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How Key Buyout Players May Impact Playoffs

James Blancarte takes a look at how players from the buyout market may impact this year’s playoffs.

James Blancarte

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The NBA playoffs are looming.

Each season, after the trade deadline, several players are bought out of the remainder of their contracts, allowing them to sign with other teams. These buyout players tend to go from poorly performing teams that do not have playoff aspirations, and may be aiming for a better position in the draft lottery, to teams competing for an NBA championship. During buyout season, good teams (sometimes) get better, or as they say, the rich get richer.

With this in mind, we turn to this year’s key buyout acquisitions to see how they may affect the upcoming 2016-2017 playoffs:

Deron Williams, Cleveland Cavaliers

On January 23rd, when speaking to the media, LeBron James stated “We need a fu—-g playmaker. …I’m not saying you can just go find one like you can go outside and see trees. I didn’t say that.”

While speaking to Zach Lowe of ESPN on March 6, Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin echoed these sentiments, stating the team searched for a capable guard throughout the season.

“We certainly tried all year to add a point guard and a big,” Griffin said. “I think we were at a point at the [trade] deadline where we knew we could acquire someone and made a value judgment [that it was] worth waiting to wait for [the] buyout market.”

With the trade deadline passed, the type of player both James and Griffin sought suddenly became available.

“Deron [Williams] literally fell in our lap that way,” Griffin said.

With that, the Cavaliers found the additional playmaker James had publicly requested.

In 40 games with the Dallas Mavericks this season, Williams averaged 12.8 points (his lowest scoring average since his rookie season) and 6.9 assists per game while shooting 43 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point range. Williams’ assist and shooting percentages are on par with recent years, although his overall scoring decreased significantly in his 12th season in the NBA.

In five games with the Cavaliers, Williams is playing 20.2 minutes compared to 29.3 minutes per game with the Mavericks. In addition, he has only hit one three-pointer with the Cavaliers despite his 1.6 attempts per game. These misfires include a potential go-ahead corner three-pointer directly from LeBron James. Although the shot didn’t go in, Williams is already gaining valuable crunch time experience playing alongside James, which could prove valuable in the postseason.

Williams has struggled with injuries throughout his career, so his durability will be a concern going forward. However, based on talent and experience, Williams is clearly an upgrade over the Cavaliers’ other options at backup point guard and will likely play a crucial role for Cleveland as they make another run for an NBA title.

Matt Barnes, Golden State Warriors

Matt Barnes joins the Warriors after an interesting series of events. The team had previously committed to recent buyout guard Jose Calderon. However, on February 28, Kevin Durant suffered a knee injury, which forced a change of plans and led to the signing of Barnes, who had recently been released by the Sacramento Kings.

Although it has been almost 10 years since he previously played with the Warriors, Barnes expressed his excitement upon signing.

“I’m at a loss for words right now, next to the birth of my children this is the happiest day of my life!! Coming back to where it all started,” Barnes exclaimed.

With the Kings, Barnes averaged 7.6 points on 38.4 percent shooting and 32.3 percent on three-pointers — relatively low marks for a wing player. However, Barnes had been rebounding (5.5 per game) and assisting (2.8 per game) at near career-high levels in 25.3 minutes per game.

Through four games, Barnes has played a total of 62 minutes for the Warriors. He is averaging 2.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists and is shooting 25 percent from the field and 22 percent on three-pointers. Obviously, this is a very, very small sample size, but Barnes hasn’t necessarily hit the ground running in Golden State. As Barnes gets more acclimated to his new team, its system and builds some confidence, he’ll likely get closer to his career averages.

So while it’s abundantly clear that Barnes simply cannot replace Durant’s production, Barnes can contribute in other ways. Former teammate Los Angeles Clippers Forward Blake Griffin explained some of what Barnes brings to the table.

“He was kind of a guy you could always count on to be in the right spot at the right time,” Griffin said. “There were a couple of plays I’d be trapped in the post and he’d cut down the middle, perfect timing. Things like that.”

Ideally, Durant will be healthy in time for the playoffs and Barnes will simply serve as an insurance policy. However, if Durant is limited or can’t return in time, Barnes will need to sharpen his game and be prepared to play a crucial role for the league’s best team.

Brandon Jennings, Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards have been a pleasant surprise this season. They have rebounded from missing the playoffs last season to currently being third in the Eastern Conference. With a potential deep playoff run looming, the team has been bolstered by the return of big man Ian Mahinmi, the trade for Bojan Bogdanovic and the buyout acquisition of Brandon Jennings.

With this acquisition, the Wizards have added a reliable lead guard and talented scorer. For reference, on January 31, Jennings scored 32 points in a road game against the Houston Rockets. With the New York Knicks, Jennings, in 23.8 minutes per game, averaged 8.6 points while shooting 38 percent from the field and 34 percent on three-point attempts. Although his shooting percentages have remained stable over his career, he is far removed from the first six seasons of his career where he averaged between 15.4 and 19.1 points per game. Part of that dip in scoring is likely a result of Jennings’ Achilles injury in 2015, but he has shown that he is still capable of putting up meaningful numbers with some regularity.

In four games, Jennings is averaging two points on 25 percent shooting and has yet to hit a three in 12.3 minutes of action per game. This sample size is quite small and with 20 games remaining, there is time to ease Jennings into the mix and unlock his scoring potential.

For more insight on Washington’s acquisition of Jennings, take a look at this article by Basketball Insider’s Benny Nadeau.

Jose Calderon, Atlanta Hawks

Jose Calderon made headlines when the Warriors signed Matt Barnes due to the injury Durant suffered the day before Calderon was supposed to sign with Golden State. The Warriors signed Calderon to ensure that he would be paid then subsequently waived him.

On March 3, the Atlanta Hawks claimed Calderon off waivers.

“We feel fortunate to be able to add a player of Jose’s caliber at this point in the season,” Hawks Coach Mike Budenholzer said shortly after acquiring Calderon.

In his 24 games with the Lakers, Calderon averaged 3.3 points and 2.1 assists per game. His per-minute averages aren’t particularly great either, as he averaged just 9.5 points and 6.2 assists per 36 minutes. In his 12th season and at 35 years old, there is plenty of reason to question Calderon’s ability to contribute moving forward.

Malcolm Delaney, a 27-year-old rookie point guard, has played a significant backup role for the Hawks this season. In 63 games, Delaney is averaging 5.6 points and 2.7 assists on 38.2 percent shooting. These numbers aren’t great and Coach Budenholzer was clearly looking for some veteran experience at point guard, which explains his interest in Calderon.

With Budenholzer talking about Calderon’s shooting and experience while remaining noncommittal regarding the position, there appears to be an open competition leading into the playoffs. Although Calderon’s statistics have not been great this season, he did shoot 42 percent on three-pointers with the Lakers.

Recently, Coach Budenholzer benched starting point guard Dennis Schroder in a competitive game against the Warriors when Schroder and Hawks center Dwight Howard began to exchange words on the court. The exchange, during live play, led to a wide open three-pointer for Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. Between this recent issue with Schroder and the need for more production at backup point guard, Calderon has a potential role to fill for Atlanta. However, based on his recent production, his age, lack of defensive impact and recent arrival, it’s not likely that he’ll be the solution for Atlanta.

Andrew Bogut, Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers landed Bogut in the buyout market as a potential rim protector and anchor on defense. Bogut was considering several teams but ultimately chose Cleveland, later explaining that he felt it was the best fit for him.

Bogut had been dealing with nagging injuries and had only started 21 games for the Dallas Mavericks. Per 36 minutes, Bogut was contributing 4.9 points, 13.4 rebounds, three assists and 1.5 blocks per game. While his scoring and shooting percentages weren’t particularly impressive, he could still rebound the ball and protect the rim effectively. Though he wasn’t a perfect fit for Cleveland, his veteran experience and defensive skills were a nice addition, especially at this point in the season.

Unfortunately, these plans very quickly went awry for the Cavaliers when, less than two minutes into Bogut’s first game, he fractured his left tibia, which will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season and playoffs.

Derrick Williams, Cleveland Cavaliers

Assuming the Cavaliers do not sign an additional big man in preparation for the playoffs, the team will continue to rely on fifth-year journeyman Derrick Williams. The Cavaliers signed Williams on February 22 and although this signing garnered less acclaim than the Deron Williams and Bogut signings, Derrick Williams has made nice contributions on the court in his short time with Cleveland. Williams joined the Cavaliers having played with four teams in six seasons, including the Miami HEAT earlier this season.

For his career, Williams has averaged 9.1 points on 43 percent shooting, 4.1 rebounds and a PER of 13.6. He has played well enough to stay in the league but has not remained in any team’s long term plans, having never spent more than two seasons with any team. With the HEAT this season, he had started 11 of 25 games but averaged only 15.1 minutes and scored 5.9 points per game, all well below career averages.

With the Cavaliers, he has been able to contribute in 12 games off the bench and has averaged near career highs in multiple categories. This includes nine points while shooting 52.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range on 2.9 attempts per game. For comparison, Williams has never shot better than 33.2 percent from beyond the arc in a season. Although these statistics may come back closer to his career averages, Williams has adjusted quite well to his new role with the Cavaliers.

Williams may never live up to the expectations of being selected second overall in the 2011 draft, but he has a chance to be a significant contributor to Cleveland’s run for another championship this season. His ability to play both forward positions, as well as his improved shooting, makes him a nice addition for a team that has had limited flexibility to make notable additions this season.

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NBA

Mitchell Robinson May Prove Competence of Scott Perry

Scott Perry is still fairly new on the job, but it’s impossible to argue with the early returns.

Moke Hamilton

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With some eye-popping performances, the neophyte simultaneously caught the attention of the New York Knicks and front offices and scouts across the league.

Sure, merely a few weeks ago, he was largely considered an unknown quantity, but after an impressive stint at the Las Vegas Summer League, we all know his name.

It’s Mitchell Robinson.

Like his fellow rookie Kevin Knox, in short order, Robinson has caused quite a bit of a stir.

He’s just the latest example of things that Scott Perry has done right.

As players like Brook Lopez and Isaiah Thomas accept contracts barely worth enough to buy LeBron James lunch on a consistent basis, the predictions of a “nuclear winter” for NBA free agents seem to have mostly come to fruition.

For the past two summers, general managers and team executives have spent their money as if it were on fire, and as a result, we’ve seen many of the league’s teams watch their flexibility go up in smoke.

Since hiring Perry, the Knicks have done the opposite. Time and time again, the message tossed around internally at Penn Plaza has mirrored what we’ve been told publicly—the Knicks believe they will have a serious shot at signing a marquee free agent in 2019 and have put their emphasis on shedding salary to the best of their abilities.

It took all of one summer league game for us to learn that the club had signed Robinson to a team-friendly four-year contract. According to the New York Post, the deal is only guaranteed for three years and $4.8 million. If Robinson comes anywhere near the productivity he showed in summer league, the value and return on investment will be remarkably high.

So if you’re keeping count, let the record fairly reflect that Perry’s major moves for the Knicks have been trading Carmelo Anthony, hiring David Fizdale, drafting Kevin Knox and Robinson, and subsequently strategically managing his salary cap situation so that he could offer Robinson a contract that was so advantageous to the Knicks that some believe Robinson fired his agent as a result.

With the Knicks, Robinson will have to earn playing time and beat out Enes Kanter and Luke Kornet for minutes, but Kanter isn’t considered to be a core member for the club’s future, so the task doesn’t appear that difficult.

What this all means in the end is that Knox and Robinson will combine to earn just $5.4 million next season.

And what it also means for the Knicks is that the performance of Knox and Robinson at the Las Vegas Summer League isn’t the only thing the club should be celebrating.

It’s fair at this point to say that Perry has both improved the team’s future prospects and made a few moves that at least appear to have been the right decision.

Of course, time will tell, but on the continuum of unknown quantity to certain conclusion, the best you can hope for is a positive sign.

Perry has given Knicks fans quite a few. And when you realize that the selection that the club used to grab Robinson was a critical piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City—a trade executed by Perry—that statement becomes all the more credible.

* * * * * *

It’s been quite some time since the Knicks had two rookies who opened eyes the way Knox and Robinson have. What’s been most pleasing about the two, however, have been the ways in which they complement one another on the basketball court.

Knox has impressed mostly with what he’s done on the ball, while Robinson has for what he’s accomplished off of it. The instincts and timing that Robinson has in conjunction with his athleticism are quite reminiscent of Marcus Camby.

In hindsight, we can fairly proclaim Camby to have been ahead of his time. Camby was the prototype to which players like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan aspired.

As a big man, Camby was one of the few players in the NBA who could capably guard all five positions on the basketball court and wasn’t at the mercy of an opposing point guard when switched out on a pick-and-roll. His nimbleness and second jump ability were remarkable for a man his size, and it didn’t take long for him to find his niche playing alongside more offensively talented players such as Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson.

We don’t know if Robinson himself will succeed in the NBA, but we do know that his archetype is the kind that does. So much of what gets young players drafted and paid in the NBA is about physics. If a guy can do one or two things better than other players his size, the job of his coaches and front office is to find ways to maximize those advantages and fit them within a team concept to exploit inferior players at his position.

That concept has been where the Golden State Warriors have run circles around the rest of the league. So no, while you can’t conclude that Robinson is going to end up being anything near the player that Marcus Camby was, what you can conclude is that he has the physical gifts to be effective. Whether he ends up being effective will ultimately boil down to what Robinson has inside of him and what David Fizdale is able to do to bring it out.

Rest assured, though, to this point, Scott Perry has certainly done his job.

That much is a fact.

* * * * * *

Of all words in the English language, “irony” and its adjective (“ironic”) are among those that are most often misused. Irony is often confused with coincidence.

In its simplest term, irony is meant to describe a situation where there’s an occurrence that’s the opposite of what should have been expected.

In other words, just a few weeks after Carmelo Anthony dropped a career-high 62 points on the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden, a reporter asked him whether it was “ironic” that the Hornets also yielded 61 points to his buddy LeBron James in Miami.

That wasn’t ironic. That was just Charlotte.

On the other hand, irony was more along the lines of the Denver Nuggets seemingly becoming a better and more cohesive team after Anthony’s talents had been traded to New York.

To do you one better, a more recent example of irony can be found in the fact that Isaiah Thomas was traded by the Boston Celtics after recording the highest single-season scoring average of all time among player shorter than six-foot tall.

Irony is fans of the Los Angeles Lakers having no choice but to embrace LeBron James after spending the entirety of his existence downplaying his career accomplishments in order to properly exalt Kobe Bryant.

Most appropriately, though, for a fan of the New York Knicks, irony is knowing that, despite Kristaps Porzingis being on the shelf and the Knicks not signing or trading for any big named player, there’s probably more reason to be optimistic about the club’s future than there has been in recent memory.

Yea. That’s irony. The Knicks have always been looking for their savior—before Carmelo Anthony, it was Stephon Marbury.

In it all, who would have thought that the franchise’s savior could end up being Scott Perry?

Like Knox and Robinson, it’s still a bit early to certainly declare that Perry is who will lead the Knicks from the abyss.

But just like Knox and Robinson, to this point, it’d be quite difficult to argue with the early returns

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding up to four new voices in 2018, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team other than in New York & LA; we are full in those markets.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful. E-mail that to openings2018@basketballinsiders.com

 

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NBA Daily: Yuta Watanabe Using Versatility, Defense To Push Forward

Undrafted forward Yuta Watanabe impressed all week at Summer League for the Brooklyn Nets — now he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get an NBA opportunity.

Ben Nadeau

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Heading into Las Vegas Summer League, it finally became difficult to look past the Brooklyn Nets. After three-straight seasons merely existing in the equivalency of basketball purgatory, the Nets brought an exciting, young roster out west — one that included Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and their two recent first-round selections, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs. But when three of the four marquee names ended up watching from the sidelines, Brooklyn needed somebody to save the day — and as it turned out, his name was Yuta Watanabe.

Watanabe, 23, was an undrafted four-year senior out of George Washington this summer, but very quickly, the 6-foot-9 prospect has made a name for himself. Through his five games in Vegas, Watanabe averaged 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 41 percent from the floor, while nearly leading the banged-up Nets in minutes along the way. And although they were the only winless team in Vegas, Watanabe was a major bright spot for Brooklyn and said that he felt himself improving early in the process.

“Yeah, I’m starting to get comfortable,” Watanabe said following a recent Summer League defeat. “Our teammates didn’t know each other and we didn’t play well today — but fourth quarter, I thought we played together. I could attack the rim more, so I think I’m getting comfortable right now.”

Of course, Watanabe’s eye-opening stretch is not an indictment on every other franchise for not taking a late flier on the Japanese-born shooter either. With front offices looking to lengthen and shape the careers of their draftees at every turn, seniors are often passed up in favor of younger potential. In 2018 alone, only 11 seniors were selected at all — Grayson Allen and Chandler Hutchison were the lone first-rounders — a number down two from the year prior.

In spite of his pre-draft workouts and favorable numbers at George Washington (16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game), Watanabe was always a long-shot to get drafted. But given the inroads to the NBA via the G-League or a two-way contract, Watanabe is far from finished in chasing his professional dreams.

“I was so excited — right after the draft, my agent called me and he told me: ‘You’re playing with the Nets.’” Watanabe told Basketball Insiders. “I was so excited, also he told me that there was going to be a lot of international players. As an international player, I was like so hyped.”

And it’s true, the Nets — led by general manager Sean Marks, a native New Zealander — have made a concerted effort to search out and acquire talent however possible. Watanabe was joined on the roster by the aforementioned Musa and Kurucs, of Bosnia and Latvia, respectively, Shawn Dawson of Israel, Ding Yanyuhang of China and Juan Pablo Vaulet, an Argentinian stash that’s one of the final holdovers from the last front office regime.

But while Watanabe may not hold a guaranteed contract, his noteworthy run with the Nets in Vegas could put him in pole position to earn one of those elusive two-way deals. Last season, the Nets ended the year with James Webb III and Milton Doyle, the latter of which the franchise tendered a qualifying offer to late last month, as their two-way assets. Still, things can change awfully fast in the NBA and Watanabe definitively fills two needs that Brooklyn has long sought-after since Marks took over in February of 2016: Multi-positional defense and reliable three-point shooting.

During his final season at George Washington, Watanabe hit on 36.4 percent of his long-range attempts and averaged 1.6 blocks per game as well — fully transforming into the flexible prospect he is today. In fact, the Nets have struggled to find consistent three-point shooting in the frontcourt since Brook Lopez was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, so Watanabe could be useful at that tricky stretch four position.

Although it’d be a new adventure for the defensive-minded grinder, Watanabe is up for it all the same.

“I mean, that’s one of my strengths, versatility is one of my strengths. If they want me to play four, I’m fine with that,” Watanabe said. “If I can hit shots — I’m 6-foot-9, long, athletic, so I have no problem playing the four.”

Of the nine Nets players to make one or more three-pointers per game last season, just two of them — Quincy Acy and Dante Cunningham — regularly slotted in at power forward. And beyond that, only Joe Harris, Nik Stauskas, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Cunningham finished their 2017-18 campaigns with a higher three-point percentage than Watanabe. As a team, the Nets tossed up 35.7 three-pointers per game — second-most in the NBA — and converted on just 35.6 percent of them, a rate that left them in the league basement.

Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic 10 conference, George Washington made just 5.5 shots from downtown per game, with Watanabe accounting for 1.7 of them on his own. Certainly, nobody expects Watanabe to immediately continue that success at the NBA level — but there’s a precedence and fit here within a franchise that’s been laser-focused on player development as of late.

On top of all that, Watanabe is the reigning winner of the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Award and he proved it out in Vegas. Following his final game against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the former Colonial finished with a total of blocked eight shots and defended both guards and forwards throughout the tournament — a facet of his game that Watanabe takes pride in.

“Defense is also [one of] my strengths in college too,” Watanabe said. “I can’t remember how many blocks I got today, but I was able to show that I can play defense — even at the four.”

The recent acquisitions of Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur will make Watanabe’s path to a big-league opportunity that much harder — but the Nets have also benefitted from a strong G-League affiliate in recent seasons as well. So even if Watanabe doesn’t receive a two-way contract, he may have landed with a franchise well-suited to bring the very best out of him.

Should Watanabe ever reach the NBA, he’d be just the second-ever from Japan to do so — following in the footsteps of Yuta Tabuse, a 5-foot-9 point guard that played in four games for the Phoenix Suns back in 2004-05. But for now, Watanabe is all about helping out his new franchise in whatever way he can — whether that’s from behind the arc or below the rim.

“Make some open shots, play defense and just play as hard as possible — so I think that’s my job right now.”

Nobody knows what the future holds for Watanabe quite yet — but as of now, he’s doing exactly that.

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