After reaching a buyout agreement with the Sacramento Kings and clearing waivers, sharpshooting guard Jimmer Fredette signed with the Chicago Bulls for the remainder of the 2013-14 season. He was never given a legitimate chance to shine in Sac-Town—playing just 11.3 minutes per game under head coach Mike Malone—but playing in Chicago may prove to be the perfect situation.
Fredette played more than 20 minutes in a game just twice for the Kings in 2013-14: on Jan. 14 against the Indiana Pacers and Feb. 12 against the New York Knicks. Despite a clear lack of regular playing time, the former Brigham Young standout averaged 5.9 points on a robotic 49.3 percent shooting from three-point range—a percentage that would rank him No. 1 in the NBA if he notched enough minutes to qualify.
Tom Thibodeau’s defensive-minded Bulls have continued to win games consistently due to a hard-nosed style of play. Despite sporting a 33-26 record, though—fourth-best in the Eastern Conference—Chicago ranks last in the Association by scoring 93.3 points per game and 27th in offensive efficiency with a mark of 98.9 points per 100 possessions.
The Bulls’ offense has been anemic during the new campaign after losing Derrick Rose (injury), Nate Robinson (free agency) and Marco Belinelli (free agency).
Those three losses have hindered Chicago’s ability to score and limited the roster’s overall depth, but Fredette has a chance to remedy that by providing instant offense off the bench.
Spreading the Floor
Jimmer’s ability to stretch the floor on offense with deadeye shooting is his biggest asset. For Coach Thibodeau and Bulls fans, that skill will undoubtedly be a sight for sore eyes.
Of course, that’s probably a good thing, because the Bulls are shooting just 34.4 percent on said threes—ranking them tied for 25th. Only four teams have been worse in that regard.
D.J. Augustin and Mike Dunleavy have been the only reliable outside shooters in the Windy City, shooting 42 and 38.4 percent, respectively.
Fredette, however, can instantly remedy that shortcoming.
According to NBA.com/Stats, the 25-year-old is shooting above league average from nearly every spot beyond the three-point arc. He’s 8-of-9 overall in a limited sample size from the corners, while shooting 42.9 percent from the right wing and 50 percent from the left wing.
Even from straightaway, the gifted shooter is knocking down 38.1 percent of his long-range attempts, which is still comparable to league average.
His ability to rain down from outside will be huge in an offense built around Joakim Noah—who has essentially invented a new position of point center.
The 29-year-old big man is averaging 7.2 assists per game dating back to Feb. 6 against the Golden State Warriors when he dished out 11 dimes.
After reaching a season-high 14 assists against the Knicks on March 2, Noah deflected praise.
“It’s really all my teammates,” he said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). “I think we’re getting better every game.”
If Fredette can earn some regular playing time in Thibs’ system, he may be a new favorite target of Noah’s savvy passes. The 6’2” guard is shooting a scorching-hot 50 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, according to NBA.com/Stats.
When he gets a chance to set his feet in catch-and-shoot situations, Jimmer is one of the best in the business from long range.
Can He Get Court Time?
If Coach Thibodeau has proven anything during his time patrolling the sidelines, it’s that he values defense.
Power forward Carlos Boozer learned that lesson the hard way, as his minutes in the fourth quarter of games have declined. He voiced his frustrations with that parable in February, per ESPN’s Nick Friedell:
Thibs fired back with the following quote via the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley:
I have two guys that are deserving of being starters. I’m asking Taj to sacrifice not starting, and in some cases Carlos has to sacrifice not finishing.
Sometimes you have to sacrifice what might be best for yourself for what’s best for the team. That’s what I love about Taj. Taj could be upset he’s not starting. He never complains. Whatever you ask him to do he just goes out there and does it. To me, what he does speaks volumes. He’s not talking about it. He’s going out there and doing it.
Fredette is coming from a toxic system in terms of defense. Sacramento ranks 25th in defensive efficiency by surrendering 106.5 points per 100 possessions.
As a result, it will be interesting to see if he can gain favor from his new coach by primarily excelling on just one end of the floor.
Of course, Robinson—who is now with the Denver Nuggets—earned court time even though he would force ill-advised shot attempts from time to time. Fredette is a better pure shooter than Robinson; so don’t be surprised if he carves a niche on his new team even though he’s far from a lockdown defender.
If there’s one thing Chicago needs as it gears up for an Eastern Conference playoff run, it’s offense. Fredette should be able to provide a spark off the bench as a heat-check guy who can put up points in a hurry from beyond the arc. However, he’ll have to learn Thibodeau’s system on both ends before he’s inserted as a consistent rotational player.
“I see how this team plays and they play hard every single night and for each other,” Fredette said prior to his debut against the New York Knicks, per the Chicago Tribune. “They play the right way and that’s something I was looking for, to come into a team where I could fit in and play the way I wanted to and play hard every night and be part of a team. I’m excited to be here.”
Thibodeau appreciates players who work hard and sacrifice for the team. If the third-year pro can do both those things, he could easily establish himself as an X-factor for the Bulls.
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Now that we’ve seen a healthy sampling of every top 2014 NBA draft prospect, it’s time to forecast their initial impact on the league.
Much of the year-round draft attention is focused on upside and long-term value, and rightfully so. But for the sake of the 2014-15 season, we want to know what the first chapter of their careers will look like.
Every candidate has a different set of tools and a different level of preparedness. Meanwhile, the playing style of some is better suited for the NBA than others.
What kind of impact will each prospect make when they hit the bright lights of the Association?
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NBA Trade Deadline Fantasy Breakdown. The NBA trade deadline saw a series of mostly boring and irrelevant trades, but a few have potential fantasy impact. Most interesting were the deals not made. We won’t find out what Rajon Rondo would have done, motivated by returning late-season to a playoff team. Kyle Lowry could have ended up in any one of a number of value-reducing situations. Instead he will be pretty much who he has been so far this season, barring injury. So what matters? Steve Blake for salary cap relief – No-one in this trade is very interesting from a fantasy perspective. Blake’s limited value is gone, but the trade sort of matters for owners of Kendall Marshall. Marshall will continue to get minutes, regardless of Nash’s progress or anything other than a total cave-in in performance. He is one of the few players with upside on a talent-thin team. Even coming out of college, Marshall was considered a three point shot away from averages like his current 10.7 points and 9.8 di
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Bumps and bruises are a part of any sport, no matter the level or style of play. College basketball is no different, with the long grind of a season leading to numerous players having to miss pieces of or entire games due to various types of injury.
But not all injuries are created equal, nor is the impact each has on the hurt player and his team. While most ailments are minor and result in minimal time away from the game, others can last much longer and have long-term ramifications.
As Division I teams move toward the home stretch of the regular season, we look at the injuries that have had the biggest impact on the 2013-2014 campaign.
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David Stern with the first pick of his 30-year tenure as Commissioner, Hakeem Olajuwon, 30 years apart (via BeyondTheBuzzer)
The year is 1984. An unfamiliar face stands at the podium of the Felt Forum in New York City, ready to usher in the newest class of talent to the NBA. This new Commissioner of the NBA would shake the hands of future legends Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Hakeem Olajuwon, and, of course, Michael Jordan. Little did anyone know, but the man that shook those hands would go on to change the game more than those four players and many more ever could. That man was David Stern.
David Stern went on to be league Commissioner for 30 years. He institutionalized most of what we take for granted within the NBA, making the game of professional basketball a true American pastime rather than a mere fan’s alternative once football season was over. He expanded the league from twenty-three to thirty teams, adding economic growth and league exposure to a new demographic of A…
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Points. Rebounds. Assists. Steals. Blocks. Shooting percentages.
There’s a lot that you can glean from the numbers comprising any NBA box score, but some players’ value goes well beyond the digits littering the page. Marc Gasol is one of those players, as his impact as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies simply can’t be identified quite so easily.
Sure, the Spanish 7-footer is averaging 10.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.1 blocks per game since returning from his knee injury in the middle of January. He’s also shooting only 44.4 percent from the field.
Are those special numbers?
Not exactly. In fact, they’re rather pedestrian, especially for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, one who has become thought of as one of the premier centers in basketball.
Fortunately, those aren’t the only numbers that matter for Gasol.
Grizzlies are Winning
Here’s the most important number of all: seven.
Since the big man returned to the lineup on Jan. 14 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Grizzlies have played eight games. Dropping only a lone contest to the New Orleans Pelicans, they’ve gone 7-1 over that stretch, which has gotten them right back into the thick of things in the Western Conference.
After beating the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 29, the Grizz improved to 24-20.
It’s a record that would leave them sitting pretty at No. 3 in the Eastern Conference, but the West is so difficult that Memphis wouldn’t have a playoff bid if the season had ended last night. At least they’ve moved back into contention, as the Dallas Mavericks are only a half game ahead of them and hold down the No. 8 seed.
But here’s the key:
The Grizzlies were above .500 before Gasol went down. They struggled to win games without him, and now they’re right back on a winning trajectory since he’s returned to the lineup.
NBA.com shows that the Grizzlies outscore their opponents by 0.4 points per 100 possessions when Gasol is on the court. But when he sits, the opponents do the outscoring, this time by 0.3 points per 100 possessions.
After the victory over the Kings, head coach David Joerger told the Associated Press via ESPN, “Our chemistry right now is as good as I’ve ever seen it. Our confidence is high and we’re really trying to stay in the moment.”
Hmm…I wonder why.
You could certainly say that the big man promotes winning. But how?
Defense Wins Championships
It’s all about the defense.
Gasol isn’t one of those players who racks up blocks and steals, but he’s still able to make a monumental impact on the less-glamorous end of the court. I mean, he did win Defensive Player of the Year last season despite averaging “only” 1.0 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.
If you look at the voting for that award, via Basketball-Reference, correlated with the combined number of blocks and steals, you’ll see Gasol emerge as a pretty serious outlier:
The big man may have been clear of the field by a rather large margin in terms of votes, but it’s not like he stood out in either of the categories that typically show up in a box score. He made an impact in other areas.
Intimidation, for example:
The Grizzlies defense is predicated on toughness, and it helps when the man in the middle is setting the tone. But it also helps when he sets out to protect the rim whenever possible.
According to SportVU data on NBA.com, the Spaniard is allowing opponents to shoot 50.7 percent at the rim, and he’s facing 6.8 shots per game in that area. Are those particularly impressive numbers? Nope, not really.
Among the 49 players who are facing at least six attempts per contest at the rim, Gasol is just about in the center of the pack for percentage allowed. However, that’s not really his role on the defense.
Players like Roy Hibbert and Larry Sanders are supposed to protect the rim at all costs, but Gasol is a more versatile defender. He’s constantly helping out other players by rotating and shifting his position, and his goal is to steer the defense as far as possible from the rim.
It’s the help defense that stands out, as do his individual numbers.
Synergy Sports (subscription required) shows that Gasol is allowing his man to post 0.76 points per possession, which ranks him No. 44 among all NBA players. Again, this is a guy who constantly helps out his teammates, and there’s generally a give-and-take process between individual numbers and help tendencies.
No player in the Association has been better at closing out on spot-up shooters, and Gasol is also thriving against post-up players. Not a bad combination at all.
82games.com shows a similar story unfolding.
The Memphis big man has held opposing centers to a 12.8 PER during the 2013-14 season. That’s a mark that puts him in the same class as Roy Hibbert (12.3) and leaves stalwart defenders like Joakim Noah (16.9) and Andrew Bogut (15.0) in the dust.
There’s no question that, even when returning from a severe injury, Gasol is an elite defender. You just have to know where to look for proof, as a box score won’t typically leave that impression.
Eases Pressure on the Backcourt Scorers
If you’re looking for a center who can help facilitate for the rest of the offense, Gasol is your man.
His assist numbers aren’t as impressive this season as they’ve been in the past, but he still functions as a hub of the offense, as B/R’s Tom Firme explains:
Gasol should help the shooters around him reach even higher as he grows more comfortable. Last season, he led centers with four assists per game.
He serves as a secondary facilitator to Conley. Gasol generally takes the ball at the elbow, with an equal tendency to pass as to shoot.
Even when the pass doesn’t turn into a dime, Gasol still helps the offense generate a positive flow. The ball moves more freely, and defenses are left scrambling to catch up. That’s why the Grizzlies shoot the ball so much more effectively when the big man is on the court.
Based on NBA.com’s data and some calculations of my own, the disparity becomes pretty clear.
When he’s on the bench—whether catching his breath or sitting out due to injury—Memphis has drained 45.2 percent of its shots from the field and 35.4 percent of its three-point attempts. That’s good for an effective field-goal percentage of 48.3 percent.
When he’s on the court, though, the Grizzlies shoot 46.5 percent from the field and drill their three-pointers 34.6 percent of the time, which results in a 49.4 effective field-goal percentage.
Unfortunately, the calculation isn’t that simple. Those on-court numbers include the ones generated by Gasol himself, so we aren’t isolating the effect he has on his teammates.
With the center removed from the equation, Memphis is shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 35 percent beyond the arc. The effective field-goal percentage rises to 50.5 percent as a result.
So he’s improving that crucial shooting metric 1.1 percent, which makes a pretty big difference over the course of an entire game.
Again, this doesn’t show up in the box score. But it sure matters.
The Grizzlies are a significantly more dangerous team on both ends of the court when Gasol is healthy and in the lineup. There’s so much he does that doesn’t get recorded by the official scorers, even though you can find it if you do a little bit more digging.
Now just imagine how much of an impact he’ll make when those per-game stats rebound to their 2012-13 levels.
Memphis will quickly become one of those squads no one wants to face during the postseason festivities.
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Less than four years later, though, could Wade actually be the driving force behind James’ departure from the Miami Heat? More specifically, will the 32-year-old’s nagging knee pain force the four-time MVP to seek out greener pastures should he choose to test free agency again this summer?
Those answers will remain a mystery until James provides some clarity.
But here’s what we do know. Wade’s knee problems are not going to go away. The Heat can (and have) take every precaution to protect his joints, but this issue dates back more than a decade.
None of this is lost on James. He sees the struggles his All-Star running mate is going through and understands just how much Wade means to his own championship pursuits.
Provided he sticks around in Miami, of course. If Wade was healthy, that’s simply a formality. But he isn’t, leaving James’ future far from settled.
It’s important to note that the Heat are doing the right thing by carefully monitoring Wade’s exposure.
Miami’s maintenance plan, which includes game day discussions between head coach Erik Spoelstra and trainer Jay Sabol about Wade’s availability, is the perfect way to approach this. Dynasties aren’t graded for their regular-season work. This franchise has been on the championship-or-bust scale since the Big Three first came together.
That said, this is far from an ideal situation for anyone involved.
Wade’s a fiery competitor, watching his team wage war without him cannot be easy. His absence—he’s missed 12 of the team’s first 42 games—leaves a major void that someone else has to fill.
Losing such a pivotal piece, often with advance notice of hours, not days, isn’t easy. Not even for the two-time defending champs, James said, via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
It’s tough. Guys think it’s easy, but it’s tough. We have a team built on chemistry, built on rhythm. With so many of the guys being in and out, and the concern with D-Wade, it’s been tough on all of us. We’ve got to go in with the mindset sometimes that he’s not playing, as opposed to: Is he playing?
Team president Pat Riley has done a masterful job of finding (cheap) champagne options on a beer budget. But it’s not as if there’s another Wade for Spoelstra to plug in.
Instead, there’s guys like Ray Allen, Roger Mason Jr. and James Jones. When they’ve started in Wade’s place, they haven’t exactly replaced the nine-time All-Star’s production.
Obviously, these players aren’t Wade, so asking them to mimic him on the court is unreasonable.
These also aren’t the players James envisioned starting alongside when he turned his back on his hometown fans, opened himself up to widespread criticism and even adopted an ill-fitting villain role to try to stay in front of the vitriol.
That’s why James can post a seemingly harmless birthday message to Wade on Instagram and we zero in on a potentially cryptic message, “No matter what happens in the future we stuck together like brothers for life.” Why we assume there’s a hidden meaning every time he speaks.
There’s a chance James hasn’t deceived us all. That he really doesn’t know what will happen next summer.
There’s an equally good chance that Wade will give him plenty more to think about before the season is over. There’s still a hope that better days are up ahead.
Sticking to the Plan
Wade’s disappearing act, while certainly frustrating, shouldn’t be surprising at all.
The Heat haven’t hidden their intent to keep their aging star as fresh as can be for the postseason push. This preservation plan might be playing a bigger role than we expected, but we knew going into this season that “DNPs” were inevitable.
Could these increased periods of inactivity be a sign of something bigger? Perhaps.
As Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel noted, “Three games in a row after so much extensive action is more than a ‘maintenance program.’”
Wade has sat out four of Miami’s last six games and wasn’t particularly effective in the two he played—a 4-of-11 shooting effort against the Washington Wizards on Jan. 15 and a quiet (eight points, two assists, two rebounds), 25-minute performance against the Philadelphia 76ers two nights later.
He’s struggling right now, both with his game and his body.
But isn’t that the reason this maintenance plan is in place? So that a brutal stretch like this comes in January, not June?
This rough patch aside, it looks like Miami’s monitoring program is working. Wade’s been wildly productive across the board when he’s been healthy and that scorching 54.0 field-goal percentage is nearly two percentage points clear of his previous best (52.1, set last season).
Not to mention, he isn’t missing a second of his injury coverage by the media. He’s performing at an All-Star level and picking up some added (and, judging by his stat sheet, unnecessary) fuel:
If Wade makes it to the postseason with a point to prove and the health to prove it, he’ll be the best No. 2 option (and better than a lot of No. 1 options) in the championship race.
His injury concerns will play a major factor in James’ decisions. But so, too, will his incredibly high talent level.
Is the Grass Any Greener?
James won’t find another situation like Miami. Not right out of the gate, at least.
Beyond the abundance of talent—having Chris Bosh as a third wheel is the definition of an embarrassment of riches—there’s a willingness (eagerness even?) to share the spotlight in pursuit of a shared goal. That kind of chemistry doesn’t happen everywhere.
As B/R‘s Adam Fromal put it, “It took Wade accepting his “Robin” role for the Heat to live up to their championship potential, and the excellent ball movement and the knack for making difficult plays look far too easy only come with terrific rhythm.”
How many legitimate superstars are ready to sign up for a sidekick role for James? How many of their teams have the necessary ingredients—championship ceiling, financial flexibility, marketing opportunities—to lure in the game’s biggest superstar?
Dirk Nowitzki would gladly jump in the back seat, but could James solve enough of the defensive problems to put the Dallas Mavericks into the championship picture? Have the Cleveland Cavaliers whiffed on too many lottery picks to make them a viable destination?
James needs to see something out of Wade to restore his confidence. However, he won’t start collecting evidence until the postseason rolls around.
But don’t forget about the proving period that his potential suitors are going through, too. If there is really a better supporting cast than Bosh and a part-time Wade, it hasn’t surfaced yet.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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Rondo could see his first NBA action since last January when his Boston Celtics host the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. He made that announcement on Twitter, although he did it without directly saying anything of the sort:
Thanks to a bit of number crunching, it seems like this is one of the few obscure, late-night NBA tweets that we can actually figure out:
This cannot be called an official announcement, nor even a firm commitment. At the least, though, it would seem to indicate that his return is coming sooner than later.
But what will happen when that time comes? What kind of mark can the four-time All-Star still make on this season, and what will his presence mean for the franchise’s future?
With nearly 12 full months of rust to scrape off, it will be some time before Rondo looks anything like the player he was before the injury.
“I’m not coming back playing 38 minutes a night,” he said, via Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. “I will have an impact on the game, but not like I used to have when I first come back.”
Besides the rust, he also has a new supporting cast around him, a new coach (Brad Stevens) feeding him the game plan and a new role to master. It might feel more like his first day than his return to work.
Still, Boston will need him to get up to speed quickly. As soon as he’s comfortable, he’s looking at as many minutes as he wants.
That’s great news for Avery Bradley, not so good for Jordan Crawford and awful for rookie Phil Pressey.
For Bradley, a restricted free agent-to-be, this is his chance to show Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge that he belongs in Boston’s backcourt moving forward.
Always a hard-nosed defender, Bradley’s starting to leave his fingerprints at both ends of the floor. It took him a while to find his rhythm (12.7 points on .433/.279 shooting in his first 19 games), but he’s been in a groove since the start of December (16.5 points on .475/.457 shooting over his last 20).
His offensive ceiling is raising, but there’s still a cap on its upward mobility.
He’s at his best when his offensive responsibilities are lightened. He doesn’t create well for others (1.4 assists). He’s a much more lethal scorer when someone is setting him up (1.32 points per possession on spot-up shots, 10th overall) than when he’s forced to find his own scoring chances (0.74 points per possession on isolations, 74th overall), via Synergy Sports (subscription required).
With Rondo at the wheel, coach Brad Stevens could take the same “say when” approach with Bradley’s playing time. Their styles just mesh at both ends of the floor, something that can’t be said for the players behind them.
What started as a dream has quickly become a nightmare for Crawford. Since a surprise Eastern Conference Player of the Week nod for Dec. 2-8, he’s reverted to his unabashed gunning ways. And the Celtics have paid the price.
Crawford is shooting just 36.1 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from deep over his last 17 games. The Celtics have dropped all but three of those contests.
This frigid spell has likely sapped any trade value the 25-year-old might have built earlier in the year. He’s Boston’s problem from here out and will likely be serving part-time duty with fellow water-faucet scorers Jerryd Bayless and MarShon Brooks.
Short term, Sevens can ride the hot hand on a nightly basis. If Ainge can find anything in return for any of the three, he won’t hesitate to make the call.
The glass slipper has shattered for undrafted Cinderella rookie Phil Pressey. His .244/.143/.571 slash makes Crawford seem like a knockdown shooter. If he’s seeing any action after Rondo’s return, those minutes will likely come with the Maine Red Claws, Boston’s D-League affiliate.
Opening the Trade Market
Rondo’s injury may have eased the decision for Ainge to hit the reset button, but it didn’t make things easy on the executive.
With the championship window closed, Ainge could move on from his veteran pieces. But without his best player on the floor, he couldn’t get a great assessment of his young talent.
Which players have seized the opportunity in Rondo’s absence, and which are simply filling a stat sheet by default?
Those answers will get clearer the second Rondo gets back.
Does Jared Sullinger really have a “Kevin Love of the East” ceiling like Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert thinks, via CSNNE? If another team sees that kind of potential in the sophomore, is this the ultimate sell-high chance this franchise needs to take?
Would a step out of the spotlight help Jeff Green rediscover his potential? Clearly, he’s not a No. 1 option (15.8 points on 43.8 percent shooting), but will he ever show the aggressiveness needed to be a reliable No. 2?
Rookie Kelly Olynyk could come under the microscope. A star during summer league, the big man has struggled mightily since the real season started (6.4 points on 40.7 percent shooting). Would a real point guard like Rondo help Olynyk find his rhythm, or should Ainge think about scrapping the former Gonzaga star for spare parts?
Which, if any, young players can help get Boston out of its bad contracts—Gerald Wallace (three years, $30 million), Brandon Bass (two years, $13 million)? Should anyone be considered untouchable?
Ainge needs assets. Badly.
Not only does this mean he needs to be active on the trade market, he also needs to be creative. He doesn’t appear to have much to sell to anyone.
As ESPN Insider Chad Ford wrote (subscription required), “Unless you think Avery Bradley or Jared Sullinger is a savior, the cupboard is pretty bare.”
It’s Ainge‘s job to get that cupboard stocked quickly.
If he wants a look at his team full strength, he’ll have a little more than a month before the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Anything and everything should be available to the highest bidder.
Well, anything other than Rondo. Ainge cannot trade him.
Ainge started to move this franchise forward, but he tried to catch a middle ground that could have sped up this rebuild.
It’s time for him to forget that idea.
Boston needs difference-makers. The kind that aren’t available in trades or free agency. This franchise needs a home run draft pick. Back-to-back jacks would be even better.
The best thing Boston did was give Stevens a six-year deal to start his NBA coaching career. Now it needs to give him a roster properly built for a rebuild.
This group is heavy on experience and short on potential. There aren’t enough pieces to be developed. There are too many veterans who understand that they’re playing for their next contract.
Rondo is a transcendent talent. As soon as he reminds the rest of the league of that fact, then Ainge needs to send him packing. By the time this team is ready to compete for anything substantial, what’s the likelihood that the 27-year-old is still performing at an All-Star level?
For so many years, Rondo was the glue that kept Boston’s championship picture together. Now, he needs to be the bridge that leads this franchise on its next title race.
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While some of his peers enjoy autonomy over their rosters, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau just received a stark reminder of how little influence he has in the personnel department.
At some point, that lack of control will completely sever this already fractured relationship between coach and front office.
In a players’ league like the NBA, it is beyond imperative that a coach and an executive staff find themselves on the same page. Thibodeau and the Bulls’ brass might not even be in the same book.
That’s been evident for a while, but was hammered home once word broke that one of Thibodeau‘s favorite players, Luol Deng, had been traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for financial relief and future draft considerations, via ESPN.com‘s Brian Windhorst.
For a coach who knows nothing other than living in the present, moving his best win-now player for future help was simply driving home the final nail in this coffin. As Chicago keeps shipping out Thibs‘ favorites, it’s only a matter of time before the coach follows their leads.
Losing His Guys
As an isolated incident, moving on from Deng wouldn’t have carried the same kind of weight.
There was a good chance the free-agent-to-be would have punched his own ticket out of town this summer. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Deng’s camp had turned down a three-year, $30 million contract extension offer just days before he was dealt to the Cavs. The contract’s value and length both reportedly fell short of the two-time All-Star’s wishes.
With Derrick Rose’s torn meniscus closing Chicago’s championship window for this season, the Bulls shifted their focus to the future. If title contention is not a realistic possibility, then looking forward becomes a must.
But Deng wasn’t the first of Thibs‘ guys to go.
The first domino to drop was his former lead assistant, Ron Adams. A long-time friend, the laid-back Adams was the perfect yin for the fiery Thibodeau‘s yang.
“If one of them coughs,” former San Antonio Spurs coach John Lucas said, via David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, “the other sneezes.”
Adams is a great player development mind, who shines brightest at the offensive end. He was the perfect complement to Thibodeau‘s defensive genius.
But Adams did not have his contract renewed last summer. That decision reportedly came from the front office, not Thibodeau. Sources told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that general manager Gar Forman had “objected to Adams’ displeasure with personnel decisions.”
Coming shortly after a months-long negotiation for Thibodeau‘s own extension, this news cast an ominous glare on the coach’s relationship with Forman:
If it was bad before, it’s only going to get worse with Deng’s departure:
Thibodeau had not been shy about voicing his support of Deng. Frankly, he would have been foolish to do anything else given the workloads he had been handing out to the forward.
Since Thibs grabbed the reins in 2010, Deng had averaged 38.9 minutes a night. He had the league’s highest average workload in each of the last two seasons. A two-way contributor, his versatility is what shined brightest in Thibodeau‘s eyes, via Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:
You need rebounding, he’ll give you rebounding. If he’s not shooting well, he gives you great defense. No matter how the game is going, he’s always going to be there late for you, no matter if it’s pick-and-roll offense, swinging the ball, moving without the ball, making a great random cut from the weak side. He has great impact on winning. You can’t ask anything more of one of your best players.
Well, Thibodeau can’t ask anything more. Apparently, whatever Deng was doing was not enough in Forman‘s eyes.
Deng fit Thibodeau‘s system perfectly. He was a white-collar talent with a blue-collar drive. He always took on the toughest defensive assignment and, in the wake of Rose’s latest injury, handled the biggest scoring load, too.
He was also a vital pillar holding up Chicago’s championship ceiling. His absence could send this team’s foundation crashing around the frustrated coach.
From Chasing Titles to Rebuilding
The season had barely started before the franchise’ worst fears were realized. After playing without their former MVP for the entire 2012-13 season, the Bulls lost Rose to a torn meniscus just 10 games into his return.
Just shy of the season’s halfway point now, it seems like Rose’s nightmares are starting to come true.
“Derrick is worried that the Bulls are going to lose what they have,” a league source said, via Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News. “He doesn’t want to go through rebuilding.”
He may not have another choice.
Deng is already out of the picture, and forward Carlos Boozer could be the next to go.
The 32-year-old has been an amnesty candidate for years, and this could be the summer when the Bulls finally bite that bullet. He has just one season left on his contract ($16.8 million for 2014-15, via Shamsports.com). His shooting has plummeted to a career low (45.2 percent) and his scoring (14.7) is down to its lowest level since his rookie season of 2002-03.
Even the players remaining in Chicago’s picture have plenty of question marks.
Rose will do what he can to get his body right, but there are serious concerns about a player that’s managed just 49 games since the start of the 2010-11 season. Jimmy Butler hasn’t just failed to make his expected leap, he’s shown signs of regression. His .398/.333/.781 shooting slash (down from .467/.381/.803 last season) suggests he may never be ready for a featured role.
Help could be on the way, but it might take a while to get to the Windy City.
Real Madrid star, and Chicago’s 2011 first-round draft pick, Nikola Mirotic still has several hurdles to clear just to make it stateside this summer. Assuming his buyout situation is completed, there’s still the matter of the 22-year-old adjusting to the NBA game. The 6’9″ stretch forward is supposed to be a can’t-miss player, but can’t-miss prospects have in fact missed before.
The Bulls netted three draft picks in exchange for Deng, but all three could wind up being second-round picks. Two already are (Portland’s picks in 2015 and 2016), and the third comes heavily protected. It’s Sacramento’s pick, but has top-12 protection for this season and top-10 protection for the next three years. If it hasn’t moved by 2017, it will become a second-round choice.
Chicago also owns Charlotte’s first-round pick in this upcoming draft, but it carries top-10 protection. The Bobcats (15-20) are sitting in the No. 7 spot out East, so this choice may not have the value it once appeared to hold.
The Bulls will be shedding significant salary, but they still have more than $39 million committed to Rose, Noah and Taj Gibson next season alone. Assuming Mirotic joins the fold, he’ll further chew into the budget. The biggest names of the 2014 free-agent class (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) might not be going anywhere, but if they do, they could find something sweeter than a twice-surgically repaired Rose to align with.
Chicago is doing the right thing by advancing this franchise. But try telling that to Thibodeau.
In the span of 12 months, he could go from leading a championship contender to running a repeat lottery club. And other clubs will be quick to show him the green grass that exists outside of Chicago.
No Trouble Finding Work
Thibs is under contract for two more seasons after this with Chicago. But as Doc Rivers showed last summer, a name-brand coach can work his way to a new team if he wants out badly enough.
That’s exactly what the New York Knicks are apparently hoping will happen with Thibodeau. Per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Bulls coach could be an eventual replacement for Mike Woodson if both parties were interested.
It doesn’t have to be the Knicks, though. If word leaked that Thibs was unhappy, he could practically handpick his next employer. As SB Nation‘s Tom Ziller wrote, “If you held an NBA Coach Draft, Thibs would probably go top five.”
Why would he want to go? Well, his favorite assistant is gone, his favorite player is gone and his best player has as many medical red flags as any superstar in the sport. Things may get a lot worse before they get any better, and the coach has never come off as the most patient guy when it comes to losing.
Wojnarowksi reported there is “so much distrust and downright disdain between the Bulls’ front office and coach.” When the championship window was open, those feelings could be put aside. Now that it’s closed indefinitely? Hard to say how long Thibs would want to keep up with that fight.
Especially if he’s not even allowed to coach his guys.
*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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It’s fair to say that Ohio State is a next-man-up program. One season’s class of seniors or the occasional gifted junior moves on and another crop of talented underclassmen bubble to the surface.
Sure, there have been the occasional anomalies like the 2006-07 freshman class of Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook, but most of the top Buckeyes manage to at least reach upperclassman status if they don’t fully graduate.
Terence Dials begat David Lighty, who begat Evan Turner, who begat William Buford, who begat Deshaun Thomas, and the circle continues unbroken forever and ever, amen.
Experience is a key at OSU, particularly in the Thad Matta era.
This season’s Buckeyes are loaded with experience. Matta’s nine-man rotation features two seniors and five juniors, nearly all of whom have had at least one occasion of strapping the team to their backs and carrying it to a victory.
All of this makes finding minutes very difficult for freshman forward Marc Loving. The 6’7″, 215-pound product of Saint John’s HS in Toledo, Ohio is a scorer with a lanky body that will fill out as he reaches his upperclass years.
His description should sound familiar.
Following a Tradition
In 2010, a dominant scorer from Fort Wayne, Ind., arrived on the OSU campus and proceeded to establish himself as a dangerous scorer off Matta’s bench. Three years later, Deshaun Thomas was an NBA draft pick.
The 2011 class brought in a talented transplant from Mississippi by way of New Jersey. His freshman year was essentially lost, but he broke out in the NCAA tournament as a sophomore, primarily serving as a backup for Thomas. Now, LaQuinton Ross is expected to contend for All-Big Ten honors and lead the Buckeyes in scoring this season.
Compare the numbers on Loving with his super-sub predecessors.
Loving didn’t arrive in Columbus quite as highly rated as Thomas or Ross, but he’s still been highly productive in his minutes.
No Conference for Young Men
The Big Ten is not traditionally a league where freshmen enter and dominate. Veteran experience and hard work often leads to success in the nation’s most rugged conference.
The last freshman to be named first-team All-Big Ten was Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger in 2011. It’s not a streak that looks to be in serious jeopardy this season, either.
Among this season’s true and redshirt freshmen, only Indiana’s Noah Vonleh and Purdue’s Bryson Scott are averaging more than eight points per game. Vonleh and Northwestern’s Sanjay Lumpkin are the only ones over five rebounds per game.
The following table depicts nine of the only 10 Big Ten freshmen—true or redshirt—with offensive ratings greater than 100. Apologies to Northwestern’s Lumpkin, cut for space limitations.
|B. Smotherman, Purdue||18.4||129.62||14.1||8.7||11.8||15.0||68.2||67.4|
|Marc Loving, OSU||12.3||128.85||22.0||9.5||11.7||9.2||53.2||61.0|
|Bronson Koenig, Wisc.||16.2||121.97||12.5||5.8||6.6||19.4||60.9||60.9|
|K. Stephens, Purdue||18.5||121.87||15.4||0.8||8.7||9.0||56.0||56.8|
|Zak Irvin, Michigan||16.7||118.15||20.2||5.1||10.8||8.1||56.3||56.5|
|Noah Vonleh, Indiana||22.2||115.57||24.4||14.1||29.2||20.0||56.8||62.1|
|Peter Jok, Iowa||14.4||110.2||23.4||2.9||8.4||15.0||45.5||51.4|
|Bryson Scott, Purdue||17.5||108.18||28.1||5.5||9.6||14.9||44.5||52.2|
|Jay Simpson, Purdue||13.7||106.47||22.4||15.2||19.4||15.4||47.6||49.5|
(All stats via StatSheet.com.)
The only two players more careful with the ball are Stephens and Irvin, both of whom have been primarily spot-up shooters. Loving’s 29 free-throw attempts rank him seventh among all Big Ten freshmen, and he trails only Vonleh and Scott among players on this table.
Loving’s 82.8 percent success rate at the line ranks him in the Big Ten’s top 10. That kind of proficiency makes him a threat to every Ohio State opponent if he stays aggressive. That hasn’t been a problem so far, as Loving’s 63.0 FT rate (FTA/FGA) trails only slashing point guard Aaron Craft and bricklaying center Trey McDonald.
Finally, Loving has shown that he can go get himself some second chances. His 9.5 offensive rebounding percentage is second on Ohio State behind only 7’0″ center Amir Williams.
How Much Loving Can the B1G Handle?
So let’s get this straight: A guy who attacks the basket and pulls offensive rebounds without turning the ball over and can drill his foul shots? He sounds like a coach’s dream, right? The downside for Loving is that Matta has multiple players like Ross or Sam Thompson with similar skill sets and more experience.
Loving’s foul shooting is his big advantage, as Ross (60 percent), Shannon Scott (61 percent) and Thompson (65 percent) all struggle at the line. Late in the game, Loving’s a guy who could see minutes when the opponent is in desperation fouling mode.
Those tense situations haven’t happened yet, though, because Ohio State’s nonconference schedule has been somewhat puny. How likely is Matta to trust a green freshman in a one-possession game on the road at Wisconsin or Iowa or Indiana?
If Loving can keep hitting the outside shot, he should vulture minutes from sophomore Amedeo Della Valle. That should keep his own playing time stable even as Matta tightens the rotation in conference games. Six or seven points per game seem a reasonable projection for a player who’s scoring from just about everywhere.
A season of learning the college game, building a college body and experiencing tough minutes in tight games at vicious road venues should make Loving a dangerous player for the 2014-15 season.
For this year, he can content himself with being a spark off the bench, with the potential for greater success if an injury should befall Ross or Thompson.
Ross has been there. Thomas was there before him. The “stud bench scorer” role is a place of pride at Ohio State. Loving’s ready to fill it in the games that really, really matter.
All statistics through games of December 25.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.
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