Connect with us

NBA

NBA Daily: The History of Sacrificial Lambs

DeMar DeRozan is the latest in a long line of players traded before their team took a step up to the next level, writes Matt John.

Matt John

Published

on

In order to become great, you have to give up something good.

It sucks having to trade away something that you treasure, but as the Toronto Raptors have shown in these playoffs when you have the opportunity to assemble a championship team, that’s a sacrifice you have to make.

DeMar DeRozan was that sacrifice for Toronto. Although it appears that DeRozan has accepted the Raptors’ decision to trade him, it stings that the team that developed and featured him is one win away from its first NBA title without him.

Because of the team’s newfound success in the wake of its trade for Kawhi Leonard, DeMar has labeled himself as “the sacrificial lamb.'” Honestly, he’s not wrong. Whether Toronto finished off Golden State of not in these finals, they’ve reached a higher level with Kawhi than they ever would have with DeMar. In so doing, DeRozan joins the likes of Pete Best, Eduardo Saverin, Drew Bledsoe and Walter White as professionals who were cut out of their businesses just as said businesses were about to take off.

Toronto’s success makes DeRozan the modern example of a sacrificial lamb, but that does not make him the first one. For decades, NBA teams have used sacrificial lambs in an attempt to raise their ceiling enough to win a championship. This has oddly led to some mixed results.

The prime example of a sacrificial lamb dates all the way back to the first one back in 1956 with NBA Hall of Famer Ed Macauley. Macauley was one of the NBA’s best players in the 50’s, participating in multiple All-Star games and making multiple All-NBA teams with the Boston Celtics.

Macauley’s play on the court didn’t translate into much playoff success, as the furthest the Celtics got with him was the Division Finals – before it was called the conference finals. Despite Ed and his supporting cast featuring Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman, it was clear the Celtics’ had a limited ceiling.

After being eliminated by the Syracuse Nationals in the 1956 semi-finals, Red Auerbach made what was perhaps the first truly shocking trade in NBA history: trading Macauley, along with the draft rights to Cliff Hagan to the St. Louis Hawks for the second overall pick in the draft, Bill Russell.

This trade was shocking for reasons both on and off the court. Macauley was one of the league’s most accomplished players, and Russell was a just a rookie. As a young black man, Russell starting his basketball career in Boston – a city notorious for its racism at the time with its professional sports teams being no exception – A lot was riding on this deal.

The gamble worked out better than anyone could have hoped. The Celtics put up the most dominant era we have ever seen in professional sports, and Russell became one of the most successful athletes of all time. This set the precedent for teams willing to part ways with their talented players for upgrades if it meant a championship was possible.

Over the next few decades, we saw teams sacrifice some of their best players to acquire NBA greats in their prime. Players like Darrall Imhoff, Flynn Robinson and Brian Winters were the centerpieces traded for Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar respectively. Odds are, you’ve never heard of the players mentioned in the former, but they were talented players given up for something better in hopes of going the distance.

This was how the sacrificial lamb strategy operated until the 1980’s when the Pistons added a little variation to it. The Bad Boy Pistons put the league on notice in the mid-to-late-80’s. After suffering defeats at the hands of the Celtics and the Lakers, the Pistons knew they had to make one more alteration in order to get to the next level.

That started with trading Adrian Dantley, who once upon a time, was the player who originally put the Pistons on the map. Dantley was one of the NBA’s finest scorers of his era, whose specialty was his advanced ability to score despite his lack of size and athleticism. By 1988, he wasn’t necessarily making the Pistons worse, but what he demanded as a player on the court got in the way of them reaching their potential. Mid-season he was traded for a player with a very similar reputation in the NBA: Mark Aguirre.

Swapping Dantley for Aguirre was seen as a downgrade, and Aguirre’s numbers proved just that. However, the Pistons winning the next two championships after acquiring him showed that it was a necessary move. Aguirre may have been a scorer, but he didn’t demand the ball or as many minutes as Dantley, so the Pistons’ offense flowed more and the available minutes went to defensive mastermind Dennis Rodman.

Dantley, in summary, was the sacrificial lamb because less was more in this instance. The Pistons could have won the championship with Adrian anyway, but them winning two titles after trading him proves that the move was beneficiary. The sacrificial lamb doesn’t necessarily have to be about getting the better player, but about doing what’s best for the team.

For all the success that teams have had from making this sort of sacrifice, there is always the chance that pulling off this move doesn’t work out. But even if it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision.

The Houston Rockets may not have had much success when they traded for Tracy McGrady, but they probably have no regrets since all they had to sacrifice was Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley. The Lakers may have had to suffer through the “Dwightmare” in 2013, but all Dwight Howard cost was Andrew Bynum, who played 26 games total after Los Angeles traded him – Can you believe that guy is only 31?! Even more recently, the Celtics’ chances of keeping Kyrie Irving are slim, but even with all that Isaiah Thomas did for them, they would make that trade for Kyrie again in an instant.

Though it doesn’t happen often, sometimes, the sacrificial lamb gets the last laugh. Miami used Lamar Odom as the primary sacrificial lamb when they traded for Shaquille O’Neal in 2004. Miami got what it wanted from Shaq two years later while Odom in that time got flamed for not helping the Lakers have playoff success.

That all went up in smoke when Odom played a huge role in the Lakers winning two championships and reaching three consecutive finals appearances. He wasn’t the primary factor, but he was the glue of those Lakers’ championships. Even if he had to pay a few dues first, being that sacrifice for the Heat wound up being the best turn for his career in the long run.

In others’ cases, being the sacrificial lamb isn’t exactly easy. In fact, it can be the worst. A fair amount of the time, the sacrificial lamb is a young player who is acquired in hopes of rebooting the franchise by replacing the star player who was traded for him. There are plenty of examples of this, but there may not be a better one than Al Jefferson.

Jefferson was a bright spot in a dismal Celtics season. After he evolved into one of the league’s most promising bigs, Boston traded him for Minnesota for Kevin Garnett. He went from one young rebuilding team to another while Boston went from the bottom all the way to the top. Things didn’t really turn around for him after that.

When Big Al started coming into his own in 2009, he tore his ACL mid-season. Even when the Timberwolves had brought in Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, Jefferson was already off to Utah. Once he arrived, the Jazz were headed for a fallout with both Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams. Al had himself a little hurrah in Charlotte, but it was too short and injuries got in the way again.

There aren’t that many players who had a long career who endured as many bad breaks as Jefferson did, and it all started when he was the sacrificial lamb for the Celtics back in 2007.

Being sacrificed so your previous team can have more success isn’t exactly what most players would want. DeMar DeRozan embraced Toronto through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Like the others, it’s tough to miss out on so much success when you’re responsible for not only getting your former team in the spotlight in the first place but also being betrayed by your team when you could have done the same when you had the chance and elected not to.

At least he can take solace that he, like the others that were mentioned, helped form a team that will be remembered fondly forever.

That counts for something… doesn’t it?

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

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

NBA

Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

Published

on

We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

Continue Reading

NBA

Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

Published

on

It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups

With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.

Matt John

Published

on

The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.

Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.

Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…

We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.

The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.

Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.

Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.

Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.

While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.

Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.

This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.

Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.

Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…

Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.

It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.

Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.

With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.

Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.

But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.

Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.

The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Online Betting Site Betway
Advertisement
American Casino Guide
NJ Casino
NJ Casino

NBA Team Salaries

Advertisement

CloseUp360

Insiders On Twitter

NBA On Twitter

Trending Now