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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 AM: Paul Millsap’s Injury Derails Denver

With Paul Millsap injured, the Nuggets hopes to become a contender take a hit.

Lang Greene

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After missing the playoffs for the past four seasons, the Denver Nuggets are a team on the rise. The team won 30 games in 2015, 33 in 2016, 40 in 2017 and are currently on pace to record 48 victories this season, which would be their most since 2013.

The squad features six players averaging more than 10 points per contest, not including two veterans in Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, both of whom are career double-digit scorers. The Nuggets also boast one of the youngest teams in the league with only three players over the age of 30 (Paul Millsap, Chandler and Richard Jefferson).

But the team was dealt a huge blow this week when it was learned that four-time All-Star forward Paul Millsap will be out the next three to four months after suffering a torn ligament in his wrist.

Millsap was extremely durable during his first 11 seasons in the league, missing 10 games just once (2017). This injury marks the first time in Millsap’s career where he will miss significant time while roaming the sideline in designer suits.

Millsap signed a three-year, $90 million deal this past summer and his acquisition was viewed as the next step in bringing the team back into the realm of the playoffs.

After an early season adjustment period, Denver (10-7) has rattled off seven victories in their last 10 games. For the team, Millsap’s injury news couldn’t have come at a worst time.  The veteran was averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds through 16 contests. The points are his lowest since 2013 and the rebounding output is his lowest since 2010, but Millsap’s presence has helped stabilize the young Nuggets on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

The Nuggets do have a plethora of power forwards on the depth chart. Veteran Kenneth Faried has started 366 contests for the franchise since being drafted in 2011. Faried’s future with the franchise has come into question in recent years as his playing time and role in the rotation has consistently diminished. The signing of Millsap likely solidified that fate, however, by not dealing Faried, the Nuggets were able to keep an insurance policy in the fold.

Third-year forward and former lottery pick Trey Lyles is another candidate for an increased workload. Lyles is currently averaging 6.8 minutes in 12 appearances but is shooting a career high from the field (52 percent) and three-point range (42 percent) in his limited court time. Another like candidate for more playing time is second-year big man Juan Hernangomez, who has currently appeared in just six contests.

Offensively, the Nuggets will be able to absorb his loss. Guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray score the ball efficiently while swingman Will Barton provides pop off the bench. The team will also likely ride the back of their franchise player Nikola Jokic a bit more as well, with the big man averaging just 11.6 shot attempts per game—third on the team.

Perhaps the biggest area the Nuggets will have to adjust is on the defensive end.

According to ESPN’s real defensive plus-minus (DPM), Millsap ranks 31st overall in the league (1.62). He ranks seventh among power forwards with at least 10 games played this season. Last season, Millsap was fifth among power forward and 14th overall in DPM.

The veteran’s track of improving a team’s prowess on the defensive end is proven and it’s exactly the type of “silent” attribute the Nuggets needed on a loaded young team still learning how to play on that side of the ball.

                              Paul Millsap – Real Defensive Plus-Minus
Season DPM League Overall Rank Power Forward Rank
2013-14 2.06                 63                   12
2014-15 2.22                 43                    8
2015-16 3.26                 12                    2
2016-17 3.35                 14                   5
2017-18 1..62                 31                  9

 

The Nuggets will be tested immediately without Millsap in the fold. The team travels to Houston (November 22) and will play nine of their next 13 games are on the road. This includes a six-game road trip from December 4 to December 13.

The team is currently 7-2 at home and just 3-5 away from the Pepsi center.

They will, for sure, be tested without Millsap.

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PODCAST: Lonzo’s Shot, How To Cut Luol Deng and More

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA writer and salary cap guru Eric Pincus talk about Lonzo Ball and the unreasonable expectations some have had about his rookie campaign, what the Lakers could do with Luol Deng, teams that have cap exceptions and could likely use them, which teams are for real and more.

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Johnson Is Leading By Example In Philadelphia

Amir Johnson may not be a star player, but his impact on the locker room is a constant in Philadelphia.

Dennis Chambers

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After every home win, the Philadelphia 76ers have a miniature liberty bell in their locker room that gets rung by a selected player, usually the who had the biggest impact on the game.

On Monday night, Amir Johnson got to the ring the bell after the Sixers beat the Utah Jazz 107-86 to secure their ninth win of the season. Johnson turned in his best performance since joining Philadelphia this offseason, with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of playing time as Joel Embiid’s substitute.

Up until about 45 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Embiid’s status was unclear due to knee soreness. Johnson would’ve been tasked with the starting role had his teammate been unable to perform. Instead, he fulfilled his backup role to perfection, which has been the status quo for Johnson so far this season.

When the Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal in July, it was for the purpose of shaping a young roster with some veteran leadership. Management wanted to ensure there would be a professional in the locker room to help navigate the likes of Embiid and Ben Simmons through a full NBA season, with hopes of making it to the playoffs.

“When we looked to build our roster and sort of identify people we started talking about Amir Johnson,” Brett Brown said. “And Bryan was way more familiar with Amir — this is to Bryan’s credit — than I was, because of his Toronto background. And I started digging in and calling his teammates. I’ve been in the league for a long time, so you follow him, and you speak to people like Evan Turner. You know, tell me about Amir when you were in Boston and so on.”

While Brown was doing his research on Johnson, he came across an impressive level of continuity when it came to how others viewed the center.

“It’s amazing to a man how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said of Johnson. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game and now worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots? It isn’t ever on my mind with Amir.”

The Sixers’ head coach seems honest in his assessment, and Johnson’s fluctuating level of productivity and use reflects that. Prior to his big night against Utah, Johnson logged a combined 21 minutes over the team’s previous four games — including two DNP’s, both coming against the Golden State Warriors.

Still, just barely over a month into this new season, the Sixers are trying to iron out the kinks in their lineup. With injuries to Richaun Holmes, Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson over the course of the season so far, finding a set group of guys and defining their roles has been a tricky situation to maneuver.

Last season, Johnson started 77 games for the Boston Celtics during their campaign that ran all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. His one start in 14 games this season, with a cut in minutes per game, is a far cry from the level of use Johnson experienced just one year ago. But coming into this season, that was known. Johnson’s role would be to help guide his junior counterparts and chip in where he could.

So far, the deal is paying dividends on both ends.

“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”

In a game that featured the absence of Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, Johnson was able to make his presence more prevalent during his reserve minutes. Along with his four blocks, Johnson had a game-high 15 contested two-point shots. As a team, Utah shot just 35.3 percent from the field.

Backing up a superstar in the making in Embiid, Johnson has limited time to let it be known that he’s still around. That situation is magnified on nights that Holmes is seeing extended run as well. But in his 13th season in the league, Johnson knows a thing or two about finding ways to be effective and efficient.

“Finding my way on the floor, knowing the amount of time I have, just finding ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “I watch a lot of film. Just for me to find open spots, set screens, and the biggest part that I can help this team out, is just play defense and grabbing rebounds.”

On the nights where Johnson doesn’t get his number called — a la games against the Warriors and other small-ball teams — the veteran just continues to do what he was brought in to do in the first place, lead by example.

“Just sticking to my routine,” Johnson said. “Being mentally prepared, getting my teammates ready, just being a professional, doing all kind of things to prepare for a game.”

After being around the come up in Boston, Johnson knows there are bigger things at stake for the Sixers than a few minutes here and there on the court. To him, winning is the only thing that matters.

“When you don’t play and you win, man it’s like and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’re here to try and do one goal, and that’s win games and make the playoffs, and go from there on.”

Whether he’s on the bench waving a towel, or on the court making a play, Johnson will continue to lead a young group of talented players by example, hopefully culminating in a trip to the playoffs.

“He is a legitimate pro, on and off the court,” Brown said. “He’s a wonderful teammate.”

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