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2014-2015 Detroit Pistons Season Preview

Basketball Insiders continues previewing the 2014-2015 NBA season with a look at the Detroit Pistons of the Central Division.

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The Detroit Pistons are a team with some newfound stability. Stan Van Gundy has taken over and is looking to lead the team back into the playoffs and eventually back into contention. They have one of the most talented young players in the game in Andre Drummond, who will look to continue to blossom this season, to build around. Thanks to some win-now roster moves in the offseason, the pieces are in place for marked improvement.

Basketball Insiders takes a look at the 2014-2015 Detroit Pistons…

Five Guys Think

Since Flip Saunders was fired back in 2008, the Detroit Pistons have gone through a staggering six head coaches, the most of any team in the league over that period of time, but the future looks pretty bright now that Stan Van Gundy is bringing some stability to both that position and that of President of Basketball Operations, mercifully vacated this offseason by the mercurial Joe Dumars. There is a lot to like in Detroit right now, but most of that optimism resides in the frontcourt, with burgeoning superstar Andre Drummond coming into his own and steady big man Greg Monroe heading into a contract year. Free agent acquisitions like Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin were perhaps more expensive than they should have been, but they all add shooting to a team that really needed it, and with the new coach and another year with a promising core, it looks like they’ll be right back in the conversation for a playoff spot this year, even if Josh Smith only shoots 20 percent from the field.

3rd Place – Central Division

– Joel Brigham

Former president of basketball operations Joe Dumars did succeed in bringing a title back to Detroit, but by the end of his tenure at the helm it was apparent a change in philosophy was needed. Enter Stan Van Gundy who is now calling the personnel shots and serving as the team’s head coach. Van Gundy was extremely active retooling the roster via free agency over the summer. While the Pistons, on paper, have one of the most talented frontcourts in the league, their supporting cast left much to be desired last season. Keep an eye on the relationship between forward Josh Smith and Van Gundy at the start of the season which could be an early  indicator of the team’s trajectory.

4th Place  – Central Division

– Lang Greene

Bringing in Stan Van Gundy was an excellent move for the Pistons, as he’s one of the best head coaches in the NBA and should be able to get the most out of their players. Detroit also has a superstar-in-the-making on their hands in Andre Drummond. In the final month of last season, Drummond averaged 18.4 points, 17.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 64.2 percent from the field. The 21-year-old should pick up right where he left off this season, and his experience with Team USA and the addition of Van Gundy should make him even better. It seems that Van Gundy will use Drummond like he used Dwight Howard in Orlando – running the offense through him and surrounding him with shooters. Detroit should make strides this season and will be one of several teams competing for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, but they’re playing in a very tough Central Division.

3rd place – Central Division

– Alex Kennedy

With Greg Monroe finally agreeing to sign the club’s one-year qualifying offer, newly installed head coach Stan Van Gundy will have at least one season to try to make sense of the Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe triumvirate. With Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin added to the team’s rotation, along with Brandon Jennings, the Pistons have a fairly talented top seven. They are clearly no match for the Cleveland Cavaliers or Chicago Bulls, but the mere presence of Van Gundy alone should help the team improve from last season’s 29-53 debacle. Playoffs may still be a long shot, but with Drummond seemingly in the team’s long-term plans, Van Gundy’s presence lends a credibility to the the franchise that immediate past president Joe Dumars seemed to have lost. This season is the first chapter in a new beginning, but the story is just beginning.

4th place – Central Division

– Moke Hamilton

Beyond all the control and money, it’s easy to see why the Pistons were able to get Stan Van Gundy to walk away from his self-imposed hiatus from coaching. This is a team with a ton of talent. They haven’t necessarily meshed together well up to this point, but Van Gundy has a lot to work with and should be able to get more out of guys immediately with his system and philosophy. People tend to forget in their criticism of the Pistons players how much instability there’s been at the head coaching position over the last couple of years. That’s now a thing of the past, and we should see Detroit climb closer to the top eight in the East as a result.

3rd place – Central Division

– Yannis Koutroupis

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: The Pistons had their fair share of struggles on the offensive end this past season, largely due to their lack of perimeter shooting. While the team may have struggled from the outside, Greg Monroe was once again very effective in the low to mid post. Although Monroe wasn’t the Pistons top scorer last season, finishing third in per game scoring with an average of 15.2 points per night behind Josh Smith (16.4) and Brandon Jennings (15.5) in that category, he certainly was the most efficient. Monroe was markedly better from the field than both Smith and Jennings shooting 49.7 percent, compared to 41.9 percent for Smith and 37.3 percent for Jennings. Monroe, who just recently officially signed the Pistons qualifying offer, will be hungry to put together another productive season and prove he is worthy of a big long-term deal.

Top Defensive Player: There is no doubt that Josh Smith fell short of expectations on the offensive end last season. Despite his inferior play offensively, he was, like he has been throughout his career, very active defensively. Smith was the team leader in blocks and finished second in steals in his first year with the club. He is big enough to go down low and battle with most fours, while still being quick enough to step out on the perimeter and match up with opposing wings. Again, while Detroit surely wasn’t pleased with what Smith provided offensively, it can’t be denied that he is still a very talented defender and will continue to be in 2014-2015.

Top Playmaker: Brandon Jennings, like Josh Smith, arrived in Detroit last summer. Both were brought in with the expectation that they would push the Pistons right into the thick of the second tier in the East, behind Indiana and Miami but give them the chance to compete with the rest of the pack. That obviously never came to fruition, but on the bright side Jennings had a career year passing the ball. He was able to make a sizable jump from his career average of 6.1 assists per game, dishing out 7.6 assists a night in 2013-2014. Jennings and Andre Drummond built a nice chemistry with each other and connected frequently this past season. Despite Jennings having a down year overall, he improved his passing and that is one thing that Pistons fans can take solace in.

Top Clutch Player: The Pistons found themselves on the wrong end of a couple buzzer beaters in 2013-2014, being victimized by both Dion Waiters and Damien Lilliard on last second game winners. That is one trend they will aim to reverse this coming season. Brandon Jennings may be the best shot creator on the roster, but the best option in the clutch remains Greg Monroe. Jennings is just too inefficient and too willing to take poor looks to be trusted in crunch time. The previous statement also, just as easily, could be made about Josh Smith. Monroe is the Pistons most consistent offensive player and is the guy who gives the team the best chance to score when the pressure is on.

Top Unheralded Player: The Pistons bench was one of their biggest weaknesses in 2013-2014. They allowed opposing benches to shoot a league high 46.7 percent from the field, while their second unit was near the bottom of the league, shooting 41.9 percent. One guy who the Pistons brought in who should help improve the team’s bench is D.J. Augustin. Augustin comes to Detroit after a terrific season with the Bulls. He will likely start the season behind Brandon Jennings, but will offer the Pistons a great option at point guard off the bench.

Best New Addition: After a very busy offseason in Detroit there are quite a few new additions to choose from. The Pistons not only made moves to their roster but to their front office as well. The biggest addition in long run may be Stan Van Gundy, he joins the team as the new head coach and will also serve as the president of basketball operations. As far as the best roster addition, that goes to Jodie Meeks. It could be argued that the price tag for Meeks, the Pistons signed him to a three-year contract worth a total of $18.81 million, may be a little steep. However, the addition of Meeks addresses a pressing need for the team, and that’s a lack of three-point shooting. The Pistons were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league last season, they shot only 32.1 percent from downtown and finished 27th in the league in total three point shots made. Meeks is coming off the best year of his career shooting the ball after shooting 40.1 percent from deep with Lakers. His shooting should prove beneficial from day one.

– John Zitzler

Who We Like

1. Andre Drummond: The future of the Pistons starts and ends with Andre Drummond. The young big man has out of this world potential and has the chance to be a truly special player. At only 21 years old, Drummond is already one of the top centers in the league. He has quickly developed into an elite rebounder; his massive frame combined with his impressive mobility allows Drummond to dominate the glass on most nights. When you consider how productive Drummond has already been in his young career and how much room he still has to grow, he is easily the Pistons most valuable asset going forward. He will be big factor next season and even bigger factor for years to come.

2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Caldwell-Pope will enter his second season as a pro this coming season after a rookie season where he showed signs that he could be a promising player down the road. In his first year of NBA action, Caldwell-Pope played just under 20 minutes a game, experience that should prove very valuable for him next year. With the Pistons making a sizeable investment in Jodie Meeks, he is the favorite to be the starting two guard, however, Caldwell-Pope certainly has the talent to challenge Meeks for that role. He will look to build off the momentum of a strong Orlando Summer League where he led the league in scoring, averaging 24 points a game.

3. Greg Monroe: Monroe has been one the most productive options for the Pistons since being drafted out of Georgetown four years ago. Over his short career, Monroe has averaged 14 points and nine rebounds a game. As well, during his four year tenure with the team Monroe has been remarkably durable, missing only three games over that span. However, his long-term future with the team is a bit cloudy, he is only under contract for one more year after signing a one-year qualifying offer from the Pistons. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Monroe he is eager for the chance to play under new coach Stan Van Gundy. “I look forward to playing for Coach Van Gundy and his staff,” said Monroe. “He has a proven track record and I’m excited about working with my teammates to get better and prepare for the season.”

4. Stan Van Gundy: Van Gundy will bring some fresh blood into an organization that, as of late, hasn’t appeared to have too much direction. His experience and success in Orlando is something he’ll be able draw from as he looks to build the Pistons into a contender. In particular, the time spent working with Dwight Howard will be especially useful in the development of Andre Drummond. Van Gundy has a career winning percentage of 64.1% and has had success in the playoffs. The Pistons aren’t going to become a contender overnight but will be in good hands going forward with Van Gundy at the helm.

– John Zitzler

Strengths

The frontcourt duo of Drummond and Monroe will once again do much of the heavy lifting for the Pistons. The two proved last year, despite some skepticism, that they can not only coexist together in the paint, but excel. The combination will again be a major concern for opponents and a major strength for the Pistons.

– John Zitzler

Weaknesses

Even with the acquisitions of Jodie Meeks, DJ Augustin and Caron Butler, all capable three point shooters, it’s hard to imagine the Pistons lighting it up from the perimeter. The problem being that two of Pistons highest usage rate players, Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, are also two of teams’ most inefficient players. Both settle for poor outside shots far too often and despite their past struggles, and so far haven’t been willing to adjust their game. If the team hopes to improve offensively, the first step will be reigning in both Smith and Jennings.

– John Zitzler

The Salary Cap

The Pistons dropped under the cap this offseason, using their space to sign free-agent veterans Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler.  Greg Monroe, formerly a restricted free agent, chose to accept Detroit’s $5.5 million qualifying offer — giving the forward/center the ability to block any trade this season.  Monroe will also be unrestricted next summer.  Meanwhile, the Pistons have $3.1 million in remaining cap space (plus the $2.7 million Room Exception, if that space is used).  The issue now is roster space; the Pistons are locked into 16 guaranteed players — one more than the regular-season maximum.  Will Bynum, who is guaranteed $2.9 million for the coming season, may be expendable with the addition of guards Augustin and Meeks.

– Eric Pincus

Dunc’d On

The last few years have been a far cry from the halcyon days of a franchise that produced some of the most memorable defenses of all-time in the late 80s and mid 2000s.  Last year I cited the Pistons and the Charlotte Bobcats as fascinating test cases for the value of new coaches for bad defenses.  The Bobcats rocketed to sixth in defense under the stewardship of Steve Clifford, while the Pistons remained rather miserable under Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer despite the infusion of defensive talent in Josh Smith.  Stan Van Gundy, a defensive guru in previous stops in Miami and Orlando, is now the coach and President of Basketball Operations.  He will provide yet another fascinating data point in how coaching can affect defense with most of the major players back from last year.

This is certainly a team with a ton of raw defensive talent.  Andre Drummond and Smith are both mobile and bouncy, and Smith has been an elite defender from the power forward spot in previous years.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is also an excellent athlete with a nose for the ball at shooting guard, assuming he plays his way into significant minutes.

Another reason to believe the Pistons may improve is the fact that they very well might have played far below their potential toward the end of last season in an endeavor to keep their draft pick, which was top-eight protected and owed to the now-Hornets.  Detroit finished with the eighth-worst record, but Cleveland leapfrogged the Pistons in the lottery, pushing the pick to ninth (and to the Hornets).  While there was no particularly overt tanking behavior, the Pistons did finish a mere 8-24 under Loyer after going 21-29 under Cheeks, leading one to believe the desire to keep the pick may have resulted in worse play.

Throw in the fact the Pistons underperformed their Pythagorean record by two games last year, and there is ample reason to believe the squad will be substantially better this year.

Best Case

47-35

The Pistons register an 18 win improvement over last year’s 29-53 abomination.  A team with this kind of potential on defense has no business ranking 25th defensively as they did last year, and Van Gundy gets them to their potential–above the league average.  Caldwell-Pope builds on a strong summer league and provides three and D on the wing as the starting shooting guard, the overpriced shooting Van Gundy signed during summer spaces the floor, and Brandon Jennings and Smith bounce back. Drummond, Smith, and Greg Monroe distribute the minutes evenly among them, allowing them to stay fresh and crash the offensive boards at a furious rate. Van Gundy employs some sort of automatic shocking device that eventually provokes a negative Pavlovian response whenever he tried to put Drummond, Smith, and Monroe in the game together, and the Pistons grab a mid-tier seed in the East.

Worst Case

35-47

An anonymous whistle-blower in the Pistons organization alerts OSHA to Van Gundy’s shocking device, preventing him from using it.  Or, more realistically, Van Gundy realizes that he has nobody to play the three aside from Smith, and trots out the three-headed monster due to a lack of other options.  Caldwell-Pope is not ready, and Jodie Meeks, Smith, and Caron Butler prevent any significant defensive improvement on the wings.  Monroe struggles defensively, and Drummond continues to exhibit a curious inability to defend shots at the rim despite his athleticism.  Smith and Jennings prove last year was no fluke offensively, and the spacing is again awful.  By January, Van Gundy the President longs to relieve Van Gundy the coach so he can spend more time with his family.

– Nate Duncan

Burning Question

Can Stan Van Gundy fix the Pistons?

The Pistons are a team with a number of burning questions that now, all that must be answered by Stan Van Gundy. Can the team trade Josh Smith? Is Brandon Jennings the point guard of the future? Should the team offer Greg Monroe a long-term deal, and if so, at what price next summer? Van Gundy certainly has some tough decisions ahead of him, but with his history there is no reason to believe that he isn’t the right guy for the job. Next season will mark the first year of the Stan Van Gundy era in Detroit, it will be very interesting to see what types of changes he has in store to help bring the Pistons back to prominence.

– John Zitzler

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NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Small Forwards

Ben Nadeau continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by checking in on a thin small forward class.

Ben Nadeau

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With professional basketball on the horizon, all eyes have turned toward Orlando – but here, we’re trying to peer into the future too.

Frankly, the news of pending basketball seems small in comparison to some long-overdue changes. The planet-wide pandemic and sweeping protests have turned everybody’s day-to-day routines on their head – but, obviously, for one group, it has done so in awful and disproportionate ways.

If you can donate, consider doing so. If you can’t donate, educate yourself. Even if you donate, continue to read, learn and listen.

Or try this: If you finish this article and come away having learned something, donate something of your own: Time, supplies, a tough conversation — whatever. Consider it a trade, do whatever it takes. Make a difference, even if it’s a small one.

We’re approaching the halfway point in our examination of potential upcoming free agents – today, the ball keeps on rolling with the small forwards.

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – Restricted – $7,265,485

Across all positions, Brandon Ingram will be a top option for any franchise with oodles of cap space and a need for consistent scoring. Even then, Ingram seems destined to stay in New Orleans, no matter the cost.

Since he arrived from Los Angeles a year ago, Ingram has quickly turned into the type of stone-cold No. 1 option that can transform a roster. The 6-foot-7 youngster averaged 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 2019-20, numbers that eventually netted Ingram his first-ever All-Star Game appearance. And now, the budding star will likely see any forthcoming offer matched.

Paired with Zion Williamson, the Pelicans have developed an ideally dynamic and flexible duo to carry them into the next half-decade and beyond. With more volume and efficiency from three-point land, Ingram is evolving at a ridiculous rate – all right at home in New Orleans’ high-tempo offense. Capped off by a 49-point stunner back in January, it’s clear that future All-Star berths are just his floor.

Although the salary cap is sure to suffer after the stoppage, the 22-year-old’s future paycheck certainly won’t – he’s that good.

Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics — Player Option — $32,700,690

Before Hayward even potentially hits free agency, he’s made waves within the NBA’s restarted bubble. On a call last week with Boston media, Hayward announced that he’d leave Orlando should his wife go into labor – whether or not the Celtics are still in the postseason.

The news seems to have passed through the Northeast without major drawback – although, surely, let’s revisit if the franchise is in Eastern Conference Finals when he departs – but could that be the end of the road in Boston? It’s nobody’s fault, of course, but the arrival of Hayward hasn’t gone as planned – and now, both the franchise and player are likely stuck at a hard fork in the road.

Hayward, naturally, has the easier, initial decision: Does he want to opt-in for $30 million-plus? On the surface, that’s a no-brainer. Getting paid a small fortune and competing for a championship is achievable NBA paradise – currently, he’s got it. But after that season, Hayward would be unrestricted, 31 years old and playing fourth fiddle to Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

If Hayward is concerned with his overall fit with Boston – while the Celtics themselves must give careful consideration to how it’ll all work money-wise with Walker and Brown re-upped, alongside glue guy Marcus Smart – then opting out and securing a new multi-year deal might be on the table.

Given his injury history and any presumptive salary cap fluctuations, however, reaching the $30 million range seems far out of his reach. Either way, Hayward, finally, appears to be healthy and confident again, even averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. The Celtics’ will surely miss the scorer should he leave the bubble, but this partnership is likely to last at least another year.

Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder – Unrestricted – $22,615,559

After entering the season as potential trade bait for a Thunder roster that had just lost Paul George and Russell Westbrook, Gallinari fulfilled his status as a go-to scorer and all-around menace. The Italian played so well that Oklahoma City kept the veteran at the trade deadline even though he’s about to hit unrestricted free agency.

At the time of the shutdown, the Thunder were 40-24 and owners of the No. 5 postseason seed. Much of the attention was given toward the rise of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but Gallinari has been a healthy revelation too. Ultimately, keeping the core together for this run was worth it, even if he doesn’t land back in the midwest this offseason.

Despite the incredible campaign, Gallinari’s injury history should be a red flag for any franchise ready to hand out a lucrative deal. Since 2008, Gallinari has played 70 or more games just twice (2009-10, 2012-13) and can struggle to return once he goes down. In any case, regardless of any past ailments, he’s handled back-to-back career seasons – first in Los Angeles with the Clippers and now, obviously, with the Thunder.

At 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.1 three-pointers on 41 percent from deep, he’s been an excellent fit with Chris Paul and the young roster – but at 32 years old, is there still room to grow over a new multi-year deal?

After Ingram and Hayward, both of whom may not even hit the open market, Gallinari is the crown jewel of available small forwards, so watch this space.

Dario Saric, Phoenix Suns – Restricted – $3,481,916

Understandably, Dario Saric has become a bit of an afterthought. And that’s unfortunate because the Croatian is still useful – he just needs to find his right team.

At 26, Saric is no longer a spring chicken, but his multi-positional playmaking on the cheap will surely elevate a playoff-ready roster down the line. The 6-foot-10 forward is mobile for his size but struggled to fit next to Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, two touch-gobbling scorers. Saric has a unique NBA skillset and he often does the little things right – but his below-average three-point percentage has hurt him.

For a brief moment, Saric had fallen out of the rotation in early February, but his all-out effort and flexibility made him tough to leave out for too long. While Kelly Oubre Jr. has not been entirely ruled out of the Orlando bubble, Saric is the ready-made replacement for the starting lineup. As the forward will likely become a restricted free agent in the offseason, these upcoming games are vastly important to prove he belongs in Phoenix.

Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers – Unrestricted – $2,159,029

Last but not least, there’s Carmelo Anthony.

After being booted from the league for a year, the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer has been a solid, reputable source of scoring for Portland. At 15.3 points per game, it’s not Anthony’s most high-tallying performance – duh – but it’ll be enough to secure him another gig in 2020-21. At 36, he’s still a decent option, even if efficiencies may often tell another story.

His stints with Oklahoma City and Houston withstanding, Anthony can still score. And in the NBA these days, that’s worth a stab. Anthony will no longer demand multi-year contracts or salary cap-sponging money, so he’s a low-risk, medium-reward type of player at this point. What team couldn’t use that? The legend has excelled in big moments and brings boatloads of experience – so whether he lands in a veteran-laden locker room or one that needs his guidance hardly matters now.

Bring back Carmelo Anthony in 2020… or else.

With the bubble close to resuming, we’re still unsure if two of the top players on this board are even available. Does Hayward’s eventual leave of absence impact his decision? Would the Celtics look to retain him if he opts out? And, more importantly, is there even more than two seconds of consideration before New Orleans matches whatever max offer sheet Ingram signs? Surely, if a franchise misses out on these two – if they’re out there at all – then the small forward market shrinks tinier than it already is.

Gallinari and beyond, we’ll just have to see how the season of one thousand plotlines and twists continues to unfold.

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NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Shooting Guards

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agency tracking series by taking a look at the notable shooting guards potentially hitting the market this summer.

Matt John

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Welcome back to Basketball Insiders’ Free Agency Tracker. We’ve already gone over the top point guards entering free agency this season. Now we’re taking a look at their backcourt counterparts- the shooting guards.

To be honest, this crop of free agents period isn’t exactly a loaded one compared to years’ past. The shooting guards don’t have a great free agency class, but they are among the deeper positions in free agency. There aren’t currently any elite ones potentially going on the free market — DeMar DeRozan once was considered elite, but not now — but there are some shooting guards out there who can make a difference in a playoff series.

What’s odd is that among the highest-paid shooting guards that could go on the market are in similar situations for different reasons. Let’s start with the two best at the respective position that could potentially hit the open market once the season concludes.

DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs — Player Option — $27,739,975
Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic — Player Option — $17,000,000

How can a no-win situation get worse? Ask DeMar DeRozan. It was already tricky enough for him to decide what to do with his player option. He can either stay in San Antonio, whose present is a sinking ship that DeRozan is not reportedly happy to be on, or he can risk losing millions of dollars by playing the field in an offseason with hardly any teams to offer the contract a player of his caliber would demand.

And that was before COVID-19 dismantled the league’s salary cap. DeRozan is one of the league’s premier bucket-getters, and the evolution in his all-around game offensively doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Sadly for him, there are two things he’s not particularly good at that the NBA needs from max contract players now more than ever: shooting and defense.

DeRozan got away with this during his days as a Raptor because he was one of their top dogs on a well-crafted team built for him to thrive. But, since moving to San Antonio, being at the forefront of the Spurs’ downfall over the last two years has made his blemishes stand out now more than ever. Because his style of play grows more and more outdated by the day, both sides seem prepared to move on from each other. Unfortunately for both of them, in an upcoming, uncertain free agency period where available money will be scarce, it may not be the best idea for DeRozan to walk away from upwards of $28 million.

He never deserved this. He gave his all to Toronto to put them on the map. He did his best to fill in the void left by Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. He’s being punished when all he did was show his utmost loyalty to begin with. That’s one of the worst non-injury fates a basketball player can endure. Not many players in NBA history have had to go through a decision as tough as DeRozan will — stay with a team you don’t have a future with, or potentially take a massive pay cut?

Should DeMar DeRozan leave San Antonio? Of all the rhetorical questions in the NBA right now, this is definitely among the rhetorical-est. Then, there’s Fournier.

2016 really was a different time. Back when pretty much every team thought they could do no wrong no matter who they added. When you look at the moves the Magic made at that time — and they made some bad ones — they definitely were one of those teams. Among all the ill-advised moves they made, Evan Fournier was one of those guys that was paid just right for his services. Paying $85 million over five years for a complementary scorer such as he is an adequate price. It’s really quite astounding that he was given a fair pretty deal when you see what other players were paid then.

Now he’s got the option to pocket $17 more million or test the open market. The salary cap falling off a cliff will probably make the decision easier for him than it would have in any other year of free agency. That’s a shame because this season’s easily been his best as a pro — averaging almost 19 points on 47/41/82 splits — but with the lack of funds available, there’s really no reason for him to risk leaving that money on the table, and being in Orlando isn’t a bad situation… right?

Really, it’s his long-term prospects that he has to think about. At 27 years old, Fournier is now entering his prime as a player. His career has been a fun story to watch unfurl because he was originally viewed as a throwaway asset when he was first traded to Orlando six years ago. We’ve seen pretty much ever since that’s definitely not the case with him, but Fournier’s contributions have led to five playoff games in Orlando. He has to ask himself if it’s worth it to stay as a secondary scorer on the most average team in the entire league.

In a normal offseason, DeRozan and Fournier would similarly opt-out but for different reasons. DeRozan would opt-out to find another team that has better use for him, while Fournier would opt out looking for a deserved raise — but because the money they are looking for isn’t going to be around, expect the opt-in.

There is another pair of highly-paid shooting guards who, much like DeRozan and Fournier, are in similar situations but are in completely different stages in their career.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks — Player Option — $18,975,000
Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets — Player Option — $27,130,435

There is literally just one similarity between these two players. Even before COVID-19 hit, they were going to take that player option because there was no way either of them was getting that kind of cash on the open market (thankfully, the salary cap hangover from the insanity of 2016 and 2017 is almost over). Besides that, these two couldn’t be more different.

Putting all money aside, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been awesome for the Mavericks this year. At least for what they’ve asked of him. As the designated third wheel next to Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, Hardaway has thrived in his new role. His numbers dropped just as they were expected to — from 19 points to 16 — but the man is putting up his best effective field goal percentage (55.4) and best true shooting percentage (58.1), which has no doubt come from both playing with Luka and under Rick Carlisle.

A man of Hardaway’s talents is tailored more for being the complementary scorer on a rising playoff team like Dallas rather than being the top dog for a young team looking for direction like the New York Knicks. It’s amazing how anyone with eyes can see that except the Knicks themselves. Of course, guys can just score and it means absolutely nothing, but Hardaway actually has the best net rating in Dallas, as the Mavericks are plus-6.1 when he’s on the floor. Not bad for someone who was supposed to be a throw-in from the Kristaps Porzingis trade.

Literally the biggest problem with his game right now is that he’s being paid more than he’s worth and…that’s about it. It may sound ridiculous, but there is such a thing as being so overpaid that it makes you underrated. That’s exactly what Hardaway is. Of course, Dallas would probably prefer to have the cap space, but at least they overpay for someone who actually does something for them on the court. Charlotte can’t say the same with Nicolas Batum.

It’s not Batum’s fault that Charlotte basically paid him like a franchise player back in 2016. If money like that is on the table, how can you say no? At the height of his game, Batum was arguably the league’s best glue player. His lanky arms and skinny physique make him somewhat of an all-around terror in all phases of the game — defense, shooting, rebounding, and oddly enough, passing. Or at least it did back when Charlotte played him consistent minutes.

Batum’s impact has died a slow and painful death in Charlotte that over the last two years, he’s basically just been accumulating healthy scratches. Even after the team waived Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Batum hasn’t managed to play one single minute in the NBA since Jan. 24. Over 22 games, he’s put up 3.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3 assists a.k.a. stats that make you scream, “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU, NICOLAS BATUM?!”

Maybe playing in the league for 12 years has taken its toll on Batum’s body, but the veteran forward is only 31. That’s why there might be a light at the end of the tunnel for both him and the Hornets — besides the fact that he’ll be off their payroll this time next year. With him likely to opt-in, we might get to see the old Batum resurface with the new contract coming up. Whether he does or doesn’t, the quicker the Hornets move away from this era of basketball for them, the better.

So in case you were wondering, the highest-paid shooting guards to hit free agency are probably going to opt-in. Others who play the same position are primed to get their first payday in the NBA. There actually aren’t too many shooting guards entering restricted free agency, but the best ones who are are names you should be familiar with.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings — Restricted — $9,000,000
Malik Beasley, Minnesota Timberwolves — Restricted — $1,958,379

There’s really not much to say about Bogdanovic’s free agency that we didn’t already know. He’s one of the league’s premier hybrid playmaker/scorers among NBA second units. Unless there’s something going on behind closed doors, there shouldn’t be anything stopping the Kings from paying him what he wants this offseason. Especially now that they’ve offloaded Dewayne Dedmon and Trevor Ariza from their cap. Seriously, why did they bring those guys in again?

The only detail worth questioning is: How much will they give him? Bogi certainly deserves more money, but the lack of cap room going around may limit how much money interested parties are willing to offer for him. The Kings should show him how much they value what he does, but both his restricted free agency and the lack of money give Sacramento more leverage than they are used to. Bogdanovic should stay a King, but we know what the Kings are and are not capable of.

Then, there’s Beasley. Beasley correctly bet on himself when he demanded the Nuggets to trade him to a team willing to give him the minutes he wanted. Since going to Minnesota, he’s putting up excellent numbers that you never thought you’d see from him — nearly 21 points on 47/43/75 splits are sensational numbers for a midseason addition who honestly didn’t cost much to get.

The only two hangups from this situation are that Beasley played this well for 14 games and his contributions didn’t lead to much; the Timberwolves went 4-10 in that span. Now that their season is over, they have to decide if his play was enough to earn him the payday that he clearly wants.

Again, restricted free agency gives teams more leverage, but the Timberwolves might very well be onto something with their midseason shakeups. There’s not a whole lot of avenues for them to get better, so perhaps the best plan for them from here on out is to see what they have here.

There are definitely some other notable free-agent shooting guards this coming offseason:

  • Joe Harris’ sharpshooting should attract plenty of suitors, but the cap crunch will probably prevent any unforeseen departure from Brooklyn. Ditto for E’Twaun Moore seeing how New Orleans also has his bird rights.
  • Tony Snell has no business being on a rebuilding team like Detroit, but no one’s going to pay him the $11 million that the Pistons will if he opts in.
  • Wes Matthews and Austin Rivers have been among the NBA’s best economical additions this past season. Typically guys like them don’t come cheaply the next year, but it might not be up to them.
  • Avery Bradley and Rodney Hood are more than likely going to opt-in both because of the cap crunch and their seasons ending prematurely.
  • Until they can’t shoot the rock anymore, guys like Kyle Korver and Marco Belinelli will be in the NBA. With who is anyone’s guess, but their jumper is a weapon that every NBA team will want.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Point Guards

Shane Rhodes starts off Basketball Insiders’ new “Free Agent Watch” series, looking at the best free agent point guards set to hit the market this summer.

Shane Rhodes

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We’re in the home stretch!

It’s July, and the NBA is set to reconvene in just 26 days — of course, those may be the longest 26 days in recorded history, but the wait is sure to be worth it. Soon enough, Adam Silver will have crowned the next NBA champions.

Of course, the postseason should come-and-go in an instant, with an infinitely condensed offseason set to follow — and unfortunately, just as the season has, the draft, training camp and free agency are sure to feel the restrictions of COVID-19. With that in mind, we here at Basketball Insiders are taking another look at the coming offseason, specifically at the soon-to-be free agent class position-by-position.

Today, our first entry in our Free Agent Watch, we’ll look at the point guards. Let’s jump in.

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors — Unrestricted — $9,000,000

Even with the salary cap expected to dip next season, don’t expect it to keep VanVleet to get anything less than his due.

Just 26 years old, VanVleet is cruising into his prime and has already proven himself an essential fixture on a championship-caliber roster — don’t expect his services to come cheap, and don’t expect him to sit on the open market for long. With VanVleet, however, it isn’t so much about how much he may earn, but where he may earn it. The former undrafted free agent has seemingly made a home in Toronto, but the Raptors face a number of other pressing financial issues in addition to VanVleet’s upcoming free agency.

Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, vital in their own right to Toronto’s championship run a season ago, are also set to hit the market. Meanwhile, Pascal Siakam’s contract extension — worth more than $30,000,000 per year through the 2023-24 season — is set to start next season as well. Do Masai Ujiri and Co. see VanVleet as a star to pair with Siakam in the long term, or would the Raptors opt instead to re-sign Gasol and Ibaka (or at least attempt to) in order to maintain a more balanced roster?

Only time will tell. Either way, and in spite of the current global financial downturn, expect VanVleet to get paid rather handsomely — certainly more so than any other point guard expected to hit the market — come free agency.

Goran Dragic, Miami HEAT — Unrestricted — $17,000,450

Relative to the other guards in the free-agent crop, Dragic is old. But, even at 34, Dragic, who has transitioned to a reserve role in Miami, should continue to contribute at a high level over the next few seasons.

Dragic started just one game during the regular season, his fewest since his rookie year. That said, the reduced workload had proven a boon for his health; after a (mostly) lost 2018-19 season, in which Dragic played just 36 regular season games, he had rebounded mightily before the league was shut down. In 54 games, he averaged 16.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and shot 37.7 percent from three.

Given he’s made just three postseason appearances in his career, it wouldn’t shock anyone to see the 14-year veteran Dragic re-up with the HEAT — with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in the fold, Miami should find themselves in the thick of the postseason hunt over the life of Dragic’s next deal. Any other roster — and most would be more than happy to work him in — with a legitimate title shot in the next few seasons wouldn’t be much of a surprise, either.

Would an opportunity to start for around the same (or even higher) contract value persuade Dragic to join an up-and-coming roster or non-contender? It would seem unlikely, again citing his lack of postseason appearances, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Kris Dunn, Chicago Bulls — Restricted — $4,372,072

It would seem as if Dunn’s time in Chicago is over.

Coby White and Tomas Satoransky have displaced Dunn on the Bulls’ depth chart, while their presence would also preclude Chicago from matching any deal worth more than Dunn’s potential $7,091,457 qualifying offer. Meanwhile, the Bulls have a guaranteed lottery pick in a draft loaded with talent at the guard position.

So, what exactly would push Chicago to retain Dunn, or interest any team in adding him as a free agent? Elite defense.

Yes, Dunn has proven a bit limited on offense — he’s not exactly a score-first guard, and his ability as a passer isn’t spectacular, either. But Dunn is a defensive menace, a kind of player any roster looking to make noise in the postseason could take advantage of.

He may not garner the proper respect given the Bulls’ position near the bottom of the league, but Dunn made a legitimate case for an All-Defense nod in 2019; he was second to Ben Simmons in steals per game while he led all qualified players with 2.9 steals per 36 minutes.

Dunn is also more than capable of defending another team’s top offensive option and, given that he may not earn much next season, should prove a steal for any team looking to either shore up their defense or boost it to the next level.

Reggie Jackson, Los Angeles Clippers — Unrestricted — $734,025

Jackson may have the most to gain of nearly any player from the NBA’s restart.

Bought out by the Detroit Pistons back in February, Jackson was afforded the opportunity to aid the Clippers in their quest toward the NBA Finals. In doing so, he also has the perfect opportunity to recoup major value he had lost in recent seasons with Detroit.

In recent years, poor play, injury and a bad Pistons roster had relegated Jackson to the scrap heap, knocking him down from a once-promising (or breakout, even) player to an overpaid stat stuffer that didn’t necessarily help the team win games. Yes, on paper, Jackson’s Detroit tenure looked strong — 16.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 35.4 percent three-point percentage in his four full seasons with the team.

But, when you take into account that the Pistons managed to finish with a winning percentage above .500 just once in those four seasons and never finished higher than eighth in the Eastern Conference, those stats start to feel empty.

If nothing else, Jackson needed a change of scenery and looked strong in his few games with Los Angeles prior to the shutdown. In nine games with the Clippers, Jackson averaged 9.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and shot a blistering 52.5 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from three in 19.4 minutes per game.

He certainly wasn’t going to earn anything close to the 5-year, $80,000,000 deal he signed back in 2015. That said, Jackson, 30, is young enough that — if he can turn that mini-resurgence into an even stronger postseason performance — he shouldn’t have any trouble finding a long(ish)-term deal next season (and could maybe even play himself back into a prominent role).

Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks — Unrestricted — $19,000,000

Teague isn’t the “flashy” move. He certainly won’t swing a series or push a team into title contention.

That said, he’s still capable of solid production. Split between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Atlanta Hawks this season, Teague averaged 10.9 points, 5.2 assists and shot 43.6 percent from the field — not great, but good enough in spot duty and limited minutes off the bench.

Teague also shot 36.8 percent from three, making him a solid addition for any team that has struggled with their shot from the outside.

That said, most interest in Teague may come in his veteran presence. A quality leader, Teague also has plenty of playoff experience, having made the postseason in nine of his 12 seasons. With Vince Carter now retired, the Hawks may opt to bring him back to serve in a similar role, albeit at a massively reduced salary.

These five may prove the best of the bunch, but the point guard group set to hit the market is deep. Expect more than a few to prove solid additions capable of some serious impact. And with that, make sure to keep on the lookout for the rest of our positional Free Agent Watch series later this week.

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