2014 NBA Draft Profile — Zach LaVine

zachlavine

There aren’t many prospects like Zach LaVine that have come out in recent memory. It’s hard to find the caliber of athlete that LaVine is. Especially out of a 6’5” and 180 pound combo guard with a 6’8” wingspan. He’s long, he’s wiry, and he’s explosive as all hell. Zach LaVine, as of right now, sits 7th on my big board. While I know some people will think that’s an overly aggressive approach for a guy who didn’t average over 25 minutes per game in college during his only year, I think his upside dictates an aggressive ranking.

As mentioned, LaVine’s athleticism borders on freakishly insane for a guy his size. He gets off the floor quicker than a hiccup and can do so off of one foot or off of both feet. His elite level athleticism is where his upside comes from. He’s a monster in transition because of his athleticism and often will leak out looking for an easy basket. But, in the half-court, he can cut to the basket when defenders overplay him and get to the rim for an easy dunk.

In transition this season, Zach LaVine made 36 shots at the rim. His ability to get to the rim off of the break or secondary break is basically second to none. He often would leak out after rebounds and either Kyle Anderson or UCLA’s bigs would find him near half-court ready to ignite the rim with a thunderous flush. In fact, 61 of Zach LaVine’s 127 total makes this season came on transition opportunities. That shows you the kind of guy he is and the damage he can do in the open court.

LaVine also possesses another elite translatable skill that’ll do him wonders during his transition to the NBA. His ability to be a knockdown catch-and-shoot artist is something that cannot be understated here. Whether LaVine is running the break and spotting up, he’s also perfectly adept at finding open space when his defender loses him in a half-court setting. Even if the defense is stretched out into him, he can still find the space to rise up and let loose.

Then there’s Zach LaVine’s penchant for being deadly running off of screens. When you combine LaVine’s shooting ability with his quick first step and athleticism, running him off of screens is a very prudent thing to do. It speaks to his level of skill that he’s able to run around multiple screens and come off in perfect shooting position as he turns his body towards the hoop.

And, lastly, he’s also very good at walking down a defender and shooting over the top of them thanks in large part to his quick release. The fact that LaVine is able to shimmy a defender to get him moving and then stop on a dime in order to rise up and get his shot off is a huge deal. Zach LaVine went 76 of 195 (39%) on all jumpers this season. While that’s not a superb number, it’s still a high-quality mark that teams would love to get out of their guards. Especially when they’re as athletic as he is.

There are some major warts that LaVine will have to work on, though. Namely, he’s not a good defender. He’s not a terrible defender but he’s also not a good one. He often will lose his man simply because he isn’t paying attention all the time, like he should be. LaVine also tends to float on defense. He’ll kinda just hover there from time to time looking for the next leaking chance that’ll give him a shot at a transition dunk. You hate to see that.

LaVine also struggles with stronger offensive guards. Because of his wiry frame, he’s unable to deal with contact well at all on both offense and defense but on defense he does get bullied from time to time and it makes it tough on him. He’ll need to bulk up for both sides of the court. Another problem he has is his ability as a passer. I’ve seen him be able to dish the ball in the pick-and-roll but he does tend to diagnose things a tad slowly as a ball-handler which isn’t good. That can be worked on, though.

Because of LaVine’s problems as both a ball-handler and defense, a move to shooting guard is probably the likely destination and choice. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he couldn’t be a point guard at all but you wouldn’t want that to be his natural position. He also takes some tough shots that make me wonder how much it’ll work in the NBA. However, the talent is there for him to be a damn fine NBA player and, potentially, a great one.

When looking at LaVine on the surface, you see a 6’5” combo guard who isn’t a great passer or decision maker and also can’t play consistent defense. And that usually makes you drop him because you’d like a player to have a position. But the upside on LaVine is so ridiculous that you almost have to throw that line of thinking out the window. His athleticism is unrivaled in the class for the most part and his shot-making ability is so top notch that you also forgive some of his flaws.

You also have to realize that Zach LaVine is still 19 years old. He turned 19 a month ago, in fact, so his first full season in the NBA will see him being 19 until late in the year. His youth is a major plus for him. Then there’s the late season struggles he had but I pin a lot of that on Steve Alford, to be perfectly honest. Alford was playing for a national championship this season and while that’s all well and good, he started to alienate some of his better players. Namely, Zach LaVine.

After putting up 14 points on 7 shots in 28 minutes during UCLA’s first game in the Pac-12 tournament, Steve Alford only played Zach LaVine a grand total of 25 minutes in the tournament’s final two games. And then gave him just 18 minutes in their opening round game of the NCAA tournament. It was almost inexcusable for the most part. You can say that LaVine was struggling towards the end of the year all you want, but UCLA was a better team when LaVine was on the court. There’s no denying that.

I think LaVine got a raw deal at the end of the year from Alford and I do think that’s part of the reason that LaVine eventually declared for the draft when most thought he should have returned. I fully support his decision since the best place to learn and get better is the NBA itself. There was no point for him to stick around for another year in Los Angeles playing for a coach that was clearly favoring his own son when he could head to the NBA and get far better coaching there. That’s not to say that LaVine doesn’t have a lot to work on. He most definitely does.

His upside comparison for me made sense even though he’s far more athletic than his counterpart. I almost gave him a Vince Carter upside comparison simply because of the athleticism alone but the height, weight, and overall profile compared much more favorably to Jamal Crawford a few years ago. However, his downside is probably the harshest I’ve ever given out. But that’s the thing with Zach LaVine. His upside is fantastic but his downside is cringeworthy. You’re either getting a marvelous scorer and athlete or a guy who’ll never ever get it either mentally or physically.

Personally, I have him in my top ten and he’ll stay there barring any major revelations about him. I’m super high on him but think that the team drafting him will go a long way towards his development and overall success. LaVine could go anywhere from probably 7th to 22nd depending on individual workouts and things like that. I think teams like Philadelphia, Phoenix, Denver, or Minnesota would be pretty ideal for him. He almost seems made for Phoenix, in a way. I want to put Chicago there but I doubt they’d ever take him because of his defensive profile. But I do love him and love what he can do.

Draft Projection: Top 20
Upside Comparison: 2007-2008 Jamal Crawford
Downside Comparison: 2005-2007 Yaroslev Korolev

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2013-2014 NBA Season Awards: My Picks

kiaperformanceawards

Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
Analysis: This is a no-brainer. The guy was fantastic all year and deserves this award. His play this season, despite Russell Westbrook missing a good portion of the season, was absolutely incredible. He averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.3 steals on 50/39/87 shooting. Easily his award.
Runner-Up: LeBron James; Third: Blake Griffin

Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Philadelphia 76ers
Analysis: I actually hate the idea that someone has to win this damn award this year. The entire rookie class from 2013 was terrible and it was just lackluster from beginning to end. I almost gave this to Victor Oladipo but Michael Carter-Williams gets it from just a pure stats point of view. Oh well. He averaged 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.9 steals on 41/26/70 shooting.
Runner-Up: Victor Oladipo; Third: Mason Plumlee

Defensive Player of the Year: Andre Iguodala, SF, Golden State Warriors
Analysis: This was a tough award to give to someone. But Iguodala was a highly influential part of the Golden State defense. His ability to keep the opponent’s best perimeter player bottled up was a big part of Golden State’s success this season. When on the floor, Golden State had a Defensive Efficiency of 96.8. When he was off the floor, it jumped all the way to 103.1. His impact was far and wide. He gets this for me.
Runner-Up: Joakim Noah; Third: Roy Hibbert

Most Improved Player: Goran Dragic, PG, Phoenix Suns
Analysis: This was another tough award for me. I went with Dragic over both Green and Stephenson simply because he went from being good to great and that’s a tougher step than going from mediocre to good. Dragic was the leader for the Suns this season and he kept them afloat while Eric Bledsoe was missing in action. Dragic averaged 20.3 points, 5.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.4 steals on 51/41/76 shooting.
Runner-Up: Gerald Green; Third: Lance Stephenson

Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
Analysis: While he did miss some time, Crawford was the most influential sixth man in the entire NBA. His ability to come in and start while J.J. Redick missed games was instrumental towards the Clippers success this season. He now sports a career mark of 41 four-point plays, which is tops in NBA history. Crawford averaged 18.6 points, 3.2 assists, 2.3 rebounds, and 0.9 steals on 42/36/87 shooting.
Runner-Up: Taj Gibson; Third: Manu Ginobili

Coach of the Year: Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
Analysis: It’s very hard to put into words what Jeff Hornacek did this season. Last season, the Phoenix Suns went 25-57 and then hired Hornacek. They went 48-34 with him at the helm this season and a ton of their players experienced career years under his guidance. From the top down, the Phoenix Suns were a spitting image of their head coach. He got them to play in an almost college atmosphere with the intensity, passion, and drive to win. It was great to watch night-in and night-out.
Runner-Up: Steve Clifford; Third: Gregg Popovich

Comeback Player of the Year: Channing Frye, FC, Phoenix Suns
Analysis: Coming back from heart surgery is something that cannot really even be fathomed. Frye didn’t even play last season at all but this season he came back to start all 82 games and averaged 11.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.2 assists on 43/37/82 shooting. I hope that Channing Frye is able to put together an even longer career and he looks back at this season as the start of the rest of his life. Hats off to him.
Runner-Up: Greg Oden; Third: Kevin Love

All-NBA First Team
G: Chris Paul
G: Steph Curry
F: LeBron James
F: Kevin Durant
C: Joakim Noah

All-NBA Second Team
G: James Harden
G: Goran Dragic
F: Blake Griffin
F: Paul George
C: Dwight Howard

All-NBA Third Team
G: Kyle Lowry
G: Damian Lillard
F: Carmelo Anthony
F: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Al Jefferson 

All-Defensive First Team
G: Chris Paul
G:
Patrick Beverley
F:
Andre Iguodala
F:
Paul George
C: 
Joakim Noah

All-Defensive Second Team
G: Mike Conley
G:
Jimmy Butler
F:
Kawhi Leonard
F:
LeBron James
C:
Roy Hibbert

All-Rookie First Team
G: Michael Carter-Williams
G:
Victor Oladipo
F:
Giannis Antetokounmpo
F:
Ryan Kelly
C: 
Mason Plumlee

All-Rookie Second Team
G: Trey Burke
G:
Tim Hardaway, Jr.
F:
Kelly Olynyk
F:
Cody Zeller
C:
Gorgui Dieng  

2013-2014 NBA Season Review: Western Conference

westernconferencelogo

Way back in late October, a few days before the season began, I wrote and posted my 2013-2014 projections for each NBA team. I also put where they’d finish in the conference and did a playoff preview but we’ll get to the playoff preview a little later on. For now, let’s look at a team-by-team review on my predictions and see how many I nailed within the 5-win range and even a closer 3-win range.

Dallas Mavericks (Pre-Season Projection: 39-43, 10th in West)
Final Record: 49-33, 8th in West
Analysis: Completely wrong about the Dallas Mavericks this season. I thought they’d be a solid team but ultimately questioned their signing of Monta Ellis. I loved the signing of Jose Calderon and thought he’d provide great play for them, which he did, but I didn’t see this team construct actually working since they didn’t seem like they had much in the way of defense. But here they are, yet again, in the playoffs and it’s all because of this group of players and Dirk Nowitzki, who happens to be one of the greatest players of all-time. Hell of a season by the Mavericks. Proved me wrong.
GIF of the Year, Mavericks Edition: Dirk game-winner in The Garden
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games): Not even close.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games):
Dirk shut me up.

Denver Nuggets (Pre-Season Projection: 39-43, 11th in West)
Final Record: 36-46, 11th in West
Analysis: This was about the season I expected for the Denver Nuggets, minus all the injuries. I didn’t like the Randy Foye signing but he proved to be a really good player for them. They were without Danilo Gallinari all season, lost Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler for 20 games apiece, and saw JaVale McGee play in just 5 games. Plus there was Nate Robinson missing nearly 40 games after he tore his ACL. This was the season from hell for the Nuggets but at least they should get all these guys back for next year and also add in a top ten pick. I really like them for next season. And I did like how Brian Shaw kept them playing hard even late in the year.
GIF of the Year, Nuggets Edition: Randy Foye game-winner vs Clippers
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games): Nailed it.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Nailed it.

Golden State Warriors (Pre-Season Projection: 55-27, 5th in West)
Final Record: 51-31, 6th in West
Analysis: This was about the season I expected for the Golden State Warriors. It, perhaps, have been an even better season if David Lee didn’t miss 13 games, Andrew Bogut didn’t miss 15 games, and Andre Iguodala didn’t miss 19 games. The defensive tandem of Iguodala and Bogut is probably tops in the entire league. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson did their “Splash Brothers” thing and helped guide the Warriors into the playoffs. I still question Mark Jackson’s coaching ability and wonder what the Warriors could have accomplished this season had Harrison Barnes not been so worthless. But they’re in the playoffs and that counts for something. Just sucks that Bogut is done for the year.
GIF of the Year, Warriors Edition: Steph Curry OT game-winner in Dallas
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Nailed it.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Barely missed out.

Houston Rockets (Pre-Season Projection: 57-25, 4th in West)
Final Record: 54-28, 4th in West
Analysis: Dwight Howard did make an impact and he helped improve the Houston Rockets from the 8th seed last year all the way to the 4th seed this year. Their young core of players played well and they do have a bright future still ahead of them. They’ll need to figure out what they’re going to do with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik going forward but that’s for next year to decide. I’m curious to see what their final record would have been had Asik played more than 48 games, Howard didn’t miss 11 games, Harden didn’t miss 9 games, Parsons didn’t miss 8 games, and Beverley didn’t miss 26 games. Onto the playoffs they go, though, and the impact of Dwight Howard and whether or not it was a great signing will be determined there.
GIF of the Year, Rockets Edition: James Harden dunks on Serge Ibaka’s soul
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Nailed it.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Cha-ching!

Los Angeles Clippers (Pre-Season Projection: 59-23, 2nd in West)
Final Record: 57-25, 3rd in West
Analysis: It never hurts when your power forward and center play in 80 of the 82 possible games together. However, the Clippers survived 20 games without Chris Paul, 47 games without J.J. Redick, 13 games without Jamal Crawford, 19 games without Matt Barnes, and the constant sucking of Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens. They somehow moved those two guys and the team took off afterwards. They went 20-5 in their final 25 games and are rolling into the playoffs. The Clippers took a step defensively this season thanks to DeAndre Jordan, who needs to continue that play in the playoffs if the Clippers stand any chance at hoisting the trophy. And let’s not discount what Blake Griffin did. He went from a fantastic player to an all-world level player when Chris Paul went down. They’re ready.
GIF of the Year, Clippers Edition: Blake Griffin posterizes Kris Humphries
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Easy money.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Candy from a baby.

Los Angeles Lakers (Pre-Season Projection: 25-57, 13th in West)
Final Record: 27-55, 14th in West
Analysis: This team stood no chance even with a healthy Kobe Bryant but the fact that he played in just 6 games before getting injured again says it all. He’s on the verge of being done and the team looked way out of sync the entire year. There were some good parts, though. Jodie Meeks looks like he’ll be a solid rotational guard, Kendall Marshall can play a decent point guard, Ryan Kelly at least isn’t totally worthless, and Xavier Henry showed he might have something left. Steve Nash also missed a ton of games, by the way. Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash missed 165 out of a possible 246 games and that’s why the Lakers struggled mightily. At least they’re getting a top ten pick this year. They’ll need it for the future. What they didn’t need for the future was that Kobe Bryant contract extension.
GIF of the Year, Lakers Edition: Nick Young prematurely celebrates three
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Too easy.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Tried to tell y’all.

Memphis Grizzlies (Pre-Season Projection: 46-36, 7th in West)
Final Record: 50-32, 7th in West
Analysis: I was completely wrong about the Quincy Pondexter breakout season but that was basically because he played in just 15 games due to injury. However, the Grizzlies would have been even better had Marc Gasol not missed 23 games and Mike Conley didn’t miss 9 games. This is an interesting team. They still play a slow, plodding style of basketball but they now have the shooters on the outside – namely Mike Miller and Courtney Lee – to make teams pay for sagging off of them from the perimeter. And then there’s Mike Conley, who has transformed himself into one of the best two-way point guards in the entire league. He’s shooting better from deep, he’s orchestrating the offense at a high level, and he’s fantastic on defense. No one wants to play Memphis. They’ll beat you up. And beat you. The jury is still out on the head coaching change but I do like Dave Joerger.
GIF of the Year, Grizzlies Edition: Conley sinks biggest shot of their season
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Yup.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Close but no cigar.

Minnesota Timberwolves (Pre-Season Projection: 48-34, 6th in West)
Final Record: 40-42, 10th in West
Analysis: Minnesota just can never get out of their own way. Rick Adelman coached like he didn’t give a damn and the team played defense like they cared even less. The injuries to Nikola Pekovic certainly didn’t help matters but this team wasn’t going anywhere before that. They’re in trouble. They do have some nice young pieces in Shabazz Muhammad, Robbie Hummel, and Gorgui Dieng but they need more playing time. And then there’s Kevin Love. While a fantastic offensive specimen and rebounder, he still doesn’t care about defense whatsoever and that’s a problem. Where he gets traded to will undoubtedly be a story this offseason. Ricky Rubio also needs to improve since he’s still terrible whenever he has to attempt to put the ball in the basket. My Chase Budinger prediction also failed since he missed 41 games and didn’t look good whenever he did play. This team just keeps getting worse.
GIF of the Year, Wolves Edition: Corey Brewer makes circus shot en route to 51
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Wrong. So wrong.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Just shoot me.

New Orleans Pelicans (Pre-Season Projection: 46-36, 8th in West)
Final Record: 34-48, 12th in West
Analysis: They traded away Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first for Jrue Holiday, who only played in 34 games this year. Then they lost Eric Gordon for 18 games, Ryan Anderson for 60 games, Anthony Davis for 15 games, and Jason Smith for 51 games. They were terrible. Tyreke Evans looked horrific until the latter stages of the season when he finally turned it around but I’m not a believer in that being a long-term success story for them. They lost way too many guys for way too many games due to injury or else this could have been a good season for them. Now they’re without a draft pick this year, have to hope guys get healthy, and might fire their head coach. At least Anthony Davis took that next step, though. He good. And at least Austin Rivers didn’t get worse.
GIF of the Year, Pelicans Edition: Anthony Davis nails last-second jumper to hit 40
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):

Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games):

Oklahoma City Thunder (Pre-Season Projection: 61-21, 1st in West)
Final Record: 59-23, 2nd in West
Analysis: Kevin Durant is decent, huh? Serge Ibaka’s consistency doesn’t hurt, either. They were without Russell Westbrook for 36 games, Kendrick Perkins for 20 games, and Thabo Sefolosha for 21 games yet still almost hit my projection. Reggie Jackson did well as a starter, Jeremy Lamb flashed some game, and Steven Adams proved to have some potential going forward. I still don’t like the idea of a championship caliber team giving meaningful minutes to Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins but Scott Brooks is the coach so it makes sense. We’ll see what they do in the playoffs but it’s certainly hard to bet against that Durant-Westbrook tandem when Durant’s playing as well as he has this season. He’s unreal.
GIF of the Year, Thunder Edition: Durant hits double OT winner, 51 points
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Bingo!
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Nailed it.

Phoenix Suns (Pre-Season Projection: 19-63, 15th in West)
Final Record: 48-34, 9th in West
Analysis: I had Phoenix tabbed as the second worst team in the NBA this season. They weren’t. They made me look stupid. The scary part is that they could have been ever better had Eric Bledsoe not missed 39 games due to injury. The rest of the roster was seemingly healthy, outside of Goran Dragic missing 6 games. They have an insanely bright future ahead of them if they re-sign Eric Bledsoe and keep those three first round picks that they’ll have. They remind me a little bit of the Houston Rockets. They have the pieces to deal for a true superstar but they also have the cap space to sign one. This team is going places and all of their players took major steps. Dragic, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker, Channing Frye, the Morrii, and Miles Plumlee were superb. Future is insanely bright in the desert.
GIF of the Year, Suns Edition: Gerald Green doing Gerald Green things
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Lol so far off.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Don’t take me to Vegas.

Portland Trail Blazers (Pre-Season Projection: 46-36, 9th in West)
Final Record: 54-28, 5th in West
Analysis: I should have ultimately been a bigger believe in Portland. I’m a huge Damian Lillard fan and that entire starting lineup, minus LaMarcus Aldridge, stayed healthy for the entire year. Four out of the five regular starters played in all 82 games. That’s an ungodly amount of health. Aldridge, on the other hand, missed 13 games and the Blazers went 8-5 without him. Their bench was better than last year thanks in large part to Mo Williams, Thomas Robinson, and Dorrell Wright. And C.J. McCollum looked good when he played. The Blazers aren’t a joke and will be right back to this level next year. They’re a joy to watch and one of the real League Pass darlings due to their offensive style.
GIF of the Year, Blazers Edition: Aldridge sinks OT game-winner vs Warriors
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Nope.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Not close.

Sacramento Kings (Pre-Season Projection: 31-51, 12th in West)
Final Record: 28-54, 13th in West
Analysis: The Kings still haven’t answered their “leader” issue since DeMarcus Cousins is too much of a hot head to be a leader and Isaiah Thomas might not even be back next year if a team out there gives him a lucrative offer. Ben McLemore disappointed this season but did flash some game at points. They were even worse than I thought they’d be and that’s because they inexplicably traded for Rudy Gay when they had no need to. It made no sense and it still makes no sense. At least they’ll have a high draft pick again so they could get the power forward or true point guard that they desperately need. They need a leader. I think Mike Malone could get this team to play well next season but it’ll take a miracle. Rudy Gay might opt out and the Kings should be praying that he does. New ownership has to be looking at this team and wonder what’s going on.
GIF of the Year, Kings Edition: DeMarcus Cousins gets ejected, goes nuts
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Bingo!
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Got it!

San Antonio Spurs (Pre-Season Projection: 59-23, 3rd in West)
Final Record: 62-20, 1st in West
Analysis: Tony Parker missed 14 games, Tim Duncan missed 8 games, Kawhi Leonard missed 16 games, Manu Ginobili missed 14 games, Danny Green missed 14 games, and Tiago Splitter missed 23 games. But the Spurs were still the Spurs thanks to Gregg Popovich. They’re a force nature in the basketball world and will continue to be as long as Popovich is at the helm. They’re the top overall seed in the West thanks to a 19-game win streak and going 22-4 over their final 26 games. Long live the Spurs and their ability to get the most out of every player. Their system is perfect, their coach is perfect, and their players are the epitome of perfection.
GIF of the Year, Spurs Edition: Exquisite ball movement by Spurs
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Nailed it.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Got it. Barely.

Utah Jazz (Pre-Season Projection: 21-61, 14th in West)
Final Record: 25-57, 15th in West
Analysis: Trey Burke missed the beginning of the season and the Jazz got off to a terrible start. They weren’t as bad as their final record indicated that they were. Burke had his moments, as did Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, and Derrick Favors. I expected a huge year out of Derrick Favors but that never came to fruition. Ty Corbin will most likely be gone this offseason and that’s a good thing for that franchise. Richard Jefferson played more than he should have. I know he had a good year but a young team should play the young guys and get them to get a comfort level with each other. I don’t know what Utah will do in the draft but they have a tough situation coming up with Hayward and might look to draft a replacement. With two first round picks, and the talent already there, Utah has a future to be proud of.
GIF of the Year, Jazz Edition: Trey Burke hits game-winner vs Orlando
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Got it right.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Just missed out.

2013-2014 NBA Season Review: Eastern Conference

easternconferencelogo

Way back in late October, a few days before the season began, I wrote and posted my 2013-2014 projections for each NBA team. I also put where they’d finish in the conference and did a playoff preview but we’ll get to the playoff preview a little later on. For now, let’s look at a team-by-team review on my predictions and see how many I nailed within the 5-win range and even a closer 3-win range.

Atlanta Hawks (Pre-Season Projection: 43-39, 6th in East)
Final Record: 38-44, 8th in East
Analysis: I expected the Hawks to have a solid season and make the playoffs on the backs of Al Horford and Paul Millsap with help sprinkled in by the likes of Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll, and Kyle Korver. While I did get my part about Dennis Schroder correct, which was not expecting much out of him but him having moments, much about my Hawks prognostication was off. I never saw the Al Horford injury coming and, let’s be honest here, no one really could. Horford only played in 29 games this season and the Hawks went 16-13 in those contests. Unfortunately for them, he didn’t play after December 26th. But they still had a good season considering the shortcoming.
GIF of the Year, Hawks Edition: Pero Antic’s one-legged three-pointer
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games): Barely. Thanks to the last day of the season.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games):
No. Possibly, had Horford not been injured.

Boston Celtics (Pre-Season Projection: 22-60, 14th in East)
Final Record: 25-57, 12th in East
Analysis: In a non-shocking development, the Boston Celtics were about as bad as I expected. That wasn’t too hard to predict since they got rid of all the remnants of their championship era. The only holdover was Rajon Rondo but he only played in 30 games due to coming back late from his injury. That was to be expected. They were definitely able to salvage some games and did keep their fans coming back for more but Boston fans are naturally loyal and rewarded the team with that loyalty. Boston does have the foundation for a good future, especially if they’re able to move Rajon Rondo during the draft and get younger pieces to give Brad Stevens a fighting chance as they go forward.
GIF of the Year, Celtics Edition: Avery Bradley’s behind-the-backboard shot
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games): Nailed it pretty well.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Got it. Thanks to a 3-16 finish.

Brooklyn Nets (Pre-Season Projection: 56-26, 2nd in East)
Final Record: 44-38, 6th in East
Analysis: I was way off of my Brooklyn Nets pick but there were some mitigating factors. For one, they started off horribly and that wasn’t that expected. Kevin Garnett missed 28 games, Brook Lopez only played in 17, and Deron Williams also missed nearly 20 games this season. On the surface, it looks bad but it wasn’t as bad as it ultimately could have been due to their injuries and lack of coaching in the early part of the season. At least they got rid of Jason Terry, though. I did have a concern with Jason Kidd but he proved to be a solid coach over the season. Playoffs will be interesting.
GIF of the Year, Nets Edition: Jason Kidd’s “Hit Me” cup incident
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Not even close.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): I struck out looking here.

Charlotte Bobcats (Pre-Season Projection: 25-57, 13th in East)
Final Record: 43-39, 7th in East
Analysis: I was a year too late on the Charlotte rise. I thought they’d take this step during next season but I was clearly wrong. Kemba Walker was great, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was a defensive stopper, Gerald Henderson was good, Josh McRoberts had his moments, and Cody Zeller flashed his talent but the real cause of this was Al Jefferson and his superb post play. That and Steve Clifford getting every ounce out of this team defensively. Superb job by everyone on this team to not only make the playoffs but look like a viable team doing so. Future could be looking up for them finally.
GIF of the Year, Bobcats Edition: Kemba Walker’s OT game-winner in Toronto
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Nope. Al Jefferson made me look dumb.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): And Steve Clifford made me look dumber.

Chicago Bulls (Pre-Season Projection: 56-26, 3rd in East)
Final Record: 48-34, 4th in East
Analysis: I’m going to defend myself here a little bit. I fully expected a healthy Derrick Rose this season and while he did play, he didn’t play much at all. Joakim Noah was sensational. He carried the Bulls night-in and night-out and even did so despite the Bulls going off and selling Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers just for the right to cut Andrew Bynum. Jimmy Butler played what seemed like every minute of every game, Carlos Boozer was alright, but Taj Gibson gave them something that they can depend on going forward. Not to mention they got one hell of a contribution from D.J. Augustin that seemingly came out of nowhere. Maybe Coach Thibodeau understands his team better than everyone else.
GIF of the Year, Bulls Edition: Taj Gibson’s game-winner against Lakers
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
No. But sorta close, I guess.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Derrick Rose might have helped me.

Cleveland Cavaliers (Pre-Season Projection: 38-44, 8th in East)
Final Record: 33-49, 10th in East
Analysis: I had the Cavaliers sneaking into the playoffs and while the team that finish 8th in the East did indeed have a 38-44 record, I expected a lot more out of Cleveland this year. I liked the Anthony Bennett pick but he struggled. However, he did regroup and finish the year a lot better than he stared it. I liked Tristan Thompson and his consistency, as well. But they got nothing out of Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao also missed his usual amount of games. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters still look like they hate each other, Luol Deng provided support but won’t come back, and everyone else was just there. Jarrett Jack also kinda let me down. I expected 16 points per game and good defense out of Dion Waiters and did, I guess, get it but the team didn’t make the playoffs. Another year in the lottery.
GIF of the Year, Cavaliers Edition: Kyrie Irving’s double OT game-winner
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Got it. But barely. Not excited, though.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Oh how I wish.

Detroit Pistons (Pre-Season Projection: 37-45, 9th in East)
Final Record: 29-53, 11th in East
Analysis: I’ve crapped on the Detroit Pistons all season so I’m not going to waste time doing much more of that. I just don’t get how you spend $92 million in the offseason to make improvements to the team both on a talent level and also on an excitement level only to see yourself finish with the exact same record that you had the year before. Andre Drummond was great and was the only positive takeaway for the team this season. Greg Monroe is likely gone, which is good for him, and they’ll have to figure out how to give more playing time to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who should have gotten more playing time from the start rather than trying to play Chauncey Billups earlier in the year. And then there’s Brandon Jennings. But I’ve already said enough. This team, man. This team.
GIF of the Year, Pistons Edition: Jennings-Drummond backboard alley-oop
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
No.I knew they’d be bad, but man.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Spent $92 million and didn’t improve.

Indiana Pacers (Pre-Season Projection: 53-29, 4th in East)
Final Record: 56-26, 1st in East
Analysis: I didn’t like the Pacers drafting Solomon Hill and they didn’t even play him that much so that was a moot point from the beginning. But it does make me wonder since they did pass on guys like Tim Hardaway, Reggie Bullock, and even Archie Goodwin. If they had any idea that Danny Granger wasn’t going to be a worthwhile player for them this season, why not grab a potential shooting guard down the road who can help you? The reason I say that is because I don’t know how much longer Lance Stephenson will be in Indiana after his great season. They struggled at the end of the year and Paul George went from a top three MVP guy to maybe not even top five after he put up 40/34 shooting lines over the final 50 games of the year. He started the year going 47/40 in the first 30 games he played. I like them but I don’t love them. I wondered what they’d get for Granger and they got Evan Turner who isn’t very good. But, hey, you get what you can.
GIF of the Year, Pacers Edition: Paul George throws down a 360 windmill
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Yes, thanks to late swoon.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Barely but I got it.

Miami Heat (Pre-Season Projection: 58-24, 1st in East)
Final Record: 54-28, 2nd in East
Analysis: Thought the Heat would finish first but they didn’t. Thought they’d do better but they didn’t. It didn’t help that Dwyane Wade was rendered useless for almost 30 games due to his lingering leg issues. They rested guys at the end of the year or else they would have finished close to my projection for them but besides that it was just another year in South Beach. LeBron won’t win MVP this year but it doesn’t take away from the great year that he had. He’s still the best player in the world. You do have to wonder, though, how much longer those three have together. Wade isn’t what he used to be, LeBron’s having to do more, and Bosh is still solid but not enough. Is this the last hoorah?
GIF of the Year, Heat Edition: LeBron James hits game-winner in Oakland
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Late stumbles sorta helped.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Almost. Lost 5 of last 6.

Milwaukee Bucks (Pre-Season Projection: 32-50, 11th in East)
Final Record: 15-67, 15th in East
Analysis: When I talked about the Bucks before the season, I said they were on the right path to tanking until signing O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal, and Zaza Pachulia while also trading for Caron Butler and Brandon Knight. Well, they still sucked. Massively. Namely because all of those guys, minus Knight, were terrible or let go. They traded Neal, waived Butler later in the year, saw Mayo play terrible, had Pachulia miss games, and also had Larry Sanders miss close to 60 games. Everything that could go wrong for that team did go wrong. I loved what I saw out of the Greek Freak, so there’s hope. Same with John Henson. If they keep Larry Sanders and somehow get the first pick, I’d love a future Knight-Giannis-Wiggins-Henson-Sanders lineup simply for the length, athleticism, and defense. Please let Milwaukee get the first pick.
GIF of the Year, Bucks Edition: Giannis Antetokounmpo goes superhuman
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Holy crap I was way off.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Did anyone see this coming?

New York Knicks (Pre-Season Projection: 40-42, 7th in East)
Final Record: 37-45, 9th in East
Analysis: I came fairly close to nailing this on the money. When observing the Knicks prior to the season, I noted that they had an awkwardly tough schedule and a roster that wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves over an entire season. I hated the Bargnani trade, liked the Hardaway pick, but didn’t like the fact they had to play old guys like Martin-Stoudemire-MWP for vast stretches. Well, for the record, Metta World Peace didn’t last long in the Big Apple, Martin only played in 32 games, and Stoudemire missed 17 games of his own. Then there was Raymond Felton being trash, Tyson Chandler missing almost 30 games, Iman Shumpert’s offensive decline, J.R. Smith looking like complete garbage for a while, and Mike Woodson looking lost on the sideline. Carmelo Anthony was the only bright spot. Poor guy. I do wonder if he returns, though.
GIF of the Year, Knicks Edition: J.R. Smith unties Shawn Marion’s shoe
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Nailed it.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Took a late surge to get there.

Orlando Magic (Pre-Season Projection: 29-53, 12th in East)
Final Record: 23-59, 13th in East
Analysis: I liked the Orlando talent but thought they wouldn’t compete for at least another two years. They definitely didn’t compete this year and came close to getting within the 5-game window that I projected for them. They were better than their final record indicated and they were exciting to watch at times but they were a very young team that needed to grow. They’ll grow over the offseason and with another two lottery picks coming in this year, they should have the chance to have a bright future. I wonder what they’d get if they do indeed decide to finally trade Jameer Nelson and/or Arron Afflalo. I doubt either one is back in Orlando next year.
GIF of the Year, Magic Edition: Victor Oladipo’s monster block
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Close but no cigar.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): I expected too much here.

Philadelphia 76ers (Pre-Season Projection: 8-74, 15th in East)
Final Record: 19-63, 14th in East
Analysis: “Worst collection of talent I’ve seen in the history of the NBA.” And still, somehow, won 19 games just because they wanted to make me look like a damn fool. Well, they did. Michael Carter-Williams only made 33% of his shots outside of five feet so making a jumper is going to have to be something he works on over the next few years if this team has any hope of improving. I praise them for the simple fact that they didn’t rush Nerlens Noel back and actually let him sit out the entire year so that he can work on strength and conditioning. That’ll pay off in the long run. They went 5-34 over their final 39 games. If they did that for the whole year, they’d have finished with 10 or 11 wins. Sigh.
GIF of the Year, 76ers Edition: Evan Turner’s game-winning layup
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
I don’t even wanna talk about this.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): No comment.

Toronto Raptors (Pre-Season Projection: 33-49, 10th in East)
Final Record: 48-34, 3rd in East
Analysis: This entire projection was wrong just because of the sheer fact that they were able to trick the Sacramento Kings into trading for Rudy Gay. I didn’t think any team in the NBA would have been stupid enough to trade for Rudy Gay but oh how I was wrong. Prior to the Rudy Gay trade, the Toronto Raptors were 6-12. Granted it’s a small sample size, but that puts them on pace for a 27-win season. Below my projection but a lot better than I did after that. After the trade, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry took off. Amir Johnson was great, Jonas Valanciunas progressed well, and the pieces they got from the Gay trade proved to be instrumental towards their success this season. They’re a tough team and they got worlds better after getting rid of their biggest problem.
GIF of the Year, Raptors Edition: Terrence Ross dunks on Kenneth Faried
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Nope. Masai Ujiri killed me.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Did you think they’d trade Gay?

Washington Wizards (Pre-Season Projection: 48-34, 5th in East)
Final Record: 44-38, 5th in East
Analysis: In a way, I nailed this. I got the seed right. I was a tad off on the record but they got where they were supposed to be. Trevor Ariza, Bradley Beal, John Wall, and company played great. Nene missing roughly 30 games didn’t help but they got quality production out of Marcin Gortat. They got nothing out of Otto Porter whatsoever and it feels like a waste of a pick at this point in time. One might even argue that he was the most disappointing top five pick this year simply because he didn’t show much of anything and was supposed to be one of the most pro-ready guys that was in the draft. He scored only 78 points all season but took 91 shots. Wizards have an interesting offseason ahead of them with no first round pick and both Ariza and Gortat unrestricted free agents. Good season, though. Wall and Beal are looking mighty formidable.
GIF of the Year, Wizards Edition: Nene dunks game-winner off Wall feed
Prediction Accuracy (Within 5 Games):
Yes. Got the seed, too.
Prediction Accuracy (Within 3 Games): Super close but just missed.

2014 NBA Mock Draft — Version 5.0

01.)  Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
02.)  Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
03.)  Orlando Magic: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
04.)  Utah Jazz: Dante Exum, CG, Australia
05.)  Boston Celtics: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
06.)  Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
07.)  Sacramento Kings: Marcus Smart, CG, Oklahoma State
08.) DET Detroit Pistons: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
09.)  Cleveland Cavaliers: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
10.)  Denver Nuggets (from New York): Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
11.)  Orlando Magic (from Denver): Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
12.)  Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
13.)  Minnesota Timberwolves: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
14.) DAL Dallas Mavericks: James Young, SF, Kentucky
15.)  Atlanta Hawks: Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
16.)  Chicago Bulls (from Charlotte): Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
17.)  Phoenix Suns (from Washington): Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville
18.)  Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn): Zach LaVine, CG, UCLA
19.)  Chicago Bulls: P.J. Hairston, SG, D-League
20.)  Toronto Raptors: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
21.)  Phoenix Suns: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
22.)  Memphis Grizzlies: Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
23.)  Utah Jazz (from Golden State): Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin
24.)  Charlotte Bobcats (from Portland): DeAndre Burton, PG, Nevada
25.)  Houston Rockets: Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
26.)  Phoenix Suns (from Indiana): Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG, Serbia
27.)  Miami Heat: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
28.)  Los Angeles Clippers: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
29.)  Oklahoma City Thunder: Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
30.)  San Antonio Spurs: Mario Hezonja, SG, Croatia

  • Enjoy. Tweet me (@FlyByKnite) if you wanna discuss anything.

2014 NBA Draft Profile — Jabari Parker

jabari_parker_duke

Jabari Parker currently sits sixth on my current 2014 NBA Draft big board, which, I’m sure, confuses some people since most everyone not only has him in the top five but almost everyone has him in the top three. I’ll get into my reasons why I don’t have him that high a tad later on but for now, let’s get started on the good. He stands 6’8” and 240 pounds with a 7’0” wingspan. The measurables are there from a small forward standpoint and his offensive game is top notch.

In terms of offensive versatility, there’s probably no better prospect out there this year than Jabari Parker. His ability to score from all over is unparalleled by most. In transition, Jabari attacks the rim as both a ball-handler and off-ball runner. It gives him an added dimension that some other players with his profile cannot do. When handling the ball in transition, he’s able to push it through traffic and finish with great power and skill. When running without the ball, he fills lanes correctly and understands spacing concepts.

When Jabari Parker gets a defensive rebound and explodes up the court, he does have that LeBron James feel to his game but obviously not up to that same level of athleticism and explosion. Still, it’s extremely impressive to witness out of a young player. You can see his full skill on display when orchestrating on the fastbreak.

Parker often gets compared to Carmelo Anthony because of his natural ability to score the basketball in all types of settings but I see a little bit of Paul Pierce in him. He can score from both outside and down low when posting up against smaller defenders. Jabari can get his shot off against almost anyone and it’s a great asset for him to have going forward. His shot isn’t superb by any means but it’s adequate enough, especially in catch-and-shoot situations from three-point land. You don’t want him setting up his three-point attempts off the dribble. You’d much rather he do it off of the catch.

On non-transition jumpers this season, Jabari Parker was 107 of 278 (38.5%). It’s not a great mark but it isn’t bad, either. As long as he’s catching instead of creating, he’s perfectly fine. On all jumpers this season, he was 120 of 315 (38.1%). Obviously this isn’t up to the level of a Doug McDermott (165 of 386; 42.7%) but it’s still a solid number. It also doesn’t hurt that, as I mentioned earlier, Parker can get his shot off against most any defender due to his combination of size, length, and offensive intelligence.

One notable downside with Jabari Parker offensively, however, is that his shot selection isn’t up to snuff yet. That’s okay and something that should be worked out as he gets into the NBA but it is worth noting. He settles for a lot of tough or awkward shots because he can’t bully some defenders and thus gets off-balance and off-kilter. It results in him looking less than stellar offensively.

The other problem with Parker offensively is that for a 6’8” and 240 pound small forward, he doesn’t finish at a great rate around the rim in half-court sets. In non-transition situations this year, he shot 60.9% at the rim. While that’s great in college, you can expect that to drop off some in the NBA since he won’t be playing as the main “big” on the court primarily anymore. At Duke, he was used a lot at power forward and center so he got some easy shots around the rim. You can’t count on that in the NBA. Yet, despite his size advantage, he tended to struggle when dealing with contact at times. His Effective Field Goal Percentage in non-transition sets this year was only 49.8%. Nothing to write home about, either.

On defense, this is where Jabari Parker’s weaknesses really come to light. He’s not a good defender and that’s being polite about it. He does understand some team defense concepts and works to sew up his deficiencies but he is not a good man-to-man defender at all. His lack of elite athleticism comes back to bite him in the rear quite often. When matched up against better athletes, he routinely would get beaten to a spot or let a guy get around him. He also had trouble when guarding true big men. Parker was unable to stop them from getting whatever they wanted and had trouble bodying them up for long durations.

A big problem for him at Duke was where they played him. Because he was so skilled and so big, they opted to play him inside a lot defensively and that was one of the main reasons their defense suffered. He’s not a big deterrent at the rim and couldn’t stop anyone he was guarding. As a team defender, he was generally okay but not great. The potential is there for him to be a solid defender at the next level but he’ll always be hampered by his lack of elite athleticism and explosiveness on an overall level, both offensively and defensively.

The problem for me with Jabari Parker is that I don’t know what he is, I don’t know who he guards, and I don’t know where he plays. Parker possesses the offensive game of a small forward but the athleticism of a power forward. You really would like more raw explosiveness out of him but it’s just not there. Sure, he can get up and go get the ball on alley-oops or run the court in transition but the difference, athletically, between Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins is extremely substantial.

I’m also not in love with him as a playmaker at the next level. I think he can do it but I don’t think he’s necessarily good at it. Per 40 pace adjusted minutes, Parker averaged 3.1 turnovers and just 1.5 assists. He averaged 0.14 turnovers per possession and just 0.07 assists per possession but also averaged 0.86 field goal attempts per possession. Andrew Wiggins, by comparison, averaged 0.16 turnovers per possession, which is a tad higher, but also put up 0.11 assists per possession and 0.82 field goal attempts per possession. Wiggins averaged more points per possession, fewer field goal attempts per possession, more free throw attempts per possession, and more assists per possession. In essence, Parker kind of was a black hole offensively at times.

One of the things that I do love about Jabari Parker, besides his offensive versatility, is that he’s a great rebounder and understands rebounding concepts. His instincts are off the chart there and I think he could be a great small ball power forward due to that. He boxes out well and uses his size and length to go get rebounds in tough situations. I think that’s a skill that projects very favorably for him going into the NBA.

Jabari Parker’s lateral agility and footwork is just so poor defensively that I don’t know how he survives at small forward in the NBA. I see him more as a small ball power forward in the Eastern Conference. I don’t have him in my top five and I doubt he moves in there just because his defense is just so horrific and his athleticism isn’t elite enough to warrant much upside to change that. So, I have him sixth.

Overall, as far as team fit goes, I think a team like the Milwaukee Bucks could really use him and might be able to hide him defensively because of their interior core of shot blockers but it’s tough to see a true fit for Parker right now. I’m sure the Utah Jazz would jump at the possibility of picking him, partly due to their need at small forward and also due to him being Mormon, but that’s about it. Another fit, possibly, could be Orlando.

Jabari Parker, in my honest opinion, will be a solid NBA player but nothing special. I actually believe he’ll win NBA Rookie of the Year next year since he’s probably the most pro ready prospect in the entire draft. However, I’m not high on him as far as upside goes. His floor isn’t low by any means so that’s a good sign, believe it or not. But any team looking for a guy who will turn into Carmelo Anthony, or something of the like, is probably going to be disappointed. He’s a nice player. I just seriously question his ability to make the necessary improvements to be a franchise level player or even a really good number one option.

Draft Projection: Top 5
NBA Upside Comparison:
2008-2009 Rudy Gay
NBA Downside Comparison: 2009-2010 Jeff Green

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