Those who have been reading our site for a while now know that I consider Zach Collins to be my illegitimate son (examples one, two, and three), so I felt like a frustrated parent watching him languish on the bench to start the year while other rookies were getting chances to contribute. It only got worse as I watched people label Collins as a likely bust and write-off the Blazers' decision to draft him as a poor one.
With that said, I'm not going to lie, I was secretly thrilled to see Jusuf Nurkic tweak his ankle as it meant Collins might finally get regular time in the Blazers' rotation alongside high quality players instead of his standard garbage time tandem with Jake Layman. Low and behold, my prayers were answered:
My favorite element of Collins' newfound place in the rotation is that he's continued to get playing time even after the three games that Nurkic sat out, which recently peaked at just under 31 minutes during the Blazers' 95-92 victory over the Lakers last week.
It's unsurprising that Collins struggled in his first 8 appearances. As we've seen this year especially, circumstance is a crucial element of a player's success. Collins' first few games had him playing sporadic minutes alongside replacement level players that were largely focused on standing out individually. That's a tough position for any player to succeed in, let alone a teenager who only averaged 17 minutes a night in his one year in the WCC.
Here's a per 36 minute comparison of Collins' numbers in the 8 games he played before and the 9 games since being added to the rotation:
Over this recent 9 game stretch, Collins has been putting up 11 points, 9 rebounds, and almost 2 blocks per 36 minutes. Those aren't all-NBA numbers (yet!), but it's a significant improvement from the 5 points, 6 boards, and 0 blocks per 36 that he was posting before (albeit in a tiny sample size). His turnovers have also dropped from an absurd 11.3 per 36 to a very solid 1.6 per 36, which is likely part of the reason Terry Stotts has felt comfortable keeping him in the rotation even after Nurkic has recovered.
Now that Collins has played enough for us to have a basic understanding of his current identity as a player, here's how his season stacks up in terms of shooting accuracy and shot selection to Pau Gasol's rookie year, our pre-draft comp for Collins:
For us Collins disciples, it's reassuring to see that it took Gasol, one of the best shooting big men of all time, a few years to develop his stroke. Surprisingly, Collins actually appears to be a bit ahead of where Gasol was as a rookie on longer shots. Rookie Gasol certainly has the edge on Collins in the midrange, however, and focusing on improving in the 3-10 foot range would likely lead to significant improvements in efficiency for Collins.
While the two players' rookie seasons show very different shot selection distributions, some of that can be contributed to the different eras that they played in. What's intriguing is looking at both player's shot selection in 2017-18:
There are a few subtle differences - Collins is taking slightly more shots within 10 feet of the hoop and Gasol us putting up more long twos - but overall the two distributions are strikingly similar.
Here's to hoping Collins makes the same type of progress as Gasol by building up his physical strength and developing his shooting touch on his way to seizing his rightful title as the best player of all time.
If there's been a silver lining to Steph Curry's injury in early December, it's that we've gotten to live out the hypothetical of what the Warriors would look like if they revolved around Kevin Durant.
Here are Durant's per game averages this season in the 10 games (November 13 and the last 9 games) that Curry has been inactive:
Almost all of Durant's per game averages have gone up with Curry out with the exception of his turnovers, which is especially impressive considering Durant's using more possessions than when he does when Curry is active.
Because there is Durant's slight increase in minutes per game without Curry in the rotation, I was curious to see if normalizing the numbers to a per 36 minute rate would still show his across the board improvement:
Even with the slight difference in minutes, Durant is still showing clear increases other than a nominal drop in his steals. Watching a player raise his game to score and distribute more all while taking better care of the ball is pretty incredible, and that's not even mentioning his increased activity on the glass and protecting the rim.
Between the clear improvement in Durant's per minute numbers and the Warriors' 9-1 record without Curry this year, it's easy to envision contrarians starting to formulate a case that Golden State is better off without Curry. One easy way to dispel that is to take a peak at Durant's shooting splits with and without Steph:
So while Durant may be more productive overall without Curry so far this year, this chart illustrates how much harder Durant is having to work to get his points with Curry sidelined. Curry's absence is proving the powerful effect of his offensive gravity, as opposing defenses are able to key in on Durant and make him take more difficult shots now that their paranoia about the greatest shooter of all time is gone.
It's been fun watching Durant temporarily take over as the unquestioned leader of the team, but his harmony with Curry makes him the most lethal version of himself on the court. Get well soon, Steph.
Four point guards were drafted in the top ten this past year - Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox, Frank Ntilikina, and Dennis Smith Jr. - and with the season at roughly the 40% mark, we've decided to compare their early returns.
Dennis Smith Jr. has come away as clearly the most prolific scorer of the group to begin his career, but he has plenty of room to grow with his below average shooting percentages across the board.
Knicks fans have to be encouraged by Ntilikina's three point shooting thus far, as making his attempts at roughly a league average level is enough to garner the respect and attention of opposing defenses. His solid free throw percentage is an indicator that his shooting success is likely not a fluke, either.
More than enough has already been said about Ball's early shooting struggles, and if not for a recent string of strong performances his numbers would be even worse here. That being said, if he's truly turned a corner in his last few games, being a respectable shooter from deep will make his True Shooting Percentage and overall offensive efficiency numbers skyrocket.
Also, if I'm the Knicks, I'm pushing Ntilikina to become more aggressive hunting down threes. I'd like to see if he can continue to make 35% of his attempts while taking closer to 10 tries per 100 possessions (effectively doubling his 1.9 attempts per game to about 4).
Passing, Rebounding, & Defense:
As expected, Ball shines when viewing his contributions unrelated to scoring. He's shown numerous flashes of his precocious passing and vision, and his ability to generate deflections and ignite fast breaks with his rebounding allow him to impact the game in many ways.
Ntilikina has already become known for his smothering defense, and his pace of 3.3 Steals / 100 Possessions puts him in elite company this season, currently placing him between Paul George (3.5 Steals/100 Poss) and Chris Paul (3.3 Steals/100 Poss).
Fox has also put up some solid numbers in these categories, committing the second fewest turnovers per possession of the group and making noteworthy contributions across the board.
The season is still young, but based on Win Shares, all four players have been net negatives on offense, mainly because all have shot the ball poorly. All of these players are 20 years old or younger, however, so a learning curve is to be expected.
Since PER rewards productivity with less of an emphasis on efficiency, Smith and Ball are the leaders for this category because they've effected the game the most while on the court, Smith with his scoring and Ball with everything else.
I've been baffled by Dave Joerger's rotations so far, as Fox's inconsistent minutes and occasional relegation not only behind George Hill but also Frank Mason are not ideal for his development and the franchise's long term goals. Once Fox is at full health again, I'd like to see lineups like Fox - Hield - Temple - Randolph - Cauley-Stein get significant minutes to let Fox gain experience in full command of an offense with competent NBA players surrounding him that compliment his skills.
Historical Comparison - Usage Rate x True Shooting:
I've added the rookie seasons of Marcus Smart (Celtic green) and Kyrie Irving (Cavalier wine) to two of the visuals to provide some context for this rookie crop with archetypal players of opposite ends of the spectrum:
When looking at only the 2017 rookies before, their poor True Shooting Percentages didn't stand out because they were all similarly bad, but in comparison to Smart and Irving it's clear that all four are really struggling to hit shots so far.
Smith is using possessions at a very similar rate to Irving's rookie rate, giving us an idea of the type of role he might play offensively if he can improve his shooting.
Historical Comparison - Win Shares:
This visual should be taken with a grain of salt, as Irving and Smart's cumulative Win Shares are from their full rookie seasons, not snapshots 40% of the way in like the 2017 rookies' numbers are. Still, this draft class' ineptitude on offense is highlighted by Irving and Smart being the only players with positive Offensive Win Share totals.
It's impressive that Ball is on pace to rack up a similar amount of Defensive Win Shares to Smart's rookie campaign, considering the love that Smart receives as one of the best defenders in the league. The Jason Kidd and Ricky Rubio comparisons are more common for Ball, but I think his floor may be Marcus Smart with elite vision.
It's still early, but right now it's clear that all four players are finding their footing and have yet to stake their claim as franchise cornerstones. A relevant note along those lines is that I didn't include Donovan Mitchell in this group as I still think he's more of a playmaking 2 than a point guard.
Here's how I'd rank the players if we did the 2017 draft over today:
1. Lonzo Ball - If Ball's improvements shooting the ball can be maintained, his impact on all facets of the game give him a chance to be the type of player that LaVar has spoken into existence. His defense has been better than expected and his passing has been as good as advertised.
2. Frank Ntilikina - Frankie Smokes has already emerged as a legit 3&D player and he's only 19. If he can develop into a scoring threat as well he could be special. I'm picturing a bigger Avery Bradley if things fall into place.
3. Dennis Smith Jr. - Smith will have plenty of scoring eruptions and hopefully win a dunk contest or two, but since he isn't doing much away from the ball today he'll need to improve his shooting to become a net positive on the floor.
4. De'Aaron Fox - I was worried about Fox before the draft, and I still am. Right now he profiles as a less aggressive, worse shooting version of Smith, and he's not disrupting things enough on defense to leave the impression that he'll be a star there. Here's to hoping a bigger role can give us more Kameha moments.
DeMar DeRozan has carved out a niche as a premier scorer in the league by zigging while the rest of the league zags. During his career he's averaged only 0.4 made threes per game on 28.6% shooting, taking only 9.6% of his shots from behind the arc. DeRozan is known for adding a new facet to his game every offseason, and over his last three games it's started to look like rounding out his offensive game and becoming a threat from deep may be this year's addition.
Through 28 games, DeRozan had tallied 17 made threes, or 0.6 per game. In his last 3 games, he's averaged 4.3 made threes:
After this recent binge, DeRozan is now taking a career high portion of his shots from three point range this season (16.2%), and is also making them at a career high rate (34.1%):
It should be no surprise then that DeRozan's currently sporting a career high True Shooting Percentage of 58.8% considering the efficiency bump he's received from his improvement from deep:
DeRozan is already one of the most consistent scorers in the NBA, but the knock on him has been that when defenses clamp down in the playoffs, the lanes he uses for his forays to the rim and the midrange clog up. If he can become a reliable threat from behind the arc, the Raptors may have to be taken seriously as a contender in the East. FiveThirtyEight's model already considers that to be the case, predicting them to finish first in the East at 58-24.
By John Hooper
Ben Simmons has had a historically good start to his NBA career. With almost of a quarter of his rookie season now in the books, we thought it would be fun to compare his year thus far to the rookie seasons of some of the great point forwards in league history.
First, let's take a peak into how he's stacked up versus the competition with his minute and pace adjusted numbers:
Impressively, his slash line is closest with Magic Johnson's rookie campaign, but with superior scoring, assist, and rebounding numbers. Magic was a more efficient scorer, however, which is large in part to a much larger portion of his points coming from the free throw line.
Simmons' and Grant Hill's rookie years have very similar Usage Rates, True Shooting Percentages, and aversions for three pointers, but Simmons appears to be a more productive player overall.
Simmons' and LeBron's rookie seasons appear to have the least in common, with LeBron being the only member of the group to have shot a significant portion of his attempts from deep, plus having had by far the highest Usage Rate of the group.
Next, let's look at how Simmons matches up with the same players across various ages in their careers:
A few things jump out here. First, if Simmons maintains his current productivity through this season and shows moderate improvement through the next 3-4 years, Grant Hill can now be thought of as a conservative projection for his career.
Secondly, LeBron made a huge jump in his overall impact from his first year to his second. His dramatic improvement in his scoring efficiency was one of the main reasons for this. Simmons making a similar leap to around 60% True Shooting would potentially elevate him to all-time great range territory.
Let's look at the shooting statistics for that second season of LeBron's career when he made the efficiency leap and compare it to Simmons ' rookie year:
Simmons' effectiveness from various distances on the court lines up surprisingly well with LeBron's year, other than on shots from behind the arc. Simmons has also been diligent on taking the majority of his shots close to the basket, with 72.0% of them having come within 10 feet so far, much higher than LeBron's 44.8%.
Since Simmons adding a three point shot by next year is a bit of a pipe dream, an area of focus we'd suggest for him should be the 10'-16' range. An approach that we'd like to see is to either emphasize developing his shot there, or eliminate it from his arsenal altogether, because shooting 29.8% on a segment of your shots that represent 21.8% of your attempts is obviously not ideal.
One last chart, just for fun:
A higher portion of Simmons' shots are dunks than any year in LeBron's career. Not mad at that.
Long story short, Ben Simmons is really fucking good (as we predicted). So far he's on track to at least be Grant Hill, and has an exciting amount of statistical similarities to Magic Johnson. Having a career arc similar to Magic's appears to be within the realm of possibility if Simmons can become a more efficient scorer.
By John Hooper
We love John Collins. And as we predicted, John Collins is off to a strong start for the Hawks and is starting to turn heads around the league. After their recent match up, Blake Griffin had some high praise for the rook:
"I like his game a lot. I’ve watched him play this season. Physically he’s ready. He plays the game the right way. He does exactly what I’m assuming he’s suppose to do within their offense. He’s got a super high ceiling."
Collins is best known for his nightly baptisms of the rim, as was Griffin when he came into the league. Griffin's comments and his similar attacking style (at least early in his career) got me thinking, how does Collins' rookie season compare to Blake's?
Here's what we found in looking at their minute and pace adjusted numbers:
Griffin's rookie year was historically good, as he averaged 22/12/4 en route to winning Rookie of the Year in the 2010-11 season. Collins has been very good, but lags behind Griffin most notably as a passer and in his ability to get to the line.
Collins' shooting efficiency has been superior, however, as one of his greatest strengths has been his focused shot selection:
But most importantly, here's how the two compare as dunkers:
An unreal 31.4% of Collins' shot attempts are dunks right now. This makes me so happy.
Overall, Blake's game was more diversified and slightly more impactful as a rookie than Collins, but the fact that it's even a conversation speaks volumes to the value that the Hawks received when they took him 19th in this year's draft.
In looking for another comparable player to Collins who was similarly effective, dunked everything, and played a more linear role offensively, one player jumped out: Shawn Kemp.
Here's the first chart again with Kemp's rookie season included:
The per 100 possession slash lines of Collins and Kemp are remarkably similar. An exciting indicator for Hawks fans is that Collins has a significant edge on Kemp in shooting efficiency in their respective first seasons, which is one of the main components of his superior PER as well.
With Kemp and Griffin in mind as the high-end of Collins' comparable outcomes for his career, we also added in Tyrus Thomas' career as a low-end hypothetical for Collins in the following chart:
Of note is that Collins' current True Shooting Percentage is higher than any year of Griffin's career, all but one year of Kemp's, and is significantly higher than any of Thomas'.
Interestingly, despite Thomas' physical gifts he was never a great finisher, only having two seasons shooting above 60% within three feet of the rim (Collins is shooting 76.0% from that distance).
Just for fun, here's Thomas' season by season shooting percentages:
Long story short, as long as Collins can maintain his frequency and effectiveness on shots near the rim (which seems like a fair bet considering a third of shots are dunks), it looks very likely that his net impact will always be a significant positive. If he can seize a larger role in the Hawks offense while keeping his shooting efficiency near what it is today, we may be witnessing the birth of The Reign Man 2.0.
By John Hooper and Trevor Smyth
Trev: Warriors over Celtics in 5
Hoop: Warriors over Cavs in 5
- Sixth Man:
- Most Improved:
1. Ben Simmons
3. Milos Teodosic
4. John Collins
5. Dennis Smith Jr.
- Sixth Man:
- Most Improved:
5. John Wall
Team Notes/Predictions/Wish List
- This will be Klay's best statistical season. He'll join the 50 / 40 / 90 club with 50.2% / 42.9% / 90.0% shooting and an average slash line of 25.7 / 3.4 / 3.1.
- Start John Collins at center. Win-win as you either see if he's the real deal or execute the righteous tank. Schroder-Bazemore-Prince-Ilyasova-Collins could be surprisingly watchable.
- Short term, it's near impossible for Kyrie to match IT's efficiency last year. Thomas posted a True Shooting Percentage of 62.5% at a 34.0% Usage Rate. Kyrie's career bests are a 58.3% clip for TS and a Usage Rate of 30.8%.
- Boston has done nothing to improve its fourth worst defensive rebounding rate from last year. One player who makes sense as a midseason target for them: Julius Randle.
- Congrats on climbing out of the cellar, my love!
- Play the kids - especially D'Angelo, LeVert, and Dinwiddie - as much as possible.
- Potential trade assets: Sean Kilpatrick, Trevor Booker, and... Jeremy Lin.
- If Dwight can't succeed in Steve Clifford's conservative rebounding and defensive schemes (and especially in the Hornets' locker room), this will be his last job in the NBA.
- Let's just keep it moving.
- The Cavs' best lineup will be Thomas-Smith-Crowder-James-Thompson.
- This is the best move the Cavs can make to make themselves a true championship threat this year. James moves to the 4 full time in this scenario.
- Henry Ellenson is one of my favorite players to watch because his style is so congruent with his body. I think he really believes he's an athletic 6'4" combo guard. Keep an eye on him for some fun highlights.
- Myles Turner, year 1, per 36: 16.3 / 8.7 / 1.1 / 0.7 / 2.3
- Myles Turner, year 2, per 36: 16.6 / 8.3 / 1.5 / 1.0 / 2.4
- Even though things look very similar, one main difference in Turner's two years was a big jump in his attempt rate on three pointers and free throws. If he continues that trend and embraces his larger role, he could be in for a breakout season.
- Short term, Justise Winslow is their kryptonite. Long term, Winslow needs to play to become the impact player he's shown the potential of becoming. Who says no?
- We need to find out if Giannis can play center. If he can, Jabari can fit alongside him long term. If not, should the Bucks pay max or near max money for Parker to be a super sub?
- It's amazing that a team can have such a bad point guard situation when it's such a strong position for the league right now. This year might get even darker than expected.
- Want to maximize Aaron Gordon's value? Play him at center. Sure, the Boogies of the league eat him up in the post, but can Boogie stay in front of Gordon on defense?
- A lineup of Payton-Ross-Fournier-Isaac-Gordon could actually be fun this year.
- Someone with nothing to lose should be rolling the dice on Mario Hezonia. I think this gets it done for Indy.
- Joining in the rest of the league in praying for a healthy Embiid.
- Ben Simmons will average 14 / 7 / 6 and win ROY. Also, he will start shooting with his right hand in year three.
- I love the CJ Miles signing.
- Serge Ibaka needs to be playing more of the 5 nowadays. A lineup of Lowry-Powell-DeRozan-Miles-Ibaka is intriguing.
- I thought OG Anunoby was going to be out because of injury for much longer. The Raptors may have pulled one over on the league, swooping him up at 23 in this last draft.
- Wall seems desperate to be included in the MVP discussion. I think he goes Westbrook on us this year and chases some round numbers. I'm predicting a 25 / 5 / 10 line for him.
- (starting a rookie point guard + Harrison Barnes as your best player) / (Carlisle sorcery) = missing the playoffs. Sorry.
- Treasure all Dirk moments this season as we may not have many more from the Big Mummy.
- I love them as is with their addition of Paul Millsap, but I agree with Zach Lowe that Eric Bledsoe will end up in Denver this season. Bledsoe-Harris-Chandler-Millsap-Jokic is an incredible lineup, both for talent and entertainment purposes.
- Jamal Murray and Will Barton will blitz opposing second units this year.
- Please give Jordan Bell 15+ mpg and Patrick McCaw 20+ mpg this year. That's all I ask.
- If Chris Paul, PJ Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute can improve the Rockets team defense, the Rockets may lead into 60 win territory. I don't expect this to happen, however, as they just lost the peskiest PG defender in the league.
- I'm predicting a familiar ending for the Rockets: out in 6 in the Western Conference Semis at the hands of the Thunder.
- The buzz around how will DeAndre Jordan look without someone spoon feeding him buckets needs to stop. Milos Teodosic will be the best passer in the NBA this year and will keep DJ fed.
- This will be a top 3 most fun team to watch in the league this year.
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is in for a big year. The upgrade in facilitation from Reggie Jackson to Lonzo is exponential, and he's on a one year, prove-it deal. Look for him to set career highs in 3P% and PPG on the way to an 4 year / $76M deal.
- I'm predicting a line of 12 / 5 / 7 for Lonzo this year.
- I think there'll be a major shakeup on the roster for the Grizzlies this year. As seen in a few of my Trade Machine creations, I predict Marc Gasol will be moved this year.
- For the life of me I can't understand why the T'Wolves signed Jeff Teague instead of George Hill to fit this team. Here's a statistical comparison of their careers for a few relevant categories.
- The Pelicans need guards and wings who can shoot on the cheap. Here are the players they should be targeting: Sean Kilpatrick (BKN), Tyus Jones (MIN), Damyean Dotson (NYK), Mario Hezonia (ORL), Davon Reed (PHX), and Bryn Forbes (SAS).
- Please run 4-5 pick and rolls until the cows come home. Who runs it better this year, the Pelicans or the Clippers?
- Yes, I may have gone on a tirade against Sam Presti in our recent podcast, but I love everything about this team.
- Look for Russ' averages to drop to a still excellent 24 / 6 / 10.
- I'm worried this team and therefore about Earl Watson's job security. I hope Watson gets to see this through until the majority of his roster can legally drink, but I'm worried that the brutal West may push the Suns into the basement.
- I'm way too excited for the Blazers letting Evan Turner handle the ball on offense and letting CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard tie defenses in knots off the ball as Zach Lowe reported a few days ago.
- Speaking of CJ, who says no to this masterpiece?
- I have no feel for this team, what types of lineups they'll play, and what their goal is. I'm rooting for big minutes for the Cauley-Stein and Labissiere pairing.
- I have concerns about their depth, health, and mood, but I'm predicting 50+ wins for them every year until proven otherwise.
- The big question for the Jazz this year is whether or not Rodney Hood can thrive in a featured role. The Utah internet contingent believes so, I'm dubious.
- Also, if Quin Snyder insists on starting Derrick Favors next to Rudy Gobert, this may be a bottom 5 least watchable team.
By John Hooper
The 2016 draft is an interesting one for us to look back on since it was the last time we evaluated prospects without having our projection model as a tool. With one year under the players' belts and now having their scores from the algorithm, we thought it'd be fun to look back at see how our pre-draft rankings are holding up.
To review the players and their rankings, I'm going to review them in order based on where they were selected. We'll be doing this as a series of articles for picks 1-20, then an article for other notable players, and finally with a summary for quick reference.
1. Ben Simmons
Ranking on our 2016 Big Board: 1
Ranking in our projection model: 1
Where I'd rank him now: 1
Simmons sat out his entire rookie season due to injury, but nothing's changed in our minds about him being far and away the best prospect from this class. He graded out as the fourth best prospect in our database (includes all drafted players since 2011 who played college ball) with a 99.8 overall rating, placing him behind only Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and Karl Anthony-Towns, and just ahead of Kyrie Irving and Myles Turner. Another interesting facet of Simmons' algorithm grade is that the margin between him and the second most highly rated player from the 2016 draft, Caris LeVert, is 8.0, which is the largest difference between the best and second best prospect in any class in our database (again going back to 2011).
My personal favorite thing about Simmons as a prospect is that even if he flops as a point forward, he projects as such a good scorer and rebounder that the model expects that his floor is basically John Collins, and everybody knows how much we love John the Baptist here:
Even with his shooting deficiencies, Simmons' propensity for getting to the free throw line, curated shot selection, and ability to finish at the basket make him one of nine players in our database to score a perfect 100 in scoring potential (as is John Collins), which is obviously a great sign for him and the Sixers.
After watching Simmons in Vegas in 2016, I was extremely impressed by his creativity, vision, and the sense of control he had over the action. After a year off and plenty of work on his jumper Simmons seems to be as confident as ever, and we can't wait to finally see his debut. Side note: ICFM! Come for the hoops talk, stay for the links to shirtless dudes!
2. Brandon Ingram
Ranking on our 2016 Big Board: 3
Ranking in our projection model: 4
Where we'd rank him now: 2
I placed Ingram into our model as a power forward, even though he only played 14% of his minutes there his rookie season, since that's where his long-term future in the league is. I still stand by my pre-draft sentiment that the whole Simmons vs Ingram debate was ridiculous (and backed up by Ingram being a distant 9.2 points behind Simmons in our model), but I can see why some have continued to make the baby Durant comparisons about his game, especially when he's flashing the way he did this summer against the Clippers.
Our pre-draft comp for him of Rodney Hood looks surprisingly accurate (at least statistically) after one year, considering that Hood was three years older than Ingram as a rookie. However, when comparing their ratings in our model, it's clear that Ingram has a much higher ceiling than Hood:
Even though Ingram will likely take another year or two to be an average starter, let alone a true difference maker, he's shown so much more potential than anyone other than Simmons in this class that we're bumping him up to the second spot on our updated rankings. We're hoping to see his more aggressive approach from his stint at Summer League this year carry over into the regular season, as well as progress with his consistency shooting from deep and physical strength.
3. Jaylen Brown
Ranking on our 2016 Big Board: 22
Ranking in our projection model: 15
Where we'd rank him now: 5
The most intriguing aspect about Brown's projection in our algorithm is that he's another of the nine players to earn a perfect 100 for scoring potential. This is a large departure from my opinion of him going into last year's draft (going off only game tape), where I expected Brown to be a Gerald Green-type as a streaky role player capable of lighting the arena on fire with his dunks, instead of the elite scorer that the model predicts him to become. Our model loves his aggressiveness, which is represented statistically by his usage rate (3rd highest of all SFs in our database) and his 8.9 made free throws per 100 possessions (6th most of all SFs), as well as his youth and otherworldly athleticism. Here's his full profile from our model:
Other than the insight into his vast potential as a scorer, the main reason that Brown's made such a jump in our rankings after his rookie campaign is his surprisingly good shooting from behind the arc this past year, posting a 34.1% clip from three on 1.7 attempts a game. Coming into the year, Brown ranked 42nd out of the 65 small forwards in our database in shooting potential after 43.1%/29.4%/65.4% shooting splits at Cal, so it's an enormously promising sign for the Celtics that Brown was already able to make such a large stride in becoming respectable from deep.
Our pre-draft comp of Harold Miner was made with the expectation that Brown may win a dunk contest, but would never be an impact player in the league. Right now, I'd put his career on track to be very much like Gerald Wallace. If he can continue to improve his shooting, we may be looking at the Iso Joe of the 2020s.
I'm also interested to see if Brown makes a leap while part of the Celtics or if he needs a change of scenery away from from Boston's packed depth chart to find the opportunity necessary to grow and showcase his talent.
4. Dragan Bender
Ranking on our 2016 Big Board: 7
Ranking in our projection model: n/a (no NCAA stats)
Where we'd rank him now: 19
Bender certainly has a unique skill set for a player of his size, but he also made one of the worst initial impressions of the players from the 2016 class during his rookie season. He had moments in Summer League this year where he flashed his unique skill set, but even so, some aspects of his body of work there, namely only tallying one block in five games and shooting 39% from the field, were still causes for concern considering second year lottery picks are expected to be dominant.
Bender, along with Wade Baldwin, was one of two players selected in the 2016 first round to produce negative win shares per 48 minutes this past season. Bender played sparingly this past year, averaging 13.3 minutes per game in 43 contests, and was mostly unproductive when he did see the court. His per 36 minute slash line of 9.2/6.5/1.4 inspires very little confidence, and his ghastly shooting splits of 35.4%/27.7%/36.4% only make things worse. However, for those looking for reason to be optimistic, there is at least one notable international player who had a similar rookie season as a 19 year old who's now gone on to great things.
It's way too soon to give up on Bender, but compared to some of the other bigs taken later in the first round, I'd have to guess that Phoenix wishes they could take a mulligan on this one.
5. Kris Dunn
Ranking on our 2016 Big Board: 4
Ranking in our projection model: 14
Where we'd rank him now: 20
Well here's one of the prospects where it certainly would've been helpful to have our model going into last year's draft! We ranked Dunn in our potential all-stars group and even gave him the comp of John Wall. About that...
What the model picked up on that we didn't with the eye test is how much that Dunn would struggle running an NBA offense (ranking him 43rd of 67 the point guards since 2011 in passing potential), and that his 37.5% from three as a junior at Providence was likely a mirage (ranking him 55th of the 67 in shooting potential).
Dunn did grade out as the best defensive point guard out of all prospects in our model, so here's to hoping he can carve out a Patrick Beverley-esque niche in the league. Beverley was a much better shooter in his first year in the league after his time in Europe, however.
In the big picture, things have obviously worked out for the Timberwolves in packaging Dunn along with Zach LaVine and the pick that became Lauri Markkanen for Jimmy Butler. However, in an alternate universe, it's fun to imagine Minnesota realizing how similar of a player to Dunn they could've picked up as an undrafted free agent in Gary Payton II:
and instead using their 2016 first rounder on Jamal Murray, Thon Maker, or another player who would've fit well with that roster's core. But hey, all's well that end's well, so cheers to T'Wolves and that new electric green!
Thanks for reading and look out for the article on picks 6-10 next week!
By John Hooper
Since Gordon Hayward's decision to sign with the Celtics as a free agent, I've spent way too much time thinking about the future of the Utah Jazz, especially for someone who's neither part of their organization nor a long-time fan of the club. There was something particularly gut-wrenching about watching the blueprint of a team that's built its roster patiently and thoughtfully being ripped to shreds by a single Player's Tribune article.
In this most recent season, the Jazz finally broke through and reached the playoffs after a four year drought. After an impressive postseason performance to cap off the year, Utah seemed on the verge of a period of sustained success behind their two homegrown cornerstones, Hayward and Rudy Gobert. Despite winning over 50 games for the first time since 2010, this past season could've been even better if they hadn't been bit so severely by the injury bug. Simply put, last year was a great year for Utah and all signs indicated that the future was even brighter, as long as their core was kept intact.
The good news for Jazz fans is that I'm here to help out, which is almost as good as watching Dwight Howard stop giving all fucks and troll fourteen year olds online. Basically, I like seeing small market teams compete despite the disadvantages they have when it comes to acquiring and keeping talent on their rosters, and I like seeing the teams that have front offices that make smart decisions succeed. So juuuuuust in case Dennis Lindsey and the gang are looking for a hand, I've crafted a 15 step plan to get them back on track.
Step 1: Reassess and redefine the franchise direction
One of the most surefire ways to become a perennial lottery participant is to make each roster move within a vacuum, without considering how it meshes with any previous or planned personnel moves, all while ignoring the overarching franchise strategy. Practicing this style of roster management is how you end up like Orlando, Sacramento (hopefully not for much longer), and Detroit - never good company.
With the Sixers finally beginning to realize the fruits of their labor thanks to the one true prophet, Sam Hinkie, and the Rockets on the verge of adding Carmelo Anthony and creating another super team, the league has become obsessed with an all of nothing philosophy. While I certainly see the merits of full tear-downs with hopes of landing a superstar for many franchises, I actually believe that the Jazz would be best served by zigging while the rest of the league zags and instead aiming to become a mainstay at the 3-5 seeds in the Western Conference.
Why such a modest goal? First off, there's no sense in dancing around the fact that Utah is one of the lowest ranking destinations for free agents despite having a good coach in Quin Snyder and being a respected organization. And if a team is unlikely to land a star through free agency, the only other options are to find one through the draft or by trade. The problem here is that with Utah's free agency challenges in mind, any assets that would be sent in a trade for a star would mostly likely have to come through the draft. Yes, the Utah front office has done a solid job in the last few drafts, so theoretically it's possible that they could find enough gems to swing a deal for a star. But the reality is barring any major changes or significant injuries, the Jazz will be too good to have the high lottery picks that give you a chance to draft or trade for elite talent.
And the reason they'll be too good is mostly because of one man, Rudy Gobert. Gobert came into his own last season, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and blocks on his way to a 2nd Team All-NBA nod and runner-up finish for Defensive Player of the Year. He's also a favorite of the advanced analytics community, finishing the year second in total Win Shares, eighth in Value Over Replacement Player, and third in True Shooting Percentage. With a player as good as Gobert anchoring your team and especially your defense, it isn't possible to drop low enough in the standings to have a chance to take the Markelle Fultzes of the world. Plus, the whole goal of having a top three pick is to hopefully end up with a player of Gobert's caliber anyway, so by already having Gobert, the Jazz may already be closer to being back in the top eight of the West than many would expect.
Finally, and this is total conjecture, but I think Jazz fans would be happy without true title aspirations as long as they have a consistently good team to root for. I think having a winning team that's been built the right way, a la Memphis this decade, has become underrated at this point, plus the Warriors and the rest of the teams taking part in the current super team arms race make it highly unlikely the Jazz could make the leap into the championship conversation in the next 3-5 years anyway.
With that reasoning as our north star, instead of of bottoming out and rebuilding, our goal is to get Utah to a 50-55 wins a year level within the next 3 seasons, all while keeping one of the best fan bases in the league excited about their future. Here are few of the main focuses that we're going to use in building out a team to do just that:
Optimizing for Gobert
The Jazz have one of the best ten players in the league who just turned 25 and is under contract at a reasonable rate until 2021. If Bill Simmons still wrote his trade value articles, I'd have to imagine that Rudy would be in his top five considering his existing body of work, youth, and favorable contract. If Utah wants to build a sustainably successful roster, they need to surround him with players who augment his strengths and cover for his weaknesses.
Gobert is a high-efficiency (68.1% true shooting percentage last year), low usage player (294th in usage rate) who has zero range (1.0% of all shots outside 10 feet) on offense. Creating an offense that's tailored to him is straightforward - place shooters all around him, use him in pick and rolls, and have at least one other player who can be your team's main bucket getter. The caveat is that everyone else in the league is also looking for more shooting, so we'll have to be creative when surrounding Rudy with marksmen.
On defense, Gobert's the premier rim protector in the league today. He's also an elite rebounder. He's so good at both facets of the game that his skills can be used to mitigate some of his teammates' deficiencies there. His only defensive weakness is that his impact can be reduced by having to guard players that are perimeter threats, so ideally we'll still want to have players around him who can play the ball handler on pick and rolls well. The good news is that Mitchell and Exum should both be strong there.
With all of this in mind, a priority for us to implement asap is to pair Gobert with a 4 who can shoot well from deep. If the new 4's a good defender, great! If not, we're placing placing less importance on that player's rebounding and defensive skills because opening things up in the middle for Rudy is our top priority.
Developing Exum and Mitchell
In Dante Exum and Donovan Mitchell, Utah has two young, talented players with all-star ceilings. Similar to Gobert, Mitchell especially is type of player that teams are tanking to find. It's easy to imagine the two guards acting as interchangeable creators and scorers for the Jazz when they're running wild in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas against the competition in Summer League.
We loved Mitchell coming into this year's draft, ranking him seventh amongst this talented group of prospects in our final pre-draft rankings. His early returns in Summer League have only heightened our bullish stance on his future.
Exum is the greater enigma of the two players. He has even more potential that Mitchell with his 6'6" frame, 6'9" wingspan, and great athleticism. During his brief career, he's already shown flashes of every tool in the toolbox that you could ask for in a guard. At this point, it's about increasing his consistency and improving his defensive awareness so that he can harness his talent and help the team win ballgames. Watching him average 20/4/6 in his three games at SLC Summer League doesn't hurt our excitement for him either.
The first two focuses are admittedly pretty standard - of course you want to put your best youngsters in positions to succeed. It is a bit more unorthodox to purposefully target players who are lower ceiling, high floor types, but that's exactly why I think the Jazz should take this approach. While most organizations are obsessed with acquiring a top five player or someone with the potential to be one, great value can be found on quality role players who've slipped through the cracks. This means drafting experienced college players who have lost their new car smell, so less prospects like Thon Maker and more like Patrick McCaw. Don't get me wrong, I like Thon (age ain't nothing but a number!), but there was and still is a much higher chance of him having zero positive impact on a team than someone like McCaw who posted an elite steal rate (6th nationally in steals per game as a sophomore) and solid shooting and assist numbers while playing in a above average conference.
In free agency, this means avoiding bidding wars for middling talent, plus not paying anyone a premium as a bribe to get them to come to Utah. The Jazz should be more active in mid July once some teams have tied up their cap space and bargains can be had amongst the players whose pools of suitors have dried up. Basically, Utah should offer less contracts like Jeff Teague's and more like the one Sam Presti and the Thunder inked Patrick Patterson to earlier this summer. With the cap expected to increase only moderately over the next few years, it should be much easier to start signing players to reasonable deals again.
With our guiding principles now established, it's time to make some moves!
Step 2: Trade Derrick Favors
Derrick Favors has been a really nice player for the Jazz over the past seven seasons since coming over in the Deron Williams trade. He's averaged over 16 and 8 for them twice, and is still only 26 years old. The problem with Favors on the team that we're trying to build is that he's the antithesis of who we want to play next to Gobert. Going back to our plan to play a good shooter next to Rudy, last season Favors reached a career high in the proportion of his shot attempts coming from outside 16 feet, at 22.0%. It's nice to see him try to extend his range, but unfortunately he only shot 33.7% on the long 2s he took and 3/10 from three. The chances of Favors making a drastic improvement here are slim, and with his contract concluding at the end of the year, we may as well get something in return for him instead of letting him walk for nothing.
Favors' trade value rests in the eye of the beholder. It's lower to organizations looking for a long-term roster piece since they'd only have him under control for one season. On the other hand, his value is raised by virtue of being an expiring contract to teams that want to slash salary at the end of the year. He's also a rental option to other teams who are looking to add depth to their big man rotation without clogging their books.
It's a team in the last category that we decide to deal Favors to, sending him to Denver for Darrell Arthur and Monte Morris. Denver does this deal because they need another center to play behind Jokic, they want to win now after adding Paul Millsap, plus Jokic's style is the rare one that Favors can play next to in a dual big look. He fills a need and can play around 28 minutes a night for them in various lineups, while not locking them into a long-term commitment. The Jazz do this deal because they get to roll the dice on a player in Darrell Arthur who may be finally finding his niche in the NBA, having shot 38.5% and 45.3% from three in the past two years. Arthur gets a chance to start with Utah, and if he stays healthy, he'll likely play his way out of accepting his $7.5M player option for the 2018-19 season. In that sense, the trade's a rental for a rental swap, but the Jazz also add depth here by acquiring Monte Morris. We may have been a bit overly ambitious in our ranking and projection of Morris, but he has the look of a steady hand as a backup point guard.
Here's our updated depth chart and minute distribution heading into this season:
Our focuses for during the season:
Step 3: Revive Alec Burks
I loved Alec Burks as a prospect. The algorithm loved Burks as a prospect. The whole league loved him as a blossoming young talent after averaging 14 points a game in his third year our of Colorado. My favorite player of all time is Eddie Jones, and I saw a lot of similarities in Burks to Jones' smooth slashing game during his first few years as a pro. My heart was open and ready to love.
It's been a shame that Burks hasn't played more than 42 games in a season since that promising third year because of the multitude of injuries that he's suffered. But, if we want to look at the glass as half full here, that recent high of 42 games did come in this past season... so you're telling me there's a chance! He had a few moments where he flashed on tape again this year, most notably against the Thunder in March, that give room for optimism that he can regain some of his earlier form and be a valuable contributor again.
The Jazz should spend significant time this season finding out if that's indeed the case, because he's going to be a major factor in how they manage their roster spots in the next few years. If Burks can somehow fully revert to the 22 year old version of his game, the Jazz just dusted off a guy who can hang 20 on you on any given night and look good doing it. If he reaches his previous heights on some nights but can't be counted on to do so all the time (the most likely scenario), the Jazz have someone worth inking to a moderate contract as their first or second player off the bench. If Burks sadly has no more bullets left in the chamber, then it's an unfortunate what-if tale for him and Utah, and he becomes an $11M trade asset whose deal expires in 2019.
The Jazz should be thinking about development and medium-term positioning this year, and starting Alec Burks is one of the best things they can do to clarify the circumstances around one of the most volatile variables they have in their organization. Having a solid understanding of what Burks has left will be a major step towards keeping their rudder of Utah's ship righted towards eventual playoff contention.
Step 4: Reinvent Joe Ingles as a stretch 4
The Jazz pretty much had to extend the 4 year / $52M offer to Ingles that they did, with Ingles being one of (at that point undecided) Gordon Hayward's favorite teammates and Orlando reportedly waiving an even richer contract at Ingles. I can also say that in my brief interaction with him in May (story at 34:45 into through episode 31), Ingles seems like an all around great dude. But as an objective non-Jazz fan, I feel obligated to say that Ingles is going to have to take his glue-guying to a never before seen level to earn his money. In his breakout year last season, his he only averaged 10.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, plus he's now on the wrong side of 30. I'd be remiss to not mention that he finished third in the league in three point percentage at 44.1%, however.
In this world, we're planning on sliding Rodney Hood to the 3 and starting Alec Burks at the 2 to maximize the minutes we can give to the young wings on the roster. With this lineup in mind and only Darrell Arthur and the Swedish Larry Bird on the depth chart at the 4, there's a clear opportunity for Ingles spend more time as a hybrid forward instead of the wing he's been in the NBA thus far (87% of his time at the 2 or 3). Ingles has the size to passably play the 4 at 6'8" and 225 pounds, he's a great complement next to Gobert as a high-level spot-up shooter, a plus passer for a 4, and his poor rebounding would be negated by Gobert's excellence there.
Frankly, I'm surprised Ingles has never played more than 19% of his minutes in a season as a stretch 4 considering his frame and mediocre athleticism. If he can expand his game and handle the ruggedness of the interior, his contract would become a lot more palatable since it would then be for a Ben Zobrist-type utility player.
Step 5: Trade Rodney Hood at the deadline
Rodney Hood has also been a really nice player for the Jazz. These are trades being made with the head and not the heart, since Hood and Favors both seem like they've been great pieces of the franchise.
Hood shoots a good percentage on a high volume of attempts from three, and he plays solid defense at either wing position. He's epitomizes the 3&D role that so many teams are desperate to fill right now, and the Jazz were smart enough to nab him with the 23rd pick in the 2014 Draft after most of the league had already passed on him. Hood will also be only 25 when he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2017-18 season, and because of that, he'll be in line for a major payday. Expect him to end up signing a deal next offseason somewhere between Tim Hardaway Jr.'s and Otto Porter's recent contracts.
Even though I'm recommending that the Jazz trade Hood, it's not that I think that he's less valuable than Porter or Hardaway Jr., it's more that I think both of those deals are poor values (despite my love of Otto's efficiency) that were handed out out of desperation and insanity, respectively. The last thing a team like the Jazz should do is tie up the majority of its cap space on the supplemental talent that surrounds their actual difference makers (see Blazers, Trail). When that happens, you've locked yourself into a team and limiting your path to improvement to solely player development.
The truth of the matter is that Hood has shown no evidence of being able to become a go-to scorer since he's been at the pro level nor while he played at the college ranks. He's never posted a usage rate above 23.8% at either level and he rarely gets to the free throw line, two bad signs because those are two of the main data points we've found useful in projecting scoring potential. He contributes little as a rebounder (career average of 4.1 rebounds per 36 minutes) and is not someone who creates shots for others (2.7 assists per 36 minutes for his career). He'll deservedly get paid because his skills are in demand right now, but instead of tying up 20ish percent of their cap for the next four years on a high quality role player, Utah would be best served swapping him for a useful asset and maintaining financial flexibility.
If the Jazz float it out to the league that Hood's on the market, there will be no shortage of suitors looking to add some shooting for their playoff run. Yes, he'll be a half-season rental at his current rate of $2.4M, but Utah will still be able to net a worthwhile return for him, at least something that will be better than letting him walk. The deal that I think makes the most sense is sending Hood to Oklahoma City in exchange for the rookie Terrance Ferguson.
OKC makes this deal because they've already pushed all of their chips to the middle for this year by trading for Paul George. Adding Hood and turning Roberson into a defensive specialist off the bench makes the Thunder a much scarier team offensively, and thankfully reduces the chances of us having to watch Russell Westbrook kill Alex Abrines and/or Doug McDermitt on the court this year. The Thunder with Hood on the team become the second best team in the Western Conference this season. I've already let my feelings be known about the Thunder's questionable selection of Ferguson this year in a previous article, but long story short, losing him doesn't affect their on-court product this year or next (at least).
And despite the salt that I've thrown on the pick, I'm not blind to the fact that Ferguson possesses a ton of talent and probably even has a higher ceiling than Hood because of his athleticism and feel for the game. He has a lonnnnng way to go, but Utah is now in a position where they can take a lottery ticket and let him come along slowly since we're in year one of a three year plan.
Step 6: Trade or buy out Joe Johnson at the deadline
This move is more out of doing right by a respected veteran, which also has the side benefit of bolstering the Jazz's reputation as a place that takes care of its players.
Iso Joe will be getting buckets when he's fifty. He can still be a contributor in a minor role for a playoff team this year, plus he's also attractive as an expiring contract to those trying to clear space. The Jazz should look to pick up a second rounder for him, while making sure they don't take on any bad contracts in return.
...Or, if the Utah front office is feeling frisky, who says no to this deal with the Spurs (obviously made without the Favors for Arthur swap occurring)?
Bill Simmons talked about Utah's Ewing Theory potential on a recent podcast and there's certainly credence to Utah sneaking up on the league this year with suffocating defense, but those such as Tom Haberstroh who are predicting them to have a better record than last year should slow their roll. Now that the dust has started to settle and the final pieces on Utah's opening day roster are falling into place, we're forecasting that the Jazz will finish 38-44 and just shy of a playoff berth. This will give Utah a late lottery pick to work with and $30(ish)M to play with in cap room during the 2018 offseason.
Our strategy this offseason will follow our singles hitting corollary, and that starts with Utah's selection in the 2018 Draft. (note: I'm assuming Arthur opts out of his player option)
Step 7: Acquire a young, talented power forward
The main hole on this team is a modern 4. The recently acquired Jonas Jerebko temporarily fills that role, but the Jazz still need a player who can be Rudy Gobert's partner in crime for the long run. Based on that logic... with the 13th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz select... Justin Jackson, sophomore forward from the University of Maryland!
Why Jackson? For starters, he shot 44.1% percent from three (the same percentage as Ingles last year! Spooky!) in his freshman season in the Big Ten last year, showcasing a quick and accurate stroke from deep. He's a bit undersized as a 4 at 6'7" and is a mediocre rebounder, but his 7'3" wingspan and 20.2% usage rate last year are indicators that he could be the fourth or fifth best starter on a good team.
Will Jackson eventually be an all-star? I doubt it, but he does have a high floor because of his frame and shooting ability. He'll be more NBA ready than many other available prospects after receiving major minutes for two years in one of the better conferences in the NCAA, which is exactly what we're going for. Think of this like the Jazz drafting their Patrick Patterson.
Step 8: Re-sign Dante Exum for 4 years / $52M
With Dante Exum likely to reject his $6.6M qualifying offer this offseason, Utah would be wise to try and sign Exum early to an extension during the 2017-18 season so they don't have to worry about Brooklyn or Atlanta offering a near max deal that they may feel pressured to match. After a season where we're predicting an 8/3/3 line for him in 24 minutes a night as a 22 year old, we think the Jazz will be getting a bargain by locking in Exum for the Dion Waiters special at $13M a year.
Here is our updated depth chart and minute distribution heading into year 2 of this experiment:
And now, our focal points for the season:
Step 9: Start Donovan Mitchell
With the way that Mitchell's been lighting up the summer leagues in Salt Lake City and Vegas, there's a case to be made that he should start for the Jazz from day one. His development is one of the most important pieces of the plan to get the Jazz back to the playoffs, but starting him as a rookie will also reduce the amount of minutes available to Dante Exum and Alec Burks to make their own strides during the 2017-18 season. Instead, our plan is to begin his rookie year with him playing around 18 minutes a night as he acclimates to the pro game and ratcheting thing up until he's up to 30 minutes per game during the season's final stretch. In this version of the universe, expect him to put up a a 12/3/2 line in his 28 minutes per game and make the First-Team All-Rookie team.
After a strong finish to the 2017-18 season, Mitchell will be ready in his sophomore campaign to take over the starting 2 guard role and take on the challenge to become the spearhead of Utah's offense. There will be nights when he's inefficient from the field and turns the ball over too much, but the Jazz need to persist on prioritizing development over wins in the short term to build their foundation of young talent. A focal point for Mitchell during year two will be establishing chemistry on the pick and roll with Rudy Gobert. Stockton and Malone part two it's doubtful they will be, but their two-man game should become the bread and butter of Utah's offense for this season and the next 2-4 after that. In his new starting role and playing 30 minutes a night, look for Mitchell to average 16/4/3 with a few 30+ point eruptions that get Jazz fans giddy.
Step 10: Get Justin Jackson at least 20 mpg
Continuing our theme of placing importance on getting the youngsters reps, we want to let our new, shiny first round pick find his place in the league as a trial by fire. That means accepting that he'll make a few mistakes that may cost the Jazz games this year, and committing to allocate minutes to Jackson that could easily go to Jerebko or Ingles instead. Whether he's playing with Gobert or Tony Bradley at center, Jackson will be a great partner for either with his perimeter oriented game. Chances are it'll be a process getting him up to speed on the finer points of the Utah defensive scheme, but Jackson fits the bill as the type of player who can step in an begin to make an impact early in his career since he possesses a high value skill for his position. It's up to the Jazz to make room for him to thrive.
The 2018-19 Jazz were assembled as a deep team full of athletic, switchy players anchored in the middle by Rudy Gobert, who we're predicting will have received his first 1st Team All-NBA honor this year. The team's main warts will be its recklessness and its inconsistent scoring from the perimeter, but again, those are things that we're deciding to live with to facilitate maximal growth from the young core that's been assembled.
With this hypothetical composition of talent, the Jazz finish only one game better than last year at 39-43, and again just outside the playoff picture. With Mitchell and Exum now on track to become full time backcourt mates and Gobert reaching new heights, it's time to make moves to bring this team towards 50 wins.
Step 11: Let Rubio, Thabo, and Jonas walk as a Free Agents
The writing's been on the wall for Rubio as we've made Utah's desire to transition to Dante Exum as the point guard of the future transparent. Rubio will be 28 and in line for what will likely be his last major payday. The best move for him will be to find a home that will give him minutes and enough bread to feed his family, and the Jazz are no longer that team.
I hadn't touched on it at all yet, so I may as well state here that I'm not a fan of the recent Sefolosha signing since it seems likely that he's going to consume some of the generous minutes allotments we've set aside for Burks, Exum, and Mitchell. Love you Thabo but you're fucking up the vision here, bud.
If the Jazz use Sefolosha as a mentor and a fill-in when there are injuries, then it's a great signing. If the Jazz are going to reduce the opportunities for players that should be part of their long-term future for a 1% better chance of making the playoffs this year, then I'm mad for you, Jazz fans. Either way, we're keeping the bridge signings of him and Jerekbo as only that and extending neither.
Step 12: Re-sign Alec Burks 3/$36M
As mentioned in the 2017-18 season section, we expect Burks to have moments where he looks like the same unstoppable slasher he was once on the path to becoming, but for him to only reach that level every couple of games. Expect a line of 12/3/2 in 24 minutes per game over the 2017-19 period for him based on the role we've given him.
Here, in the 2019 offseason, Burks will turn 28, taking him into what will likely be the twilight of his prime since much of his game is predicated on athleticism. Based on his performance and age, we're re-signing him to a three year deal for an average of $12M per year to backup both wing positions. If all goes according to plan (I mean, all of this is going to happen, right?), he'll be one of the better sixth men in the league for the duration of his new contract.
Step 13: Trade Tony Bradley
We haven't spoken much about Tony Bradley yet, but we were fans of his as a prospect, listing him as the 31st best prospect this year and predicting that he'll have a quietly successful 10 year career. He's also looked good in Summer League so far, for what that's worth, doing his thing in the 20 minutes a night he's been playing.
So why would the Jazz want to trade him if he will likely be a productive player? It comes back to the first rule of this article: they need to surround Rudy Gobert with players that accentuate his strengths. Bradley will be good, but because he can't play next to Gobert, he has less value for Utah than he may for other franchises since he'll always be in a limited role here.
One team in particular that will be a good fit for Bradley's services in the summer of 2019 is the Los Angeles Clippers. This is the summer that the Clippers will be handling DeAndre Jordan's free agency (assuming he opts in to his player option in 2018, which we think he will because of the consensus that there will be a small number of organizations with max cap room in the 2018 offseason), and with so much money allocated to Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari, Jerry West and Co. will have to think long and hard about letting DJ walk.
The mutually beneficial solution that we're proposing is to trade Tony Bradley to the Clippers for Sindarius Thornwell (yes, we have an irrational love for Sindarius so we'd probably be devising a trade for him in every 5,000 word hypothetical deep dive that we write. But stay with us here). The Clippers make this trade because it enables them to walk away from DJ with a young, respectable replacement for 1/10 of the price. They lose a player in Thornwell who we believe is going to have a PJ Tucker-like career, but has been stuck behind the recently signed Gallinari in a small role on the Clippers. Thornwell will be most valuable on a defensive minded team with playoff aspirations. The Clippers teams of the next few years may still be decent without Chris Paul, but they're not being crafted as a defense first squad.
By swapping Bradley for Thornwell, the Jazz will be acquiring a gritty small forward entering his prime. Thornwell fits Utah's ethos perfectly with his versatile defense. He'll be able to guard opposing 2-4's and give the Jazz another player who can create his own shot.
Here is our updated depth chart and minute distribution for year 3:
And our few last moves here on the homestretch:
Step 14: Move Justin Jackson to the starting lineup
The beauty of drafting players who have significant experience playing major college ball is that they need less time to pre-heat before being ready. Because of that NCAA experience and our plan to play Jackson 20+ minutes a night last year, he'll theoretically be ready to be a supporting piece in the starting lineup in his second year. Expect Jackson to still have his fair share of bumps in the road as he continues to grasp the sets and rotations of the club, but the positives of his presence next to Gobert will outweigh the negatives.
Step 15: Tighten up the rotation
Now that Utah has built a roster full of versatile, young players who can defend and knock down threes around prime Rudy Gobert, it's time for Quin Snyder to shift the goal of the franchise from learning to winning. This means increasing the minutes of all the starters and using the bench for breathers and specialists instead of learning opportunities. We still have Ingles to play Swiss Army knife and Burks to provide a scoring jolt at either wing spot, but the focus is now on All-NBA regular Rudy Gobert and first time all-star Donovan Mitchell.
Expect this team to compete with Denver and Minnesota for the 4 seed in the West, finishing the 2019-20 season twelve games better than last year at 51-31 and poised to make noise for the next few years to come.
By Trevor Smyth
Throughout the years Hoop and I have had some dudes we have been pretty big fans of for one reason or the other (keep in mind this is pre ALGORITHM). So here are six draft busts that at the time we really liked… hit us back with some guys you liked that turned into busts.
It’s always sad when you google a former player’s name and he isn’t even on the first page of google results…JONNY where’d ya go brother?
The former orangeman was hard-nosed PG that rocked a dope headband that had the swagger of guy that didn’t think anyone in the world could guard him. If I am being honest with myself, I actually was hoping he would slip to the Warriors (the year GSW drafted Steph Curry)!! That would have changed the fate of the Bay’s franchise quite a bit had that happened. Anyway, I loved Jonny Flynn and here is an excellent clip that sums up so much of way I loved him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHY4vduNoRo
Notice: the shaking of the head post dunk — NOBODY CAN GUARD ME!
The next Charles Barkley??? Nope, just an overweight prospect with asthma. At the time, I really thought AB could be a Barkley type player. Evidence here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUYOGrLwrl0
HOLY SMOKES this dude could throw down with power! I just imagined him running the one-man break a la Barkley in the pros and being unstoppable.. Nobody is stepping in the way of a man that large moving that fast. Sadly, health issues got in the way for ol Anthony to make an impact at the professional level… It’s interesting to think about the hypothetical situation of him slipping to the second round…maybe he has a chip on his shoulder, maybe he stays in shape, maybe he learns to be a beast defender, maybe, maybe, maybe??! It’s crazy how much situation factors impact the development of a young talent.
Good luck out there AB!
T-ROB is one of Hoop’s all time favorites and actually his algorithm points to why he was/is still a great prospect. Unfortunately he has played for six teams in his first five season in the NBA. Hard to find your place and get comfortable out there when you aren’t established in the rotation. I really hope Thomas makes a leap sometime soon otherwise he could find himself playing In China or Europe real quick. I love this recent article posted by Hoop Hype (http://hoopshype.com/2017/07/02/free-agent-thomas-robinson-looking-for-opportunity-stability/) where Robinson says he could be a top 5 rebounder in the league. I agree with him. What’s to say Thomas Robinson couldn’t be a better version of Tristan Thompson??? Time will tell on this one but as of right now he lands on the list because he has yet to find the right home.
Similar to Thomas Robinson, Benny has yet to find the right home. Getting stuck in the slums of Sacramento being ruled by an awful dictator, yes I am looking at you KING BOOGIE! It’s pretty hard to develop young players when you have a bully as your top player that actively seeks out young players to make them not feel comfortable within the organization. I hope Benny Mac can make a splash with Memphis. His athleticism and pure shooting form are special if he gets enough run he might just find a spot in the rotation in Memphis. Hopefully Coach Fiz can teach him how to be an NBA defender.
In 2005 the Warriors selected Ike Diogu out of Arizona State with the 9th overall pick. Initially I was pretty bummed about the pick because I was enamored by Danny Granger and really wanted the DUBS to select him with the 9th pick. But after reviewing Ike and his stats in college I really become convinced he could be the next Elton Brand. Unfortunately he did not pan out but he has played really well in CHINA ;) recently winning a CBL championship over there.
I was one of the many guys that fell in love with his workout! But in retrospect the way he runs looks off to me… I think i fell in love with the fact that he was working at UCLA and his jumper looked nice. Here take a look for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyADXpenxzU
Biggest lesson upon reflection… don’t full in love with a work out video/highlight reel when analyzing a NBA prospect. Must use the golden three rule:
-How does his advance stats look?
-Does he pass the eye test? (Shooting stroke, effort, running style, bench behavior)
-What's he like outside the game? (who are the five guys he hangs out the most with--what're they like, how attractive is his significant other, what's his relationship like with his parents/family)
-COACH & HOOP