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Can the Bulls Bring Over Nikola Mirotic?

Nikola Mirotic is Europe’s best player. Can the Bulls negotiate his buyout and their own cap position to add him next year?

Nate Duncan

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One enormous benefit of Phil Jackson’s hiring by the New York Knicks is that it has quelled the breathless speculation of Carmelo Anthony joining the Chicago Bulls this summer as a free agent. Assuming Anthony does not join the Bulls, their prime addition this summer would likely be Real Madrid power forward Nikola Mirotic. The 23-year-old Mirotic was the Spanish ACB League MVP in 2012-13 and has only improved this season. Much ink has been spilled elsewhere on his game (including my own after an in-person scouting trip last June), but it will suffice to say that his combination of shooting, skill, agility and feel are top-notch for the power forward position.

The video below provides an excellent view of the type of player he is and could become.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjaHc9Vp9wU

Mirotic would strike particular fear into the heart of opposing defenses running the pick-and-roll with Derrick Rose. His defender would have to stay relatively attached to him to prevent his popping for a three-pointer, while Rose is of course deadly on the play without a big man to deter him from getting into the lane.

Mirotic’s Buyout Complicates the Bulls’ Task

The Bulls face a number of issues bringing over Mirotic starting with his massive 2.5 million Euro buyout, which translates to $3.475 million at current exchange rates.

Buyouts from European teams are an extremely tricky business in the NBA. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prevents teams from spending more than what is known as the Excluded International Player Payment to buyout international players without it counting against the salary cap. This amount is $600,000 in 2014-15 (it has and will go up $25,000 each year of the CBA). Beyond that, any buyout amount is paid by the player. It was this buyout that prevented the Bulls from having a realistic chance to bring him over before this summer. Mirotic was the 23rd pick in the 2011 draft, and therefore was prescribed such a low salary that there is no way it would have made financial sense for him to come to the Bulls before this summer.

This summer, two things will have changed. Most importantly, the Bulls are no longer bound by the rookie wage scale, which previously would have limited Mirotic to a starting salary of a little over $1 million per year and locked him in to team control for up to four years. After three years have passed, a team has the option of signing a draftee to whatever contract it has room for via either cap room or exceptions to the cap. Such a contract must be for at least three years, exclusive of any option years.

The second new development is that the Bulls will have access to either the $5.305 million mid-level exception or cap room, which will allow them to pay Mirotic enough to entice him to come over. Here though, is where it gets even more difficult. Mirotic will have to pay the $2,875,000 remaining on his buyout after the Bulls pay the maximum $600,000 Excluded International Player Payment. Normally, this amount would count as a signing bonus.

However, paying the buyout as a signing bonus has important consequences for the size of Mirotic’s overall contract because of another rule that limits signing bonuses to 15 percent of the overall contract value. If the buyout were paid entirely as a signing bonus, that means the minimum overall value of Mirotic’s contract would be $19.2 million. On a three-year deal, this would require a first-year cap number of approximately $6.1 million, about $800,000 above the mid-level exception amount. The amount of the buyout/bonus allocable to the first (and each successive) salary cap year would be $958,333, or one third of the bonus.* If the Bulls do not amnesty Carlos Boozer to open up cap space greater than the MLE, or would simply like to pay Mirotic less, this would cause problems because they would not be able to give Mirotic a contract starting at less than $6.1 million if the entire buyout were paid as a bonus.

*For cap number purposes, the signing bonus is spread over the guaranteed years of the contract in proportion to the percentage of each contract year that is guaranteed (not the dollar amount paid in that year). Since all of the years of the contract would be fully guaranteed in this scenario, the bonus would be spread equally over the years of the contract.

This leaves two potential solutions. The first would be offering Mirotic a four-year contract. This would allow a cap number of about $4.5 million in the first year. However, Mirotic would be unlikely to take such an offer; a big part of the incentive for him to come to the NBA is to get past his first contract as soon as possible. If he is as good as it appears he will be, his second contract could be into eight figures per year.*

*One idea to make coming over more palatable, as suggested to me by Danny LeRoux, would be for Mirotic to have a fourth-year player option on his contract. This would at least allow him a larger guarantee if he is injured or underperforms. The bonus could not be spread over the fourth year because it is an option year, but it would at least make the offer slightly more appealing to Mirotic. Edit: As I wrote here (scroll down) it is not clear whether the contract could legally contain an option or not.

The second potential solution would allow the Bulls to fit Mirotic within the mid-level exception while still providing him enough cash at signing to pay his buyout. If Mirotic were to sign for the full MLE amount, his signing bonus would be limited to about $2.47 million.* This would result in a shortfall of about $397,000 to pay his buyout. However, he and the Bulls could take advantage of a provision in the CBA that allows the advance payment of salaries for a given season starting on July 1. Up to 25 percent of a player’s base compensation (i.e., not including bonuses) may be paid before October 1, and another 25 percent may be paid before regular checks start on November 15. The first 25 percent could easily cover this, as that amount would be a little over $1.1 million. Therefore, Mirotic could be given almost $3.6 million immediately upon approval of the contract, more than enough to pay the buyout.

*This is slightly less than 15 percent of the overall contract, for reasons explained by Larry Coon.

Of course, such gyrations very well might not be necessary. I am not a specialist in the Byzantine world of European basketball contracts, but it is often the case that European teams are willing to negotiate a buyout down as a reward for excellent service and/or to maintain a reputation as a good place to play. It also is not necessarily the case that all of the buyout would be due immediately, or that it could not be paid over time. But this approach would guarantee that Mirotic could meet any draconian buyout terms, if needed. In fact, that might assist in the effort to negotiate it down.

The Mirotic Negotiations Will be Fascinating

On the other hand, if the Bulls do amnesty Boozer (as appears likely), an intriguing negotiation could develop. Rare is the situation where both sides have so much leverage and yet so much incentive to get a deal done.

From Mirotic’s standpoint, he makes a reported 3.5 million Euros per year from Real Madrid, or about $4.8 million.* Contrast that with his buyout amount of $3.475 million. Considering his buyout, he will be taking a paycut over the next three years if he signs for the MLE. This would be taken out of his contract, although an international tax lawyer I consulted stated that the buyout expense should be deductible against income. Mirotic is by all accounts very happy in Spain, and plays for a dominant team. Moreover, he is really good. The Bulls desperately need the offense he would bring, and given his European performance he might merit a contract of almost eight figures right away if he were on the open market. Ryan Anderson is in the midst of a four-year, $34 million contract, and Mirotic projects to be at least his equal as a player. All of these tend to favor him getting a larger salary from the Bulls.

*Edit as of April 30, 2014: I have had multiple sources tell me that there is no way Mirotic makes anywhere near $3.5 million Euros, and in fact that they would be shocked if it is over 1 million Euros per year. That changes the calculus for him significantly.

On the other hand, the Bulls have Mirotic’s exclusive draft rights. While he is no longer bound by the rookie scale, it is not the same as if he were on the open market. Back before the rookie scale, rookies still were not paid quite as much as they would have been as veteran free agents because they can only negotiate with one team. Perhaps more importantly, Mirotic will want to get to free agency as soon as possible so that he can truly maximize his earnings over the course of his career with two big contracts that he could never hope to match in Europe. At age 23 and forced to take a minimum three-year deal to start, he needs to get to the league now. Mirotic also faces the risk that his demands will be so steep that the Bulls will decide to use their cap space on someone else, retain his rights, and go through the whole dance again next year. Mirotic is so appealing precisely because the Bulls have his exclusive draft rights and can expect to get him on a value contract. If he totally eliminates that appeal, they could go in another direction and push back the clock on his potential big payday another year.

The timing issue will also be fascinating. If the Bulls get under the cap, Mirotic will need to convince them that their cap space is worth using on him during the fast-moving free agent market. The Bulls will fear missing out on free agents and being stuck with a ton of cap space and nobody to use it on except Mirotic. That, of course, would increase his leverage. Yet by waiting, Mirotic takes the risk the Bulls will settle on someone else and be left with minimal or no cap space to offer him a deal.* This would be a bitter pill to swallow indeed and also likely lead to his remaining in Europe for another year.

*A previous version of this article stated that the Bulls could offer Mirotic their $2.7 million Room Exception for teams under the cap. However, Room Exception contracts are limited to two years. Because any Mirotic deal in excess of the Rookie Scale must be for three years, the Room Exception cannot be offered to Mirotic.

I expect a deal to get done, because both sides ultimately have the incentive to make it happen. But each also has powerful leverage on their side to push the numbers in their direction. Either way, the negotiations between Mirotic and the Bulls promise to be absolutely enthralling.

Noah and Gibson’s Incentives: The Gifts That Keep On Giving

Others have previously reported on the luxury tax ramifications incentives for Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson might have for the Bulls this season. To refresh, Noah is due a $500,000 bonus if he makes first-team All-NBA, while Gibson will earn $250,000 for making the All-Defensive Second Team and another $250,000 ($500,000 total) for making the All-Defensive First Team.  While the last of these is likely out of reach for Gibson, there is a good chance these players combine to add $750,000 to their ledgers this year.

Reaching these incentives this year would also have cap ramifications for next year, assuming the players have similar incentives in 2014-15. The general rule is that incentives are included as a part of team salary if they were earned the previous year. So, any incentives earned by Noah and Gibson in 2013-14 would by default be included in the Bulls’ team salary for next season. This could lower the available cap room for the Bulls by the amount of those incentives for 2014-15, presumably $750,000 again.

Although these incentives would be included in team salary by default, there is still a procedure by which this could be challenged by the NBAPA, which theoretically has an incentive to create more cap room so that other players can get paid more. The Players’ Association can request that a basketball expert jointly selected by it and the NBA determine whether it is very unlikely that the bonus will be earned.*

*The full procedure:
1. The expert conducts a hearing within five business days, and renders a determination within five business days after that.
2. The party initiating the proceeding has the burden of proof.
3. To grant the challenge, the expert must find that player is very unlikely to earn the bonus (in the case of an NBAPA challenge) or very likely to earn bonus (in the case of an NBA challenge).
4. No party can mention whether the bonus would or wouldn’t be included under the default rule.
5. The expert’s opinion is unappealable.
6. The costs of the expert are borne equally by the parties.

In practice, however, the NBAPA has rarely challenged such designations, and seems unlikely to now when they still lack a union leader (although that will hopefully be rectified by July). Note that there is no procedure for the Bulls themselves to challenge the likely or unlikely designation of the incentives; although the team might like to do so the NBA and the NBAPA are the only parties that may initiate the procedure.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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How NBA League Pass is Changing

Ben Dowsett dives deep into some of the technical improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

Ben Dowsett

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As the NBA continues to grow in popularity, demands for available programing rise in lockstep. A new mammoth TV rights deal that began last season promised increased visibility and advertising dollars, and was the primary factor in a sudden jump in the league’s salary cap figure. Between that and an exploding digital marketplace, there are a lot of eyes on the NBA as an entertainment product.

For the NBA fan interested in watching the entire league and not just their home market (or even for cord-cutters who only want to watch their local team), NBA League Pass is a familiar tool. Available for both single-team and league-wide subscriptions, League Pass is a multi-device platform that allows for both live and on-demand viewing of NBA games.

For many users of NBA League Pass, this is a relatively issue-free experience. For many others, though, League Pass has long lagged behind competitors in the digital sports sphere, with a number of glitches and absent features still present as recently as last season across multiple devices. These issues are a regular source of annoyance for NBA fans everywhere, particularly the most invested ones.

Basketball Insiders spent the summer investigating the causes of some of these issues, both with the NBA and with various extended providers of League Pass. Here’s what we found regarding previous issues, their fixes, and other developments to the service moving forward. (Also be sure to check out our broader report from earlier this week on some of the general new features being offered by League Pass.)

League Pass on TV

For several years at minimum, customers of most cable and satellite providers have been able to enjoy NBA League Pass with virtually no major issues. Companies like DirecTV, Dish, Uverse and others have all had solid programs for years, with full-HD channel lineups and a simple, straightforward purchasing and viewing process.

For customers of Comcast, however, things haven’t been so rosy.

Through the completion of the 2016-17 NBA season, Comcast XFINITY customers were not offered such a robust slate. Just a single high definition channel was available on League Pass via XFINITY last season, and even that one channel wasn’t dedicated only to NBA action.

Unless a game was being broadcast on a national station like ESPN or NBATV, you simply had to cross your fingers and hope that the game you wanted was the one that was showing in HD. Otherwise, you got to watch it in standard definition or not at all.

Before we discuss how this is slated to change moving forward, a necessary aside: This is crazy. Even before the new massive TV rights deal, the NBA was unquestionably one of the most popular sports in North America; for the largest broadcasting and cable television company in the world by revenue to enter the year 2017 without basic HD channels for the league – channels present in hundreds of other areas and on every other major provider, no less – is nothing short of asinine, and speaks to the limited alternatives available and the simple power of a conglomerate like Comcast.

Back to greener pastures: Changes are in motion, even if they’re still moving a little slower and more timidly than most customers would prefer.

Per sources familiar with the service, HD channel options will be in place for all games under Comcast XFINIFY’s offering of NBA League Pass during the 2017-18 season. These will be available under Comcast’s Beta program, one that’s been offered for both MLB and NHL programming over the last several years. A sample MLB Beta page can be found here.

Beta pages are a bit nebulous and tough to access if you aren’t already paying for one of these services, but our research suggests they function reasonably well. There are multiple ways to access Beta channels, either via a voice or keypad search or through the guide – though doing it through the guide won’t be quite as simple as just clicking a single channel (you have to click a Beta channel, then choose the team you want to watch and wait for blackout and subscription verification).

Blackouts are still present for local markets and nationally televised games, but this is to be expected for all such services.

Now the bad news: There are some pretty serious limitations to this Beta program. Firstly, as you’ll note if you click the link above, it’s considered a trial offering. Features like recording, pausing or rewinding games will not be available. For the busy basketball fan who can’t be present to watch his or her team right from tipoff every night, this is an obvious problem.

Additionally, sources say that this Beta program will only be available by the end of November. As the astute NBA fan will note, the season began on October 17 – what about the time in between? The previous version of League Pass will still be available during this period, sources say, but XFINITY customers who want all their games in HD will be out of luck for about a month and a half. Combine that with some apparent clunkiness in accessing the games themselves, and this new development still leaves a lot to be desired.

Still, it’s progress where previously there had been very little. Sources say that work is being done to move each of the NBA, MLB and NHL offerings away from the Beta package and into full-time circulation, which would ostensibly get rid of most or all of those functionality issues. No firm dates were given for this, however, and NBA fans are probably safest assuming this will be the program for the full season once it kicks in during November. Make your purchasing decisions accordingly.

League Pass Broadband

Understanding how NBA League Pass fits into the broadband landscape requires a look back at the history of streaming sports technology. In particular, we have to look at a competitor: Major League Baseball.

For years, MLB’s streaming service has been considered something of a gold standard within the digital world, with numerous parties contacted for this story gushing about their quality. Basketball Insiders’ research revealed this to be a total falsehood – those compliments simply weren’t going far enough. The degree to which MLB has outpaced the field when it comes to streaming is almost shocking.

(For those only looking for the nitty-gritty details of what will change with NBA League Pass Broadband moving forward, skip to that section by clicking here.)

In the year 2000, while most of us were still worried about Y2K bugs and voting machines in Florida, Major League Baseball was getting to work pioneering online streaming sports. That was the year that the league’s owners centralized all digital rights into a new, independent tech startup called MLB Advanced Media, per sources. The “independent” part was important: MLB was purposefully building a distinct, separate entity that operated in a different facility than league HQ, hired tech-savvy folks and was, truly, its own company.

On August 26, 2002, MLB Advanced Media broadcasted their first live Major League game. Roughly 30,000 people (!!) tuned in to watch a Yankees-Rangers tilt on a date nearly three years earlier than famed video site YouTube would even launch on the web.

Over the next several years, MLBAM (pronounced em-el-BAM by insiders – it’s fun to say!) paved the way for streaming sports technology. They sold a nine-game pennant race package later that season, then a full-season package in March of 2003. By 2005, they had installed a private fiber network dedicated to streaming in all 30 MLB ballparks.

By 2008, two representatives from MLB were on stage and demonstrating the product as Steve Jobs introduced the Apple App Store for the very first time – MLB’s At Bat App was the first sports app in the history of the store, and one of the first 500 ever created of any kind. By 2010, they were pioneering connected devices like PlayStation and Xbox.

All the while, MLB made a concerted effort to keep all these efforts completely in-house. No outsourcing, no reliance on a third party.

Their success quickly started drawing attention. As other similar entities looked to enter the streaming space, they were faced with their own decision: To outsource, or to attempt to build a ground-up technology sector like MLB had.

Some went the outsource route, and their first call was to MLB. Few outside the industry knew it at the time, but MLB was behind the first-ever streaming of March Madness games on CBS Sports back in 2006, per sources. They’d later help ESPN in their switch from ESPN360 to ESPN3 in 2010, and assist with the advent of HBO Now in 2014.

Also in 2014, they helped create a groundbreaking new sector of the streaming world – a full OTT (over-the-top of subscription) network dedicated to WWE wrestling. This wasn’t just live matches, it was a full network complete with archives and on-demand programming. This kind of service is now called direct-to-consumer programming.

By this point, outsourcing demands had grown so much that MLB took some new steps. In 2016, MLBAM was spun off into a new entity called BAMTECH, which was in charge of all outsourced efforts (MLBAM remained on the baseball-only side). One third of BAMTECH was sold to Disney for $1 billion – a $3 billion valuation for what was at one time nothing but a tech startup. In August 2017, Disney acquired additional shares to reach a 75 percent controlling stake in the company at an even larger total valuation, per sources familiar with the finances.

Today, MLBAM continues to manage baseball-related streaming services while BAMTECH, now primarily owned by Disney, works with several other large entities. These include ESPN, the NHL and Riot Games, a big player in the rapidly rising eSports sphere. They also stream their own MLB client to over 400 different devices.

******

This is a high standard for any other sports or streaming entity to hold itself to, even one as successful as the NBA. Interestingly, though, MLB could end up serving as a perfect template for the path the NBA is now taking – just on a different timeline.

Just as the MLB decided years ago to prioritize their own in-house development of this technology, the NBA has recently done the same. About three years ago, Turner – which handles nearly all of the NBA’s entertainment assets – purchased a majority of a company called iStreamPlanet, a leader in the streaming technology sphere.

Founded in 2000, iStreamPlanet is perhaps best known in the industry for their recent work on the Olympic Games, which began in 2010 at the Vancouver Winter Games. Their coverage of Sochi in 2014 had over 9.1 million users in just 18 days of competition. They’ve also broadcast all the recent Super Bowls, starting in 2011.

Before the beginning of last season, the NBA and Turner migrated all of their League Pass technology over to iStreamPlanet, per sources familiar with the technology. This was in place of a previous internal solution that had managed League Pass streaming.

As one can imagine, the very first year under this new migration came with a few bumps in the road. The migration included a complete change of the infrastructure that processed video, from the way it’s taken to the way it’s encoded. New software was instituted, and then tech experts with Turner and iStreamPlanet meticulously went through each individual platform to diagnose issues and test functionality. Every platform has its own individual player and its own individual quirks, so this was no small project across a wide variety of platforms.

In essence, this was a test run for a product built from scratch. There’s really no other way to do this – for the NBA to truly build its own infrastructure here, they had to start from the ground up.

If last year’s inaugural season under the new technology was all about finding bugs and ensuring functionality across all platforms, the offseason has been all about fine-tuning the execution. The teams at Turner and iStreamPlanet analyzed every step of the video process, from when it left a given NBA arena to when it made its way to your device screen. They hardened the path of video from the venue to the fan, allowing it to arrive more quickly and in better quality.

A few specific changes, possible future changes, and notably similar areas to be aware of here:

  • Per sources, changes to video encoding and pathways have resulted in roughly a 50 percent reduction in lag time compared to a television broadcast across a majority of NBA League Pass platforms. No platform experienced worse than a 33 percent reduction in lag time, with most up around this 50 percent figure. Lag time versus standard TV broadcasts has long been a prominent issue among broadband users.
  • Down similar lines, extra steps have been taken to protect clients who want to watch games spoiler-free. A new “Hide Scores” button has been introduced at the top of users’ game menu – when clicked, it will remove the live scores from both completed and live games, allowing viewers to start watching a game late without having the score ruined for them in advance (though it appears users still have to manually rewind to the start of the game, so spoilers are still possible).
  • With Adobe preparing to soon begin phasing out the Flash player from their content offerings, sources say Turner and iStreamPlanet are working on an eventual transition of NBA League Pass from Flash technology over to HTML5. This transition is expected this season for both live and on-demand content.
  • While it won’t please some customers, blackout rules across all areas of League Pass appear to remain the same. These are issues of media rights, and unfortunately that’s just how things work.
  • Customers have access to numerous platforms, with up to five connected devices per customer.
  • Standard log time for games to enter the on-demand section of League Pass streaming is between 48 and 72 hours – once again, some of this is related to business rules with the NBA and regional television networks. For condensed games, the turnaround time is closer to an average of 24 hours.
  • The NBA is offering a free trial preview of League Pass services from now through October 24.

Once again, things won’t be perfect overnight. Lag issues still exist, and media rights considerations make certain bits of timing sub-optimal. Like any platform still in its earlier stages in a relative sense, there will be glitches here and there.

When you experience these issues, speak up. Turner has a full support team in place, with logging capabilities that allow them to identify issues that frequently come up among customers – this process is how some of their biggest changes have taken place over the last year.

Stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for any updates or changes to NBA League Pass in the future.

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NBA

NBA PM: Frank Kaminsky’s Massive Opportunity

The potential frontcourt pairing of Frank Kaminsky and Dwight Howard should make for an exciting season in Charlotte.

Benny Nadeau

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With both highs and lows to account for, it’s been an incredibly eventful offseason for the Charlotte Hornets. From trading for Dwight Howard and drafting Malik Monk to the news that defensive stalwart Nicolas Batum would be out for the foreseeable future, the Hornets will start the 2017-18 season off looking considerably different. Still, it’s difficult to see Charlotte stepping into the conference’s upper echelon alongside the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, among others, without some major internal growth.

Down those lines, there may be no better candidate for a breakout season than Frank Kaminsky, the team’s modernly-molded stretch big man. Heading into his third NBA season, Kaminsky struggles at times but has generally affirmed why the Hornets passed on the Celtics’ huge offer and selected the former collegiate stud with the No. 9 overall pick back in 2015. Combined with the more defensive-steady force of Cody Zeller, the Hornets quickly found themselves with a solid, if not spectacular 1-2 punch at the center position.

Unsurprisingly, Kaminsky’s best nights statistically last season came when he hit multiple three-pointers. There were games like his 5-for-9 barrage from deep en route to 23-point, 13-rebound effort against the Sacramento Kings in late February, but his inconsistencies often got in the way just as much. In 2016-17 alone, Kaminsky tallied 41 games in which he converted on one or less of his three-point attempts — and the Hornets’ record? 13-28. Perhaps a tad coincidental for a franchise that finished at 36-46, but the Hornets ranked 11th in three-pointers with an even 10 per contest, so when Marvin Williams (1.6) Marco Belinelli (1.4), Kaminsky (1.5) and Batum (1.8) weren’t hitting, it was often lights out for an ultimately disappointing Charlotte side.

With his 33.1 percent career rate from deep, there’s certainly room to improve for Kaminsky, but his 116 made three-pointers still put him in a special group last season. Of all players at 7-foot or taller, only Brook Lopez made more three-pointers (134) than Kaminsky did — even ranking four ahead of Kristaps Porzingis, one of the league’s most talented unicorns. Once that category is expanded to include those at 6-foot-10 or taller, the list gets far more crowded ahead of Kaminsky, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.

On that lengthier list of three-point shooting big men is Ryan Anderson, one of the strongest like-for-like comparisons that Kaminsky has today. Drafted in 2008, Anderson has been an elite three-point shooter for quite some time and his 204 makes last season ranked him ninth in the entire NBA. In fact, Anderson’s 2012-13 tally of 213 ranked only behind Stephen Curry; the year before that, his 166 total topped the rest of the field for a first-place finish. Coming out the University of California, Anderson was solid late first-round pickup by the New Jersey Nets and he knocked down one of his 2.9 attempts per game as a rookie.

Then, Anderson was traded to the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2009 and found out that true basketballing nirvana is playing on the same team as prime Dwight Howard. For three seasons, they were a near-perfect fit for each other as Howard averaged 13.9 rebounds and Anderson hit two three-pointers per game over that stretch. Howard deftly made up for Anderson’s defensive shortcomings while the latter stretched the floor effortlessly on the other end.

Although Howard is now considerably older, he’s never recorded a season with an average of 10 rebounds or less over his 13-year career. Howard’s impressive rebounding rate of 20.8 percent — the third-highest mark in NBA history behind Dennis Rodman (23.44) and Reggie Evans (21.87) — has made it easy for his partners to stay at the perimeter or bust out in transition. Other power forwards that have flourished next to Howard also include Rashard Lewis (2.8 three-pointers per game from 2007-09) and Chandler Parsons (1.8 in 2013-14), so there’s some precedent here as well.

Simply put, Howard still demands attention in the post, and Kaminsky is the Hornets’ best possible fit next to him. As Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Williams will likely slide up a position at times to help navigate Batum’s injury, throwing Kaminsky into the fire seems almost too logical.

An improved sophomore season for Kaminsky saw rises in every major statistical category outside of his percentages due to an increase in volume. However, that 32.8 percent mark from three-point range is considerably lower than the league average and it’ll need to improve for somebody that spends much of the offensive possession ready to fire away. Regardless, Kaminsky’s 11.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in 2016-17 are a bright sign moving forward, but with Howard, he’s about to be gifted his best opportunity yet.

Whether he’s operating in transition, out of pick-and-pops or catch-and-shoots, Kaminsky has the tools to join the elite stretch forwards in the near future and stay there permanently. Kaminsky’s growing chemistry with All-Star point guard Kemba Walker has made the pair difficult to defend out on the perimeter. From the aforementioned pick-and-pops to a slightly more complicated dribble hand-off, trying to guard the two three-point shooting threats is enough to make your head spin. When he’s not firing from behind the arc, Kaminsky has also exhibited a soft touch and an ability to score among the trees as well.

As he continues to grow and expand his skill set, Kaminsky just needs to find some much-needed consistency as a shooter. If Kaminsky can raise his three-point percentage up closer to the league average this season, he’ll be an invaluable asset for the Hornets as they push for a playoff berth. Over his two full NBA seasons thus far, the Hornets have never had somebody like Howard to pair with Kaminsky and past results for those shooters playing with the future Hall of Famer are promising. Of course, head coach Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded leader — Charlotte’s defensive rating ranked 14th in 2016-17 at 106.1 — so Kaminsky will need to improve there to take full advantage of the available minutes. Fortunately, Howard’s savvy rim protection should make it a palatable experience on both sides of the ball.

When the Hornets rebuffed the Celtics’ massive draft day offer in order to select Kaminsky two years ago, it would’ve been impossible to predict Howard falling right into their lap as well. Between his expanding game and the new frontcourt combination, there’s potential here for Kaminsky to take the next big step in 2017-18.

If and when they do indeed pair him with Howard, the Hornets will be both maximizing his talents as a perimeter threat and minimizing his weaknesses as a defender. While Clifford leaned on Zeller in the past, Howard’s decorated history surrounded by court-stretching shooters should make the decision even easier. Kaminsky’s got all the workings of a modern offensive big man, the faith of the front office and the perfect paint-clogging partner — now it’s up to him to put it all together and become one of Charlotte’s most indispensable players.

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NBA

Where Do the Celtics Go From Here?

The Boston Celtics face an uphill climb after the loss of Gordon Hayward, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Boston Celtics suffered a crushing blow Tuesday night after losing marquee free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward to a gruesome leg injury in the early goings of the season’s opening contest. Unfortunately for Boston, the NBA will continue to march on and Brad Stevens and his squad will have to adapt, adjust and learn on the fly. With 81 games still to play, all might not be lost for the Celtics, but where can the team go from here?

A lineup shuffle is almost certainly in the cards. Marcus Smart, projected to be Stevens’ first man off the bench, will likely slot into the starting lineup as the shooting guard next to Kyrie Irving, sliding Jaylen Brown to the small forward position. From there, a larger rotation and a minutes bump for other bench guys like Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin, Semi Ojeleye, etc., would make the most sense as Stevens attempts to ensure his key guys — Irving, Brown and Al Horford — have fresh legs down the stretch. Nineteen-year-old Jayson Tatum, who impressed in his debut with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds, should also get an extended look, even after presumed starter Marcus Morris is back and healthy enough to play. Irving and Horford’s veteran presence in the locker room cannot be understated as well.

Brown, who should move into Hayward’s spot in the lineup, had already been pegged for a major role on the team this season. Now, the second-year wing will bear an even heavier burden and will seemingly have to produce all over the floor for the Celtics. Without Hayward, Brown now joins a defensive group of Smart, Horford and Morris that will have their work cut out. Brown will also be expected to produce more on the offensive end as well and do so efficiently. While he poured in 25 points last night, Brown did so on an inefficient 11 of 23 shooting while going just 2-of-9 from three-point range. Still rough around the edges as expected, Brown will need to quickly smooth out his game if Boston wants to remain competitive during the season.

Danny Ainge will certainly survey the remaining free agent and trade market as well. If a low-cost, low-risk opportunity were to present itself, don’t expect the thrifty general manager to just sit back. While low-cost and low-risk doesn’t fit Ainge’s usual MO, he knows better than to make a knee-jerk reaction to a freak injury like the one Hayward sustained; he isn’t going to break the bank and mortgage the future he painstakingly built over the past several seasons to bring Anthony Davis to Boston, but a grab at JaMychal Green or a similar player certainly isn’t out of the question.

The real key to the team’s success going forward will be the play of Irving. Formerly the 1A to Hayward’s 1B, Irving will now be the sole No. 1 option and will be relied on by Stevens and the rest of the team as such, which is what Irving has really wanted all along. The whole reason he wanted out of Cleveland, out of LeBron James’ massive shadow, was to show that he could be “the guy” and now Irving has a prime opportunity to prove that he can be. The Celtics from here on will go as he goes; if Irving falters, the team will as well. While the initial showings were positive — Irving posted a double-double of his own with 22 points and 10 assists — there is a lot of basketball left to be played.

All is not lost for Boston and the 2017 season can certainly be salvaged. While Hayward’s injury is devastating and certainly sucked the enjoyment out of what many expected to be a very exciting season, the Celtics are more than capable of weathering this storm and coming out stronger on the other side with Ainge and Stevens at the helm and Irving, Brown and others leading the team on the floor.

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