Monday, July 10, 2017

NBA: Most Clutch NBA Players of the 2000's

Wade, Kobe, and Lebron are among the best to have played in
the NBA since the year 2000, but who is the most clutch to
have played over that time?  Is it one of them, or another player?
One of the hardest measurements in sports to pin down is what many refer to as the "clutch gene", which is probably why we talk about it all the time.  Go to any facebook group, you'll see discussion about who is the most clutch, who do you want with the ball in their hands if your favorite team is down 1?  What if they're down 2 and need a 3 to win?  How does that change the equation?

Well, I thought I'd take a look at the data, as opposed to the opinions.  We've all heard the opinions right?  The data however-at some levels-has some real surprises in there.  So I took to and started breaking it all down, using their "shot finder" tool there.  Here are the parameters that I used, to define a "clutch shot".  Yours may differ, feel free to let me know how they do, perhaps I'll run it a few other ways down the road.  Here were my parameters:

1) The shot was taken in the final 10 seconds of the 4th quarter or overtime.
2) The shot was to tie or lead the game.
3) The data contains shots taken in both the regular season AND the postseason

B/R's shot finder tool only searches back through the 2000 season, and you have to go year by year as far as I could tell.  I did so, compiling 17 years of last ten seconds shot data into one easy to understand chart, and then further broke those down, weeding out the irrelevant, grouping up the quick to cover, and pulling out the gems of random information you probably didn't know before but will feel smarter about knowing now (or at least I didn't and do, lol).  Here goes:

In total, between the 2000-2001 NBA season, and the 2016-2017 NBA season, 790 players took at least one shot that qualified as "clutch" under my definition (see above).  Of those players, 277 did not make a field goal that matched my definition of "clutch".

Can't make the game winner
Of those 790 players, 277 did not make a field goal that matched my definition of "clutch", the most attempts taken by any one of those players were taken by Bob Sura.  Sura's career started prior to 2000, so we don't have all the data available, but over the course of the final 7 seasons of his career it seems he took 11 shots in the final 10 seconds of the 4th quarter or overtime to tie or win the game, but didn't manage to make a single one!  8 of those shots were three point attempts, and the 11 shots took place over the course of 9 games (multiple attempts in the same game from time to time for some of these players), meaning basically that Bob Sura single-handedly lost 9 games for teams (split between the Warriors and Rockets) between 2000-2007.  Which is pretty amazing really.  What a legacy.  And that's with 5 years of losing games in clutch moments that we don't have the data on yet!

Active Players that CANNOT "Seal the Deal"
Several active players appeared high on the "'clutch attempts but no makes" list.  The "top" players were:
Jared Dudley, 9 attempts 0 makes.
Roy Hibbert, 8 attempts 0 makes.
Wilson Chandler, 7 attempts 0 makes.
Ish Smith, 7 attempts 0 makes.
Joel Embiid, 5 attempts 9 makes.
There are several interesting notes here of course:
Dudley is considered by most to be a long distance threat.  Clearly not in "clutch time" however.  I've never heard that highlighted however.
Hibbert just can't do anything right can he?
Embiid catches the eye.  With something like just 31 career games played thus far, it's amazing he's even had the opportunity to win the game on 5 occasions thus far.  Those 5 attempts came in 3 games, so it's 10% of his career games played that he's had the opportunity to seal the deal.  And unfortunately come up short every time.

Wants to be clutch
Who wants to take the clutch shot the most?  Over the past 17 years, one player stands out as having taken the most clutch shots, and it's not even close.  Kobe Bryant has put up 137 shots in the last 10 seconds of games for the tie or win since the beginning of the 2000-2001 season.  Now this doesn't cover his entire career obviously, as he was drafted prior to 2000.  However, those first four years Shaq would have been more "the guy" down the stretch-or even Horry-as Kobe was kind of up and coming, so I'm not sure the numbers would balloon too much if I were able to track them back that far.  I plan to look for ways to do just that in the future, as I'd love to see some of the 90's and 80's stars included in these measurements.
Behind Kobe, comes a list of mostly the exact names you'd expect.  Here they are real quick, followed by the number of clutch attempts they've taken.  For most of these guys, this chart WILL cover their entire careers, as it goes back 17 years.  For some, it won't.  I'll try to highlight those players.  Here are the rest of the top ten in clutch FGA from 2000-2017:
101 attempts Lebron James
99 attempts Paul Pierce
85 attempts Carmelo Anthony
84 attempts Vince Carter
79 attempts Kevin Durant
78 attempts Joe Johnson
77 attempts: (2 players) Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade
66 attempts: Russell Westbrook
When it really comes down to it, volume+percentage of success may be the best measurement of "clutch gene", and so to properly measure this we should pretty much take the biggest volume guys, and look at their shot percentage.  We'll do that given two scenarios: your team down by 1 and your team down by 2.  Or 2pt fg's vs 3pt fg's.

Volume Clutch Shooter Analysis
Team Down by One Point
If your team is down by one point, and you're choosing among the ten highest volume clutch shooters (Kobe, Lebron, Pierce, Melo, Vince, KD, Joe Johnson, Dirk, Wade, and Russ) over the 2000-2017 seasons, you're best served to give the ball to Dirk.  Over that period of time, Dirk has influenced 68 games at clutch time, taking 77 shots-28 three point attempts and 49 two point attempts.  Hitting 22 of those 49 two point attempts gives him the highest 2 point shot clutch percentage amongst the top ten volume clutch shooters, at 44.9%.  Behind him come Melo (38.6% on 22-57 shooting) and Kobe (35.1% on 26-74 shooting).  The last player from the top ten you want is going to surprise some people, as it's Kevin Durant.  He's taken 36 two point shots to tie or win the game in the final ten seconds of the 4th or OT, but he's made just NINE of those shots, giving him a pretty surprisingly low clutch 2 point shooting percentage of just 25%!  Along with him at 25% is-again a shocker-Paul Pierce, who went 15-60 in such scenarios.  In fact all 7 other volume clutch shooters shot under 30% from 2 point range at "clutch time" under my definition.  (Interestingly enough Dirk-who topped the high volume list from 2-comes in 32nd on this list.)

Team Down by 2
If you need a three to win the game, and you happen to have one of the ten highest volume clutch shooters on your roster, the guy you really want to give the ball to is Vince Carter.  Over the past 17 years (and he had three before that, so he could have a few more) he's hit 18 of 45 three pointers at clutch time to put his team on top or tie things up.  This is a rate of FORTY PERCENT!  That makes him easily the leader of the volume clutch time shooters, coming in 15% higher than the next player on the list; Joe Johnson, who shot 7-27 for 25.95%.  Coming in third would be Melo, shooting 7-28 for 25%.  Only one other player shot better than 20% at clutch time from three; Kevin Durant, 10-43 for 23.26%.  The rest came in under 20%, including Wade who shot a paltry 7.14%, making just 2 of 28 clutch three point attempts.

Including other players
The clutch moment isn't just about the best players though.  In some games, the ball can end up in just about anybody's hands, and everyone is expected to be able to do the right thing.  There are some that can't, and there are some that will surprise all of us.  Let me first explain my grouping real quick:
In speaking of the entire group in percentages, I'll include only those who had at least 5 clutch FGA's.  The average # of attempts among the 790 players was 10, I figured half the average was a fair measurement.  However, I also wanted to see the ranks at other levels, so I worked those up to.

Overall Field Goals
Min 5 FGA at Clutch Time
369 players qualified for percentage measurements of the group, having attempted at least 5 field goals at "clutch time" between 2000-2017.  Of those players, 21 belong to the "can't hit at clutch time" club, having hit 0 of their attempts.  Another 17 have hit at least 50% of their clutch attempts, 12 of those players are still active).  The top performer on the overall list would be one of the first big surprises of this analysis: Eddy Curry, shooting 5 for 6 in clutch moments.  Only one of those shots was a 3, but he made it.  Amir Johnson and David Lee round out the top three on the overall list, both having shot 4 for 6 in clutch moments, for a clutch shot percentage of 66.67%.

Min 10 FGA at Clutch Time
When I cranked the requirements up to 10 clutch FGA minimum, the numbers changed a bit as you'd expect.  Eddy Curry obviously fell off the list, having taken just 6 attempts, as did Amir and David, both having taken just 6.  So who moved into the top three spots?  Three players most fans probably know well; Udonis Haslem (6 of 11 for 54.55%), Marc Gasol (8 of 16 for an even 50%), and Al Horford (7 of 15 for 46.67%).  Just behind them comes in Anthony Davis, 6 for 13 for 46.15%), which gives us our top three active (Gasol-Horford-Davis).

Raising the bar
For the next level of measurement, I've tripled the average (10) to set the floor at 30 FGA at clutch time.  Using this parameter, Rudy Gay comes in as the best clutch shooter, going 20 for 55 for a 36.36%.  Coming in 2nd and 3rd are Dirk (27 of 77) and Ray Allen (22 of 63) at 35.06 and 34.92% respectively.  With Ray retired, Tony Parker would be the next active player to round out the top three active players with 25+ FGA at clutch time, going 13 of 38 for 34.21%.  At this point, you can see some of these guys are going to start sticking around through the final top ten (Dirk here).

I raised the minimum one final time before the top ten, setting the floor at 50 FGA at clutch time-or about 5 times the average.  Using this parameter-as I'm sure you can guess-we get the same initial top 3 of Gay, Dirk, and Ray (all had 50+ FGA).  However, filling out the active three we get one change, as Melo takes the place of Parker, who only has 38 attempts in clutch time.  Melo features a stat line of 39 for 85, for 34.12% at clutch time.  He and Dirk will both be in the top ten, seen above, with Dirk coming in on top in overall fg% at clutch time, as well as 2 point %.  Dirk comes in 5th of those top ten guys in 3 point % however, with a disappointing 17.86%, otherwise he'd be the clear lock for "most clutch player".  Even at 5th in 3 point % however, he makes a pretty compelling statistical case thus far, 

Overall List, Down by 1 point (Need a 2 point basket)
Okay, so I've broken down the overall FGA at clutch time, but what I want to do is find out who the best is on the overall list when you need 2, and who the best is when you need 3.  I'll give you the top 5 in both situations:
Of the 790 players on the list, 127 hadn't attempted a 2 point shot in clutch time, so they were taken out immediately.  That left 663 who had, with an average of 6.25 shot attempts per.  I used 6 as the requirement for shot percentage to count.  That left me with a list of 209 players who took at least 6 clutch shots from 2 point range between 2000-2017.  Of those 209 players, 6 were unable to hit any of their clutch time shots (Hibbert's name has already been mentioned, but I'll highlight Kevin Love as being on this list here, going 0 for 6 at clutch time).
Some players however, rise to the occasion.  The following players make up the top 5 active players who statistics over the past 17 seasons suggest you'd want most with the ball in their hands if your team was down 1 point and needed to win at clutch time:
Nene Hilario has made 5 of 7 two pointers at clutch time, for a 71.43 clutch shot %
Devin Booker and David Lee have made 4 of 6 two pointers, for a 66.67%
Pau Gasol has made 12 of 19 clutch shots from two point range, for a 63.16%
Kenneth Faried has made 5 of 8 shots at cluch time, for a 62.50 clutch shooting percentage.
Other active players in the top 20 of the past 17 seasons from 2 point range at clutch time include Brook Lopez, Al Horford, Jeff Green, and Jrue Holiday.

Overall List, you need a three
Of the 790 players on the list of clutch time shooters from 2000-2017, 194 have not taken a three pointer at clutch time.  This leaves 596 who have, with an average of just under six 3pt FGA per shooter.  Again, I'll use 6 3pt FGA as my requirement for the percentage list.  This eliminates an even 400 players who have taken less than 6 three point field goal attempts at clutch time from 2000-2017, leaving 196.  Thinking back to the top guys list, it's hard to believe many-if any-would top Vince Carter's clutch three point shooting percentage of 40%, however he comes in just 7th on the overall list, once the 6 FGA parameter has been input.  The six players he comes in behind: Chris Bosh, Moochie Norris, Avery Bradley, David Wesley, Allan Houston, and Steve Blake, obviously just two of which (Bradley and Bosh-arguably) are active.  Despite the fact that Avery has a higher 3pt percentage than Vince (4 of 8 for 50%) who comes in at 40% having gone 18 of 45, Vince may still make the better choice, given that he's had 5 times the experience taking those shots.  Tied with Vince on the list, is Ray Allen, having gone 14 for 35 over his career, putting him at an even 40% clutch three point shooting as well.

Well, one might look at these lists and conclude that with experience, comes clutch ability.  The guys that top these lists aren't the guys that just make it over the low bar in attempts, they're quite often the guys you think of when you think of reliability from range.  This list really ended up containing what you'd think of as the usual suspects for the most part, with some surprises thrown in from the 5-15 FGA range, but otherwise not really blowing anybody's hair back.  When applied to recent events, it does also kind of serve to highlight a few things:

A few things only people who read this piece are likely to know now:
*Bradley's value to the Celtics might have been understated, as he's clearly a guy they both go to in the clutch, and has success there.  Horford is another guy they have on their roster that can perform under pressure, and recent rumors have them pursing Marc Gasol, another name featured on this list.  If they were able to land him, they'd replace that clutch ability they lost when trading away Bradley, although almost nobody would see a "replacement" of Bradley in Gasol, after having read this piece, you will.
**Eddy Curry as a clutch winner...who'd have thunk it?  This may be the biggest surprise on the list, as he's routinely thought of as a contender for biggest draft bust ever.
***Embiid's number had to catch more eyes than just mine.  0-5 in clutch moments over 3 games in just 31 career games played is wild.  I mean, it's obviously not good-but it might not be all bad either.  OR it might be ALL BAD in caps.  It's really too early to say, but at the same time it's too high not to notice.  Keep an eye on him at the end of games, see if he gets nervous.
****Brook Lopez may end up being an underrated addition in the off-season.  As LAL tries to get better, like any team trying to make that "next step" they'll need to find a way to win close games.  Some teams can't do that, and it can be the difference between being a sub .500 team and being a playoff contender.  Lopez having gone 9-18 in the clutch over his career, could very well be the guy they come to depend on down the stretch, and help them turn things around in LA faster than many expect.

Thanks for reading.  After all this information, who do YOU think is the most clutch shooter in the NBA?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Magic Johnson is Delivering on his Promise

Magic Johnson is considered by most the best point guard in NBA history.  He has been involved in the NBA in some capacity for 30 plus years.  Some people believe he was the best Laker ever.  One of his biggest strengths as a player was his basketball IQ and his intelligence.  None of these skills guarantee a transition to being a successful decision maker for a franchise and making good personnel decisions.  Michael Jordan famously failed at being the man in charge for the Wizards, as he drafted one of the biggest busts in NBA history in Kwame Brown.  MJ never got the Wizards to the playoffs and was eventually fired. 

In his first move as President of Basketball Operations, Magic executed a trade that immediately made the Lakers worse.  In full rebuild mode as an exec you want to secure the best possible pick, and this is usually accomplished by losing more games.  Lou Williams was Los Angeles’ best player last year and he was traded for a career role/bench player in Corey Brewer and LA received Houston’s 1 st round pick in the 2017 draft as well.  In summary, the Lakers got worse which led to more losses and they got another pick in an extremely deep draft.  This was a great first move by the new man in charge.

In his next major move, just before the NBA Draft, Johnson executed a trade that significantly increases their chances to sign 2 free agents to maximum contracts next summer.  They gave up an asset, in D’Angelo Russell and a player they significantly overpaid for last off-season in Timofey Mozgov.  In return, the Lakers received an all-star Center, Brook Lopez, and another first round pick in the 2017 draft, which is the 27th pick.  Russell is only 21 and has a bright future in the NBA.  Because of their pick at #2 in the draft, Lonzo Ball, the Lakers essentially did a point guard and center swap.  They replaced Russell with Lonzo Ball and Mozgov was shipped out for a significant upgrade in Brook Lopez.  It’s true that Russell has proven he can play in the league and at worst be a good role player, but the Lakers brass decided Ball has a higher upside.  Finally, the trade created almost $60 Million in cap space for next off-season, which could be used to sign Paul George and LeBron James.  The Lakers will have enough cap space for both.

The final verdict is hard to predict and we won’t be able to accurately provide it for several years.  But, in the short term, Magic has made some excellent moves.  Having that cap space is not a guarantee stars will sign in LA, but with Johnson in the fold the chances of getting stars increase.  More time needs to pass before we can place a final verdict, but so far Magic deserves an A+ for the rebuild job he’s done thus far.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Boston Celtics: Why Danny Did the Right Thing Trading Away Fultz

My apologies to my readers, a bit of a mini-vacation took me away from here for a few days.  In that time, Danny Ainge announced to the world that-as I predicted in this very blog-the Celtics didn't want Markelle Fultz, trading away their first overall pick to Philadelphia in a top 3 pick swap that at very least honestly did not surprise me, as I believe prospect Josh Jackson is the player the Celtics have had their eye on the entire time, and should be able to get at third as well as they were at first.  This trade was entirely for Philly, who would otherwise have likely seen LA take Fultz second, and been stuck with a decision on their hands between "the rest".  Instead, they've ensured they're going to get the specific guy they want and need on that roster.  Really, it's a great move for both teams, but let me look at it from a Celtic perspective first, as I'm a New England guy, it's more natural for me to do so:

The 60's Celtics, the 80's Lakers and Celtics, the 90's Bulls, the 90's-00's Spurs, the 10's Warriors (is "10's" correct? anyway...) these teams all have exactly two things in common to my knowledge: they were/are generational type dynasty teams, and they were all were built primarily through the draft.  Sure, there were players added along the way here and there (Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton, for locals here.  In the case of the Bulls; Dennis Rodman, you get the idea.)  However, the core of each team was acquired through the draft.

This is the way great teams are built.  They're built by drafting a superstar, then building around that superstar and his cheap contract (rookie scales being what they are) which allows you greater flexibility.  Then, as the star ages, rules allow you to retain them-or at least be favored in doing so financially-which allows you to build said dynasty.  You don't acquire your best player by mortgaging your future to add on high paid players in the prime or middle of their career, then trying to draft and build and acquire talent around that.  Yes, we've seen "Big 3's" challenge those rules in the past, but by and large the better method of building long term dynastic type teams is to do so through the draft process.

I just wanted to write up something quick tonight, after getting back home.  I'll put something together this week that breaks things down a bit more.  And start putting together some more draft profiles and potential trade and/or draft scenarios for the top teams in the draft.  I'll put together another mock draft tomorrow, that'll be my second overall and I'm only planning to put out three, so tune in for that!

Monday, June 12, 2017

2017 NBA Draft: Are the Celtics and Suns Talking Trade?

The Suns' young nucleus gives them roster and draft flexibility
to move around, similar to that of the Celtics.
Speculation in some places of the internet and sports coverage/reporting world have Danny Ainge passing on a younger player in favor of one with more experience.  Of trying to compete now, instead of investing in a franchise built off three top 3 picks (Brown last year, this year's and next year's presumably).  

While I'm not entirely sure this makes sense, Danny and I have certainly disagreed in the past (see the Perkins/Robinson for Krstic/Green trade of New England infamy), so I wanted to take a look over the next few days at some of the best veteran trade scenarios Danny could and should explore if the veteran route is the way he wants to go.  His first call should probably go to Phoenix.

If you want a roster stocked with talented youth who have some experience playing in the NBA, look no farther than Phoenix.  Really, they're a little bit like Celtics-West, just without the flash in the pan superstar of IT (although Celtics got him from them, so it's their own fault they weren't able to capitalize on his talents like Boston has been under head coach Brad Stevens).

Journeyman sharpshooter Jared Dudley could
make an interesting addition to Boston's roster.
However, if you don't look at their records and just compared them piece by piece:
  • good future picks (Boston has better, but Phoenix has a couple nice ones).  
  • Best player is their middle of his prime PG on both teams (Bledsoe/IT).  Boston's is slightly better/
  • Both teams feature aging and overpaid centers (Tyson Chandler/Al Horford). Boston's again is slightly better.
  • Several other young talented pieces (Booker, Chriss, Warren, Len/Brown, Smart, Rozier, Young, Mickey) Here, the Suns win out again., primarily due to Booker.
They're a bit similar.  It kind of makes you wonder just how far Boston would have made it in the Western Conference this year, but I digress.

While it makes for an interesting comparison between teams, it doesn't necessarily make for the best trade partners.  Trade partners are usually better made between teams moving in opposite directions, trying to turn the other's mistakes into their own successes.  With the Celtics and Suns being on roughly the same timeline and path in terms of roster building, like I said they just might not make the best pairing.  But there are a few pieces I could see the Celtics wanting to target in at least a pick swap, if not an all out trade.

In his prime, Chandler was a key contributor to
a championship team in Dallas, and could bring
that experience and leadership to the Celtics.
Tyson Chandler
Despite definitely being on the downside of his career (he'll be turning 35 at the start of the season this year) Chandler is a guy who could potentially help the Celtics out immediately off the bench, giving them a defensive presence on the interior, and a rebounder (he averaged 11.5 last season).  He could even potentially start, allowing Horford to slide down to his more natural position of the 4.  I'm not sure that's a lineup the Celtics want out there a lot (the league is moving towards smaller, faster lineups, not bigger, older, slower lineups) but he helps solve a lot of their current issues.  His contract ( 12.4 million) might make it difficult, but Amir Johnson is almost certainly leaving, and that frees up the cap room he used, which is roughly the same.  While Chandler wouldn't be involved in a straight up player for pick trade, he could definitely be part of a pick swap perhaps?

Jared Dudley
Dudley is another target for a potential pick swap.  At 6-7, the forward has reliable range and can help spread the floor.  While the Celtics attempted the third most threes in the league last season, they only ranked 14th in 3 point percentage, and could use an upgrade on outside shooters if they plan to continue jacking them up.  Dudley also has a big contract at about ten million, but the Celtics could move Zeller (about 8 million) and offset most of it.

Devin Booker
Now here's the real prize on the Suns' roster.  Can the Celtics pry him away?  It might be worth trying.  The Celtics not only have this year's number one, they have the Nets' pick next year which will likely be pretty good, and they have several picks in 2019 (LAC, MEM, their own at least right now) as well as a guy like Crowder, or Bradley who they could potentially throw in.  

Booker is widely considered one of the league's top prospects
under 25.  He had a career night against Boston last year, could
he line up FOR them sometime down the road?
Booker had the best night of his life against the Celtics this past season, dropping 70 points on them, catching the attention of everyone in the league, not just the front office in Boston.  At 6-6, and a guy that can hit an outside shoot, or get to the basket and create on his own, he's exactly what Boston (heck, what every roster in the league) needs.  Lining him up between IT and Brown next year would be a very good 1-2-3 to build around.  Add Horford in the front court, and you've just got to find yourself someone to clean the glass.

The Celtics could either offer the first straight up for Booker, or throw in additional picks later that weren't the 2018 Nets' pick.  They could also potentially offer BOTH Nets' picks, plus Bradley and Crowder in what would amount to a pick swap this year, plus Booker, as they get both the third overall and the young shooting guard back.

I think that scenario works for both teams, giving Boston both a young roster and one that can compete now, while giving Phoenix not only the best player in this year's draft, but likely a top 3 pick in next year's draft as well, which they could potentially turn into a Luka Doncic, replacing Booker on their roster a year later.  Bradley and Crowder would give them a starter for this year at the 2 (Bradley), and one of the most team friendly contracts attached to a hard working defensive minded forward that can hit the three in Crowder.

I think the end proposal for Booker would look something like:
Boston gives them:
Nets' 2017 (1st overall) and 2018 first round picks
2019 LA Clippers first round pick
Avery Bradley
Jae Crowder

Phoenix sends back:
Devin Booker
2017 First round pick (3rd overall)

This could work out for both teams, what do you think?

NBA Finals Game 5: What's on the Line and What to Expect

We have arrived at Game 5 in Oakland for the second consecutive NBA Finals and the Warriors again have a chance to win a championship on their home floor.  How we got here was slightly different, but Golden State leads the NBA Finals 3-1 once again.  There are some similarities on how we arrived here and 2 major differences.  I’ll start with the similarities.  Kyrie Irving underperformed in Games 1 and 2 in this series, the team from Oakland dominated the first 2 games at home, LeBron is playing heavy minutes and showing no signs of slowing down after 7 consecutive NBA Finals appearances, and Cleveland is getting very little from their bench.  Draymond Green will play in tonight’s game, after being suspended for Game 5 last year and the biggest difference is a record breaking 73 win team increased their overall talent.  Kevin Durant, by most considered the 2nd best player in the NBA, joined them and represents a significant upgrade over Harrison Barnes.  There are a few roster differences, for the Cavaliers Kyle Korver and Deron Williams, and besides KD, Javale McGee and Zaza Pachulia are new additions.

In this series thus far, as alluded to earlier, Golden State had 2 comfortable victories at home.  In both games, their 3rd quarters were phenomenal and they extended their lead significantly after halftime.  For stretches of play, including multiple full quarters, the Cavs played them basically to a draw.  At halftime of each game, Cleveland was within striking distance, trailing by 3 and 8 points.  The 3rd quarter basically decided the game in both games.  The Cavs squandered a golden opportunity in Game 3, failing to score in the final 3 minutes, and allowing GS to score the final 11 points.  That win put the Warriors one win away from a championship.  Kyrie and LeBron were spectacular in Game 3, but it was not enough for the Cavs to win the game.  King James is averaging a triple double thus far, but in the first 3 games, he had a total of 11 points in the 4th quarters.  That is unacceptable for him and if Cleveland is going to complete another incredible comeback this series, they will absolutely need more from him in the closing quarter.

There were a lot of things that happened in Game 4 that probably won’t ever happen again, as it was a very odd game.  Zaza Pachulia kicked and punched Iman Shumpert in the groin, within a span of 10 seconds.  Draymond Green was kicked out of the game, until the officials realized a mistake, and he remained in the game.  The Cavaliers set an NBA Finals record for most points in a quarter (49), most points in a half (86) and most 3 pointers made (24).  They actually have the NBA game record for most 3’s in a game with 25 in last year’s playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks.  49 points in a quarter will most likely never be duplicated again.  It was a very weird game, but Cleveland got the win it desperately needed, to extend the series.  Kyrie had 40 points and LeBron had another triple double.  It was a historic night for James, as he set the NBA Finals record for most triple doubles (9 games) and passed Michael Jordan for most total points in NBA Finals games.

For tonight’s game I expect Kyrie to continue playing well because he realizes the impact he makes on the game and for his team.  Irving is also mentored by LeBron, which to me cannot be underestimated.  James will not allow or accept another poor performance from him and Uncle Drew (Irving) knows that his contributions are absolutely needed to take down this juggernaut.  James has the highest points per game average (31.9) in NBA Playoff history in elimination games, which obviously tonight is.  There’s a lot of work remaining to get there, but he also has the highest points per game in Game 7’s out of anyone in NBA history.  There isn’t a doubt in my mind he will show up and perform at a high level.  No NBA player ever has averaged a triple double in the entire NBA Finals series, which James currently is doing.  JR Smith is a very streaky shooter, so he’s either going to be very good or bad, because with him it seems there is no in the middle.  Kevin Love has played really well this series, especially with rebounds, and I think he will continue to play well.  For the Cavs to win, they need some contributions from their bench and I believe a total of 80 points or more, between their 3 best players.

On Golden State’s side, there’s quite a bit on the line.  In his career thus far, Kevin Durant has been criticized for his failures on the biggest stage and in the most important games.  He has been exceptional in this series and is currently the front runner for NBA Finals MVP.  Another big game from him and a win by the Warriors and he removes himself from his current title of best player in the league to never win a title.  Draymond Green certainly has motivation because of his suspension last year and he has a chance to redeem himself with a big game in the series clinching game.  Curry has a chance to be one of the best point guards ever, and championships won certainly factor into that conversation.  He’s still got plenty of work to do in order to get himself in that conversation, but just on pure talent and his numbers, he could certainly get there.

Finally, we make our way to a prediction on tonight’s game.  I do expect the Cavaliers to show up and play well, I don’t think we will see a repeat of the first 2 games.  I believe we will get a competitive and close game tonight.  Cleveland has virtually no pressure going into tonight’s game.  On the flip side, basically all of the pressure is on Golden State to close it out.  The Warriors were the clear favorites going into the series and it is expected they will win the series.  I am not saying this will determine tonight’s game or play a heavy role in the outcome, but it could play a small role.  The Cavs are playing with “house money,” and can go into tonight’s game confident, loose, and playing free.  I do think the Warriors will win tonight and clinch the championship.  One final nugget:  If Cleveland completes an incredible comeback and wins this series, they would hold the 2 best comebacks in NBA history.  They would be the only team win a series after trailing 3-1, and only team to win after trailing 3-0.  Both of those titles would include 2 road elimination wins, including Game 7’s.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Could the Celtics and Kings Be Close to a Blockbuster Trade?

The Topic
Is Fultz the motivation behind what could be a blockbuster
draft day trade involving the first overall pick and one of
the league's most storied franchises?
There's been a great deal of chatter over the past few days, generated by an alleged scheduled workout for consensus #1 NBA draft prospect Markelle Fultz with the Sacramento Kings, who currently not only don't have the top pick, but don't have a top three pick (and thus don't have a chance of drafting Fultz without trading up).  If the workout WAS scheduled, and does happen, that's an important thing.  Because there's no reason for Fultz to schedule a workout unless even he thinks it's a real scenario, and I'm sure his agent would be tapped into things at least a bit.  And for the Celtics, there would be no reason to showcase him ahead of playing him if they intended to draft him and hold onto him definitely.  So I wanted to go over what it might take to make this trade happen.

Why would the Kings do it?              
Crowder seems dissatisfied with Boston at times, and with his
team friendly contract (about $7 mil/yr for next 3 yrs) could
be a good veteran for Sacramento to target in this trade.
The Kings got fleeced this past winter in the Cousins trade, and this off-season just might be Vlade Divac's only chance to make up for that.  To do so, he likely feels a great deal of pressure to land a superstar player the team can build around.  Currently, the team has only Langston Galloway at the point guard position locked in for next season, and with just 50 games started over four years of playing on some of the worst teams this league has to offer, it's safe to say Galloway just isn't a starter in this league.  Enter Fultz, who would give them a point guard who some think could be a Russell Westbrook type in terms of being a triple double threat and scoring machine at the next level.

Why would the Celtics say yes?
For the Celtics part, Ainge couldn't be in a more opposite position than Divac, feeling almost no pressure at all.  With his team just having played in the Eastern Conference Finals despite sporting only one all star on the roster and no MVP candidates, and sitting on the number one pick in the draft with a good deal of other future assets many consider and project to be valuable, he's in the perfect position to wheel and deal.  For Divac, it's like going shopping when you're hungry.  For Ainge, it's like going with your fitness instructor.

Boston could use an interior defensive presence
like Cauley-Stein would bring.  With him and
the two picks they get from Sacramento, they
could completely rebuild their front court
behind starter Al Horford.
Ainge doesn't have to look far from the Celtics' front office to see a draft strategy that works and produces superstars, in Foxboro, about 30 minutes from where Ainge punches the clock, sits another New England GM who has written the book on smart drafting, and that involves trading back, and taking multiple bites at the proverbial apple.  What better way to do it not only with two top ten picks, but in what many consider to be the deepest draft in at least a decade?  Ainge could greatly benefit from a trade scenario with the Kings.  Beyond that, it takes the pressure off of him to draft a point guard and further clog up an already crowded back court, full of players Ainge and the rest of the front office really like, and have heavily invested in.

What would they trade?
I think that the Celtics walk in with an absolute bottom line of the Kings' 5th and 10th overall picks in this year's draft, and a player throw in-with their eyes on Willie Cauley-Stein, who would solve a lot of size and interior defensive issues for them.  The 5th and 10th picks would allow them to target players that fill other needs as well, such as perhaps Malik Monk, or Justin Jackson as defensive minded wing players with range to eventually replace Bradley and/or Crowder, or bigger forwards like Jonathan Isaac, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, or even their original top target Josh Jackson, depending on how the top 4 shakes out after the trade at the top.

The Kings should ask for the first overall pick of course, but I think they should also try to score some role players, from an organization with many.  I think Crowder is a player that could be picked up.  Perhaps even by throwing in their 2018 first round pick (conditionally I'd assume).  If they could somehow go after one of the Celtics' many guards as well, that'd be a huge score, maybe by making that draft pick unconditional?  After all, it's not like Fultz-Crowder-Zeller or whatever is getting out of the West anytime soon anyway.  Gay will be gone next season most likely, and they'll need someone to start at the 3.  He's got a great contract, and landing him would be considered a score that might help save Divac's job if he's on the hot seat at all, which some would assume he is.

Additionally, I think Sacramento should ask for Tyler Zeller in return.  He'd give them a serviceable big in place of Cauley-Stein at a reasonable contract rate of $8 million next season.
While the Kings like youngster Skal Labissierre, and also have veteran Kosta Koufos on the roster, Zeller would give them an additional rotational big man, and an extra insurance policy in the front court should anything go wrong.  The Celtics should be okay with losing him, and might even want to, in order to spend the money bringing back Kelly Olynyk or even on other players elsewhere.  $8 million is a solid chunk of money to take off your books,  Especially when it's spent on a player who has played 10 mpg the last two seasons and missed over 40 games in that same span.

This could be anything from a smokescreen rumor, to a simple pick swap, to a huge, impactful trade for both teams.  These are the important pieces however.  Who would you like to see be involved in this trade, and who do you think would win these scenarios above?

Friday, June 9, 2017

NBA 2017 Mock Draft 1.0

Here's my NBA mock draft.  There seem to be a few "consensus" type picks amongst fans out there, but you'll quickly see that I don't buy it.  I lead off with a surprise, and draft prospects only start falling from there.  Read on and find out who I have your favorite team drafting and why, then tell me what YOU think:

  1. Boston Celtics - Josh Jackson F, Kansas
    And right off the bat, a lot of people are going to say I'm going off the rails.  But personally, I think adding a fourth point guard to the Boston roster would be going off the rails!  Boston's front office LOVES Marcus Smart, their backup point guard, and they really like Rozier also.  They spent a 6th and 15th pick on these guys respectively, they don't want to let them go.  And they've got IT at a GREAT rate next season, giving Smart and Rozier both another year to continue to develop.  I think the Celtics' front office is very comfortable with those two running the point after next season, and IT handling it next year.  They have no need for a point guard.
    While some might argue other players are better fits, or that Jackson is too similar to Brown, Jackson is the guy the Celtics' front office likes.  Look around the league, it's become more and more positionless by the year.  6-8 forwards with range that can defend, rebound, get to the hoop, you just can't have too many of them.  I think Brown and Jackson could play next to each other and be VERY effective.  In fact I think things set up very well for the Celtics long term right now, if they draft a forward here, then hope to draft Luka Doncic next year to replace a departing Bradley, they could easily stay in contention for the top of the East, while building for a great long term future as well.  Meanwhile drafting another point guard just gives them headaches.
  2. LA Lakers - Markelle Fultz G, Washington
    The Celtics passing on Fultz in favor of Jackson sets the Lakers up for the best excuse they could hope for to get out of drafting Ball, and bringing the Ball family circus-now vindicated by having had their demands of the NBA satisfied by being a Laker-to the Staples Center.  That kind of sideshow is better suited for a franchise like Sacramento, or Orlando.
    The Lakers bring in Fultz who starts alongside Russell and immediately upgrades their backcourt, providing a significant scoring punch.  With Ingram and Randle continuing to develop in the front court, they'll have a core to build around.
  3. Philadelphia 76ers - DeAaron Fox G, Kentucky
    While this isn't my first controversial pick, some might see it as my most controversial pick.  What I really think happens here, is that Sacramento trades up to draft Lonzo Ball.  However, if they don't I think the 76ers take Fox.  Ball is essentially a smaller version of Simmons, and they intend to put the ball in his hands a lot as a distributor next season.  Fox would make more sense for them, as a hound dog defensive point guard that can lock down elite offensive threats, and hit open shots.  He outplayed Ball the last time we saw Ball on the court in March anyway, so there's really no justification needed for this pick.
  4. Phoenix Suns - Jayson Tatum F, Duke
    I think Phoenix would prefer Jackson, but with him off the board they grab Tatum, who will provide a scorer with solid moves all over the court that can play and defend either forward position.  He's got some growing to do-both physically and figuratively-to really compete at the next level, but he'll add depth and talent to a Phoenix front line that already features exciting young prospects like Marquese Chriss and last year's fourth overall pick Dragan Bender.
  5. Sacramento Kings - Lonzo Ball G, UCLA
    Lavar and Lonzo Ball have been dreaming of the perfect fit in a Lakers uniform for the past 2 decades or so, but ironically I think they land in what's the perfect fit for them right now in Sacramento.  Los Angeles is an old school type of organization.  They might say outwardly that Lavar doesn't bother them, but it's hard for me to believe that.  I think they skip to the podium when Fultz is left for them, realizing they dodge a bullet in the Ball family circus.
    Sacramento however, is the type of organization that would embrace a circus like that.  This is a team that has pondered the ridiculous as part of a thought process to drive ticket sales, to create excitement, and to grow their fan base overall.  I think they look at the Ball family circus and embrace it, salivate at it even.  I think they enable it-they're used to crazy with Cousins, at least Lonzo isn't going to be scary and threatening reporters crazy, just nutty crazy.  Ball falls, but not past 5.
  6. Orlando Magic - Jonathan Isaac F, Florida State
    At the start of last season, we saw the Magic fail at trying to move Aaron Gordon to the 3, and while he tried to embrace the role, by the all star break in February, even head coach Frank Vogel had to admit that the experiment had failed, and that Gordon was better suited to play the power forward position.  Enter Jonathan Isaac, an intriguing young prospect who went to college just a few hours north of Orlando, at Florida State.
    Isaac is a player with the height of a PF or C (6-10), but the foot speed that enables him to defend quicker perimeter players, something he showed off regularly in college.  This could make him just the player that the Magic have been looking for, to play the small forward position.
  7. Minnesota Timberwolves - Malik Monk G, Kentucky
    Coach Thibodeau loves defense, and Monk is the best perimeter defender in this draft class, still sitting on the board in a deep guard draft.  Thibodeau would love him, and the Timberwolves might need him, as both Wiggins and Lavine will come  up for max deals after the 2018-2019 season.  With both players on the same financial clock, the Timberwolves would be wise to look down the road and set themselves up with depth to either trade one or lose one to free agency.
  8. New York Knicks - Frank Ntilikina G, International
    After his antics this past season, and given his reported desire for a huge deal from multiple outlets, I just don't see Rose returning to start at the point for the Knicks next year.  Frank Ntilikina makes an interesting prospect to fill Rose's shoes.  At 6-5 he's both tall and long, and sees the floor extremely well.
    He's a very willing passer, who looks to make those around him better.  That would make him a great fit alongside Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony-who despite public comments from Phil Jackson a few months ago, isn't going anywhere until he waives his no trade clause, and hasn't shown any indication or desire to do that.  While some think his reported changed status with his wife may influence his desire to leave New York, I'm not so sure.  He may just dig his heels in just to spite Phil, just because he can.  Ironically it could work out for everyone involved, if Ntilikina can play in the NBA.  A distributor at the helm of the offense is just what Melo and KP need to succeed.
  9. Dallas Mavericks - Dennis Smith G, NC State
    At first, I had Dallas looking at Markkanen, out of Arizon with this pick, as a potential Dirk replacement.  Dirk's time in the league is obviously coming to an end sooner rather than later, and they'll have to think about that at some point in time, but right now they need to think about a starting point guard, as their starts at that position last year were pretty much split between Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry.
    Smith makes a nice potential prospect for them at the point, as a guy who filled up the stat sheet in college, averaging over 18 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. during his time at North Carolina State.  He may not be ready to start right away, and he's a bit of a gamble, but he could pay off big time, and owner Mark Cuban does seem to love a good gamble-and have great luck, given his status in life.  Smith could very well come off the board here, and start his career in Dallas.
  10. Sacramento Kings - Zach Collins C, Gonzaga
    Collins has been surging up draft boards, and probably with good reason.  The 7 footer not only can score inside and rebound with the best of them in college, but also showed range, shooting 10-21 from three point distance during his one year at Gonzaga.  While he has range, he also seems to have good shot selection, taking 70% of his shots from inside.  Sacramento could use him at either the 4 or the 5, and would do well to draft him  here.
  11. Charlotte Hornets - Harry Giles F/C, Duke
    I wanted to put former Tarheel Justin Jackson here, given Jordan's close relationship with the championship team ("the ceiling is the roof") but for Jackson, the ceiling might be the 12th pick in the draft, because I think MJ and his front office take Harry Giles here.
    Giles just seems like such a Jordan pick to me.  He battled injuries through college, and was never able to show off as the highly touted prospect he came into Duke rated to be.  As such, he's fallen off a bit for many.  However, word is that Giles has impressed in workouts, looking "better than he ever looked at Duke", leading some to speculate about whether or not he falls and how far if he does.  Healthy, he could be a top 5 of a draft talent, but if injury issues nag him, the pick could be a bust.
    As far as skill set, Giles fits in Charlotte alongside Kaminsky in the front court, who brings range, while Giles brings an interior game.  If Jordan picks him, it might doom him though.  OR it could vindicate MJ as an owner/front office type someday down the road.  That's the nature of gambles, and well, we all know how MJ feels about gambling don't we?  He's the type who always wants to have one up on everyone else, and always thinks he does.  He's also brought in several Duke players over the last 24 months, leading me to believe Giles would be a natural fit culture wise.  Only time will tell, but I wouldn't be shocked at all to see Giles come off the board here and play at least his first few years in North Carolina.
  12. Detroit Pistons - Lauri Markkanen F, Arizona
    Drummond is the type of player that dominates the interior of the basketball court, while Markkanen is the best stretch four in this draft.  The Pistons really get lucky with him falling to them here, and SVG shouldn't waste any time getting to the podium to make the announcement.  Markkanen would be a perfect fit on the roster, would help open up the floor, and could potentially start right away, or at least play significant minutes right away.
  13. Denver Nuggets - Justin Jackson G/F, North Carolina
    Denver's one biggest need is to improve it's defense-they ranked 27th in the league in ppg allowed last year, and 29th in opponent field goal percentage allowed.  Justin Jackson is a "3 and D" guy who can play the 2 or the 3, and could maybe even guard a few 4's in the NBA.  He's a strong defender on the perimeter, who brings championship pedigree, coming fresh off North Carolina's championship team.  This sort of thing can help bring a winning attitude to a team, can help change the atmosphere, and thus, the confidence of a team, which impacts results on the floor.  Look for Jackson to go by here if not before, and make an impact on his team, even if he's not scoring 20 a game.
  14. Miami Heat - T.J. Leaf F, UCLA
    Miami is finally able to release Chris Bosh, and they haven't found a real good stretch four since he left.  Leaf could potentially fill those shoes.  He almost reminds me of Kevin Love, both coming out of UCLA, and both good three point shooters who can rebound the ball.  He might not be as good as Love-but he also might be better someday.  Or anything in between.  The Heat could use him right away, and fill a need by drafting him here.
  15. Portland Trailblazers - John Collins F/C, Wake Forest
    Slated to foot the bill of the league's highest payroll next season at this point in time, with $137 million committed to their current roster, and with three picks in the first round but 15th being the highest, the Blazers are really limited on the movements they can make this off-season, making this pick their best opportunity to improve their team in the short term.  Collins does this, giving them a guy who can immediately contribute offensively and on the boards, after averaging essentially 28 and 15 in college.
  16. Chicago Bulls - Jawun Evans G, Oklahoma State
    The Bulls found the value of a true point guard when Rondo went down in the playoffs.  At this point in the draft, despite it's depth at the position, 5 point guards have already been drafted, leaving Evans as the best on the board.  Chicago can grab him up and put him in the mix in their back court.
    **I think Chicago is best suited at this point, to trade Butler, preferably for a high pick in this draft.  I could see a team like Philly approaching Chicago with an offer of the third overall, Okafor, and maybe even the Lakers' pick next year as well, and Chicago biting on the offer.  I don't like projecting trades into mock drafts, but I thought this was worth mentioning here.**
  17. Milwaukee Bucks - Jarrett Allen C, Texas
    Giannis, Thon Maker, the Bucks as of late have shown an interest in taking young project type players, who have shown the potential to dominate down the line.  Allen would fit that mold, and if Thon doesn't work out, maybe Allen does.  Or maybe they both do and you trade one down the line.  The Bucks seem to be interested in development, and Allen is one of the most interesting young prospects in this class, with what some consider to be perhaps the highest ceiling.
  18. Indiana Pacers - Justin Patton F/C, Creighton
    Patton grew up near Creighton (in Nebraska) and has always been a small town type of guy, I think Indiana is a team that likes that in their picks, meaning they're more likely to stick around down the line.  Patton is a legit 7 footer that can really get up and down the court.  He's an offensive threat who pops well on the pick and roll, and makes a high percentage of the shots he takes.  He doesn't take bad shots, but also lacks aggression around the rim and has shown some hesitation in shooting from deeper range.  His rebounding is also suspect, but he could still potentially grow into a great young big man alongside Myles Turner, and give the Pacers two good young players to rebuild around if Paul George leaves.

    **Again, note.  I think the most likely thing that happens with this pick, is that the Pacers trade it.  The latest reports have them trying to go all in to show Paul George that they want to and are serious about becoming contenders around him down the road.  Therefore, they need players that will produce next year, not down the road, like a draft pick would.
    One place I might look is Detroit, where they could target Reggie Jackson, a player SVG is on the outs with.  The Pistons could use the pick to rebuild, and want to get rid of Jackson, and the Pacers might want to add the talent to the roster.
    Another candidate might be Portland, who will likely be looking to shed salary as much as possible.  If it were Portland that the Pacers called, I'd target Miles Leonard.  He's a good stretch four type player on a reasonable contract for the next several seasons.  He'd fit well alongside Drummond, and would be expendable to the Trailblazers at this point based  upon this mock draft scenario.**
  19. Atlanta Hawks - Luke Kennard G/F, Duke
    I see in Luke Kennard something of a shorter Kyle Korver-a player the Hawks traded away last year much to the dismay of their fan base and the players on their roster.  Kennard would give them a player with range almost to match Korver's, and also much like Korver, good height for the shooting guard position, and suspect defensive abilities.  I think he'd be a natural fit in Atlanta, and if he's still there when they pick they'd be wise to select him.
  20. Portland Trailblazers - Tyler Lydon F/C, Syracue
    The Blazers only real option to add to their team this year is through the draft, and they'll be committed to do so with at least their first two picks.  Lydon gives them a fairly well developed player who can play either forward position, has very reliable range, converting 40% of his three point attempts in college, and has the size to guard bigger power forwards even, standing at about 6 foot 10.
  21. Oklahoma City Thunder - O.G. Anunoby F, Indiana
    Anunoby falls in this mock draft for two reasons, with the most obvious being the injury late last season.  The second being that he doesn't quite measure up as tall as some thought he was, measuring 6 foot 6, while some analysts had him at 6-8 before this.  That can often chip away at your draft stock quietly.
    In Anunoby-provided he remains healthy-the Thunder get a lockdown defender who can guard the other team's scoring wing player, potentially taking some pressure off a guy like Westbrook on that side of the court.  The big question will be whether or not Anunoby has reliable NBA three point range (37% in college) and whether or not his jump shot can be reliable overall.  If it can (and given the small sample at the college level it's honestly hard to predict at this point) then he'll earn a lot of minutes and be successful. If not, he still may stick around in the league-defensive guys tend to do that sometimes-but he'll have a tough time staying on the court for extended periods of time if he's not an offensive threat.
  22. Brooklyn Nets - Caleb Swanigan F, Purdue
    With a center like Brook Lopez, that often likes to play from the perimeter, and isn't exactly known as a tenacious rebounder, the Nets need a power forward that can clean the glass.  Insert Swanigan, who averaged 15 boards per forty minutes in college, and while he stands about 6-9, possesses a 7-4 wingspan and has a standing reach of 9-1.  He could be a perfect fit alongside Lopez, cleaning up the glass and threatening the defense with his interior scoring.
  23. Toronto Raptors - Isaiah Hartenstein F/C, Germany
    Fans might look at Hartenstein and understandably draw comparisons to Kristaps Porzingis, but they'd be way off the mark.  While both are tall thin white guys from roughly the same geographical region in the world, Hartenstein's game differes from that of Porzingis about as much as it could.  Hartenstein prefers operating in the paint, and doesn't seem to possess a real outside shot.  He's a good rebounder (14 per 40 minutes) and a tough player, who can contribute in the league and should go in the first round.
  24. Utah Jazz - Ivan Rabb F/C, California
    Around this time last year, Rabb was being talked about as a likely lottery pick if he stayed in the draft.  This year, the Jazz will snatch him up at 24 and be happy with the fallen talent, whose stock suffered seriously from a down year at Cal.
  25. Orlando Magic - Terrance Ferguson G/F, Australia
    Ferguson made the rare decision to forego the NCAA and spend his year after high school playing professional basketball in Australia, where he's been unimpressive to say the least.  As a result, a player who was once thought of as a lottery talent, falls to the Magic at 25.
  26. Portland Trailblazers - Rodions Kurucs F, Barcelona
    At this point in the draft, the Blazers have drafted at least 2 rookies already and aren't trying to fill spots on this year's roster any longer.  Kurucs is a stash overseas pick, who will continue to develop in Spain while they work to open up a roster spot for him, or wait to develop a need.
  27. Brooklyn Nets - Anzejs Pasecniks F/C, Latvia
    In Pasecniks, some draft analysts see a shadow of Kristaps Porzingis, which probably comes partially from Pasecniks' experience playing alongside the budding NBA star during their days in Europe.  Both received similar attention and interest from scouts several years ago when they first caught the eye of the NBA, but Porzingis has developed more along the way than Anzejs.  The Nets may see their opportunity to build their own Porzingis across town from the original, and perhaps even a friendly in city/country of origin rivalry long term?  Who knows, but Pasecniks makes a lot of sense here, especially if they plan on trading starting center Brook Lopez, something many around the league have speculated might be in their plans.
  28. LA Lakers - Ike Anigbogu C, UCLA
    This is a long term, down the road kind of pick.  Anigbogu has great size (6-10, 250) and enough athleticism to excite NBA GM's and coaches alike.  It'll take a few years for this 18 year old to develop, but he could be a force in the league for many years to come with the right tutelage.
  29. San Antonio Spurs - Josh Hart G, Villanova
    Josh Hart was a four year player at Villanova under head coach Jay Wright.  He's a system guy, he fully buys in, he dedicates himself, and he succeeds.  That's the kind of guy a coach like Pop likes.  The kind that wants to be a cog in the system, that's the kind he can work with also.  I think Hart makes a great fit in San Antonio.
  30. Utah Jazz - Frank Jackson G, Duke
    Jackson is "Mr Utah" to the point that his father is Utah state senator Al Jackson.  He's also a solid scorer from Duke, who could fit into the Utah system, and provide them with scoring off the  bench at the 2 and 3.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

2017-18 NFL Fantasy Football Top 40 Projected Wide Receivers

I ranked the top 40 running backs according to my projections and expectations in my most recent post, and this one ranks the top 40 wide receivers.  These rankings are based on a PPR format, and may change as the off-season continues, and more and more news comes out, injuries happen or heal, and so forth.  Stay tuned for updates, and I hope this helps you out.
      1)      Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
      Last season, the combination of Thomas and former teammate Brandin Cooks saw a combined 239 targets that resulted in 170 receptions for 2,310 yards and 17 touchdowns.  Cooks was traded to New England, but no real receiving options were  brought in to replace him.  Those targets/opportunities are going to have to go somewhere, and I’m guessing Thomas gets a good chunk of them.  If he gets targeted like Evans did last year (around 175 times) for the same reason (no other real options on the team) then 120 receptions for 1400 yards isn’t out of reach.  I think this season instead of putting two receivers in the top ten of fantasy production, the Saints put one on top.
2)      Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Nelson returned from injury last year and rocked, not letting up, putting up games of 100+ receiving yards 3 times over the course of 4 weeks late in the season, and grabbing 5 touchdowns over that same stretch.  The Packers threw a lot last year, which resulted in them putting two wide receivers in the top ten fantasy production rankings.  They did so because they had no running backs.  Strangely enough, they didn’t do anything to add any real help at the RB position during the off-season, so I expect more of the same next year.
3)      Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown struggled through his worst year as a pro last season, but his worst year is still a pretty great year by almost any standard, as he put up 1284 yards on 106  catches with 12 touchdowns.  The Steelers’ offense has a lot of options, so it can be hard to pick any one option to lead their respective category or position, but Brown has been the most reliable of those options, with Big Ben struggling with injuries last season at times, and Bell struggling with injuries and off the field issues.  Look for Brown to have another dominant year.
4)      T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
While some believe QB Andrew Luck to be something of a bust due to his record, the fact of the matter is that he’s a top 5 fantasy production QB, and also that the bulk of his throws go towards Hilton, a 5-9 shifty receiver who caught for over 1,400 yards last season on nearly 100 catches.  At some point, the Colts are going to be able to keep Andrew Luck upright, and that’ll help the production of his receivers.  I expect Luck’s focus to continue to be on Hilton however, and him to be a top 5 fantasy receiver as a result.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
      Julio Jones rounds out my top 5 receivers as perhaps the most
physically gifted receiver in the league.  Last year, he struggled with injuries that resulted in him missing two games, and putting up just single digits in fantasy points in 5 others.  Jones reminds me in many ways of Calvin Johnson, former superstar receiver of the Lions, who called his career quits after 9 seasons, about 5 years early at least by most estimates).  I worry that some receivers look at a guy like Johnson and think about taking the same path.  I think/hope the Falcons ease up a bit on the load they expect him to carry in the passing game, and possibly elongate his career in the process.
6)      Odell Beckham Jr, New York Giants
Odell Beckham, the uber talented, flamboyant, outspoken, and sometimes slightly foolish wide receiver for the New York Giants.  The Giants signed veteran Brandon Marshall in the off-season, a professional who has been around a while at this point.  I think they must have done that in part to have someone that can try to reel Odell in when he’s getting emotional.  I think part of that, will be legitimizing Marshall in the offense-throwing his way a bunch.  Part of that comes out of Odell’s share I think.  Take him down a bit, boost Brandon up a bit, don’t lose any production in your passing game, but get your young receiver’s head on straighter, better for the long run.  Not better for fantasy owners this year though.
7)      A.J. Green, Cincinatti Bengals
Green went down to injury last year, but still managed to put up 964 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns in the 10 games that he did play.  That’s basically 100 yards per game, and I don’t see any reason to believe that rate will slow down.  If he can stay healthy this year, he could easily put up 1500 yards and double digits in touchdowns, which would probably put him top 5 fantasy production from the receiver position.  I think it’s reasonable to expect him to end up somewhere between 5th and 10th by the time everything is said and done.
8)      Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Cooper is considered to be one of the most talented receivers in the league, and he’s got the good fortune to be paired  up with one of the more talented young quarterbacks also, in Derek Carr.  The two are on a good timeline to develop together, and dominate the AFC for years.  Last season, Carr suffered an injury in week 16, cutting his season short and potentially the Raiders’ postseason run as well.  Despite that injury, he still managed to throw for nearly 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns (28), with over 1,100 of those yards and 4 touchdowns going Cooper’s way.  Look for this type of production to continue and even increase as they both grow even more comfortable with both the offense, the league itself, and each other of course.
      9)      Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
      Last  season, Evans ended the year atop the fantasy production rankings for receivers by way of being targeted more than anybody in the league.  This was a function of QB Jameis Winston having few options to throw to that he seemed to like, and struggling to find a reliable target, even in Evans himself, who managed to convert just 58.46% of his targets into catches, the low catch rate among all receivers in the top 20 of fantasy production last season except Kelvin Benjamin, who came in 20th on the fantasy point production list.  I don’t think that’s a good sign for Evans’ production this season.  Tampa Bay brought in several new options for Winston in DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard, and I think Winston starts looking places other than Evans for someone who can catch a little bit better.  Look for Evans’ targets to drop from the 175 he had last year to lead the league to about 150, maybe even less.  That would bring his production down to about 75 catches for 1000 yards or so.  Honestly I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fall out of the top ten entirely.  Draft with caution.
10)   DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
DeAndre Hopkins owners suffered as much as anybody last year, drafting him at or near the top of the draft and expecting loads of fantasy points as he gelled with new highly paid QB Brock Osweiler.  However, Osweiler was downright terrible, and the season from the QB spot from the Texans was terrible throughout the entire year, eventually relying upon rookie Tom Savage to man the helm down the streth.  This year, I have Deshaun Watson starting from day one, and I think he’ll look to fellow Clemson alum Hopkins and his great hands to help him settle into the league.  Look for Hopkins to rebound this season in a big way.
11)   Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Last season Edelman was the feature receiver for Brady’s “Gronk You” tour, and as the main option in the championship offense, he found himself targeted 158 times-third most in the league, turning that into 98 receptions for just under 1100 yards.  There are two main concerns regarding Edelman: his health-he missed 9 games over the course of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and the arrival of Brandin Cooks, Brady’s newest target.
12)   Brandin Cooks, New England Patriots
Last season Cooks was a top 10 fantasy receiver in a pass happy offense in New Orleans lead by Drew Brees. This season, he finds himself the second option to yet another Canton bound QB with Brady in New England.  I don’t see Brady allowing Cooks to leap over Edelman in terms of opportunities in the offense, and both turn targets into catches at roughly the same rate, so I’ve got to rank them both next to each other here, just outside the top ten.  Offenses (including that New Orleans offense) have put two receivers in the top ten before however, so I wouldn’t be all that shocked if Brady does the same thing with Cooks and Edelman this season.
13)   Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
It seems to me that every year we have huge expectations for Dez, and every year he lets us down for one reason or another.  Last season, he played in 13 games, but managed just 796 yards on 50 receptions and 97 targets.  That’s about a 50% catch rate and was only good for 26th in the league in fantasy production amongst wide receivers.  His per catch average is solid, ranking him 13th in the league.  If he can just turn more of those targets into catches, his production could easily go up.  But I’m simply not willing to bank on it.  As a result, you’ll see him inside a lot of top ten projections, but not mine.
14)   Devante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Last season, Devante Adams found his way to the 7th rank position in fantasy production, surprising many and outperforming most projections, which had him in the bottom ¼ of the top 20 coming into 2016-right about where I have him now.  Green Bay featured a dominant passing game last year, in the absence of any kind of running game whatsoever.  During the off-season they made no real effort to shore up that running game, and as such just might put two receivers in the top ten again.  For now though, I’ve got Adams finishing here, just outside of it.
15)   Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
Last season, Baldwin posted the 7th best catch rate among receivers in the league, turnins 126 targets into 94 catches for just over 1,100 yards.  He added 7 receiving touchdowns to that, to turn in his first top ten fantasy receiving year-and perhaps the first of many.  With fellow Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett returning from a tough injury suffered late last season, Baldwin may be relied upon more in the early weeks of the year, making him a good receiver and someone folks get excited about early.
16)   Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
Tate turned in a strong season last year of nearly 100 (91) catches for nearly 1,100 yards (1,077).  The year was highlighted by three big performances of over 120 yards vs the Giants, Saints, and then Rams, with a touchdown in two of them.  As fellow receiver Marvin Jones started to fall off in production over the second half of the year after being a top 5 receiver for the first half, Tate began reaping the rewards, seeing his target rate turn up considerably as he was targeted 10, 11, 13, 6, And 10 times over the final 5 weeks of the season, making up 50 of his 135 targets throughout the season.  During that span, Tate rewarded Stafford’s faith in him, converting 34 of those targets into catches and scoring two of his four touchdowns.  His real change in impact came in yards however, as he cranked his per catch average up from 10.82 over the first 11 games of the season, to 13.52 yards per reception down the stretch.  If he continues that rate of production into this year, It could be a really good year for Golden Tate owners.
17)   Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers
Over the past two seasons, Allen has played in just 9 games for the Chargers, playing in just one last year.  He’s a big, young, talented receiver with a good quarterback whose worst enemy is his own inability to stay healthy.  Allen has posted some videos in an effort to show his progress after ACL reconstructive surgery, but the Chargers have made moves that look like they’ll refocus a bit on the running game, and added a new receiver with a top ten pick in the draft, meaning he’ll be eating up a lot of targets.  Given these factors, I had a hard time ranking Allen even in the top 20, but out of respect for his skill set and not wishing to wish injury upon anyone, I thought 17th was reasonable.
18)   Terrelle Pryor Sr, Washington Redskins
Last year Pryor made what seemed to be an almost seamless transition to the wide receiver position, putting up 1,007 yards on 77 catches in what was essentially his rookie position at the position.  Pryor has always been athletic, but played QB in college, and in his first couple seasons in the league struggled to find a position.  He wanted to play QB at first, but seemed to many to be best suited as something of a running back/offensive weapon.  Some even projected him as a wildcat changeup option when he first entered the draft.  He seems to have found his home as a receiver however, and last year found himself ending the season ranked at 18th-just inside the top 20, and where I’ve got him here in this projection.  Despite moving to Washington, look for him to repeat that production, with Kirk Cousins throwing to him in what seems to be a never ending contract year for the QB.
19)   Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars’ offense struggled as a whole last season, with an offensive line unable to block for either QB or running back, and the receivers hurting their fantasy owners as a result.  Robinson ended the season 29th overall in fantasy production among receivers for standard leagues, a far cry from the back half of the top ten, where most fantasy analysts had him projected, thinking Bortles and co. would take the “next step” instead of regressing the way they did.  I think the Jaguars’ offense tries to refocus on the running game in the upcoming season, and through the threat of that, Robinson is able to resurrect some of his former production and expectations.
20)   Alshon Jeffrey, Philadelphia Eagles
Last year, Jeffrey turned in a somewhat disappointing season, grabbing just 52 catches for 821 yards and two scores.  In fact, h is entire career he’s struggled against injuries, playing a full 16 game season in just 2 of his 5 years in the league, and missing a total of 17 games over the course of those other three years, four of them last season.  This lack of reliability lead the Bears to not resign him, and tempered interest in his services around the league, leading to a one year “prove it” deal with the Eagles, where he’ll try to prove his continued worth to passing offenses around the league.  Look for Jeffrey to be extra motivated, play 16 games, and return to being the guy that puts up between 1100 and 1400 yards with 8-10 touchdowns.  Unless he gets hurt and plays half the year.  At this point, it’s a coin flip.
21)   Emannuelle Sanders, Denver Broncos
Sanders and Broncos teammate Demaryius Thomas have fallen down this list primarily due to the quarterback situation in Denver.  We don’t really know who will throw to them, although at this point Siemien seems to be the only real option with any quarterbacking experience in this league.  Sanders edges out Thomas in my rankings because he plays more of a short yardage, possession type receiver, the type of receiver that young and developing quarterbacks with lousy offensive lines often have an easier time finding.  Look for both to fall outside the top 20 in receiver’s fantasy production this season due to the above factors.
22)   Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Thomas and Sanders, as mentioned above, both suffer due to poor expected QB play, but Thomas suffers a bit more as he’s something of a deep threat, and Broncos’ QB’s have a hard time staying upright long enough for him to get downfield due to a porous offensive line.  The Broncos’ front office made an effort to address their protection issues in drafting top offensive tackle Garrett Bowles in the draft, but draft experts didn’t seem overly excited about Bowles’ prospects in the NFL, so I’m just not sure he’s the piece that will solve their offensive line woes, which means Thomas just might continue to see his production fall off through no fault of his own.
23)   Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
Last season Watkins turned in the second straight year plagued by injuries, having missed 11 games over that time.  He came into the league with a lot of fanfare, partially as a result of the Bills’ decision to trade up to draft him.  His first year he satisfied some of that hype, with close to 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns.  In his second year despite missing 3 games, he continued to develop, going over 1,000 yards and adding 9 scores.  Last year however, his overall production fell off due to missing half the season, and many are worried that’s just a sign of things to come, that he’ll continue to fall apart more and more with each passing day.  I don’t like predicting injuries, but I also believe availability is the greatest ability, and Watkins just hasn’t had that.  He falls outside my top 20 here.
24)   Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
Crabtree turned in a very productive season last year, finishing 12th among wideouts in fantasy production in ESPN standard leagues.  His career thus far had been slightly disappointing, with just one prior 1,000 yard receiving season for the former top 10 draft pick.  Since his arrival in Oakland however, he’s turned in two seasons above or around 1,000 yards receiving, and 17 total touchdowns as he grew alongside QB Derek Carr and fellow wide receiver Amari Cooper.  Look for that consistent production to continue, perhaps vaulting him back into the top 15-20 receivers in fantasy football.
25)   Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
For his entire three years in the league, Landry has been considered one of the up and coming talents at the wide receiver position, and he’s performed as such, averaging over 1,000 yards per season along the way .  Where he’s disappointed a bit however, is in his touchdown production, with just 12 scores over those same three years.  A headline, top 10-20 type receiver simply has to cross the end line more often than he does, and until he’s able to do that, he’ll continue to find himself projected outside the top 20.
26)   Brandon Marshall, New York Giants
As he enters his 12th season and 5th team in the league, it has to strike you that Brandon Marshall has been around the league a LONG time.  Over those years he’s only missed a total of 9 games, and turned in two seasons under 1,000 yards receiving, one of which was last year, the result of incredibly poor quarterback play on the New York Jets.  With the Bears and with the Jets-his last two stops-his first year was his most productive by far, and I expect he continues to remember how to make a first impression, and puts up between 1100 and 1400 yards receiving, paired with 5-10 touchdowns in this first year with the Giants.
27)   DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay Bucanneers
Jackson found a new home in Tampa Bay and will provide a much needed deep threat to a Bucs team that’s looking to make the “next step” in their collective development.  If Jackson can stay healthy, he can be an impactful player on the field, and on your fantasy team.
28)   Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Fitzgerald proved that the thoughts of his fantasy demise were wildly exaggerated last season when he turned in the 17th best fantasy performance from a wide receiver.  Both he and Palmer continue to be on the wrong side of 30, but both also continue to produce, and I hesitate to bet against that sort of longevity and consistency, until they’re ready to call it quits.  That time hasn’t come y et, so Fitzgerald still cracks my top 30.
29)   Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings
Diggs is a deep threat who has emerged as the top target on the Minnesota Vikings over the past two years.  While the team seems to be recommitting to the run this year, they still have to throw it sometimes to keep the defense on it.  When they do, it’ll likely be to Stefon Diggs.
30)   Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints
Last year the Saints had two wide receivers in the top ten of fantasy production amongst WR’s, with Cooks and Thomas.  This year, Cooks has been traded to New England, and somebody has to be the beneficiary of all those targets that used to go his way.  I think Thomas will pick up a good deal of them, but Snead stands to pick up the bulk of the rest, as he’s proven himself over the past couple seasons to be a productive and reliable target for Brees.
31) Quincy Enunwa, New York Jets
      With the impending exit of WR Eric Decker, someone will have to step up, and Enunwa is best poised to be that guy.  We don’t know who he’ll be catching passes from yet, but we do know that last year in spite of perhaps the worst quarterback play in the league last season he managed to catch for over 800 yards and 4 touchdowns.  His catch rate has hovered around 50% in both years he’s played thus far, and he’ll have to do something about that to become anything at all in this league, but he’ll have plenty of opportunity this season and his average of over 14 yards per reception both seasons shows reason for optimism.
32)   Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
This young athletic receiver’s main opposition so far has been himself, whether via off-the-field issues or injury, availability has been his biggest challenge.  If he can stay available, he’ll be productive.
33)   Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts
Moncrief benefits a lot from the expectations many have for Luck, and as a result has found himself even as high as top 20-25 in some people’s projections!  I see him about 30-40th.  33rd feels about right.
34)   Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
Rumors have been flying around about the shape Benjamin showed up to camp in, and how productive he might or might not be as a result.  He’s faced some injury issues in the past, and the Panthers’ offense struggled last year.  I’m not sure it’s realistic to hope he cracks the top 30 by the end of this year.
35)   Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
Davis is a talented young rookie coming into an offense that needs options.  While Mariota isn’t a guy that throws it 300 yards every game, and splitting time with Mathews may limit his opportunities especially in his rookie season, Davis should also be able to be a productive receiver in this league.
36)   Rishard Mathews, Tennessee Titans
Mathews nearly broke the 1,000 yard receiving mark last year for the first time in his 6 year career.  If Davis doesn’t steal too much of the workload away, he may be able to break it this year.
37)   Kenny Britt, Cleveland Browns
Britt has been a productive receiver when on the field, and has grown up in the NFL.  At the age of 28, he’s already in his ninth season, and can be the reliable pro, and big target with good hands that whichever young QB chosen to play under center for the Browns will need.
38)   Cameron Meredith, Chicago Bears
Mike Glennon is going to be looking to throw to somebody, to cement his place as the quarterback of the Bears, with Trubisky nipping at his heels.  Meredith may make a good target.
39)   Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
Hill exploded onto the scene last year as a multi-talented playmaker who can receive, rush, and return, and is dangerous in all those roles, capable of scoring and breaking huge plays from anywhere.
40)   Tyrell Williams, LA Chargers
Williams began to come on last season, after Keenan Allen went down for the year.  Look for his development to continue this season, regardless of Allen’s availability.