This year’s 6th Man of the Year race seems like a no-brainer, with Clippers guard Lou Williams becoming the only player in NBA history to average 20 points and five assists off the bench, according to the L.A. Times. Williams also led the league in fourth quarter points with nearly eight per game and posted the highest bench scoring average in the last 25 seasons.
In addition to Williams, strong arguments can be made for players such as Eric Gordon of the Houston Rockets, Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets and Jordan Clarkson of the Celveland Cavaliers. But here we’ll make the argument for Toronto Raptors reserve point guard Fred VanVleet, who may not have the counting stats of a player like Williams, but whose overall impact for the strongest team in the Eastern Conference can still be quantified.
VanVleet, who went through shoot-around today and will be a gametime decision for tonight’s Game 2 against the Wizards, averaged just 8.6 points, 3.2 assists and 2.4 rebounds for the Raptors this season. He led the team with just over 41 percent shooting from three-point range, and Toronto coach Dwane Casey said that’s a major component of how he makes the team better.
“It’s been huge for us because it gives you another shooter, plus another ball handler … and another tough guy, another smart guy,” said Casey after a Monday practice. “But mostly he opens the floor up with his three-point shooting. I think that’s the biggest impact he’ll have for us.”
Even with his hot shooting, VanVleet failed to crack double-digit scoring. So how can you possibly argue that he’s more deserving than Williams? To answer that question, it’s necessary to dig into the advanced stats (courtesy of NBA.com).
Last season, the Raptors outscored opponents by less than a point per 100 possessions with Kyle Lowry out of the game, a team-worst off court net rating. Whereas a player’s on-court net is influenced by the play of the other nine players on the court, off court net rating is isolated to the individual player. This year, the Raptors outscored opponents by 7.7 points per 100 with Lowry on the bench, an improvement of a full seven points from the previous season.
In contrast, the Raptors outscored opponents by just 4.9 points per 100 with VanVleet on the bench this season, a team-low. With VanVleet on court this season, Toronto blew opponents out by over 12 points per 100, nearly two points better than the second player with at least 1000 minutes (OG Anunoby, +10.2).
Casey talked about how the things VanVleet brings to the table don’t necessarily show up in the box score.
“He has a calming effect on everybody with his maturity, the way he plays,” said Casey. “He adds a lot to the formula when he comes back in.”
Lowry talked about how VanVleet’s emergence this season has allowed the Raptors to change up the offense when the two point guards share the floor.
“It gives me a chance to play decoy a little bit,” said Lowry. “Teams don’t really help off me as much. It gives him a chance to be aggressive, go downhill. It gives teams a different look with me not handling the ball and coming off screens and running around a little bit.”
In addition to how the game changes with VanVleet and Lowry together, Lowry emphasized what a luxury it is to have a reliable leader for the second unit.
“I don’t have to play through the whole fourth quarter,” said Lowry. “I love it. Fred’s really good at being a point guard.”
With the gaudy numbers he put up this season, Lou Williams is likely to take home another 6th Man of the Year despite his Clippers failing to reach the postseason. Meanwhile, VanVleet has an opportunity to impact games that matter. It’s a perfect test case for box score numbers versus a deeper look at a players’ true impact. Unfortunately, those who vote on NBA postseason awards may not be able to look past Williams’ record-breaking season. To be fair, the Clippers were outscored by 1.4 per 100 possessions with Williams on the bench this season, which placed him among the team’s top three in off-court net.
In the meantime, the Raptors will continue to focus on the task at hand. After Lowry said his team would approach Game 1 like a Game 7, Casey said Toronto is all too familiar with how the Wizards feel being down 0-1 in the series.
“We knew how we felt after Game 1, how desperate we come out after Game 1,” said Casey. “They’re going to be no different. They’re not your typical eight seed, and they’re going to come out breathing fire and we’ve got to do the same.”
NBA Daily: Zhaire Smith ready to take the next step in the NBA
Zhaire Smith is ready to prove his worth and he seeks to transition to the NBA.
Zhaire Smith out of Texas Tech is a name that rises up on a lot of people’s draft boards this season with his stellar play, especially on the defensive end.
This past season, Smith averaged 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 assists per game. He also shot 55.6 percent from the field and 45 percent from three point range. Despite a strong performance this season, though, Smith has not been consistently appearing in NBA Mock Drafts until at least 2019.
He addressed it at the NBA’s Draft Combine in Chicago.
“Yeah, I didn’t know that,” Smith said of his seemingly low perceived value. “I really don’t pay attention to all that, but it is what it is.”
One of Smith’s biggest strengths that makes him an intriguing prospect for an NBA team is defense.
“Just being a little physical,” Smith said. “Not too physical where they can draw a foul on me, but just playing. Getting low. Just playing. Moving my feet.”
Smith had a highlight reel dunk vs. S.F. Austin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was one of those dunks you had to watch over and over again because you could not believe it. It came off of a pass from his teammate, Keenan Evans.
Although on play is rarely enough to get a player noticed, the play did exhibit Smith’s exceptional athleticism. Along with his defense, his ability to convert explosive finishes could also help his value among NBA teams and potentially help him end up in the league.
“Yeah. If it was a bad pass, I made it look good, but yeah,” Smith said of the dunk. “I just adjusted to it. It just happened. I didn’t even know that was what had happened.”
For players coming into the NBA, there is a bit of a learning curve—both with respect to surviving in the league and how to fit in with their particular team.
“I see myself fitting in probably rookie, first two years, just fitting in, doing good, being a solid role player,” Smith said. “And in a few years I can see myself as an All-Star.”
During his freshman year at Texas Tech, Smith played in all 37 games, including 21 starts. He holds a total points record as a freshman with 417 points. He also totaled 185 rebounds, 42 blocks and 42 steals. The 42 total blocks for a freshman were second in team history.
In terms of his numbers being more than “empty” production, on the season, Texas Tech was 19-8 when Smith scored 10 or more points. And during the team’s four-games March Madness run, he averaged 12.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, one block and one steal per game.
Although it’s early, Smith could end up being an “under the radar” type of prospect, similar to the Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell. To this point, he has been mostly renowned for his excellent defensive game, but his offensive game is respectable, even if it is still considered a work-in-progress.
As for whether he can be the “next” Donovan Mitchell, Smith didn’t shy away from the prospect.
“I think so,” he said. “…If I put in the work.”
For him, the process is just beginning. Hopefully, for his sake, his NBA journey is far from over.
NBA Daily: LiAngelo Ball Fighting For Place in the NBA
LiAngelo Ball has the name recognition but is trying to prove he belongs in the NBA based on his skills and abilities.
NBA fans are currently being treated to competitive Western and Eastern Conference Finals. The postseason is coming to a close and in roughly two weeks, the eventual 2018 NBA champion shall be crowned. With the NBA season nearly over, NBA draft season is revving up. On June 21, exactly sixty young men will hear their name called on draft night. This group will include highly sought-after NCAA collegiate prospects, international players and U.S. born players that have spent time improving their respectives games overseas.
Attention is most often focused on the top few picks. However, one name has had a conspicuous tendency to stick out, LiAngelo Ball. Like his older brother Lonzo Ball, Liangelo was recruited into the UCLA program amid the heightened attention surrounding the Ball family. Unlike Lonzo, Liangelo was unable to showcase his game on the U.S. collegiate level following a widely covered theft scandal overseas, his subsequent suspension from the UCLA program and the Ball family’s decision to then place LiAngelo and his younger brother LaMelo Ball into the Lithuanian league.
Now removed from overseas play, LiAngelo Ball is fighting to prove that his game (and not just his name) warrants the attention of NBA team officials. Many critics are quick to look past Lonzo’s clear NBA talent and whatever potential LaMelo Ball might have to quickly dismiss LiAngelo. LiAngelo Ball made it clear he sees himself as an NBA player. Ball spoke to Basketball Insiders recently to discuss a wide range of topics.
“I’m an NBA player, that’s why I declared for the draft. That’s why I’m here also,” Ball stated.
While those who question the potential for Ball to make the league via the draft, Ball has been busy doing his best to make a good impression in person. Ball spoke about the interviews he’s had so far.
“Team interviews were great. It wasn’t really an interview for me. I just started talking, vibing with the coach really. I felt like it went good for me,” Ball said and confirmed which teams he had spoken to. “I had two with [Oklahoma City] and the Suns.”
Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype confirmed that Ball also has private workouts scheduled with the Lakers, Clippers and Warriors.
Ball gave some insight into his approach to the workouts and whether there is a specific approach regarding the teams in attendance.
“I’m going to work out hard. I’m not really familiar with what they do so, I don’t know but I’m going to knock down my shots and show my endurance. Stuff like that,” Ball said.
Numerous videos have been posted of Ball shooting well in these workouts. The videos, as his past play would indicate, show that Ball is at least a capable outside shooter. Ball was quick to point this out, along with his defensive potential, as skill sets that make him a viable NBA prospect.
“I feel like I bring the team, I can knock down shots for a team. I’m real confident in that,” Ball said. “I feel like my defensive game is good. With the right coach and somebody lets me know the techniques, I feel like I’ll be a good defender in the league.”
Young players and prospects are often asked which players they have looked up to or emulated as it helps to give a bit of insight into the young player’s mentality. Ball didn’t admit to copying a particular player’s game but did name a few players he likes to watch while slipping in a flattering comparison he says he has heard about himself.
“I don’t really model my game after other players. I always just play my own way, my own style. I like to watch players as far as James Harden, LeBron [James], Klay Thompson. People say I play like [Thompson] sometimes. So, I just like watching that type of stuff. Pick up stuff from the game,” Ball said.
Ball also highlighted his time in Europe as a plus to his resume.
“I feel like it translates good into the NBA. I mean, I got a year of experience over in Europe, Europe basketball. [Because] they do a lot of the same sets, like I said, as far as coming off the screens, pull-ups and all that. I feel like it helped me out there,” Ball stated.
Also, Ball didn’t hesitate to show his interest in playing for any team beyond the Lakers, if that opportunity presented itself.
“I’m saying I’d like to play for the Lakers [because] my brother is on the team. I want to play with him. I’d love to play for any other team really. I don’t have like a set choice. Any other team, I’m ready to play for,” Ball stated
Ball needs to keep all options open. There are only so many spots in the draft and as Ball stated, he will have to be prepared to explore every opportunity in the draft, free agency or perhaps through the G-League. For now, he is focusing his attention on the task at hand and doing whatever he can to ensure his name is among the sixty called on draft night.
2018 NBA Consensus Mock Draft – Ver 4.0
Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ experts take a look at the draft class and weigh in on what they are seeing and hearing in the march up to the 2018 NBA Draft.
Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ top writers will break down the latest news and notes surrounding the 2018 NBA Draft. Included is an updated mock draft that reflects how each writer sees the draft landscape based on the latest news, workouts, and information from the pre-draft process.
Moke’s Notebook: One thing I can say for sure is that this is the most unpredictable draft I’ve seen in many years. The Kings and Hawks are each rumored to be open to moving the second and third pick in the draft, and I have a feeling that’s due to the intrigue surrounding Luka Dončić. At this point, the expectation is that the Suns will select DeAndre Ayton first, and I get the sense that there are many that believe that the risk of selecting Dončić is too great. Aside from that, Michael Porter, Jr. (whom I’ve been told is the “dream” scenario for the Knicks) and Mo Bamba each saw their stock rise pretty dramatically during the Combine in Chicago. I’ve seen some mocks having Porter as highly as third.
Aside from those two, there are a lot of questions about Trae Young. It was once thought that Stephen Curry and even Kevin Durant weren’t strong enough to make it in the NBA, and similar questions have been asked of Young. Between Dončić, Bamba, Porter and Young, we might be looking at four of the biggest risks that are consensus top seven picks in quite some time. Of the batch, I’d feel most comfortable selecting Bamba, whose maturity and outside shooting are both better than advertised, but again, with teams at the top willing to discuss dealing their picks and the appetite for risk playing a major role in how the draft shakes out, I only have confidence in my top seven, not necessarily where they’ll land.
As we get closer to the draft, I’d keep an eye on a few names: Aaron Holiday, Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo. Each of those guys have a shot to move up into the late teens, with Holiday, in particular, having lottery potential. Keita Bates-Diop and Jevon Carter are two second rounders who I wouldn’t be surprised to see sneak into the top 30, either.
Over the coming weeks, some guys will be called in for more individual workouts and as the weeks progress, our intel will get stronger.
Jesse’s Notebook: Though the NBA Lottery and Combine are behind us, there are still a lot of questions about how things will shake out on draft night. While Luka Dončić has been considered a consensus top-two pick for some time, some are now questioning whether he will drop a spot or two. I still believe that by draft night, Dončić will likely be picked either first or second, but that doesn’t seem to be a foregone conclusion anymore.
The mystery man of this year’s class continues to be Michael Porter Jr. Porter Jr. checks off all of the boxes for a top-tier draft prospect, but his injury history and long-term health are still major issues that teams need to consider. No one in the draft has a larger range of outcomes. Porter Jr. recently said at the Combine that he is the best player in the draft and it will only take one team with a top pick to agree with his assessment to roll the dice and take a shot on him. But if it looks like his athleticism or burst is limited because of his previous injuries, he could drop toward the end of the top-10.
As of now, there is a good sense of who will be picked with the top 15 picks or so. Once we get outside of that range, things become somewhat less clear. There is very little consensus on how teams will draft from 16-30, so I expect the upcoming workouts and other pre-draft processes to help add clarity on that front.
Benny’s Notebook: Since Basketball Insiders’ last set of Notebooks, much of the draft landscape has changed. From lottery leaps to combine crushers, we’re finally at the point in the process where things start to happen. I still believe Luka Dončić is this draft class’ best player — he literally won both the EuroLeague MVP and Final Four MVP this weekend — but we must deal with the reality that Phoenix (and perhaps others) may look elsewhere. Outside of swapping No. 1 and 2, most of my adjustments come in the lower half of the first round.
I’d banked high on Mitchell Robinson showing out at the Draft Combine and, instead, he pulled out of everything completely. Allegedly, this is because Robinson has earned a promise from the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25, according to Aran Smith of NBADraft.net. So, with little else to go off of on Robinson, he slides for me. Additionally, after the strange week of Dennis Schröder news, it’s possible that the Atlanta Hawks could search for a future guard — and the stock-rising Aaron Holiday certainly fits the bill.
Lastly, I’ve begun to come around on Zhaire Smith, the 6-foot-5 prospect from Texas Tech that averaged 11.3 points and five rebounds per game. In the modern, positionless NBA, Smith can already guard multiple spots and his athletic abilities have been rated at the top of his class. He may need some G-League time next season, but he turns just 19 years old in early June. While he probably won’t rise much higher than I’ve had him in mocks thus far, he makes sense for plenty of rebuilding rosters.
Steve’s Notebook: With the official NBA Draft Combine in the books there has been a lot of draft chatter. While it’s important to state clearly that its still very very early in the process and lots of things can change, there is a sense at least in a few places where some teams seem to be heading and where some players might end up landing.
The Phoenix Suns did land the top overall pick, and there was almost no executive in Chicago who thought Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton wouldn’t be Phoenix’s pick. While there is real validity to the idea that new Suns head coach Igor Kokoškov has experience and a relationship with euro sensation Luka Dončić, the belief is the Suns will make their decision based on talent, not relationship.
There was also a buzz that both Sacramento and Atlanta seemed more interested in the domestic big men available at the top of the draft rather than Dončić. That could always change, but the thought process there was the risk that Dončić could opt to stay out of the draft if he didn’t like where he would land, and both teams seem to be higher on other players.
There were a few players who clearly had fans among NBA talent evaluators.
Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr, could go significantly higher than expected with Dallas being his likely ceiling. The Mavericks are far from locked in on anyone, but the belief is the Mavericks are looking at versatile bigs.
Kentucky’s Kevin Knox was something of a mystery in Chicago opting to do very little publicly and left town early. According to several teams, Knox could go as high as six to Orlando and has strong interest from the Bulls, Cavaliers, and Knicks.
UCLA’s Aaron Holiday is said to have a “soft” commitment in the late teens and has, at this point, turned away workouts with teams in the 20’s. There is a sense he could be gone before by the 19th pick.
Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison pulled out of the Combine with NBA Draft.net’s Aran Smith tweeting that he is believed to have gotten a commitment from the Chicago Bulls at 22. Smith also tweeted that Mitchell Robinson also got a promise from the Lakers at 25. One veteran executive labeled this draft class as being the most aggressive draft he can recall where agents were calling and pressing for commitments.
Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo wowed athletically during combine testing and several executives before the testing sessions not only nailed where he’d measure and perform, they also suggested he’d be gone in the 20’s.
Executives were especially critical of the two notable international prospects Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs, suggesting that both could slide into the second round.
IMG Academy’s Anfernee Simons has several fans, but the word on him is that he’s a long-term project that would need time. There was a considerable amount of fact-finding by scouts on Simons. A team to watch could be Orlando if Simons is there is there when the Magic select at 35 or 41.
Tulane’s Melvin Frazier came away with mixed reviews, some love his length and athleticism and see him as a defensive presence, other teams saw him as lacking defined NBA skill sets.
Maryland’s Kevin Huerter has some fans. One executive offered a friendly wager that Huerter would be gone by 40.
West Virginia’s Jevon Carter looks like he has a real shot to be drafted in the first round, with several teams at the bottom of draft expressing real interest.
There are a couple of sleeper types that seemed to have turned some heads through the process in Chicago, namely Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike, Louisville’s Ray Spalding, Dayton’s Kostas Antetokounmpo and West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate. All of them could go significantly higher than currently projected.
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