Breaking Down Charlotte Hornets’ Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

The Charlotte Hornets are poised for a stellar 2014-15 NBA season behind a deep roster full of youth, athleticism and defensive prowess. Head coach Steve Clifford turned this team into an elite club on the less glamorous end of the floor last season by establishing a strong foundation of fundamental, unselfish basketball.

In order to make a leap this coming year, Charlotte will need a big uptick in production from one particular spot on the floor.

Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker will lock down the backcourt and the center spot with ease. At power forward, Charlotte has newcomer Marvin Williams as well as two incredibly talented top-10 draft picks in Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller.

Small forward is a very different story.

 

Last Year’s Performance

It would be tough to make a case against small forward being Charlotte’s weakest position last year. The front office tried to mitigate some of the shortcomings by offering a king’s random for Gordon Hayward in the offseason (four years, $63 million), but the Utah Jazz ultimately matched the contract and retained their restricted free agent.

Charlotte is left with much of the same. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still the starter with two years of experience under his belt. He took a step back offensively in year two, struggling to find his place with Al Jefferson in town and Josh McRoberts breaking out.

However, he thrived in Clifford’s new defensive scheme by posting a defensive rating of 103. Night in and night out, he locked onto the opposing team’s best perimeter player and wreaked havoc.

The main problem is that he is a liability on offense, continuously getting lost on that end of the floor and having almost no impact. He shot a good percentage from the floor at 47 percent last season, but he doesn’t expand his game whatsoever. In order to live up to his lofty draft status as a No. 2 pick, he has to add to his repertoire.

Behind him, things got even murkier. He is really the only prototypical NBA 3 on the roster. Jeff Taylor played just 26 games before succumbing to a ruptured Achilles, and he was mostly ineffective during his time.

Anthony Tolliver delivered some great outside shooting in his absence, and that was just about it. This wasn’t a deep position for Charlotte last season whatsoever.

In fact, Charlotte had the least productive small forward corps in the entire NBA last year, according to HoopsStats.com, posting 14.9 points, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals a night. All were worst in the league.

Overall Grade: C-

 

What Is In Flux This Offseason

From a roster standpoint, what has changed is that Tolliver is gone and Marvin Williams is in. The only problem is that Williams has played mostly power forward in recent years and should fill that role in the starting lineup, replacing McRoberts. Chris Douglas-Roberts also appears to be nearing a deal with the Clippers.

Charlotte selected P.J. Hairston in the first round, but he projected as much more of a typical shooting guard. Lance Stephenson was brought in, sliding Gerald Henderson to the bench. Neither of them have ideal size to play small forward at all. 

That leaves MKG and Taylor as the two who absolutely have to get it done. Charlotte can clearly succeed with MKG scoring seven points a game, but an improvement on his part could very well separate this team from the rest of the pack of middling playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

All this means that the main thing in flux is MKG‘s jumper. He shot 61 percent in the paint last season but under 31 percent everywhere else.

Charlotte needs him to improve offensively in order to improve the production from that position. His defensive ability is paramount to the team’s success, but a lot hinges on his ability to take the next step. This is especially true with little else on the roster in terms of small forward talent. Taylor has been cleared for practice after his injury, but he has limited upside.

 

What It Should Look Like Next Season

It is unreasonable to expect MKG to turn into an offensive threat overnight. Getting 10-12 points a night from him next year would be a big improvement. Clifford needs to get him out in the open court and have him more involved in the flow of the offense; otherwise, his growth will never come. Avoiding the growing pains will not give him the satisfaction of overcoming them.

The most beneficial scenario to employ in the present time would be to go with smaller lineups when MKG isn’t on the floor. Henderson, Hairston and Stephenson are all a few inches and a couple pounds short of being able to play extended minutes at small forward, but all make up for it with athleticism.

The NBA is trending toward smaller lineups in general, and Stephenson is more than capable of guarding players with size on him. MKG should continue to improve and see an uptick in minutes, but there will still be a small amount of time when neither he nor Taylor is on the floor and Charlotte has to make do.

The size up front gives Clifford plenty of options with his backcourt. The additions of Vonleh and Williams inject some added size into the frontcourt in order to free up some other spots.

With the way this roster is situated, Charlotte is banking a lot on MKG. He will continue to wow people on defense, but Stephenson’s presence will take an immense amount of pressure off of him. An exceptional defender in his own right, the triple-double machine will have no problem covering guys like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony for brief stretches.

This team needs to play to its strengths. Clifford’s defensive system runs plenty deep enough to accommodate a small lineup from time to time. Expect to see Walker, Henderson and Stephenson all on the court together with some regularity, because the matchup problems that backcourt would create should cancel out any slight defensive handicaps.

Clifford should have more fun with this roster since he can mix and match. Henderson, Taylor, Hairston and Gary Neal all off the bench will be a potent second unit, something Charlotte severely lacked last season.

Charlotte cannot really mess up this situation. The issue last year pertained more to the lack of overall talent and not so much the lack of small forward depth. Having MKG and arguably Jeff Taylor as the only traditional small forwards should not hold this roster back at all due to the bevy of shooting guards.

 

Follow Justin on Twitter @Hussington 

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

UNC Basketball: Breaking Down the Tar Heels’ Complete 2014-15 Schedule

Most of the opponents were already known, and a handful of dates and locations were penciled in. But now that North Carolina has formally released its 2014-15 basketball schedule, we can really start looking ahead to what the Tar Heels will face this season.

We can also start picking apart the hills and valleys of the slate, which is a tough one but also one that can provide UNC with great preparation for the postseason.

The 2014-15 schedule features 13 nonconference games before Carolina gets into the 18-game ACC lineup. All told, UNC plays 15 home games in the Dean Smith Center, with 12 games on the road and four set for neutral sites. That includes three games in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving as part of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

The 15 dates in Chapel Hill are the fewest since the 2010-11 season, when UNC only played 30 regular-season games.

The full schedule is listed below. You can also find a PDF of it to download here.

The schedule features either 13 or 14 games against teams that made the NCAA tournament last season, depending on who UNC’s final opponent is in the Bahamas. Only seven of the games will come against foes that finished below .500 a year ago.

 

Easy street

* Jan 18-24 (vs. Virginia Tech, at Wake Forest, vs. Florida State): The trio combined to go 17-37 in ACC play last season, with Florida State winning nine of those games. The FSU game is the toughest of the three, but it’s at home, though it does fall two days before UNC hosts Syracuse on ESPN’s Big Monday lineup.

 

Toughest stretch

* Feb. 7-18 (at Boston College, at Pittsburgh, at Duke): Sure, BC was among the worst major college teams in the nation last year, but with the trip to Chestnut Hill serving as the opening leg of a three-game, 12-day road trip, it’s the kind of game that could get overlooked. That’s enhanced by the face UNC goes from there to Pittsburgh and then back to Tobacco Row for the annual trip to Duke.

According to Adam Lucas of GoHeels.com, it marks the first time under Roy Williams and the first occasion since the 2000-01 season that Carolina plays three straight ACC road games.

You could stretch it out even further and take in the two games before the three-game trip, making it an even more difficult spate. On. Jan. 31 UNC visits Louisville, then two days later hosts Virginia. Even with BC in there, that’s a quintet that went 121-56 in 2013-14.

 

Schedule traps

* Nov. 14-16 (vs. NC Central, vs. Robert Morris): Yes, both teams come from the kind of conferences (Northeast and MEAC, respectively) that usually earn no better than a No. 14 seed in the NCAA tournament. But these are the reigning conference regular-season champions, with Robert Morris getting upset at home in the Northeast tourney final and NC Central won 28 games en route to an NCAA berth.

* Feb. 28-March 3 (at Miami, at Georgia Tech): These teams combined to go 33-33 last year, but both should be improved in 2013-14. This is Carolina’s final road trip of the regular season, with the Tech game coming four days before the Heels host Duke.

 

Worth the trip

* Nov. 26-28 (at Battle 4 Atlantis; Nassau, Bahamas): As if you needed a reason to go to the Bahamas, Carolina is entered in a whopper of a preseason tournament. After opening with Butler, UNC will face either Oklahoma or UCLA, both of which reached the NCAA tournament last year. The Heels’ final game will also be a challenge, with the possible opponents being Florida, Georgetown, Wisconsin or UAB. If it’s UAB, that would mean facing the Blazers twice in a month (along with the Dec. 27 game in Chapel Hill).

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

WATCH: Anthony Davis throws down sick one-handed alley-oop

During USA Basketball’s beat down of Turkey at the 2014 FIBA World Championship, Anthony Davis threw down a sweet one-handed alley-oop jam courtesy of Klay Thompson, who found him while he was cutting. Coach K’s squad didn’t quite score 100 points, but they did win 98-77 after surprisingly trailing by 5 at the half. [@cjzero] The post Anthony Davis Throws Down Ridiculous One-Handed Alley-Oop Jam Against Turkey appeared first on Diehardsport.

View full post on Yardbarker: NBA

Down at half, US beats Turkey in basketball worlds (Yahoo Sports)

BILBAO, SPAIN - AUGUST 31: Kenneth Faried #7 of the USA Basketball Men's National Team dunks the ball during the game against the Turkey Basketball Men's National Team during the 2014 FIBA World Cup at Bizkaia Arena in Bilbao Exhibition Centre on August 31, 2014 in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

They figured it would be simple, that they would just beat up on Turkey like they did Finland a night earlier. ”I guess we felt like last night’s game was pretty easy and tonight was going to be the same way, but Turkey came out and they gave us their punch from the beginning,” forward James Harden said. A night after crushing Finland by 59 in its biggest rout ever while using NBA players in the former world championship, the Americans couldn’t take control against Turkey until early in the fourth quarter after compiling a 17-1 run. ”So we’ve got to come out ready to play no matter who we’re playing against.” The Americans trailed 40-35 at halftime and Turkey led by six early in the third before the Americans could finally get the game into the quicker tempo they prefer and pull away to win the rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Istanbul.


View full post on Yahoo Sports – NBA News

Derrick Rose Drives to Rim, Throws Down Two-Handed Dunk vs. Finland

Derrick Rose and the rest of Team USA may not be playing against top-tier talent on Saturday in their game against Finland, but it’s nice to see the Chicago Bulls star show off his explosiveness once again.

During the game, Rose crossed over the Finnish defender on his way to the basket, then threw down the two-handed slam dunk. Rose had seven points, two assists and two steals at halftime with Team USA up 60-18.

[YouTube, h/t CBS Sports]

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Breaking Down San Antonio Spurs’ Point Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

In today’s NBA, there is hardly a limited supply of talented point guards. 

Perhaps more so now than ever before, the league can boast remarkable depth at the position as well as incredible star power at the top. And of course, the San Antonio Spurs can claim both within their roster as well. 

The spotlight certainly falls on Tony Parker, a soon-to-be 14-year veteran who has played various roles within the organization since he was drafted in 2001. He provides the team with the superstar talent necessary to win titles, though the roster boasts plentiful depth behind him—another key given Parker’s age.

As a whole, the point guard rotation has consistently been one of the team’s strongest features, and following a strong 2013-14 campaign, there’s little reason to believe 2014-15 won’t follow suit.

 

Looking Back

As he does every year, Parker headlined the Spurs’ point guard corps with under-the-radar excellence—serving as the team’s alpha dog and primary orchestrator throughout its 2013-14 pursuit of a title.

Despite a significant drop from his 2012-13 MVP-caliber stat line—his scoring and assist averages dipped from 20.3 and 7.6 to 16.7 and 5.7, respectively—digging deeper, the Spurs’ lone 2014 All-Star showed little evidence of a decline.

His playing time took an expected hit, and his changing role within the offense—spurred on by the rapid development of Kawhi Leonard as both a scorer and a playmaker—had a noticeable effect on Parker’s numbers.

Even so, his shooting efficiency remained top-notch, hovering around the 50 percent mark throughout the season. His poise, leadership and overall ability to drive his team to success were unchanged, and his stats remained admirable given the circumstances.

But Parker, though the linchpin of the team’s backcourt, hardly ran a one-man show. In fact, given his preseason expectations, Parker wasn’t even San Antonio’s showstopper at the point guard position. That honor belongs to Patty Mills, the team’s resident towel waver-turned-bench spark, whose contributions proved essential from start to finish.

Though he isn’t quite the player Parker is, he shattered expectations from day one. After serving the previous year as a bench bookend, Mills entered camp slimmer, the first of many improvements that surrounded his 2013-14 campaign. 

He became one of the team’s most reliable three-point shooters and a leader in the second unit from the season’s start to his championship-clinching Game 5 performance, in which he contributed 17 points, including 14 in the third quarter. 

When tasked with a heavier workload midseason due to a Parker injury, Mills responded with the strongest month of his career, establishing himself not only as a capable reserve but also as an individual capable of carrying a team in the near future.

His breakout alone is worthy of endless praise, but given the continued excellence of Parker and the increased development of fourth-year Cory Joseph, the Spurs deserve the highest of honors when it comes to the point guard position throughout their championship season.

2013-14 Point Guard Grade for San Antonio: A

 

Offseason Developments

The 2014 offseason was filled with highs and lows for the San Antonio Spurs, and a fair share of both revolve around Mills.

After his impressive campaign, Mills—an unrestricted free agent—entered the summer with a handful of options. Numerous teams with greater needs for his services had the money available to outbid San Antonio, and there was chatter within NBA circles regarding the young man’s potential as a starter.

Fortunately, Mills ended up re-signing in San Antonio. However, the reunion is due in no small part to a shoulder injury that cost Mills both a few million dollars and the opportunity to explore a future as a starter elsewhere.

The injury will keep him sidelined for a projected six months, heartbreaking news for both Mills and the Spurs, who became reliant on his services off the bench.

Beyond Mills, San Antonio offered a partially guaranteed contract to undrafted point guard Bryce Cotton, who will compete in training camp for a two-year contract after an impressive Summer League outing with the Spurs. 

At 5’11”, Cotton is hardly an imposing threat. However, what he lacks in size, he makes up for in talent. His success in college led to unanimous inclusion on the All-Big East First Team.

A talented scorer, he’ll have the opportunity to translate his collegiate success into a professional setting as he attempts to secure a roster spot for the upcoming season. 

 

Looking Forward

Even with Mills sidelined, the 2014-15 NBA season won’t be too different for the San Antonio point guard crew. Parker will return to lead the team, though he’ll likely see his stats and playing time diminish, as coach Gregg Popovich conserves the health and energy of his veterans.

Additionally, an increased focus on Leonard should take a load off Parker’s shoulders as the small forward looks to build upon his Finals MVP-worthy playoff campaign.

Still, Parker will serve as the team’s offensive catalyst and a likely contender for the All-Star Game.

Backing him up will be Joseph, who will assume the lead reserve duties as Mills recovers. Joseph has manned the main backup role before and has done so well. He’s the team’s best defensive option at the 1, and his confidence running the floor allows for seamless transitions whenever Parker needs to catch a break.

Joseph, though still raw, has been improving annually, and many people, including Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon, are confident that Mills’ absence won’t prove too hard for a Spurs team knee-deep at the point guard position:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has adapted his schemes to match his team’s collective strengths; he only needs to tweak it for Joseph.

San Antonio should not skip a beat because the efficiency of the backup point guards was so similar, both offensively and defensively. 

After all, Pop captains a plug-and-play operation, inserting the next man up and getting results. Besides, the show must go on, and the franchise will undoubtedly survive an unfortunate injury to a significant piece.

And of course, once Mills returns, look for him to pick up right where he left off. Joseph—who has shined in the past when given the opportunity—may steal a few minutes should he take advantage of his upcoming increased role, though the big picture—as it relates to the Spurs’ collection of point guards—should look similar to 2013-14.

After a season in which it sported one of the greatest cohorts of floor leaders, San Antonio will look for a repeat, relying on a full recovery from Mills, consistent improvements from Joseph and perennial excellence from Parker. 

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Breaking Down Orlando Magic’s Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

The Orlando Magic have question marks all over heading into the 2014-15 season, and the small forward position is no exception. The departure of Arron Afflalo is bound to have an impact. Can the additions of Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon make up for it?

Do they actually need to?

Each team adjusts its playing style according to the personnel available. In this case, losing Afflalo and signing Channing Frye implies a paradigm shift. Orlando now has Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and the aforementioned Frye. All are able—and expected—to play a substantial part on offense, which suggests the small forwards will take a step back.

However, that will be a tiny, even minuscule step.

Players like Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris possess too much talent to lock them away behind a rigid system focused on two or three players to provide points.

To understand the importance of the Magic’s wing position, it’s probably a good idea to first take a look back at last year.

 

Grading Orlando’s Small Forwards for 2013-14

Obviously, Afflalo was the most efficient offensive player the Orlando Magic had at the 3, where he spent 50 percent of his minutes. Frankly, he was their best weapon regardless of position, period.

The veteran shot an impressive 42.7 percent from downtown and averaged 18.2 points per game in 35 minutes. Not only that, but his 3.4 assists per outing were good enough to place him third on his team in that category.

He was arguably the most important player for Orlando.

Harkless played 24.4 minutes per game and was a more defensive-minded option at small forward. He might not have been a prolific scorer with 7.4 points per game, but that was a direct result of not being used as a main weapon on attack.

In his second year at the pro level, the former No. 15 pick displayed solid shooting, connecting on 38.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Sadly, his free-throw shooting lacked in quality with a meager 59.4 percent success rate.

Harris, while officially playing as power forward for the majority of his time on court, was also a big contributor from the 3. His aggressive style of play led to 4.7 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes, of which he converted a solid 80.7 percent.

Overall, the Orlando Magic definitely had an above-average rotation at small forward in 2013-14.

 

Changes During the Offseason

The most important change was sending Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets for Fournier and the No. 56 pick, Roy Devyn Marble.

Orlando lost its high-scoring veteran and will now rely on others to step up. Frye’s addition means more firepower from the 4, but who can fill in at the 3?

Harkless and Harris are the first who come to mind.

They are used to head coach Jacque Vaughn’s system and showed a lot of potential last season. Both are still very young and will continue to improve with consistent minutes.

The Magic’s No. 4 pick, Gordon, will likely see some time at small forward, despite having been a power forward during his collegiate career. His 6’9″, 225-pound frame and athleticism place him somewhere between those positions—he will be a 3.5 if you like.

The team also acquired Fournier, who is nominally a small forward but can bring the ball when needed. He is a good shooter and can spread the floor, but his size and athleticism are not up to par with the other three candidates.

 

Orlando’s Small Forward Position 2014-15

Harkless and Harris seem set to fight for the starting spot at the 3. Both can be efficient small forwards, but they play very different roles. With Victor Oladipo and Channing Frye being the main weapons on offense, Vaughn will likely want to start Harkless for his defensive skills.

The 21-year-old can drain the open shot, but his main focus will be on the other end of the floor.

Harris can play as a small forward or a power forward, and he brings explosive offense with his reckless drives to the basket. Last season, this translated into a team-leading 33 and-1 opportunities, of which he converted 25. He would be perfect as a sixth man, providing lots of energy.

This brings us to the rookie.

Gordon will have a hard time adjusting to the NBA. He was able to dominate the paint as a power forward in college but seems more likely to succeed as a small forward at the pro level, unless he puts on more weight. The No. 4 pick certainly has a tough job ahead of him, getting used to a new position, a new system and a much more intense style of play.

The Orlando Magic will be happy if the 18-year-old manages to become an efficient player off the bench over the course of his first campaign.

Fournier, on the other hand, could turn into a valuable player very quickly.

His versatility and lack of size, however, mean that he will spend more time at the 1 and 2. If Elfrid Payton can’t get into a rhythm early on during his rookie season, the Frenchman may well end up bringing the ball up frequently.

Likewise, if Ben Gordon can’t produce, Fournier will be the main backup behind Oladipo. The 6’6″ athlete provides consistent shooting from three-point land (37.6 percent last season), and his tender age of 21 implies he still has room to develop. If he can improve his athleticism, he will eventually become an important factor for the team, regardless of position.

Despite losing Afflalo, the Orlando Magic have good options at small forward.

Effectively, three players will be able to contribute right away, even if Fournier seems somewhat undersized. Gordon will still need time to develop, but the Magic can afford to wait for him to mature.

One of the main advantages Coach Vaughn has at the 3 is the different style of play each of these three athletes can offer. If he wants aggressive defense, he can bring in Harkless. For the same aggression on the offensive end, Harris is the perfect choice. If in need of a good ball-handler who can spread the floor with his shooting, on comes Fournier.

The small forward position may have lost some punch with Afflalo‘s departure, but Orlando’s fans don’t need to be concerned.

The young guns are ready to take over.

 

All stats and info taken from NBA.com or Basketball-Reference.com unless stated otherwise.

You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Breaking Down the Lakers’ Best and Worst Fits in Byron Scott’s System

New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott has already made it clear how he will run his team.

First and foremost comes a fundamental defensive identity and toughness.

Defensive philosophy has to be constant”, Scott told Lakers beat reporter Mike Trudell. “Defensively, we’ll start to work from day one, because that’s something we have to get better at right away, and we will.

Scott vows to hold players accountable on the defensive end and enforce a policy that will prioritize locating the ball and getting back on defense to limit transition opportunities.

On offense, Scott will install the same scheme he has taught at previous stops. 

As he told Trudell, “I want a mixture of some of what I’ve done in the past, which is the Princeton offense, along with traditional NBA sets.”

With Scott’s coaching philosophies in mind, let’s take a look at who may derive the greatest—and least—benefit from playing in his system.

 

Best Fit—Wesley Johnson

Wesley Johnson has been frustrating home fans since he entered the league, and his first year with the Lakers was no exception.

Watching him play, it’s clear to see the tremendous upside just waiting to be realized. With his length, athleticism and fluidity moving around the court, it’s not hard to envision Johnson as a two-way force on the wing along the lines of a Paul George.

That idealistic projection is the reason he was drafted fourth overall in 2010—six picks ahead of George.

Coach Scott remains optimistic about Johnson and is excited to work with him this season.

I think the kid is so talented…I’ve always been intrigued with Wesley“, Scott said when asked about Johnson starting on the wing next to Kobe Bryant. “I’m really hoping it can be a break out year for him.”

For what it’s worth, Johnson did have the best season of his career in 2014. He shot the ball more accurately than ever before—including a healthy 37 percent clip from downtown—and posted career bests in PER and win shares.

Johnson’s game fits the Princeton offense well. 

His size and athleticism will allow him to take advantage of easy looks around the basket off of constant motion and cutting. For his career, Johnson has been a strong finisher near the hoop, converting over 66 percent of his attempts within three feet of the rim, per Basketball-Reference.com.

If Johnson’s newfound three-point accuracy is no fluke, he will be a threat from the outside as well as in drive-and-kick scenarios. Johnson shot a respectable 37.8 percent on catch-and-shoot three-point field-goal tries last season, per NBA.com, and finished second on the team in total catch-and-shoot points.

Defensively, Johnson has the potential to shine in Scott’s system.

The biggest reason to be hopeful is that with L.A.’s depth in the frontcourt, Johnson can move back to the wing full time, instead of toiling as a stretch power forward as he did for large chunks of last year under Mike D’Antoni.

According to 82games.com, Johnson held opposing small forwards to a reasonable 14.4 PER, while enemy power forwards tore him apart, racking up a 21.4 PER against him.

Johnson will still draw the toughest perimeter assignment on a nightly basis, but he has the physical tools to get the job done and stand out in Coach Scott’s scheme.

 

Worst Fit—Xavier Henry

Another 2010 lottery-pick reclamation project, Xavier Henry was well on his way to fulfilling his promise last season before injuries derailed his campaign.

Henry is back with the Lakers for the upcoming season and will compete with Johnson for a starting job on the wing beside Bryant.

In his extended Q&A with Trudell, Scott mentioned that he “thought Xavier was excellent until he got hurt last year,” but had nothing else to say about Henry when talking about his group of wing players.

Interestingly, in that same section, Scott talked about the possibility of playing Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin together, meaning that there may be fewer minutes to go around for the swingmen—and Henry may end up drawing the short straw.

The Princeton offense doesn’t play to Henry’s strengths.

Henry loves having the ball in his hands so he can put his head down and attack the rim, but he doesn’t provide much value when playing off the ball, as he will most of the time in Coach Scott’s system.

Finishing near the hoop has been a trouble spot for Henry, who shot a disappointing 55 percent from within three feet each of the past two seasons, per Basketball-Reference.com.

He has also never been a good jump-shooter. In four NBA seasons, Henry has attempted just 126 threes total and has connected on only 32.5 percent of them.

Henry’s playmaking needs to improve as well in a system that requires a lot of passing. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Gerald Green, Jeff Green and Avery Bradley were the only perimeter players in the league who played as many minutes as Henry, while posting a usage rate as high as Henry and an assist rate as low as Henry in 2014.

On defense, Henry struggles at times. He has good lateral quickness and initial effort, but he doesn’t always rotate correctly and can get caught ball-watching.

He lacks Johnson’s size, so if he is in there with Bryant, the Lakers are vulnerable to attacks from bigger wings.

Unless he adapts his game to fit Coach Scott’s philosophies, Henry may be on the outside of the rotation looking in.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Timberwolves Wise to Double Down on Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett Pairing

It was a good move, from acquiring an elite prospect like Andrew Wiggins to securing Anthony Bennett as a buy-low throw-in. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves weren’t winning with Kevin Love, anyway. 

Of course, the typical skeptic will argue against dealing established talent for guys whose appeal is strictly tied to long-term potential, given the uncertainty that comes with it and the time it takes to reach. 

Then again, if Wiggins does hit his stride and Bennett eventually figures it out, the Wolves will likely look back on the trade as a huge success, considering the ugly position the organization was put in. 

And based on the current setting in Minnesota, you have to really like their chances.

Offensive freedom, no expectations, built-in camaraderie—Wiggins and Bennett, whose relationship dates back to their days playing AAU ball for the Canadian-driven CIA Bounce, are looking at a no-pressure environment with unlimited opportunity. 

The Timberwolves will get to develop these guys under fairly ideal conditions—as long as management and fans can sit tight while each prospect works out the kinks in their respective games.

Arguably the biggest knock on Wiggins as a college freshman was his tendency to drift or disappear. Playing amongst fellow star prospects and veterans at Kansas, he’d often go long stretches without taking a shot. The only real question that scouts continuously asked was whether or not they were looking at an eventual No. 1 scorer or a complementary weapon. 

Wiggins won’t find a better stage to develop his go-to scoring repertoire on than the one he’s got lined up in Minnesota. What better way to ignite a prospect’s confidence than to consistently give him the rock under nothing-to-lose circumstances?

As a rookie, he’ll be getting the green light he’ll hope to have as a top option for a playoff team three to four years down the road. Consider this upcoming season valuable on-the-job training. 

The Timberwolves offer Wiggins a chance to fine-tune his offensive arsenal (step-backs, pull-ups, fall-aways, drives, floaters) on an every-game basis alongside guys like Bennett, Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad—other rookies and sophomores also at early stages in their development.

The fact that Wiggins will be going to a team where he’ll see familiar faces, each looking at similar hurdles, should help raise his comfort level as a 19-year-old newcomer breaking into the league.

“It’s been a crazy summer, really up and down. Kind of lost, not really knowing where I’m going,” Wiggins told the Associated Press, via ESPN. “But I wanted to play for a team that wanted me. I felt the love as soon as I got off the plane at the airport, so it’s all good now. I’m excited for this season.”

The move was good for Bennett as well, as it gives him a chance to start fresh and shake off the bricks he threw up and the boos that followed.

Last season, we’d see Bennett alternate 20-minute games with four minutes cameos and the occasional DNP. And when he actually did get time, he was never really able to get his footing or gain any stability—like a fatigued water polo player struggling to make plays in a deep pool.

But the water is shallow in Minnesota, where Bennett will have a more defined role and a better shot to nail it. 

Like it should be for Wiggins, the young roster and unestablished chemistry should be good for Bennett, who won’t have to try too hard to fit in or think about living up to the hype. 

“I’ve been hearing all the talks for a while now,” said Bennett. “So me being here in Minnesota, it’s a great (state). It’s a great fan base, great team coming up where everybody’s young. We have some vets, too. I’m just here to learn from everybody.”

With Love essentially forcing his way out, the Timberwolves turned a bad hand into one that could pay off big time later on. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post actually rated this the best superstar trade (in Minnesota’s favor) of this era.

You’re never going to get direct equal value in return for a superstar on the trade market. But in Wiggins, the Wolves managed to reel in a rare talent with a ceiling that technically exceeds the height of the hot shot they just dealt. If it clicks for Wiggins, Minnesota could be looking at one of the game’s top two-way wings as a dynamite scorer and lockdown defender.

In Bennett, Minnesota gets a project. And he’ll need work. But at 21 years old, he’s not broken. There’s still some untapped offensive game bottled up inside him somewhere.

Hopefully, pairing the two together on a team with other guys their age will help create a more favorable environment for each to really flourish.

I’m viewing this trade and move as a positive for both Wiggins and Bennett individually, and in turn, a surprise win for the Timberwolves as a franchise.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Breaking Down Miami Heat’s Point Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

When you have someone like LeBron James around, traditional point guards almost seem unnecessary.

The four-time MVP has established himself as the planet’s very best thanks in large part to his extraordinary playmaking ability. He may be a forward on paper, but in practice he’s also a floor general who can run and initiate offense with the very best of them.

Now the Miami Heat confront a post-LBJ era, an era in which point guards are suddenly anything but unnecessary.

While Dwyane Wade remains a capable ball-handler and facilitator, he’ll need help—the kind of help Miami sorely missed during the 2014 NBA Finals.

The question is where that help will come from.

 

Grading 2013-14′s Point Guard Performances

Maybe it’s unfair to judge starting point guard Mario Chalmers on the basis of his NBA Finals performance alone, but it’s awfully hard to ignore.

After a season in which the 28-year-old tallied 9.8 points and 4.9 assists per contest, Chalmers saved his worst for last—averaging just 4.4 points and 2.8 assists through five games against the San Antonio Spurs. For the series, he was just 7-of-21 from the field and turned the ball over 10 times through the first four games.

By the end of Game 3, Chalmers’ confidence had all but collapsed.

“I think everybody else is doing their job and I’m being that guy that’s not helping out,” Chalmers said after the game, per Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick. “I don’t want to be that guy.”

Chalmers added that he was “still at the drawing board.”

After Game 4, it was time for change. Head coach Erik Spoelstra benched Chalmers for Game 5, instead inserting shooting guard Ray Allen into the starting lineup. The decision conceded the Heat were struggling at a position widely regarded as the most important on the floor—and that backup point guard Norris Cole offered little hope.

During the season, Cole averaged just 6.4 points and three assists in 24.6 minutes per game. Beset by uneven playing time in the Finals, those numbers dropped to just 3.2 points and 1.8 assists per contest.

After three seasons of running point for Miami’s second unit, Cole clearly hasn’t instilled much confidence. He’s a frenetic player with solid defensive ability, but he’s less adept at hitting the open shots Chalmers ordinarily made. Recall that Chalmers converted on 38.5 percent of his three-point attempts during the regular season.

Cole made just 34.5 percent of his.

On paper, Chalmers’ Finals implosion was untimely but also anomalous. Yet concerns about his fit on a championship team were nothing new.

Hardwood Paroxysm’s William Bohl recently wrote that, “He was, in the eyes of his superstar teammates, their idiot younger brother, always to blame when mistakes were made, the whipping boy when a defensive assignment was blown or an open man wasn’t passed to on offense.”

Bohl adds that, “LeBron, especially, wasn’t afraid to let ‘Rio have it from time to time, often over Chalmers’ shot selection, defensive intensity or lack of court vision.”

Though Chalmers seemed to justify himself with a surprisingly electric performance in the 2013 NBA Finals, it’s this June’s disappearance that left a lasting impression. He looked like a backup guard in over his head—which puts Cole’s limitations in even greater perspective.

Grade: C+

 

Offseason Developments

Team president Pat Riley called in some reinforcements this summer, but there’s little reason to believe it will be enough.

The organization’s big acquisition came on draft night when, per The Palm Beach Post‘s Jason Lieser, “Miami immediately traded for [Shabazz] Napier [taken No. 26 overall] by giving up its first-round spot, second-round pick (No. 55), an unspecified future second-round selection and cash.”

The 23-year-old most recently averaged 18 points and 4.9 assists per game as a senior at Connecticut.

His subsequent performances at the Orlando and Las Vegas summer league tournaments left something to be desired. Through his first five games, Napier made just 15 of 55 field-goal attempts. After piecing together a couple of respectable games, he finished by going 9-for-42 from the field in his final three games.

“I definitely needed this one to understand the game much better,” Napier said during summer league play, per Jeff Shain’s special to the Miami Herald. “It’s a big adjustment, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Napier offered an example, adding, “I was unable to do a lot of things I did in college as far as passes. I’m going to have to learn how to adjust and make those certain passes on an NBA level. That’s the learning curve.”

More recently, Napier cited another culprit.

“But my biggest thing is getting comfortable with that basketball,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “That’s one of my biggest problems and it’s kind of ironic, because it’s a basketball. But it’s different than a college basketball.”

Assuming those issues work themselves out in time, Miami should have some additional firepower in its backcourt this season.

Otherwise, little has changed.

The franchise re-signed Chalmers to a two-year deal reportedly worth a total of $8.3 million, and Cole will make $2,150,188 this season in what could be his last with the Heat (the club can make him a restricted free agent next summer with a qualifying offer).

Miami certainly hasn’t taken a step back at the point guard spot, but nor has it made significant strides.

 

Looking Ahead

Napier could certainly evolve into a starting-caliber floor general, but it’s hard to see where he fits in this season. Assuming he shakes off whatever ailed his summer-league shooting, he should be able to carve out a few minutes early on. Whether he plays enough to make a consistent impact remains to be seen.

There could be some additional opportunities for Napier in the event Chalmers begins adopting a slightly more versatile role.

“We’re looking at Mario differently in this roster,” Riley explained, per the Miami Herald‘s Barry Jackson. “He’s a point guard, but we’re also looking at him as a [shooting guard]. Mario can be very effective as a long-armed [shooting guard] who can shoot the three.”

For what it’s worth, Riley added that Napier, “struggled this summer somewhat shooting the ball, but we still feel he has a tremendous upside.”

At the moment, however, the starting gig belongs to Chalmers. And at the very least, the Kansas product should be good for a few passes and around 10 points per contest—perhaps more without James around to soak up touches.

The good news is that Chalmers has been with this team since he was drafted in 2008. He preserves some measure of corporate knowledge and understands Spoelstra‘s system. His experience in Miami could be instrumental to the club’s ability to steady the ship in the wake of James’ departure.

The bad news is that by now Chalmers is what he is. It’s unlikely he takes a significant step forward this late into his career. The odds of Cole rapidly ascending the point guard ranks aren’t much better.

While this team’s need for a credible floor general is suddenly acute, its ability to meet that need is in question.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Next Page »