NBA

76ers “Fleeced” Kings? Not Really…

There has been a surprising amount of reaction to the recent trade between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Sacramento Kings. To summarize the deal, the Sixers received Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, a future top-ten protected first round pick, and the right to swap two future first round picks. The Kings received two low-end negligible European prospects (Arturas Gudaitis of Lithuania and Luka Mitrovic of Serbia) who most likely will never see an NBA court outside of on television. They did, however, clear $13 million or so of cap space in the process. Other than saving money, we know Sacramento got nothing out of this trade. However, there seems to be this feeling going around that Philadelphia made off with a boatload of assets here. Let’s examine the Sixers’ recently acquired “assets”.

Nik Stauskas

The man known in some circles as Sauce Castillo was the player Philadelphia really wanted out of this deal. The 8th overall pick of the 2014 draft, Stauskas should provide the 76ers with some outside shooting and scoring. Although he is the “crown jewel” of this deal, the jury is still out on Stauskas after a nondescript (to be kind) rookie season. In his first year in the league, Stauskas averaged 4.4 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 0.9 assists while playing about 15.5 minutes per game. He shot a poor 36.5% from the field and and just 32.2% from three-point range. If there was a silver lining in Stauskas’ rookie season, it’s that he did make 22 of 52 three-point attempts (42.3%) over his final 20 games. Hopefully for the Sixers, Stauskas’ shooting stroke continues to come around as he’s not a player who provides much else beyond scoring. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m not sure if the offensive potential will ever be worth the defensive liability in any role larger than a floor spacer coming off of the bench. At the very least, being excited about Stauskas and calling him a steal seems like a reach.

Jason Thompson

 Thompson had his best NBA season back in 2009-10, when he averaged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Over the last five years, Thompson has only averaged double-figure scoring once while collecting under 7 rebounds per game in each season. Last year, he averaged a career-low 6.1 points while shooting a career-worst 47.0% from the field. This decline in production from Thompson figures to continue in Philadelphia as a log-jammed frontcourt was an issue for the Sixers even before his arrival. Thompson is due $6.4 million and 2015-16 and $6.8 million in 2016-17 (although only about $2.8 million of that is guaranteed). That’s a considerable amount of money to pay someone who will likely be scrapping for minutes off the bench – especially if the 76ers get anything from Joel Embiid next year.

Carl Landry

 Just what Philadelphia fans have enjoyed seeing brought in over the last few years – more damaged goods (note the sarcasm). Landry missed 41 games during the 2011-12 season and 64 games during the 2013-14 season. He is coming off of wrist surgery this offseason and with a 3-4 month time table to return there is a good chance he won’t be ready for the start of next season. Landry, who will be 32 years old by the time next season gets underway, is coming off of his two worst scoring seasons since entering the NBA in 2007. He will most likely have a minimal role on the team once he gets healthy, but as it stands at the moment his $6.5 million salary for 2015-16 is the highest of any player on the current roster. Owed $13 million over the next two years, don’t expect much on-court return on investment from Landry.

Top-Ten Protected Draft Pick

There are two issues with the future top-ten protected draft pick the 76ers acquired in this trade. The first is that due to a couple of trades from the past, the Kings owe a protected top-ten draft pick to the Chicago Bulls. That pick has a window of 2015-2017, and since Sacramento did pick in the top ten in this year’s draft the picked owed to Chicago is still pending. If the Kings’ draft picks in 2016 and 2017 are top ten picks, the Bulls then end up with a 2nd round pick in 2017. The pending pick owed to the 76ers doesn’t kick in until two years after the debt to the Bulls is paid off. So Philadelphia could be looking at not getting anything until the 2019 draft. The second issue with this top-ten protected pick is that the Kings have gotten really good at ending up with a top-ten pick. Here is where the Kings have drafted every year since 2009:

2009 – 4th; 2010 – 5th; 2011 – 7th, 2012 – 5th; 2013 – 7th; 2014 – 8th; 2015 – 6th

As you can see, Sacramento’s recent draft lottery results (and regular season failures) suggest that Philadelphia may never even see this pick that so many people have lauded them for acquiring.

Right to Swap Two Future First Round Picks

In case you haven’t noticed, the Philadelphia 76ers are not good. At all. Over the last two years, they have a combined record of 37 wins and 127 losses. They traded Rookie of the Year winner Michael Carter-Williams in his second season and are possibly looking at entering next year with Isaiah Canaan as their top point guard. This team has “earned” the 3rd overall pick in each of the last two drafts. So given the direction this team has been headed in for a while, they’re unlikely to be looking to swap top picks with anyone – meaning there is a high possibility of this part of the trade being totally negated.

Bottom line: Based on this review of the assets the 76ers acquired from the Kings, it’s difficult to argue that Philadelphia came away with any type of enviable haul. They certainly did not hurt themselves in this trade. Picking up the salaries of Thompson and Landry ensures that they will be safe as far as the salary floor is concerned – which they’ve flirted with for the past couple of seasons. But if anyone thinks this trade is going to somehow reshape what has been one of the most pathetic franchises in sports lately, they are extremely likely to be proven wrong.

Thoughts on 2015 NBA Finals After 3 Games

Five of X’s thoughts on the Finals heading into Game 4…

1. LeBron James is the story.

Why not start with the obvious? It would be an historic performance if a player had 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists in any single Finals game. But that is what James has done on average through three games, without a ton of variance in any of those stats from game to game (especially in the scoring department). James has made the adjustment of playing outside of his character and comfort zone, going from being a natural facilitator who can score to being a volume shooter who must score. And keep in mind he is doing this against the team that ranked #1 in the NBA in defensive efficiency this year.

2. Cleveland’s “other guys” are better than you think.

While LeBron James is the story, he is NOT winning these games alone. Other guys have stepped up in a huge way. The Warriors were the best scoring team in the league this year, averaging 110.0 points on 47.8% shooting. In the Finals, the Warriors have failed to hit 100 points in regulation of any game and as was exemplified last night they are struggling to get to 40 points by halftime. In this series, they’ve dropped to 97.3 points per game (with two of the three games going into overtime) on 41.4% from the field. That’s called team defense – one guy can’t defend five no matter how good the one is. Matthew Dellavedova had his 3rd game of the postseason with at least 17 points in Game 3, despite that game only being his 4th start of the playoffs. He’s not “just a try hard” guy. Tristan Thompson is averaging 14 boards per game in the Finals and has had double digit rebounds in 8 of his last 9 games. Thompson’s 17 offensive rebounds in the Finals are more than the rest of the Cavaliers have combined. He is averaging 5.7 offensive rebounds – no other player in the series has had more than 4 offensive rebounds in any game. Iman Shumpert has a series-high 10 steals despite missing a good portion of Game 3 with a shoulder injury. Timofey Mozgov has 3 less free throw attempts than the Splash Brothers put together in this series. J.R. Smith produces just enough of his own offense to give James the occasional break from having to create for others. Basketball is a team game, and even the best player in the world needs some help. These role players are being called bums, but they are making significant contributions.

3. Harrison Barnes does not belong in this series.

0 points. 0 for 8 shooting from the field. 3 turnovers. 2 fouls. This was Harrison Barnes’ “contribution” to Game 3. If you’re thinking “Man, I can do that.”, you’re right. Add to this stat line that Barnes can’t slow LeBron James down in any sense of the word, and there’s simply no room for Barnes in this series. He has always been too passive, and the Warriors can’t afford that right now with their MVP still trying to find himself. Andre Iguodala has been the player in this series for Golden State who looks the most confident to me. Though he can’t stop LeBron, he has shown that he can make LeBron work twice as hard as he wants to, which is all you can ask. In my opinion, Iguodala needs to be starting, and should be on the floor every minute that James is out there. This is the Finals, no use in restricting minutes at this point.

4. More David Lee, please.

David Lee was dusted off and inserted into the lineup for 13 minutes in Game 3, and responded with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. I know he has fallen out of Steve Kerr’s favor for various reasons, but it’s time to see more of David Lee – at the expense of Andrew Bogut. Lee is every bit as good a passer as Bogut is, but he’s also a scoring threat from more than 5 feet away from the basket. Golden State needs to kick start their offense somehow, and inserting a big man who can knock down the mid range jumper may be one way to do it. Yes, this means the Warriors would have to go undersized. But it’s not as if their “big” lineup has done anything to keep Tristan Thompson off of the glass. So why not see if Lee can capture some of his old form. After all, he is only a year removed from being an 18 point/9 rebound per game guy.

5. Draymond Green is in “self-check” mode.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “self-check” is used for the guy who you intentionally leave open because you want him to shoot. Green has become that guy. He shot a miserable 3-15 from the field in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, and has brought those bricks with him to the NBA Finals. In this series, Green is shooting 8-30 from the field. That pace would make for a decent albeit uninspiring batting average, but it’s not close to good enough to win an NBA championship. Going back ten games, Green is 6-40 (15%) from the three-point arc. He has got to realize that the defense wants him to take that shot. He is not a Splash brother, and right now he’s not even a faint ripple brother. What he is however is a gifted passer and solid ball handler for his size. Golden State needs him to play to his strengths at the offensive end and resist the urge to shoot open perimeter shots – because right now he is open for a reason.

2014 NBA Mock Draft (First Round)

2014 NBA Mock Draft
Round 1
1. Cleveland – Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas    6’8’’   200
For the third time in four years, the Cavaliers have the number one pick. Fair or not, last year’s top pick of Anthony Bennett is already being viewed as a disappointment. Because of this, Cleveland has even more pressure to swing for the fences with this pick. Wiggins is unanimously seen as the prospect in this draft with the highest ceiling. He can be a lockdown perimeter defender and can score almost effortlessly at times when he decides to be aggressive.

2. Milwaukee – Joel Embiid, C, Kansas    7’0’’   250
Larry Sanders has some talent, but silly technical fouls and unavailability have hampered his game. He missed 59 games last year, and his production per game dropped across the board from where he was last year. Sanders inconsistency and off-court issues could lead the Bucks looking for reliable help up front. Embiid improved leaps and bounds in just one year. He shows a promising offensive low-post game and excellent defensive instincts.

3. Philadelphia – Jabari Parker, SF/PF, Duke    6’8’’   235
With two 2013 lottery picks on their roster (including this year’s Rookie of the Year in Michael Carter-Williams) and two more lottery picks this year, the Sixers have a shot at forming a nice young nucleus. Thaddeus Young is coming off of a solid season, but could benefit from playing less defensively in the post. Jabari Parker has an NBA ready physique and can handle low post banging. He has the offensive skill set to develop into a versatile scorer.

4. Orlando – Dante Exum, PG, Australia    6’6’’   196
The Magic has an intriguing collection of young talent to include Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, and Victor Oladipo, but they do not have a point guard of the future. Jameer Nelson is 32 years old and is coming off of consecutive seasons shooting below 40% from the field. Exum brings length and quickness to the backcourt which would give Orlando a new look. He knows how to get to the free throw line – an area this team needs help in.

5. Utah – Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana    6’10’’   247
Marvin Williams has been a mild disappointment since arriving in Utah. In two seasons with the Jazz, he averaged just 8.1 points per game after putting up 12.1 points per contest in his previous six seasons with the Hawks. The Jazz may need a more productive “stretch 4” to join Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter in the frontcourt. Vonleh didn’t shoot a ton in college, but he seems to have a nice shooting stroke. He would be an upgrade on the boards as well.

6. Boston – Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State   6’3’’   227
Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley combined to average 26.5 points per game, making them one of the lowest scoring starting backcourt duos in the league. Boston could use more scoring punch from their guards, and that will become a larger need if Jerryd Bayless doesn’t return. Though he ran the point in college, Smart is more of a scorer than distributor and can create his own offense. He plays the type of active defense the Celtics like from their guards.

7. L.A. Lakers – Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky    6’9’’   250
The only big man for the Lakers under contract for next season is Robert Sacre. Pau Gasol has hinted that he would like to play for a contender next year, so there is a real chance that he leaves. If he does, Kobe Bryant would certainly want to bring in someone ready to contribute right away. Randle has a strong body and should be able to compete in the post immediately. His tenacity on the boards at both ends should lead to immediate production.

8. Sacramento – Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona    6’9’’   220
Out of the 18 players to average 20 points per game last year, three of them play for the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Isaiah Thomas were the only trio of teammates to each average 20 points per game. Ben McLemore also has upside as a scorer, so the Kings have enough offense. Gordon projects as a versatile defender who can guard either forward position. Any offense he provides would come from his high energy and raw athleticism.

9. Charlotte – Zach LaVine, PG/SG, California-Los Angeles    6’6’’   181
After starters Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist combined to make 0 three-pointers in their playoff series loss to the heat, Charlotte could also use another shooter/scorer. LaVine is very raw, but has displayed flashes of scoring potential with his quickness, tremendous athleticism, and nice shooting stroke. He is viewed as a point guard, but played off the ball a lot in college so playing alongside Kemba Walker wouldn’t be a big adjustment.

10. Philadelphia – Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State    6’4’’   205
The top three guards for the Sixers (Michael Carter-Williams, James Anderson, Tony Wroten Jr.) combined to shoot a lowly 28.1% from 3-point range, leading to Philadelphia finishing dead last in 3-point percentage last year. Harris is a very good shooter from beyond the arc, and is also a fairly well-rounded player. One thing Philadelphia already does well is create steals, and with his strong perimeter defense and active hands Harris could add to that strength.

11. Denver – Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State    6’10’’   238
While Kenneth Faried enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season last year, the Nuggets don’t have a reliable option behind him or a big man who can stretch the floor consistently. Darrell Arthur and Anthony Randolph both filled in that role, but both shot under 40% from the field. Payne is a much improved outside shooter now than he was when he first entered college. He is older than your typical NBA prospect (age 23), but Denver is not in rebuilding mode.

12. Orlando – Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton    6’8’’   218
Arron Afflalo has improved his scoring average every year and was the team’s leading scorer last year, but he has expressed interest in playing for a contender next year. If he is not a part of Orlando’s long-term plans, the team will need a go-to scorer for what is already a mediocre offense. McDermott is the 5th all-time leading scorer in NCAA history, so he knows how to get baskets. He has outstanding range on his jumper and can also score from mid-range.

13. Minnesota – Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan    6’6’’   207
It doesn’t seem like the Timberwolves are in Kevin Love’s long-term plans. If that is the case, Minnesota has to start working to replace his production now. Love was 4th in the league in scoring last year, so the Wolves would need multiple scorers to replace that production. Stauskas’ main weapon is his outside shooting, but he proved he can score a few different ways last year. He would help offset the potential loss of Love’s prolific three-point shooting.

14. Phoenix – James Young, SF, Kentucky    6’7’’   213
An extremely deep Western Conference kept the 48-34 Suns out of the postseason, but for a non-playoff team they currently have a solid roster. Young has major upside as a pure scorer, but is mostly reliant on a streaky jump shot for his offense. If he lands in a spot where he is eased in and given time to develop his game, he has the potential to become a force at both ends. Phoenix showed a lot of patience with rookies Alex Len and Archie Goodwin last year.

15. Atlanta – Rodney Hood, SF, Duke    6’8’’   208
The Hawks were 2nd in the league with 25.8 three-point attempts beyond the arc. That number jumped to 32.9 attempts per game in their playoff series against Indiana, culminating with a massive 44 shots launched from beyond the arc in their last game (an NBA playoff single game record). Hood is adept at knocking down shots from outside, so he fits right in with what Atlanta wants to do. He is also a capable mid-range scorer if the defense closes too hard.

16. Chicago – Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana (Lafayette)    6’4’’   185
Derrick Rose has suffered two significant knee injuries since April 2012, so it stands to reason that they may want to add some extra insurance for him. Specifically, the Bulls need another ball handler capable of creating his own offense. Payton has great quickness and athleticism which affords him opportunities to attack the basket. On defense, he gives good effort and has active hands, so along with being a scoring threat he fits the Thibodeau mold.

17. Boston – Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia    6’11’’   280
Although the Celtics seemed to have a sufficient number of big bodies last year, they never seemed to have anyone who seemed like an ideal fit at center. Jared Sullinger in particular looked more comfortable and was more effective when manning the four position as opposed to the five. Simply put, Nurkic has the build of a bona fide NBA center. He needs some seasoning, but his offensive post presence and physicality are good building blocks to work with.

18. Phoenix – Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse    6’2’’   181
Goran Dragić enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player award and being named to an All-NBA team for the first time in his career. His emergence as a high-level NBA point guard begs the question of whether the Suns can afford to extend him and Eric Bledsoe over the next two summers. Ennis would be a solid contingency plan. For a young player, he has an exceptional basketball IQ and poise in late game situations.

19. Chicago – Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland    6’11’’   222
It doesn’t sound like Carlos Boozer will be back with the Bulls next year. His production has been disappointing given his huge contract, and moving his salary would be a big step towards improving next year. Capela has massive upside due to his length and raw athleticism, as opposed to the low-end options Chicago currently has behind Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. He needs to be coached up, but he could end up being a top-level rim protector.

20. Toronto – Kyle Anderson, SF, California-Los Angeles    6’8’’   230
The Raptors have a team option for John Salmons next year and with Toronto expected to do everything in their power to retain the service of Kyle Lowry, Salmons’ option could be declined to make more money available. Salmons is a plus ball-handler and passer at the wing position, so the Raptors could look to replace that skill set. Anderson is a unique prospect in that he has the body of an NBA forward, but looks like a guard with the ball.

21. Oklahoma City – Jordan Clarkson, PG, Missouri    6’5’’   186
In the three playoff games Reggie Jackson started and finished, he averaged 15.7 points per game on 48.7% shooting from the field. If Jackson has done enough to earn a starting spot for next year the Thunder may need another ball handler to bring off of the bench. Clarkson would add even more scoring and athleticism to Oklahoma City’s backcourt. He’s not a pure point guard, but neither were Jackson or Russell Westbrook when they were drafted.

22. Memphis – Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut    6’1’’   175
Nick Calathes did a nice job for the Grizzlies last year when called upon, but he ended the season being suspended 20 games under the NBA anti-drug policy. Calathes’ suspension will carry over into next year, and with him and Beno Udrih having expiring contracts, Memphis may need more depth behind Mike Conley. Napier is a gritty, blue-collar player who fits the Memphis culture. He could fill the Jerryd Bayless role of a scoring guard off the bench.

23. Utah – T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State    6’8’’   220
Given that the team seems to be in rebuilding mode, it was a bit peculiar at the least to see the Jazz give 78 starts and 27 minutes per game to 33-year-old Richard Jefferson. Assuming they decide to go young at small forward as they have at every other position, there will be a nice chunk of playing time available for a young wing in Utah. Warren is a natural scorer who scores with efficiency. He uses his physicality to draw fouls and to be a factor on the glass.

24. Charlotte – Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State    6’7’’   209
Anthony Tolliver had a few nice moments here and there operating as a stretch combo forward, but never consistently had an impact due to his inability to do much other than knock down threes. Early demonstrated the ability to shoot from deep, but he can also score from inside the arc and as alluded to earlier, the Hornets need more reliable secondary scoring options. Early would also bring an additional threat on the offensive glass to Charlotte.

25. Houston – K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson    6’6’’   196
The prevailing thought around the league is that the Rockets will try to add a significant piece to go alongside James Harden and Dwight Howard. Houston was already 2nd in the NBA in points per game last year and 1st in three pointers made. If the Rockets make a move, they’ll have plenty of offense and may look to add a little defense. McDaniels can provide strong defense on multiple positions on the perimeter without being a liability on offense.

26. Miami – C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington    6’5’’   201
Dwyane Wade missed 28 games last season and averaged a career low in minutes. At age 32 with questionable knees, the maintenance plan for Wade is likely to continue. Ray Allen will turn 39 this summer, and if he is back next year there are only so many minutes he would be able to absorb. Wilcox could take some of the playing time off of Wade and Allen’s hands while serving as another 3-point shooting threat who can help space the floor.

27. Phoenix – Dario Saric, PF, Croatia    6’10’’   223
With three first round picks at their disposal, the Suns can afford to take a chance with at least one of them if in fact they do keep all three. Saric is considered a lottery-caliber prospect, and is rated the best and most versatile European player in the draft. It is a little unclear what his immediate plans are, as he declared then withdrew from the 2013 draft then flirted with the idea of withdrawing again this year. Phoenix can afford to stash him if necessary.

28. L.A. Clippers – Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan    6’10’’   250
The Clippers have a nice starting duo up front in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but there is little depth behind them. As a result, both have had to average 35+ minutes per game. L.A. needs at least one more big man to pick up the slack, especially on the nights they are in foul trouble (both were top 15 in fouls per game last year). We weren’t able to see much of McGary in college, but he flashed scoring ability in the post and effectiveness on the glass.

29. Oklahoma City – Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan    6’7’’   211
Caron Butler was acquired to be an extra offensive threat on the wing coming off of the bench. After arriving in Oklahoma City, Butler went on to shoot just 36.9% from inside the arc during the regular season. That number dropped to a putrid 28.6% from two-point range during the playoffs. Robinson is an efficient scorer from two-point range thanks to his driving and slashing. He is a complementary scorer who is comfortable as a secondary option.

30. San Antonio – Jordan Adams, SG, California-Los Angeles    6’5’’   209
As the Spurs closed out their latest championship run, the main focus was on the system they run and how they get players to match the system and unselfish culture. Adams is used to being a bit overshadowed after playing with more highly rated prospects in college, so he is “over himself” as Gregg Popovich likes to stay. He moves well and constantly without the ball, so he seems like a system fit. He is also a strong defender who is adept at getting steals.