Why Wayne Ellington Has Real Chance to Stick with Los Angeles Lakers

Wayne Ellington might face an uphill battle for minutes with the Los Angeles Lakers, but the 26-year-old shooting guard should like his chances of at least securing a roster spot.

The 28th pick in the 2009 NBA draft, Ellington signed with the Lakers on Monday, the team announced:

According to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News, Ellington’s contract is partially guaranteed for the 2014-15 season:

With 13 guaranteed contracts already on the books, Ellington falls short of being considered a lock. But his resume suggests he could play his way into that role, as his three-point stroke, defensive effort and reliability would all be welcome additions to the Lakers’ perimeter.

“While not necessarily a game-changing acquisition, Ellington will provide some depth on the wings for the Lakers,” wrote Lakers Nation’s Corey Hansford. “With Xavier Henry not quite ready yet, and Jordan Clarkson being a rookie, Nick Young is the only known commodity off the bench on the wings.”

Head coach Byron Scott, via Medina, has penciled in four of his five starters for this season: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill. For the record, that’s a 76-year-old starting backcourt, which made a combined 21 appearances in 2013-14.

Depth isn’t a luxury for the Lakers, it’s a necessity.

Ellington can be more than an insurance policy, though, despite his busy summer schedule perhaps indicating otherwise.

Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times detailed the long, winding road Ellington took to get to the Lakers:

Drafted in 2009 with the 28th overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Ellington has already been traded four times during his five years in the NBA, including twice this summer — from the Dallas Mavericks to the New York Knicks, then by the Knicks to the Sacramento Kings.

Sacramento chose to stretch out Ellington’s remaining $2.8-million salary over the next three seasons, making him a free agent earlier this month.

If no one apparently wants Ellington around, why should the Lakers?

Well, it starts on the outside, where the sharpshooter has done his best work. He converted threes at a 42.4 percent clip last season, bumping his career three-point percentage to 38.6.

Now, the Lakers might not seem as if they need another perimeter gunner. After all, they finished last season ranked sixth in three-point attempts (24.8 per game) and third in percentage (38.1).

However, nearly all of the parties responsible for those numbers have left the purple and gold.

Ex-coach Mike D’Antoni, who values the long ball and schemes to create those looks, resigned after overseeing a campaign that produced the second-lowest winning percentage in franchise history (.329). Of the seven different Lakers who shot above 37 percent from deep last season, only Nick Young (38.6) remains.

While systematic changes may explain those departures, it doesn’t change the fact that L.A.’s three-point voids went unfilled over the offseason. Newcomers Jeremy Lin and rookie Jordan Clarkson are slashers, not floor spacers. Lin has converted just 34.3 percent of his career perimeter attempts, and Clarkson was only a 32.2 percent shooter from distance during his collegiate career.

Someone will need to demand defensive attention from downtown, and Ellington has the tools to assume that role.

Unlike last season, these Lakers are built to attack from the inside out.

General manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters that an aging Bryant has “become most effective where you see a lot of him posting up.”

Post touches should be in equal—OK, relatively equal—abundance for Boozer and rookie Julius Randle. If the Lakers are counting on Nash, then they should be relying on his ability to navigate the pick-and-roll game, especially with athletic screeners like Hill and Ed Davis at Nash’s disposal. Lin and Clarkson, assuming the latter gets minutes, might get a constant green light to attack off the dribble.

With so much of this offense likely geared around the interior, the Lakers have to deploy a three-point threat capable of pulling defenders away from the basket. Scoring chances may come few and far between, but that player must be able to convert those that come his way.

That is precisely the part Ellington played for the Dallas Mavericks last season.

With only 393 minutes of action spread across 45 games, his stat sheet was understandably underwhelming: 3.2 points, 1.0 rebounds, 0.4 assists and a 12.2 player efficiency rating.

He was, however, an offensive safety valve when given the chance to be one.

Of the 216 players to attempt at least one catch-and-shoot three a night (minimum 40 games played), Ellington tied for 16th with a 44.7 percent conversion rate, via NBA.com’s SportVU player tracking data. As a spot-up shooter, he had the league’s 15th-most efficient scoring rate of 1.25 points per possession, via Synergy Sports (subscription required).

Most importantly, Ellington’s demeanor never changed, despite his role frequently doing just that.

He never got off the bench in 37 different games, yet he was always active and productive when his number was called.

“There hasn’t been one time all year where he’s complained or dropped his head,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said, via ESPN Dallas’ Tim MacMahon. “He’s been a real pro about it. Guys that approach it the right way are always ready when their time comes. He’s a high-character guy.”

It’s hard to overstate the importance of that trait for the Lakers. They will enter the 2014-15 campaign with contrasting motivations, one to give their veteran players a chance to be competitive and the other to develop their young prospects.

Minutes could come at a premium, particularly considering how little the Lakers have invested in Ellington. They didn’t burn a draft pick on him nor commit significant funds to bring him on board. He might be another body to them, and not everyone is built for that type of humbling role.

But there’s also a chance for him to have a much larger say in the team’s success. Scott, in an interview with KPCC’s A Martinez, has already admitted he’ll need to closely monitor the Mamba’s minutes:

He’s so competitive, he wants to win, and I do too. But I don’t want to win at the expense of having my one of my guys get hurt. And sometimes, like I said, we’re going to sit down, me and my trainer have already sat down, already started talking about the amount of minutes Kobe should probably play, going into this season.  And I have to stand fast on that. I have to make sure that when he’s up to those minutes, that’s it, no matter what the game situation is, as much as I want to win, as much as he wants to win, I’m not going to sacrifice his health to try to win games.

The Lakers have other options to man Bryant’s spot, but as Medina noted, a lot of those players will be utilized in other roles, too:

Ellington, like any other 14th man, isn’t a needle-mover. His impact may not be felt any more than his minimum contract.

But he helps fill a need as a perimeter shooter, he offers some stability as a veteran presence and he competes at the defensive end. There are far worse ways to fill out a roster, and the opportunity exists for him to easily outperform his salary.

With a risk-reward analysis slanted heavily toward the latter, Ellington has quite the compelling case for a permanent spot.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Los Angeles Lakers Can’t Afford to Make Ed Davis the Odd Man out

Someone is going to be disappointed on the Los Angeles Lakers frontcourt.

With the athletic Ed Davis, the scrappy Jordan Hill, the seasoned Carlos Boozer, the bruising building block Julius Randle, the sharp-shooting Ryan Kelly and the sideline-celebrating Robert Sacre all hungry for playing time, someone is going to be left starving.

The Lakers cannot let that someone be Davis, the 25-year-old who has often appeared an opportunity away from breaking through since being selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.

With intriguing physical tools (6’10″ with a 7’0″ wingspan, via DraftExpress) and promising small-scale production (career 11.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes), he looks like a potential building block for a franchise in need of young talent.

The fact that he came by way of a clearance-rate, two-year, $2 million deal (player option for the second) solidified his standing as one of the summer’s best signings:

“Ed is a versatile, young frontcourt player who, if he continues to work hard, will be a valuable contributor,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a team release. “We look forward to him furthering his development with the Lakers and are excited by what we think he can offer our team.”

Judging by the executive’s words, the Lakers will not—and certainly should not—earmark major minutes for the former lottery pick. As promising as his past appears, his resume reads free of any guarantees.

Davis needs to earn his spot, and the Lakers must figure out why he hasn’t before.

“A guy that talented—who can score at the basket, rebound outside his area and turn away shots effectively—shouldn’t have spent his career looking for a way to crack a rotation,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes. “Make no mistake, there’s some mystery surrounding Davis.”

Davis is something of an oxymoron: a multimillionaire professional athlete who can’t quite seem to catch a break. He’s fortunate enough to live out his dream, only that dream life hasn’t really started yet.

He made 65 appearances for the Toronto Raptors as a rookie in 2010-11, averaging respectable per-game marks of 7.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and one block in 24.6 minutes a night. Throw in a stellar 57.6 field-goal percentage and above-average 15.8 player efficiency rating, and he seemed on the fast track to something quite solid or perhaps even special.

But his numbers haven’t moved a lot since, and the changes that have taken place haven’t always been positive.

Whether struggling to progress on the Raptors’ second team or getting buried behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with the Memphis Grizzlies, Davis has had a hard time finding the momentum needed to spring his career forward.

While his decrease in minutes shouldn’t be completely overlooked, the important thing for his new team is that he has retained his efficiency through his ups and downs.

Over the last two seasons, he is one of only seven players to average at least 13 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting at least 53 percent from the field. Davis’ 17.1 PER during that stretch ranks ahead of two players on that list, including Marcin Gortat (16.7), who signed a five-year, $60 million pact to stick with the Washington Wizards this summer.

Given Davis’ age (25), athleticism, upside and track record, there are reasons to believe in his chance at upward mobilityif the Lakers give him the type of opportunity he’s never had before.

He seems to think that vacancy exists, and he even cited it during an interview with Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy as one of the biggest things that led him to L.A.:

I just wanted to find the perfect situation for this upcoming season and for the future. I didn’t want to take a deal just because it was more money and it might look better – I really wanted to go somewhere that had a need for me and wanted me rather than just joining a team to fill out the roster. For me, it was really just waiting it out and seeing which team had the most interest and seeing where I could go to really help the team and get a chance to play.

They just told me that the opportunity is going to be there. They weren’t going to promise me anything or any type of minutes, but all you can ask for as a player is a fair opportunity to be able to go out there and compete for a job and minutes, either as a starter or off the bench. I felt that of all the teams that had interest in me, this would be the best fit for me.

Whether Davis will get that fair chance he’s after remains to be seen.

New Lakers coach Byron Scott told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News he already has ideas for four of his five starters: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Boozer and Hill.

The only job currently up for grabs is small forward, where Wesley Johnson, Nick Young and Xavier Henry will likely lock horns for the final spot during camp.

That would put Davis on the pine before he’s even had a chance to fight for a starting gig:

Davis’ fate should not be predetermined.

Not for a team coming off an abysmal 27-win season. Not to make room an aging Boozer, coming off the least efficient season of his 12-year career (14.4 PER), or a “prospect” like the 27-year-old Hill, whose resume has as many question marks as Davis’.

And certainly not with Scott declaring at his introductory press conference that “The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team.”

Davis has a history of being a deterrent. He has a higher career block percentage (3.6) and lower career defensive rating (104) than Hill (3.1 and 107, respectively).

Boozer made the Chicago Bulls defense three points worse per 100 possessions when he was on the floor (99.2) than when he was off it (96.2), a staggering statistic considering Boozer spent 71.7 percent of his minutes alongside the Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah.

If the Lakers want defense, then Davis deserves a look.

According to 82games.com, he held opposing 4s (13.8) and 5s (14.8) to below-average PERs last season. Considering the Lakers finished the campaign 25th in field-goal percentage allowed, 28th in defensive efficiency and 30th in rebounding percentage, they need help all over that end of the floor.

Davis could provide a lift at the opposite side as well.

There’s a chance his offensive game is limited, but even that is hard to tell due to his small sample size.

What can be gleaned from his stat sheet, though, is that he stays within himself (career 54.2 field-goal percentage) and does damage as a pick-and-roll screener. His 1.26 points per possession on those plays was the sixth-best in the business, via Synergy Sports (subscription required).

All of his production seems, at worst, sustainable in an expanded role. There’s always the chance his numbers could improve with more playing time as well.

The Lakers need to find out exactly what they found in the NBA bargain bin this offseason: a cheap part-time contributor, a steady force for a reserve role or perhaps a pivotal piece of their rebuilding project.

That doesn’t mean he should be handed a starting spot, but he shouldn’t enter camp with a cap on his role, either. He deserves a chance to showcase his ability, and the Lakers stand to gain as much as him if he maximizes his potential.

Boozer’s best days are behind him, Hill’s might have a short shelf life and Randle’s could be a couple of years down the road. Davis has a shot to be the bridge that brings everything together, and the Lakers have little to lose by seeing if he’s up for the challenge.

There won’t be enough minutes to keep every Lakers big man happy, but the only thing dictating Davis’ floor time should be his performance. If he’s hurting for action again, he should have only himself to blame.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Lakers Rumors: Los Angeles signs Wayne Ellington

With less than two weeks before training camp, the Los Angeles Lakers made another roster move to bolster their back court. This time it’s Wayne Ellington.Image by Keith Allison, via Wikimedia CommonsAccording to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo:”The Lakers announce the signing of shooting guard Wayne Ellington.”The 6’4 guard has played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Dallas Mavericks. Last season for the Mavericks, he played 45 games and scored 3.2 points per game on 42.4% overall shooting.Ellington was part of the trade that sent Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert to the New York Knicks for Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton. The Knicks eventually traded Ellington to the Sacramento Kings, along with Jeremy Tyler and a 2016 second round pick for Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw. On September 3, 2014, he was waived by the Kings. With the Lakers, Ellington will compete for playing time with newcomer Jer…

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Los Angeles Lakers 2014-15 Win/Loss Projections

The Los Angeles Lakers will look to bounce back from a disastrous 2013-14 campaign this year, hoping that the return of Kobe Bryant can propel them back into playoff contention out west. Will new head coach Byron Scott be able to turn the Lakers around?

Howard Beck and Ric Bucher join Adam Lefkoe to dissect the upcoming Lakers season in the video above.

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Los Angeles Lakers Starting Steve Nash over Jeremy Lin Would Be a Mistake

Given that training camp has yet to begin for the Los Angeles Lakers, it may be a bit early to be predicting mistakes. But a decision to start the chronically injured Steve Nash over 26-year-old Jeremy Lin could be just that.

Mark Medina for the Los Angeles Daily News recently sat down with new Lakers coach Byron Scott at the team’s El Segundo practice facility and wrote, “Scott will spend training camp figuring out his starting lineup, which he says will currently feature Nash, Bryant, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill.”

Nash, who will turn 41 in February, played just 15 games last season due to chronic back issues compounded by nerve root irritation from a leg fracture that occurred October 31, 2012.

It has been two years of trials, tribulations and setbacks for the legendary point guard, and it’s difficult to see how he can sustain a starting role at this point in his career.

Meanwhile, the Lakers traded this summer for a much younger player who could prove to be part of a long-term plan.

Los Angeles absorbed the remainder of Lin’s salary when it acquired him from the Houston Rockets. Shouldn’t L.A. want to make the most out of this one-season test drive?

Lin will earn $15 million, of which only $8 million will count against the team’s cap. Nash will earn $9.7 million. Each player is entering the third and final season of their respective contracts. 

In other words, each comes with a substantial price tag, but youth offers a more hopeful upside for a team in the formative stages of a rebuild.

All this isn’t to say that Scott’s mind is completely made up before camp even begins.

Lin’s time in the NBA has been relatively brief— just 215 games over the course of four seasons. And despite the halcyon days of his brief Linsanity moment in the sun with the New York Knicks, the guard’s game is still a work in progress. Per his Instagram account:

This offseason I have been working really hard on my defense, footwork, and explosiveness. A huge component that I needed to work on is my core stability (having good posture, being able to stay low in my defensive stance, and being able to stay balanced while absorbing contact). Only 19 days left till training camp…can’t wait to get back on the court!

This sounds like someone who’s serious about improving. There will also be the matter of a new offense to learn. Coach Scott will meld components of both the Princeton and the triangle systems, each of which is heavily reliant on moving without the ball.

Lin has the bulk of his career ahead of him, and it would behoove his chances for a lengthy run in Los Angeles to embrace that which is new and different to him. He’ll get help from Kobe Bryant, who already knows the tricks of the triangle offense, which shares numerous principles with the Princeton.

Writing for Basketball Insiders, Alex Kennedy notes that Lin is ready for a fresh start and also eager to learn from the best:

As he continues to expand his game, he’ll have two Hall of Fame guards alongside him in the backcourt, which should do wonders for his development. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant have been injured in recent years, but Lin is hoping to pick their brains and learn as much as he can from his legendary teammates.

And if the former wunderkind is concerned about who starts and who doesn’t, he certainly isn’t expressing it. When Kennedy asked if he believed he’d proven his worth as a starting point guard, Lin answered:

I don’t care to figure out what the answer to that question is anymore. Before I [had] kind of like a chip on my shoulder, things to prove, people to prove wrong. Now, I’m just like when I get out there I’m going to play and everyone’s going to formulate their own opinion and it’s going to change every single day. I don’t think my own opinion of myself has ever changed. I still believe I am capable of that. But that’s just me, that’s if you ask me. I’m not really worried about what everyone else is thinking anymore.

Lin is ready to become a more fundamentally sound player. That will appeal to his new coach. He’s also eager to learn from Nash, saying, per Lakers.com, “Now I have this opportunity. I can’t wait. I still remember him in Phoenix and he was 20 and 10 every night. I look forward to learning quite a few things from him.”

The future Hall of Famer can teach plenty about the most effective angles, about flawless footwork and the art of the perfect pass. And Lin, with his fresh legs and energy, would fit nicely in the starting lineup alongside veterans like Bryant and Boozer.

Nash, meanwhile, could provide a steadying influence as the senior member of the bench mob, leading a high-scoring unit that will likely include Nick “Swaggy P” Young, Xavier Henry, Julius Randle and Ed Davis.

Just imagine—the third all-time assists leader with his uncanny court vision feeding Swaggy P and Randle for easy buckets. Nash can nail his own timely shots as well—possessing one of the purest strokes in the game and a .428 career percentage from behind the arc.

The issue of who should start and who should come off the bench is not about who should or should not play. It’s a question of what most benefits the team—both now and moving forward.

Everyone who has ever been a fan of basketball wants to see Nash go out on his own terms and go out successfully.

But wouldn’t helping Lin to be a better player and bolstering an already potent bench be preferable to struggling against time and a bad back to hold onto a starter’s role and minutes?

Ultimately, youth cannot be denied in sports. To everything there is a season, and this is Jeremy Lin’s time to start and to succeed.

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Los Angeles Lakers: Trading Kobe Bryant To The Knicks

Los Angeles Lakers: Trading Kobe Bryant To The Knicks
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
Lakers Trade: Kobe Bryant
Knicks Trade: Amar’e Stoudemire
Dear readers, I would like to tell you that I am coherent and although this trade was thought of at 3:30 in the morning this is a trade that can make the Lakers a contender in 2 seasons… If you would like to call me names for even thinking about trading the best player in the Lakers’ incredible history, you can email me at mkelworth@gmail.com, but please read this article and actually consider that this is a smart trade…
Kobe Bryant would like to win his 6th title, but it won’t be the Lakers. Because of poor management and Kobe’s ridiculous contract, they just lack the pieces to build a contender while Kobe is still a functional player, is still in the NBA and isn’t a decrepit skeleton like Steve Nash. Ironically if they were able to trade Kobe, even just for cap space, they could be a contender in 2 seasons. They would have …

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Who Should Start at Small Forward for Los Angeles Lakers?

To say there’s not a lot of obvious depth at the small forward position for the Los Angeles Lakers is saying just a little. It’s a tale of “tweeners.”

Wesley Johnson is the clearest natural candidate, even if Mike D’Antoni did insist on using him as a vastly undersized power forward last season.

And then there’s Xavier Henry, a young, athletic slasher who played three positions in just 43 games last season as a point guard, shooting guard and small forward.

Kobe Bryant has stepped into the 3-spot on a number of occasions in the past, depending on lineups. And Nick “Swaggy P” Young is also capable of playing the position—although he’s clearly at his best when letting it rain from his natural shooting guard role.

Even rookie Julius Randle—a 6’10” bull in a china shop—thinks he can play interchangeable frontcourt positions, as he mentioned soon after being drafted, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com:

A lot of the league is going to small ball, but the good thing about me, I’m interchangeable. I can play small ball because I can guard multiple positions because I can really move. But I think it’s going to be an advantage for me to be able to take a smaller guy inside but also take a bigger guy on the outside.

But as Darius Soriano for Forum Blue and Gold points out about Randle, there are inherent problems with tall trees lineups that pack the frontcourt with size:

Put a 6’10” player on the perimeter and tell him to defend a like sized player who just so happens to be able to put the ball on the floor with skill and quickness and the advantage will almost always lie with the player who possesses the ball. Big players normally lack the needed lateral quickness to stay in front of such players. Add in the advantages that come with drawing that bigger defender away from the paint and the benefits to an offense only increase via better spacing for the entire team.

During the wild and woolly D’Antoni era, even 6’11” Ryan Kelly got to try his hand at small forward.

But the small-ball innovator has moved on now, and there is a new sheriff in town. It’s hard to see Byron Scott, with his fondness for traditional interior fundamentals, playing footloose and fancy-free as guys like Randle or Kelly try to make like Lamar Odom.

There is, of course, another wild-card factor. With only 13 players on the roster, the Lakers are likely to go into the regular season with another body—especially someone who could fill an obvious positional need.

This leads us to the rumor that won’t go away until it finally, and mercifully, does go away—that Michael Beasley, who has worked out twice with the Lakers, could somehow wind up as their starting small forward.

This is a recipe ripe for disaster. 

Because what would happen if a rash of injuries were to hit and you were suddenly left with Swaggy and B-Easy playing alongside each other? Lots of buckets and unintentional hilarity for sure—but solid basketball? That’s highly unlikely.

Or, as The Great Mambino recently wrote for Silver Screen and Roll, “It’s a really stupid idea.” He elaborates further:

Michael Beasley isn’t a lottery ticket. He is a skunked bottle of wine. He’s 25 years old, sure, but has alienated himself from his last three teams in six seasons. He couldn’t stick with a Minnesota squad hurting for shooting swingmen, a rebuilding Phoenix club looking for any semblance of talent or a Heat team desperate for an explosive scorer off the bench. He would come to the Lakers needing to beat out a dozen other guys for a spot at either of the forward positions. Bringing him on isn’t just an indictment that the Lakers aren’t hitting on their reclamation projects, but an indictment of incompetence.

So take away all the positional musical chairs and the idea that Beasley could somehow shoot his way into the heart of a hardliner like Scott, and what do you have left?

It comes back full circle to Johnson—the most obvious choice for the starting small forward role. He’s got the size and the natural ability, can alter shots at the rim and is a decent perimeter defender as well.

He also has support from Scott, per Mike Trudell for Lakers.com: “I think the kid is so talented, I’m really hoping it can be a break out year for him. Now, obviously, he has to come to camp and win that spot, and that’s on him.”

As I recently noted for B/R, Johnson has been working out with the Mamba this summer. This is not a new development—per Jonah Ballow for the Minnesota Timberwolvesofficial site, the former No. 4 pick met Bryant during predraft workouts in 2010 and has been mentored by him ever since.

Still, there continues to be a need for improvement. Johnson’s 9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season aren’t markedly different from his nine points and three boards during his rookie campaign.

This season will be his last best chance to prove himself as a solid contributor in the NBA. If he can’t do it with the support and encouragement of Bryant and Scott, then it really will be time for Plan B.

Just as long as the “B” doesn’t stand for Beasley.

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Los Angeles Lakers: Steve Nash Or Jeremy Lin?

Los Angeles Lakers: Steve Nash Or Jeremy Lin?
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
The Lakers have a couple of questions about who to start, but their biggest starter question is Steve Nash or Jeremy Lin at point guard? Steve Nash has won 2 MVP’s and is one of the best players in the history of the NBA, but he’s 40, injury prone and is no longer that effective, while Jeremy Lin is young, productive and a perfect fit starting at guard with Kobe Bryant. This seems simple, but Steve Nash is likely to be the starter which would be a mistake, as the man for the job is Jeremy Lin.
Why is Nash going to start? Well he has the name recognition, the 10 million dollar salary and it is difficult for a player his age to go through the stretching, running and all of the things that players have to work on to get ready for a game and sit on the bench. However, it makes no sense. Jeremy Lin is an excellent scorer, a strong distributor and his talents pair with Kobe incredibly well. They …

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DeAndre Jordan’s 2014-15 Campaign Will Determine Los Angeles Clippers’ Direction

The Los Angeles Clippers are ready to go as far as DeAndre Jordan can take them.

Sure, there are other pieces to the puzzle, but this franchise’s fate—both for the 2014-15 campaign and beyond—is strongly tied to Jordan’s ability to protect the paint, clean the glass and provide some type of positive at the offensive end.

He is the defensive complement to the offensive wizardry of superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Whether Jordan can be a championship-caliber third wheel is still up for debate, though, and the question needs answering by the time he hits the unrestricted free-agent market next summer.

With the Clippers attempting to leap from good to great and Jordan waging a similar war on his own, the futures of both will be decided this season. L.A. isn’t a championship favorite, but it has all the weaponry needed to pose a serious threat to the handful of teams still blocking its path.

For both Jordan and the Clippers, this will be a season of self-discovery.

The team, winners of 113 regular-season games over the past two seasons, hasn’t fully established itself with the NBA‘s elites. The Clippers have made three straight playoff appearances but won a total of two series over that stretch.

Yet their resume still has some of the common marks of greatness.

They have a superstar pair as dynamic as any duo in the league. Both Griffin (third) and Paul (seventh) finished in the top seven of the last season’s MVP voting, becoming just the fourth set of teammates to do so in the last 10 years, via ESPN Los Angeles’ Arash Markazi.

The Clippers finished tied for fourth with 23 road victories. Their net-efficiency rating of plus-7.3 points per 100 possessions trailed only that of the world champion San Antonio Spurs.

But this isn’t a great team, or at least it hasn’t looked like one when it has needed to the most.

Something has been holding the Clippers back. Whatever it was, it could be gone now.

Between last offseason’s coaching swap (from Vinny Del Negro to Doc Rivers) to this one’s welcome regime change (Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer purchasing the team from the disgraced Donald Sterling), the dominoes have been dropping for a full-fledged title run.

This roster still has its limitations, though, and the core isn’t as young as some people would think. There’s a sense of urgency surrounding this team, or at least there should be.

“There’s a danger in assuming that the past few seasons—positively script-flipping though they’ve been for a franchise long considered a league laughingstock—mean happy days are here to stay,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Jim Cavan.

Typical health risks aside, nothing threatens this franchise’s standing quite like Jordan’s impending free agency.

However, it isn’t easy figuring out where the most damage would be done: paying a premium to keep him around or letting him walk for nothing.

Whether Jordan stays or goes next summer, he is going to put pen to paper on a significant contract. In fact, Bleacher Report’s Michael Pina opined that the big man is sure to receive a max-money offer from someone:

At least one of the NBA’s 30 teams (including the Clippers) will most likely lob a maximum contract in his direction. Wondering whether the flawed but effective big man will receive a huge offer is a waste of time. Jordan is a clear-cut starter with playoff experience and Defensive Player of the Year potential. He’ll finish the 2014-15 season with seven years of experience under his belt, and he will still be three years away from his 30th birthday.

Jordan is limited, but last season, his first under Rivers, he found a way to deliver elite-level production despite his deficiencies.

Rivers did two critical things for Jordan: 1) He challenged the big man to take ownership of the defensive end and 2) he didn’t let his offensive flaws dictate his floor time. With more than a 10-minutes-per-game increase from his 2012-13 playing time (35.0, up from 24.5), Jordan set out to live up to the Defensive Player of the Year hype Rivers created shortly after his arrival, via Clippers.com’s Eric Patten.

By season’s end, Jordan had nearly made Rivers look prophetic. Jordan finished third in the voting for the most coveted piece of defensive hardware, two spots lower than Rivers felt he deserved, via ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

Jordan led the league in defensive rebounds (783), total rebounds (1,114) and rebounds per game (13.6). He ranked second in total blocks (203), third in blocks per game (2.5), second in total rebound percentage (21.6) and third in defensive win shares (5.8).

He had never had a better season both in terms of efficiency (18.2 PER) and overall impact (11.1 win shares). And he enjoyed his breakout despite tying the second-lowest field-goal-attempts-per-36-minutes average of his career (6.5).

The defensive fuse that Rivers lit sparked something inside of Jordan. He grabbed the keys to the Clippers defense and never let go.

“The onus is on me,” Jordan said, via Jordan Heimer of ESPN.com. “I like that challenge. When something goes wrong they yell at me, because that’s my end of the floor. … Sometimes it may not even be my fault, but I need to know what happened.”

He made sure his significance was felt on the stat sheet.

Despite a free-throw stroke that doesn’t even grade out as functional (career 42.5 percent) and an offensive range defined by his reach, his defense was so good that his floor time was nearly as valuable as Paul’s and Griffin’s, via NBA.com.

Jordan’s importance is impossible to overlook, and Rivers—who serves as both coach and president of the Clippers—has never hidden his view of the bouncy big man.

“He can single-handedly change a game with his defense,” Rivers said of Jordan, via Markazi. “There’s five guys, and that number maybe too high, that can do that single-handedly with their size and athleticism and he’s one of them.”

Clearly, L.A. plans on re-signing him, right?

Well, it’s not that simple.

“Re-signing Jordan on the open market will push the Clippers and new owner Steve Ballmer deep into the luxury tax,” wrote CBS Sports’ Zach Harper. “They’re slated to be $2.6 million over the tax in 2014-15, but with $71 million already committed for 2015-16, the luxury tax hit to keep Jordan will be significant.”

The Big Three model is hard to sustain. Just ask the Miami Heat.

It’s tough finding enough money for everyone, and the Clippers have already committed major coin to Paul and Griffin. Assuming L.A.’s superstars play out their contracts, the two will take home a combined $166 million over the next four seasons.

Is there any chance that leaves enough for Jordan?

That answer may depend on how this front office really feels about this core’s championship potential.

The Clippers won’t be able to replace Jordan with an impact piece right away. Even without contract options included, they have $63.3 million on the 2015-16 payroll already. And losing a season to wait around for more funds to clear up hardly seems like an option when Paul will celebrate his 30th birthday before next offseason rolls around.

If L.A. wants to stay in the title chase, it needs to keep Jordan around, even if that means overpaying to do so.

But it needs to realistically assess itself before crossing that bridge. Spending large to keep a great team intact is one thing, but heavily investing in a group that maxes out at something less could set this franchise back for years.

The Clippers are at a crossroads, and Jordan’s on-court performance will decide which move they should make.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information obtained via ShamSports.com.

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Which Los Angeles Clippers Player Has the Most Upside Right Now?

Upside is often a term thrown around to describe young players who have either accomplished nothing or have yet to scratch the surface of what they might become. This term typically is not reserved for someone of Blake Griffin’s caliber.

But perhaps it should be.

Although Griffin missed his entire first season due to injury, he exploded out of the gates as a rookie, scoring 22.5 points per game to go along with 12.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He was assertive with the ball, searching out contact and finishing with power, going to the line a career-high 8.5 times.

His second year was impressive as well. Griffin averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds for the second consecutive season. However, teams became increasingly more physical, beginning to force Griffin away from the rim and further out onto the perimeter.

By his third season in the league Griffin’s scoring dropped to 18.0 points per game and his rebounding fell to 8.3 per game. The arrival of Chris Paul took some of the weight off Griffin’s shoulders to be the primary option, but Griffin’s game needed to evolve in order to be more complete offensive player. Defenses were now frustrating him and leaving him open for mid-range jumpers, expecting him to miss.

The hiring of Doc Rivers might have been the best thing to happen to Griffin, as the head coach refocused the offense around Griffin’s strengths. Rivers, a former NBA point guard who once played a season with the Los Angeles Clippers, has been able to convince Paul to play at a faster pace. This increased pace might not be ideal to Paul, but it has allowed Griffin to flourish in an open-court system.

Griffin’s unique ability to create off the dribble, pass, finish above the rim and hit mid-range jumpers are now being taken advantage of in lieu of Paul’s methodical, preferred style of play. The increased tempo allows Paul and Griffin to share playmaking responsibilities without taking away possessions from each other, let alone role players.

New system aside, Griffin’s offensive talents are still in development. That might be a scary realization for the rest of the conference, considering he is already a 21 point per game scorer for his career. But why is his game still improving and which area of his game will be the next to develop?

 

Offense

One of the most blatantly inaccurate talking points surrounding Griffin over the years was that he was merely a dunker. How many times did you hear that Griffin had no post moves, or that he couldn’t shoot outside of 10 feet?

Those who watched Griffin closely over the years were the largest proponents of his development. Fortunately, the numbers back Griffin’s supporters.

Griffin’s jumper has improved noticeably since coming into the league, especially the last two seasons. According to basketball reference, Griffin took 15.4 percent of his field-goal attempts from 16 feet and further as a rookie and made a lousy 29.8 percent of them. Last season, Griffin took 26.7 percent of his field-goal attempts from the same distance, but made 37.2 percent.

The development of Griffin’s jumper is likely to continue to improve. Imagine if Griffin’s range and consistency eventually extend to the three-point line? Griffin will be a nightmare to defend, and that is exactly where his game seems to be heading.

Griffin’s jumper is improving and it is worth noting, according to Grantland’s Kirk Goldberry.

Away from the basket on offense, Griffin has never been great, but this isn’t unusual in young power forwards. The key questions with him involve trajectories: Is he getting better? Is he diversifying his scoring portfolio? The answers there are definitely “yes” and “yes.” His rookie season, Griffin made only 33 percent of his midrange jumpers. That’s bad; as a whole, the league makes 39 percent of these shots. However, his second season that number rose to 36 percent, and this year he’s at 39 percent. In four seasons, Griffin has gone from a bad jump-shooter to an average one.

Griffin’s extended range coincided with Clippers finishing as the highest-scoring team in the league last season. Teams can no longer afford to sag off Griffin on pick-and-pop situations to prevent Paul from attacking the rim. To make matters worse, teams also have to fear Griffin’s playmaking ability.

There are not many forwards in the league who can handle the ball well enough in the open court to beat a point guard off the dribble, let alone prevent said point guard from turning them over. Griffin is one of the few bigs in the league able to handle the ball well enough to create for himself and others.

Need more evidence? Digest this statistic for a second: According to basketball reference, since Griffin entered the league in 2010, only 14 players have shot 50 percent or better from the field while assisting on at least 16 percent of their teammates’ field goals for a season. Griffin and LeBron James are the only players on that list in each of the last four seasons.

Griffin’s court vision and passing ability combined with his physical tools make him an extraordinarily difficult matchup. Furthermore, when sharing the floor with Chris Paul, Griffin’s talents are elevated even further because the defense has to key on Paul just as much. Pick your poison.

While there is plenty for Griffin to improve on offensively—his post moves need more refinement—his upside is also calculated based on the other players on the floor. J.J. Redick and Spencer Hawes are key complementary pieces. Both can keep the floor spread with their outside shooting, but they are also good passers who can set up Griffin for scoring opportunities.

Pieces like Redick and Hawes are key to Griffin’s development. The better Griffin’s teammates complement his skill set, the more realistic fulfilling his upside becomes. His game begins to develop because the other players on the floor are themselves threats when combined with Griffin’s talents.

 

Defense

Never known as a good defender, Griffin’s upside here is somewhat limited due to his physical attributes. According to Draft Express, he does not have a large wingspan (6’11.25”) and at 6’8″ he is of average height for his position.

Fortunately, physical abilities do not solely make a good defender. Griffin’s focus during his first three seasons was scoring as much as possible, in as many ways as he could. Rivers is attempting to change that mindset and already seems to be making progress, according to Los Angeles Times reporter Broderick Turner, who quoted Griffin as saying:

The past few years or so, all I’ve ever heard is everything I can’t do…I take pride in those things people say I can’t do, and [defense,] that’s one of them. There’s a long list…So, I just use that as motivation and try to get better. Obviously there are areas I need to get better in, but at the same time, I think sometimes people get a little carried away.

The fact that Griffin realizes what his deficiencies are and is now using them as motivation to improve says a lot. There are plenty of players who knew exactly what they needed to improve upon early in their career, but never were able to do so.

Heck, Dwyane Wade still can’t shoot threes.

Griffin’s attention to detail, understanding of Rivers’ defensive principles and nightly commitment on the defensive end of the floor seemed to be improving as the 2013-14 season came to a close. This season, Griffin must take the next step as a defender, because the Clippers are going to need him engaged to force stops and close out tight games.

What Griffin needs to focus on is his awareness and effort level defensively. Far too often Griffin was slow to hustle back on defense, or rotate properly, thus allowing an easy basket. Those are the types of effort plays that Rivers will demand from his entire team, because they will be the difference between reaching the conference finals and failing again to advance past the second round. Additionally, that level of commitment will be critical if Griffin is to reach his potential on defense.

Adding up the sum from both ends of the floor it is clear that Griffin has, by far, the most upside of anyone on the roster. At age 25, he has already developed into one of the league’s best players. Still, demanding more from him is certainly a legitimate request.

Griffin’s desire to improve is the final characteristic that sets his upside apart from anyone else’s on the roster. Combining all of the aspects above with hard work will allow Griffin’s upside to be realized; converted from myth into reality.

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