Saturday, August 29, 2015

2015 NBA Draft Player Projections - #2 D'Angelo Russel

The surprise pick of the 2015 draft wasn't the Timberwolves taking athletic 7 footer Towns, who had been projected as the top pick in nearly every mock draft, but rather the Lakers stirred up the entire lottery and draft picking one and done Point-Guard D'Angelo Russel with the 2nd overall pick. Every projection had Towns going first with the other 7 footer Jahill Okafor going next, while Russel was in the top 3 picks anywhere up to near the 10 pick on all the mock drafts going in.

As a Laker fan, though extremely objective, I did hope the Lakers would take either Russel or Muiday, a future PG with size that complements young Jordan Clarkson, last years 2nd round pick of the Lakers who made All Rookie First Team and finished the year with a bang. Russel, like Clarkson, is a 6'5'' tall and long point-guard who can also play the 2 spot as well. Other than their similar sizes and ability for the Lakers to start the 2 guys together with a 3 guard lineup (because of their length, size, skillset and athleticism), the two players are rather different.  Clarkson showed us last season that his potential to be a pesky defender, athletic combo guard who can cause a ton of problems when he drives to the hoop.... while his passing skills are decent which I believe makes him the SG of the two.

Russel struggled a bit in summer league with his shot, but as we all know taking a small sample size like that under all the conditions is rather arbitrary to quite some degree, though it's telling he does need to work and mature on his body, decision making and consistency. As a 19 year old, he might have the most potential in the entire draft though.  Just watching the way he controls the flow and pace of the game was a beautiful thing to watch, something the Lakers have lacked since Fisher left the team (he wasn't a superstar, but was a solid role player who got the team to run it's offense and style, leading to titles). On the other hand, D'Angelo will average better stats as a rookie than Fisher ever put up in his entire career (10+points, 4+assists, 3+rebounds, 1+steal).

His shooting was suspect in Vegas Summer League, but he has a beautiful shot (especially when he catches and shoots).  As he builds his body and speed I'm sure his pull-up will become a very effective tool, not that he doesn't already have one.  It's just not NBA speed ready yet.  On the other hand, he plays at his own pace of the game, using his ability to change speeds and use angles to get himself room to take a shot, make a pass or simply start the offense. His comfort level as a leader of the team should grow this season next to Kobe and others, and I see this crafty lefty learning a bit quicker than most people have pegged (and not just because I'm a Laker fan).

His basketball IQ is really high, and when you combine that with the type of work ethic he already has (along with what he is witnessing from Kobe right now), and you have yourself a young guard that will be improving each game next season, possibly in the Rookie of the Year nomination category if all things go well. While he does need to get stronger and quicker, I'll trust the 10+ college games I saw him play and how his shooting was always solid, even out to the NBA 3-point range.  I project:

14.3 points, 6.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 3.3 TO's, 43%FG, 36%3FG, 81%FT

That's my official prediction, weighing all negative and positive.It could be lower, could be higher if he finds a rhythm and groove this season, and if he was a 17+ppg, 7+apg stud I wouldn't be surprised, though I think he will breakout in his second season after a full year under his belt of NBA play, practice, and time to adjust his body.  The potential this kid has is scary, and I will say its a better than 50/50 coin flip he makes the All Rookie 1st Team as well, 2nd Team at the worse, in a draft class that includes certain guys who we know are NBA ready or quite close and going to be starting and getting plenty of minutes (Towns, Okafor, Muiday, Caulley-Stein, Porzingis, Myles Turner, Jerian Grant, etc).

  1. He is lefty dominant like a Manu Ginobili, always goes left; must get that right to full strength
  2. Consistent NBA 3pt shooting range, including shot selection
  3. On-Ball and Pick-N-Roll defense; NBA team defense concepts
  4. Body strength and athleticism (something most 19 year olds face as rookies)
  5. Decision making (averaged 5 TO's a game in Vegas, though was low TO in college)

I believe after this upcoming season is over he will have accomplished most all of these things, if not simply improving each area from a slight weakness to a neutral skill or positive. By 20/21 years of age this kid has 20 points and 10 assists written all over himself, while also leading his team and making his teammates better. Will Kobe fit at Small Forward with the Lakers going to a 3 guard lineup while 7 foot center Hibbert keeps the middle occupied and Julius Randle learns to play Power Forward the right way (another player I will be discussing as a "rookie" though he played in like 5 minutes of Game 1 of last season then injuring himself for the season in that 4th quarter.

The Lakers have a great young core for the future, with Kobe and Hibbert coming off the books next year the future looks great for the purple and gold.  D'Angelo Russel is the future star of the Lakers, the next hybrid guard to dominate the league by storm.  After all, the league has become a PG stud first before the 7 foot bigs these days, and small-ball is relishing everywhere.  The Warriors with Draymond Green playing PF and even C in the finals showed a lot of teams what the future beholds. Russel should have many ups and downs this year, but I will say for a fact there will be more ups, and the amount of highlight passes we see from a Laker Point-Guard will be the most since we had Magic Johnson on the roster.

D'Angelo, assuming no major injuries or setbacks occur, should be a top 10 Point-Guard within 3 seasons, and an All-Star by his 22nd birthday.  He's the main piece of the Lakers future, while he also has Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson to complete the young future core. His IQ and work ethic provide comfort to all, as we needed a confident, educated, smart, talented, yet humble type of personality to move this team forward.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The 2015-2016 NBA Season Preview

Alright, I haven't been writing or blogging much about the NBA much in the past year... well I'm back, stronger than ever and with a mission!  Anyhow, this 2015 off-season has been quite unpredictable to some degree, and with all the great player movement this summer it seems as if the upcoming season might be one of the most competitive ones in years, possibly ever.

Aside from the Philadelphia 76'ers (whom have a bright future), I can't say there is any other team that is a standout "awful 20 win max team".  League parity, as Adam Silver and the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed to end the strike a few years back has now been fully implemented, and it appears to be working flawlessly.  No longer do the big markets own free agency like they once did, no longer do owners have teams in small markets with tiny caps (actually they have to have 85% of the cap on players otherwise they will be in trouble after one season).

This has all resulted in a couple different things as well as great drama.  Sure, players are now seemingly "overpaid" a bit more now, but if you understand the business (and the gigantic TV deal the NBA signed) and the way the NBA's cap structure works, though I still laugh when I see certain contracts, like Kidd-Gilchrist just getting a near $60 million extension for 4 years while he's so far been a good NBA defender and awful player on offense (aside from boards).  Yes I love his potential and athleticism (defense and hustle), but getting $60 million guaranteed before you're even a true "legit solid starting NBA caliber player" with no jump-shot or range is a great example of how the new NBA works and looks. I will say this is the year for him to shine, as well as to learn as much as he can from Nicolas Batum who will be in Charlotte for this one season.

Lamarcus Aldridge signing with the Spurs is definitely the biggest news of this off-season. When we finally think the Spurs are heading to the lottery, after a blowing defeat in the first round against the Clippers, the Spurs make all these sneaky, smart moves, Tim Duncan opts-out of 10+million and signs for $5 million, they get rid of Tiago Splitter's near $10 million contract and all of the sudden have the Cap Space and money to sign the best talent of the Free Agency, a PF/C that is a perfect fit to play next to Timmy Duncan as well as learn from him, but they also managed to re-sign Danny Green at a solid rate, something most didn't expect.  Throw in the fact David West signed for a minimum contract (multiple time All-Star PF) and the Spurs are now back in contention (as well as the Manu coming back and Kawhi stepping it up).

The Spurs are back, and they never went away.  The Clippers are back, after DeAndre Jordan did his "good faith" agree to sign with Dallas and then pull out and go back to the Clippers who have constructed a roster full of talent... and issues with players and their attitudes and such (Lance Stephenson, Jamal Crawford, DeAndre... Josh Smith....).  Tons of talent, but they still have no backup center, something they really lack, while they have tons of guard and forward depth.  Paul Pierce is a nice fit, and if he can help this young team (especially Lance Stephenson) become the players they can be this will be a dangerous team.  Otherwise I can see them blowing up the roster to a degree if things don't work out.  They must be planning on having Smith play backup PF/C along with Griffin playing backup C.  Either way, they can always trade Jamal Crawford (or Stephenson, or Austin Rivers, etc for a backup C).  Doc Rivers needs to work some magic this year.

The Champion Warriors are as good as last year, only losing Speights (who was a great reserve PF/C), and getting rid of David Lee's gigantic contract in a trade with Boston to free up cap room, something that benefits both teams as Lee is still a nice starting veteran Power Forward.  This allows the Warriors to keep Draymond Green $16 million a year that he just signed, as well as have the money to offer Harrison Barnes a nice contract next summer, keeping the core intact.  They will be dangerous, who knows what kind of improvement can come from many of the Warrior players.

The Cavs, who looked like team LEBRON in the Finals, have done an amazing job this summer.  They are easily the top team in the East, again, but this time they have legitimate depth. Getting Kevin Love to stay was huge, and getting Mo Williams for so cheap is a great addition as well. They have yet to come to terms with Tristan Thompson, while they have re-signed Shumpert and JR Smith, two guards who played some of their best ball once they become Cavaliers last season's trade deadline, as well as Mozgov the key 7+footer they also traded for last season.  Add a healthy Anderson Varejao, a veteran backup F in Richard Jefferson who can give Lebron some rest, something they truly lacked last year (or simply another legit Small Forward, to play next to Lebron who slides to the PF spot or whom can even play the PF spot in small-ball lineups as well. James Jones, we all love ya, but you got a little old.

The Cavs are the team to beat in the East for sure. With the Bulls, Heat, and Wizards all right there as well. The West, on the other hand, has been going through a lot of changes, almost as many changes as the Portland Trailblazer roster and franchise this off-season.

Portland lost Aldridge to the Spurs, but all-together they lost 4 of their 5 starters and their 6th man Aaron Afflalo followed starting center Robin Lopez to the Knicks. Starting guard Wesley Mathews, fresh off injury, signed a nice deal with the Mavericks. Then the Blazers decided to blow it up and rebuild young, trading SF Nicolas Batum to the Hornets for young guns in 2nd year 19/20 year old Noah Vonleh and solid all-around SG Gerald Henderson.  They signed Ed Davis, among others, but they are a team that needs some time.

Now to the important stuff.....

The lottery was kind to the Lakers, who shook things up taking D'Angelo Russel with the 2nd overall pick, a potentially amazing 6'5'' PG that has the pass first mentality and a ton of potential. He and Clarkson give the Lakers a great young core at the PG and SG spots, almost interchangeable as they both have SG size and PG skills.  Julius Randle is healthy, the other young stud lefty Power Forward that completes the true core of the Lakers youth and future. Kobe planning to play SF is a great idea, and trading for Roy Hibbert gives the Lakers the legit defensive anchor they have lacked since Dwight left (plus Hibbert is coming off a bad season and in a contract year, I expect him to be quite effective).  The signing of last years 6th Man of the Year in Lou Williams went very under the radar, as he gives them the perfect backup PG/SG and instant offense (now we can trade Nick "Swaggy P" Young).  Brandon Bass completes the list of solid veterans signed, giving Randle a solid veteran to learn from and share time with. The Lakers roster finally looks competitive, and while a 6-8 seed in the West seems improbable, I wouldn't say it's impossible.

Just wait till next season after the 2016 off-season and Free Agency!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Jordan and Kobe? Pippen and Lebron?

In the 6 seasons that Michael Jordan was able to capture an NBA Championship and Finals MVP he was always known as "the best ever".  Now just because I am a Laker fan does not mean I'm trying to take anything away from the best Shooting-Guard to ever play the game (especially in his and this era; I'll throw Jerry West in there but he's 60's/70's and was sort of that combo guard type.

So I'll just state it quickly.  I believe Kobe is one of the best to ever play, key word "was", but I also don't think he's ever quite been on the level of the great Mike.  Or do the stats just make Jordan look so much better?  After some analysis and deep thought, it seems I've realized how much credit we as a collective fan-base of the NBA tend to give both Michael Jordan and then coach Phil Jackson. It seems that then Scottie Pippen is the subject discussed. I do believe we ought to at least look at it all objectively.

Kobe couldn't take mediocre teams all the way. Though it seems like he was either surrounded by great teammates or surrounded by young raw and awful talent, he was always going to get his team to the playoffs no matter what. Kobe needed Shaq to win his first 3 titles, and he needed Pau to win 2 more.  But again, I must enforce that it took the Bulls getting Pippen a couple years after Jordan was leading them, as they could get to the playoffs but just couldn't get past the Celtics or Pistons.

The argument goes both ways. While I'll say Shaq was an overall more effective piece and player to have down low for Kobe, he's never had the actual opportunity to run on a Laker team with a truly gifted Small-Forward that helps make his game at Shooting-Guard so much easier.  Pippen was always guarding the better perimeter player on opposing teams, because he was as good on defense as he was on offense...

Honestly, Pippen and Jordan in 1996, 97, and 98 when the Bulls won three titles in a row again, Pippen was 30, 31 and 32.  Jordan was 34 years old in 1998, the last championship he ever won.  So...

Dare I say that had Lebron signed with the Lakers this past off-season at the age of 29/30 (same as Pippen in 1996), we could make a rather fair comparison.  Well, actually, Lebron of this season (age 30) and Kobe from 2-3 years ago (he's 36 already), put those two players on the same team and it's as close to Pippen and MJ as you can get.

In the 6 championship seasons Pippen played with Jordan:
          -20.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.0 blocks, on 48%FG and lockdown D

That's really not far off from this years version of Lebron James, aside from Scottie never taking as many shot attempts, but Lebron is nearly identical to Pippen in that aspect.  This year Lebron is right around:
          -25.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks 48%FG and lockdown D

So..... why do we always compare Kobe to Michael yet never compare Lebron to Pippen?  Is it because Scottie was never in his prime leading a team by himself (aside for half a season where he led the Bulls into the playoffs with a pretty chopped up roster).  Lebron has never averaged as many steals as Pippen, nor blocks either.  Defensively they are both very adept, but I think Pippen might have the edge on D.  Since Lebron has the edge on offense, though I'm not sure where exactly, since both shoot similar FG% and both can pass, shoot threes, and both were/are mediocre FT shooters. Lebron's size and strength gives hi that edge with post moves, but seeing how Pippen rebounded at the same rate or better I'm not sure how big that difference is.

I know, I'll get a ton of crap for comparing Lebron ro Pippen.  But rather than think I'm trying to bring Lebron's stock down, I'm truly just trying to get people to realize just how dang good Scottie Pippen truly was. Never mind the stacked triangle offense teams that Michael had (as has Kobe).

Was Shaq that much better than Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright combined? Some of those Bulls teams were created perfectly, 10 deep with serious chemistry and complementing pieces as well as great shooters to stretch the floor. That Ron Harper, Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Longley starting 5 with Kukoc off the bench along with Steve Kerr and just good triangle pieces, it's not a whole lot different than the Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Kobe Bryant Lakers.

Comparing it to the Lakers teams with Kobe and Shaq that won 3 titles in a row and while Shaq was amazing he was simply one player. Nobody else on their roster was ever an All-Star caliber player (while Ron Harper, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, Dennis Rodman, and possibly Kukoc were all at least one or multiple time All-Stars). And of course they had all these great 3pt shooters that were just straight up 3 point champs always like Steve Kerr or Macy or Paxson.  Kobe and Shaq had a bunch of mediocre role players that were smart and could shoot 3's decent, defend well, and play smart.

If only the Lakers would of signed Ariza back and not chased after Artest/Meta World after their 1st championship with Pau Gasol in 2009. While he would never be a Scottie Pippen, he would of been the closest thing we would of ever seen to Kobe playing with a "Pippen".

I'm done now... I realized I should have simply compared Lebron and Wade with Pippen and Jordan, but it's always about the Phil Jackson, Michael and Kobe references.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Los Angeles Lakers flying under the NBA radar?

While I write about all of basketball objectively, I know my home team Los Angeles Lakers are secretly flying under the NBA radar, especially in the Western Conference this season.  Sure, their plan is to build for next season (through trades, cap space and/or draft picks) all options for them this season, as well as making the playoffs... but "IF HEALTHY" is key there.  Boozer will be a good offensive teacher for Julius Randle who's probably been way overlooked by most top 10 picks because of his NBA ready body and skillset on both ends.  Having a veteran like Boozer can teach him some good stuff, as well as Hill, but of course Boozer defense is to not be copied....  

Randle could easily end up as the starting PF after 20 or so games and be a 16 point, 10 rebound, 3-5 assists, 1+steal, 1+block, solid all around player that does it all.  Just get that mid-range improved (as I am sure he is) and he will be a stud, possible ROTY.... he's been overlooked, I think he was the 3rd or 4th best player in that draft after the Jabari/Wiggins (Embid health risk).  With Nash maybe starting and playing 20 or so minutes a night (skipping back to backs maybe) the Lakers could be very effective.  Jeremy Lin was a sneaky good pickup as he is expiring and could potentially be a good fit in LA as the PG, though I see him as a perfect 6th man.


       R* = Rookie

PG: Steve Nash (PG) / Jeremy Lin (PG/SG) / Jordan Clarkson (R*PG/SG)
SG: Kobe Bryant (SG/SF) / Wayne Ellington (SG)
SF: Wes Johnson (SF/SG/PF) / Xavier Henry (SF/SG)
PF: Carlos Boozer (PF/C) / Julius Randle (R*PF/SF) / Ryan Kelly (PF/SF)
C:  Jordan Hill (C/PF) / Ed Davis (C/PF) / Robert Sacre (C)

Keith Appling (R*PG) and Ronnie Price (PG) are both in the Lakers training camp as well, and depending on who shows up they could be picked up (especially Tom Izzo product Appling who's a rookie with potential).  Jordan Hill is one of the most efficient and underrated players in the NBA (kind of like Faried 1-2 years ago).  He's one of the NBA's best offensive rebounders as well as top 5 in rebound percentage; if he can stay on the floor for 25-30+ minutes a night he can put up great double double numbers. With Ed Davis also on the team after being drafted to the Raptors and after a promising rookie year has sat behind the gluten of bigs on the Grizzlies (Zbo, Gasol, Koufous, Luer, etc). Ed Davis might have a promising year, as I see him and Hill basically splitting the Center minutes for now; defensively it's not amazing, but it's not awful, which is why I also believe Julius Randle will be starting sooner than we think.  Boozer put up mediocre numbers last season while being a defensive liability, and I think at this stage he's good for 20 minutes a night (depending on matchups), leaving Randle the door to play big minutes starting at PF (or SF possibly...) and playing the 3, 4 and 5 spots.

The bigs are actually better than average, and I truly think that's where the surprise will be to the NBA fans that have shoved the Lakers aside as if Kobe is the only player.  Now Kobe is vital to their success, hell, an 80% Kobe Bryant that puts up 20+ points and creates for others (or plays off the ball more, less possessions per game for him Isolating at least).  I think the offense will run well after 10-20 games, I have faith in Byron Scott and his coaching staff.  The bigs are the surprise though.

We all know Kobe is one of the best to play the game, so an 80% healthy Kobe, let alone a 90%-100% Kobe, would be a huge push for the Lakers.  Add the small possibility Nash plays 50 or so games at 15-25 minutes a night the chemistry with this team could really click.  The amount of combo guards and SG/SF's on this team is great.  After Kobe and Nash, two future 1st ballot HOF'ers, you have Nick Young who showed he can really score the ball off the bench (just needs to do it a tad more effectively; improve his shot selection and pass more) and averaged 17 or 18 points a game last season for the Lakers.  He'll end up possibly starting at SF (or Kobe, vica versa), or Wes Johnson (underrated glue guy SF; averaged 9 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1steal, 1 block, upper 30%'s from 3pt land last season), while also being their closest thing to a lock down defender. Add in 23 year old 10 point per game Xavier Henry from last season and he should be an improved player off the bench (last season they really did start to build a bench playing so many different rotations).  There's also that Wayne Ellington character that is simply a beautiful shooter... put him next to Kobe, Nash, or Lin and he'll make some treys.

Talking about guards....

Jeremy Lin has improved in every season since joining the NBA and has lead man/main 3 core potential. Nash could mold him into a possibly star Point-Guard we've all envisioned he might be... now objectively last season he put up Per 36 minutes (as if he was starting and playing 36 minutes) 15.6 points, 5.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and a career high 45%FG, as well as a 82%FT+ and a 36% 3pt shot.  If he keeps improving his numbers and Nash takes him under his wing, I sense Lin could reach his potential of being that 18-20 point, 7-9 assist, 4+rebound, 2 steal, 48%FG and 40%3pt shot if things work out.... ultimately I expect something in between what his top potential is and what he was last year.  Just turned 26, his best years in the NBA are ahead of him. No reason he doesn't improve on last season as his trend is consistent.

I could go on and on, like I can with anything NBA hoops.  I just think the Lakers are just being slated to not make the playoffs.  If they don't get the "injury bug" then I don't see a reason why they can't hunt for a 5-8 seed in the West and go win 45-50 games.  The roster is so different from last year, yet adding a healthy Kobe and Nash, replacing Pau with rookies Julius Randle and what I saw from Jordan Clarkson in Summer League was very promising, a PG with size; claiming Carlos Boozer, while also re-signing Hill, Young, Xavier, Wes Johnson, Kelly, Sacre, while also managing to make sneaky good Free Agent signing's in Jeremy Lin (went from overrated Linsanity to underrated now), Ed Davis (young full of potential C/PF), Wayne Ellington (shooter keeps the floor stretched), and also have rookie Kieth Appling (potential PG look), veteran PG Ronnie Price, and young big-man Jeremy Tyler are all in training camp with potential to make the team.

The Lakers season is going to be a blast if none of the main pieces suffer severe injuries! (knock on wood... hah).  Nash might come back and help, he might just be a trade piece, but there is going to be great basketball games and the Lakers will be as active as ever in trying to make moves and has plenty of trade friendly contracts like Jordan Hill's 1 year / 8 mil contract as well as Nash and Lins dangling contracts.

Lakers, get er done!