It wasn’t a big deal that Cody Zeller underperformed his rookie year. The veterans stepped up and led the team on a feel-good run.
But if Zeller can’t build on what was a promising second half of last season, it could mean bad news for everyone involved.
For starters, it puts a dark cloud on Zeller‘s outlook as a prospect. One rough season is reasonable. Two in a row calls for panic.
A disappointing year from Zeller might also hurt the Charlotte Hornets, a team that could use all the firepower it can get. The Hornets finished No. 24 in offensive efficiency last season, and then lost Josh McRoberts (free agency), who ranked third on the team in scoring, second in rebounding and second in assists.
Charlotte’s backcourt got a nice boost with the addition of Lance Stephenson, and that should make it tougher. But in terms of frontcourt depth, Al Jefferson might need some support.
As a 2013 No. 4 pick with two years of college ball under his belt, Zeller should be expected to contribute regular, productive minutes in 2015.
Even with the departure of McRoberts, Zeller looks poised for a role off the bench, but that shouldn’t diminish its significance.
The Hornets bench is pretty weak. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo aren’t giving you much offense, and Gary Neal shot 35.3 percent from the field last season.
Marvin Williams starting at the 4 doesn’t exactly scream mismatch either.
Zeller has an important job to do this upcoming season. The Hornets are going to need someone to step in and keep the pressure on when Jefferson takes a seat.
And that has to be on Zeller, who was drafted as high as he was based on his size, athleticism and offensive game.
But it’s pretty clear he’ll have some adjustments and improvements to make moving forward. Zeller‘s weaknesses and concerns from college seemed to carry over to the pros, while he’s had trouble tapping into his strengths.
He’s just not very good at taking or playing through contact. That showed at Indiana, and it showed last year in Charlotte, where he shot just 54.3 percent at the rim. His undersized, sub-6’11″ wingspan doesn’t help.
“Taking the ball stronger to the basket. … that’s one of the things he has to do a better job of,” assistant coach Patrick Ewing told Fox News.
Adding upper-body strength will help, which, according to coach Steve Clifford, he did this summer, but Zeller will ultimately have to evolve into more of a stretch or pick-and-pop big man.
Last year, he failed to capitalize on the perimeter despite showing shooting potential out of college. Zeller hit just 27.3 percent of his shots from 16 feet out to the arc, per sports-reference.com.
He has to become a threat in the mid-to-long range next year. Not only will it help stretch the defense, but he’ll get more balanced looks on straight up-and-down jumpers than he will trying to finish in traffic down low.
“I think that is going to add so much more to my game,” Zeller said referring to his jumper via Fox News. “It will open more driving lanes for me and open more for my teammates. That’s something I have been working on.”
Defense is a whole other issue. Zeller averaged 4.3 personal fouls per 36 minutes and blocked just 41 shots in 82 games in 2013-14. Chances are defense will take some time, which he’s expected to get this year, though Zeller doesn’t quite project as your traditional rim protector.
On the bright side, he did appear to find somewhat of a groove down the stretch of last year. He shot 55.8 percent in March and 51.3 percent in April, numbers that helped raise the bar for him in 2014-15.
Hopefully for the Hornets, Zeller starts where he left off, given the positive vibes and expectations surrounding the franchise.
In what looks like a mediocre East outside the top few teams, Charlotte might not need Zeller to sneak into the playoffs. Between Kemba Walker, Jefferson and Stevenson, plus Gerald Henderson now a fourth option, this team is going to win some games.
But an effective Zeller up front—one that runs the floor, knocks down open shots and finishes opportunistically inside—could really add a much-needed punch of frontcourt offense. If he’s on his game this year, the Hornets could have weapons at every position.
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Heading into the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ 2014-15 season, every starting position appears to be locked down except one.
While Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao are nearly guaranteed to represent four-fifths of the starting lineup, who’ll get the nod at shooting guard?
Cleveland runs four deep at the 2-guard spot. Dion Waiters is by far the most talented, but has primarily come off the bench in his young career. Newly-signed Mike Miller is a former Sixth Man of the Year award winner, but may be a better fit with the Cavaliers starters. Veteran James Jones and rookie Joe Harris round out the group.
Overall, this is a much deeper and improved version of what we saw a season ago.
So, who should start, who should play a reserve role and what can we realistically expect from the Cavs‘ scoring guard position this year?
Last Season’s Results
The Cavaliers shooting guard spot was handled primary by Waiters, C.J. Miles, Jarrett Jack and Matthew Dellavedova in 2013-14.
Miles was a solid wing player in his two seasons but battled injuries and an inconsistent shot that ultimately led to his switching of addresses. Jack signed a four-year deal with the Cavaliers last summer but never played to the level he reached with the Golden State Warriors just a season before. Just to clear his contract from their books ended up costing the Cavs a 2016 first-round draft pick.
All four players were a revolving door at shooting guard, with three getting a share of the starting duties.
Waiters was the first to try out.
Mike Brown’s experimentation with him next to Irving lasted a whopping nine games before Waiters was sent to the bench in favor of Miles. Waiters wanted the ball in his hands, as did Irving. Miles preferred to score off catch-and-shoot opportunities, thus providing a better fit next to Irving.
Miles held down the position for the next few months, struggling in December (7.0 points on 30.4 percent shooting from deep) before putting together his best month in January (12.6 points on 46.5 percent).
Despite his individual success, the Cavs still stunk.
Following a 117-86 beatdown to the New York Knicks that left them sitting at 16-30 on Jan. 30, Brown made the switch to Jack in the starting lineup.
While the team began showing signs of life, it certainly wasn’t because of Jack.
When he signed with Cleveland, Jack must have forgot his jump shot in Oakland. As a starter, Jack averaged just 9.9 points on 42.0 percent shooting from the field and a miserable 29.4 percent from three.
A late-season injury to Kyrie Irving, coupled with a benching of Jack, once again provided Waiters with a starting opportunity. Without Irving around to dominate the ball, Waiters had free reign of the offense. He responded with averages of 18.3 points and 3.5 assists as a starter for the year.
Here’s where the Cavs shooting guards ranked collectively in seven key categories, via Hoopsstats.com.
Honestly, this wasn’t a bad collection of talent at one position. Injuries hurt Miles, and poor rotations plagued Waiters. Jack really had no excuse. Dellavedova was a solid defender and distributor off the bench and, during one brief stretch, started because he was the only Cavalier who was hustling (true story).
To grade this group’s performance is tricky. Like the lazy student who’s actually really smart but doesn’t exude enough effort, we’re stuck thinking about what might have been.
To Be Decided
Since Miles and Jack are now gone, what role will their replacements play?
We can assume Dellavedova will take on the backup point guard job full-time with the lack of depth behind Irving. This leaves Waiters, Miller, Jones and Harris as the team’s shooting guards.
First, will Cleveland even want that many?
Harris seemed like a solid pick at the time when the Cavaliers took him with their 2014 second-round pick. GM David Griffin wanted an off-ball guard to run around, come off screens and knock down open shots created by Irving.
While the Cavs originally planned to be patient with Harris, they may send him to the D-League now to open up more minutes for veteran players. Harris could be a good shooter in the NBA. Miller and Jones already are.
It’s worth noting that both Miller (6’8″, 218 pounds) and Jones (6’8″, 215 pounds) can play small forward as well. Waiters is the only Cavalier that should be considered an exclusive 2-guard.
That is, assuming the roster stays the same.
Ray Allen remains a possibility for the Cavs. At 39 years of age, Allen still has not made up his mind whether to retire or return to the NBA for a 19th pro season.
Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe reported back in July that Allen was leaning towards the latter, with the Cavaliers atop his list:
With vets Miller and James on board to rain down threes, do the Cavs really need Allen?
Probably not, although someone with his knowledge and experience certainly wouldn’t hurt.
As Sports Illustrated’s Chris Johnson points out, Allen is still quite productive despite his 40th birthday approaching:
Even if Allen’s not lacing clutch treys in playoff crunch time, his presence alone opens up opportunities for other scorers because defenses can’t leave him open. Further, despite a decline in his counting statistics, Allen still shot the ball well last season. His effective field goal percentage, which puts extra weight on three-point shots, was the eighth highest of his career, and he still drained threes from one corner at an impressive clip.
At this point, Allen would be like crushed Oreos on top of the Cavs‘ hot fudge sundae of offense. At first it seems like a great idea, but would it really be necessary?
Right now, Cleveland’s focus needs to be on their own contracted players, including selecting a starter from the bunch.
This Year’s Rotation
Before deciding on a starter, it’s important to come up with a healthy minute distribution between the candidates.
Don’t expect Harris to see much playing time, if any at all. The Cavaliers are in win-now mode and will prefer to rely on their vets over a rookie. The best thing Cleveland can do is give Harris a good run with the Canton Charge and let him develop his game down there. After all, Jones is only on a one-year deal, while Miller has a player option for next season.
Waiters, whether he starts or serves as the team’s sixth man, needs to receive the bulk of the minutes.
His stats the past two years won’t scream star, but that’s precisely what Waiters could become. Few players in the league are as adept as Waiters when splitting defenders and getting to the basket. While he’s yet to prove he can score in the flow of an offense, Waiters has excelled when asked to create on his own.
Miller has been both a starter and Sixth Man of the Year. Last season with the Memphis Grizzlies, he averaged 7.1 points and 2.5 rebounds on 45.9 percent shooting from three. Miller played in all 82 games, collecting 20.8 minutes a night as a reserve.
He should still get 15-20 minutes a game for the Cavs, no matter what role coach David Blatt chooses.
Jones got buried on the Miami Heat‘s bench a year ago but still proved his accuracy from deep. His 51.9 percent three-point shooting would have been tops in the NBA with enough playing time. For his career, Jones is an excellent 40.3 percent marksman.
Jones’ playing time will largely depend on those around him. If Miller struggles with his shot, Blatt shouldn’t be hesitant to insert Jones into the game instead. His minutes could range from a DNP-coach’s decision to 20 a night.
So, who starts?
If Blatt goes off talent alone, it will be Waiters. If he prefers fit, then Miller should receive the nod.
As unpopular a decision as it may be with Waiters and some Cleveland fans, the 2012 fourth overall pick’s best option should be as the team’s sixth man.
Waiters has struggled sharing the ball with Irving. How’s he going to improve alongside James and Love, the No. 3 and No. 4 scorers in the league last year? There are just not enough shots to go around in the starting five. Waiters has yet to prove he can play off the ball and has been a pretty average outside shooter in his young career (34.2 percent from three).
Cleveland’s bench will lack a true playmaker if Waiters starts. When Irving and James need a breather, Waiters would be the perfect choice to come in the game and keep the offense humming. The Cavaliers could still keep Waiters’ minute total around 30-35, even off the bench, a la James Harden‘s third season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Miller, on the other hand, would fit in beautifully with the starting five.
At this stage in his career, stats matter very little compared to wins. Even if he’s not getting a high number of shots up, his presence alone would help stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for James and Irving. Cleveland could still keep his minute total low, thus preserving Miller for the postseason and giving Waiters his opportunity to shine.
With three stars (including the league’s best player) in the starting lineup, the Cavs need to think of fit instead of star power at shooting guard.
Whatever the Cavaliers choose to do, the 2-guard position should be well taken care of this season.
Greg Swartz has covered the Cleveland Cavaliers for Bleacher Report since 2010. Connect with him on Twitter for more basketball news and conversation.
All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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But instead of blindly throwing money around or pulling the trigger on a painfully short-sighted deal—much like the one that brought Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn—the Nets were rewarded for their patience.
Three years ago, Brooklyn made a draft-night deal that will pay off immensely in 2014-15. The Nets sent a 2013 second-rounder and cash to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Bojan Bogdanovic, who had been acquired by the T’Wolves from the Miami Heat in exchange for Norris Cole.
The 25-year-old Croatian forward has spent the past three years playing overseas but signed a three-year, $10 million deal with the Nets on July 22—five days after Pierce became a Wizard.
Playing for his native Croatia, Bogdanovic lit up the FIBA World Cup this summer and was honored with a spot on Sports Illustrated‘s unofficial All-Tournament Second Team.
Here’s what SI’s Ben Golliver had to say about Brooklyn’s new forward:
Bogdanovic, 25, finished as the tournament’s third-leading scorer, turning in another strong series of performances after earning All-Tournament Team honors at 2013 EuroBasket. Although Croatia was eliminated by France in the Round of 16, the 6-foot-8 wing went out in a blaze of glory, finishing with 27 points (on 11-of-19 shooting) and six rebounds. After spending the last three years playing in Turkey, Bogdanovic will join the Nets after signing a three-year deal this summer.
It’s premature to start anointing Bogdanovic as “Je Istina“—that’s Croatian for “The Truth.”
But it is time to get excited in Brooklyn, because this guy appears to be the real deal.
Likening Bogdanovic to Pierce
Three years ago, a YouTube video showing striking similarities between Bogdanovic and Pierce surfaced.
The more you watch, the more powerful the resemblance becomes. It’s uncanny. The way Bogdanovic shoots, dribbles, pump-fakes, spins and moves is like a mirror of Pierce.
Here’s Daniel LoGiudice of Nets Daily with more:
It’s no secret that Pierce was never the greatest athlete on the court. Without that elite athleticism, Pierce relied upon his post game, step-back jumpers, pump fakes and jabs to get buckets, not to mention those groan-enhanced trips to the line.
As the video –and his recent play in the FIBA World Cup– shows, Bogdanovic, like Pierce, uses pump fakes to get to the basket as opposed to relying on sheer athleticism. And like Pierce, he gets to the line, as exhibited by his 17 free throws vs. Puerto Rico Thursday. In the FIBA World Cup so far, Bogdanovic has gone to the line on average eight times a game. Pierce, in his career, has gone to the line seven times per.
Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York reported that Brooklyn declined to match or exceed the two-year, $11 million deal that Washington gave the 36-year-old. Instead, the team used the money that was made available by Shaun Livingston’s departure to sign Bogdanovic.
“They drafted me three years ago, and every summer I thought they would bring me over,” Bogdanovic said of his new team on July 28, per Andrew Keh of The New York Times. “This time, it finally came, and I’m very happy and proud about it.”
Pierce is 11 years older than Bogdanovic, a true small forward who will fit much more smoothly into Lionel Hollins’ traditional offense. Pierce, who averaged 13.5 points in 2013-14, played the 4 for the majority of last season after proving unable to defend opposing wingmen.
Bogdanovic is not an elite defender, either. But he can put points on the board in a hurry and, perhaps more importantly, in a variety of ways.
His 21.2 points per game tied for the second-highest average in the World Cup, which was highlighted by four 20-plus scoring outings in six games.
Bogdanovic shot 36.1 percent from three-point land this summer and managed to make his 29.8 percent of his long-range shots for Fenerbahce last year. However, the forward converted 41.1 and 40.5 percent of his threes in 2011-12 and 2012-13, respectively.
The 6’8”, 216-pound wingman uses his body the same way that Pierce does, which allows him to also break his man down off the dribble and go down in the post.
“I think he’s got great size, he’s also got great speed and quickness,” Hollins told Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York. “He can shoot the ball, but also put the ball on the floor. He can post up. I’m looking for players. Players that have multiple skills and are not just one-dimensional.”
There’s a ton of upside surrounding Bogdanovic. Once he gets fully accustomed to Brooklyn and solidifies his role on the team, the “rookie” forward will use his extensive offensive arsenal to give the Nets more than the declining Truth would’ve.
Brooklyn got it right by investing in the future with Bogdanovic rather than overspending on Pierce.
Keeping it real
Mirza Teletovic, who hails from the same city as Bogdanovic, struggled to earn playing time when he joined the Nets two years ago. Like Bogdanovic, Teletovic was a star overseas and created some buzz once he decided to come to the U.S.
It was a difficult transition for Teletovic, who had gone from dropping a Euroleague-best 21.7 points in 2011 and winning the 2009 Spanish Cup Finals MVP to essentially becoming a benchwarmer.
Teletovic averaged 9.4 minutes per game in his rookie campaign with Brooklyn and checked in for just over a minute in the playoffs that year.
With Croation legend Drazen Petrovic—who rose to great heights with the Nets from 1991-1993 before his life was tragically cut short in a car accident—as his hero, Teletovic didn’t let his lack of opportunities get him down.
Here’s Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News on April 3, 2013:
Teletovic referenced the story of his idol, Drazen Petrovic, who didn’t get a real opportunity to play until midway through his second season in the NBA, having been reduced to “garbage time” until he was traded from the Trailblazers to the Nets.
“The first year I know a lot of European players who came over, even many years before, even the first guys that came over from Yugoslavia — we have a legend who has his jersey retired and he didn’t play at all,” Teletovic said.
Last season, the Bosnian sniper saw his role grow exponentially. He averaged 8.6 points in nearly 20 minutes a night while also helping to lead the Nets in three-point shooting.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe pointed out that while Bogdanovic will be making good money this season, minutes won’t necessarily be handed to him. Teletovic, who looks to have an even greater role in Brooklyn in 2014-15, is a prime example of the transition from Euro ball to the NBA.
Playing time is one thing—the Nets are saltine-thin at small forward, so Bogdanovic will have a good shot at seeing a healthy dose of minutes.
Touches are a completely different animal.
The Nets have a few guys that need the ball, demand the ball and will have to get the ball most of the time. Between Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, Bogdanovic’s looks may come few and far between through the first month or so.
As the season unfolds, though, his role is likely to grow. Bogdanovic‘s catch-and-shoot ability will keep him on the floor, and the more he’s out there, the more his playmaking skills will be on display.
Provided he holds down his end of the bargain on the defensive end, Bogdanovic will get his touches.
His patience will be key, but like Teletovic, Bogdanovic‘s affinity for Petrovic will help him through the transition.
“Just the fact that his jersey still hangs in the training center of the Nets, there is a trace of him left,” Bogdanovic said, per Nets Daily. “I do not think I’m close to him [in talent] or that I can play like him, but that’s my motivation as I come into his club, that you can wear a jersey that he wore…I think it is a dream come true.”
Bogdanovic could optimistically finish 2014-15 averaging close to 13 points per game while shooting 40-plus percent from the field and around 35 percent from downtown.
It’s reasonable to predict a well-paced jog right out of the gate, but expect Bogdanovic to hit full stride and really start lighting it up by December.
“Of course, it’s not going to be easy,” he said, per the Times‘ Keh. “I have to do some adjustments, especially because it’s a lot of games, much more than Europe. But I am ready, and I think that I can help immediately.”
While he won’t be the megastar that he was in Europe, Bogdanovic will undoubtedly emerge as one of the premier role players on a team looking to shake up the Eastern Conference.
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Selected by the New York Knicks with the 24th overall pick, the 6’6” former Michigan Wolverine stood sturdy as a symbol of youthful poise last season, flashing promise and consistently proving his worth on a floundering team that couldn’t seem to get out of its own way. He led the Knicks in games played, missing only one contest all season.
Hardaway Jr. exceeded expectations and shined while everything around him was dark, and by the end of his first taste of NBA life, he was named to the 2013-14 All-Rookie First Team. He averaged 10.2 points per game, shot 36.3 percent from deep and boasted the second-best turnover percentage in the entire league among players who play significant minutes (a microscopic 5.9 percent).
There will be growth in his sophomore season because that’s what good, young NBA players do; here’s what it may look like.
Hardaway’s duty as a rookie was to shoot, shoot and shoot some more, but unlike some of his more famous scoring teammates, the bulk of his production came within the flow of New York’s offense. He showed tremendous ability moving away from the ball, getting open and eluding the defense, finding holes like a slot receiver over the middle.
This skill will help him this season. Whether it’s tightly curling off a screen or flaring into the corner, Hardaway Jr. is a slippery eel who New York’s coaching staff can confidently run half-court plays for next season when they go outside the triangle offense.
There’s no hesitation once Hardaway Jr. catches a pass. He either takes one or two dribbles to get open or simply rises up from where he stands, snaps his wrist and watches the ball sail toward the rim.
With Carmelo Anthony still holding strong as the focal point of New York’s offense for the foreseeable future, Hardaway Jr. will only have so many opportunities to grow with the ball in his hands. But the Knicks would be wise to make him a secondary ball-handler with Carmelo in the game and a primary one when the superstar is resting.
Testing Hardaway Jr.’s playmaking skills, especially in the pick-and-roll, could reap humongous benefits, if not this season, then down the line.
Last year, in limited attempts—only 72 plays, per Synergy Sports (subscription required)—he was one of the league’s 10 most efficient scorers as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. It was here he showed the confidence of a veteran, pulling the trigger on his dangerous jump shot the second a high screen gave him some breathing room—without thinking twice. There’s good to that, and there’s bad.
If he’s to develop into the type of player New York badly wants him to be, Hardaway Jr. will need to do more than unconsciously pull up for shots off the dribble or (especially) become a floor-stretching statue in the corner. He’ll need to read the defense and make the correct pass. He’ll need to hit the open man, analyze how he’s being guarded and react properly.
It’s unknown how much more rope new Knicks head coach Derek Fisher will let Hardaway Jr. pull on, but this is the most exciting area where the young player can get better. What other dimensions of his game can stand to improve?
Like most rookies, Hardaway Jr. struggled on defense last season, but he is focused on making strides this year. Here’s ESPNNewYork.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk with what Hardaway Jr. expects from himself in the immediate future.
“I just want to be a better defender, a better vocal leader out there,” Hardaway Jr. said at Charity Day, hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC Partners last Thursday. “That is my main focus. I know offense will come and I will get better at that each and every day. Where you separate yourself in the league is by playing team defense and I want to be a part of that.”
Shooting and providing offensive punch certainly isn’t a problem for Hardaway Jr. … He should only get better as he continues to expand his offensive game and learn what defenses will give him.
Hardaway possesses all the physical tools necessary to be a solid, if not very good, on-ball perimeter defender. His combination of quick feet, long arms and fantastic reflexes made blowing past him difficult last season. In New York’s switch-happy system, Hardaway Jr. did a relatively good job handling quicker point guards, too.
Off the ball is a different issue, though, and Hardaway Jr.’s development in a new system may take some time.
The Knicks are neither young nor very good, and after missing the playoffs last season, their ability to improve this year rests in large part on the shoulders of talent that still has room to improve.
Hardaway Jr. is first on that list. He’ll never make an All-Star team or average 20 points per game, and he may not even solidify himself as a starter for another couple seasons. But New York’s 22-year-old has the potential to be a splendid cog in something successful and will be more polished this year than last.
Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, Sports on Earth, FOX Sports, ESPN, Grantland and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.
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The Miami Heat are in very good shape at center
Considering that Miami’s center play impressed approximately no one last season, and the franchise made zero upgrades at the position, this is a fairly controversial position to stake out. But I believe it’s the correct one. I’m staking it.
For starters, despite the aforementioned putatively unimpressive play, Miami’s bigs were fine last season. Certainly not stellar, but probably a notch or two below very good. If I were in the habit of grading things, which, in certain moods, I am—it’s an occupational hazard—I’d say their performance was deserving of a solid B.
Miami’s center minutes last season were divvied up among Joel Anthony, Chris Andersen, Chris Bosh, Justin Hamilton and Greg Oden. This group performed capably.
The only member of the bunch who was below league average by measure of Basketball-Reference’s win shares per 48 minutes was Anthony, and he played just 12 games and 37 minutes before being shipped to the Boston Celtics in the deal that brought the Heat Toney Douglas.
Anderson, in particular, was tremendous. He posted a win shares per 48 minutes of .205 during the regular season—105 percent better than league average and, among players who logged more than 1,000 minutes, ninth best in the NBA. In doing so, the aggressively inked journeyman notched a 68.3 true shooting percentage, good for second in the association among centers, and led Miami in block percentage.
“Since signing with the Heat, Andersen has been that spark to ignite the flame, filling in the gaps left open by other teammates, particularly on defense,” Hot Hot Hoops’ Surya Fernandez remarked.
Bosh, of course, did Bosh things. He was a marksman from middle distance and quietly extended his range to the three-point line—he attempted a career-best 218 triples and made good on a respectable 33.9 percent—all while having his centrality to the Heat attack overlooked by casual followers of the sport.
Even the deep bench was sound.
While Oden didn’t exactly enjoy the Lazarus-like comeback some hoped for in Miami, ultimately playing his way out of the Heat playoff rotation, he was a solid backup option in the regular season. Across 23 games, Oden averaged 11.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
Granted, as Oden had his minutes controlled closely by Erik Spoelstra and the Heat’s eagle-eyed training staff, this came in only 9.2 minutes a night. And the scarcely used rookie Hamilton posted a .105 win shares per 48 figure in 68 minutes in a Heat uniform. That’s more than fine.
Not much changed at the position this offseason. Anthony is, again, in Boston, and Oden wasn’t offered a deal to return to South Beach. But while the personnel are the same, the way they’re deployed could be quite different.
It starts—and more or less ends—with Bosh. With LeBron James in Cleveland, and Bosh set to assume the role of lead offensive creator for the Heat, there’s ample reason to believe the artist former known as CB4 will play a more conventional post-up game than he has in seasons past.
Bosh is a very good mid-range shooter, and that ability was the primary means through which he’s contributed since joining Miami. Not just by virtue of his ability to hit, say, 16-footers with unusual regularity, but the trickle-down effects of this skill.
Opposing bigs—given Bosh’s aforementioned mid-range prowess—had a tendency to stray from the basket to defend him. This opened up additional space for James and Dwyane Wade to make hay slashing to the basket for higher-percentage looks.
But, as any analytics head can tell you, having your primary weapon shoot 18-footers is no way to run an offense. So Bosh will likely return down low this season, playing out of the post like a more typical center. And here’s the thing: He should thrive there.
While Bosh is known, rightly, as a jump-shooter, he’s also fantastically effective inside. According to NBA.com, among players with more than 300 such attempts, he finished fourth in the Association in field-goal percentage from within five feet of the basket. And with stretch(ish) 4 Josh McRoberts added to mix via the Charlotte Bobcats this offseason, Bosh should have a bit of operating room down there despite Bron’s absence.
He alluded to the change of responsibility during an interview with ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh over the summer: “I feel I’m a much better leader and a much better player, and I’m much more prepared for the role, the all-around role, that they need me to fill. That’s exciting for me to really challenge myself and step up to the plate next year and make sure we get it done, no matter what happens.”
Bosh’s proximity to the hoop should have a propitious secondary effect as well: He’ll become a stronger rebounder. In short: The further away a player is from the basket, the less likely they are to pull down rebounds.
This has been borne out in Bosh’s career. While with the Toronto Raptors, where he played a more conventional big man’s game, Bosh had an offensive rebounding percentage of 8.5. In Miami, that figure has slipped to 6.1.
This is good news for a Heat team that struggles mightily on the glass. According to ESPN, Miami was 29th in offensive rebounding rate last season.
None of this means the Heat should be over the moon about the strength of this crucial position. LeBron is gone, and with him went any realistic hope of adding a fourth banner to the rafters of AmericanAirlines Arena.
But the Heat should, and probably will, be competitive in the enervated East next season. And, in no small part, it will be because of their big people.
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Last year’s Howard was motivated to shake up his skeptics—make no mistake about that. His failed stint with the Los Angeles Lakers and ugly PR stretch with the Orlando Magic made many forget how good he could be, and a newly focused and healthy Howard was again one of the best centers in the game—even if few people noticed.
But during Howard’s next year in Houston, he should be more comfortable with James Harden and the rest of his teammates. He’ll be eager to make fans forget a summer that saw many poke fun at his team’s unsuccessful efforts in trading and free agency. He can also improve upon a lot of the unique progress he made with his offensive game in the postseason.
Let’s have a look at some predictions.
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While there are certainly positional debates to be had elsewhere on the roster, the scenario at small forward for the Milwaukee Bucks—given the logjam and abundance of talent—provides an intriguing one for the 2014-15 season.
Rookie Jabari Parker and second-year phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo are arguably the team’s two biggest talents, and both are most suited to play the 3.
Meanwhile, Khris Middleton is coming off a solid 2013-14 year that saw him provide the Bucks with efficient, much-needed scoring. Add Damien Inglis—who was drafted in the second round this summer—and recently acquired Jared Dudley to the mix, and it’s hard to picture enough minutes being divvied up among these players.
So, where does that leave things? In order to begin to understand, one must first look at last season.
In 2013-14, small forward was one of the team’s glaring weaknesses, even as Antetokounmpo began to emerge as a star in the making.
Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino were slated to log the bulk of minutes, but that didn’t exactly pan out.
Butler appeared in just 34 games before being traded, and an injury kept Delfino out all season.
With Antetokounmpo and Middleton as the only remaining options, experience at small forward was sparse, to say the least.
That being said, Middleton turned out to be one of the Bucks’ most consistent players on offense, averaging 12.1 points on 44.0 percent shooting from the floor and an impressive 41.4 percent from three-point range.
Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo was not overly impressive from a numbers standpoint but turned some heads around the league with his length, defense and athleticism.
However, it was far from a position of strength.
The inexperience of Antetokounmpo was visible from time to time—shaky ball-handling, errant passes—and Middleton suffered through a terrible month of January.
But even though the young duo put together a solid stretch, small forward was not one of the better positions for the Bucks a season ago.
As the offseason has shown, things at the 3 are beginning to look better, though.
A Summer of Change
Dating back to last season, Antetokounmpo’s growth was becoming more and more visible. While not crystal clear, it wasn’t hard to envision the young Greek as the team’s small forward of the future.
Despite having the league’s worst record, the Bucks missed out on the draft’s top pick in June and didn’t have to make the difficult decision of choosing between Parker and Andrew Wiggins.
Instead, the Duke standout fell into Milwaukee’s lap, thus starting an interesting dynamic at the position.
Having Parker and Antetokounmpo on the same roster meant one of them would certainly have to play out of position.
Parker is capable of playing power forward but is much more suited to small forward.
And, truthfully, the same thing could be said about Antetokounmpo.
In addition to the youngsters, Middleton—who’s no veteran himself—returns in hopes of remaining an asset off the bench.
Antetokounmpo is clearly the most versatile of the bunch and could be slotted at either forward position, shooting guard and, as head coach Jason Kidd experimented with this summer, point guard.
In Parker’s case, he’ll be moving up to the 4 often throughout the season, especially in order to take advantage of bigger, slower power forwards on the perimeter.
Middleton and Dudley, while not limited, will probably play the majority of their minutes at small forward without much movement up or down in the lineup.
Regardless, the Bucks made a concerted effort to strengthen the 3 over the summer.
And this doesn’t even factor in Damien Inglis, who may or may not see much playing time in 2014-15.
With a multitude of players capable of playing small forward, expect the Bucks to use a lot of non-traditional lineups this season.
Dudley and Middleton will both see plenty of minutes off the bench, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see either of them on the court with both Parker and Antetokounmpo at the same time.
Truthfully, the Bucks are fortunate to have these options.
Middleton is quick and long enough that he can play some shooting guard should the situation call for it, and with O.J. Mayo struggling a season ago, that might be a plausible scenario.
The development of John Henson will impact how the aforementioned players are utilized, as well.
If Henson continues to make strides and can become an effective two-way player, he just might solidify himself as the team’s power forward of the future.
If that occurs, Parker would slide back to small forward.
And while Antetokounmpo is still very raw, it’s hard to imagine Kidd relegating the Greek Freak to the bench.
That leaves one realistic—sorry, all you “Magic Giannison” hopefuls—possibility: Antetokounmpo playing shooting guard.
It’s hard to imagine someone who shot just 41.4 percent from the floor in 2013-14 starting at the 2, but it might be the best option, especially after his showing at the Las Vegas Summer League.
In four games, Antetokounmpo averaged 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting a very good 46.2 percent from the floor and a respectable 37.5 percent from three-point territory.
As you can see from the video above, he was able to score in a variety of ways, which was lacking from his game during his rookie year.
It all boils down to the Bucks being supremely talented at the wing.
What was a weak spot for the team a season ago has turned into an exciting one with a mix of veteran leadership and raw, youthful potential.
2014-15 will certainly be fun to watch.
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The Syracuse men’s basketball team is anxiously awaiting Friday, Oct. 3, which will mark the 2014-15 season’s first practice. As usual, the Orange enter a new season after waving goodbye to former greats.
Entering the 2011-12 season, the Orange had to make do without Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku.
In the 2012-13 season, the Orange lost Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo.
Last season, the Orange lost Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland.
This season, Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Baye Moussa Keita are all gone.
Luckily for the Orange, the cupboard remains stocked.
Rakeem Christmas, who completed his undergraduate degree in just three years, will be a graduate student at the forward position. Also returning are Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and, hopefully, a rehabilitated DaJuan Coleman, who has been struggling in his recovery from leg surgery.
Two highly touted freshmen, Chris McCullough and Kaleb Joseph, will look to make an immediate impact, and a bevy of other returners will compete for playing time.
In its first season in the ACC, Syracuse started with a 25-0 record and ascended to No. 1 in the polls. Scoring problems and injuries were but two of the reasons the Orange sputtered to a 28-6 record. They went 3-6 in their final nine games, including a third-round 55-53 loss to Dayton in the NCAA tournament.
In the previous two seasons, the Orange made it to the Elite Eight and Final Four, respectively, and the team is excited to come back for another deep run in the tournament.
Here are five reasons Orange fans should be excited, too.
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Before the 2013-14 season, almost nobody expected the Phoenix Suns to finish the year with 48 wins and the ninth seed in the Western Conference. In fact, most expected they would be among the worst teams in the NBA.
And that isn’t something just ESPN and SI analysts were guilty of. I predicted that the Suns would finish last in the conference and win just 24 games as well.
And now, going into the 2014-15 season, it is just as difficult to make a reliable, accurate prediction. This year’s roster has almost as many question marks as last year’s and could plausibly end up almost anywhere in the standings, depending on whether the team takes a step forward, a step back or even remains stagnant.
But, taking into account various factors such as key additions, key losses, breakout and regression candidates and relative strength of division and conference, let’s make our best educated guess. Here’s an early win-loss projection for the 2014-15 Suns.
Let’s start with the major player the Suns lost this summer.
The list is relatively thin, and for the most part Phoenix kept its core intact. However, one integral part of last year’s roster did manage to slip away.
Perhaps the biggest loss will be Channing Frye. The 31-year-old power forward played in Arizona for five years and was one of the biggest comeback stories of the 2013-14 season after missing all of the prior season due to an enlarged heart. Last year, he managed to play and start all 82 games and score 11.1 points per game despite having avoided all physical activity (other than yoga and golf) for 12 months.
If you are a Suns fan and have watched Frye play over the past several seasons, you should be well-aware of his rebounding and defensive struggles. His main contribution was always on the offensive end, as he established himself as one of the best three-point shooting big men in the NBA.
In fact, the offensive spacing that Frye gave the Suns through his shooting made the Frye-Goran Dragic duo absolutely deadly in pick-and-pop situations.
And it’s no surprise that when those two were on the court together, the offense flourished. Here’s a chart comparing the Suns’ stats with Dragic and Frye on the court together compared to the team averages.
|Off Rating||Def Rating||3P%||EFG%||TS%||TO Ratio|
Dragic and Frye
Of course, keep in mind that when Dragic and Frye were playing, the other starters were often with them. And generally speaking, starters are going to be more productive and efficient than bench players.
But there’s also no doubting that Frye had a positive influence on the offense and its ability to score and make jump shots.
And Dragic is one of the first to point out Frye’s importance. In a Grantland article by Kirk Goldsberry back in March, Dragic was quoted as saying:
This year, when we play pick-and-roll, Channing stretches the floor so I have room to operate; I can get inside the paint and make other plays for him and everybody else. He just gives us that spacing, and especially for me and Eric he makes things much easier because nobody can rotate from him.
Now the question will be how do Dragic and Eric Bledsoe adjust after losing such an effective three-point shooter? And will someone else on the roster step up?
Overall, the Suns likely made the right decision opting not to re-sign Frye for $8 million per year, which is what the aging veteran will make with the Orlando Magic.
The Suns may have lost Frye, but they also acquired a few players who most would argue could easily match or even exceed his level of production. Let’s take a detailed look at each of those acquisitions.
Anthony Tolliver may not seem like a “major” signing, but he is the player most capable to filling in for Channing Frye.
Why? Because last season the 6’8″ forward shot 41.3 percent from downtown. Additionally, 247 of his 307 total field-goal attempts were three-pointers. That is an astounding 80.4 percent of his attempts. Even Frye didn’t shoot that high a frequency of threes (55.5 percent of his total attempts were threes).
Tolliver has one job on this team, and it is to shoot. Like Frye, his rebounding and defense will leave much to be desired. And he is not a versatile and reliable enough weapon to play 25-30 minutes per game the way that Frye could. However, he could easily step onto the court for 10-15 minutes each night and make one or two threes, sparking the offense and stretching the floor.
Now, let’s talk about rookie and 2014 14th overall pick T.J. Warren. Rookies are generally not expected to make a big impact in their first season, and the Suns’ picks from the past few years (Kendall Marshall, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin) have certainly followed that trend.
However, there is a reason to be excited about the potential of Warren, a 6’8″ combo forward from NC State.
Just take a glance at his stats from the Las Vegas Summer League. In five games and 24.8 minutes per game Warren averaged 17.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 54 percent from the field. He was the team’s leading scorer, even though players like Archie Goodwin, Miles Plumlee and Alex Len (all of whom have NBA experience) were on the roster.
Do not expect Warren to enter the league and immediately be an above-average NBA player. Even if he does end up being one of the better picks of the 2014 draft, it should take him at least a few years to develop.
But in the short term, he adds depth to a team that was relatively lacking at the small forward position last year.
And finally, the biggest acquisition of the summer has to be former Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas.
It’s true; the Suns lost some guards over the summer, such as Ish Smith, Dionte Christmas and Leandro Barbosa.
But none of those three could come close to matching the production of Thomas, who averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game as a 24-year-old.
Some may ask why the Suns would add another great point guard to a backcourt that already features Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green.
That is a valid question, but think about the advantage that this move gives Phoenix in terms of depth and overall player stamina. Dragic just spent the summer playing for the Slovenian national team, and Bledsoe is an injury-prone point guard who managed to only play 43 games in his first season as a starter.
Now, imagine being able to play both of those players only around 30 minutes per game rather than 36 while still remaining productive when they’re off the court. Thomas gives coach Jeff Hornacek the ability to keep his star players healthy and well-rested, which could be a major advantage for the Suns as the season drags on.
Of course, Thomas has his faults. At just 5’9″, he isn’t nearly the elite perimeter defender that Bledsoe is, and he can be pushed around by larger guards. That is why a sixth-man role is more suitable for him and why Bledsoe should remain in the starting lineup.
But offensively, Thomas is as good as almost any guard in the league. He pushes the ball in transition, he is a great ball-handler, he has a smooth jumper and he is an efficient scorer. His court vision is questionable, but for just about $7 million per year he is an absolute steal.
And best of all, this gives the Suns the flexibility to not worry about losing Bledsoe or Green to free agency in the future. Thomas is the only Suns guard locked up for multiple years, and if he is only making about $7 million the Suns need not worry about giving Bledsoe a max contract in free agency. Rather, they can focus their cap space on the greater area of need in the frontcourt.
Last season, Markieff Morris took a big step forward by becoming one of the key Suns players off the bench. He consistently outperformed Frye in the second half of the season and averaged 13.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game overall.
This season, he will join Dragic, Bledsoe, Tucker and Plumlee in the starting lineup to replace Frye. And whether the Suns are able to improve their record heavily depends on how Morris reacts to that change and whether he is able to take another great leap forward.
On paper he looks ready. Last season Markieff averaged 18.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, and his field-goal percentage skyrocketed from 41 percent the year prior to 49 percent.
He is a great offensive player with a better mid-range jump shot and arsenal of post moves than Frye. He is also able to expand his range and make shots from beyond the perimeter, though not as consistently as someone like Frye or Tolliver (he is a career 33 percent long-distance shooter).
The concerns are more focused on Markieff’s defense and whether his offense will continue to be as productive against other starting power forwards. Will he still be shooting almost 50 percent from the field against Western Conference big men like Serge Ibaka, LaMarcus Aldridge, Zach Randolph or Blake Griffin?
Because Markieff is still only 25 years old, one might naturally expect him to continue to improve and develop his game. At his best, he could produce far more than Frye ever did and establish himself as an above-average starting power forward. If that happens, the Suns could easily improve their record, even in an extremely tough conference.
But the other possibility is that Morris takes weeks or months to adapt to the starting lineup and to playing fewer minutes with his twin brother, Marcus.
Perhaps he will lose confidence in his shot or become inconsistent. There’s a possibility he will never seem comfortable at all this season and could even be forced back into a bench role. And if that happens, it would be very difficult for Phoenix to take a step forward.
So the question is, which Morris will show up? All signs point to Morris improving, but there’s never any guarantee of success.
Although the Suns are an incredibly young team with plenty of prospects who should improve, there are also players who could conceivably take a step backward.
And perhaps the best candidate for that position this season is Gerald Green, even though this is a contract year for him.
If Thomas, Bledsoe and Dragic all remain healthy, there is absolutely no need for Green to play 28.4 minutes per game like he did last year. In fact, Hornacek may not need to play him for more than 20 minutes each night with so many other guards to choose from.
That decrease in playing time alone will lower Green’s numbers. But, in addition to that, he has been the most inconsistent Sun throughout his career, perhaps making him most susceptible to regression.
Just look at what he did with the Indiana Pacers in 2012-13. After scoring 12.9 points per game with the New Jersey Nets the season before, Green went to Indiana and immediately became a benchwarmer, shooting 36 percent from the field and scoring just seven points per game on the year.
Last season Green seemed to gain confidence under Jeff Hornacek’s coaching style. And yet, his style of play—which involves a lot of transition threes and questionable shots—is prone to inconsistency. There may be a time when Green’s crazy shots stop falling, and suddenly the fans may cease to love him as much as they currently do.
Another aspect of Green’s game that cannot be ignored is his defense.
Last season, there were 53 total five-man lineups that played at least 200 minutes together. The Suns’ starting lineup of Bledsoe, Dragic, Tucker, Frye and Plumlee ranked second out of 53 with an astounding 93.1 defensive rating.
But without Bledsoe, the defense disappeared. And that can be attributed as much to Green’s poor defensive abilities as much as it is credited to Bledsoe’s elite defense.
The starting lineup of Dragic, Green, Tucker, Frye and Plumlee ranked 46th out of 53 with a defensive rating of 111.5.
Why such a big change when only one player was substituted for another? Green is not the worst defensive player out there, but without Bledsoe the Suns defense was immediately exposed. And that is why Green, like Thomas, is so much better suited for a sixth-man role than for a spot in the starting lineup.
None of this means that Green will revert to the level of production he gave in 2012-13 with the Pacers. But the fans’ honeymoon with the 28-year-old swingman may soon be coming to an end, as he may not be able to keep up the same level of offensive production and efficiency for a second year in a row.
The Other Guys
And what about the rest of the division and conference? Because, after all, the Suns will play most of their games against interconference rivals, making those matchups vitally important to the team’s final record.
In the Pacific Division not too much has changed. The Sacramento Kings have a blossoming superstar in DeMarcus Cousins, but they also lost starting point guard Isaiah Thomas to the Suns. And acquisitions such as Darren Collison and Nik Stauskas may not be enough to make them a legitimate threat in the West just yet.
The Los Angeles Lakers have Kobe Bryant back, but they also lost Pau Gasol to the Chicago Bulls. Carlos Boozer is an underrated power forward, Jeremy Lin was a great signing and Julius Randle is a promising rookie, but none of that should make the Lakers playoff bound this season.
The Suns’ main competition in the division will still be the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, and neither of those teams has changed all that much. Both will enter the 2014-15 season with better benches, but they made no major acquisitions.
In the rest of the conference there was plenty of player movement. Teams like the Dallas Mavericks, who added Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler and Jose Calderon, will be on the rise. Other teams like the Houston Rockets, who lost Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, should fall in the conference standings.
But overall, the makeup of the conference should not be drastically different. As always, some teams will improve, and others will struggle. But few major superstars migrated to the Western Conference this summer, meaning that it should be about just as difficult to clinch a playoff seed.
The acquisitions of Thomas, Warren and Tolliver should easily outweigh the losses of Frye and Ish Smith. And with so many young prospects like the Morris twins, Alex Len, Tyler Ennis, Archie Goodwin and Miles Plumlee, the Suns will look like a stronger team in 2013-14.
But how much stronger? Some players will improve, but others, like Gerald Green or even Goran Dragic, may not put up such historically brilliant numbers for two years in a row.
A lot will also depend on Eric Bledsoe and if he signs the qualifying offer to stay for one year or signs a long-term deal. Because, if Bledsoe is only around for one more season and is solely focused on looking good so that he can earn a max contract on the open market, he may negatively affect team chemistry as well as the organization’s chances of making the playoffs.
Another question is can he even stay healthy? When Bledsoe was healthy last season, the Suns were on track to winning 54 games. And now, they have an even deeper roster.
But it would be foolish to expect every player to perform at his best. There is always unexpected regression coming from someone or a couple injuries to key players. The team will likely face adversity in some form.
This time, maybe that won’t stop the Suns from making the playoffs regardless.
Final Prediction: 50-32, No. 7 seed in Western Conference
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As a lifelong Duke fan, I am going through a completely new experience.
Usually Duke fans spend late summer/early fall counting the days until the first basketball game, hitting the message boards to talk some trash and researching the next crop of recruits. I usually spend the entire fall dreaming of basketball games, but this year is a little different.
Duke’s newfound football success is introducing Devils fans to all sorts of new experiences. Never before have we cheered for an underdog or had the opportunity to get mad because our undefeated team is receiving no national attention.
We’re relishing this role and the fun that comes with it. I’ve been saying things like “I think we have three NFL wide receivers on the team” and “we have the best secondary in the conference” constantly to the many UNC and two NC State fans in Durham over the past few weeks.
For the first time ever I am slightly distracted from the upcoming basketball season. When I do think about it, I worry about a repeat of last year’s performance and another early upset in March.
While cheering on the football team is great fun, I will always be more passionate about the basketball team. Even though the start of the basketball season is not quite at the front of my mind yet, when I do think about the team I get excited about this year for a lot of reasons.
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