Breaking Down Cleveland Cavaliers’ Shooting Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

Heading into the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ 2014-15 season, every starting position appears to be locked down except one.

While Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao are nearly guaranteed to represent four-fifths of the starting lineup, who’ll get the nod at shooting guard?

Cleveland runs four deep at the 2-guard spot. Dion Waiters is by far the most talented, but has primarily come off the bench in his young career. Newly-signed Mike Miller is a former Sixth Man of the Year award winner, but may be a better fit with the Cavaliers starters. Veteran James Jones and rookie Joe Harris round out the group.

Overall, this is a much deeper and improved version of what we saw a season ago.

So, who should start, who should play a reserve role and what can we realistically expect from the Cavs‘ scoring guard position this year?

 

Last Season’s Results

The Cavaliers shooting guard spot was handled primary by Waiters, C.J. Miles, Jarrett Jack and Matthew Dellavedova in 2013-14.

While Waiters and Delly return, Miles signed a four-year deal with the Indiana Pacers and Jarrett Jack was traded to the Brooklyn Nets.

Miles was a solid wing player in his two seasons but battled injuries and an inconsistent shot that ultimately led to his switching of addresses. Jack signed a four-year deal with the Cavaliers last summer but never played to the level he reached with the Golden State Warriors just a season before. Just to clear his contract from their books ended up costing the Cavs a 2016 first-round draft pick.

All four players were a revolving door at shooting guard, with three getting a share of the starting duties.

Waiters was the first to try out.

Mike Brown’s experimentation with him next to Irving lasted a whopping nine games before Waiters was sent to the bench in favor of Miles. Waiters wanted the ball in his hands, as did Irving. Miles preferred to score off catch-and-shoot opportunities, thus providing a better fit next to Irving.

Miles held down the position for the next few months, struggling in December (7.0 points on 30.4 percent shooting from deep) before putting together his best month in January (12.6 points on 46.5 percent).

Despite his individual success, the Cavs still stunk.

Following a 117-86 beatdown to the New York Knicks that left them sitting at 16-30 on Jan. 30, Brown made the switch to Jack in the starting lineup.

While the team began showing signs of life, it certainly wasn’t because of Jack.

When he signed with Cleveland, Jack must have forgot his jump shot in Oakland. As a starter, Jack averaged just 9.9 points on 42.0 percent shooting from the field and a miserable 29.4 percent from three.

A late-season injury to Kyrie Irving, coupled with a benching of Jack, once again provided Waiters with a starting opportunity. Without Irving around to dominate the ball, Waiters had free reign of the offense. He responded with averages of 18.3 points and 3.5 assists as a starter for the year.

Here’s where the Cavs shooting guards ranked collectively in seven key categories, via Hoopsstats.com.

Cavs SGs PTS AST STLS TO FG% 3P% PA
Stat 22.0 5.9 1.5 3.2 41.9 36.1 21.6
Rank 12 3 19 27 26 18 22

Honestly, this wasn’t a bad collection of talent at one position. Injuries hurt Miles, and poor rotations plagued Waiters. Jack really had no excuse. Dellavedova was a solid defender and distributor off the bench and, during one brief stretch, started because he was the only Cavalier who was hustling (true story).

To grade this group’s performance is tricky. Like the lazy student who’s actually really smart but doesn’t exude enough effort, we’re stuck thinking about what might have been.

Grade: C+

 

To Be Decided

Since Miles and Jack are now gone, what role will their replacements play?

We can assume Dellavedova will take on the backup point guard job full-time with the lack of depth behind Irving. This leaves Waiters, Miller, Jones and Harris as the team’s shooting guards.

First, will Cleveland even want that many?

Harris seemed like a solid pick at the time when the Cavaliers took him with their 2014 second-round pick. GM David Griffin wanted an off-ball guard to run around, come off screens and knock down open shots created by Irving.

While the Cavs originally planned to be patient with Harris, they may send him to the D-League now to open up more minutes for veteran players. Harris could be a good shooter in the NBA. Miller and Jones already are.

It’s worth noting that both Miller (6’8″, 218 pounds) and Jones (6’8″, 215 pounds) can play small forward as well. Waiters is the only Cavalier that should be considered an exclusive 2-guard.

That is, assuming the roster stays the same.

Ray Allen remains a possibility for the Cavs. At 39 years of age, Allen still has not made up his mind whether to retire or return to the NBA for a 19th pro season.

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe reported back in July that Allen was leaning towards the latter, with the Cavaliers atop his list:

With vets Miller and James on board to rain down threes, do the Cavs really need Allen?

Probably not, although someone with his knowledge and experience certainly wouldn’t hurt.

As Sports Illustrated’s Chris Johnson points out, Allen is still quite productive despite his 40th birthday approaching:

Even if Allen’s not lacing clutch treys in playoff crunch time, his presence alone opens up opportunities for other scorers because defenses can’t leave him open. Further, despite a decline in his counting statistics, Allen still shot the ball well last season. His effective field goal percentage, which puts extra weight on three-point shots, was the eighth highest of his career, and he still drained threes from one corner at an impressive clip.

At this point, Allen would be like crushed Oreos on top of the Cavs‘ hot fudge sundae of offense. At first it seems like a great idea, but would it really be necessary?

Right now, Cleveland’s focus needs to be on their own contracted players, including selecting a starter from the bunch.

 

This Year’s Rotation

Before deciding on a starter, it’s important to come up with a healthy minute distribution between the candidates.

Don’t expect Harris to see much playing time, if any at all. The Cavaliers are in win-now mode and will prefer to rely on their vets over a rookie. The best thing Cleveland can do is give Harris a good run with the Canton Charge and let him develop his game down there. After all, Jones is only on a one-year deal, while Miller has a player option for next season.

Waiters, whether he starts or serves as the team’s sixth man, needs to receive the bulk of the minutes.

His stats the past two years won’t scream star, but that’s precisely what Waiters could become. Few players in the league are as adept as Waiters when splitting defenders and getting to the basket. While he’s yet to prove he can score in the flow of an offense, Waiters has excelled when asked to create on his own.

Miller has been both a starter and Sixth Man of the Year. Last season with the Memphis Grizzlies, he averaged 7.1 points and 2.5 rebounds on 45.9 percent shooting from three. Miller played in all 82 games, collecting 20.8 minutes a night as a reserve.

He should still get 15-20 minutes a game for the Cavs, no matter what role coach David Blatt chooses.

Jones got buried on the Miami Heat‘s bench a year ago but still proved his accuracy from deep. His 51.9 percent three-point shooting would have been tops in the NBA with enough playing time. For his career, Jones is an excellent 40.3 percent marksman.

Jones’ playing time will largely depend on those around him. If Miller struggles with his shot, Blatt shouldn’t be hesitant to insert Jones into the game instead. His minutes could range from a DNP-coach’s decision to 20 a night.

So, who starts?

If Blatt goes off talent alone, it will be Waiters. If he prefers fit, then Miller should receive the nod.

As unpopular a decision as it may be with Waiters and some Cleveland fans, the 2012 fourth overall pick’s best option should be as the team’s sixth man.

Waiters has struggled sharing the ball with Irving. How’s he going to improve alongside James and Love, the No. 3 and No. 4 scorers in the league last year? There are just not enough shots to go around in the starting five. Waiters has yet to prove he can play off the ball and has been a pretty average outside shooter in his young career (34.2 percent from three).

Cleveland’s bench will lack a true playmaker if Waiters starts. When Irving and James need a breather, Waiters would be the perfect choice to come in the game and keep the offense humming. The Cavaliers could still keep Waiters’ minute total around 30-35, even off the bench, a la James Harden‘s third season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Miller, on the other hand, would fit in beautifully with the starting five.

At this stage in his career, stats matter very little compared to wins. Even if he’s not getting a high number of shots up, his presence alone would help stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for James and Irving. Cleveland could still keep his minute total low, thus preserving Miller for the postseason and giving Waiters his opportunity to shine.

With three stars (including the league’s best player) in the starting lineup, the Cavs need to think of fit instead of star power at shooting guard.

Whatever the Cavaliers choose to do, the 2-guard position should be well taken care of this season.

 

Greg Swartz has covered the Cleveland Cavaliers for Bleacher Report since 2010. Connect with him on Twitter for more basketball news and conversation.

All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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

The Miami Heat are in very good shape at center

Considering that Miami’s center play impressed approximately no one last season, and the franchise made zero upgrades at the position, this is a fairly controversial position to stake out. But I believe it’s the correct one. I’m staking it.

For starters, despite the aforementioned putatively unimpressive play, Miami’s bigs were fine last season. Certainly not stellar, but probably a notch or two below very good. If I were in the habit of grading things, which, in certain moods, I am—it’s an occupational hazard—I’d say their performance was deserving of a solid B.

Miami’s center minutes last season were divvied up among Joel Anthony, Chris Andersen, Chris Bosh, Justin Hamilton and Greg Oden. This group performed capably.

The only member of the bunch who was below league average by measure of Basketball-Reference’s win shares per 48 minutes was Anthony, and he played just 12 games and 37 minutes before being shipped to the Boston Celtics in the deal that brought the Heat Toney Douglas.

Anderson, in particular, was tremendous. He posted a win shares per 48 minutes of .205 during the regular season—105 percent better than league average and, among players who logged more than 1,000 minutes, ninth best in the NBA. In doing so, the aggressively inked journeyman notched a 68.3 true shooting percentage, good for second in the association among centers, and led Miami in block percentage.

“Since signing with the Heat, Andersen has been that spark to ignite the flame, filling in the gaps left open by other teammates, particularly on defense,” Hot Hot Hoops’ Surya Fernandez remarked.

Bosh, of course, did Bosh things. He was a marksman from middle distance and quietly extended his range to the three-point line—he attempted a career-best 218 triples and made good on a respectable 33.9 percent—all while having his centrality to the Heat attack overlooked by casual followers of the sport.

Even the deep bench was sound.

While Oden didn’t exactly enjoy the Lazarus-like comeback some hoped for in Miami, ultimately playing his way out of the Heat playoff rotation, he was a solid backup option in the regular season. Across 23 games, Oden averaged 11.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.

Granted, as Oden had his minutes controlled closely by Erik Spoelstra and the Heat’s eagle-eyed training staff, this came in only 9.2 minutes a night. And the scarcely used rookie Hamilton posted a .105 win shares per 48 figure in 68 minutes in a Heat uniform. That’s more than fine.

Not much changed at the position this offseason. Anthony is, again, in Boston, and Oden wasn’t offered a deal to return to South Beach. But while the personnel are the same, the way they’re deployed could be quite different.

It starts—and more or less ends—with Bosh. With LeBron James in Cleveland, and Bosh set to assume the role of lead offensive creator for the Heat, there’s ample reason to believe the artist former known as CB4 will play a more conventional post-up game than he has in seasons past.

Bosh is a very good mid-range shooter, and that ability was the primary means through which he’s contributed since joining Miami. Not just by virtue of his ability to hit, say, 16-footers with unusual regularity, but the trickle-down effects of this skill.

Opposing bigs—given Bosh’s aforementioned mid-range prowess—had a tendency to stray from the basket to defend him. This opened up additional space for James and Dwyane Wade to make hay slashing to the basket for higher-percentage looks.

But, as any analytics head can tell you, having your primary weapon shoot 18-footers is no way to run an offense. So Bosh will likely return down low this season, playing out of the post like a more typical center. And here’s the thing: He should thrive there.

While Bosh is known, rightly, as a jump-shooter, he’s also fantastically effective inside. According to NBA.com, among players with more than 300 such attempts, he finished fourth in the Association in field-goal percentage from within five feet of the basket. And with stretch(ish) 4 Josh McRoberts added to mix via the Charlotte Bobcats this offseason, Bosh should have a bit of operating room down there despite Bron’s absence.

He alluded to the change of responsibility during an interview with ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh over the summer: “I feel I’m a much better leader and a much better player, and I’m much more prepared for the role, the all-around role, that they need me to fill. That’s exciting for me to really challenge myself and step up to the plate next year and make sure we get it done, no matter what happens.”

Bosh’s proximity to the hoop should have a propitious secondary effect as well: He’ll become a stronger rebounder. In short: The further away a player is from the basket, the less likely they are to pull down rebounds.

This has been borne out in Bosh’s career. While with the Toronto Raptors, where he played a more conventional big man’s game, Bosh had an offensive rebounding percentage of 8.5. In Miami, that figure has slipped to 6.1.

This is good news for a Heat team that struggles mightily on the glass. According to ESPN, Miami was 29th in offensive rebounding rate last season.

None of this means the Heat should be over the moon about the strength of this crucial position. LeBron is gone, and with him went any realistic hope of adding a fourth banner to the rafters of AmericanAirlines Arena.

But the Heat should, and probably will, be competitive in the enervated East next season. And, in no small part, it will be because of their big people.

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Michigan State Basketball Recruiting: Breaking Down Spartans’ 2016 Wish List

Tom Izzo is still working on his 2015 class. But it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the guys he could have lined up for 2016. 

The veteran Michigan State coach doesn’t have anyone attached to his next, next class, but that’ll probably change soon, as he’s already played host to a few prospects during unofficial visits. 

According to Verbal Commits, the Spartans have five open scholarships for 2016. Izzo has made seven offers, the site says. This slideshow will cover a green-and-white “wish list,” with players appearing based on factors such as fit and interest. 

Begin Slideshow

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Breaking Down Milwaukee Bucks’ Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

While there are certainly positional debates to be had elsewhere on the roster, the scenario at small forward for the Milwaukee Bucks—given the logjam and abundance of talent—provides an intriguing one for the 2014-15 season.

Rookie Jabari Parker and second-year phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo are arguably the team’s two biggest talents, and both are most suited to play the 3.

Meanwhile, Khris Middleton is coming off a solid 2013-14 year that saw him provide the Bucks with efficient, much-needed scoring. Add Damien Inglis—who was drafted in the second round this summer—and recently acquired Jared Dudley to the mix, and it’s hard to picture enough minutes being divvied up among these players.

So, where does that leave things? In order to begin to understand, one must first look at last season.

 

Looking Back

In 2013-14, small forward was one of the team’s glaring weaknesses, even as Antetokounmpo began to emerge as a star in the making.

Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino were slated to log the bulk of minutes, but that didn’t exactly pan out. 

Butler appeared in just 34 games before being traded, and an injury kept Delfino out all season.

With Antetokounmpo and Middleton as the only remaining options, experience at small forward was sparse, to say the least.

That being said, Middleton turned out to be one of the Bucks’ most consistent players on offense, averaging 12.1 points on 44.0 percent shooting from the floor and an impressive 41.4 percent from three-point range.

Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo was not overly impressive from a numbers standpoint but turned some heads around the league with his length, defense and athleticism.

However, it was far from a position of strength.

The inexperience of Antetokounmpo was visible from time to time—shaky ball-handling, errant passes—and Middleton suffered through a terrible month of January.

But even though the young duo put together a solid stretch, small forward was not one of the better positions for the Bucks a season ago.

As the offseason has shown, things at the 3 are beginning to look better, though.

 

A Summer of Change

Dating back to last season, Antetokounmpo’s growth was becoming more and more visible. While not crystal clear, it wasn’t hard to envision the young Greek as the team’s small forward of the future.

Despite having the league’s worst record, the Bucks missed out on the draft’s top pick in June and didn’t have to make the difficult decision of choosing between Parker and Andrew Wiggins.

Instead, the Duke standout fell into Milwaukee’s lap, thus starting an interesting dynamic at the position.

Having Parker and Antetokounmpo on the same roster meant one of them would certainly have to play out of position.

Parker is capable of playing power forward but is much more suited to small forward.

And, truthfully, the same thing could be said about Antetokounmpo.

In addition to the youngsters, Middleton—who’s no veteran himself—returns in hopes of remaining an asset off the bench. 

The Bucks also recently acquired Jared Dudley in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, adding a veteran presence among a trio of young small forwards.

Antetokounmpo is clearly the most versatile of the bunch and could be slotted at either forward position, shooting guard and, as head coach Jason Kidd experimented with this summer, point guard.

In Parker’s case, he’ll be moving up to the 4 often throughout the season, especially in order to take advantage of bigger, slower power forwards on the perimeter. 

Middleton and Dudley, while not limited, will probably play the majority of their minutes at small forward without much movement up or down in the lineup.

Regardless, the Bucks made a concerted effort to strengthen the 3 over the summer.

And this doesn’t even factor in Damien Inglis, who may or may not see much playing time in 2014-15.

 

Looking Ahead

With a multitude of players capable of playing small forward, expect the Bucks to use a lot of non-traditional lineups this season.

Dudley and Middleton will both see plenty of minutes off the bench, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see either of them on the court with both Parker and Antetokounmpo at the same time.

Truthfully, the Bucks are fortunate to have these options.

Middleton is quick and long enough that he can play some shooting guard should the situation call for it, and with O.J. Mayo struggling a season ago, that might be a plausible scenario.

The development of John Henson will impact how the aforementioned players are utilized, as well.

If Henson continues to make strides and can become an effective two-way player, he just might solidify himself as the team’s power forward of the future.

If that occurs, Parker would slide back to small forward.

And while Antetokounmpo is still very raw, it’s hard to imagine Kidd relegating the Greek Freak to the bench.

That leaves one realistic—sorry, all you “Magic Giannison” hopefuls—possibility: Antetokounmpo playing shooting guard.

It’s hard to imagine someone who shot just 41.4 percent from the floor in 2013-14 starting at the 2, but it might be the best option, especially after his showing at the Las Vegas Summer League.

In four games, Antetokounmpo averaged 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting a very good 46.2 percent from the floor and a respectable 37.5 percent from three-point territory.

As you can see from the video above, he was able to score in a variety of ways, which was lacking from his game during his rookie year.

It all boils down to the Bucks being supremely talented at the wing.

What was a weak spot for the team a season ago has turned into an exciting one with a mix of veteran leadership and raw, youthful potential.

2014-15 will certainly be fun to watch.

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Breaking Down NY Knicks’ Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

The New York Knicks are in an in-between phase of Phil Jackson’s franchise rejuvenation, and it’s apparent throughout the roster. The team’s new president administered as much roster overhaul as he could over his first summer in charge, and there are several new pieces for Derek Fisher to work into his rotation. 

At the same time, expensive, intrusive leftovers from the prior regime remain on the roster and will impede New York’s ability to prepare for the future. The presence of these holdovers—Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire, namely—will have a direct impact on how Fisher handles minutes at the small forward position this season. 

Carmelo Anthony, a natural small forward over the course of his career, has enjoyed tremendous success at the power forward slot these past two seasons thanks to the matchup nightmares he presents against traditional 4s. With Stoudemire and Bargnani in the fold for 2014-15, Anthony may be bumped back down to the position for extended minutes. 

The small forward minutes will generally be taken up by the same crowd as last season—Anthony, Shumpert and J.R. Smith are all returning—while rookie Cleanthony Early will attempt to earn a role at the position as well. Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw, who were acquired from the Sacramento Kings in August, could figure into the rotation as well. 

This year is all about transition for the Knicks, as they await to make a free-agency splash in 2015. But let’s take a look back and a look forward on the small forward position’s status in the meantime.

 

Grading Last Year’s Performance

Position Grade: B

 

Last season wasn’t pretty for the Knicks in most aspects, but they did get positive production out of their small forward spot. Much of that had to do with Anthony, but there were bright spots from Shumpert and Smith at the position also. 

Let’s start with Anthony, though. It’s clear now that ‘Melo is better suited at the 4, and he has posted better numbers there over the last two seasons, but he is still one of the league’s best offensive talents at small forward. 

According to Basketball-Reference, Anthony logged 38 percent of his total minutes at the 3 last season, and according to 82games.com, he posted a 22 player efficiency rating and 30.2 points per 48 minutes while playing there. The bulk of those minutes came early in the season before Bargnani’s season-ending injury in January, when Mike Woodson insisted on including the two players in a bigger lineup. 

After Bargnani went down, Anthony bumped back up to the power forward position for the most part, which opened up a slot for another guard in the starting lineup. More guards with shooting range around Anthony in the lineup led to more space for him to operate, and him being matched up against 4s led to more panicky help defense by opponents, which led to more open teammates for Anthony to utilize. 

J.R. Smith, according to Basketball-Reference, played the vast majority, 72 percent, of his minutes at the 3. And while his overall numbers infer a putrid all-around season, Smith was a very solid option for the Knicks after shaking off a brutal two-month stretch to begin the year. 

After Jan. 10, Smith shot 45 percent from the field and and 43 percent from three-point range, averaging 16.5 points, four rebounds and three assists a game. 

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert rounded out the small forward rotation, and two of the youngest Knicks could not have gone through more different experiences. 

Hardaway, in his rookie campaign, impressed with his scoring ability but struggled in every other facet of the game, and the Knicks were a worse team with him on the floor. Shumpert went through a season-long scoring slump, posting a shooting line of .378/.333/.746, but gave the Knicks a boost in other key areas and posted the team’s best net rating aside from Anthony. 

As was the case with the rest of the team, though, there was never enough consistency beside Anthony to string together a meaningful run. The 3-slot was solid enough to keep the Knicks above water, but considering all else, that just wasn’t enough. 

 

What’s Left to Settle?

The biggest question the Knicks face heading into the year features two of their three highest-paid players. How much will Stoudemire and Bargnani factor into the rotation?

In theory, both players can help a team score in limited roles. But with both being natural 4s, unable to protect the rim and unable to coexist in the same lineup on either end of the floor, both are simply expensive nightmares for a rebuilding Knicks team.

Last season, New York was 8.5 points per 100 possessions worse with Stoudemire on the floor. Bargnani’s number was 8.1 points worse.

Here’s the conundrum the Knicks face: Carmelo is a better weapon at the 4. If Anthony is at the 4 and STAT or Bargs figure into the rotation, one will need to play the center position, effectively destroying the team’s chances on defense. If one—or God forbid both—of Stoudemire and Bargnani are playing with ‘Melo, it bumps him back down to the 3, ruining space and taking minutes away from the younger wings.

This is a dilemma that’s easy to spot, even months before the season. The way Jackson is constructing the Knicks, and with their hopes of landing a prime free agent next summer, these two players will not be a part of the future. The only thing left to settle is when Fisher will cut them out of the present.

 

The New Rotation

At least at the onset of 2014-15, it’s reasonable to assume the small forward rotation will resemble last year’s, with Anthony logging some minutes there to accommodate Stoudemire and/or Bargnani.

When Anthony is resting, two of Smith, Shumpert and Hardaway will accompany him on the wings. Over time, Early could work into the rotation at the 3 as well, but at least in the season’s early stages, Travis Outlaw may get the nod over the rookie for those spot minutes.

According to general manager Steve Mills after the Knicks traded for Outlaw and Quincy Acy (via Ian Begley of ESPN New York), Outlaw is “a mobile big that can play the 4 and the 5. He’s got a great mid-range shot. I think he’ll fit within sort of the triangle. He’s got good hands, he can space the floor and he’s got great size.”

Outlaw has averaged under 15 minutes per game over the last three seasons and will likely only be capable of spot minutes if Fisher opts not to overwork Anthony in the season’s early going. After impressing in the summer league, though, and after more practice time with Fisher’s triangle offense, it’s easy to see Early earning a role behind Anthony and the other wings. 

Acy is another player who adds depth at the position but probably won’t make all that much of an impact. He’s been an energy guy throughout his brief NBA career and by all accounts a likable teammate. He’s averaged 13 minutes per game over his two pro seasons, and judging by the talent the Knicks have at the 3, that number may decrease by the time this season is over. 

How the complete rotation at small forward ends up largely depends on Fisher’s plans for Anthony and what position he sees him fitting best in the triangle. Talent-wise, though, like last season, the position projects to be a strength for New York.

 

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Breaking Down Toronto Raptors’ Power Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

By re-signing Patrick Patterson and picking up the 2014-15 option on Tyler Hansbrough, the Raptors have maintained their depth at power forward and provided insurance for Amir Johnson should he miss any games next season. 

The emergence of Patterson off the bench as a viable option in a post-Rudy Gay world gave head coach Dwane Casey peace of mind should anything have happened to his 27-year-old starter. Hansbrough provided the physical play around the basket while Patterson was more of a finesse big, stretching the floor with an efficient mid-range game and three-point shot.

It was a mix of styles that worked. 

Now locked in to a new three-year deal worth $18 million, Paterson can continue to be the Raptors’ primary weapon for the second unit while Hansbrough, who’s set to make $3.3 million of his own, remains on as more of an enforcer. 

The question now is whether or not their roles will need to expand in order to preserve the long-term health of Johnson. If the 2013-14 season showed us anything, it’s that Johnson’s never-say-die attitude may ultimately catch up with him. 

 

Grading Last Year’s Performance 

If we were simply analyzing Johnson’s intangibles and putting aside what he accomplished statistically, we’d probably be holding his past season in much higher regard. 

A bothersome ankle began troubling him in January and consistently held him back for several months thereafter. Johnson even admitted to letting his injury deter him from doing things that would normally come naturally, per Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun (h/t Zarar Siddiqi of Raptors Republic).

“Just certain movements on the floor,” he said. “I feel like I can make a move and then I can’t just because I’m babying it. Just little stuff like being able to box out a defender and go grab the ball and do other stuff. That nagging pain is just bothering me.”

The decline in his numbers while still maintaining his steady workload raised even more red flags. 

Whether it was the heart of a champion or just being stubborn, Johnson always went against better judgement and played through the pain. As any true competitor would, the nine-year veteran felt he would bring more value on the floor than sitting on the sidelines with ice and tape around his ankle.

DeMar DeRozan has a great deal of respect for the tenacity Johnson shows night in and night out, per Holly McKenzie of Sports on Earth

He lays his heart on the line every time he steps out there. No matter if he’s hurt, or if he barely can walk. He feels like he’s obligated to always be out there with his teammates and give it all he’s got. You’ve got to appreciate a guy like that. I really respect that because he could have every excuse in the world, but he will never bring it up. Ever.

Wonky ankle or not, Johnson’s decision-making was also under fire as he fell in love with a three-point shot that was nowhere near ready to be a regular part of his repertoire. 

The good did outweigh the bad, though. Johnson finished 16th in the NBA in the “Real Plus Minus” metric, which tells you how much better a team played on both offense and defense with a certain player on the floor, per ESPN.com. His defensive (3.1) and offensive (3.2) win shares were also third and fourth on the team. 

His dedication to his teammates and the organization as a whole was demonstrated through his sheer disregard for his body. It was an admirable quality, yet one that left you on pins and needles every time he came crashing down on the hardwood. 

Patterson found a resurgence north of the border after withering away in Sacramento. It was a transformation that many didn’t foresee, but were more than pleased to have occur. 

Unlike Johnson, Patterson’s skill at knocking down daggers from behind the arc was apparent on far more an occasion. Defenders had to keep their eye on the University of Kentucky alumnus from 20 feet and beyond because he would make them pay dearly otherwise. 

Greivis Vasquez was looked at as the crown jewel of the seven-player deal with the Kings, yet Patterson was the one to take the bull by the horns and elevate his standing. 

He came through in a big way against the Brooklyn Nets in Toronto’s first-round playoff matchup, averaging 10.4 points on 54.2 percent shooting in 28.2 minutes of action. The “Patman” also chipped in 6.7 boards, a 1.6 rebound increase over his season average.

Hansbrough would swipe your lunch money, suplex you through a table, then pick up your lifeless corpse and do it again.

There was never a ball out of reach when he was under the rim. If guys were banging down low, you could bet your bottom dollar that Hansbrough was somewhere in the mix. 

His 185 free throw attempts were more than two full-time starters in Johnson (143) and guard Terrence Ross (98). He perfected the art of getting to the charity stripe by tossing his own body around and creating contact almost all of the time. 

A lengthy absence due to a bum ankle cost him minutes in the rotation while others, including Patterson, got more opportunities. 

Final Grade: B

 

What Can We Expect? 

Barring some sort of major injury (knock on wood), Johnson will remain the starting power forward of the Toronto Raptors with Patterson as his primary backup and Hansbrough as the No. 3 option. 

There will be times where Johnson suits up at center when either Jonas Valanciunas is in foul trouble or the team decides to play small ball. It would befit the team to have those circumstances be few and far between to help keep Johnson away from some of the NBA’s larger bigs.

He even reiterated in a recent interview on CityTV in Toronto that his ankles are “perfectly fine,” inspiring confidence in those who needed further reassurance. 

The chances of there ever being a controversy of who should start at the 4 are slim to none, although National NBA Featured Columnist Adam Fromal of Bleacher Report may tell you otherwise. He ranked Patterson at No. 20 in his “B/R NBA 200: Ranking the Top Power Forwards of 2013-14 Season” piece back in May. Johnson was nowhere to be found:

Patterson is by no means a glamorous player, but he’s a workhorse who plays within his own limitations. The development of a more potent three-point stroke in Toronto helped turn his 2013-14 campaign around, and defenses have to pay attention to him when his jumper is starting to heat up.

Should an injury do occur and Patterson is asked to step up as replacement in the lineup, he’ll do so with a confident attitude and the full support of a team that continues to rally around him and urge him to shoot the basketball, per Stephen Brotherston of ProBBallReport.com:

(Confidence is from) coaches, coaching staff, teammates just telling me to shoot the ball. Whether I’m missing three or four or I’m hot, just shoot the ball, take advantage of my opportunities out there and just having a good relationship with my head coach. I am definitely thankful that (Coach Casey) is a Kentucky alum so we have that type of relationship and we get along well. Whenever you get along well with your teammates and your coaching staff, it makes everything a lot easier and when you are knocking down your shots, you are going to play better.

 

At the end of the day, the likes of DeRozan, Valanciunas, Ross and Kyle Lowry are all ahead in the pecking order. The offense runs through the guards and that’s not going to change.

No one is going to complain, though. While power forward may be one of the most star-studded positions in the league today, the Raptors get by just fine without a big name like LaMarcus Aldridge or highlight-reel machine like Blake Griffin

Can Johnson’s ankles survive another season? All signs point to yes, but the minute we hear a peep saying otherwise, you’ll probably see him try to downplay things yet again.

This will be Patterson’s first full season as a Raptor after playing just 48 games in the red and white last year. He earned his contract and will look to show that the best is yet to come. I would’t bet against him. 

Hansbrough‘s role will continue to be short and sweet, playing spot minutes when called upon.

Depth is only viable if everyone is around to provide it. The Raptors have it in spades at power forward until the superhero antics of Johnson bite him in the butt.

Let’s hope it never comes to that. 

 

Christopher Walder is considered by many to be the “songbird of his generation” and the greatest center to have never played professional, collegiate, high school, house league or pickup basketball. His work has been published on Bleacher Report, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated, FanSided and several other online outlets. You may follow him on Twitter at @WalderSports26.

Unless noted otherwise, all statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or ESPN.com. 

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Michigan Basketball Recruiting: Breaking Down Wolverines’ 2016 Wish List

Michigan coach John Beilein is always on the prowl for talent.

At the moment, he has Jon Teske, a 6’11”, 210-pound center, in his back pocket for 2016. According to Verbal Commits, the Wolverines coach has nine open offers and two slots to fill for his next class.

With that said, Beilein’s almost guaranteed to get his pick of the litter. What’s not to like about the 9-2 ratio?

Now onto the disclaimer: This slideshow will highlight five of the Wolverines’ top targets—or “wish-listers”—based on team need, player fit, overall skill and the almighty popularity factor. 

Almost every coach wants the big-time, headlining 5-star kid. Whether or not said player’s “right” for the team is often overshadowed by “Who cares?! He’s a freak athlete! He’s the next…”

One of those guys will be on this list.

Begin Slideshow

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Breaking Down Atlanta Hawks’ Shooting Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

Shooting guard looks like a stable if unspectacular position for the Atlanta Hawks in 2014-15.

Last year’s starter, Kyle Korver, is back for another season with the team. Korver’s dead-eye three-point shooting ability will provide Atlanta’s first string with the spacing necessary to run its offense well.

But who will support Korver at the position?

The front office’s offseason moves will undoubtedly affect the Hawks’ production at shooting guard as it compares to last year. Gone is Louis Williams, who the team traded to the Toronto Raptors in order to clear cap space. The Hawks also brought in Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore in free agency, both of whom have played primarily shooting guard throughout their careers.

How will Sefolosha and Bazemore factor into the 2-guard position? Will Korver reach the 34 minutes per game he played last season? Are there any dark-horse shooting guards to look out for? We’ll answer these questions and many more in this article.

But first, let’s take a look at how the Hawks shooting guards performed last year.

 

Grading the Hawks Shooting Guards in 2013-14

Below is a table presenting the statistics of the team’s shooting guard production versus its opponents last season.

As you can see, the Hawks shooting guards performed a little bit worse than their counterparts in 2013-14. But considering what the team had to work with, that is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Korver was a straight-up sniper last year, as he always is. He led the NBA in three-point field-goal percentage (.472) and shot at least 40 percent from downtown in each month of the season. 

Just let that second statistic sink in.

In the month Korver was the coldest from three-point land (April), he still made two out of every five treys he shot. If he had sustained that success rate over the entire season, he still would have placed ahead of knockdown shooters Dirk Nowitzki, J.J. Redick and Kevin Durant in three-point accuracy.

However, Korver was by no means an excellent all-around player last year. He was a willing defender, but his below-average athleticism prevented him from being a stopper on that end. He was also a solid passer but rarely created his own shots.

After Korver, the Hawks tabbed a hodgepodge of players at the 2-guard position, but nobody established himself as the clear second-string shooting guard.

Williams and Shelvin Mack were the best shooting guards off the bench, but neither had the size to play the position at a consistently high level. Williams, known as a microwave off the bench, averaged just 15.6 points per 36 minutes in a down year by his standards. Mack’s best minutes came when he played point guard.

Cartier Martin and to a lesser extent John Jenkins also chipped in some minutes at 2-guard. Neither was a true difference-maker, though.

This was a relative position of weakness for the Hawks in 2013-14, but Korver’s ability to perfectly fit the floor-spacer role keeps the grade respectable.

Overall Grade: C

 

How Did the Offseason Change the Shooting Guard Rotation?

First, let’s look at the shooting guards the Hawks will be missing from last year’s rotation, Williams and Martin.

Williams, who played 34 percent of the team’s minutes at shooting guard, per 82games, was traded to the Raptors to clear cap space for the Hawks. Martin, who signed a contract with the Detroit Pistons this summer, mainly played small forward but still logged 6 percent of Atlanta’s minutes at 2-guard last year.

The signings of both Bazemore and Sefolosha will easily offset the loss of the aforementioned players.

Bazemore is a high-energy all-around player who possesses the size (6’5″) at shooting guard that neither Williams (6’2″) nor Mack (6’3″) could supply for the Hawks last year. He’s still only 25 years old and eager to prove he has a place as a valuable contributor in the NBA.

The 30-year-old Sefolosha is a long defender accustomed to high-pressure situations (78 career playoff games) and to playing as a starter (407 starts) from his tenure with the Oklahoma City Thunder. If he can be more consistent with his on-and-off jump shot, the Hawks will have a valuable 3-and-D player off the bench.

 

What Will the Shooting Guard Rotation Look Like in 2014-15?

At 33 years old, Korver played arguably the greatest basketball of his career last year under Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, as Grantland‘s Zach Lowe pointed out.

Lowe said the following about Korver:

No coach has unleashed the full breadth of Korver’s game like Budenholzer. Korver isn’t a traditional pick-and-roll player; he can’t dribble the ball 25 feet to the rim, juking dudes along the way. But Budenholzer has tailored a sort of hybrid species of pick-and-roll to his secret star — a high-speed curling action in which Korver takes a pitch or a handoff, probes the defense with a dribble or two, and makes the next pass from there:

The spacing Korver provides for the starting unit and his newfound ball-handling chops keep him as a lock for the first unit.

After Korver, things get a bit interesting.

Sefolosha is accustomed to playing shooting guard, but that’s mostly because the Thunder had four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant manning the small forward position. The new Hawk’s skill set is better suited to the 3, where he can spell starter DeMarre Carroll, whose game resembles Sefolosha’s. 

That leaves Bazemore, Mack and Jenkins as the three main candidates to seize the backup shooting guard job.

We can first eliminate Mack, who demonstrated at the end of last season that point guard is clearly his best position. As 82games shows, he was a totally different player when he initiated the second unit’s offense.

I predict that Bazemore will take the second-string shooting guard slot over Jenkins. Although Jenkins is a fantastic outside shooter, Bazemore can offer the Hawks help in more areas, such as defense. I’m willing to bet DeMarre Carroll still remembers getting his layup attempt swatted away by his future teammate last season. 

Jenkins will settle in as the third-string 2-guard without much competition, barring roster moves.

 

Conclusion

With Korver, Bazemore and Jenkins in the rotation and Thabo Sefolosha and Shelvin Mack getting spot duty, the shooting guard position is not one the Hawks need to be worrying about too much heading into 2014-15, unlike last season.

The Hawks should definitely be preparing for a serious ascent up the Eastern Conference standings with the help of their new position of strength.

                                                          

Playing-Time Predictions

Kyle Korver: 31 minutes per game (24 at shooting guard)

Kent Bazemore: 22 minutes (17 at SG)  

John Jenkins: 12 minutes (10 at SG)

Thabo Sefolosha: 24 minutes (six at SG)   

Shelvin Mack: 20 minutes (two at SG)     

 

Note: All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.      

                                                                                                         

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Breaking Down Portland Trail Blazers Center Position for 2014-15 Season

Despite such a successful, turnaround season, the Portland Trail Blazers had one of the worst frontcourts in the NBA last season. It was largely to do with inexperience and a lack of development, with a youthful rotation of Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland backing up the starters.

The center position was no doubt the weakest part of the team last year, but the addition of Chris Kaman in free agency gives Portland a much stronger rotation down low. There’s still work to be done, but the Blazers can be a little more confident about their men in the middle going into next season.

 

Looking Back to Last Season

Portland made a huge leap during the 2013-14 season, making a 21-game improvement to launch into the upper echelon of the Western Conference. The team was largely the same, save for one addition.

A competent and efficient two-way center in Robin Lopez.

The Blazers finally had a decent contributor to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt, who offered exactly what the team needed. Lopez’s passing, defense and rebounding were the missing pieces to Portland’s puzzle, resulting in a major turnaround.

Lopez’s defensive rating of 103.7 for last season, per NBA.com, outdid former Blazers center J.J. Hickson‘s rating of 107.5 from the 2012-13 season. Playing career-high minutes, Lopez pitched in 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.

In addition, Portland jumped from No. 21 (tie) in rebounding percentage for the 2012-13 season to No. 7 for last season. While Hickson remains an able-bodied player in his own right, Lopez does that little bit extra.

Dane Carbaugh of AYoungSabonis.com summed it up well: “Lopez does a number of things well for Portland that Hickson did not. Lopez is a hard worker around the rim, a fundamentally sound post player who keeps a hand on his man and squares his hips to box out as shots go up. The result is that teammates are now rebounding at a greater rate.”

In short, improving the center position turned a lottery-bound team into a fringe contender.

There are other factors to be considered, such as the players adjusting to head coach Terry Stotts’ system and the improvement of Damian Lillard. But nothing made a bigger difference than having a more complete roster with the likes of Lopez on board.

It is probable that Portland would not have gone as far as it did without Lopez last season.

The reserve big men, on the other hand, were either underdeveloped or were lacking in skill against the competition. Robinson and Leonard were both lottery picks of the 2012 draft, picked No. 5 and No. 11, respectively. 

Neither has grown into the player many expected, with flaws found in scouting reports becoming fleshed-out issues. Robinson’s lack of offensive moves became glaring, while Leonard’s confidence issues and court awareness have limited his playing time.

The duo posted less-than-average player efficiency ratings of 14.2 and 9.5, respectively, for last season, per ESPN.com. The coaching staff had their hands tied when it came to substituting players behind Aldridge and Lopez, opting to play a smaller lineup to move away from the inconsistency of Robinson and Leonard.

It was to the extent that a 13-game absence of Aldridge, due to injury, led to Stotts starting small forward Dorell Wright in his place at power forward and playing a very undersized lineup. 

Both had their moments, but it was too erratic to truly value either’s contributions.

Lest we forget the play of Freeland, who actually offered some form of regular help. A sprained MCL derailed much of his season, but the big man put forward 3.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game with a rebound rate of 15.4, per ESPN.com’s John Hollinger, which was solid and ranked ahead of even Lopez.

While it’s more than likely due to Freeland playing in garbage time, it still points to his value as a player to crash the boards. 

If the center position could receive some sort of grade, it’d fall under a high C to a low B, at best. Lopez was terrific in his own right, but the lack of help all around in the middle was a major flaw in the makeup of the team.

As such, Portland’s frontcourt needed a desperate upgrade. That was the central focus of the Blazers’ offseason, as the front office signed Kaman to a two-year deal worth $4.8 million in the first season.

It’s fairly certain what the big man can offer, and it’s exactly what Portland needs.

 

Looking Forward to the 2014-15 Season

Kaman spent last season with the Los Angeles Lakers in a campaign that’s hard to label. The team wasn’t competitive or rebuilding, but rather just playing it out without purpose. 

Injuries were obviously a factor, with 16 players starting five or more games. Kaman himself was limited to 39 games, but there were also nights where he and Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni butted heads.

The big man received sporadic playing time over the course of the season, which contrasted to what Kaman expected when he signed in Los Angeles. Per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

I’m just going to take the high road and do the right thing, but it’s definitely not what I was told coming in here. Obviously, I would have never came here if they had said, ‘We’re not going to play you at all.’ I thought I had a good opportunity coming here. 

It’s frustrating and I want to be able to try to help if I can, you know? And I really, truly think I can, but it’s not up to me.

There was even a point of the season that Kaman had not spoken to D’Antoni in almost three weeks.

Jeez.

It’s safe to predict that won’t be the case with the Blazers, as the team has an obvious need for his services in the post.

Kaman put up respectable numbers for a reserve center for the Lakers, with 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds on 50.9 percent shooting. His numbers are potentially inflated under D’Antoni‘s uptempo system, as he played just 18.9 minutes per game.

Either way, it’s clear what he can offer to Portland.

His low-post scoring, mid-range shooting and passing are staples of what the Blazers do offensively, so he’ll fit right in. Kaman isn’t a stopper defensively, though he does have quick feet and averaged a blocked shot per game last season.

As such, he’ll be the primary backup for either spot in the frontcourt. Whether Lopez or Aldridge heads to the bench, Kaman will be inserted to keep the Blazers’ engine running. Robinson showed flashes of improvement in the summer league, averaging 13.7 points on 50 percent shooting with 8.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.3 steals.

But the level of competition in the NBA and the summer league is extremely different, so it’s important to take Robinson’s play with a grain of salt. Basically, it’s encouraging, but we shouldn’t expect anything overwhelming too soon.

Robinson is a power forward, to be sure, but can slide over to play center should injuries occur. It won’t be his primary position, though, as Kaman, Freeland and Leonard will back up Lopez at the 5.

And in that order.

Leonard’s slow development can be expected to a certain extent, as he was a sophomore at Illinois when he was drafted. He’s still just 22 years of age despite two professional NBA seasons, and big men have a tendency to develop late.

With Kaman on board, it’ll relieve a ton of pressure on Leonard to become an instant contributor off the bench. An even lesser role in the rotation has the potential to stunt his growth, but it’s the best thing for him at this point.

Freeland will do nicely as a secondary reserve, coming in to do the dirty work and close quarters strong after Kaman and Robinson have played.

As a whole, the center position for the Blazers is much stronger compared to last season. The only thing that has changed is the addition of Kaman, but it already looks potent with a depth chart of Lopez, Kaman, Freeland and Leonard.

Respect is due to the latter two for their contributions, but both will now be in roles where their services are matched appropriately. Neither will be tested to perform outside their capabilities on a nightly basis and instead can rest easy and hopefully improve with shorter, more efficient bursts of playing time.

It’s more than likely the rotation will change on a game-to-game basis, which will be subject to the opposition, as well.

If Portland faces a frontcourt-heavy squad like the Chicago Bulls, the scale would tip in favor of Lopez and Freeland with defense to limit the energetic play of Joakim NoahWhen the Blazers go against an uptempo team that thrives of swift offense, Kaman and Robinson can get in on the action and put their skills to good use. 

Compared to last season, Portland now has a respectable frontcourt that the coaching staff can rely on. It only needed a mild tweak, which the Blazers found in Kaman. His mid-level deal will see him play plenty of minutes, as it’d be nonsensical to sign him for such an amount without a cemented role in mind.

It’ll mean Robinson, Freeland and Leonard will battle for minutes, while keeping in mind that each player offers something different depending on the opposing team. Robinson’s athleticism is polar opposite to Freeland’s low-to-the-ground play, but both will be useful traits for the Blazers at different points of the season.

In any case, Portland can be much more confident in its frontcourt rotation and the team that is put forward to compete. The Blazers made great progress but will absolutely look to go further and deeper in the playoffs.

Having a more complete roster is essential in doing so, and that’s something Portland now has with strong and fundamental depth at the center position.

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Breaking Down NY Knicks’ Shooting Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

The New York Knicks go into 2014-15 with a strong shooting guard rotation, having steadily added talent at the position for the past few years.

With Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr., the Knicks have no shortage of talent at the 2, but the trio need to collectively take the next step if the team is to reach its potential this season.

Let’s break down the position, grading last year’s performance, what has changed this offseason and what we should expect from the group in 2014-15.

 

Last Year’s Performance

The 2013-14 season was a mixed bag for New York’s shooting guards. Hardaway was a pleasant surprise, making the All-Rookie First Team after being drafted at No. 24 overall. Meanwhile, though, Shumpert completely lost his confidence on both ends of the floor, and until very late in the campaign, Smith was playing the worst basketball of his career.

Hardaway struggled to get minutes early on, with Mike Woodson instead deferring to Shumpert, Smith and the occasional lineup with two point guards. Eventually, though, with the rookie shooting 40 percent from deep in the first half of the season, he was given a more significant role in the rotation.

In the second half, Hardaway‘s three-point shooting dropped to 34 percent, but he raised his per game scoring from 8.2 points to 12.2 points. This can primarily be attributed to a nine-minute increase in playing time per game.

All things considered, Hardaway was the most consistent of the Knicks’ shooting guards, but his contributions came almost exclusively on the offensive end as a spot-up shooter.

For Shumpert, 2013-14 was a year to forget. Besides two huge games against the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets in January, he was essentially non-existent. 

Shumpert averaged 6.7 points per game on 38 percent shooting for the year, marking the worst statistical season of his three-year career. Even on the defensive end, where Shumpert had previously made a name for himself, he struggled, often making silly mistakes and never shutting players down the way we’re used to seeing from him.

For a while, Smith was even worse than Shumpert. Where Shumpert failed to make an impact, Smith was actively making the team worse in the first half, putting his immaturity on full display. He missed the first five games with suspension, had the infamous shoelace incident and even refused to shoot at all against the Boston Celtics after being called out by Woodson for his poor shot selection.

Typically, the Knicks put up with his antics because he’s one of the better sixth men in the NBA, but it wasn’t even remotely acceptable behaviour for a player who shot under 40 percent for most of the season.

Towards the end, we were reminded just how big a talent Smith is, as he averaged 20.9 points on 49 percent shooting in the last 13 games, setting a Knicks record for three-pointers in a game (10) against the Miami Heat along the way.

Overall, the Knicks’ shooting guards get a C for their performance last season. Besides Hardaway, they were at the core of the team’s struggles and were nowhere near as good as their talent dictates they should have been.

 

What’s Changed?

The Knicks have made no changes at shooting guard going into 2014-15, but moves elsewhere in the organization should have a big impact on their performance.

First of all, the arrival of Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher should help. It’s not a coincidence that the Knicks (especially Smith) turned things around a little bit once the Zen Master arrived in March.

There will be struggles with a rookie head coach, but Fisher is known for his leadership ability and should be able to restore Shumpert‘s confidence. Fisher already appears to have a good relationship with Hardaway from their time together at summer league.

On the court, the addition of Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin has bolstered the point guard position, which will have a positive effect on everyone. It gives the 2s a better chance of being found when open and also gives opposing defenses more to worry about in the backcourt.

It’s also worth noting that both Shumpert and Smith had knee surgeries going into last season, which undoubtedly had an impact on their performance. They’ve now had more time to rest and should come into 2014-15 refreshed and at full strength.

For Hardaway, his summer has been more about improvement than recovery. Based on his play in summer league, he’s a lot bigger and has found ways to be effective offensively outside of just shooting. He was getting to the rim a lot more often and even took a bit of a leadership role as one of the “veterans” of the team.

 

Previewing 2014-15

As we’ve established, the Knicks have a lot of talent in their backcourt, and now that they’re back at full strength under a new regime, we should see them capitalize on that talent.

We can only expect so much consistency from Smith, but it’s worth noting that he has a player option in 2015 and typically steps up in a contract year. He should be seeing this season as an opportunity to earn a pay rise on the open market.

Smith also has a fair amount of momentum behind him after his strong finish to last season and will surely want to impress his new coach and president as he looks to win a starting role.

It’s difficult to predict production for a player like Smith, but it wouldn’t be particularly surprising for his numbers to get close to where they were during his Sixth Man of the Year Award-winning 2012-13 season.

For Hardaway, we should see some steady improvement as he diversifies his offensive game, finding ways to score from inside as well as beyond the three-point line. We should expect his numbers to increase across the board, but just how much they increase depends on his minutes. At the very least, 12 points a night and 38 percent three-point shooting sounds reasonable.

The biggest question mark at shooting guard is Shumpert. For many, he is New York’s marquee prospect, but he’s faced a lot of injuries three years into his career and frankly hasn’t shown much by way of improvement since his rookie season.

Ideally, the fresh start under Fisher and Jackson will restore Shump’s confidence, and he’ll re-emerge as one of the league’s best young defenders, hit his open shots more often and assert himself more on both ends.

For a while now, it’s looked like there would eventually be an odd man out for the Knicks at shooting guard, and this season should bring that to a conclusion. 

Hardaway is on the most reasonable contract, has had the least health issues and has already been described as “virtually untouchable” (via ESPN), so he’s almost certain to stay long-term.

With the Knicks looking to save as much money as possible for free agency in 2015, they should strongly consider moving Smith or Shumpert at the trade deadline. They will struggle to afford to pay them both and still make a run at the likes of Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and Paul Millsap.

Shumpert‘s defensive ability and youth make him favourable to Smith, and if he returns to form this season, you’d have to think he’s the player the Knicks will opt to keep. Of course, they will still need Smith to perform so that he either plays himself into a new contract elsewhere or at least has a number of willing suitors for a trade.

This is an important year for the Knicks’ shooting guards. The franchise is in a period of transition, and this is no more evident than here, where the future of the position will likely be decided based on performances in 2014-15.

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