Warriors’ Starting Small Forward Decision More Complicated Than It Seems

When your starting five registers a net rating of plus-15.4 over 819 regular-season minutes—as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut did for the Golden State Warriors a season ago*—you think it’d be best to leave well enough alone. 

The Dubs’ golden unit is good enough to single-handedly put them in the playoffs. Given the right breaks, it could be what carries them to an NBA championship.

But when it comes to who mans the starting small forward slot, the truth—as in any seemingly sublime relationship—is a bit more complicated.

This is no knock on Andre Iguodala. As the team’s best defender and foremost emotional leader, the 10-year veteran is the definition of “indispensable.” For the Warriors to reach their full potential, however, head coach Steve Kerr must not merely choose rotational convention over better depth.

The crux of the issue is as follows: By bringing Iguodala off the bench, Golden State would have a proven leader and playmaker to bolster what has been one of the league’s most woeful second units.

Meanwhile, starting Harrison Barnes—whose struggles last season were well-documented—could give the third-year forward a much-needed jolt of confidence. That in turn would help bolster Barnes’ value for any potential trade, something that’s been often discussed in the Warriors’ front office.

There’s certainly something to be said about tethering Barnes to Golden State’s stars as often as possible. Per NBA.com (subscription required), the three five-man units in which Barnes was included and that registered a positive net rating over a minimum of 50 minutes all included at least three regular Warriors starters.

It’s the definition of a “risk-reward” scenario. On the one hand, you know what you’re getting with Iguodala in the starting lineup. On the other, how can you know what you might have in Barnes unless you give him more minutes?

The idea of Iguodala as bench ballast was given an early boost during a recent preseason blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Afterward, Kerr told the San Jose Mercury News’ Diamond Leung that he wouldn’t rule out the 2012 Olympic gold-medal winner as a possible sixth-man extraordinaire.

“I thought Andre was brilliant, and I don’t know that (coming off the bench is) the route we’re going to go, but he solidified that unit,” Kerr said. “And our lead went up when we subbed in, which was encouraging.

For his part, Iguodala was a bit more circumspect when asked about the possibility, telling Leung:

It’s just playing ball, you know? You try not to make a big deal out of it. I think we know the depth we have and how many guys we can put out there on the floor, which should help us stay fresh throughout the year. It could be anyone’s night. Coaches continue to reiterate that fact that it could be anyone’s night at any given time, so be patient if that night’s not your night and just go with the flow.

During the 2013-14 season, it wasn’t uncommon see Iguodala serve as a primary ball-handler behind Stephen Curry; that’s how shallow Golden State’s backcourt was (Steve Blake being the only other true point guard in the regular rotation).

The addition of Shaun Livingston—signed to a full mid-level exception of a little over $5 million back in July—certainly changes that equation for the better. Still, beyond Curry and Livingston, Kerr’s only real ball-handler is rookie Aaron Craft, a hard-nosed but physically limited player coming off a woeful stint in the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues.

That’s not to say Iguodala’s only role would be running the reserves show, of course; the installation of Kerr’s triangle offense arguably makes the team’s positional makeup even more moot. Besides, there’s still the matter of that age-old basketball adage: It’s not who starts but who finishes that truly counts.

At the same time, As SB Nation’s Drew Garrison recently underscored, swapping Iguodala and Barnes isn’t a risk-free proposition:

This does represent a long-term trade-off for Golden State, though. Iguodala is one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders and the Warriors will need their defensive stopper as a starter during the postseason. If the Warriors rely on Iguodala leading the bench unit through the regular season, this could cause rotation issues if they shift him back into the starting lineup for the playoffs. He also fits nicely alongside the starting unit, complementing Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry on the wings and providing the kind of defensive support on the perimeter that David Lee and Andrew Bogut need in front of them.

Will Kerr stick with this newfound role for Iguodala? Time will tell, but giving it a chance and seeing how his Warriors respond to the lineup shift is a worthwhile preseason exercise if nothing else.

The idea of leveraging more minutes in order to massage Barnes’ trade value wasn’t conceived in a vacuum. With the team’s salaries already maxed out and both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green—a bench revelation in his own right—due extensions over the next 12 months, it’s incumbent upon Golden State to cleave open as much cap space as possible.

Green adds yet another wrinkle to the Warriors’ small forward logjam, what with the third-year forward already being talked about as a possible replacement for the defensively limited David Lee as the team’s starting power forward.

Still, despite logging only 14 percent of his team’s minutes at the 3, Green’s impact—the Warriors registered a plus-8.2 with him as the small forward according to 82games.com—is enough to at least make Kerr consider what a Green-Lee, Green-Iguodala or Green-Barnes forward duo might look like.

Whatever Kerr’s ultimate decision is, it should be neither pressing nor permanent, which is a luxury one can afford when wielding one of the league’s deeper teams.

Sensational as Golden State’s starting unit was a season ago, it’s impossible not to see the end result—a disappointing first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers—as reason enough for a bit of tweaking and tinkering.

Even if the five that finish—Iggy included—are as much a certainty as Sunday Mass at the Vatican.

 

*Stat courtesy of NBA.com (subscription required).

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Elite forward Elijah Thomas picks A&M over SMU, Illinois

Elijah Thomas picked Texas A&M over LSU, Illinois, SMU and Oklahoma State.

      
 

 

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K-State forward Karapetyan decides to transfer (Yahoo Sports)

Kansas State forward Jack Karapetyan (34) blocks a shot by Pittsburg State Connor Kier (33) during the first half of an exhibition NCAA college basketball game in Manhattan, Kan., Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. Kansas State defeated Pittsburg State 75-54. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State forward Jack Karapetyan has decided to transfer after playing in just six games during his freshman season last year because of a foot injury.


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Breaking Down Brooklyn Nets Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

The small forward spot is becoming an increasingly perplexing position in today’s NBA, especially when it pertains to the Brooklyn Nets.

Some small forwards bring the ball up. Others play in the paint. Then there are the three-point launchers who eat and sleep out on the perimeter.

The 3 has really become a wild card in terms of lineup configurations.

Last season, the Nets played small ball after starting center Brook Lopez went out for the year with a broken foot 17 games in.

After that, Kevin Garnett shared center duties with Mason Plumlee, Paul Pierce jumped to power forward, Joe Johnson slid down to small forward and Shaun Livingston joined Deron Williams in the backcourt.

But that was under Jason Kidd, who fled Brooklyn for the Milwaukee Bucks after just one year. Things will be different under new coach Lionel Hollins, who talked to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News about what he expects from his team:

I wasn’t trying to watch what they did because it’s really not the same team and what I want to do is different from what they did in the past. So, it wasn’t like I was trying to figure out what they did (last season). And I had a vision of what this team could look like with the personnel we have.

We’re trying to develop a foundation of what we’re going to be defensively, and what we’re trying to be offensively. It’s all the same. It’s not like I have some special magic that I’m trying to get them to do. You create a mentality, you create a culture of being aggressive and being tough.

Bondy noted back on September 27th that Hollins had already locked in on four starters: Williams, Johnson, Garnett and Lopez.

Johnson, who had played shooting guard for 12 years before last season, could see minutes at both the 2 and the 3 under Hollins.

Outside of Iso Joe, the Nets are looking at a SF rotation that could include rookie Bojan Bogdanovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic and Sergey Karasev.

Now, all those guys aren’t going to play (we’re looking at you, Sergey). And the ones that do aren’t going to exclusively line up at the 3—for example, AK-47 and Teletovic are likely to see a good chunk of minutes at power forward.

Let’s put the Nets’ small forward position under a microscope and really dig in, shall we?

 

Grading Last Year’s SF Performance

Basketball-Reference.com listed Johnson as a shooting guard last year. So did ESPN.

Well…he was, wasn’t he? Yes and no.

As mentioned before, Johnson took Pierce’s place at forward, but still handled the ball a fair amount and took the most shots on the team by a large margin—the next closest was D-Will, who was 302 shots behind JJ’s 1,018 attempts.

Johnson, as he’s always been, was a stud in 2013-14. The 33-year-old scored a team-high 15.8 points per game on 45.4 percent shooting while earning his seventh career All-Star nod. He also led the team in three-point shooting with an average of 40.1 from beyond the arc.

Playing a different position didn’t faze Johnson. Here’s what he told ESPN’s Mike Mazzeo on September 30: “I’ll never complain. I’m a basketball player, so whatever offense you wanna run, I’m capable of running it or adjusting to it. Whether you want me to be more of a catch-and-shoot guy or you want me to be more off-the-dribble, post-up, whatever you want me to do, I can do it.”

After Johnson came Anderson. If Johnson is a designer clothing brand, Anderson is Old Navy—while Double-A is far from glamorous, the 32-year-old veteran is a gritty defender who can knock down an occasional jumper if left open.

Anderson started 26 games for Brooklyn and contributed 7.2 points and 2.2 boards in about 23 minutes a game last year.

Johnson and Anderson were the team’s primary small forwards, with Teletovic mixing in some time at the 3 while mostly lining up as a power forward. In his second NBA season, the sharp-shooting Teletovic gave the Nets 8.6 points a night while hitting 41.8 percent of his attempts.

Finally, there was Kirilenko, whose decision to come to Brooklyn resulted in an investigation. Last summer, the Russian signed a two-year, $6.5 million deal with owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s Nets after opting out of a $10.2 million deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The NBA cleared the two parties of any wrongdoing, though. Just goes to show you that players will do anything to get out of Minnesota.

AK-47 was hurt for much of the year, dealing with some back spasms that just would not let up. He played just 45 games and averaged the worst scoring, rebounding, steals and block numbers of his 10-year career.

Kirilenko is in for a significantly bigger role with the Nets this season, though. If he can stay healthy, he’ll bounce back into the spark-plug utility player that he’s been his entire career.

Grade: B+

 

Will Bogdanovic start?

Hollins is presumably going to commit to a fifth starter in the very near future, given that the season is rapidly approaching.

Bogdanovic, Anderson and Kirilenko have run with the starters in the preseason, though AK-47 suffered a back injury that sidelined him after the second day of training camp.

The rookie from Croatia has started the for the Nets the entire preseason, including their most recent game, which was an experimental 44-minute exhibition against the Boston Celtics. He played a team-high 28 minutes on October 19.

All signs point to Bogdanovic earning a starting role.

Johnson is a significantly better ball-handler than the 25-year-old, so Bogdanovic would presumably line up as a small forward.

“I think he’s got great size, he’s also got great speed and quickness,” Hollins said of the overseas star, per Mazzeo. “He can shoot the ball, but also put the ball on the floor. He can post up. I’m looking for players. Players that have multiple skills and are not just one-dimensional.”

There’s certainly expected to be a learning curve, though. Here’s an excerpt from my recent piece that focused on the importance of Kirilenko early in the year:

In addition to the differences in court dimensions and ball texture, the rookie will be thrust into a new world of frequent traveling and a rigorous, physically grueling 82-game season.

In the meantime, Kirilenko’s play will become so much more important. Alan Anderson is the team’s only other legitimate option at the 3.

Kirilenko won’t necessarily fade as Bogdanovic, who will likely play some shooting guard and some small forward, progresses. He’ll still be an important piece of the Nets throughout the whole season.

The strong, 6’8″ Bogdanovic has looked capable of holding his own on the defensive end thus far, which would be the only area in which he’d lose points to Anderson.

If Kirilenko can stay healthy throughout the whole year—and steady the ship when the rookie’s ride gets bumpy—the Nets are going to be pretty deep at small forward, especially with Anderson working his way into the rotation.

 

Looking Ahead to 2014-15

Hollins is going to have a ton of options in how he handles the small forward rotation this season. If Bogdanovic starts with Johnson at SG, the veteran coach can substitute Kirilenko, Anderson or even Teletovic, depending on the situation.

The coach is determined to establish concrete roles for his players this season, something that Kidd struggled to do in his first year on the sidelines.

Here’s Newsday’s Roderick Boone with more:

In dealing with rookie coach Jason Kidd last season, some players clearly were frustrated by the lack of clarity regarding their role, which became more apparent during these first few days of training camp with Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko mentioning how they were unsure where they fit in Kidd’s scheme.

That doesn’t appear to be an issue under Hollins, who continues to lay the groundwork, getting a feel for his team so he can deliver an edict on precisely what he wants from each of them.

“I think that’s something coach talked about today,” Deron Williams said, “was kind of we haven’t talked about roles specifically this year. But they’ll be defined at some point during the preseason. I think that’s what this time is about, is finding out chemistry and what team we’re going to be like, what guys like to do.”

Obstacles are going to emerge throughout the year. It’s inevitable. Injuries, slumps, controversies, transactions—it’s going to happen.

But that’s out of Hollins’ control. Each player will have a role in Brooklyn, a niche carved out specifically for his own self. And that will provide the team with stability through the turmoil.

For Johnson, it’s likely to be scoring isolation. For Bogdanovic, it’ll be knocking down shots from the outside and providing instant offense. Kirilenko will be a spark plug and a safety net, a guy who’s reliable and can defend. Anderson will serve as a hard-nosed, scrappy defender.

All of Brooklyn’s options are versatile guys who can play different positions and bring a unique ability to the court.

The Nets are going to be just fine at small forward.

 

All stats are accurate courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com

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Chase Budinger Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz and Speculation on Timberwolves Forward

The Minnesota Timberwolves are making waves on the trade front for the second time in two months, though this one may not cause the same ripple effect around the NBA.     

According to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Timberwolves are fielding offers for Chase Budinger:

The Minnesota Timberwolves are shopping forward Chase Budinger in trade talks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Among talks with several teams, the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets have shown an interest, league sources said.

However, as Wojnarowski also notes, neither the Rockets nor Pistons are hungry to take on Budinger’s contract, which includes a $5 million player option for next season:

Houston is reluctant to take on the $5 million player option Budinger’s deal has in 2015-16, as are the Pistons, sources said. Nevertheless, the Pistons are taking a long look at Budinger and considering the possibility of making a deal. No trade is considered imminent for Budinger. 

Detroit lost shooting guard Jodie Meeks for two months because of a fractured back.

One reason the Timberwolves might be keen to get rid of Budinger, and why few teams will have interest, is because of his injury history. The 26-year-old has appeared in just 64 games since 2012-13, and he missed half of last season due to surgery on his left knee. 

Budinger addressed the topic of his health during the preseason, via the Timberwolves’ official public relations staff on Twitter:

Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press confirmed Budinger’s assessment of his health with this tweet from Minnesota’s training camp:

It’s not a surprise the Rockets would have interest in Budinger, however muted it might be due to his salary. The forward was drafted 44th overall by Detroit in the 2009 NBA draft before being traded to Houston. He spent three seasons with the Rockets and averaged 9.4 points per game. 

Budinger is a valuable bench piece to have if he can stay healthy. He’s shot 35.7 percent from three-point range in his career and shoots 80.6 percent from the free-throw line. Given the amount of time he’s missed since being traded to Minnesota, teams will need to see proof of a resurgence before biting on any deal. 

Fortunately, for Budinger and the Timberwolves, there is still time in the preseason and early in the regular season to show what he’s still capable of doing. If he establishes enough value in that time, then some team is more likely to bite on his salary. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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Should Quincy Acy Start at Power Forward for NY Knicks?

Quincy Acy didn‘t join the New York Knicks under any ill-considered illusions. He wasn’t in town, wearing orange and blue, to compete for a starting job. He was just there as an energetic role player who would scrap and claw for minutes he might not ever see.

Turns out that may have been the illusion.

To the surprise of everyone—including Acy—who doesn’t base depth-chart projections off beard length, Acy has emerged as the “leading candidate” to start at power forward for the Knicks, according to the New York Post‘s Marc Berman.

“No I didn’t plan on coming here to start,’’ Acy said. “I planned on coming here and playing hard to earn minutes. I guess I impressed enough with my defense to earn a spot. I don’t know what coach got going if I’m starting or coming off the bench or not playing, but I’ll be happy.’’

While Acy‘s busy being happy, the rest of us will sit in limbo somewhere between confused and composed.

Is this for real? Is Acy actually starting? Or are we being punked preseason-style?

 

Foundation for Truth 

This revelation doesn’t come completely out of the blue; Acy has started in the Knicks’ last three preseason games. It’s also not as if the team has a lot of other options.

Andrea Bargnani, who has been nursing a hamstring injury of late, is not the answer to anything. The Knicks would be far better off chaining him to the bench. Amar’e Stoudemire is a former star power forward, but if the Knicks value continuity, starting an injury-prone and minutes-capped player pushing 32 isn’t the ideal route.

After Bargnani and Stoudemire, there’s—well, there’s no one.

Neither Jason Smith nor Cole Aldrich can play power forward, and the Knicks are overrun with wings otherwise. Running smaller lineups will be an option throughout games, but Derek Fisher—and Phil Jackson by extension—appear hellbent on beginning with traditional setups.

Carmelo Anthony has spent the past few months under the guise that he’ll primarily play the 3 after two years of small ball, per ESPN New York’s Ohm Youngmisuk.

Indirectly naming Acy the starting power forward could be a way of trying to light a fire under Bargnani and Stoudemire, but it seems unlikely. There’s little reason to motivate Bargnani when he hasn’t even been playing, while the only things Stoudemire has going for him this side of 2010-11 are his work ethic and self-confidence. Plus, he hasn’t been given the chance to start yet.

Starting Acy has perhaps always been a more realistic option than most acknowledge given the dearth of alternatives. His endless supply of energy, meanwhile, has taken care of the rest.

There isn’t a play Acy takes off. He’s been one of the Knicks’ most active players during the preseason, running end to end, cleaning up the glass (five rebounds in 25.8 minutes per game), making his presence felt through effort and will.

And to that end, entertaining this idea is a nod to Acy‘s diligence, like NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin argued:

That has been the key — this feels a lot like how Kenneth Faried ended up a starter and key piece for Team USA at the World Cup. Injuries and defections opened the door for Faried, but his energy and rebounding turned out to be just what that team needed for glue and some inspiration.

Acy is bringing that to the Knicks this preseason —he goes all out every second he’s on the court. It’s not exactly something the Knicks have been known for in recent years. The Knicks traded for Acy this summer in a deal that was really more about dumping Wayne Ellington’s contract. Acy was seen as a slightly more efficient scorer than Jeremy Tyler plus a guy who busts it every time on the court.

Maintaing that animalistic work ethic makes Acy easy to like for coaches, players and fans. But the logic—even by the Knicks’ fluid, ever-changing standards—stops there.

 

On-Court Consequences

Standing at 6’7″, Acy is undersized for the 4. Anthony is listed as an inch taller, and the Knicks are trying to keep him at the 3.

Playing Acy at power forward further weakens their incompetent defensive attack. They finished 24th in efficiency last season, per NBA.com, and aren’t built to improve upon that mark by much, if at all.

Using Acy at the 4 actually pushes them in the wrong direction. The Sacramento Kings—with whom Acy appeared in 56 games last season—were noticeably worse with him on the floor, allowing 109.3 points per 100 possessions, the equivalent of having the league’s worst defense.

Being undersized, Acy isn’t going to block a lot of shots or protect the rim. Opponents connected on 52.7 percent of their attempts at the iron against him, according to NBA.com. That put him in the bottom half of individual rim protection among players who contested at least one shot per game and made 25 or more appearances.

The 24-year-old tweener is also foul-prone. He has wandering hands when defending isolations and post-ups, and he’s not quick enough to defend off the dribble. Guarding stretch forwards will be a problem because of their range; defending conventional bigs will be trying because of their size.

On the bright side, Acy isn’t supplanting a defensive sage. Stoudemire and Bargs don’t lock it down defensively either. Starting Acy merely reaffirms what’s already been suspected: New York isn’t going to play much defense.

But the Knicks do plan on scoring. That’s what the triangle is all about. For this team specifically it’s about promising Anthony the offensive help he’s never, ever enjoyed.

“I didn‘t want to have to do it night in and night out,” Anthony said ahead of the preseason, via Youngmisuk. ”I wanted some nights when somebody else can pick up the load. Right now, with the way we’re playing [in training camp], I don’t have to do everything.”

Inserting Acy into the starting lineup doesn’t keep in theme with the concept of providing help.

Per Berman, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Iman Shumpert and Anthony, in addition to Acy, are expected to round out the starting lineup. Only one of those five players is known for his scoring, and—surprise, surprise—it’s Anthony.

Dalembert isn’t a scorer by any means. Shumpert is a defensive weapon who sometimes scores but often goes stone cold. Calderon is easily the second-best scorer of this bunch, and his first instincts as a pass-first point guard are to defer.

More complicated still, this could-be starting lineup is a floor-spacing nightmare that only accentuates problems Jackson’s renowned triangle offense creates organically.

“The triangle is a famously complex offense, with numerous Goldberg-ian variations, and I will not claim to understand it in full,” writes Grantland’s Jason Concepcion. “Still, it’s clear that in emphasising post-up play, mid-range shots, and offensive rebounding, some tenets of the system are swimming against the tide of recent NBA trends.”

Replicating triangle systems of years past has never been an option. Not play-for-play. The modern-day demand for three-point shooting dictates they adjust the triangle’s foundation, even if only slightly.

That’s what they’ve done early on. The Knicks are attempting more than 20 threes a night during preseason play. Just three of Jackson’s Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers teams averaged more through their regular-season campaigns.

Catering to this need for distance shooting becomes almost impossible by starting Acy alongside his expected peers. He has three-point range in that he’ll shoot, but he’s jacked just 17 bombs over the last two seasons, hitting five.

Sense of Shumpert‘s career three-point splits—30.6/40.2/33.3 percent—is found only by those who mix Robitussin into their mayonnaise. Dalembert will sooner average 35 points per game than develop a dependable three-point stroke.

Anthony and Calderon would be the only reliable shooters, giving the Knicks two. That’s not the stuff successful offenses are made of in today’s three-point packed NBA.

Even if the Knicks were to focus on post and elbow touches, they would have issues. Most of Acy‘s and Dalembert’s career shot attempts—67.1 and 71.7 percent respectively—have come inside 10 feet. Anthony is the lone member of the predicted starting lineup familiar with scoring from the aforementioned locations.

If the Knicks plan on returning to the playoffs, they’ll need an elite offense. Rewarding Acy‘s tireless spirit with a starting spot, while admirable, doesn’t help them create one.

 

Real or Make Believe?

Pretending that we can read Fisher’s mind isn’t something worth pretending.

Regular-season basketball is still a ways off. There are still preseason games left to play; there are still questions left to be answered.

One such question still lies at power forward. There’s not sufficient evidence to guarantee Acy‘s role other than his streak of three consecutive starts. That’s it.

And while starting him helps bolster the Knicks’ second-string offense by (potentially) pinning Stoudemire, J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the bench unit, it doesn’t elevate the ceiling of the opening five. That alone is enough to warrant suspicion to the point of belief—the belief being New York’s starting power forward spot remains up for grabs.

 

*All stats are from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise cited.

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NCAA autonomy structure moves forward after avoiding override

The NCAA said 27 D-I members voted to override the board, far less than the 75 required.

      
 

 

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

There’s one thing we know for certain about the 2014-15 Miami Heat: They’re going to be a lot worse at power forward.

Last season, Miami had the luxury of trotting out the best player on God’s green earth at the 4. As you may have read, this is not an advantage Erik Spoelstra and company will have available to them any longer.

It goes without saying, but it bears repeating: LeBron James was a wrecking ball for the Heat. A freak. A monster. A dynamo. One of the greatest players in league history at his absolute zenith—the apex of his considerable powers.

There wasn’t a single component of the game he didn’t excel at. His package of skills was terrifying and unprecedented: the most efficient volume scorer in the sport who’s also a tremendous distributor, plus a canny rebounder and—when motivated—one of the game’s most disruptive defenders.

His game was amorphous. He was a Swiss army knife who could provide the Heat precisely the thing they needed every night out, whatever that thing was. There wasn’t, and isn’t, anyone else like him.

So Miami didn’t just get great play at the power forward position last season: It got, arguably, better play at the 4 than any team has received in decades, maybe ever. At best, this season will mark a substantial step backward.

(Brief aside: While it’s inarguable that James was tremendous for Miami, there is something of a running debate over what position he played. I fall squarely on the side of power forward. While Shane Battier spent more time banging with opposing PFs than LeBron on defense, the case for “LeBron James: 4” is a strong one. His final two seasons in Miami, offensively, he had an inordinate number of touches in the low post. And, according to Basketball-Reference.com’s position tracking tool, James played power forward for 82 percent of his minutes in 2012-13 and 2013-14—figures that jumped to 92 percent and 87 percent, respectively, in the postseason.)

 

Replacing LeBron

Miami landed James’ replacement before he left by signing Josh McRoberts away from the Charlotte Hornets—nee Bobcats—with a four-year, $23 million deal. Pat Riley initially came to terms with the 6’10”, 240-pound McRoberts with the notion that he would be part of his appeal to keep James in South Beach. A super-stretchy 4 to take advantage of the spacing LeBron’s gravitation influence on opposing defenders creates.

Though LeBron ultimately had other plans, this was an assignment McBob appeared well-equipped to handle. In his breakout 2013-14 season, he hit a career-high 105 of his 291 three-point attempts. ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh (subscription required) broke down the power forward’s game after he came to terms with Miami:

Under Charlotte coach Steve Clifford last season, McRoberts reinvented himself as a shooting and passing big man who leveraged his athleticism at the rim on both sides of the floor. Ever since he was a McDonald’s All American and a Duke prodigy, McRoberts‘ versatility tantalized NBA scouts, but he never quite put it together until last season, when he became a key part of the Bobcats’ surprising 43-39 season. According to ESPN’s real plus-minus, McRoberts was an above-average player on both ends last season, checking in at 4.1 WAR, which is in the same range as Nene (4.3), Boris Diaw (4.8) and Patrick Patterson (3.6).

Haberstroh went on to compare McRoberts to San Antonio’s Boris Diaw and suggest that Miami would deploy him similarly—basically, as a versatile big who facilitates in the passing game and does a little bit of everything.

His abilities as a distributor are especially valuable. Last season, he made a strong case as the best passing big man in basketball. From the post, he averaged 4.1 assists a night—against just 1.1 turnovers. According to ESPN.com, this translated into an assist ratio of 32.7, the 14th best figure in the NBA and tops among forwards and centers.

Though he was, again, initially signed to fill a reserve role, McRoberts will start for Miami in 2014-15 and seems a sure bet to take the lion’s share of the minutes at PF. Behind him, there isn’t much else: If injury or ineffectiveness keep him out of the lineup, the Heat are in big trouble.

Udonis Haslem is entering his age-34 season and coming off a year where he posted lows in most categories and, according to Basketball-Reference.com, put up the second worst win shares per 48 minutes of his career. Shawne Williams, who has an Iversonian career field-goal percentage of 40.3, rounds out the bench.

So, suffice it to say, the Heat need McRoberts to be his best self.

Granted, even this best self is limited. McRoberts is an imperfect player—which is why he’s available for $5.6 million a season.

His most glaring deficiency is his work on the glass. In 2013-14, he averaged just 5.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, a staggeringly low figure for a frontcourt player. This is especially problematic given Miami’s pre-existing rebounding issues. According to ESPN.com, the Heat finished 27th in the NBA in rebounding rate last season.

Also of concern is the toe surgery the forward had this offseason, the recovery from which will keep him out until the season opener.

“I’ve needed surgery for a couple years,” McRoberts told the Sun Sentinel’s Shandel Richardson (h/t CBSsports.com). “We kind of figured out last year before the season started. I knew right when the playoffs ended, so it was something I had planned for.”

“I’m just kind of easing back into things,” McRoberts added. “It takes time to recover from something like this. I’m just trying not to overdo it.”

Likewise, it will surely take the Heat time to recover from the loss of LeBron James. But wounds heal. Hopefully sooner rather than later. 

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5 Reasons Terrence Jones Should Start at Power Forward for Houston Rockets

It’s the time of year when position battles enter full swing, and—even on the heels of a 54-win season—the Houston Rockets‘ training camp is no exception.

Particularly at the power forward spot, according to head coach Kevin McHale.

“They need to go out there and take that spot. It’s open for competition,” McHale told reporters after the team’s first practice in September, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

“We need guys who are going to defend with physicality and rebound,” McHale added. “We had two of the top rebounders in the league last year with Omer [Asik] and Dwight [Howard] and we were still like 20th in rebounding. What does that say about the other guys? Not much.”

For the record, Houston ranked fourth in team rebounds per game (with an average of 45.3) and second in rebounding differential, grabbing an average of 3.6 more boards than its opponents. The club also ranked second in rebound rate (52.1), per Hollinger’s Team Statistics.

So McHale’s sentiment may be more about motivating improved effort than legitimately considering a shakeup of the starting lineup.

Competition for the spot ostensibly includes two candidates: Incumbent starter Terrence Jones and third-year Lithuanian Donatas Motiejunas.

Reasons abound to maintain the status quo and give Jones another shot at the starting job. Here are five of them.

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Should Jabari Parker Follow the Carmelo Anthony Blueprint at Power Forward?

The Carmelo Anthony comparisons were inevitable. Jabari Parker shares that wide, strong 6’8″ frame and confident face-up scoring arsenal. 

Given the success Melo has had as a pro, at least individually, Parker should really think about following his lead—right into the post.

Over the last few years for the undersized New York Knicks, Anthony has played some of his best minutes at power forward. It’s a spot on the floor that calls for a shot selection better suited for his strengths and one that helps diminish his weaknesses.

Parker’s NBA position has been up for debate since his days in high school. Though he always had the polished offensive game that allowed him to play away from the rim, he’s just not fueled by the same quickness, bounce or blow-by explosiveness of your traditional NBA wing. 

And those athletic limitations had always weighed on his defensive outlook as a small forward. We saw it at Duke. He’s just not a guy who’s built to play with his butt low to the ground while seamlessly sliding from side to side. 

The NBA small forwards could eat him up in isolation. 

Parker will be a lot safer defending slower but bigger forwards closer to the basket. There’s a lot less lateral movement down there. Plus, he’s got the size, length and mass to bang with most 4s. 

He’s also a strong rebounder, having led the ACC and averaged 8.2 a game in Las Vegas Summer League. 

Despite the difference in size up front moving from one level to the next, Parker should be able to hold his own down low from a physical standpoint.  

But playing the 4 isn’t just about masking his weaknesses as a defender. It could also help him exploit some of his offensive versatility that would hopefully lead to a more efficient output. 

Parker’s bread and butter is his post game. Between the fadeaways, spin moves and power moves, he shot 55 percent on post-ups last season, according to Synergy Sports Technology via ESPN’s Ryan Grace.

As a 4, Parker’s game would start in the post, which he can complement with opportunistic perimeter scoring. That’s a better formula for Parker than starting at the wing, where his shooting range remains a work in progress and quickness is below average for a 3.

Sure, Parker can stick the pull-up, step-back and spot-up jumper, but he hasn’t shown he can with any consistency. You don’t want him leaning on those shots early on. At this stage, he’s a shot-maker—not a shooter. Even though he’s capable from 15-25 feet, it’s ultimately a win for the defense if it can keep him firing away from outside. And he’d be more vulnerable to falling into that trap as a wing.

It’s no different for Anthony, who tends to get jump-shot happy when handling the ball too much around the arc. 

While Parker has the skill set needed to play small forward, he’s going to have a tougher time executing against NBA-level 3s.

He’s got an average first step. He lacks that turn-the-corner burst, which ultimately led to a number of low-percentage jumpers his freshman year. If I’m Parker, I don’t want those quick NBA wings covering me. Hopefully the Kawhi Leonards and Trevor Arizas of the world end up guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo

If I’m Parker, I want to be matched up with slower power forwards who he’ll have a much easier time exploiting as a scorer in face-up situations. And given his ability to knock down outside shots and create off the dribble, the Bucks will likely use him as a stretch 4—a position that lets him play outside as well as in the paint—where he’s now an offensive mismatch against those heavy-footed bigs. 

Parker talked to Nancy Lieberman on Sirius XM NBA Radio (via Charles F Gardner, Journal Sentinel) regarding his feelings for the power forward position. 

As of right now I’m more comfortable with the 4 position. That’s where I played previously, before getting drafted, at Duke. I played a lot of 4. Even in high school. I know this is a different level.

But in coach’s style of play, it’s more a stretch 4. That’s where I like to play my game, even though I like to post up a little. Just being on the perimeter, setting screens and popping, that’s what we’ve been doing so far. That’s what coach Kidd has been anticipating me playing that role.

Sticking Parker at the 4 ultimately allows him to play to his strengths as an interior scorer and rebounder and away from his weaknesses as a perimeter defender and shooter. 

The obvious hope is that he can hang with the big boys down low and school them from outside. 

At the end of the day, it might be foolish to lock Parker in as strictly a 3 or a 4. It’s not a black-and-white debate. Against a team like the Wizards, the Bucks may be better off playing John Henson against Nene Hilario at the 4 and letting Parker do battle with the slower Paul Pierce on the wing. 

Or maybe small ball works for the Bucks, as it typically creates more spacing by having a guy who can stretch the floor playing alongside the center. 

The beauty of Parker’s versatility is that it should allow Milwaukee to pick and choose how to use him. 

Still, long term, it’s the power forward position that should lead to higher-percentage looks and less defensive trouble for Parker.  

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