With the NBA Draft less than two weeks away, many key NBA talent evaluators have descended upon Treviso, Italy, for the annual Adidas Eurocamp, a spotlight event featuring 40 international players (many of whom are draft-eligible) competing in games and drills.
Here were some of the standouts from the first two days.
Paul Zipser #32 – One of the most experienced players in the Treviso Camp, Zipser plays focused and locked in. He does a good job of making the simple play. He knows who he is as a player and plays within himself, rarely trying to do too much. He is a very effective and mobile pick-and-pop forward, which is a desired skill set with the way the NBA is increasingly utilizing small-ball lineups. He is a skinny screener, meaning he doesn’t do a great job of head hunting the playmaker’s defender, popping his feet (coming to a jump stop so he doesn’t set a moving screen) and cracking the defender on the screen. He sets narrow screens, often times never creating contact with the defender. When he is paired with a playmaker who can come off the ball screen and engage his defender, he can be a knockdown pick-and-pop man. He aggressively attacks his defender off a close out and initiates contact with his defender, which allows him to be a physical straight line driver. He has to work on his dribble counters to become more of an effective handler in “short roll” situations and when high-level defenders cut his straight line drives off. He looked comfortable on his one-dribble pull up when defenders took away his straight line drive.
Additionally, Zipser was vocal on defense, calling the ball-screen coverage and off-ball screens. He is quick, physical and tough enough to defend power forwards in a perimeter isolation situation. But when he switches onto guards, he needs to play with active hands above the ball and arms wide to take away passing angles and to create a defensive presence while building a wall to take away paint penetrations. Laterally, he can’t guard NBA small forwards. He has to play the four at the NBA level. He plays with an athletic mentality without being an elite athlete, which is not very common in European players. Because of his mismatch as a pick-and-pop four, he can create long closeouts, which allow him to pump fake and attack. He can really develop a knack for getting fouled with his shooting skill set and physical mindset.
Petr Cornelie #43 – Cornelie is mobile and plays with a high motor. He is an active, out of area rebounder. Additionally, he is an early-effort rebounder, meaning when a player has started his shooing motion, he is flying in for the rebound, instead of standing on the perimeter waiting for an invitation to the rebounding party. He hustles to the rim from wherever he is when the shot goes up. He looks for tip-dunk and tip-in opportunities. He uses his length to contest shots and disrupt the release point on shooters from the outside, and has the discipline to block shots within the paint without swinging violently at the ball, which decreases the likelihood of fouling on the block attempt. He has the mobility and anticipation to be a weak side shot blocker and plays with the motor and effort that is needed to be a trail shot blocker. He has a quick second jump, which allows him to effectively challenge multiple shots in the same defensive possession or miss his own shot and explode back up quicker than his defender for a put-back opportunity.
Furthermore, he is a great teammate – constantly clapping and pointing at teammates when he is on the bench and getting off the bench to embrace them when a timeout is called. He sets hard and physical screens, which often creates an offensive advantage for his team. He posts hard, but he goes to the dork fade against similarly sized players. While posting a guard on a switch, he tries to get to the midline for his hook shot. He has the touch and skill to shoot over both shoulders in these situations. Cornelie can also put it on the floor for two dribbles from the perimeter, but off of his sweeps and shot fakes, his first step is toward the short corner instead of attacking with his lead foot to the rim, which would allow him to take a scoring angle to the basket. He struggled to keep control of his dribble off of a quick attack on a closeout when the defender initiates contact with him. He does not absorb contact well when finishing around the rim either, as he often had to turn the angle of his body after taking contact from the defender to get his shot off instead of powering through the defender at the same angle for the finish.
His lack of upper body and core strength can be mistaken as a sign for softness, but he is not a soft player. He is an active communicator on defense, frequently calling coverages and actions. When he switches on to guards off of ball screens, he has to learn to be a defensive presence with his hands wide. His hands live by his side, instead of wide in the air taking away passing angles. He has the ability and motor to become a player who can consistently make two plays (for example, blocking a shot from the weakside or trail position and then racing the floor for a tip dunk). He can defend pivots and fakes from the post, but is antsy on his feet when defending a guard on the perimeter. He needs to learn to use his length to create a cushion where he is still close enough to disrupt the shot and contain off the dribble.
Kenan Sipahi #11 – Kenan is a point guard with great size. He is crafty playing off pick-and-rolls, using in and outs and change of direction to cut back off of the pick and engage the big defender. However, he is not a great shooter. He brings the ball over his head, causing him to shoot the ball with the motion of a catapult, which is why his shot is so flat. Opponents will often go under on in pick-and-roll coverages in order to expose his poor shooting. One major way he can improve his perimeter shooting is increasing his arch.
Kenan is not an explosive athlete and doesn’t have blazing speed, but he plays with an effective change of pace in the half court. Even though he doesn’t have elite level open court speed, he has good vision in the open court and is willing to pitch the ball head. He is also one of those point guards who acts as a coach on the floor. He also does a good job of making an effort to defend, but he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to defend many of the explosive guards at the NBA level.
Leon Kratzer #33 – Kratzer has a role as a screener, roller and rebounder. He sets hard and physical screens. Since he does not have great touch outside of seven feet, he has to learn race on the role off of the pick, and role to seal (meaning when the play maker comes off the pick, he has to be able to create a passing angle for the play maker by racing on the roll to the rim). Then, when the play maker skips the ball to the weak side 45 (free throw line extended on the wing), he has to find his defender, create contact and seal him to create a passing angle from the 45.
He is not a top athlete, and he doesn’t have a high level of skill with post footwork, so he has to learn to use angles, leverage and physicality by finding the defense and sealing them to create high percentage shots that don’t require great footwork or touch in the post. He has a good hook attacking the midline and an ability to counter baseline with a spin move. He communicates on defense. He is a very active rebounder and this is without question his best skill. However, he is a liability on the floor at the end of games since he is a poor free throw shooter.
Boris Dallo #48 – Dallo has great size for the point guard position, with very good court vision. He sees passing angles and plays before they develop. However, he can be a high turnover point guard since his teammates don’t read and process plays as quickly as he does and he throws passes based on where his teammates should go, not necessarily where they do go. He over dribbles at times, which allows the defense to recover, taking away the offensive advantage that was created off of the ball screen action. He has to learn to pitch the ball ahead and move the ball as quickly as possible to allow his team to take advantage of closeout defense.
Furthermore, he uses his physical size to finish well around the rim. He doesn’t have great mechanics on his shot as he brings the ball from the left side of his face. Specifically, he is moving the ball from the right side of his body at the beginning of his shot, to the left side of his body in the middle of his shot, back to the right side before the release and then up towards the basket at the point of release. He is a player teams are going to go under or switch on in ball-screen coverage and shrink the floor to force him to make outside shots.
Dallo doesn’t give great effort as an on-ball defender and is often times out of stance, resting on defense when he is in the help side position. Lacking high effort on defense combined with average lateral quickness makes him a defensive liability against guards with a great first step. He cannot defend his position at the elite level.
Michael Fusek #67 – For a 7’3 prospect who recently added muscle mass, I was impressed with Fusek’s upside. He is a player I can see drastically improving over the next two years if he joins a club that will create a development plan for him. He blocks shots without fouling, using his length to block and then secure the shot instead of trying to swat the ball out of bounds. However, he needs to work on improving his quickness in 10-20 foot races in the half court – racing to a help-side defensive position, racing to create separation from his defender when setting a ball screen, or racing for an out of area rebound.
Fusek has good mobility for his size, but he can really evolve as a prospect when he has great mobility for his size. He is often times behind the ball in transition, taking him away from his greatest scoring strength, which is being around the rim for lobs, dump downs and put backs. Because of this, he is often times caught on back to back possessions in between the three-point lines. He will get rebounds, make an outlet pass and then wait one to two seconds before really trying to race the floor. He has to be able to make an outlet pass and then immediately take off down the floor. He is a willing passer from the post. When he adjusts to his new body and embraces racing the floor, he will be very intriguing as a prospect.
Arnoldas Kulboka #37 – Kulboka has a good basketball IQ for his age. He is one of three players born in 1998 in the camp and one of the better wings at reading the defense on cuts and off ball screens. If he makes a backdoor cut, and you jump to the paint, he will read the defender and pop back to the three-point line for a wide open shot. If you shoot the gap on a pin down, he will read the defender and fade to the corner.
He has great shooting mechanics with a high arch that can develop to a consistent three-point threat from NBA range or further. He is a good athlete, but he has not embraced playing an athletic brand of basketball. He has a slight build and doesn’t play with a physical mind set. Very rarely is he making an out of area rebound or making an early effort to fly in from the wing for a tip dunk or tip in. He has the ability to become a great shot fake player with his ability to space the floor. He struggles to stay on his driving angle with contact from defender as he allows the contact to knock him off course of his scoring angle.
Kulboka can make plays for others off of two dribbles or less and is a willing passer, but he has to continue developing his ability to read help side defenders. Defensively, he can contain wings off of a close out and chest them up, keeping them out of the paint. But when he switches on to a guard in a pick-and-roll situation, he gets beat on late turns (i.e. when a playmaker turns the corner on a defender by the second dribble, giving them a direct driving angle to the rim). He is young, inexperienced and doesn’t have the extra gear yet where he can take over a game offensively. He has to develop his motor and physicality to continue to grow into a real high-level prospect, but the potential is there.
Basketball Insiders will have more updates as Eurocamp in Italy rolls on.
NBA Daily: The Young, Western Conference Bubble
The race for the West’s final playoff spot may seem crowded, but the last two months make it clear that two teams are already ahead of the pack.
We all jump to conclusions too quickly, this space and this scribe most certainly included. Three months ago, five weeks into the NBA season, the Western Conference playoff bubble looked like it would be a race between the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves. That has assuredly not become the reality.
While the Kings and Suns can claim to still be in the playoff race, they would have to not only make up five-game deficits, but they would also each have to jump over four other teams to reach the postseason. The Timberwolves would delight at such challenges as they initiate a not-so-subtle tank with franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined for at least a few weeks with a fractured wrist.
Instead, the race to be swept by the Los Angeles Lakers has come down to a pair of up-and-comers, a perpetual deep threat and the NBA’s most consistent organization. Of all of them, it is the youngsters who are both currently playing the best and have the most control of their playoff hopes relative to their competition.
Between the current No. 8-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, the Portland Trail Blazers (3 games back), New Orleans Pelicans (3.5) and San Antonio Spurs (4), the next six weeks will feature eight key games. Five of those will include either the Grizzlies or the Pelicans or, in two instances, both.
That pair of matchups is still a month out, but they warrant circling already, nonetheless. Memphis and New Orleans have been playing at a high level for two-plus months now, and by the time they play two games within four nights in late March — when the basketball world is largely distracted by the NCAA Tournament — the two inexperienced teams may have completely separated from Portland and San Antonio.
After starting 1-5, 5-13 and then 10-19, the Grizzlies have gone 18-9 since Dec. 21. The Pelicans have matched that record exactly, down to the date, since starting even worse than Memphis did, bottoming out at 7-23 before finding an uptick long before Zion Williamson found the court. Winning two-thirds of your games for two months is a stretch with a sample size large enough to make it clear: Neither Memphis nor New Orleans should be dismissed in this playoff chase.
Their early-season profiles were examples of young teams sliding right back into the lottery — and there was absolutely no indication a surge was coming.
|Offensive Rating||106.4 – No. 23||106.8 – No. 21|
|Defensive Rating||111.7 – No. 23||113.5 – No. 27|
Through Dec. 20; via nba.com.
Then, for whatever reason, things changed. They changed in every way and in ways so drastically that one cannot help but wonder what could come next for the teams led by the top-two picks from last summer’s draft.
|Offensive Rating||111.9 – No. 15||115.1 – No. 4|
|Defensive Rating||109.3 – No. 11||110.3 – No. 13|
Since Dec. 21, through Feb. 23; via nba.com.
In a further coincidence of records and timing, the Blazers and Spurs have both gone 13-16 since Dec. 21.
If all four teams in the thick of things out west continue at these two-month winning rates for another month, then Portland and San Antonio will have drifted out of the playoff conversation before Williamson and Ja Morant meet for a second time. Of course, those rates would keep New Orleans a few games back of Memphis; the latter has 14 games, compared to 12, before March 21, so the gap in the standings would actually expand to an even four games.
If the Pelicans can just pick up a game or two before then, though, they have already beaten the Grizzlies twice this season. Doing so twice more that week would just about send New Orleans into the playoffs – at which point, perhaps Williamson could steal a game from LeBron James to put a finishing coda on his rookie season.
NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southwest Division
David Yapkowitz finishes Basketball Insiders’ Stretch Run series with an overview of the Southwest Division.
We’ve hit that point in the NBA season approaching the final stretch of games before the playoffs roll around in April. The trade deadline has come and gone, the buyout market is wearing thin and most teams have loaded up and made their final roster moves in anticipation of the postseason.
Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking a look at each team — division by division– at what they need to do to get ready for the playoffs, or lack thereof. Looking at the Southwest Division, this was a division that used to be one of the toughest in the league.
It still is for the most part. The Texas triangle of the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs was no joke and hell for opposing teams on a road trip. Those are still a couple of formidable teams, but with the exception of the Rockets, it’s not quite near the level of yesteryear.
The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans are a pair of young, up-and-coming teams that will give you 100 percent every night. While Memphis sits firmly in the eighth spot in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on the outside looking in. Here’s a look at how each team might fare in the stretch run.
The Houston Rockets have been the best team in the Southwest all season long, and all that remains for them is playoff positioning. They currently sit in fourth place in the West, giving them home-court advantage in the first round, but they could just as easily slip a bit with the Utah Jazz essentially tied with them record-wise in the standings and the Oklahoma City Thunder a mere two games back.
The Dallas Mavericks have taken a huge leap this season behind Luka Doncic, who is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the league. They currently sit in seventh place in the West and a return to the postseason is in the cards for the Mavericks.
The rest of the teams in the Southwest is where things get a little interesting. The Grizzlies have been one of the surprises of the season, as they’ve defied expectations and are firmly entrenched in the playoff race out West. They have a three-game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers and a four-game lead on the San Antonio Spurs.
Out of the Grizzlies’ final 26 games, 15 of them come against teams over .500, more than either the Blazers or the Spurs. 14 of those final 26 are also on the road, again, more than the Blazers or the Spurs. They also play both the Spurs and Blazers one more time this season. If the Grizzlies end up making the playoffs, it will be very well earned.
The Spurs are knocking on the door, and they have one more game against the Grizzlies which could prove to be very meaningful. This is a team that has been one of the standard-bearers in the league for success over the past decade. Their streak of playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy.
They’ve won two of their last three games, however, and out of their final 26 games, 15 of those are at home, where they are 14-12. Based on how the Grizzlies are playing though, a close to .500 record at home probably isn’t going to cut it. They’re going to need to pick it up a bit over the next month if they want to keep their playoff streak intact. A lot can happen between now and then, and the Grizzlies do have a tough remaining schedule, but it looks as if San Antonio will miss the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.
The final team in the Southwest is the Pelicans, boosted by the return of prized rookie and No.1 draft pick Zion Williamson. Prior to the start of the season, the Pelicans were looked at as a team that could possibly contend for the eighth seed in the West. Then Williamson got hurt and things changed.
But the team managed to stay afloat in his absence, and as it stands, they’re only three-and-a-half games back of the Grizzlies with 26 games left to play. Out of the bottom three teams in the division, it’s the Pelicans who have the easiest schedule.
Out of those 25 games, only seven of them come against teams over .500. They are, however, just about split with home and away games. New Orleans is 8-2 over their past 10 games, better than the Grizzlies and Spurs. If Memphis falters down the stretch due to its tough schedule, and the Pelicans start gaining a little bit of steam, things could get interesting in the final few weeks.
In all likelihood, the Pelicans probably won’t make the playoffs as not only do they have to catch up to the Grizzlies, but the Spurs and Blazers as well. But it certainly will be fun to watch them try.
There are some big storylines in the Southwest Division worth following as we begin the final run to the postseason. Can the young Grizzlies defy expectations and make a surprise return to the playoffs? Will the Spurs get their playoff streak snapped and finally look to hit the reset button after nearly two decades of excellence? Can the Pelicans, buoyed by Williamson’s return, make a strong final push?
Tune in to what should be fun final stretch in the Southwest.
NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southeast Division
With the All-Star Break behind us, the final stretch of NBA games has commenced. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few teams in the Southeast Division that have a chance at making the dance.
Well, that was fast.
With the NBA All-Star break in the rearview, there are now fewer than 30 games to play for all 30 NBA teams. In other words, time is running out for certain teams to improve their seeding in the conference.
Here at Basketball Insiders, we will be looking at a certain subset of teams that are right on the border of making or missing the playoffs. In this edition, the focus will be on the Southeast Division.
The Southeast features three teams — the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards — operating in the lower-middle-class of the NBA. These three will be slugging it out over the next month-and-a-half for the right to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
The two remaining teams are the Miami HEAT and Atlanta Hawks. As this is being written, the former is comfortably in the playoffs at 35-20, while the latter is comfortably gathering more ping pong balls at 16-41.
In this space, the focus will be on the three bubble teams. The Magic are currently frontrunners for the eighth seed, but the Wizards and Hornets are within striking distance if things were to go awry.
Led by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have ground their way to the eighth seed behind an eighth-ranked defense. Lanky wing Aaron Gordon is the standout, helping the Magic execute their scheme of walling off the paint. The Magic only allow 31.3 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, putting them in 89th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.
Following a post-break loss to Dallas Mavericks, the Magic sit at 24-32 and three games up on the ninth-seeded Wizards. While a three-game margin doesn’t sound like much, that is a sizable cushion with only 26 games to play. Basketball-Reference gives the Magic a 97.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.
The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule out of Eastern Conference teams. They have very winnable games coming against the Bulls, Hornets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Pistons. They also have multiple games coming against the Brooklyn Nets, the team they trail by only 1.5 games for the seventh seed.
The Magic are prone, however, to dropping games against the league’s bottom-feeders. It can be difficult to string together wins with an offense this sluggish. The Markelle Fultz experiment has added some spark in that department, but his lack of an outside shot still leaves the floor cramped.
After a quick analysis of the schedule, the most likely scenario appears to be a 12-14 record over the last 26 games, putting the Magic at 36-46 come season’s end. A record like that should not be allowed anywhere near playoff basketball, but it would probably be enough to meet the Bucks in round one.
If the Magic go 12-14, that would leave the Wizards, fresh off a loss to J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing to go 17-11 over their last 28 games. They will need to finish one game ahead as the Magic hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Wizards finishing that strong becomes even more farfetched when you consider their remaining schedule. They have the second-toughest slate from here on out, per Basketball-Reference.
The Wizards do have a trump card in Bradley Beal, who is the best player among the bubble teams in the East. He has now scored 25 points or more in 13 straight games and has been the driving force behind the Wizards staying in the race.
He has also picked up his defense a bit following his All-Star snub in an effort to silence his critics. The increased focus on that end is nice, but it would’ve been a little nicer if it had been a part of his game earlier in this season when the Wizards were by far the worst defense in the league.
Even if Beal goes bonkers, it is hard to see a path for this Wizards team to sneak in outside of a monumental collapse in Orlando. Looking at their schedule, it would take some big upsets to even get to 10 wins over their last 28. Their most likely record to finish the season is 8-20 if all games go to the likely favorites.
The Wizards’ offense has been impressive all season, but injuries and a porous defense have been too much to overcome.
The Hornets, meanwhile, trail the Wizards by 1.5 games and the Magic by 4.5 games. They have won their last three in a row to put themselves back in this race, but they still have an uphill climb.
The Hornets also may have raised the proverbial white flag by waiving two veterans in Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The goal coming into this season was never to make the playoffs, so they are likely more interested in developing young talent over these last 27 games.
If the Magic do play up to their usual levels and go 12-14, it would require the Hornets to go 18-9 to finish the season against the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the East.
Devonte’ Graham and his three-point shooting have been a bright spot for the Hornets, but it would take some otherworldly performances from him and Terry Rozier down the stretch to put together a record like that. Basketball-Reference gives this a 0.02 percent chance of happening (cue the Jim Carrey GIF).
Barring a miracle, the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in place. The only questions remaining are how seeds 2-6 will play out, and whether the Magic can catch the Nets for the seventh spot.
The Wizards will fight to the end, but it is unlikely they make up any ground given the level of opponents they will see over the next six weeks. The Hornets, meanwhile, are more likely to fight for lottery odds.
At least the playoffs should be exciting.