Connect with us

NBA

NBA AM: Who Has To Show Big In The Tournament?

Several NBA Draft Prospects have a lot riding on the NCAA tournament… The Knicks got Phil Jackson, so whats next?… The beauty of the Ten-Day Deal.

Steve Kyler

Published

on

Something To Play For:  The 2014 March Madness Tournament will get underway tomorrow with the play-in “first round” games and with the full “second round” getting underway on Thursday.

While the tournament rarely impacts a player’s NBA draft stock significantly, the March Tournament is a chance to put an exclamation point on a player’s college career or it can open more doors for questions. At this point in the process most NBA teams have done their homework on players, but the tournament is a big stage for teams to either validate what they believe about a player or to illustrate what they don’t like about a player.

There are a few players that need to show up big in the tournament, if only to silence some of their critics, here are a few of them:

Andrew Wiggins – Kansas – SF – 6’8″:  There is almost no scenario in which Andrew Wiggins does not go in the top three in June’s NBA Draft. He is the proverbial lock. The question is can he use the the tournament to close the door on his detractors? Wiggins needs to show that he can take over games and be a dominator on the big stage. Throughout his run at Kansas he has had flashes of brilliance and moments of greatness, but not that sustained greatness that locks him in as the top pick. With Kansas big man Joel Embiid sidelined for at least the opening weekend, Kansas will need Wiggins to lead the way. If he can do that, and show that he can handle all the pressure, he could lock himself in as the consensus number one overall pick. As things stand today, there are still very vocal detractors of Wiggins overall game, so a strong and dominating performance could shut a lot of people up.

»In Related: (2) Kansas vs. (15) Eastern Kentucky

Jabari Parker – Duke – SF/PF – 6’8″:  Much like Wiggins, Parker is a virtual lock in the top three of the 2014 NBA Draft, but to get himself squarely in the top pick race, Parker will need to show that he can shot the ball from the outside consistently as well as be a game changer on both ends of the floor. His 9-for-24 showing in the ACC Title game is the red flag scouts point to on Parker. He puts up numbers, but his shooting has to improve and a strong tournament run filled with efficient basketball could help quell some of the questions about his perimeter game. Parker is one of the players to watch. If he shows well, and Wiggins does not, the debate over number one get serious for a number of NBA teams that could be sitting at the top of the draft.

»In Related:(3) Duke vs. (14) Mercer

Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State – PG – 6’4″:  Very much like Parker, Smart needs to shoot the ball well in the tournament. The biggest knock on Smart is his shooting and the fact that he really has not improved much as a shooter in two years in college. NBA teams love his tenacity and his ability to run a team, so showcasing that along with a better shooting game could help lock Smart into the top 10. His ho-hum season and the fact that Smart has been over-scouted has made his weaknesses more of the discussion. The tournament will give him a chance to change the conversation back to all the things he can do as a player and a point guard. A deep run in the tournament could remind teams why they liked him so much when this process started.

»In Related:(8) Gonzaga vs. (9) Oklahoma State

Aaron Gordon – Arizona – PF – 6’9″:  At the start of the season there was talk that Gordon could be a top four guy, however, after a full season of college play Aaron has devolved into the “just a guy” category. There are several teams that like Gordon, but he has dropped significantly from a top five prospect into a next ten prospect. A strong tournament could help his draft stock, especially if he can show big and lead his team deep into the tourney. If he struggles on the big stage or is simply average, he could find himself validating the criticisms NBA scouts have about him and find himself needing to work out for more teams just to stay in the top ten discussion.

»In Related:(1) Arizona vs. (16) Weber State

Tyler Ennis – Syracuse – PG – 6’2″:  Ennis was the darling of the draft just five weeks ago, but as Syracuse has come unglued so has Ennis’ draft stock. The tournament could be a good stage for Ennis to lock in some of his better attributes as a player and a point guard. If Syracuse implodes, Ennis could take some of the blame, because their early season success was tied to how well he was playing. It seems the hype and expectations have derailed him a little and the tournament is a chance for him to re-set the clock a little and showcase what teams like about him. If Ennis struggles in the tournament as he has over the past few weeks, his bid to get into the top ten could take a hit. There are a number of NBA teams that are very high on Ennis so a strong tournament could help make his case in the room as teams debate the merits of one player over another.

»In Related:(3) Syracuse vs. (14) Western Michigan

Gary Harris – Michigan State – SG – 6’5″:  To say NBA scouts are mixed on Harris’ potential as a NBA player is something of an understatement. Most scouts either love Harris or hate him, so he’ll have a chance in the tournament to gain a few more fans or validate the critics that question his game at the next level. Michigan State could be one of those teams that goes deep in the tournament and Harris playing well on a big stage would be huge for his draft stock if only to cement him into the top 20 discussion.

»In Related:(4) Michigan State vs. (13) Delaware

James Young – Kentucky – SG/SF – 6’7″:  NBA scouts have gushed about Young’s potential all season. With Kentucky’s season having gone as bad as you could have imagined, there is a chance in the tournament for Young to showcase his athletic game a little and remind scouts and executives who may not have seen much of him that he could be a sleeper in the bottom of the first round. UK is so crowded with guys who need the ball; it will be interesting to see what kind of role Young plays in the tournament. Every year there is a guy who gets hot and lands himself on the big stage. Young needs that kind of moment. He has some fans in NBA circles; they just need some stellar game film to make their case in the room.

»In Related:(8) Kentucky vs. (9) Kansas St.

Patric Young – Florida – PF/C – 6’9″:  The story on Young is always about what he can’t do. Scouts point to his small hands or his bruising frame as negatives of his ability – his hand are too small to be a great rebounder. He’s too big to run the floor. The fact that Young and his Florida team landed the number one overall seed and should have a chance at a National Title is only going to help Young’s stock if he plays well. He’ll get a chance to put something on film that could counter the idea that he’s not a game changer. As things stand today Young is considered a second round guy. A strong tournament filled with rebounds and blocked shots could go a long way towards teams taking a closer look at him in the draft process and maybe considering his flaws a little less than his strengths.

»In Related: (1) Florida vs. (16) Albany/Mt. St. Mary’s

A strong tournament can help a scouting department make their case for a particular player. A bad tournament can give detractors in the room more ammunition to weigh one guy a little more than the other. Players rarely get drafted based on what they do in the tournament, but the tournament is a series of big games that scouts and executive can use to help them decide between one player and the next.

Also keep in mind that a large number of General Managers and coaches don’t spend a lot of time watching regular season college basketball, so for some of the second tier guys this may be the first time a GM or a team president really pays serious attention to their game, so while the tournament won’t get them drafted it might get thema work out or a longer look in the evaluation process.

»In Related: Basketball Insiders’ Debate – Who Should Be The Top Pick?

The March Madness Tournament is a place to get noticed, and for a number of guys they need to show big.

» It’s time to fill out your bracket and Basketball Insiders has you covered with detailed game-by-game capsules featuring all the details on every game. Before you lock in your picks, make sure to do your homework and we have the cliff notes ready for you.

So They Got Phil, What’s Next?:  The New York Knicks have already started to see the fruits of their signing of coaching legend Phil Jackson as their next team president. Since talk of Jackson joining the team, the Knicks have run off six straight wins and have a favorable schedule down the stretch. The Knicks find themselves roughly three games out of the eighth seed in the East with 15 games remaining including matchups against the 76ers, the Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers, the Lakers, the Kings, the Jazz and two matchups against Brooklyn and the Raptors in April. Conservatively there are maybe eight wins on the table for the Knicks in their remaining 15 games, so the postseason is not lost yet.

The Knicks will be making Jackson’s hire official on Tuesday and it’s believed Jackson will officially start working the Knicks situation in the coming weeks.

Sources close to the process say they are not expecting in real changes during the season, but that Jackson has already started talking with former associates and could make some changes fairly quickly after the season ends for the Knicks.

There continues to be talk that former Suns executive Steve Kerr is the front runner to be Jackson’s head coaching hire, especially if Jackson can pry some of his former assistant coaches out of their existing situations. Long-time assistant Frank Hamblen is currently not coaching, while former assistant Brian Shaw is the head coach for the Denver Nuggets and not expected to be part of anything Jackson is doing in New York. Long-time assistant Jim Cleamons is currently on Larry Drew’s staff in Milwaukee and could be on the list of hires for Jackson in New York. Longtime assistant Kurt Rambis is currently on the staff with the Lakers; however, there is talk that current head coach Mike D’Antoni could be on his way out at seasons end, making Rambis a possibility too.

There are many around the process that believe Jackson would like to see the Triangle offense dusted off for the Knicks, and that means hiring a staff that understands how to teach it to players as well as signing players that know how it is supposed to be run. Others have tried to make the triangle work with other teams and have failed, mainly because they could not assemble the supporting staff to properly teach or execute it.

Jackson will inherit a roster with very little financial flexibility, so substantial change in the roster make up might not happen during the summer.

Current Knicks team president Steve Mills is expected to remain with the team and handle some of the day to day needs of running the business side of the Knicks and there is a belief that Jackson will put an Assistant GM-type in place to oversee the day to day of the basketball side of things.

Jackson’s deal is said to pay him $12 million per season and is a five year deal.

The Beauty of The 10-Day Contract:  Fans often wonder why a player would agree to a 10-day contract, however when you look at the economics, it’s the easiest money you can imagine. Ten day deals are usually done at the NBA minimum and pro-rated out for ten days, however teams with cap money or even exception money can use part of that money to negotiate a better deal.

For guys in the D-League it’s a no-brainer to take a ten-day deal. The D-League pays its highest paid players $29,000 a season. A single 10-day in the NBA could be worth more than that. Players who sign two 10-day deals usually end up pocketing $40,000 to $50,000 plus per diem and lodging.

Players who land on NBA rosters also get prorated service days that count towards the NBA’s retirement program and a prorated share of the group license payments.

So in the end those 10-days could end up being worth a lot more to them financially than just the cash that’s obvious.

Teams are permitted to sign players to two consecutive 10-day deals before they have to decide to carry the player for the balance of the season. That’s obviously the goal for every player and why they’d sign a short term deal.

Most of the players that get picked up for the balance of the season usually sign what’s called a multi-year deal, which usually means it pays the balance of this season and has non-guaranteed years for next season and beyond. This serves two purposes: It locks a player into a team’s summer program and also gives the team a non-guaranteed contract that can be tossed into trades around the draft or free agency. Players are not obligated to accept a 10-day deal from a team or a team’s offer for the balance of the season. It is completely their choice, however most players being looked at on ten-day deals usually take the offer.

Teams can sign players to 10-day deals right up to the tenth day remaining on the season.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

NBA

Changing Circumstance: On Utah’s Foundational Frontcourt

Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors are ready for a big season as a duo, writes Ben Dowsett.

Ben Dowsett

Published

on

In many ways, the partnership that now forms the starting frontcourt in Utah is characterized by circumstance. The Jazz basically stumbled upon the duo of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert during a mostly lost 2014-15 season, allowing it to blossom after trading Enes Kanter at the deadline. Many in the organization loved Gobert, but few expected to force his way into such a large role as early as he did.

Even with the league beginning to move firmly in the direction of smaller, spaced-out lineups, the Jazz quickly realized they had something here. Favors and Gobert picked up chemistry in a hurry – the ability to “communicate telepathically,” as Favors jokingly puts it. They quickly formed a formidable defensive duo, nicknamed “The Wasatch Front” by certain clever folks in Jazzland. (Jazz fans: Rudy is fine with this nickname, but is open to better suggestions. Get those Twitter fingers typing.)

After the Kanter trade really opened things up for the pair to start games following the All-Star break, the Jazz posted a frighteningly low 92.5 per-100-possession defensive figure – over 10 full points better than their third-ranked defense in 2016-17, and nearly nine better than the league-best Spurs posted last year.

Over the next couple years, circumstance would strike in other ways. Both guys would miss significant time with injuries in 2015-16, including overlapping periods that made it tough to find rhythm. Gobert admitted he was never really himself after an MCL sprain he likely rushed back from just a bit. Even many casual fans could pick up on how physically limited Favors was last year, even when he was ostensibly healthy.

Another bit of circumstance arose last season: With Joe Johnson in town, the Jazz found their own versions of the league’s small trend. Lineups featuring Gobert at center and Johnson playing the power forward spot were easily Utah’s best for the season, quickly becoming coach Quin Snyder’s go-to look in crunch time. Even when Favors was in the lineup, he’d regularly lose big minutes.

Circumstance was once again present over the summer, with star Gordon Hayward and point guard George Hill departing. Where Favors may have once looked like a forgotten man, he’s back at full health for the first time in over a year and is right back in the picture as a foundational piece. Where Gobert may have been part of a two-headed monster hoping to challenge for contender status in the West, he’s now the singular face of a franchise that fully expects to avoid another rebuild.

Individually, it’s a big season ahead. As a duo, it might be even bigger – not only for the pair, but for the Jazz and even for the league as a whole.

******

Most of the concerns you hear regarding the Favors-Gobert duo come on the offensive side of the ball. There were some struggles in that first year together, where they posted an anemic on-court figure (they were still a net plus, but only because they also strangled opponents in those minutes). That’s also about how long it took for that almost supernatural connection to kick in, as Favors tells it – it was in full swing by the 2015-16 season.

“That whole type of thing normally comes with a point guard, because they’ve got the ball all the time and they see stuff,” Favors told Basketball Insiders. “We just see each other, just communicate telepathically.”

Favors describes the connection as one of the most unique of his career, and it was visible on both sides of the ball. The two developed an uncanny knack for covering each other at the rim. Offensively, they quickly picked up a big-to-big passing game that helped with some of their spacing concerns.

“I think we both learned that we need to space for each other, we need to be precise with our spacing,” Gobert told Basketball Insiders. “I got better at passing, I got better at finishing, he got better at passing too. I know that when I’m rolling, if his guy comes, he’s going to be open – so I dump it off to him or the corner.”

“These things don’t come just like that, but once we figure it out, it’s very hard to guard,” Gobert continued. “People see that as a weakness – I see it as a strength. When teams play small, there’s going to be small guy on either one of us.”

A smaller guy on Favors means a better passing lane for Gobert, or an opportunity to seal for deep post position. A smaller guy on Gobert – something teams used to do often but have moved away from more and more as he’s developed his rolling skills – invites high lobs and dunks, or compromising help from elsewhere in the defense.

Both guys have gotten much better with their angles, as well. That smaller defender is often trying to mitigate his size advantage by fronting or some other exploitable technique, and both Favors and Gobert have learned how to attack these strategies.

Gobert has taken huge strides in his ability to finish from both sides of the hoop, and through contact. He shot one of the highest percentages in the league among centers near the rim last year, at over 68 percent, and was up at a ludicrous 81.5 percent during the preseason.

Put it together, and it’s possible the duo’s offensive concerns have been a tad bit overstated in the past. The per-possession net rating the Jazz posted while Favors and Gobert played together in 2015-16 would have ranked seventh in the league for the full season, and it actually rose last year (the corresponding rank dropped, however, as the league improved overall). The Jazz’s slightly above average offense saw virtually no drop-off last year from when the duo played together to when they didn’t, and that’s before considering Favors’ health woes.

The savvy reader will note that their surroundings are an important part of this, and they’d be right. A big chunk of their minutes together last year came with Hill running the point and spacing the floor, and over 90 percent of them came with Hayward on the court – they did okay in a tiny sample last year, but historically have struggled to score at even league average rates without Utah’s former All-Star sharing the court.

Ricky Rubio’s acquisition will likely make them even more lethal defensively, but it also presents some additional theoretical concerns. Snyder appears likely to start each of Rubio, Favors and Gobert, meaning Utah will open the game with three non-threats from deep.

Rubio’s history, though, offers a glimpse of how they might get around these issues. With the exception of last season, when Karl-Anthony Towns’ development as a shooter and playmaker opened things up a bit more, Rubio never exactly played in spacing-charged lineups in Minnesota in the past. Look at the three-point percentages of his most common jump-shooting floor-mates from the 2015-16 season:

Andrew Wiggins (played during 95 percent of Rubio’s minutes): 30.0 percent

Karl-Anthony Towns (89 percent of Rubio’s minutes): 34.1 percent

Gorgui Dieng (54 percent of Rubio’s minutes): 30.0 percent

Zach LaVine (45 percent of Rubio’s minutes): 38.9 percent

Tayshaun Prince (39 percent of Rubio’s minutes): 17.4 percent

Shabazz Muhammad (18 percent of Rubio’s minutes): 28.9 percent

Only Towns and LaVine were passable three-point shooters among that group, and LaVine played well under half of Rubio’s minutes. Virtually every lineup Rubio played in contained at least two other total non-threats (often three), and not a single one ever contained a marksman like Jazzman Joe Ingles, who nearly led the league in three-point percentage last year. Things were like this for the vast majority of Rubio’s time in Minnesota.

And yet, his teams consistently have succeeded offensively.

Since he became the full-time starter, no Wolves offense helmed by Rubio finished lower than 11th in the league during a year he was healthy – in his only non-healthy year, 2014-15, they were 26th. His teams consistently got way worse offensively when he left the floor, and consistently strong offensive Real Plus-Minus ratings (17th among point guards in 2016-17, 12th in 15-16 and 14-15, 22nd in 13-14) indicate that this was more than just a case of bad backups.

“He’s been like that his whole career, and I think he’s been pretty good [despite] it,” Gobert said of his new teammate. “There’s a lot of ways to score. He’s very quick. Even if you’re backing up, he can still attack you and find the open man. I’m not really worried about spacing.”

******

Rubio also comes with a few strong points that should help improve areas the Jazz were lacking on in recent years, namely their transition game. Play type figures from Synergy Sports on NBA.com seem to indicate that the Jazz were elite on the break last year – they had the highest per-possession efficiency – but this is an example of where those numbers can lead you astray. The Jazz had one of the lowest frequencies of such plays in the league; their efficiency was only so high because they only attempted sure-thing shots while avoiding other transition chances like the plague.

That’s not an optimal approach offensively. Even some of those iffier transition chances still hold an expected point value that’s far higher than anything you’ll find in the halfcourt, and backing out of them for fear of an imperfect shot leaves easy points on the table.

Snyder recognizes it, and he’s looking to transition (pun maybe intended) the Jazz away from their state as one of the league’s slowest teams on the break. It starts with Rubio, long known for his ability to jitterbug up the court after defensive possessions and wreak havoc. Snyder is placing more emphasis on the ball in Rubio’s hands after misses – he wants his wings sprinting up the floor to space out to the corners whenever possible. Guys like Favors and Gobert play a big role as well.

“It’s important, especially the big that doesn’t get the rebound,” Gobert told Basketball Insiders. “Coach [Snyder] put an emphasis on [that] this year – the big who didn’t get the rebound has to run, has to sprint and try to beat his guy up the floor.”

Favors is ready for more of that now that he’s back at full health. Gobert has always loved beating guys down the floor; look how far behind DeAndre Jordan he is when he’s pushed out of the frame, and how much faster he is getting up the court for an easy bucket.

Snyder has talked about upping the tempo in preseason before, notably in his first year in Utah, only to see it fall flat when the games count. It feels different this time, though: The Jazz finished eighth in per-possession fast break points for the preseason, per NBA.com, way up from a 29th-place finish last season. Rubio is easily the cleanest fit they’ve had at the point in this area, and it feels like we should expect a few extra freebies every night in transition to goose the offense.

The other area that should see a big spike, especially when the two behemoths play together, is offensive rebounding. The Jazz were a dominant team here in 2015-16, generating the third-most per-possession second chance points in the league largely on the back of the Favors-Gobert duo, which rebounded nearly 30 percent of the team’s own misses and put up over 10 second-chance points for every 36 minutes on the court.

Last year, though, things fell way off. Some of that was drop-off and health concerns from the tandem itself, and some was more stylistic.

“We’ve emphasized transition defense, and sometimes there’s an opportunity cost at the offensive glass,” Snyder said. “Sometimes when you’re spaced a certain way, it’s harder to get to the glass.

“A couple years ago our spacing was a little different – we just had guys around the rim all the time. We didn’t design our team that way or our offense that way in order to offensive rebound, we designed it that way because we had players that were effective around the rim and didn’t necessarily have three-point range. So when you look at Joe Johnson, offensive rebounding is not going to be as much of a premium for him. But Ekpe [Udoh], Derrick and Rudy, certainly.”

With Favors back healthy and starting, plus the addition of Udoh as mostly a big lineup four-man (at least in preseason), expect the Jazz to revert back to their bullying ways on the offensive glass. They lost nearly three second-chance points per night between the 15-16 season and the 16-17 one – if they can get those back or even add to them slightly, it’s another piece that can help fill in the gaps offensively. Utah was back to fourth in second-chance points for the preseason, another positive sign.

“If you’re a three and you’re playing at the four, and you’re guarding Derrick or myself, it’s not going to be a fun night for you,” Gobert told Basketball Insiders.

And if Favors and Gobert can maintain or even improve offensively together, watch out.

They’re fearsome defensively, and will only be more so if Favors’ improved mobility remains. Utah’s entire defensive scheme is built around them.

“My job really, not to give away a scouting report, but is to take guys off the three-point line and really just send them in there,” Jazz guard Rodney Hood said. “They take pride in defending the basket, they take pride in defense.”

The Jazz are looking to take a few more risks defensively this year to up their steals, which Snyder hopes will feed into increased transition opportunities. Rubio’s presence as one of the league’s premier ballhawks helps, but having those rocks behind them makes this emphasis easier to follow.

“It gives you a lot more confidence – not even to gamble, I guess, but just to be more aggressive,” swingman Joe Ingles said. “I know that if I do get beat being aggressive, that they’re going to be there and they’re going to come over and help.”

How Snyder chooses to use his big duo is yet to be seen. If preseason is any indicator, their usage will resemble much of last season, particularly toward the end: Favors and Gobert both start the game, but outside those minutes and the ones to open the third quarter, they rarely play together once Favors exits. At this point, Favors is mostly relegated to backup center during the minutes Gobert sits while Gobert plays either in small lineups or alongside Udoh.

Can they do enough to force Snyder’s hand into more minutes? It’s tough to say. Gobert is one of the few bigs in the league who can keep an interior defense afloat completely by himself – there was virtually no drop-off to Utah’s field goal percentage allowed at the rim when Gobert played around a small lineup compared with when he played next to Favors last year.

A good chunk of that could have been Favors’ health, and the Jazz will hope it’s a big chunk; if Favors’ presence doesn’t actually swing the interior defense all that much compared to when the Jazz play small, it’ll be hard to really maximize his value. Even for all the offensive improvements they’ve made as a pair, the Favors-Gobert combination still can’t touch the kind of efficiency the Jazz put up with Johnson playing power forward next to Gobert. Why play Favors-Gobert at all if there isn’t a value to the trade-off?

******

A healthy Favors could make that last question sound silly, and he’s out to do that to plenty of folks. Derrick doesn’t have the same kind of outward bravado Gobert boasts, but he’s quietly fierce. He heard all the noise about his declining game over the last 18 months.

He’s also prideful, and it’s tough to sit on the bench during crunch time when you’re a player of his stature. For Favors, this was an intersection of personal frustration and collective acceptance.

“Of course I want to be out there, but at the same time you’ve got to do what’s best for the team,” Favors told Basketball Insiders. He also knew who was replacing him: “If it was anybody else you’d be mad – but it’s Joe Johnson, so it’s like, ‘Hey, Joe Johnson can close games, man.’”

It was a sacrifice for Favors, and not the first one he’s made to help foster optimal usage for a teammate. As a young player, he was one of the league’s up-and-coming talents as a roll man in pick-and-roll; he’s still great there, but Gobert’s emergence as one of the game’s most dangerous lob threats here has changed the way Favors is used.

He expanded his game, working to find ways to complement Gobert when the played together. His timing has grown leaps and bounds as the “dunker” in pick-and-roll action, waiting for a dump-off from Gobert. He’s developed a great chemistry with Gobert on the “short roll” for when teams blitz ball-handlers.

All this has essentially forced him to become more versatile.

“I know when I came into the league, my calling card was rolling to the rim,” Favors said to Basketball Insiders. “[Now] I can roll to the rim, I can pop, I can play in the half roll, I can space out. I think that’s something I wanted to show everybody I can do.”

With a contract year set to begin Wednesday night, it’s a vital time for Favors. Comments from agent Wallace Prather last spring indicated that a Hayward departure was likely the only realistic avenue to Favors remaining in Salt Lake City long term; with Hayward indeed gone, Favors now has to show Jazz brass he’s worth that investment.

Gobert isn’t going anywhere, and that means Favors’ stock could rise and fall depending on how the two fare together. If the combo can’t succeed, or if small lineups end up far more effective, it would be virtually impossible to justify Utah investing the amount Favors is worth into his future.

More than that, the Favors-Gobert combo could represent a last stand of sorts for these kinds of big lineups across the league. An optimized Favors, or a similar type, is virtually a must if you’re going to try big ball against the Golden States and Houstons of the world: A guy big enough to punish wings guarding him on one end, but stick with those guys laterally on the other.

Only the fully healthy version of Favors is capable of this in big minutes. Even then, it might be a struggle against the league’s best teams – every possession in these lineups is an uphill climb against the simple math that’s made small-ball so popular in the first place. Elite opponents will choke away space and demand that Favors and Gobert beat them while outside their comfort zone.

They’re out to prove they’re ready, though. A duo marked by unexpected circumstance ever since they first came together is now looking to write their own narrative, and they’ll start it off on Wednesday night.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending Now