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NBA Daily: Ranking the Free Agents – Point Guards

Basketball Insiders kicks off a new series examining the free agent class of 2019 by position. To start, Drew Maresca assesses the free agent point guards hoping to sign new deals.

Drew Maresca

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ALERT: THIS IS NOT A DRILL. FREE AGENCY BEGINS IN FOUR DAYS.

With that being said, Basketball Insiders is kicking off a new series ranking the free agents by position. This first piece will rank the top 10 free agent point guards in terms of ability and the contract they will receive.

In this series, we will provide: a player summary, an overview of their 2018-19 salary, a projected 2019-20 salary and an opinion on where we feel they fit best and/or sign.

For context, here is a comprehensive list of all notable 2019 free agents.

Before getting into the actual free agents, here’s a look at what the salary cap numbers project to be. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump from $101 million to $109 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:

$27,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience

$32,700,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience

$38,150,000 for players with 10+ years of experience

In addition, the mid-level exception for teams in the first year is expected to be $9,246,000, while the taxpayer MLE is expected to be $5,711,000 and the room MLE is expected to be $4,760,000.

The point guard position is at least as important as any other position in basketball. And while basketball has taken strides to become more positionless, there is still significant value in having a floor general to direct the offense and maintain a preferred pace and playing style.

2019 free agency features lots of talented point guards, many of whom seem open to the idea of joining a new team.

Let’s explore the 10 best free agent points guards and project where they’ll sign and the length and value of their new contracts.

Max Guys

Kyrie Irving – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $20,099,189

Irving is the definitive best point guard available. Everyone may not love his approach on and/or off the court, but he is the only player on his specific list of accomplishments, including leading a championship team.

Furthermore, Irving is only 26 years old and is the only point guard on the list capable of being the best player on a playoff team.

Irving made approximately $20 million last season. He chose to not opt-in to the final year of his contract, thus enabling him to enter unrestricted free agency.

He is eligible for the Supermax by Boston having been selected to an All-NBA team this season.

Where Does He Fit: The Clippers, Knicks, Lakers and Nets are all viable options – many of whom are in need of a point guard. The Nets are viewed as the favorites to land Irving, and ironically so considering the Nets could just as easily forge ahead with the younger D’Angelo Russell. But as good as Russell is, Irving is a clearly superior player at this stage of their respective careers. Irving can be cut and pasted into the Nets lineup and he instantly improves the team.

New Deal: Irving will ultimately sign with Brooklyn for 4 years/$140 million– especially following rumors that he hasn’t enjoyed living in Boston.

D’Angelo Russell* – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $7,019,698

This ranking might surprise some considering that Kemba Walker is the more talented of the two and has yet to be listed. But we’re ranking free agents and not players, and since luring Walker out of Charlotte will require paying the 29-year-old the full max, Russell is the more appealing of the two.

Russell’s 2018-19 salary was the final year of his rookie deal, which netted him $7.019 million. He is due for a major raise.

Russell is only 23. He will cost approximately $23 million in his first season – significantly less than Walker’s Supermax  He will continue to improve over the course of the next few seasons, and it seems that he now understands the work and dedication required to maintain success in the NBA.

Where Does He Fit: Russell’s perfect fit is Brooklyn; but unfortunately, it seems as though the Nets are content to chase Irving. And Russell has apparently moved on quickly himself. While the Suns and Timberwolves are rumored to have interest in Russell, there is no better landing spot for the young lead guard than his former team – the Lakers. Rumors began circulating earlier this week that there is mutual interest between the two, and the Lakers are projected to have enough cap space to swing a deal.

New Deal: Russell may not fit the Lakers timeline as well as Walker, but he’ll fit in their salary cap better. Let’s say Russell signs a 4 year/$100 million deal with the Lakers.

Kemba Walker – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $12,000,000

Walker is definitely a special point guard and player in the NBA. He gets buckets, makes his teammates better and operates without much of the drama that has surrounded Irving or Russell for the majority of their careers, respectively.

And Walker will probably be the second-best point guard signed this offseason in the 2019-20 season. But he is also two years older than Irving and six years older than Russell. He turned 29 last month, which means he has limited time remaining in his prime – especially for a guy listed generously as 6-foot-1; smaller guards are highly reliant on their quickness, and once that begins to wane, so too does their effectiveness.

Walker made only $12 million dollars in 2018-19 and is due for a hefty raise. Look for Walker to either cash in and sign a full max or give Charlotte a slight discount and remain with the Hornets on a five-year contract.

Where Does He Fit: While his age is prohibitive for teams looking to build around a younger core (e.g., Phoenix and Dallas), his timeline syncs up nicely with the Lakers and Celtics. Both teams would be ideal landing spots for Irving, but the Celtics are projected to have enough cap room to offer Walker a max. LA appears unable to free up enough space.

New Deal: Walker is eligible to sign a five-year, $231 million Supermax deal with Charlotte, but the allure of chasing a title will be too much to pass up. Walker may ultimately flee to the Celtics with a 4-year/$140.6 million deal.

Near Max Guys

Terry Rozier* – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $3,050,390

Rozier took a step back in 2018-19. But he still put up relatively strong numbers – he ended the season averaging 14.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per 36 minutes. And he can still hang his hat on his 2018 NBA Playoffs performance.

Where Does He Fit: Rozier just turned 25 years old and he should be a main target of teams like the Knicks, Pacers, Suns and Bulls. Rozier made only $3 million in 2018-19, and he is eligible for a significant raise. He rejected a deal last year that would have paid him $12 million per year.

New Deal: It sounds as if Rozier’s camp is excited about going to Indiana in a starting point guard role; Rozier and Pacers star Victor Oladipo share an agent. His contract with the Pacers could come somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 years/$45 million.

Above Mid-Level Guys

Ricky Rubio – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $14,975,000

It feels like Rubio has been in the NBA forever. But in reality, Rubio is still only 28 years-old. This will be his first go-round in unrestricted free agency. Rubio’s coming off of a nice season in which he averaged 12.7 points and 6.1 assists per game.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Rubio’s 2018-19 salary was $14.9 million. The Suns have become the favorites for Rubio’s services next season. As previously noted, the Suns have only $14 million in cap space. Be on the lookout for Rubio signing with Phoenix for 3 years/$50 million.

George Hill** – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $19,000,000

Hill was an important part of the Bucks’ rotation He is an above average defender and shooter. And he doesn’t command many touches, nor does he disrupt continuity or chemistry. But he is also 33-years-old, which will limit the teams that chase him in free agency.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Hill made $19 million last season. His contract technically runs through 2020-21, but his contract allows the Bucks to buy him out for only $1 million if it’s completed prior to July 2. The Bucks will waive Hill and offer him a longer-term deal starting at less than what would otherwise be a $19 million cap hit. Look for Hill to re-sign with Milwaukee for 2 years/$26 million.

Tyus Jones* – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $2,444,053

Jones had a breakout year of sorts in 2018-19. He set the NBA record with a 6.9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Furthermore, he’s coming off a season in which he set career highs in points, assists and rebounds per game. And he’s only four years into his career. Having just turned 23 bodes well for Jones, as he should continue to improve over the next few years.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Jones made $2.444 million in 2018-19. He can go out and sign an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, forcing the Timberwolves’ hand. Or they can reach an agreement quickly. Either way, Jones should command a contract in the range of 4 years/$40million. And we’ll expect him to re-sign with Minnesota given his relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders.

Patrick Beverley – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,027,028

Beverley is the quintessential point guard if you’ve already got a lead ball-handler and/or scorer. He is among the best defensive point guards in the league. He’s also an antagonist who is completely unafraid of literally anyone – including Kevin Durant, as was evidenced in the 2019 playoffs. Beverley turns 31 this July, but that shouldn’t deter interested teams.

Beverley made $5 million in 2018-19. He certainly proved his worth this past post-season, again. While he’s unlikely to get too much more, he is likely to receive a longer-term contract considering the market he’s created for himself.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Lots of teams are interested in Beverley, which bodes well for the Chicago native, including the Bulls, Mavericks and 76ers; but he fits in with Dallas the best. Assuming the Mavericks maintain the requisite space, a deal with Dallas for 2 years/$22 million might be the best option.

T.J. McConnell – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,600,520

McConnell definitely played himself into a handsome contract. He had a great playoff run, and his nagging defense was noteworthy in the playoffs against the Nets and Raptors.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: The 27-year-old  made only $1.6 million in 2018-19. There are rumors of mutual interest between the Suns and McConnell. If the Suns strike out on Russell, Beverley and Rozier, they could turn their attention to McConnell,. But the 76ers also still need his services and they will be over the cap if they re-sign Butler and Harris (while unable to exceed it to sign others whose bird rights they do not possess).  McConnell could just ultimately sign with Philadelphia for 3 years/$30 million.

Mid-Level or Below Guys

Delon Wright – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $2,536,898

Wright has been serviceable for most of his four-year career, but his breakout took place in Memphis following a trade from Toronto at the 2019 deadline. Wright averaged 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists in his nearly 31 minutes per game over 26 games with Memphis. Wright is also 27-years-old and still has most of his prime ahead of him.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Wright’s contract for 2018-19 was $2.536 million. He, too, will get a significant raise. He probably won’t take home quite as much as McConnell, but it will be close. Look for Wright to sign with the Magic– who were interested in acquiring him at the deadline – for 3 years/$27 million.

Shaun Livingston** – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $8,307,692

Livingston has been an important piece of the Warriors’ championship teams. He has also been a seemingly perfect teammate, playing his role perfectly and not asking for anything more than he’s been given.

Where Does He Fit: Livingston’s length and high basketball IQ have made him irreplaceable in Oakland – and his role will likely grow next year when the Warriors move to San Francisco considering the injuries and/or departures or Durant and/or Klay Thompson, and the team’s lack of salary cap space. The Warriors will need the 34-year-old-to-be, and would struggle to replace him considering they’re already over the cap.

New Deal: Livingston made $8.3 million in 2018-19. His re-signing with Golden State is probably the most predictable move of all the projections on this list. He will likely sign a one year/$8 million deal with the Warriors– after alluding to possibly even retiring in an interview with NBC Sports in October 2018 and re-affirming that he’s close to being done with our own Spencer Davies this past winter.

Derrick Rose – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601

Rose had something of a resurgence in 2018-19. He notched a career high of 50 points last October, playing strongly beyond his career night, too. He averaged 18 points, 4.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game – which represents a better season than he’s had since 2015-16.

Rose didn’t make much last season, which is a bargain considering the season he posted. He may not get a long-term deal, but he will most certainly command significantly more than $2 million.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Rose fits in nicely with a number of teams. He can still provide scoring punch off the bench, with his best fit being with Indiana or Chicago. While Indiana is probably the better landing spot, Chicago will be in serious need of help at the point guard spot. And it is there that Rose could reunite with his hometown team that drafted him on a one year/$10 million contract.

Other Notable Free Agents

Darren Collison – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $10,000

Elfrid Payton – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $3,000,000

Cory Joseph – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $7,945,000

Rajon Rondo – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $9,000,000

Emmanuel Mudiay* – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $4,294,480

Shabazz Napier** – Minnesota Timberwolves– Last Year’s Salary: $1,942,442

Quinn Cook* – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,544,951

J.J. Barea – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $3,710,850

Ish Smith – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $6,000,000

Trey Burke – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,795,015

Frank Jackson** – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242

Yogi Ferrell** – Sacramento Kings– Last Year’s Salary: $3,000,000

Shaquille Harrison** – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $1,311,265

Jerian Grant* – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $2,639,314

Frank Mason** – Sacramento Kings– Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242

Shelvin Mack – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601

Ryan Arcidiacono** – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $1,349,383

Raul Neto – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $2,150,000

Tim Frazier – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $196,553

Jeremy Lin – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $487,109

Isaiah Thomas – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601

Raymond Felton – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601

Michael Carter-Williams – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $59,820

*Qualifying Offer (If made and accepted, player becomes restricted free agent)

**Non-Guaranteed Contract (If player is waived by current team before contract becomes fully guaranteed, he becomes unrestricted free agent)

The 2019 free agent class is filled with point guard talent. Lots of teams will add a new floor general. And lots of point guards will get paid. This particular free agent class boasts an even breakdown of established point guards and unproven floor generals.

Still, some teams will miss out on their desired point guard and will be forced to turn to Plan B, C or even D. Either way, the madness begins this Sunday at 6 pm EST.

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How Magical Can Orlando Be?

In an Eastern Conference full of unknowns, the Orlando Magic stand out as one of the most prominent in that category. Matt John takes a look at the three players who should play a role in their progress this season.

Matt John

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As it stands right now, the Eastern Conference is wide open.

It definitely has its favorites, like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. But even they have their question marks.

There are teams who could be at that level, or possibly higher should things break their way, like the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. But, that remains to be seen; how they do depends on if their previously injured stars are back to normal and how much their young talent progresses.

Then there are others like the Brooklyn Nets, who honestly may have to wait a year before they’re put in the conversation, and the Miami HEAT, who just got their biggest free agent since LeBron James and could sneak their way into the conversation if they make the right moves.

And then, there’s the Orlando Magic.

There’s a lot of optimism coming out of the Magic Kingdom. And why shouldn’t there be? Orlando made its first playoff appearance in seven years, they had one of the best records in the league following the trade deadline (18-8) and they brought pretty much everyone back and even some reinforcements.

And yet, of all the teams in the East, Orlando’s the one that has no consensus. Or, more specifically, no one knows where they will fall in the conference. They might just be the biggest wild card in an Eastern Conference that already has plenty of them.

If all their hopes and dreams come true this season, the Magic could very well be right up there with the Bucks and the Sixers. If it goes the opposite way, they could find themselves back in the lottery.

But this Orlando team is good. They can make the playoffs, but they should be wary of their other competitors. The Toronto Raptors may have lost Kawhi Leonard but, as of now, they’re not going anywhere. Same goes for the Detroit Pistons. There is also a lot of buzz around two particular and young up and coming teams- the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls.

If the Magic are to prove themselves better than those teams and as good as those aforementioned ones, they’ll need contributions from several particular players. They already know what they’re going to get out of Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Al-Farouq Aminu, Wes Iwundu and DJ Augustin, but for the following players, Orlando’s odds of getting to that next level depends on their individual progressions.

Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon has already proven himself an above average player. He’s an excellent athlete, a hard-nosed defender, has improved his three-point shot over the years and, in this past year alone, has shown improved playmaking ability, as his assist percentage shot all the way up to 16.6.

But now, entering his sixth season in the NBA, he still has yet to prove that he’s a truly special talent. We’ve been waiting for a couple of years to see an explosion from Gordon, the transition from raw talent to the superstar we anticipated he’d be. It’s not entirely his fault; previous Orlando management forced Gordon to play out of position for too long, which may have hurt his growth as a player.

It didn’t ruin his career, but it didn’t help one bit. Two years later, Gordon has some playoff experience under his belt. His first go-round was honestly quite solid for a playoff rookie. 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists while putting up 47/40/52 splits is promising, but those are satisfactory stats for a complementary player.

Gordon’s ceiling right now is still that of a future star. And, at 24-years-old, there is still plenty of time for him to reach that level. Last season, Steve Clifford wanted the young player to be more a defensive specialist, a role in which Gordon performed very well in. Now with higher expectations from the team, Gordon should be expected to take his game another step further.

We got an explosion from an athletic, defensively stout power forward who showed off the three-point range last season that we keep expecting from Gordon, but it came from Pascal Siakam. If Gordon is to take that next step, he should look at Siakam’s last season as an example to build his game on.

Jonathan Isaac

Jonathan Isaac is only 22-years-old. He’s 6-foot-10. He has a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He plays more like a wing but does things on the court that any big would be capable of doing. When people think of Isaac, they think of raw talent.

Following an injury-plagued rookie season, Isaac did okay offensively in his first full year, averaging 9.6 points on 43/32/81 splits while also averaging 5.5 rebounds. Defensively, there was a lot to be excited about, as Isaac averaged 1.3 blocks and 0.8 steals while also putting up a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 1.13.

With his insane physical measurements, there’s a lot to like about Isaac’s game and potential. His body frame has garnered comparisons (albeit unfairly) to Kevin Durant, but the potential he has makes it hard not to see a great future for him.

He knows how to use his length to bother his opponents; there are just too many advantages he has physically to not already be a good defender. Offensively, he’s not at the same level. But, every so often, Isaac showed he was capable on that end. There were even times where he took over games last season.

As of now, Orlando already has Vooch, Fournier, and Ross to handle the scoring load. If they want to take that next step, Isaac’s offensive progression would not only vault them higher in the standings, but it would also add a whole new dimension to the team.

There’s no rush for him to become a star, but if Isaac can show even more improvement in year three, then the Magic should become a lot harder to stop.

Markelle Fultz

Now this is where the Magic’s ceiling gets interesting.

Markelle Fultz was a project from the day it was announced that he was traded to Orlando. It was clear he no longer fit Philadelphia’s timeline and that he needed his own timetable to get his game back on track. That said, he’s a project worth investing in; Fultz was a top overall pick for a reason.

Unlike Anthony Bennett, whom Cleveland reached for back in 2013, Fultz has the tools to be something special. It’s only been injury and mental gymnastics that have held him back. Now he has a fresh start and a team that can afford to be patient with him.

Because of all the off the court drama that was going on with Fultz, there’s no concrete data to support anything that he could do this season. All we have now are just preseason videos to see what Fultz can do. But, in the few preseason games that we’ve seen, the returns look promising.

With or without a reliable jump shot, Fultz is definitely an NBA-caliber player. He has good court vision.

He can attack the basket.

And he has shown good instincts on the defensive end of the floor.

Then there’s his jumper. His jump shot looks… better? It doesn’t look like it’s completely fixed, but when your jumper is so ugly that it would have made Shawn Marion grimace, you have nowhere to go but up.

We’ll have to see how his new and improved jump shot will fare when the real competition starts. If it’s for real, then Markelle becomes a much more lethal scoring threat. He’s already shown that he can be a useful tool in the offense. His abilities as a scorer would make him all the more dynamic.

The reason why Fultz’s potential could pay more dividends than Gordon or Isaac this season is that the one area where the Magic desperately need improvement is at the point guard spot. DJ Augustin had one of his most efficient seasons ever last season, but that didn’t exactly take Orlando that far. If Fultz is to show that he was worth the top pick – which, at this point, may be unrealistic – then Orlando becomes so much better.

Gordon’s and Isaac’s improvements would definitely take the Magic up a notch. Fultz could vault them up so much higher.

We’re not going to include Mo Bamba on this list because, as long as Vooch is around, Bamba won’t be relied on to do much besides be a back-up five. Even in that role, he has some competition.

Now say these guys all progress enough to stay promising, but not enough that the Magic would take a major leap forward. Then comes the possibility of trading some of their youth for an established star.

Orlando has the assets to acquire someone good. Players like Blake Griffin or Bradley Beal could be had if they have an offer sweet enough to entice their respective teams, but it all depends on the progress of the roster as a whole. They may have to decide whether to try and open a win-now window by pairing Vucevic and Fournier with an established star or to build for a more glorious future around Gordon, Isaac, Bamba and Fultz.

Either way, this Magic team should be up next. What is left to be determined is how “up next” they truly are.

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Zach LaVine, Charting a Path Toward Analytics Superstardom

Zach LaVine made headlines by decrying his team’s preference to avoid long twos. But however reluctantly, the Chicago Bulls guard is charting a path toward analytics superstardom.

Jack Winter

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The widespread hand-wringing about Zach LaVine’s stated hesitance to shirk mid-range jumpers in favor of shots at the rim and from beyond the arc was largely overblown.

While the Chicago Bulls would no doubt prefer he publicly embrace the coaching staff’s plan this season to further prioritize high-value field goal attempts, the truth is that LaVine has gradually been cutting long twos from his game for years. His share of shots that came from mid-range last season was 17.8 percent, a career-low mark that’s dwindled on an annual basis ever since he entered the league in 2014-15.

It’s not like LaVine openly flaunted the Bulls’ preference to hunt efficient shots and employ a more egalitarian style of offense during the preseason, either. Just four of his 54 shots in exhibition play were non-paint twos, and a whopping 48 of his field-goal attempts were taken from deep or in the restricted area. The result has been by far the best basketball of LaVine’s five-year career, a remarkable blend of production and efficiency that makes it easy to forget the meaningless stakes of preseason basketball – and just as easy to believe he’s on the verge true stardom.

LaVine won’t average 34.8 points per-36 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 75.1 come the regular season. Stats like that are reserved for video games and, it turns out, a four-game stretch of the preseason slate. Still, LaVine’s jaw-dropping performance over the past two weeks hasn’t received nearly enough attention league-wide and, perhaps, positions him as basketball’s most imminently dangerous long-range shooter and perimeter penetrator this side of James Harden.

LaVine showed last season that he had the goods to earn that distinction. None of the 11 players who averaged more drives than his 13.6 per game shot better than LaVine’s 36.9 percent on pull-up threes, according to data compiled at NBA.com. The insane degree of difficulty of Harden’s off-dribble triples pushed his accuracy just below LaVine’s, and Kemba Walker, who averaged 15.2 drives per game, nearly eclipsed his three-point shooting percentage despite taking nearly double the number of long-range pull-ups.

But the numbers are the numbers, and they provide even more evidence to suggest LaVine is on the cusp of becoming a scorer tailor-made for the analytics era, despite his apparent preference otherwise.

LaVine took 3.1 off-dribble threes per game last season, 21st-most in the league. If the preseason is any indication of his style of play to come, expect him to easily beat that average in 2019-20. All but seven of LaVine’s 25 three-point attempts in the preseason came off a live dribble, a total that extrapolates to 6.8 pull-up tries per-36 minutes of play.

LaVine rarely deviated from the offense to launch those looks, either. Chicago made a concerted effort in each of his four exhibition games to free LaVine for off-dribble threes early in the shot clock, whether by drag screens as he brought the ball up the floor or staggered ball screens coming middle off the catch. He’s also already developed a nice wink-wink chemistry with Tomas Satoransky, who boasts natural playmaking ingenuity the Bulls have long lacked next to LaVine in the backcourt. And on the few occasions LaVine has isolated before pulling up from deep, his burst off the bounce and cat-quick shot release have caught defenders flat-footed, unable to manage an effective contest.

LaVine isn’t Harden, and he never will be. Expecting any player, no matter how explosive an athlete or how smooth he is with the ball, to function as a close approximation of the Houston Rockets’ superstar is flatly unfair. He’s the most accomplished off-dribble three-point shooter ever, and even before earning that distinction proved impossible for defenders to keep out of the paint.

LaVine isn’t nearly as comfortable as Harden putting a series of high-level dribble moves together before letting fly, and Chicago isn’t asking him to play that way. But the threat of his pull-up jumper looms large nonetheless, which makes LaVine an even more devastating penetrator than his all-world physical tools alone suggest he would be.

Over his first couple seasons in the league, LaVine routinely drove at full speed, often getting all the way to the rim but arriving out of control. He’s slowly, but surely, added more nuance and patience as an attacker in recent years, honed ability that combined with his pull-up jumper made him more effective than ever getting to the basket during the preseason. Playing beside frontcourt shooters like Lauri Markkanen and Luke Kornet affords LaVine extra space to manipulate help defenders with fakes and hesitations behind the initial line of defense, too.

It took years for LaVine to develop the understanding needed to take advantage of defenders’ missteps by doing things like rejecting screens and splitting defenders, reads that come easy for some high-usage ball handlers. He drew more free throw attempts on drives last season than every player in basketball but Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Spencer Dinwiddie. LaVine needs to get more comfortable with his left hand and still lacks a reliable floater game, but should be one of the league’s most productive penetrators this season regardless.

Even if LaVine proves his eye-popping preseason play wasn’t a complete aberration, the stats will nevertheless convey a more glowing assessment of his overall impact than his real on-court influence. LaVine was still prone to tunnel vision with the ball in his hands, often missing simple kickouts as defenders converged on his drives, and is unlikely to improve from his low defensive baseline despite a stated desire otherwise. At 24, dreams of him realizing his utmost, Hall-of-Fame potential as a dynamic primary ball handler who doubles as a dogged, disruptive defender are pretty much long gone.

But LaVine has made so much progress as a shooter and attacker that for now his weaknesses only matter on the margins. And as long as he continues on the path toward becoming basketball’s most reluctant analytics darling, the Bulls will be best served building an ecosystem around them – just like the Rockets with Harden’s.

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NBA Daily: Bradley Beal Extension Signals Long-Term Plan for Washington

After signing Bradley Beal to a two-year extension, the Wizards will try to return to relevancy. While it will be difficult, there is a long-term plan materializing in Washington.

Quinn Davis

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Yesterday Bradley Beal inked a two-year 72 million dollar extension with the Washington Wizards. The extension, which kicks in beginning in the 2021-2022 season, includes a player option for the second year and could potentially keep him from reaching free agency until the summer of 2023.

Following a summer defined by player movement, Beal’s signing marks a change of pace for NBA superstars. After a season marred by John Wall tearing his Achilles and culminating in the Wizards’ lowest win total since 2012-13, many expected Beal to be a marquee name on the trade market.

Instead, Beal will stay with the team that drafted him and attempt to right the ship. In a recent interview following the extension, Beal explained his motivation:

“I guess just legacy at the end of the day. This is where I’ve been for the last seven years, going on eight, and I have an opportunity to turn this thing around,” Beal said.  “It’s a beautiful market. I love it. I love D.C. This is where I’ve always wanted to be, and this is where I want to be for the rest of my career.”

With Beal committed to the franchise, the team can look to the future knowing they have a potential All-NBA player in tow. The question now becomes, where can they go from here?

Firstly, there is the Wall-sized elephant in the room when it comes to the Wizards’ future roster construction. Shortly after signing a four-year supermax extension, injuries began to plague the former top overall pick.  

Wall played only 41 games in 2017-18, and then only 32 games in 2018-19, before tearing his Achilles by slipping and falling in his home last February. Wall is expected to miss the entirety of this season as he rehabs.

The supermax extension signed by Wall in the summer of 2017 begins this season and will pay him 170 million dollars over the next four years. This will keep Wall on the roster through the 2022-23 season, assuming he picks up the fourth-year player option on the deal.

It is unclear how Wall will return from such a devastating injury. There is a poor track record for NBA players returning from an injury of this nature. The outlook could be even grimmer when factoring in Wall’s reliance on speed and athleticism.

With that in mind, along with the consensus projection that the Wizards will be a lottery team, many will question the decision to extend Beal rather than undergo a full rebuild. The question is certainly a valid one, but there may still be a path back to competitiveness for the franchise with Beal on the team.

The options to improve the team in the short-term will be limited. They are hard-capped for this season and will have no more than 16 million in cap space for the coming summer, should the projected salary cap number of $116 million remain unchanged.

The plan for the next two seasons will likely be to foster internal development, while remaining somewhat competitive with Beal and any veterans they can add to the fringes. There is excitement about rookie first-round pick Rui Hachimura, who had a nice showing in the FIBA World Cup and thus far in preseason.

The Wizards also have Troy Brown Jr. and Moritz Wagner on their rookie contracts for the next two seasons.  Brown, particularly, showed an ability to finish at the rim and draw fouls last season. He shot 70 percent at the rim and drew shooting fouls on 9.8 percent of his shot attempts. Those numbers were in the 90th and 71st percentile for his position, respectively, per Cleaning the Glass.

If Brown and Hachimura can blossom into a starting quality wing duo, the Wizards’ future outlook could gain a little optimism.  

The team will also have Thomas Bryant on a team-friendly contract for the next three seasons. The 22-year-old center showed flashes of ability to not only fill a rim-running role in the pick-and-roll last season, but to space the floor as well.  Bryant finished 80 percent of his shots at the rim, and shot a serviceable 34 percent from beyond the arc, per Cleaning the Glass.

Encouragingly, the Wizards offense scored at a top-three level when Beal and Bryant shared the court without Wall last season. Tomas Satoransky, who ran point guard during most of those minutes, is no longer here. Ish Smith will slide into that role, and while his speed and passing are helpful, he will not space the floor as Satoransky did.  

That spacing loss could be offset with the addition of three-point marksman Davis Bertans, who will operate as a stretch four next to Bryant. There is also the option of running Beal at the point, an experiment that was successful in limited minutes last season.

Bertans and fellow signee C.J Miles will both provide spacing and a veteran presence to the lineup, but both are on one-year deals. It is likely that the Wizards will continue to sign veterans to short-term deals going forward to round out their core.

With all that said, the ceiling for this Wizards team this season is likely the eighth seed in the East. The defense will still be an issue this season unless the younger players, specifically Bryant, take massive leaps on that end.

The expected mediocrity will require smart drafting by Washington going forward. Hachimura looks like a decent pick at 9th overall, but it would be unwise to make any declarations at this stage.  It is also very difficult to consistently hit on late lottery to mid-first round draft picks.  

If the Wizards do manage to draft well, they could build themselves a solid core to develop over the next few years while they wait out Wall’s contract and hoard cap space for the summer of 2023.  Anything Wall can provide after his return from the injury would be a bonus.

The possibility of a trade down the line still remains as well. Beal made it clear he was committed to staying with the Wizards, but there is ample evidence as to how quickly things can change in the NBA.  Another lottery season or two and what once seemed like a strong long-term plan could feel like a lost cause.  

But, assuming Beal and the Wizards are both true to their word and stay in this for the long haul, the team will need to bank on internal development and hope for some good luck. The size of both Beal and Wall’s contracts will make it nearly impossible to bring on another star, even without factoring in the tall task of convincing such a player to relocate to D.C.

First-year GM Tommy Sheppard has a long road ahead, but the first step of signing Beal signaled a commitment to the team’s star and could help foster a culture to build on over the next few seasons. While 2023 is a ways away, the team does have a long-term plan in place to field a solid team around Beal while developing young players in the meantime.

In the NBA, it is impossible to say if this vision will pan out, but having any vision at all is half of the battle.

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