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

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

Do they actually need to?

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

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

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

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

 

Grading Orlando’s Small Forwards for 2013-14

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

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

He was arguably the most important player for Orlando.

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

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

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

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

 

Changes During the Offseason

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

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

Harkless and Harris are the first who come to mind.

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

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

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

 

Orlando’s Small Forward Position 2014-15

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

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

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

This brings us to the rookie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The young guns are ready to take over.

 

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

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

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Who Should Start at Power Forward for New York Knicks in 2014-15?

Throughout the 2013-14 campaign, “Carmelo Anthony at the 4” became a rallying cry for fans of the New York Knicks, desperate as they were for some silver bullet capable of turning their team’s wayward season around.

But while Melo was able to use his new positional dominance to author arguably the two best seasons of his 11-year NBA career, the Knicks themselves sputtered to a playoff-less stall.

Now, with a new triangle-inspired regime at the reins and Anthony’s offseason regimen yielding a distinctly small forward frame, the question is bound to be raised anew: Who, exactly, should be New York’s starting 4 come opening night?

As currently constituted, the roster features five legitimately viable candidates: Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Smith, Quincy Acy and Anthony.

Out of that group, Stoudemire seems the most likely candidate to come off the bench. Not because his past production warrants it, mind you, but rather because Stoudemire’s significant injury history will likely compel head coach Derek Fisher to adopt a minutes-management approach similar to the one previously used by Mike Woodson.

Unless, of course, Fisher and his staff take the opposite approach, namely using Stoudemire as often as they see fit, why with the former All-Star forward’s contract set to expire at the end of the season. Still, given STAT’s strong finish down last year’s stretch, limiting his minutes makes the most sense for all involved.

That Stoudemire remains one of the most woeful one-on-one defenders for his position anywhere in the league all but seal’s his fate on this front.

Bargnani presents a similar strategic conundrum: Is Fisher willing to live with the Italian forward’s woeful D for 30-plus minutes per game? Considering he authored far more efficient stretches at the 5 than at the 4 a season ago (per 82games.com), it seems Bargnani—likewise an expiring contract—would be best suited either as the starting center or one of the first bigs off the ‘Bocker bench.

For all his grit and gusto, Acy, whom the Knicks acquired along with Travis Outlaw in an August 6 trade with the Sacramento Kings, isn’t exactly starter material, having failed to tally more than 14 minutes per game in each of his first two NBA seasons.

Next up is Smith, whom the Knicks inked to a one-year deal on July 18. Good but not great, steady but not spectacular, Smith stands as a viable—if not overly exciting—power forward option. The reason: His offensive versatility makes for an intriguing fit in the triangle, geared as it often is toward the very mid-range jumpers Smith has made a career calling card of sorts.

Here’s Posting & Toasting’s W. Scott Davis:

Midrange jumpers and deep twos aren’t exactly the favorite shots of modern offenses, but in the Triangle, Smith’s ability to can those looks could be helpful. Whether he’s acting as a center or power forward next to guys like Dalembert or Aldrich, Smith can space the floor, stretch a defense, and potentially open up other looks on the perimeter or inside.

Which brings us back to Anthony. Pitted against the aforementioned names, Anthony would seem a no-brainer as the Knicks’ starting 4.

However, as ESPNNew York.com’s Ian Begley recently posited, New York’s triangle transition could mean a decreased emphasis on the game’s traditional positional taxonomy:

That positional argument, though, may be less relevant this season because of the triangle. Anthony will be asked to take on a different role in the triangle and his function will be different as a small forward this season than it was last year in Woodson’s offense. Also, in the triangle, each player on the floor may be asked to fill multiple roles on the offense and may not be locked into a traditional position at all times. So the bigger issue this season will be who Anthony shares the floor with and which role he’s asked to fill in the triangle.

From New York’s perspective, what position Anthony plays is far less important than where he chooses to operate in Fisher’s system.

Speaking to ESPNNewYork.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk and Begley Tuesday, Iman Shumpert—believed by many to be the team’s starting 2—echoed some of the philosophical points of Begley’s analysis:

The way it’s set up, you can start three guards, it really doesn’t matter. Everybody’s going to get touches, everybody gets opportunities to cut. It’s constant action going on. So I think that I’ll be able to capitalize on that and I’ll be able to use my athleticism a lot more than standing in the corner.

Still, that doesn’t mean Phil Jackson—Knicks president, triangle guru and steward of New York’s latest rebuild—doesn’t have a preference for where the golden calf gets slotted.

Indeed, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Jackson “sees Anthony more as a starting small forward this season,” with Berman positing the All-Star forward’s recent workout regimen as a reflection of that design.

For clues as to who, exactly, stands to replace Anthony at the 4, it’s instructive to look at the personnel strategy that appears to have informed Jackson’s first few moves.

Between Samuel Dalembert (acquired along with Jose Calderon in the Raymond Felton-Tyson Chandler trade), Smith, Acy, Bargnani, Stoudemire and Cole Aldrich, the Knicks have made a concerted effort to bolster their frontcourt ranks.

That, in turn, suggests Jackson might be looking to duplicating the kind of super-sized post platoon that marked much of his stint—and five championships—with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Between Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and (a healthy) Andrew Bynum, Jackson placed a high premium on the two-fold factor of size and skill. And while no one would suggest Smith, Bargnani and Stoudemire might rival that trio’s triangle prowess, the writing seems all but on the wall: Position-less philosophy aside, Anthony should be paired with the best combination of brawn and brains.

Assuming Fisher goes with either Bargnani or Dalembert at the 5, that leaves Smith, Stoudemire or Acy to man the starting 4 spot.

Of the three, Smith offers the best collection of triangle-ready skills. Which is why, as things stand today, the former New Orleans Pelican seems most likely to become New York’s full-time starting power forward.

He might not incite many cheers or sell a lot of jerseys, but on a team approaching the upcoming season as a bridge between eras, Smith—while perhaps forgettable—is by no means an unstable pier.

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Rockets sign forward Tarik Black (Yahoo Sports)

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets have signed forward Tarik Black, who played on their summer league teams in Orlando and Las Vegas.

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How Do the Philadelphia 76ers Keep Moving the Epic Rebuild Forward?

The Philadelphia 76ers are supposed to be in a rebuilding phase, but so far it’s hard to tell where exactly the tear-down ends and the rebuild begins.

In the one season and (nearly) two offseasons since Sam Hinkie took over as general manager, they have shipped out many of their most notable players—Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young.

In their place, they’ve added Michael Carter-Williams, the most recent Rookie of the Year, and Nerlens Noel, one of the biggest question marks in last year’s draft.

In this most recent draft, they selected the highly rated pair of Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. However, the former is recovering from surgery and the latter is still under contract in Europe, meaning neither is likely to play a minute for the 76ers this season.

They have essentially turned a mediocre roster into one built around a mix of D-League talent and tantalizing question markswith a surfeit of extra draft picks and financial flexibility on the side.

What the 76ers have done is create a wealth of future possibilities for themselves at the expense of their present. However, none of those possibilities have become certainties, and they probably won’t anytime soon.

In the interim, it’s essential that they continue to move things in a positive direction organizationally while they wait and hope for the roster’s smattering of young talent to coalesce.

The 76ers are likely not going to be chasing a playoff berth this year, but they do have real and tangible goals to improve.

 

Continue Building the System

In the three seasons (2010-2013) during which Doug Collins led the 76ers, they were always among the league leaders in the percentage of field-goal attempts coming from mid-range jumpers.

That’s not a problem when Kevin Durant or Dirk Nowitzki are taking them, but when Holiday, Turner and Andre Iguodala are soaking up all those mid-range jumpers, it absolutely is. 

Last season, their first under head coach Brett Brown, the 76ers made some dramatic changes to their shot-distribution patterns. Derek Bodner broke some of these down in a great piece for Liberty Ballers a few weeks ago:

The difference, whether because of Hinkie and Brett Brown drilling in an offensive philosophy to the players, because of the roster change, or both, was drastic.  The Sixers cut their mid-range attempts virtually in half, from it making up 32% of their attempts (most in the league) down to 16.7% of their overall field goal attempts.  That 16.7% would end up being the second fewest in the league.

(Related: It’s probably easy to guess who had the fewest in the league, even without clicking on the link above.  That would be the Houston Rockets, Hinkie‘s former team, at an incredible 9.4%.  Just to display how ridiculous of a number that is, the Sixers were the only team in the league that had less than double the attempts of Houston: the Nuggetscame in 3rd at 18.9%).

Obviously, the shot-distribution patterns of the hypothetical juggernaut 76ers of the future will be highly influenced by the roster at the time.

For now, the organization has been teaching a process to help nudge its players toward the good habits of generalized offensive efficiency.

It also upped the tempo at which the team played, pushing its average pace from 93.3 possessions per game to 101.6the fastest in the league. This allowed the 76ers to leverage their athleticism, getting out in transition and generating easy baskets against a disorganized defense.

At the other end of the floor, they began instilling a different set of defensive principles, applying swarming ball pressure and working hard to generate turnovers.

Although the results were fairly lousy—they allowed 107.5 points per 100 possessions, 27th in the league—many of their key players were increasingly consistent in their implementation of the team’s defensive principles.

In just one season, Hinkie and Brown have laid out a road map for how this organization will play.

Changes will certainly be made as different talents and skill sets join the roster, but their basic tenets are solid: They play with pace, take good shots and play aggressive defense. As the young roster continues to grow, it’s important that these things become ingrained not just as habits, but as instincts.

 

Develop Their Young Talent

This ultra-slow rebuild the Sixers are attempting will only come together if some of the young assets they accumulate pan out. Since they will be waiting on Saric and Embiid this year, the focus must be on Noel and Carter-Williams.

76ers Las Vegas Summer League coach Chad Iske spoke with reporters about the challenges for Noel after a game in July:

He’s active, he’s all over the place. He’s trying to do everything, he’s trying to do too much on both ends. The hard part is do you want to just settle him down or do you want him to play with that aggressiveness? I don’t want to give him too much and cloud him, and then he’s thinking instead of playing. I think we just have to get out there and find the happy balance between him being within our rules and him being himself.

This season is Noel’s introduction to professional basketball, so expecting any sort of specific quality or quantity of impact is probably foolhardy. The goal this season is to get him on the floor, acclimated with speed of the NBA game and to start getting repetitions with the structural team processes we mentioned above.

Carter-Williams, on the other hand, has a year of experience under his belt and is ready to start sanding down some of his rough edges.

Although his per-game statistics—16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists—were impressive enough to earn him Rookie of the Year honors, to a certain degree they were the product of playing a lot of minutes, at a fast pace, for a bad team.

He racked up points, rebounds and assists, but also turned the ball over 3.5 times per game, just barely kept his field-goal percentage above 40 percent and shot an abysmal 26.4 percent on three-pointers.

In short, he accumulated a wealth of counted statistics but didn’t fare as well in the efficiency department.

In fact, as the chart below shows, he averaged fewer win shares per 48 minutes than any previous Rookie of the Year winner going back to 1984-1985:

According to mySynergySports (subscription required), Carter-Williams was ranked 138th in the league in points per possession as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls, turning the ball over on nearly one-fifth of such possessions.

A lot of his problems were simple and correctable things, like leaving his feet to make a pass:

However, he also seemed much more hesitant in the pick-and-roll than in other offensive situations, particularly with regards to attacking the basket.

Carter-Williams drew a shooting foul on just 5.9 percent of his pick-and-roll possessionsremember we’re only counting possessions where took a shot, made a turnover or drew a foulcompared to averages 13.2 percent on isolations or 10.9 percent in transition.

In isolations or transition, the task is simple: attack and keep the pressure on the defense. The various options available in the pick-and-roll, the intricacies of shooting, passing and moving multiple defenders to create the best scoring opportunity, seemed to put the pressure on Carter-Williams.

Here, he misses a wide-open passing lane to his rolling big man, opting for an awkward, one-footed runner instead:

On this possession, he makes the opposite choice, forcing a pass when there is no angle instead of attacking the sagging defense:

We see the same sort of timidity here, where he opts to shoot an awkward fadeaway instead of forcing the issue with Al Jefferson, a relatively poor defender at the rim:

It’s clear that Brown and the 76ers’ coaching staff have encouraged Carter-Williams to be decisive in the pick-and-roll, and that message has clearly gotten through. His problem is not hesitation so much as simply reading the situation wrong.

That is exacerbated by the fact that he doesn’t seem confident in his ability to force the issue in the face of a big defender.

You can see from his shot chart that there is a lot of work to do in building his scoring efficiency:

Although his jump shooting may seem like the most glaring deficiency and an obvious place to start, I think figuring out how to throttle up his pick-and-roll attacks may be more important at this point.

Figuring out how to take advantage of a retreating big maneither drawing a foul or creating a better angle for a shotseems like it would pay more offensive dividends since he spends so much time with the ball in his hands.

The 76ers don’t appear in any rush to return to the league’s upper echelon, preferring to take their time and make sure things are done in a sustainable way. But don’t be fooled into thinking they are just waiting, killing time until luck strikes. They have a plan and they’re putting things together piece by piece.

Just like any other team, they’re hoping for forward motion this season.

However, their successes will be found around the marginsnot in win totals and playoff seeds, but in the steady march of player development and an ever-increasing consistency in their style of play.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistical support for this story from NBA.com/stats.

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Anthony Bennett or Thad Young: Who Is Timberwolves’ Power Forward of the Future?

With a 30-day moratorium on trading rookie Andrew Wiggins set to expire, Minnesota Timberwolves are on the brink of officially hitting the reset button.

After Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski initially reported the contours of a deal that would send disaffected forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, we’re now learning new details about what the trade looks like.

Citing “a person with knowledge of the trade,” the Star Tribune‘s Jerry Zgoda reports that, “The Wolves will receive Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, 76ers forward Thaddeus Young and a trade exception believed to be worth at least $4 million.”

In return for Young’s addition to the deal, Zgoda adds that, “Philadelphia will receive Miami’s 2015 first-round pick that the Cavaliers own, as well as the expiring contracts of Wolves players Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved.”

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is also reporting the deal, adding that, “The Wolves, sources said, have been operating under the premise for days that they will land Young from the Sixers as Love’s replacement.”

So when the dust settles, Minnesota will have a couple of new power forwards to at least partially ease the blow of Love’s loss.

The big question is whether both of them fit into the Timberwolves’ long-term plans.

Young is by far the more NBA-ready option. The 26-year-old is entering his eighth season after averaging a career-high 17.9 points per game to go along with six rebounds and 2.1 steals per contest.

The surge in productivity was partly a function of Philadelphia’s ugly rebuild.

Young actually shot a career-low 45.4 percent from the field en route to all those points, carrying the Sixers’ load alongside rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams. With more competitive iterations of the 76ers, Young instead averaged roughly between 13 and 15 points—still solid but also more representative of the contributions he’ll make on a good team.

There’s little doubt that the Georgia Tech product will immediately become Minnesota’s most logical candidate to replace Love in the starting lineup.

Young certainly doesn’t rebound or shoot like Love, but he’s an athletic and well-rounded forward who was built to run the floor with a charitable point guard like Ricky Rubio.

He can also defend, which should prove instrumental for a team that gave up 104.3 points per game last season.

Sports Illustrated‘s Rob Mahoney breaks down his defensive pedigree:

Some of his finest work comes on defense. Young’s transition to the power forward spot has given him a more consistent presence in guarding the pick-and-roll, where his feel for maneuvering in space makes him a bother to opponents at every turn. Seven years in the league (including three under Doug Collins) have given Young an education in team defense, though he also instinctively understands how to snuff out and complicate plays.

The Timberwolves will still find themselves amidst a rebuilding process, but someone like Young may ensure that process initially avoids a precipitous fall in the standings.

In any event, he’s a reasonably priced acquisition. The Timberwolves are getting a starting-caliber player in exchange for two reserves and a draft pick that could fall in the 20s.

If there’s a downside to Young, it’s that he might not be around for much longer. After this season, he has a player option worth $9,721,740 to return in 2015-16. That’s a lot of money to turn down, but the summer of 2015 could also be a prime opportunity for Young to cash in with another lucrative, long-term deal.

Should he have another productive season, it could be wise to gauge his worth on the open market. 

Similarly, Young could just decide that Minnesota isn’t for him, that he’s tired of rebuilding efforts and looking to get on board with a playoff team. 

Any number of variables could ultimately translate into a short-lived relationship between Young and the Timberwolves.

That’s where Anthony Bennett comes in.

Though far less proven than Young, the 21-year-old demonstrated enough upside at UNLV for the Cavaliers to select him with the first-overall pick in 2013. 

Like Young, he registers as a hybrid of the two forward positions—albeit without the athleticism and quickness to spend the majority of his time on the wing. In theory, however, Bennett could develop into a versatile front-court asset capable of scoring from all over the floor.

In theory.

At the moment, Bennett is coming off a disappointing rookie season in which he averaged just 4.2 points and three rebounds per contest through 52 games.

“AB’s biggest trouble last year was he never really had the opportunity to play enough because he was either hurt or not in good physical shape,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt told reporters during the Las Vegas Summer League. “As you can see, he worked very hard at that. That’s a good first step. He did some good things.”

Indeed, Bennett has shed some weight and given at least some indications he’s prepared for a more robust role this season.

As CBS Sports‘ Zach Harper observed, “His play in summer league was also much different than we saw at any point last year.”

Despite the encouraging signals coming out of summer league play, Minnesota will have to proceed patiently with Bennett. He may well emerge as the organization’s power forward of the future, but it will take him some time to get there.

In the interim, Young alleviates pressure. Bennett reasons to see plenty of opportunities as the Timberwolves turn their attention to the future, but he needn’t make dramatic progress right away. 

There, of course, remains some chance Minnesota can keep Young beyond the end of his current contract, perhaps providing some insurance in the event Bennett never pans out as hoped. But don’t be surprised if Young merely serves as a placeholder for the next season or two.

The future lies with Bennett. It just might take him a while to prove it.

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As Durant steps back, US team is moving forward (Yahoo Sports)

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 1: Kevin Durant #52 of the USA White Team shoots during the USA Basketball Showcase at the Thomas & Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on August 1, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

While Kevin Durant takes a step back, the U.S. Durant stunned the Americans when he decided to withdraw after practicing with the team during its first week of training camp.


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Breaking Down San Antonio Spurs’ Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

Highlighted by budding superstar Kawhi Leonard, small forward is a solid position for the reigning league champion San Antonio Spurs in 2014-15.

Leonard is the unit’s unquestioned star, while Marco Belinelli was technically his backup due to the backcourt rotation in which he played.

NBA journeyman Austin Daye rounds out the incumbents, but the Spurs added a pass-happy piece to the position during the summer.

Reviewing the performance of the aforementioned trio and factoring offseason changes will help decide what changes, if any, San Antonio needs to make for the upcoming campaign.

 

Grading 2013-14 Performance

Leonard missed 14 regular-season games due to a broken finger, but rumor has it he performed pretty well anyway. The third-year forward was recognized as a NBA All-Defensive second team honoree, the first of what figures to be many such awards.

However, Leonard really did improve after fracturing the metacarpal in his right ring finger against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 22.

And of course, Leonard had a spectacular finish and was named the 2014 NBA Finals MVP following three outstanding performances opposite LeBron James.

Belinelli was on fire to start the season, hovering around 47-50 percent from distance and leading the league in that category for a couple months. The Italian sharpshooter cooled off, but he still posted a career-best 43.0 percent mark behind the arc.

During the playoffs, Belinelli reached double digits just twice in 23 appearances compared to 49 such games through the opening 82.

Some call Daye a small forward, some call him a power forward. But whichever side of the fence you’re on, the midseason acquisition played just 115 total minutes for the Spurs, so it’s not a significant debate, regardless.

Looking back over the entire season, though, San Antonio was largely successful at the position because Leonard picked up Belinelli’s slack when it mattered the most.

Overall Grade: A-

 

What Happened This Offseason?

The Spurs did not lose any small forwards, but they added one in UCLA’s Kyle Anderson with the last selection of the first round of the NBA draft.

Granted, Anderson is basically a 6’8″ point forward because of his superior passing ability. He will be utilized in a variety of ways; spelling Leonard, who often chases the league’s best scorers around the court, is an important responsibility.

Bleacher Report’s Garrett Jochnau believes Anderson’s future with the team is very bright, citing his skill set and organizational fit.

And Anderson needs to be ready immediately, because Leonard has an unpleasant injury history. The San Diego State product has missed 58 games throughout his first three years in the league.

Though he may not necessarily be injury-prone, that label is slowly sneaking up on Leonard. No, it’s not a serious cause for concern at this point, but Anderson certainly helps lessen the impact of a potential absence.

 

Looking Ahead to 2014-15, What to Expect

Leonard is entering the final season of his rookie contract, meaning San Antonio is at least in preliminary internal discussions about an extension. The front office has until Oct. 31 to reach an agreement; otherwise the 23-year-old will be a restricted free agent next offseason.

However, the rising star isn’t worried about that. ”I’m just playing,” Leonard said, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. “The Spurs are a great organization. I’m leaving that to my agent, and I’m sure they’ll come out with a great understanding and a deal. I’m not focused on that at all.”

Belinelli is on the back end of a two-year deal, and Daye‘s contract expires after 2014-15 as well. Ultimately, San Antonio does not need to sign a small forward for its 15th and final roster opening.

As is always the case with Gregg Popovich, playing time will be a fluid situation throughout the entire season. Behind Leonard as the 30-minute-per-night starter, the Spurs’ second unit is a question due to Patty Mills’ shoulder injury and subsequent surgery.

Pop has likely been contemplating ways to replace the team’s 2013-14 breakout performer until his return, and small forward is an important part of that. With that being said, Daye won’t be a major factor and will only receive some scattered minutes.

Cory Joseph can be inserted for Mills, leaving Manu Ginobili and Belinelli in the same roles they occupied last year. This would be a well-rounded group; Joseph provides the defensive spark, Ginobili is the offensive creator and Belinelli shoots threes at a productive rate.

Or, Pop could slide Ginobili to point guard and use Belinelli and Anderson at the 2 and 3, essentially interchangeably. Defense might be a struggle since Belinelli and the rookie are below average on that end, but using Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter would help offset the weakness.

From an offensive standpoint, though, the trio could form one of the league’s best reserve units. San Antonio is known for its rapid offensive movement, and Anderson fits in seamlessly.

It wouldn’t be surprising to watch Popovich employ a few more strategies at the beginning of the year to find the most effective or efficient backcourt, whichever the mastermind prefers on a given night.

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David Lee or Draymond Green: Who Should Be the Warriors’ Starting Power Forward?

As the Golden State Warriors roll closer to the start of training camp, a big question still remains with the new coach Steve Kerr’s offense, will David Lee or Draymond Green get the nod as the starting power forward?

The players play two contrasting styles: Lee is more an offensive juggernaut, while Green is the get-in-your-face, workmanlike player who can guard every position.  The decision will be a tough one to make, but let’s break down both of the players’ strengths and weaknesses before suggesting a game plan.

 

David Lee

David Lee has been known to put up big numbers throughout his career, but until 2012-13, the numbers were relatively meaningless, since he never made the playoffs.  Lee normally finishes with a double-double on most nights, and his season averages mostly prove the same (18.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG).

In 2012-13, Lee led the league in double-doubles (56), but this past season, Lee was only above average.  He finished further down the ladder in 17th place with only 34. 

Offense is in the forefront with Lee, since that is his best skill.  He is an adept passer, can hit mid-range jumpers and can score with either his left or right hand.

However, Lee is often criticized for his defense and his salary.  One is a killer on the micro level; the other hurts the Warriors on a macro level.

His defense has been an albatross, as Lee is mostly left behind when he encounters quick feet or dazzling moves.  He has tried to improve his limited skill set, and the effort is there, but the results are not always pleasing.

According to Bruce Jenkins from the San Francisco Chronicle, the pressure is on for Lee:

Lee will occasionally make a brilliant play on defense, but the normal result of an above-average play against him is a foul on Lee.  Lee averaged three fouls per game on the season, as he ranked tied for 21st overall and fifth for his position. 

As for Lee’s contract, he is crippling the Dubs from improving into a team that has NBA championship aspirations.  He makes $15 million this season and $15.5 million next season.

The one benefit that Golden State has going forward is that Lee will be a free agent in 2015-16, so he will be an expiring contract during next year’s free-agency period.

Kerr has to weigh the effect of Lee losing value if he sits Lee versus the overall effort he can provide on the court.  Lee needs to improve his range, as Kerr is looking for a stretch-4, and Lee did not impress based on his results last season.
 

Draymond Green

Green is a hard worker who is defensively instinctive and is not afraid of anyone, including LeBron James.

Green has improved significantly from his rookie year to his second year in the league.  He has looked a lot calmer with the ball and hasn’t been afraid to hit key shots at crucial times in the game.

Coach Kerr should like the fact that Green can stretch the floor more than Lee, as Green is known for hitting a clutch three-pointer more often than not.  The only problem is that Green is smaller than the average power forward, as he measures up at 6’7”.

Green also has a problem, because he really is just a forward or a tweener.  When the Warriors go small, he can easily play the power forward position, but with his size, Green is logically a small forward.

So, Green masquerades as a power forward and has a significantly deeper range than the starter at the 4 position.  Green shot 33.3 percent in 165 attempts from behind the arc last season.

As Green states in an interview with Dime Magazine, he will be looking to solidify that range in order to truly be a stretch-4.

However, Green’s focus is not entirely on the offensive end.  His line from last season was 6.2 PPG and 5.0 RPG in almost 22 minutes.

Green had a 97.7 defensive rating for this past season, ranking him fifth-best in the league.  It doesn’t matter where Green lines up, as he makes a significant impact on both sides of the court.

Green has a very high basketball IQ and succeeds with positioning, anticipation and the desire to outduel his opponent.  He is ready to battle it out in preseason and the regular season to get a starting gig.

 

Coach Steve Kerr’s Preliminary Thoughts

In a July 11 interview with KNBR 680 and as reported by the San Jose Mercury News’ Diamond Leung, Coach Kerr said that Lee looks like he will be starting:

I love David Lee, and I think he’s going to be our starter, and he’s going to score a lot and be our slasher and our interior scorer. But we need to complement that with some perimeter shooting from that spot, too.

The Mercury’s Leung further noted that Kerr, on August 7, stated Lee was in a very stable position going forward:

Klay Thompson and David Lee, who were players in trade talks involving Love, were named by Kerr as having “automatic” starting spots along with Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut when a boy at the Warriors Basketball Camp at Tice Valley Community Gym asked the coach about the lineup.

Based on the preceding information, Kerr will look to have Lee as the starter going into the season.  However, Green should not look at the comments as a defeat, but as an opportunity to get quality playing time moving forward.

In the same interview with KNBR 680 and as reported by the Mercury’s Diamond Leung, Coach Kerr spoke about how he may use Green as a stretch-4.

You saw Draymond make five threes in Game 7 (of the playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers), which is one of the reasons why the Warriors almost won that game. We need some shooting out of that position.

Green is more adept at shooting from the perimeter, and he can prove his skills to Kerr in camp and on the floor during the season.

 

The Best-Case Scenario

David Lee looks to be the starter going into the season, but he should consider the starting job in name only.  Lee will not be used in the key moments of the fourth quarter, and he probably will not be used when the Warriors need to spread the floor.

Lee primarily has the job, because he is one of co-owner Joe Lacob’s favorite players, he was the first real free agent to come aboard for the new ownership, and he puts up significant numbers.

Oh yeah, it doesn’t look good for the pocket book if Green is starting with a salary under $1 million over Lee and his $15 million annual salary.

Green will have a pivotal role on this team going forward, as he will be used in a variety of capacities.  Coach Kerr will rely on him to stretch the floor and will play him when he needs the team to get physical.

Early analysis from CBSSports.com on Green states that he is the “best forward prospect over Harrison Barnes.”  Green needs to use this momentum to his advantage and assimilate into Coach Kerr’s new system.

If Green can successfully master the system, he can increase his playing time whether at the small or power forward position.

As for Lee, he is getting closer to the end of his contract, and at age 31, he is probably in the final stage of the most productive years of his career.  In order to secure another substantial contract in Oakland or somewhere else, he needs to show his value this season.

Lee will get the starting gig, but Green will have the biggest impact of the two.  Green will be on the court in the final minutes and anywhere else Coach Kerr needs a stopper.

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