inside the paint. Clearly, Iguodala gives both of them that - something that even Curry cannot do alone.

As a team, the numbers tell the same story that you would qualitatively argue if just watching the Warriors games. The Iguodala effect on the Warriors is not something that you can go to the basic stat sheet to analyze. With the “mini-LeBron” on the floor, the Warriors improve on every single type of shot on the floor (restricted area, in the paint, mid-range, and all types of threes).

A closer look at the aspect of the game that is most important to the Warriors success reveals just how valuable Dre is to the Warriors. The on-court vs. off-court difference with Iguodala in three-pointers is jaw-dropping: the Warriors shoot 15 percent higher on the left corner three (53 vs. 38), six percent higher on the right corner three (42 vs. 36), and eight percent higher on the above-the-break 3 (46 vs. 38).

This difference is accentuated when you consider the Warriors take three more threes a game with him on the court (17.7 vs. 14.6).

What about their overall team performance? This might sum up the Iguodala effect the best: the Warriors score 20 points per 100 possessions more than their opponent with him on the court compared to when he's not there.

And of course, he can also do things like this when called upon:


Is it hard to put readily digestible value on a guy who gives less-than-glamarous PRA per game numbers? Yes, but the presence that Andre Iguodala brings to the Warriors is something that will make the difference in his team competing for a championship or sitting at home during late May. At least as we can tell so far, GM Bob Myers picked up the perfect guy to fit with the Warriors this past off-season in Andre Iguodala.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What the Rudy Gay Acquisition Means for the Kings


Big news for the Toronto Raptors. Less than a year after acquiring the 27-year old star forward Rudy Gay, they decided to trade him away to the Sacramento Kings. The exchange for this trade is John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson. Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy will be shipped to Sacramento along with Gay as a part of this trade.

Well, if it’s big news for the Raptors to send away their star forward in such a short period of time then it’s much bigger news for the Sacramento Kings to actually receive Gay. In fact, Kings fans should be excited. Now just because of this addition but because the new management of the team seems determined to shake things up and try to make this team look better.

This move only make sense for the Kings. They trade away Greivis Vasquez, who certainly is a reliable point guard but now they will inject Isaiah Thomas into the lineup. Thomas has been playing exceptionally well this season for the Kings and he has shown that he can be very productive. So, the first positive side-effect of this deal is Thomas’s insertion to the starting group. Thomas is averaging 17.8 points and 4.9 assists in just 27.7 minutes of action this season. Now that he will see more playing time, he might really get out to a breakaway season.

Now, it’s true that Rudy Gay is shooting at career-lows up to this point of the season. Although he is putting up 19.4 points per game, he is going just 38.8 percent from the floor and 37.3 percent from three-point range. Now, Gay also has a $19 million player option for the next season, which would simply kill the Kings’ salary cap if he decides to stay in Sacramento. As recently reported, there have been no talks between the team and Gay if he will opt-out this summer or stay with the Kings.


The Kings won’t have an easy time trying to adjust their play to the new reality. Gay is a player who demands the ball and so is Thomas. And did we mention there is also DeMarcus Cousins on the roster? The certain fact is that Head Coach Mike Malone will have a tough time solving the puzzle. Not only on the offensive end, but on defense, too. Gay is a player who isn’t known for his good defensive skills.

However, there is no denial that Gay, under a new coach and with new surroundings, will have the chance to finally find a good pace. He will have the chance to be a member of a young and energetic team, which has nothing more to prove than to just get better each season.

Gay’s presence will certainly cheer up a bit Kings fans. They will have one more reason to go to the Sleep Train Arena. Hopefully, Gay starts to find his role in Sacramento and bonds well with the team. However, at present, fans of the team should be measurably optimistic.


For more NBA news and updates from Justin and his team, visit FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.Com.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Carmelo Anthony should be traded to the Chicago Bulls


It is no secret that Carmelo Anthony is not happy with the New York Knicks and would not mind being traded. As one of the best scorers in the game, it has been embarrassing for him to lose to the likes of the Bobcats, Pistons, and Wizards. In last Sunday’s game vs. the Pelicans, after some questionable defense by Anthony, Iman Shumpert railed on the superstar scorer during a subsequent timeout for what looked like sub-maximal effort.

Thus far this season, Melo has also received no shortage of criticism from league analysts and media personalities, either:


In all this tumultuousness, Stephen A. Smith reported on ESPN that he’s “hearing [Carmelo Anthony is] out. Gone. Unless the money disappears elsewhere…he’s not trying to stay [in New York].” And while Anthony’s personality is questionable, there is no doubting his offensive talent. That is exactly why the Chicago Bulls are the perfect situation for him. After spending some quality time with one of my favorite online simulation machines, the ESPN Trade Machine, I came up with this viable (financially speaking) trade:

Chicago Bulls get Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton
New York Knicks get Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, and Jimmy Butler


Bill Simmons suggested in his latest column that the Luol Deng is a viable trade bait option but only followed it up with suggestions for relatively small trades. I say, Bulls: go for it all. Who knows what’s going to happen with Derrick Rose and in a city built for superstar scorers, Carmelo Anthony could handle the primary scoring load that would be required of him. When (if?) Derrick Rose comes back healthy, he really will need to re-invent himself as a point guard. Although his injuries were not directly the result of his style of play, his explosiveness + his small frame = a high chance disappointing NBA career. Grant Hill and Bill Walton are names that I have already seen thrown around.

Rose won't feel like he needs to go into full hero-mode on offense. Anthony gives Derrick Rose the ability to remain a playmaker but not a drive-at-all-costs playmaker. If Roy Hibbert or Serge Ibaka are waiting in the paint ready to punish him, he can dish it out as opposed to forcing up a crazy (but entertaining) shot. Melo also spreads the floor for Rose, allowing the Chicago native to take advantage of his quickness to hopefully beat his man and the help defense. (Side note: for this reason I don’t like the Kobe-Melo combo that I’ve been hearing. Two guys who want to go for 30 every night? Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.) Rose and Melo would perfectly complement each other. Rose, Hinrich, Anthony, Gibson, and Noah…I think this Shaq and Chuck GIF might represent how Bulls fans would feel with a starting lineup like that. Coach Tom Thibodeau could manage the egos.

Now…would the Knicks accept this offer? At the time I submitted this trade into The Machine, Hollinger’s analysis actually told me that the Knicks got the better end of the deal! The way I look at it, this trade makes sense for the Knicks for three reasons:
  • Jimmy Butler would help add some defensive tenacity to a Knicks team in dire need of perimeter defenders. He is still nursing a foot injury which could help the Knicks if they want to go full tank mode this year. NY isn’t getting the talent in a single individual but Butler is one piece in the chunk of the Bulls core that could also help bring the Knicks' storied franchise back to relevancy.
  • Carlos Boozer is still productive. Just ask the Miami Heat, who lost to the Bulls on Thursday in a game where Boozer dropped 27 and 9. He could slide right in with the Knicks big man rotation of Chandler, Bargnani, and the corpse of Amar’e Stoudemire. Maybe even start shopping Bargnani for another player you can take off the books for next summer to help bid for LeBron.
  • Luol Deng finishes off the new-look Knicks with another team-first veteran who also happens to be in the final year of a contract. It’s a win-win for the Knicks picking him up because they have the option to keep a solid vet or dump him at the end of the year in what will be the summer of LeBron (& Co.), part two.
Who says no first? Probably the Knicks, but (big surprise) I would take it if I were them. If they have learned anything from the Lakers this past off-season with the Dwight Howard saga, it’s that you don’t want to lose a star for nothing. If you can’t see that Deng-Butler-Boozer is worth Carmelo, at least you can see that Deng-Butler-Boozer is more than nothing.

Just for kicks (and because The Machine is too much fun), I have another Carmelo to the Bulls trade in the works. Enter the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the mix and you get:

Bulls get Carmelo Anthony and Kendrick Perkins
Knicks get Luol Deng, Thabo Sefolosha, Jimmy Butler, and Isaiah Canaan
Rockets get Carlos Boozer
Thunder get Omer Asik and some guy named Motiejunas


The Bulls are doing essentially the same trade (Anthony for the BDB core). The Knicks are, too, except in losing Boozer’s skill and contract they gain another expiring contract and a dirt cheap contract. Canaan and his 21 points, 10 assists (league leading), and 4 rebounds per game in the D-league might even be ready to contribute at the NBA level.

Houston accomplishes their goal of losing Omer Asik and in the process they get a perfect complimentary big man for Dwight Howard who can hit the mid-range jumper (not from the right side) with reasonable efficiency.

Carlos Boozer's shot chart through 12/7/13.
The Thunder are also loving this trade. No more Perkins? Check. Efficient offensive center? Check. And another thing I love about this trade is it puts Jeremy Lamb on the court more. At 46 percent from the field, Lamb is putting up 16.8 points per 36 minutes so far this season in only 20 minutes per game. Westbrook-Lamb-Durant-Ibaka-Asik. That team has NBA title contender written all over it.

So take your pick, New York. There will be options out there...maybe not the ideal one in your eyes, but it doesn't take a statistician to tell you something is better than nothing.