Memphis Grizzlies season preview: Player projections

So far in this Memphis Grizzlies three-part season preview, we’ve taken a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Grizzlies’ roster [Memphis Grizzlies season preview: Roster analysis] and how the team could fare in the Southeast Division and the Western Conference this season [Memphis Grizzlies season preview: Team projections]. In this article, we’ll take a look at key individual players on the team and project what kind of numbers they might put up this season.
Starting Five
PG: Mike Conley, Jr.
2013-14: 17.2 PPG (career-high), 6.0 APG & 1.5 SPG
2014-15 projections: 16.5 PPG, 8.0 APG, 2.0 SPG
Conley saw his role on the offense increase last season, having to shoulder some of the scoring load due to the lack of a solid perimeter scorer on the roster. As a result, he averaged career highs in points per game and field goal percentage (45%) last season. Expect Conley to continue to be a leading scorer on the team, although his points per game average will be reduced slightly due to the additio

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Milwaukee Bucks: Point guard depth changes player rotation

A good backup point guard is under-valued in the NBA. When the most reliable starters need a rest, a good point guard can take control of a game. They can keep or change the game tempo and even help settle down a rattled team. Good bench production is the kind of thing that helps win championships.
While Brandon Knight is the obvious starting point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, it will be interesting to see how head coach Jason Kidd distributes playing time to the rest of the backcourt.
Second-year player Nate Wolters will hope to build upon a solid rookie year. Wolters was put into the starting lineup at the beginning of the year last season due to a Brandon Knight injury. He played well as a rookie, and should greatly benefit from a full season in the NBA. Wolters didn’t do anything extremely impressive his rookie year, but he proved he can be a reliable backup point guard with the talent to grow into a consistent starter later in his career. Wolters can score, pass well and is even a decent rebounder. W

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Los Angeles Clippers season preview: Player projections

We have hit the middle of our three part preview of the 2014-2015 Los Angeles Clippers, check out the Part 1 if you have not already. The question we are faced with now is how much better can this year’s Clippers team be in this incredibly deep Western Conference. The answer to that question is going to be the function of two things. How much better did this Clippers team get over the offseason? And how much better, if any, did the top tier of the Western Conference get this offseason?
DeAndre jordan and Blake Griffin during the national anthem previous to the Clippers preseason opener vs the Warriors.(photi credit Getty Images)
Okay, so part 1 of our preview handled the personal changes the Clippers made, but from a logistical and tactical standpoint the Clippers have to do a few things differently this season if they hope to crack the top two in the West and truly contend for a championship.
Offensive projections:
Nothing is changing, expect a lot of dunks, a lot of Blake Griffin and DeAndre in the post,

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Who Is Cleveland Cavaliers’ Most Important Player Outside of the Big 3?

The revamped Cleveland Cavaliers may simultaneously employ the NBA‘s best No. 1 option, second fiddle and third wheel this season. That is one of the many luxuries stemming from a summer that witnessed LeBron James’ return, Kevin Love’s arrival and Kyrie Irving‘s max-contract commitment.

But three players does not an NBA champion make—not even if those three have All-World credentials.

The strength of Cleveland’s championship stock may hinge on the diversification of this team’s production. James, Love and Irving can (and have) put the Cavs in title talks, per Odds Shark, but it’s going to take more to close that conversation.

Specifically, it’s going to take consistent and efficient production from a supporting cast featuring a mix of aging vets and still-developing prospects. And those prospects in particularTristan Thompson and Dion Waiters—will be critical to putting an end to The Forest City’s decades-long championship drought.

Sure, the Cavs will need Mike Miller’s three-point cannon and the spacing it creates, but they could lean on James Jones, Matthew Dellavedova and rookie Joe Harris for the long ball if they have to. Plus, Cleveland may yet add Ray Allen’s historically prolific perimeter touch to the mix.

The Cavs will also undoubtedly benefit from the energy and intelligence of veterans Anderson Varejao and Shawn Marion. But it’s hard to peg Varejao for an important role after seeing him miss 166 games over the past four seasons to injury. As for the 36-year-old Marion, he figures to be a part-time player at best as Father Time’s grip tightens around him.

Those guys are Cleveland’s helpers. Waiters and Thompson, though, could be Cleveland’s real difference-makers.

From a statistical standpoint, Waiters has the chance to show as well as any non-Big-Three Cavalier.

The explosive scoring guard erupted for 14.7 points and 3.0 assists as a rookie in 2012-13. For an encore, he bumped his scoring average (15.9), effective field-goal percentage (47.9, up from 45.1) and player efficiency rating (14.0 from 13.7) during his sophomore campaign, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

He can create his own scoring chances66.4 percent of his career two-point field goals have been unassisted—and his ability to wreak havoc off the bounce can keep pressure on opposing defenses even when Cleveland’s talented trio catch a breather. Waiters is also a capable setup man when he’s willing to share the basketball.

All of those are good traits to have, and seeing that he won’t turn 23 until December, the future looks incredibly bright if he can build around them.

As for the present, well, that’s a lot murkier. With Irving, Love and James on board, the Cavs don’t need a lot of what Waiters has to offer. As soon as James signed on the dotted line, Waiters knew this season would be one of adaptation.

“I have to make adjustments,” Waiters told reporters in July. “I have to find ways to impact the game without having the ball. I’m planning to go watch tape to see what [Dwyane Wade] did when he played with LeBron. I need to learn how to be effective out there with him.”

Waiters is on the right track, but the Cavs don’t need him to recreate the role Wade played alongside James with the Miami Heat. The spot set aside for Waiters is much further removed from the spotlight and far more limited in terms of touches. Bleacher Report’s Jared Dubin provided insight on how Waiters needs to improve: 

Whether Cavs coach David Blatt decides to start Waiters or not, the former Syracuse star should see major minutes with the second team. Cleveland’s reserves need his offensive creativity, whereas that gift would feel redundant given the Big Three are better scorers and passers than Waiters.

He’ll still see time with Cleveland’s big boppers, but his responsibilities will change dramatically from what they have been.

“The Cavaliers don’t necessarily need Waiters to drop 15-20 points a game,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman. “They need him to be timely, efficient and consistently threatening.”

Waiters has the tools to succeed in such a role. Last season, he converted 41.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes, per SportVU player tracking data, which put him ahead of long-range snipers Danny Green (41.5), Vince Carter (40.1), Dirk Nowitzki (39.9) and the aforementioned Allen (39.9), among others.

But taking full advantage of that talent means leaving behind the ball-dominant skills responsible for getting him to the league. His NBA reality changed this summer as much as anyone on the roster, and it could take him all season (or longer) to catch up.

He has held or shared the lead in field-goal attempts during each of Cleveland’s first four preseason games. While he has made the most of these shots (47.2 percent shooting), the volume is still surprising with all of the weapons now around him.

Eventually, these personnel changes and the adjustments they bring out of Waiters will be a good thing. But for now they could put too many bumps in his road to comfortably consider him Cleveland’s fourth-most important player.

“This should result in a more efficient and less volatile player, but who knows,” SportsOnEarth’s Michael Pina wrote. ”Context is everything here, and a scorer who’s used to having the ball in his hands all the time must adapt when better players are brought into the fold.”

On the surface, Cleveland’s moves seem to negatively impact Thompson as much as anyone. After all, his natural power forward position can now be filled by the greatest player on the planet (James), a perennial All-Star (Love) or a former world champ (Marion).

Yet, this influx of talent actually puts Thompson in position to simplify his task list and focus on areas in which he has excelled in the past. And if he can pull this off, he should easily emerge as the fourth-most important piece of the puzzle.

“James, Love and Irving will grab the headlines, but it’ll be how Thompson controls the paint on defense that could really tell the story of most games,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz. “Cleveland needs Thompson to transform into the elite defender and shot-blocker many believed he’d become in the league.”

The Cavs badly need a rim protector. They have leaks on the defensive perimeter, and Love and Varejao don’t offer much insurance behind them. Brendan Haywood missed all of last season with a broken foot, and he hasn’t posted even an average PER since 2009-10, according to Basketball-Reference.com, so he won’t be much help, either.

To date, Thompson has hardly been a rim deterrent at this level. He averaged 0.4 blocks per game last season. Opponents shot 58.0 percent against him at the rim, per SportVU, which was the second-worst rate of the 75 defenders to face at least five such attempts per game.

This was never supposed to be an issue. In fact, he entered the league overflowing with potential as an interior defender.

Thanks to a massive 7’2″ wingspan, per ESPN Insider (subscription required), Thompson averaged 2.4 blocks during his lone season at Texas and posted a 7.2 block percentage there, according to Sports-Reference.com. To put that second number into perspective, Anthony Davis and Serge Ibaka led the league with a 6.7 block percentage last season (minimum 20 minutes per game).

“Tristan is a high-energy guy that gets his hands on the ball at both ends of the court,” Blatt told reporters earlier this month. “He has a very, very high motor. He’s active.”

If Thompson can rediscover his old shot-blocking form, he could go a long way toward addressing arguably the team’s biggest weakness. And if guys such as James, Love and Marion force him to find most of his minutes at the center spot, he says that it’s even better for him, per Cavs.com’s Joe Gabriele:

I think playing the 5 is an advantage for me. I’m much quicker than a lot of the other centers in our league. So, I’ll give them havoc and at the same time, I’ve got stronger over the summer where I can guard the 5’s and body up against them.

And if you look at it, our league is changing. You don’t really have the prototypical centers anymore—like the Shaqs, the Ewings, the Mutombos. Everyone’s more mobile and athletic, so a 4 or 5 in this league isn’t as big a difference.

Whether at the 4 or 5, Thompson simply needs to stay in his lane. And, unlike Waiters, Thompson should feel extremely comfortable with his role.

The Cavs aren’t looking for more than interior activity out of him. Judging by his production through three preseason games—12.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks in 23.7 minutes—that is precisely what he is prepared to give.

Thompson doesn’t need the ball to be effective. And his work as an off-ball cutter, above-the-rim finisher and offensive rebounder should all mesh well with the Big Three.

Not only can he coexist with that trio, his length, athleticism and defensive effort should also make it even better.

The Cavs, like any other championship hopefuls, will need everyone to make a successful title run. But Thompson will play the biggest role of Cleveland’s support staff due to the uniqueness of his talents and the way they will complement the rest of this roster.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Breaking Down What Makes James Harden an Elite Offensive Player

James Harden of the Houston Rockets may be the most intriguing case study in the NBA. He’s easily one of the five most gifted offensive players in the league, yet all anyone talks about anymore is his defense. So, for this article, we’re not going to talk about those flaws. We’re going to discuss what makes Harden such a special player.

He’s able to score, he’s able do so efficiently and he involves his teammates while doing so. Those three things make him an elite offensive player. And by elite, I don’t just mean among his contemporaries. Harden is not just good—he’s historically good.

In his two years with Houston, he has averaged 25.7 points on a .609 true shooting percentage, adding 6.0 assists while doing so. Per Basketball-Reference.com, only three other players have had a season where they met those standards: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and LeBron James.

If advanced stats are more your thing, during both of his years in Houston, Harden had a usage percentage over 27, an assist percentage above 25 and a true shooting percentage over 60, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Only three other players have accomplished that feat twice: Jordan, Bird and James.

I don’t mean to overstate things here, but Jordan, Bird and James make up a pretty elite trio. He is not on their historical level yet, but what he’s accomplished suggests he could be.

So what makes Harden so special? The answer might surprise you: It’s his brain. Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland writes:

James Harden is one of the smartest on-court players in the NBA. Perhaps more than anyone else, he understands the rules of the game and has engineered an approach to scoring that takes full advantage of these rules.

It may not always be pretty (although sometimes it is), but it is almost always productive. Between his Eurostep and his incredible ability to get fouled, Harden might be a referee’s nightmare, but he’s also one of the best scorers in the league.

Based on his understanding of the game, there are three things in particular Harden does to build his impressive offensive resume: shoot from the right spots on the floor, draws fouls and find open teammates when he’s double-teamed.

 

Shooting From the Right Spots

Probably the most important factor in scoring efficiently isn’t whether you make the shots; it’s where you take them from. If you shoot closer to the rim, you are more likely to make them. If you take them from three, they are going to count for more. Ergo, the restricted area and behind the three-point line are the target areas.

Harden’s shot chart, available at NBA.com/STATS, shows how his shots are distributed.

Notice how the concentration is in those two critical high-efficiency areas.

Last year, there were 22 players who attempted at least 400 threes and 47 who took at least 300 shots inside the restricted area. There were only five players who did both. Here they are with a glossary [1] to explain the headers:

You might notice that these are some of the most effective scorers in the league. That’s not a coincidence. 

 

Drawing Fouls

Another area of the court where players can boost their efficiency is from the free-throw stripe. If Harden were a sketch artist, he could make a living just drawing fouls.

One of the better new analysis tools is “free-throw rate,” which shows how often a player draws a foul. This is devised from dividing the field-goal attempts by the free-throw attempts.

There’s a hitch to that, though, as some players are fouled intentionally because they are more efficient from the field than from the stripe. In those cases, the defense feels it has an advantage in fouling, so they do. [2]

However, if we add the free-throw percentage to the free-throw rate, it gives us “free-throw rating.” That gives us a good feel for who not only gets to the line but also who takes advantage of getting there.

Not surprisingly, Harden and Durant top this list. Kevin Love is seventh. Those are the only three on both lists.

When you combine these two things—shooting form the efficient places on the court and shooting well from the stripe—you get an efficient scorer. True shooting percentage adjusts for three-pointers and free throws.

Five players averaged 25 points: James, Harden, Durant, Love and Carmelo Anthony. Three of them had a true shooting percentage over .600: James, Durant and Harden. When you combine that degree of volume and efficiency, you get MVPs.

What’s more remarkable is that, according to 82games.com, he was just called for just 32 offensive fouls. His 665 free-throw attempts suggest he was fouled well over 320 times (which would incur 640-ish free throws). In other words, he draws about 10 fouls for every offensive foul.

Call it flopping. Call it star treatment. Call it words I can’t use on Bleacher Report. But Harden calls them points. And that’s a big part of why he’s such an effective scorer.

 

Passing the Ball

The last thing Harden does that makes him an elite offensive player is pass prudently. He’s not an elite passer on the level of Chris Paul. He’s not always looking to create points for his teammates. But he is smart enough to pass out of a double-team rather than force up a bad shot.

Taking efficient shots is one way to bolster your shooting percentages. Not taking stupid ones is another. This might seem obvious, but without getting critical of anyone in particular, let’s just say there are some noteworthy scorers in the NBA who haven’t learned this lesson.

Basketball is not diving or gymnastics; you don’t get extra points for degree of difficulty. It’s better to find the open teammate than to force a bad shot. Case in point:

And that’s not just an isolated case. When I worked with Adam Fromal to develop passer rating, one thing we looked at is which players raised their teammate’s field-goal percentage the most when they passed them the ball. We called that field-goal percentage impact.

Among non-point guards, Harden had the fifth-largest impact (behind Joakim Noah, Nicolas Batum, Durant and James), raising his teammates’ field-goal percentage 3.62 percentage points.

Only two of those players, Durant and James, were also their team’s leading scorer.

Statistically, Harden establishes over and over that he is in the same company as Durant and James on offense.

 

***

There are three players who are among the best at all three of these areas: Harden, James and Durant. Two of them have won five of the last six MVPs. It’s not entirely unreasonable that Harden could have one of those in his future.

He’s not perfect on offense. He has too many passing turnovers (135 last year). He pressed too hard in last year’s postseason when he should have been trusting his teammates. I’m not trying to hide from that.

But remember, he just turned 25. These things (and defense) are lessons that players normally don’t learn until they’re in the second half of their 20s.

People say Harden has an old-man’s game. In the deliberate way he moves with the ball, that’s true. But in terms of where he shoots from, he’s much more of a modern-age man. And in terms of actual age, he’s a very young man.

If Harden’s game matures, he could blend those things together and become one of the most special players in history. He’s already posting numbers that are historically rare. When you consider that he’s already playing at such a high level and how much room he has to grow, it’s a scary combination.

 

 

[1] RAFG = Restricted Area Field Goal; RAFGA = Restricted Area Field-Goal Attempt; %ATT = Percent of Total Field Goal Attempts from efficient areas or (RAFGA+3PA)/FGA; EFG%EA = Effective Field-Goal Percentage on Attempts from Efficient Areas

[2] This is usually a bad strategy. In order for it to be effective, a player would have to have a higher field-goal percentage than free-throw percentage, otherwise, on average, you’re giving away points. 

 

Stats for this article come from Basketball-Reference.com, 82games.com, and NBA.com/STATS.

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Kobe on ESPN ranking him 40th-best player: ‘Bunch of idiots’

ESPN.com has ranked nearly every NBA player and the Worldwide Leader is releasing its selections leading up to the start of the 2014-15 season. And on Thursday, five more players (ranked 36-40) were revealed. Los Angeles Lakers G Kobe Bryant came in at No. 40, which surprised fans and analysts alike. Bryant—who possesses five championship rings and an MVP award—wasn’t very happy about it. And that’s understandable, being that Goran Dragic, Klay Thompson, Andre Drummond and Andre Iguodala are all ranked ahead of him. So Kobe weighed in. And he called out the ESPN Forecast panelists, saying ESPNers are “a bunch of idiots.”…

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Part Three: Minnesota Timberwolves season preview: Player projections

This is the final part of the Minnesota Timberwolves season preview, the first was a roster analysis of the team, while the second was a prediction for how the team will finish in the division. For this final part, I will be making my predictions about the lineups the Timberwolves will use and how the players getting minutes will do over the season.
Starting Five Projections:
Ricky Rubio
At point guard, Ricky Rubio will again be the starter, and I think he will get more opportunities to score with Kevin Love gone but will shoot a lower percentage as he changed up his shooting form over the off season. His assists and steals should still be around the same in my opinion, with Rubio also still picking up a solid amount of rebounds for the point guard position.
Prediction: 12 points, nine assists, four rebounds and between two and three steals per game while shooting 36% from the field and shooting 30% from three.
Kevin Martin will be the starting shooting guard, and since he isn’t much of a defender or reboun

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Nance named MW Preseason Player of the Year

Wyoming senior Larry Nance Jr. named the Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year

      
 

 

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Chicago Bulls Preseason Player Rankings

At the midway point of the 2014 preseason Bulls fans have witnessed a bit of ups, a bit of downs, but mostly ups if you’re looking at the right things.
Derrick Rose seems to have barely lost a step and his shot has improved greatly compared to the sample received from his involvement with Team USA this past summer. Most importantly though, he is playing smart.
It’s no secret the Bulls will go only as far as their much maligned leader can take them.
There are other positives to draw as well. Here, Sports Mockery will rank the Chicago Bulls’ regular rotation players in terms of preseason performance thus far.
11. Tony Snell- 6.42 PER

Snellycat had a phenomenal summer league campaign, however his preseason showing thus far has proven those results must always be taken with a grain of salt.
He doesn’t rank in the top five of any statistical category (advanced or per game averages) for the Bulls and still doesn’t seem to have found his place in Tom Thibodeau’s demanding system.
To expound on that poin

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Milwaukee Bucks season preview: Player projections

In the third and final part of the Milwaukee Bucks season preview, we will be looking at the potential starting five and their expectations for the upcoming season. For part one, looking at the Bucks roster for the upcoming season, click here. For part two, looking at the team’s projections for this year, click here.
Throughout the first three games of the preseason, coach Kidd has not started the same five players twice. He seems to be giving players a chance to show what they can bring to the team and how well they play with other likely starters. The Bucks have a lot of talent which hints that the starting five to begin the season most likely won’t be the same starting five in the middle of the season or even the end of the season.
Point Guard
The starting point guard of the Milwaukee Bucks will be Brandon Knight. Knight is the obvious choice for the role and has played well in each preseason game. Knight is a great scorer, but he only averaged 4.9 assists for Milwaukee last season. With Jason Kidd coa

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