Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Building an NBA champion: should the Warriors trade Klay Thompson?


Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are the Splash Bros and have already been called the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history. Any Warriors fan will quickly point out to you how valuable Klay has been as a partner-in-crime to Steph Curry’s verging superstardom. I have been shouting for as long as I can remember that Klay Thompson even brings something to the Warriors backcourt that Steph does not: defense. A lanky 6’7” guard who weighs in at under 210, he has the height to guard forwards (see above link) but also the skillset defensively and quick enough feet to guard the likes of Chris Paul, as he did in the 2014 NBA playoffs.

The problem is that a sexy backcourt doesn’t win NBA championships. Great players win championships. To the credit of Joe Lacob, Bob Myers, and the Warriors front office, they have clearly been all about getting to that level. Warriors blogger, Justin Taylor, was not exaggerating when he said last year that Joe Lacob has saved basketball in Northern California. But with the Splash Bros™ getting more positive press than Durant and Westbrook's relationship (oh wait…), the Warriors do not want to part ways with Klay Thompson. If you browse through my Twitter page, you may or may not find a strong opinion dismissing any idea of a Thompson trade.

Golden State’s desire to contend for a title means tough decisions will have to be made. The team needs a second bona-fide All-Star/superstar like Kevin Love to compete with Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka. One roadblock is Klay Thompson’s open market value at a SG position in the NBA that is not very deep. Warriors beat writer, Marcus Thompson, pegged Klay Thompson’s value at $12 million (per HoopsRumors) – a value that seems very reasonable based on comparable 2013-14 players’ salaries. (Ironically enough, this would make him earn more in salary than Steph Curry.)

If Thompson were to be paid $12 million starting in 2015-16, that would mean the Warriors would have more than $50 million combined committed to Curry, Iguodala, Lee, and Thompson. With the cap at $63 million, that makes little room for error and additional player personnel. So from strictly a financial standpoint, moving Thompson and Lee would free up almost $27 million…enough to put a superstar alongside Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bogut.

Kevin Love recently told Newsweek that Curry was the player he’d most like to play with, saying that the Warriors’ All-Star is “so unselfish…[and] can really, really score.” Kevin Love has the superstar credentials to fit the bill as a second offensive force with Curry.

Another approach that hasn’t been considered yet is grabbing a premiere point guard and placing Steph Curry at the 2. Curry has the best shot in the NBA, and was second in the league behind Kyle Korver for catch and shoot eFG% at almost 70 percent. While his eFG% of about 55 percent on pull-up shots was also top-five in the league, that 15 percent difference could be positively exploited if a true point guard sets him up with more catch and shoot opportunities.


Curry is clearly well ahead of the pack in C&S. Also does well in pull-up, but not as great relative to rest of league.

I said it earlier in the discussion of Klay Thompson’s market value: the SG position is weak in the NBA. As a result, Curry often plays the weaker/slower of the two guards on defense which often happens to be the shooting guard. Some people might initially cite Curry’s size as a problem for him at the two, but Allen Iverson made it work even though he was shorter than six feet. And the NBA doesn’t have any prime Kobe Bryant’s or Dwyane Wade’s to wreak havoc from that position. Curry will be insulated by this league-wide weakness and his own team, with good perimeter defenders (Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green) and interior defenders (Andrew Bogut).

As entertaining as it is to watch Curry weave in and out of defenders and throw crazy one-handed dimes, his turnover rate is high. Curry was sixth in the league in assists in 2013-14 at 8.5 a game, but his 2.27 AST/TO ratio was the lowest of any player in the top 10. (Strangely enough, LeBron at 11 is significantly worse, with a 1.81 AST/TO ratio.) Putting a more conscientious distributor could prove valuable to not only Curry personally in terms of shot selection but also the team’s overall ability to prevent fast-break opportunities. And of course, with 48 minutes a game to go around, there will be time that Curry could run the point with the second unit, among other options. By no means would moving Curry to shooting guard totally remove his playmaking ability on the court. A move like this should make Curry and the team more efficient.

Bringing in a true point guard gives the Warriors flexibility to mix-and-match lineups. We have seen time and again that going small can work. The most recent example of course being Scott Brooks moving Russell Westbrook to the 2 and giving Reggie Jackson extended minutes as the point guard. Phoenix was the surprise of 2014 even though they just missed out on a playoff opportunity in the deep Western conference. They played two point guards together for the majority of the year, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, both under 6’5” and less than 200 pounds.

Danny Ainge has claimed that Rajon Rondo is not on the trading block, but he has already blown up the better portion of the 2008 champions…so why not go for the whole explosion?


Other attractive options include Dante Exum, Kyle Lowry (unrestricted FA), Eric Bledsoe (restricted), Ty Lawson (three years/$37 million left on contract with DEN), Jrue Holiday (three years/$32 million left on contract with NOP), and Jeff Teague (three years/$24 million left on contract with ATL). Maybe Kendall Marshall (9 assists and 3 TO per game last season with LAL), who led the league in three-point accuracy at one point in the season, is also worth pursuing. The beauty of the majority of these names is that a package of Lee/Thompson/Barnes or two of those three would position Golden State to also pick up a power forward and/or role players.

These point guard options will be less expensive to acquire than a superstar like Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony. The acquisition of Kevin Love is option #1 for the Dubs, but if that fails, there are other options that the Warriors can consider. I have preached about the value of a Chris Bosh acquisition for the Warriors. Admittedly, Kirk Goldsberry’s recent article highlighting Bosh’s value to the Heat and Bosh’s own willingness to take less money to stay with a champion dims the light of this opportunity. Maybe Kobe Bryant should have taken notice if he really wants to win that sixth championship?

In a perfect world, the Warriors would have Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Love-Bogut in their starting five. In a perfect world, the Splash Bros stay together for 6-8 years and go down as the best shooting tandem in history.

But this isn’t a perfect world and the NBA is a business. The Warriors made two franchise-altering decisions in the past couple years in moving Monta Ellis and firing 50-win coach, Mark Jackson. As distasteful as it is, trading Klay Thompson may be the final step necessary to become a top team in the Western conference.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Replay Watched ‘Round the World


With 11.3 seconds left on the clock in Game 5 of OKC Thunder vs. the LA Clippers, Matt Barnes hit Reggie Jackson’s left hand and the ball somehow went out of bounds. Since it was within two minutes of the end of regulation, the play was reviewed by the referees. And so began The Replay Watched 'Round the World.

After a couple replays, it was clear that the ball was last touched by Reggie Jackson. Yet somehow the refs finished watching the replay and affirmed the call on the floor, which was that it was Oklahoma City’s ball. The picture engrained in everybody’s mind was Doc Rivers outraged and yelling “that was our ball!” at the official. It appeared that the refs might have been trying to make up for the fact that Jackson was probably fouled on the play.

And so erupted Twitter-land...

And my own reaction…

The play smelled of a similar play that the Clippers were involved in vs. the Golden State Warriors in Round 1. Chris Paul was fouled by Draymond Green but the ball went out of bounds off Paul. No foul was called on the floor, although it was given to the Clippers. On replay, it was clear the ball was last touched by Paul, so the refs rightfully (under current rules) gave the ball to Golden State.



But someone from the confines of TNT found this heralded rule No. 8 from Section 11 of the NBA. It says that “if a player has his hand in contact with the ball and an opponent hits the hand causing the ball to go out-of-bounds, the team whose player had his hand on the ball retains possession.” (Side note: I still haven’t managed to find a link to this rule even though it’s been all over TV and every website.)

With that in mind, here is the Replay Watched Round the World:


At this point, I was initially in agreement with Ernie Johnson, who said after the game on Inside the NBA that Barnes hit Jackson’s left hand but the ball was still in Jackson’s right hand before it sailed out of bounds.

Then after a night’s sleep to mull over one of the most controversial plays in recent memory (or all-time, if we go by BS's tweet), I re-watched that play after hearing some people say it came out of both hands. And sure enough, when you look at both angles, the ball should be awarded to the Thunder. Yes, Barnes didn’t change the direction that the ball was moving. What he did was stop Jackson’s forward progress and thus Jackson released the ball. The momentum and direction of the ball is a continuation of where Jackson was going, and you can see that it left both hands after being hit by Barnes.

Sorry, Doc, you’re wrong. And while you think that was a series defining call, don’t forget Game 3 in the first round where Paul’s foul of Curry on the final shot of the game went uncalled. THAT was a series defining call and undoubtedly the incorrect call.

As the Clippers leader admitted after the game, there’s no weaseling out of one of the worst choking moments in NBA history. This one was brought to you by Cliff Paul who was born to assist…the other team.

And finally closing the matter, I’m glad that the NBA didn’t cave in to Doc Rivers. Just today, they released a statement saying that the referees made the correct call.
If anything, it is fair to say that there is inconclusive evidence. Did it come off both hands? Or was it in the right for a millisecond longer? While I am personally 99% certain that it came out of both hands, there is still that 1% room for error. And in that case, it is fair to say that there is insufficient evidence to overturn the call on the floor.

Although it is pure luck that the refs made the right call, the fact is that they did.

Now can we talk about how insane it was that Jackson didn’t give up the ball on a 3-on-1 fastbreak??

Thursday, May 8, 2014

2014 NBA Trade Scenarios: Chris Bosh to the Golden State Warriors


Even though 2014 ended in a first round exit, the Golden State Warriors have established themselves as perennial playoff team in the West. And yet, as we all know, GM Bob Myers lit a match to the coaching staff for the simple fact that this team didn’t live up to expectations. Last off-season’s haul was far from the 07 Celtics banquet of All Stars who immediately threw Boston to the top of the NBA, but the Warriors thought that Andre Iguodala was worth going all in for. The commitment of expiring contracts, future draft picks, and a truckload of salary to a guy who became a glorified glue guy hampers the team’s desire to compete with the likes of the star-laden top teams in the West.

Iguodala is not a bad player by any stretch of the imagination but he vastly underperformed his perceived trade value. Nine points, five rebounds, and four assists is nothing to write home about. Especially for $35 million over the next three years. With all of the great moves that the new Warriors management has made since leaving Chris Cohan behind, the Iguodala trade may not be as great as people (myself included) thought it was at the time.

The Warriors need to add another All Star to reach that upper echelon. One thing in common with all remaining teams is that they are front-loaded with talent. OKC has Durant and Westbrook; the Clippers have Chris Paul and Blake; San Antonio has the same 50 guys they’ve had for the past 50 years; Portland has LMA and Damian Lillard.

Another common thread is the inside-outside balance. I do believe that Andrew Bogut’s presence would have won Golden State that first round series (and perhaps kept Mark Jackson his job). But with Bogut being the real Mr. Unreliable, the Warriors will look to make another splash this off-season. This is where I sit in the corner of the room evilly cackling and whip out every NBA writers favorite tool…and the bane of the existence of all NBA readers. The ESPN NBA Trade Machine *cue dramatic music*. I’m sure the majority of you will disagree that this is plausible but at least entertain the idea before questioning my sanity.

Kevin Love has been a popular option for this discussion. The problem with Love is that a) he was born in LA, b) he went to UCLA, and c) the Lakers always manage to cast the right line to bait top-notch fish in the open market. More specifically with the Warriors, Love doesn’t fill the Warriors holes to a significant extent aside for the need for a second star. Like Steph and Klay, the Warriors primary scoring options, Love is a shooter first.

Chris Bosh (who has shown an uncanny ability to space the floor) is, as he said himself in a January post-game interview, comfortable in the post. Add that to being a solid defender who can run the floor and you have exactly what the Warriors need. So here’s what I came up with:

Golden State acquires Chris Bosh
Miami acquires David Lee and Harrison Barnes
According to NBA stat guru John Hollinger’s formula, this trade does not affect the winning percentage of either team...but that means about as much as Parsons’ defense on Lillard in the closeout game of the Houston-Portland series.

It does, however, go without saying that the Warriors say yes to this trade. Bosh would be an upgrade for the Warriors compared to David Lee. Bosh has had extended experience running the 5 with small ball lineups in Miami and he could also play power forward with Bogut and Iguodala/Green on the floor.

I believe that the Miami Heat also have surprisingly good incentives to complete this trade, too. Initially, you might say that there’s no way the Big Three break up. But as this Real GM article mentions, there is a very real chance that Bosh leaves South Beach. In Chad Ford’s words: “Chris Bosh…is the most likely to leave.”

If Miami decides to shop him, David Lee and Harrison Barnes would be excellent replacements. Lee would give LeBron a chance to play his natural position (small forward) more. Harrison Barnes, who showed he is best as the second, third, or fourth scorer on a team, would fit in perfectly with LeBron, Wade, Allen, and David Lee.

Here are some potential lineups that are strikingly attractive for Miami:
  • Point guard (Chalmers/Cole/Douglas)-Wade-LeBron-Lee-Anderson
  • Point guard-Allen-Barnes-LeBron-Lee
  • Wade-Allen-Barnes-LeBron-Lee
  • Point guard-Wade-LeBron-Battier-Anderson/Lee
  • Wade-Allen-LeBron-Lee-Anderson
Initially, David Lee at center sounds blasphemous but when you consider he is only a couple inches shorter (6’9” vs. Bosh’s 6’11”) and actually five pounds heavier, it starts to make sense. Let’s not forget either that Bosh voiced considerable disgust with the idea that he would be playing center just a couple years ago. A couple championships later, it has clearly worked out. Lee would fit well into the frontcourt rotation with Haslem, Battier, LeBron, Birdman, and whatever Oden’s knees can give.


Harrison Barnes is another real key to this. Although he had a disappointing season this year with the Warriors, that was largely the result of a role change. Instead of being a secondary option with the starters, he was forced into the primary playmaking position on the second unit. It didn’t work out. Then, surprise surprise, when he played with the starters in the playoffs, flashes of the Black Falcon of old came back.

In Miami, Barnes gives Spoelstra so many permutations with Wade, Allen, LeBron, Battier, and the trio of point guards. Barnes can play either forward position which means if Wade sits, Barnes could be the thrasher. If he plays with LeBron, he could be more of a perimeter playmaker. He could even mix in with Wade, Allen, and Battier if LeBron sits. Granted, there is a bit of risk involved here on the part of Miami but Barnes’ trajectory will be vastly different if he is put in the right situation. With the rise of Draymond Green in Golden State and the acquisition of Andre Iguodala, it became a clustered position for a stretch-four still learning the game. But at age 21, Barnes would benefit from playing with the role that Miami could offer.

This trade would be a blockbuster that works for everybody involved if Bosh feels his time in Miami has come to a close.