On Monday, the Los Angeles Clippers agreed to trade Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Lance Stephenson. It was a trade that included two of the more disappointing free agent signings from last summer.
After playing at a borderline All-Star level in 2013-14 with the Indiana Pacers, Stephenson signed with the Charlotte Hornets to help them take the next step in their development. In Stephenson, the Hornets were adding a 24-year-old swingman who could handle the ball and play stingy defense. The biggest concern with Stephenson is the fact that he is a hard personality to deal with. He has been described as “temperamental” and has had numerous on-court issues in the past. It was a worthwhile gamble at the time for the Hornets, even though the relationship ultimately didn’t work out.
For the Clippers, in trading for Stephenson they are taking the same sort of gamble that the Hornets took last offseason, only this time there are even more concerns. In his final season with the Indiana Pacers, Stephenson averaged 13.8 points, 4.5 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 35.2 percent beyond-the-arc. He was a versatile two-way player that showed a developing game. However, in his one season with the Hornets, Stephenson averaged just 8.2 points, 3.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds, while shooting 37.6 percent from the field and 17.1 percent from three-point range.
There were a lot of factors that went into Stephenson’s drop-off. Entering the season he injured his groin, and never fit within the Hornet’s offensive schemes. He couldn’t knock down three-pointers* and his inability to consistently hit shots off the dribble made it difficult to play him heavy minutes.
So why would Doc Rivers, the Clippers head coach and team president, swing a trade for Stephenson after his steep decline?
First, the Clippers have been looking for young, athletic and productive wing players for several years now. Relying on J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Matt Barnes was not a tenable situation if the Clippers want to make a deeper playoff run next season. Los Angeles has gotten by with Matt Barnes as their starting small forward for three years now, but he is now 35 years old and could see a major decline moving forward.
However, it should be noted that the Clippers didn’t give up nothing for Stephenson. As bad as Hawes was in his one and only season with the Clippers, there was reason to believe he could bounce back next season. At his best, Hawes could have been the Clippers’ third big (assuming they successfully re-sign DeAndre Jordan this offseason), and could provide spacing as a stretch-4 with his shooting. And as much criticism as Barnes received, he was in many ways exactly what the Clippers needed at small forward in the starting lineup.
Consider that last season, the Clippers’ starting lineup was one of the best in the NBA:
Chart Courtesy of NBA.com/stats
As we can see in this chart, the Clippers’ starting unit was the most efficient offensive lineup in the NBA and had a top three net differential (among all lineups that played 300 minutes or more together throughout the regular season). The Clippers couldn’t have managed this if Barnes was a complete stiff, as some people have characterized him. Barnes was able to do this with above average perimeter defense, timely cuts to the basket, easy baskets in transition and by knocking down catch and shoot three-pointers.
As we can see from the chart above, Barnes made a living with three-pointers and shots at the basket. While it’s not particularly easy to find a competent 3-and-D wing player to fill this role, it still is a role that can be addressed with minimal financial flexibility.
The Clippers have reportedly shown interest in Wesley Johnson, who played with the Los Angeles Lakers this past season. Johnson has never lived up to the expectations that came with being selected fourth overall in the 2010 NBA Draft (one pick ahead of DeMarcus Cousins), but at the league-minimum, he has value. He may not be a lock-down defender, but he has the size, length and athleticism to be competitive. And on offense, he has shown that he could potentially take over Barnes’ role on offense.
Shot Charts Courtesy of www.austinclemens.com/shotcharts/
As we see here, Johnson shot pretty well from three-point range this last season, almost as good as Barnes. The difference is that in Byron Scott’s offense (which features a heavy dose of mid-range jumpers), Johnson was shooting the ball from all over the court. This is contrary to the modern approach with players like Johnson, who are often positioned to take open, set jumpers, and attack the rim against rotating defenses.
Put Johnson in Barnes’ role, and we could see his shooting percentages climb and overall efficiency increase. If that happened, suddenly that potent offensive unit the Clippers had with Barnes could remain somewhat intact. Another positive in adding Johnson is the fact that he’s still just 27 years old, so there is room for him to continue improving. That, and he would move from an offense that was being run by Jeremy Lin, Jordan Clarkson and Ronnie Price, to an offense run by Paul and Griffin, who are both able to consistently generate open looks for teammates. The fact that Johnson had a 52.7 effective field goal percentage* on spot up jumpers last season (74.6 percentile), whereas Barnes had a 51.5 effective field goal percentage (64.8 percentile) provides more reason to believe he could be a competent replacement for Barnes.
Of course, we never know how effective a player will be with a new team in a new system until the players take the court. It’s also unclear whether a player like Johnson (who will certainly be looking for a multi-year deal) would be open to a veteran’s minimum contract at this point in his career. But Johnson is simply representative of the sort of player the Clippers could target to take over for Barnes.
Another such option, as discussed by our Alex Kennedy and Moke Hamilton on Tuesday’s Insider Sports Podcast, could be adding Paul Pierce with the mini mid-level exception (if he opts out of his deal with the Washington Wizards). In that scenario, the small forward role would need to be redefined in the Clippers’ offense since Pierce is more than a spot up three-point shooter.
The main point here is that the starting small forward position can be filled with a competent player, which allows Stephenson to take a lead role in the second unit, which Rivers alluded to in his interview on Tuesday with Fred Roggin on the Beast 980 AM in Los Angeles.
In the playoffs, the Clippers relied on Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford to be the primary ball-handlers off the bench. While Rivers had impressive spurts throughout the postseason, it is less than ideal to peg him as the lead guard off the bench moving forward. This is where Stephenson comes in.
Part of Stephenson’s struggles last season came from the fact that he was sharing the court with Kemba Walker, a ball-dominant, scoring point guard. In the Clippers’ second unit, he won’t have to share the ball with Chris Paul and can facilitate the offense as the primary playmaker.
How Stephenson fits is anyone’s guess since Rivers said he will play anything from point guard, to shooting guard, to small forward for the Clippers. But considering how successful Stephenson was with a playmaking role in Indiana, how ineffective he was playing off the ball with Walker, and his spotty three-point shooting, the smart money is on Stephenson running the offense a lot when Paul is resting. His creativity off the dribble and large frame gives the Clippers an offensive weapon that was missing this last season, which in part explains why the Clippers’ bench was so ineffective.
In addition to being the lead guard off the bench, Stephenson also gives the Clippers a viable defensive option against the league’s best perimeter scorers. Barnes has been the Clippers best and only option against players like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, which is less than ideal to say the least.
“We needed to get tougher and we needed to get more athleticism and we needed to improve defensively,” Rivers told Roggin. “Lance has shown he can do that for us. … He’s a tough kid, very competitive kid and that has gotten him in trouble at times, but the one thing he has shown in major playoff games is that he can be a top-tier defender.”
Barnes was scrappy and always put up a good effort, but he has lost a step in recent seasons and couldn’t offer the defensive presence that guys like Leonard, Butler and Stephenson can. This is one of the main reasons Hornets owner Michael Jordan signed Stephenson last offseason.
“One of the reasons why I admire his game is he takes on challenges,” Jordan said last October. “For us to get any place in the East, we need someone to challenge LeBron. He challenged LeBron.”
If the Clippers plan on making it to the NBA Finals next season, having someone like Stephenson, who isn’t afraid of going toe-to-toe with an opponent as dominant as James, could be key. No one really stops a player like James, but standing 6’5 with a 6’10 wingspan, Stephenson has as good of a chance as some of the better defenders in the league and certainly a better chance than Barnes.
Also, the Clippers simply need more talent. The Western Conference doesn’t figure to be any easier next season, so the chance to add a player as versatile as Stephenson on a team-friendly contract was a unique opportunity that Rivers couldn’t pass up.
“The team that gets the best player in the trade gets the best trade,” Rivers said. “And in this case, I think Lance is the best player in this trade.”
Stephenson was so bad in his one season in Charlotte that we forget just how good he can be when he is focused and in the right environment.
Graph Courtesy of www.statmuse.com/nba
As illustrated in the graph above, over the last five seasons, Stephenson is in a four-way tie for the sixth most regular season triple doubles, all of which came in 2013-14. To add a player capable of that, before he enters his prime, is a pretty solid addition (albeit risky in the case of Stephenson because of chemistry concerns), especially when you consider his contract.
“If Lance works out, great,” Rivers said. “If he doesn’t, it’s a one-year deal. I just like contractually where it went for us.”
In making this trade, the Clippers get out from under Hawes’ contract, which has him earning roughly $18.5 million over the next three seasons. With Stephenson, the Clippers have a team option for 2015-16, which they can decline if he doesn’t fit well with the team. And by having that option, the Clippers can also move Stephenson mid-season to a team that is looking to offload more salary heading into the 2016 free agency season.
Rivers is certainly responsible for putting the Clippers’ in a position where this sort of high-risk, high-reward move is their only real option for improving. However, this deal is certainly a creative improvement over sending away a competent wing player and a first-round draft pick just to offload salary and avoid the apron (which is what Rivers did with Jared Dudley). In this move, Rivers lands a player that fills a big need, while adding financial flexibility. There is reason to be skeptical, or flat out critical of this trade, but this is a step in the right direction for Rivers as a general manager.
This deal wouldn’t have been made if Rivers wasn’t confident he can help Stephenson find his old game. Rivers has been an expert at managing personalities throughout his coaching career (see Rajon Rondo), though Stephenson may be his biggest challenge yet.
In eight months, we may be looking at this deal as a coup or a disaster for the Clippers. But at this moment, with little financial flexibility, an aging Chris Paul and a roster in need of more talent, it is the sort of high-upside deal the Clippers needed to make.
NBA Daily: 60-Pick Mock Draft – 6/18/2019
The 2019 NBA Draft is Thursday and things seem to be taking shape at the top of the draft board. However, the middle of the draft could be wildly unpredictable. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.
The NBA Draft is upon us, and while there still seems to be a lot of things in play in the middle of the draft, the top of the board seems to be settling in on a defined order.
Assuming the top 10 picks stay where they are, the draft could go pretty much as scripted. After the top 10, it seems this could be a wildly unpredictable draft, with what’s shaping up to be a lot of pick movement, especially as certain guys rise or fall.
Here are some of the situation to watch:
The New Orleans Pelicans, fresh off their agreed Anthony Davis trade with the LA Lakers, are still exploring moves that could involve the fourth overall pick. The prevailing thought is if New Orleans can flip the pick for a solid veteran they would, but there has also been recent talk that they would like to try and trade up to grab Duke forward RJ Barrett in front of the Knicks. It doesn’t seem likely that Memphis would do such a deal unless they were assured they would get Murray State’s Ja Morant at four. The Knicks have been pretty locked in on keeping the third pick and have made it clear to local media that they would be happy with either Barrett or Morant, likely killing any traction on a Memphis-Pelicans swap.
The Cleveland Cavaliers had been linked to the Atlanta Hawks in a deal for the fifth overall pick, but traction on that seems to have died off once the Pelicans got control of the fourth pick and seem to have zeroed in on Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver if they keep the pick. The Hawks have been exploring options on moving one of their middle first round picks, either the 10 or the 17, which they will receive from Brooklyn as part of the pending Allen Crabbe salary dump. League sources doubt the Hawks keep all of their picks, but it’s unclear where those moved picks would land as of today.
Speaking of moved picks, the Boston Celtics have been exploring options on their three first-round picks; it is believed the Celtics will ultimately deal the player they select with the 20th overall pick, although league sources say Boston is open to moving all of them if the return is right.
There could be some teams to watch in terms of trading into the draft; The Houston Rockets have explored deals that would get them into the late lottery, it does not seem like there is traction on anything as of today, but it’s a situation to watch.
The Denver Nuggets have also explored deals to get into the first round, mainly to obtain inexpensive bench players. The Nuggets could be one of the teams to watch for with one of the Celtics or Hawks picks.
With all of that in mind, here is the latest NBA Mock Draft. You can look for the Final Consensus Mock Draft tomorrow.UPDATED: 6/18 - 4:00pm
Stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for the latest news and rumors surrounding the 2019 NBA Draft and instant reaction pieces on all the picks in the first round.
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NBA Daily: Admiral Schofield Set On Building His Own Reputation
Admiral Schofield’s mindset carried him throughout his four-year career with the Tennessee Volunteers, and it will continue to take him to new heights in the NBA. Spencer Davies writes.
Admiral Schofield lives for the late-game heroics.
“A lot of people talk about the clutch gene,” the former Tennessee forward told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago with a grin. “ I don’t think it’s a gene. I just think it comes from a mindset, comes from your preparation and how you approach the game.”
On March 9, 2017, Schofield had an opportunity. With the ninth-seeded Volunteers down by two to the third-seeded Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament, he hoisted a shot for the victory from the left elbow.
To everyone’s dismay, Schofield’s attempt fell short. Tennessee was eliminated and their season was over. Then a sophomore, he and his teammates were scrambling to find somebody to take it. He admittedly was not ready to be in that spot.
That’s when something clicked in his head.
“I think my mindset changed to ‘I will never be in a position where the last shot is decided for me and I won’t make it,’” Schofield said in a farewell video post on Twitter back in March.
“I just want to contribute to winning,” Schofield said at the Combine. “Whether it’s defending for the last shot being on the defensive end, whether it’s taking that corner three or taking that kick-out three or making a play, I’m that guy. I want to be that guy…”
Ever since then, that mentality has stuck with him.
Do a quick Google search on Schofield. Amidst the highlight-reel flashes of athleticism, it’s guaranteed that you’ll find more than a handful of different moments where the fearless 22-year-old stepped up during crunch time.
On December 8 this past year, Schofield led then-seventh-ranked Tennessee to a win over the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. En route to a career-high 30 points, he caught fire in the second half and knocked down the go-ahead three from the top of the perimeter with 22 seconds left in the game.
The story didn’t change in conference play. A month later with his team up by two on Florida, Schofield went to the right corner and hit a dagger with 41 seconds to play. In a one-point affair vs. Ole Miss later in the season, he took a game-clinching charge.
When the NCAA Tournament came around, Schofield stepped up once again. Tussling in the first round with an upset-minded Colgate squad, he nailed two triples from the same right corner spot with less than two minutes to go. Before getting eliminated in overtime by Purdue in the Sweet 16, he drained a deep three above the break to give the Vols the lead with five minutes left in regulation.
“I mean if you ask guys like Kobe [Bryant], they won’t tell you it’s a clutch gene. It’s just the thousands of shots. It’s another shot that he shot a thousand times,” Schofield said at the Combine.
“It’s the same thing for me. I stay in the gym. I work on my mindset. I work on situational things in the gym and [I’m] always staying ready, staying prepared for the next shot and being prepared for that big shot. And I just feel like in that moment in time, I think I’m the best option.
If you can’t tell by the infectious smile, Schofield is beaming with confidence—and why wouldn’t he be?
When he arrived in Knoxville in 2015, things weren’t great. The coach that recruited him to come to Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall, was fired after his lone underwhelming season for the program. Rick Barnes came in as a replacement and the results were poor in his first couple of seasons, too.
But over the last two years, the Volunteers are 57-15. They’ve appeared in back-to-back March Madness tournaments and won the regular season SEC Championship in 2018. For the first time in school history, they were ranked No. 1 in the country during the month of January. It was the first time they had been the nation’s top team in over a decade.
The turnaround was monumental, and Schofield realizes how big of a piece he was to that puzzle.
“It felt great because, to be honest, I was part of that foundation building that culture,” Schofield said. “And to be on top in the end really is just a testament to the hard work. And everything that we built in those first two years, it really started to pay off in those last few years.
“But to say that I was one of the guys that helped start that is a blessing. We had a great year. We had a great run.”
Transitioning to the next level, Schofield feels as ready as anybody. Under Barnes, he says everything was “pro-structured.” The Vols were constantly pushed. They were always prepared. Perhaps most importantly, everybody was held accountable, which is essential when players are going to be on their own in the pros.
Because of his experiences, Schofield believes in himself. It’s not about him simply sticking around the league. He desires much more than that.
“I think I can contribute to any team or any organization that brings me in, not just with my play,” Schofield said. “But just being a great teammate, being an ambassador for that organization and for that community, really coming in and being a positive influence, having some type of leadership. Not saying I’ll come in and be ‘the guy’ or ‘the leader.’ There’s many ways you can lead.”
In discussing his character, it’s hard not to bring up one of the most selfless moments in his college career. With Tennessee and Iowa knotted up prior to heading into overtime, Schofield—who was one hack away from fouling out—told Barnes to take him out in favor of teammate Kyle Alexander.
Cold from the field and in danger of being disqualified, Schofield made the request knowing Alexander would be a game-changer. It paid off in a victory.
“I’m a winner,” Schofield said after the 83-77 win in extra time. “At the end of the day, if I don’t have to be on the floor to win, that’s fine.”
While there’s plenty of other times he’s put his leadership on display, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect example of Schofield’s team-first outlook. Combine those intangibles with the skill set and you have yourself one hell of a basketball player.
Schofield views himself as a positionless player with the ability to guard two through four or five, switching and slowing down scorers and doing the little things on the defensive end. Within offensive sets, converting on shots from the corner, coming off pin-downs and utilizing dribble hand-offs are his forte. He also has incredible athleticism, whether it’s skying for a huge dunk or swatting an opponent.
NBA teams can clearly see the 40 percent rate from three over the last three years. Still, there’s more than meets the eye to that, according to Schofield.
“[I want to] show ’em that not only can I shoot the ball, I can defend and do multiple things – create a little bit for others and pass the ball well,” Schofield said. “I don’t credit for how well I pass the ball either because I haven’t been in many situations at Tennessee to pass the ball. But I do pass it pretty well.”
Schofield maintains he deserves to be picked in the first round. As one of three draft hopefuls from Tennessee—Grant Williams and Jordan Bone being the others—who hopes to hear his name called Thursday night, that’s what he’s aiming for.
If he gets his wish, Admiral will become the second professional athlete in the Schofield family. His older brother, O’Brien, is an NFL linebacker who was a part of the 2014 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
“He’s helped me a lot,” Admiral said of his O’Brien. “But more than anything, I’ve just been very observant seeing how he did things, even though it was football. Just got a little taste of that type of spotlight, him being an NFL Champion, playing on the Seahawks.
“Just seeing the process of that, seeing what it takes to win on that level, seeing some of the things that they did—I was able to implement that at the University of Tennessee, but I also I’ll be able to take that with me going forward when I get to the league.”
Individually, there’s always room to get better. You can develop better dribbling, improve your passing or tweak your jumper. But can you make an impact on winning?
And that’s what will separate him from the rest.
NBA Daily: What’s Next For The Lakers?
With Anthony Davis onboard to make them a contender, the Lakers must decide how they will spend their money this summer, write Matt John.
The NBA season ended literally just days ago, and we already may have seen the most significant move made this offseason.
The Los Angeles Lakers went all-in when they traded 95 percent of the farm on Friday for Anthony Davis, pairing him up with LeBron to make up one of the most fearsome duos in the league.
There’s a lot of risk going into this. LeBron will be 35 in December, and Davis doesn’t have a whole lot of playoff success to his name. Many think the Lakers may have overshot their hand when they made this deal. They traded almost all the young talent they had – plus, three picks and two pick swaps is a king’s ransom for a guy on an expiring contract.
Let’s not mince words. LA definitely paid more than they could afford in the long run with this trade, but Anthony Davis is the type of guy you overshoot your hand for. When you have one of the league’s top players in the game, and you have the chance to add another one, you pay the piper.
Now all that remains is what to do with the rest of the roster. All props need to go to Rob Pelinka for creating a title window for the Lakers when the clock was ticking, but let’s not overlook that the roster he constructed last summer turned out to be a complete disaster. It was an intriguing idea to put a bunch of playmakers around LeBron, but the lack of spacing manifested a clogged toilet offense.
Even after adding Anthony Davis and his $25+ million contract, the Lakers will still have plenty of cap room at their arsenal this summer. If getting the Lakers their 17th title is truly his concern, he needs to build the best roster he can around LeBron and AD. In order to do that, the Lakers have two options to go to
Get The Third Star
Now it’s clear as day that this is what the Lakers are hoping for. Shortly after the Davis trade was announced, Marc Stein reported that the team will make Kemba Walker its primary target in free agency.
Having a third star has been LeBron’s MO for every destination he’s gone to since “The Decision.” First, it was Chris Bosh in Miami, and then it was Kevin Love in Cleveland. Neither matched the production that they had with their previous teams before they joined LeBron, but they did give the team an undeniable edge that helped them win a championship.
Getting that third banana takes the pressure off of James and Davis to produce on a nightly basis, and it can help stagger minutes for James who, all things considered, isn’t getting any younger.
Now, Davis can handle a fair amount of the load as James continues to age, but a third star would only make his life easier. As we all know, Davis wasn’t exactly happy that he had to carry much of the scoring burden in the Big Easy, so having someone else pick up the slack would not make it feel like a repeat of what happened with the Pelicans.
Luckily for the Lakers, this summer has one of the best free agent classes of all time. Kevin Durant, who’s still getting the max with or without a healthy Achilles, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton and Walker. Adding one of those names would solidify the Lakers’ odds as the title favorite (if they aren’t already).
The only problem with getting this third star on presumably a maximum contract is that, with all that money invested in James, Davis and Player X, there is little money to spend elsewhere. The only other contracts that can be handed out are the Mid-Level Exception and veteran minimum contracts. This summer, a lot of teams are going to have cap space, and not everyone is going to have that happy ending this offseason.
Because of that, expect lesser players to get paid far more than what they are worth. That’s going to make it difficult for the Lakers to get valued rotation players on veteran’s minimum level contracts.
That’s why it could be better for LA to consider the other option.
Get Reliable Role Players
The Lakers have two of the league’s best players. As long as they stay on the court, LA should be one of the best teams in the league. With the Warriors appearing to disband this summer, the NBA will have some parity for the first time since 2016. Now that the next title may be up for grabs, LeBron and Davis could be enough star power alone to power the Lakers to a title.
Emphasis on star power. Of course, they can’t win a title without any productive players in their rotation. They could get them, but that would probably mean they wouldn’t be able to add a third banana. Then again, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.
If we learned anything from the Warriors from the last few weeks, it’s that a lack of depth can really kill you in the Finals. One of the reasons why Toronto won so handily – besides the unfortunate injuries – was because of its full-balanced attack against Golden State. The Warriors may have had the edge in star power, but Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Norm Powell took advantage of the Warriors’ lack of versatility as a team.
You need those types of players to win the championship. No one knows that better than LeBron. Things didn’t start out great in Miami, but after the team added the likes of Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, the HEAT got that extra push to win a championship.
Ditto for Cleveland. The Cavaliers didn’t have the greatest start when he came back. Then they added JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov and Channing Frye- and that made a huge difference.
Something that we all know by now is that LeBron thrives when he has players who can shoot. The Lakers could bring back some of their designated “shooters” from last season, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Mike Muscala and Reggie Bullock, but there are better options this summer
Danny Green, Nikola Mirotic, JJ Redick, Trevor Ariza and Darren Collison to name a few are all guys who can shoot the rock that on paper would be an excellent fit next to LeBron. At the very least, they would help LeBron play the type of basketball that he loves to play in.
The problem is, those guys can’t be asked to do more than what their specialty is. If and when LeBron and Davis are having an off-night, you can’t rely on a sharpshooter to carry the team when it’s down.
There’s always the possibility that the Lakers, even if they don’t sign a star player, believe they have their third banana in Kyle Kuzma. That’s a lot of pressure for a third-year player, but Kuzma has been exceeding expectations since he came into the league. Maybe he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.
There is no wrong answer for the Lakers here. It’s exciting enough that with Davis on board, they now have options this summer. They no longer have to bank on the cavalry coming in the near future because the cavalry has arrived. They’re not a finished product, but they finally have a product on their hands.
All that said, which door do you think the Lakers should choose?