Marquette must go small in Wojo’s 1st year

Wojo to lean on guards in 1st year at Marquette, though big recruit looms for next year

      
 

 

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Marquette must go small in Wojo’s 1st year (Yahoo Sports)

FILE - In this April 1, 2014, file photo, Steve Wojciechowski speaks at a news conference where he was introduced as the new head coach of the Marquette University men's NCAA college basketball team in Milwaukee. Wojciechowski is dealing with a thin roster in training camp as he prepares the team in his first year as head coach. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Practice for the 2014-15 basketball season at Marquette is barely a few days old and already there is talk about next year.


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Could Chris Douglas-Roberts Be Dark-Horse Small Forward Answer for LA Clippers?

Chris Douglas-Roberts and the Los Angeles Clippers sort of need each other. 

The player, a 27-year-old journeyman who’s drifted in and out of the NBA since first entering it as a 40th overall draft pick in 2008, is coming off a statistically unimpressive breakout season with the Charlotte Hornets.

Douglas-Roberts did not post career-high per-game numbers last season. He wasn’t the third-, fourth- or fifth-most important player on his own team, and he didn’t score a single point in nine of the 49 games he took the floor. 

But the latter half of that campaign was far and away the most significant stretch of Douglas-Roberts’ pertinacious career.

He grew into one of Charlotte’s most efficient players, specializing as a three-point marksman who seamlessly fit in as a noticeable cog for one of the league’s more consistent defensive units. And for this, the Clippers, a team with championship-or-bust expectations, snatched him up on a one-year, league-minimum contract. 

Los Angeles is already loaded on the wing (Reggie Bullock, Matt Barnes, C.J. Wilcox, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford all figure to see time on the perimeter), but the 6’7” Douglas-Roberts may provide the defensive effort and three-point shooting that just hasn’t materialized for Los Angeles on a consistent basis. He can really help. 

In a September interview with The Source, Douglas-Roberts spoke about a recent conversation he had with Clippers head coach Doc Rivers and what is expected from him this season: 

I spoke to Doc. Doc believes in me. He told me how underrated he felt I was. He couldn’t understand why my journey has been so rough but none of it matters now. He said he picked me and wanted me in LA. It feels great to be wanted by a team of this caliber. He wants me to be aggressive on both ends of the floor. Be that wing player/defender that he sees me as. He told me their goal is a championship and I’m definitely with it.

If you can consistently knock down a deep open shot, have especially long arms and the slightest hint of athleticism/defensive awareness, well, just about every team in the league is interested. Douglas-Roberts embraced the three ball last season, shooting 38.6 percent on nearly five attempts per 36 minutes (just over 50 percent of his total shot attempts). 

It was an effective and trustworthy—albeit seldom used—element in the Hornets’ attack, and it allowed him to showcase a new, transformative skill. In his first two seasons, nine out of every 10 shot attempts came inside the three-point line. The Clippers are paying Douglas-Roberts to make sure that version of himself permanently stays in the past. 

Unlike when he was a super-efficient scoring machine alongside Derrick Rose at the University of Memphis, Douglas-Roberts has never been great at attacking NBA defenses by himself. He rarely lived outside Charlotte’s offensive system last season, proving isolation isn’t really his thing. Neither is creating for others, as his 2.6 assists per 100 possessions suggests. 

All this is fine, though. The first thing a role player needs to do is find his role, and Douglas-Roberts finally discovered one he can thrive in. Synergy Sports (subscription required) listed Douglas-Roberts as the 10th-most efficient player in the league last season. He impacted Charlotte’s offense by knocking down spot-up shots, running the floor, filling lanes and attacking the basket in transition.

In his first and only 70 minutes experiencing the playoffs, Douglas-Roberts posted an impressive 68.8/50/85.7 shooting line. That accompanied an 18.9 player efficiency rating and 85.7 true shooting percentage.

The sample size here is tiny (he only attempted eight threes), but coming against the then-two-time defending world champion Miami Heat, Douglas-Roberts showed he can handle competing against the best of the best on a stage that matters, which is necessary on the title-contending Clippers.

Elsewhere, Douglas-Roberts is also a committed defender. He genuinely cares and hustles, putting forth maximum effort on a possession-by-possession basis. Three-point shooting is great, but this is one area where he has the potential to separate himself from L.A.’s other wings and crack Rivers’ starting lineup. Aside from Barnes, who’s 33 years old and slipping on both ends, Los Angeles has no above-average perimeter defenders. 

The tools and physical dimensions are there for Douglas-Roberts to become one, and he’s already shown he can be especially effective chasing his man through a maze of screens, artfully going above or below before almost always getting a hand in the shooter’s face. He fights to contest, a glamourless but essential task.

According to Synergy, Douglas-Roberts defended 49 plays last year where his man came off a screen to attempt a shot. He was merciless here, holding opponents to just 0.57 points per play, good for third best in the league. A couple examples:

After being waived four times by three teams since 2012, Charlotte granted Douglas-Roberts the opportunity to figure out who he is as a productive basketball player. He completely understands the responsibilities Los Angeles will let him have.

If Douglas-Roberts can replicate last year’s production in stable playing time and excel in his role as a three-and-D contributor beside insanely talented players like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers may have found an ideal and affordable small forward to join their starting lineup.

 

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com unless otherwise noted. 

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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Is Kobe Bryant the Answer to Los Angeles Lakers’ Small Forward Problem?

Small forward poses big problems for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Unless Kobe Bryant takes ownership of this situation, too. 

Immersed in the hustle and bustle of a very active offseason, the Lakers haven’t found a lasting solution to their void at small forward. With the summer winding down, they can’t expect that to change.

Anything they do now, anyone they plug into that starting 3 spot, will be a temporary stopgap or ill-equipped to perform there. Or both. 

But as luck would have it, all hope is not lost.

Turning to Bryant, like they tend to do when facing conflict, might be just the answer—however impermanent—they need.

 

Underwhelming Alternatives 

Assembling almost an entire roster on the fly isn’t easy. The Lakers have spent their offseason trying to remain competitive without compromising any long-term financial flexibility.

Options are limited in these situations. The Lakers haven’t had their pick of the litter, and it shows in their outcast-overloaded roster. 

Lottery busts Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson are the only two legitimate small forwards the Lakers employ.

Both are mobile enough to defend wings, and Henry proved a valuable source of instant offense for the Lakers last season (10 points in 21.1 minutes per game) while Johnson resembled a competent shooter, banging in nearly 37 percent of his three-pointers.

Johnson has also been working out regularly with Bryant, according to the Orange County Register‘s Bill Oram. Bryant is the type to pick his workout partners very carefully. If Johnson is someone he’s willing to spend extra time with, something’s there.

Neither Johnson nor Henry are ideal candidates, though. Henry is slightly undersized at 6’6″, and Johnson remains too much of a specialist.

Starting someone else who’s a two-way player or allows the Lakers to experiment with various promising combinations—or both—makes more sense if afforded the opportunity.

Julius Randle, for the record, is not the player.

Even though he’ll tell you he’s that player.

“A lot of the league is going to small ball, but the good thing about me, I’m interchangeable,” he said in June, per Lakers.com’s Mike Trudell. “I can play small ball because I can guard multiple positions because I can really move. But I think it’s going to be an advantage for me to be able to take a smaller guy inside but also take a bigger guy on the outside.”

Watching Randle during the NBA‘s Summer League, it became clear his entire skill set wasn’t advertised adequately. He could be seen running point, taking opponents off the dribble and defending—halfheartedly at times—inside and out. There’s little doubt he could spend time at small forward…in a pinch.

Oversized lineups aren’t common for a reason. Starting Randle alongside, say, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill would be a floor-spacing nightmare. Not one of them has three-point range. Same goes for Ed Davis. 

Playing Randle at small forward should be a last resort. Ideally it’s something the Lakers won’t even entertain.

Ryan Kelly saw some time at small forward last year, but it didn’t go well. Or even close to well. He notched a 5.8 player efficiency rating there, per 82games.com.

At 6’11″, he’s more of stretch 4 who relies too much on spot-up shooting to play a small forward’s game. That he’s not quick enough to keep pace with traditionally athletic wings hurts as well.

Better alternatives aren’t found in Wayne Ellington or Nick Young. Ellington is too small at 6’4″, and Young doesn’t play enough defense to police shooting guards, let alone the deeper, scorer-stuffed small forward slot.

It’s not that the Lakers don’t have options—they do. It’s that the options they do have don’t justify not looking for something, anything, better.

 

Benefits of Bryant

This is the part of the movie when Bryant rides into Staples Center wearing a just-for-show cape ready to save the day.

Assuming health, and also assuming a lottery-doomed roster doesn’t drive him into abrupt retirement, Bryant can play small forward. Though he stands at only 6’6″, he’s a self-sufficient scorer who can double as a point forward at times.

Sliding into the 3 spot isn’t anything new for him, either. He’s logged at least 18 percent of his minutes there four times since 2000. Nearly a third of his playing time came there during his historical 2012-13 campaign, and he registered a higher PER at small forward (24.5) than shooting guard (23.1).

Most importantly, though, placing Bryant at small forward allows head coach Byron Scott to tinker with his starting five in ways he otherwise couldn’t. 

Not to mention it prevents him from making a massive mistake. 

Speaking with the Los Angeles Daily NewsMark Medina, Scott revealed he already had four of his five starters in mind: Bryant, Boozer, Hill and…Steve Nash.

You read that correctly.

Rolling with the 40-year-old Nash—no matter how healthy he seems now—over the 26-year-old Jeremy Lin reeks of an obsession with yesteryear. It isn’t smart. David Murphy of Bleacher Report recently made it his mission to tell us why: 

The issue of who should start and who should come off the bench is not about who should or should not play. It’s a question of what most benefits the team—both now and moving forward.

Everyone who has ever been a fan of basketball wants to see Nash go out on his own terms and go out successfully.

But wouldn’t helping Lin to be a better player and bolstering an already potent bench be preferable to struggling against time and a bad back to hold onto a starter’s role and minutes?

As someone who openly wants Nash to end his career on a high note, this is difficult, yet not impossible to accept.

Push come to shove, Lin should start over Nash. He’s younger, better fit to defend opposing point men—which is more an insult to Nash than compliment to Lin—and he’s the incisive handler neither Bryant nor Nash can be at this stage of their careers.

But let’s take this one step further.

Why choose?

Plugging Bryant at small forward enables Scott to start both Nash and Lin, deepening a tape-thin positional rotation in the process.

Nash shouldn’t be charged with primary point guard duties anymore. He can still direct an offense—5.7 assists per game last year—but he can be equally effective off the ball as a spot-up assassin who doesn’t move too much. He’s only one year removed (2012-13) from ranking in the top 10 of standstill efficiency, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). 

Using Nash as an undersized 2-guard also allows Bryant and Lin to operate with the ball in their hands more, which is how both are accustomed to playing.

Creating these mismatches makes them harder for opposing defenses to guard, ensuring they’re running with three established scorers rather than two, plus Johnson or Henry. And with the Lakers built to repeat their defensive performance from last season—28th in efficiency—they’ll need to score. A lot.

A whole lot. 

Moving Bryant to small forward puts them in position to concoct the strongest, most potent offense possible, diminishing the likelihood they field a below-average product.

 

Decisions, Decisions

Displacing Bryant from that shooting guard spot isn’t all dandelions and offensive euphoria. 

There are warts to worry about.

Expecting Bryant to defend opposing small forwards is ambitious.

Regardless of how healthy and spry he’s feeling, guarding the Kevin Durants and Carmelo Anthonys of the world pushes the boundaries of logic. Someone his age (36) shouldn’t defend the opposition’s best wing scorer daily. That, in part, is why Johnson calls Los Angeles home.

Seeing Nash or Lin match up against shooting guards would be just as painful. Neither player is a strong defender, and both stand at 6’3″ tall. They’ll be at severe size disadvantages nightly, waiting to be exploited off the dribble, their sheer lack of height begging opponents to shoot over them.

Under normal circumstances, teams should try to avoid such defensive detriments. 

For the Lakers, this must be viewed as a necessary evil.

Enough concerns and questions plague this team that some must be overlooked, defensive demerits being one of them. It doesn’t matter whether they install a dual-point guard lineup. The Lakers don’t have the luxury of a true, reliable small forward. If they wish to be competitive immediately, sticking with what they know is the only course of action.

And Bryant, when healthy, is someone they know can create options and offer solutions—no matter where or how he plays—that otherwise wouldn‘t exist. 

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise cited.


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Heat Likely Committed to Playing Small Ball

During the Big Three era of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat transcended the way traditional basketball was meant to be played. Instead of having a traditional point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center position, Miami introduced a new era of position-less basketball.
With multiple players being able to guard a multitude of positions, the Heat came away with two NBA championships and four NBA Finals appearances by playing “small ball.” During the Heat’s glorified four-year tenure, many teams tried to replicate Miami’s small ball approach to try and keep pace with the two-time champs, but to no avail.
One of the clear reasons why the small ball approach was so effective was because of LeBron’s versatility and ability to guard positions one through five, which allowed the Heat to adjust and plug any glaring holes in the system accordingly.
With James now out of the picture, Heat fans must be wondering, ‘Is Erik Spoelstra going to sti…

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Breaking Down Oklahoma City Thunder’s Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

When it comes to the small forward position, the Oklahoma City Thunder have Kevin Durant and not much else. 

In fairness, having the reigning Most Valuable Player in his prime is more than enough for any team. Durant is one of the two best players in the NBA, arguably neck-and-neck with the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ LeBron James. He’s an effortless scorer who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his excellence in the other aspects of his game. 

Durant is relentless on the glass, especially on the defensive boards. He’s finished in the top seven in defensive rebounds twice during his seven years in the league. Last season, he averaged 6.7 defensive rebounds per game, which was tied for 12th with the Memphis GrizzliesZach Randolph. He finished with 7.4 total boards per contest (34th in the NBA). 

Defensively, he’s vastly underrated. According to 82games.com, opponents had an effective field-goal percentage of 48.9 percent against Durant. His 4.4 defensive win shares were good for 10th-best in the league, and he had a defensive rating of 104.

Still, the biggest feathers in The Durantula’s cap are his offensive skills. He averaged 32 points per game last year, which earned him his fourth scoring title in seven years. He shot 50.3 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from behind the arc. He also shot 87.3 percent from the free-throw line. 

During his MVP campaign, Durant led the league in win shares (19.2), offensive win shares (14.8), win shares per 48 minutes (.295) and player efficiency rating (29.8). He also led the league in minutes played (3,122) and usage rate (33 percent), which explains why he cited fatigue as his reason for withdrawing from the Team USA prior to the start of the FIBA World Cup. 

“After going through training camp with USAB, I realized I could not fulfill my responsibilities to the team from both a time and energy standpoint,” Durant said in a statement from USA Basketball. “I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Last season, Brooks wrote off the idea of Durant being fatigued, per Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: ”It’s nothing that I’ve talked about and worried about. Fatigue is not an issue with our group. We’re talking 39 minutes of your day. I think he (Durant) can handle that at age 25.”

Durant can clearly handle it, but for how much longer? And is it worth it to KD if he’s not hoisting a championship trophy at the end of the season? 

 

Grading Thunder Small Forwards’ 2013-14 Performances

There’s no doubt that the play of Oklahoma City’s small forwards last season is worthy of high marks. After all, the top guy on their depth chart took home the NBA’s best individual honor. However, the quality of OKC’s 3′s in 2013-14 goes beyond Durant’s excellence. 

The team added depth in March when they signed veteran Caron Butler, who was available after being bought out by the Milwaukee Bucks. While he wasn’t the same player from his glory days with the Miami Heat and Washington Wizards, the man known as “Tough Juice” gave the Thunder a reliable veteran presence. 

He logged 27.2 minutes a night in 22 games, averaging 9.7 points and 3.2 rebounds. He shot 40.9 percent from the field, including 44.1 percent from three. He also contributed 1.1 steals per contest. Butler struggled to find his shot in the playoffs though, converting just 32.4 percent of his attempts (35.6 percent from three). 

He’d finish the postseason with an average of 6.3 points in 11 games, getting the starting nod in two of them. 

Former Baylor star Perry Jones III saw a little bit of playing time in the regular season. He played in 62 games (making seven starts), averaging 3.5 points per game in 12.3 minutes. Jones was barely heard from in the playoffs, averaging just five minutes a night. 

To round out the group, Ryan Gomes and Reggie Williams made a couple of cameos. Gomes appeared in five games, while Williams played in three. Neither player managed to do anything worth mentioning. 

Still, Durant’s performance alone is good enough to earn this unit a gold star. Even with his gaudy offensive numbers, his own coach thought he could do more.

Let’s face it: If he wanted to score a bunch of points or more than he’s scoring now, he really could do that,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told reporters in March. “His assist level has gone up, he impacts the game. Defensively, he impacts the game. He can guard 1 through 5. So a lot of things that he does [are] all about the team.”

As a testament to Durant’s selflessness, the former Texas star actually believed he should be taking fewer shots. He told Mayberry in January that he’s “not doing enough to help” his teammates and that he’s “shooting too much”:

I think now I’m just flat out shooting too much. I have to find a way to get my teammates easier shots. I’ve been thinking these last few games in order for us to get it going I have to do it all offensively. But, nah, we have to do it together. It’s a great learning experience for me. It’s the first time I’ve really been in that type of position. But I just have to get everybody involved. I may have to pass up a few to find a better shot.

The debate over whether he’s shooting too much or not enough aside, Durant’s ability to fill a stat sheet carried over to the postseason. He led the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 29.6 points and 8.9 boards in 11 playoff games. He added 1.3 blocks and a steal per contest as well. 

Durant also played 42.9 minutes per game. That, combined with the 38.5 minutes he averaged in the regular season (including a combined 130 minutes in the final three games, when the team had its playoff spot locked up), is why he was gasping for air this summer. 

That’s no fault of Durant’s. He put the team on his back and carried them as far as he could. In the end, the team came a couple wins short of making it to the NBA Finals. With Durant’s MVP season and Butler’s contributions, small forward was arguably the team’s strongest position last year.

Grade: A-

 

What’s In Flux This Season

While small forward will remain one of the team’s strong suits as long as Durant is healthy, depth is a concern for the Thunder this season. Butler is now a Detroit Piston and, in the wake of his departure, all that’s left are a group of unproven guys behind the team’s franchise player. 

Perry Jones would appear to be the most logical candidate to spell Durant. At 6’11″ with a decent outside shooting touch, Jones has a little bit of Lamar Odom to his game. However, his skills aren’t as polished as Odom’s were even in LO’s early days. Part of that is due to a lack of playing time. 

In two seasons, Jones has averaged 10.5 minutes per game. Brooks has traditionally preferred playing veterans over his young guys, as evidenced by the Butler signing last season. 

The other option for backup minutes is perimeter defender Andre Roberson. With former chief defender Thabo Sefolosha now with the Atlanta Hawks, Roberson is the most likely candidate to fill his shoes. At 6’7″, he has the size to play some small forward, but Mayberry suggests he could be in the running to start at shooting guard as well:

Roberson is made in the same mold as Sefolosha, long, athletic, gritty and defensive-minded. Since the Thunder acquired Sefolosha midway through the 2008-09 season, the team has preferred to keep a lockdown-defender type at the starting shooting guard spot. It alleviates pressure from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant defensively and allows the two stars to focus on offense.

The Thunder also used the No. 29 overall pick in this past June’s draft on Stanford small forward Josh Huestis. Like Roberson, Huestis is another long, rangy defender who could play the Sefolosha role for Oklahoma City. 

This is what Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com had to say about Huestis:

The best thing that Huestis brings to the table, and the key attribute that makes him an NBA prospect, is his defense. His size, length and athleticism gives him the ability to guard multiple positions at the college level and beyond, and he shows terrific smarts and intensity locking down opponents.

NBADraft.net added that Huestis is a “tough on-ball defender” and has “good timing as a shot-blocker.” Huestis has yet to sign to sign with the Thunder, opting for a D-League contract instead. He had a ho-hum performance during the Orlando summer league, averaging eight points a game in 19.8 minutes and shooting 12.5 percent from three.

He could be a factor for the team down the road, but he’s still another year or two away. Naturally, that doesn’t help the Thunder this season. With concerns over Durant’s workload, someone needs to step up to give the reigning MVP a breather. 

That person could be on this roster or could be added midseason like Butler last season. 

 

What To Expect This Season

Scott Brooks finds himself in a precarious position. If he continues to overuse Durant and the team’s star player breaks down, the Thunder faithful will be at his door with torches and pitchforks (figuratively, not literally…..at least, I hope not literally). 

If he scales back Durant’s minutes and the team falters, his time in Oklahoma City could be coming to an end. The Thunder have been among the NBA’s elite for some time now, but they have one Finals appearance and no championship rings to speak of. That’s why this is a pivotal year for Brooks. 

It’s also a big year in terms of Durant’s future in Oklahoma City. While free agency for KD is still two years away, every season in which the Thunder comes up short gives him more to consider as he mulls loyalty over more immediate success. 

With LeBron James returning to Cleveland with two championship rings on his hand, the focus shifts to Durant and the inevitable “Can he win The Big One?” questions. It’s a storyline that will no doubt be run into the ground until Durant hits the market after the 2015-16 season. 

The Thunder can’t worry about two years from now, though. They have to hope that either one of their young players will develop into a decent reserve behind Durant or that there’s a veteran who can be a stopgap option until the kids are ready. 

The name that is the most intriguing is Mickael Pietrus, who recently worked out for the Sacramento Kings, according to Shams Charania of RealGM.com. Despite being in the NBA seemingly forever, Pietrus is still only 32 years old. He’s a solid defender and a career 35.5 percent three-point shooter.

In other words, he’s the kind of sneaky free-agent acquisition that should interest general manager Sam Presti

Assuming the roster stays as-is, the pecking order behind Durant should be Jones, Roberson and Huestis. Roberson’s defense could propel him ahead of Jones in Brooks’ rotation, but the Thunder need to find out what they have in both players. 

The Thunder’s outlook at small forward for 2014-15 will be like it has been in recent years: Durant will get the bulk of the minutes and use his plethora of otherworldly basketball gifts to carry the team. Depth will be an issue until someone emerges, but Durant’s presence makes this a strong unit. 

 

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Who Should Start at Small Forward for Los Angeles Lakers?

To say there’s not a lot of obvious depth at the small forward position for the Los Angeles Lakers is saying just a little. It’s a tale of “tweeners.”

Wesley Johnson is the clearest natural candidate, even if Mike D’Antoni did insist on using him as a vastly undersized power forward last season.

And then there’s Xavier Henry, a young, athletic slasher who played three positions in just 43 games last season as a point guard, shooting guard and small forward.

Kobe Bryant has stepped into the 3-spot on a number of occasions in the past, depending on lineups. And Nick “Swaggy P” Young is also capable of playing the position—although he’s clearly at his best when letting it rain from his natural shooting guard role.

Even rookie Julius Randle—a 6’10” bull in a china shop—thinks he can play interchangeable frontcourt positions, as he mentioned soon after being drafted, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com:

A lot of the league is going to small ball, but the good thing about me, I’m interchangeable. I can play small ball because I can guard multiple positions because I can really move. But I think it’s going to be an advantage for me to be able to take a smaller guy inside but also take a bigger guy on the outside.

But as Darius Soriano for Forum Blue and Gold points out about Randle, there are inherent problems with tall trees lineups that pack the frontcourt with size:

Put a 6’10” player on the perimeter and tell him to defend a like sized player who just so happens to be able to put the ball on the floor with skill and quickness and the advantage will almost always lie with the player who possesses the ball. Big players normally lack the needed lateral quickness to stay in front of such players. Add in the advantages that come with drawing that bigger defender away from the paint and the benefits to an offense only increase via better spacing for the entire team.

During the wild and woolly D’Antoni era, even 6’11” Ryan Kelly got to try his hand at small forward.

But the small-ball innovator has moved on now, and there is a new sheriff in town. It’s hard to see Byron Scott, with his fondness for traditional interior fundamentals, playing footloose and fancy-free as guys like Randle or Kelly try to make like Lamar Odom.

There is, of course, another wild-card factor. With only 13 players on the roster, the Lakers are likely to go into the regular season with another body—especially someone who could fill an obvious positional need.

This leads us to the rumor that won’t go away until it finally, and mercifully, does go away—that Michael Beasley, who has worked out twice with the Lakers, could somehow wind up as their starting small forward.

This is a recipe ripe for disaster. 

Because what would happen if a rash of injuries were to hit and you were suddenly left with Swaggy and B-Easy playing alongside each other? Lots of buckets and unintentional hilarity for sure—but solid basketball? That’s highly unlikely.

Or, as The Great Mambino recently wrote for Silver Screen and Roll, “It’s a really stupid idea.” He elaborates further:

Michael Beasley isn’t a lottery ticket. He is a skunked bottle of wine. He’s 25 years old, sure, but has alienated himself from his last three teams in six seasons. He couldn’t stick with a Minnesota squad hurting for shooting swingmen, a rebuilding Phoenix club looking for any semblance of talent or a Heat team desperate for an explosive scorer off the bench. He would come to the Lakers needing to beat out a dozen other guys for a spot at either of the forward positions. Bringing him on isn’t just an indictment that the Lakers aren’t hitting on their reclamation projects, but an indictment of incompetence.

So take away all the positional musical chairs and the idea that Beasley could somehow shoot his way into the heart of a hardliner like Scott, and what do you have left?

It comes back full circle to Johnson—the most obvious choice for the starting small forward role. He’s got the size and the natural ability, can alter shots at the rim and is a decent perimeter defender as well.

He also has support from Scott, per Mike Trudell for Lakers.com: “I think the kid is so talented, I’m really hoping it can be a break out year for him. Now, obviously, he has to come to camp and win that spot, and that’s on him.”

As I recently noted for B/R, Johnson has been working out with the Mamba this summer. This is not a new development—per Jonah Ballow for the Minnesota Timberwolvesofficial site, the former No. 4 pick met Bryant during predraft workouts in 2010 and has been mentored by him ever since.

Still, there continues to be a need for improvement. Johnson’s 9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season aren’t markedly different from his nine points and three boards during his rookie campaign.

This season will be his last best chance to prove himself as a solid contributor in the NBA. If he can’t do it with the support and encouragement of Bryant and Scott, then it really will be time for Plan B.

Just as long as the “B” doesn’t stand for Beasley.

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Breaking Down Milwaukee Bucks’ Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

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.

 

Looking Back

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. 

The Bucks also recently acquired Jared Dudley in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, adding a veteran presence among a trio of young small forwards.

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.

 

Looking Ahead

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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Breaking Down NY Knicks’ Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

The New York Knicks are in an in-between phase of Phil Jackson’s franchise rejuvenation, and it’s apparent throughout the roster. The team’s new president administered as much roster overhaul as he could over his first summer in charge, and there are several new pieces for Derek Fisher to work into his rotation. 

At the same time, expensive, intrusive leftovers from the prior regime remain on the roster and will impede New York’s ability to prepare for the future. The presence of these holdovers—Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire, namely—will have a direct impact on how Fisher handles minutes at the small forward position this season. 

Carmelo Anthony, a natural small forward over the course of his career, has enjoyed tremendous success at the power forward slot these past two seasons thanks to the matchup nightmares he presents against traditional 4s. With Stoudemire and Bargnani in the fold for 2014-15, Anthony may be bumped back down to the position for extended minutes. 

The small forward minutes will generally be taken up by the same crowd as last season—Anthony, Shumpert and J.R. Smith are all returning—while rookie Cleanthony Early will attempt to earn a role at the position as well. Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw, who were acquired from the Sacramento Kings in August, could figure into the rotation as well. 

This year is all about transition for the Knicks, as they await to make a free-agency splash in 2015. But let’s take a look back and a look forward on the small forward position’s status in the meantime.

 

Grading Last Year’s Performance

Position Grade: B

 

Last season wasn’t pretty for the Knicks in most aspects, but they did get positive production out of their small forward spot. Much of that had to do with Anthony, but there were bright spots from Shumpert and Smith at the position also. 

Let’s start with Anthony, though. It’s clear now that ‘Melo is better suited at the 4, and he has posted better numbers there over the last two seasons, but he is still one of the league’s best offensive talents at small forward. 

According to Basketball-Reference, Anthony logged 38 percent of his total minutes at the 3 last season, and according to 82games.com, he posted a 22 player efficiency rating and 30.2 points per 48 minutes while playing there. The bulk of those minutes came early in the season before Bargnani’s season-ending injury in January, when Mike Woodson insisted on including the two players in a bigger lineup. 

After Bargnani went down, Anthony bumped back up to the power forward position for the most part, which opened up a slot for another guard in the starting lineup. More guards with shooting range around Anthony in the lineup led to more space for him to operate, and him being matched up against 4s led to more panicky help defense by opponents, which led to more open teammates for Anthony to utilize. 

J.R. Smith, according to Basketball-Reference, played the vast majority, 72 percent, of his minutes at the 3. And while his overall numbers infer a putrid all-around season, Smith was a very solid option for the Knicks after shaking off a brutal two-month stretch to begin the year. 

After Jan. 10, Smith shot 45 percent from the field and and 43 percent from three-point range, averaging 16.5 points, four rebounds and three assists a game. 

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert rounded out the small forward rotation, and two of the youngest Knicks could not have gone through more different experiences. 

Hardaway, in his rookie campaign, impressed with his scoring ability but struggled in every other facet of the game, and the Knicks were a worse team with him on the floor. Shumpert went through a season-long scoring slump, posting a shooting line of .378/.333/.746, but gave the Knicks a boost in other key areas and posted the team’s best net rating aside from Anthony. 

As was the case with the rest of the team, though, there was never enough consistency beside Anthony to string together a meaningful run. The 3-slot was solid enough to keep the Knicks above water, but considering all else, that just wasn’t enough. 

 

What’s Left to Settle?

The biggest question the Knicks face heading into the year features two of their three highest-paid players. How much will Stoudemire and Bargnani factor into the rotation?

In theory, both players can help a team score in limited roles. But with both being natural 4s, unable to protect the rim and unable to coexist in the same lineup on either end of the floor, both are simply expensive nightmares for a rebuilding Knicks team.

Last season, New York was 8.5 points per 100 possessions worse with Stoudemire on the floor. Bargnani’s number was 8.1 points worse.

Here’s the conundrum the Knicks face: Carmelo is a better weapon at the 4. If Anthony is at the 4 and STAT or Bargs figure into the rotation, one will need to play the center position, effectively destroying the team’s chances on defense. If one—or God forbid both—of Stoudemire and Bargnani are playing with ‘Melo, it bumps him back down to the 3, ruining space and taking minutes away from the younger wings.

This is a dilemma that’s easy to spot, even months before the season. The way Jackson is constructing the Knicks, and with their hopes of landing a prime free agent next summer, these two players will not be a part of the future. The only thing left to settle is when Fisher will cut them out of the present.

 

The New Rotation

At least at the onset of 2014-15, it’s reasonable to assume the small forward rotation will resemble last year’s, with Anthony logging some minutes there to accommodate Stoudemire and/or Bargnani.

When Anthony is resting, two of Smith, Shumpert and Hardaway will accompany him on the wings. Over time, Early could work into the rotation at the 3 as well, but at least in the season’s early stages, Travis Outlaw may get the nod over the rookie for those spot minutes.

According to general manager Steve Mills after the Knicks traded for Outlaw and Quincy Acy (via Ian Begley of ESPN New York), Outlaw is “a mobile big that can play the 4 and the 5. He’s got a great mid-range shot. I think he’ll fit within sort of the triangle. He’s got good hands, he can space the floor and he’s got great size.”

Outlaw has averaged under 15 minutes per game over the last three seasons and will likely only be capable of spot minutes if Fisher opts not to overwork Anthony in the season’s early going. After impressing in the summer league, though, and after more practice time with Fisher’s triangle offense, it’s easy to see Early earning a role behind Anthony and the other wings. 

Acy is another player who adds depth at the position but probably won’t make all that much of an impact. He’s been an energy guy throughout his brief NBA career and by all accounts a likable teammate. He’s averaged 13 minutes per game over his two pro seasons, and judging by the talent the Knicks have at the 3, that number may decrease by the time this season is over. 

How the complete rotation at small forward ends up largely depends on Fisher’s plans for Anthony and what position he sees him fitting best in the triangle. Talent-wise, though, like last season, the position projects to be a strength for New York.

 

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

LeBron James is out, Luol Deng is in, and the Miami Heat are facing a major change at the small forward position. But it isn‘t as simple as that.

James didn’t play 48 minutes at small forward. Also contributing to the Heat at the 3 last season were Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, James Jones and Michael Beasley in varying degrees. Even Ray Allen was used in three-guard lineups with Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers.

Of all positions, small forward is the one in which Miami faces the biggest change, giving the position a new identity and role in the team’s scheme for the 2014-15 season.

 

Grading Last Year’s Performance

Few teams have been in a better situation at small forward than the Heat were last season—like, in the history of the NBA. James is the most versatile, singularly dominant small forward the game has ever seen, and he was in his prime during his last season in Miami. 

James is listed as a small forward, but he often played power forward in Erik Spoelstra‘s positionless approach. According to basketball-reference.com, James played power forward 82 percent of the time. Battier, Lewis, Beasley and Jones would all be seen playing a small forward-like position at times, too. However, either forward spot’s distinction was nominal in nature. The 3 and the 4 were interchangeable in Spoelstra‘s scheme, depending on the matchup. 

As for the other small forwards on the roster, Battier looked like a guy who should have retired after the Heat won the Finals in 2013. He couldn’t close out on defense, defend 4s anymore or hit his three-pointers (just 34.8 percent last season).

That led to Spoelstra yanking him from the starting lineup in favor of Lewis, who had a nice stretch in the playoffs but couldn’t make it last into the NBA Finals. The Heat signed Beasley before the season as a low-risk, high-reward guy. He never panned out, coming in and scoring in spurts but overall being unreliable to fulfill his assignments within the scheme.

Still, with James in the fold, few teams could have asked for a better situation. When Battier was playing top-notch defense, though, the Heat as a team were also. In 2013, I would have given the 3 spot an “A+,” but I’ll settle on an “A” given the lack of depth last season.

 

What’s New?

In a word? Everything.

James, Battier, Lewis and Jones are all gone. In comes Deng, Danny Granger and James Ennis.

Deng comes over from the Cleveland Cavaliers and ensures that the small forward spot isn‘t a weakness in Miami despite the departure of James. The Heat also signed Granger, who is coming off a few leg injuries, and brought last year’s second-round pick Ennis back from Australia. Both are guard-forward tweeners with specific skill sets.

Still, going from historically excellent to above average at a position is quite the drop-off. It’s like if you replaced Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump” with John Travolta.

 

What Will the Position Look Like This Season?

The only true small forward on the roster, Deng should get the lion’s share of the minutes here. In his last three seasons in Chicago, he averaged more than 38 minutes per game. Miami will probably give him a similar work load, especially if Granger has to miss time and assuming Ennis takes a while to adjust to the NBA.

It’s no secret that James mailed it in at times on defense last season. With the scoring load firmly set on his shoulders, it’s hard to blame him. Deng won’t face nearly the same demand on offense, which will allow him to do what he does best. He’ll play the best perimeter defense on the team, hustle for loose balls and rebounds while letting the game come to him on offense. He isn’t a particularly dangerous offensive player, but knows his limits.

Check out his efficiency shot chart, via NylonCalculus.com. Shot efficiency measures a player’s points per shot compared to the rest of the league, measuring not only a player’s field-goal percentage from a particular location but also the volume at which that player shot from that location. 34 percent of Deng’s attempts came near the basket, while no more than five percent of his attempts came from any other location.

Granger, then, can come in and bring the scoring punch. Looking at his efficiency chart, Granger shot better than 44 percent from four different spots beyond the arc with 13 percent of his attempts coming from the corners.

For a comparison of what the 3 spot will look like, think of the Dallas Mavericks small-forward rotation the last few years with Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Marion was the reliable starter, playing plus defense and shooting threes. Then Carter would come in to add a scoring flare. With those teams, Marion averaged about 30 minutes per game while Carter played about 25.

Because Granger’s injury concerns and Deng being used to playing nearly 40 minutes a game, figure that split to be something closer to 35-20 with Deng in the Marion role and Granger in the Carter role.

As for Ennis, it will depend on how quickly he can get accustomed to NBA action. He is, by far, the most athletic on the three. He can get in the paint and play above the rim. He is very raw and needs to learn the intricacies of the game—playing within Miami’s defense and offense—before he sees a significant playing time. For now, he figures to be seated near the end of Miami’s bench.

When judging the impact of losing James, you have to look further than simply who replaces him at small forward. James did so much for the Heat—from initiating the offense from the perimeter or the post, defending the opponent’s best player, being the scoring leader and bringing the ball up—that it will take a team effort to replace even a percentage of what he brings to the court.

When you really think about it, Miami didn’t have a true small forward for the past three seasons. Even Battier played more of a faux stretch-4. The biggest change between last season and this season will be the fact that the Heat will be playing with a true small forward for the first time since James joined the team in 2010.

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