So far, we have broken down ten of the NBA’s best young players under the age of 25 in the Prodigies Series. In the frontcourt, we have analyzed players like Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid, and Kristaps Porzingis, and in the backcourt, Zach LaVine, Devin Booker, and Andre Wiggins. All players have strengths that they lean on most for success, and weaknesses which, if improved, could sky rocket their games to elite level performance in the league.
This week we break down the games of the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond and the Los Angeles Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell. Drummond and Russell both exhibit great potential and show signs of growing into the stars that many hope they can be. However, Drummond and Russell also have received ample criticism for their play on the court and their antics off of it.
The reigning NBA rebounding champion, Drummond, is now in his fifth season in the league. Drummond signed a franchise record $127.2 million contract this past summer, but many believe that he has not progressed as a player since inking the deal this past summer. On the other hand, maturity has been the big question for Russell. Now, in his second season with the Lakers, after leaking a teammate’s online scandal during his rookie season and other antics, the 20-year-old has not helped to endear himself to teammates or the Lakers’ personnel. Despite the criticism surrounding both Drummond and Russell, both players have the chance to become great NBA players.
Let’s evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of both Drummond and Russell.
(All statistics are courtesy of Synergy Sports and Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of February 8, 2017.)
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
14.6 ppg, 13.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 53% FG, 44% FT (51 Games):
Rebounding – “Special” is how to describe Drummond’s rebounding ability. Last season, the Pistons’ big man averaged 14.8 boards per game. This year, his stats are slightly down, with Drummond averaging 13.7 per game, tied for second with the Clipper’s DeAndre Jordan. Drummond is a beast on the offensive glass, leading the league with 201 offensive rebounds, with the next closest guy being the Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside with 173. Drummond’s 7’5” wingspan, explosiveness, and strength around the basket, combined with his tenacious attitude, enable him to crush it on the offensive glass. Drummond previously told Robert Mahoney of Sports Illustrated: “Every time I see a shot go up, it’s like a pass to me… Guys focus on points and getting assists. My goal is to go out and get 20 rebounds a night.” Drummond understands what he does best and locks-in nightly to do his job.
Pick and Roll Man – Drummond has a strong roller game to the basket out of pick and roll action. He ranks in the 73rd percentile in the league, scoring 112 points on 98 possessions this season. When rolling out of P&Rs from the left side of the floor, Drummond has been deadly, ranking in the 99th percentile in the league in efficiency. He is the second best player in the league, right behind the Celtic’s Kelly Olynk in this category, and often catches pocket passes or lop passes from the Pistons’ Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, and Beno Udrih for finishes.
Transition Scoring Efficiency – When running the break, Drummond is great, as he ranks in the 87th percentile in the league in this category. Drummond does most of his damage in transition by running the middle lane on the break and shoots 81% in these situations. He uses his speed, athleticism, and superb finishing to beat the opposition down the floor and /or finishing over or through them at the rim. Drummond will also look to get a quick easy bucket in secondary transition by sprinting the floor and establishing a deep post position in the middle of floor.
Free Throw Shooting – Although his free throw percentage has improved from last season at 36 percent to 44 percent this season, Drummond is still shooting a low percentage at the line, and this inefficiency in his game is probably still his biggest weakness. Drummond’s form is not bad, considering his struggles. He keeps the ball high, his guide hand generally stays out of the way, and he has a solid base when shooting from the stripe. Finding a way to increase his free throw percentage to 65 percent this season would hypothetically boost Drummond’s points per game from 14.6 per game to 17.4 points per game. Considering that his form is not horrible, relatively speaking, this improvement at the foul line is not out of the question.
Isolation – Drummond, by his own admission, relishes the dirty work. However, his one-on-one offensive game lags behind the hardhat portion of his game. This season, he ranks in the 13th percentile in the league in scoring efficiency from ISOs, shooting just 28 percent in these situations. Either from the left, right, or top of the key, Drummond also always looks to drive his way to the basket. Often when this happens, Drummond will end up shooting an off balance, out of control layup, which has very little chance of going in the basket. Improving his poise around the rim when driving it to the basket would really help Drummond’s ISO game.
(Defense) – Pick and Roll Defender (Ball Handler) – The majority of plays that Drummond is involved in at the defensive end of the floor are when he ends up guarding the ball handler out of P&Rs. So far this season, 57 percent of the time Drummond has ended up in this situation and is allowing .97 points per passion, ranking him in the 21st percentile in the league on this play type. Despite his supreme athleticism and agility, Drummond will often get blown by, finding himself out of position as the big guarding the ball handler in P&Rs. This is an area that he needs to improve if he is to elevate his play on the defensive end, especially considering that this play type makes up such a high percentage of his work load on the defensive end.
D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers
14.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.8 apg, 39% FG, 76% FT, 34% 3PT (38 Games)
Dribble Hand Off Scoring – Russell has a crafty style of play, and this is never more apparent than with his DHO play. Russell is excellent out of dribble handoffs and ranks in the 87th percentile in the league, averaging 1.14 points per possession. Russell does a great job coming off of the DHO shoulder to shoulder. When his defender chases him over the DHO, Russell squares himself up to the rim, getting his defender on his back and allowing him to turn the corner to the rim. When the defender goes under the DHO, Russell is also effective, stopping behind his teammate for a pull-up. He is shooting 46 percent from the field in these situations.
One-on-one Scoring – Another strength for Russell is with his isolation play. He ranks in the 83rd percentile in the league, averaging 1.039 points per possession, by shooting 41 percent from the field. Out of right side ISOs, Russell is deadly, ranking in the 98th percentile, averaging 1.5 points per possession. From the top of the key, he ranks in the 77th percentile in scoring efficiency. Russell can drive it both ways but has a tendency to want to get to his left, or strong hand, on drives. On drives, Russell ranks in the 98th percentile on ISO drives, ranking as the 5th most efficient player in the league. His herky-jerky stop and go style allows him to constantly keep his defender off balance.
(Defense) – Guarding Pick and Roll Ball Handler – Russell is very good when defending the ball handler out of pick and roll situations. He ranks in the 69th percentile in the league, holding the offense to an average of .77 points per possession. By slithering through screens, Russell uses his length to contest pull-up jump shooters. When guards turn the corner to the basket, Russell does a good job catching back up to ball handler, making it a difficult finish at the rim. Russell ranks in the 96th percentile in the league in defensive efficiency when his offender goes over the screen and drives it to the rim.
Maturity/leadership – There is no way of accurately quantifying the effect or lack thereof that Russell’s leadership has on his team. However, the 20-year-old comprised his trust with his teammates and organization last season by leaking teammate Nick Young’s online scandal. Luke Walton told Laker Nation’s Ryan Ward of Russell: “He’s growing up a little bit, maturing a little bit. We all know he’s got talent, it’s about being able to use that talent and play this position at a high level. He’s showing good signs of that.” Russell has both Walton and Magic Johnson to lean on as mentors in LA now. Johnson has stepped up recently as someone for the Lakers guard to lean for guidance. Despite his latest uptick in maturity, Russell still has a long way to go in securing absolute trust and leadership in the Lakers locker room.
Transition Scoring – Russell is shooting just 38 percent from the field in transition. He especially struggles as the ball handler on the break when compared to his peers. Russell ranks in the 12th percentile in the league, averaging just .83 points per possession. As the ball handler in transition, Russell sometimes tries to do too much. He seems to overcompensate for his average athleticism by over dribbling and looking to make the home run play as opposed to the correct play. As the ball handler in transition, 25 percent of the time Russell has turned the ball over. Improving his decision making and poise on the break will help to improve his overall efficiency.
Pick and Roll Decision Making – Russell ranks in the 24th percentile in the league in P&R efficiency. As the passer of P&Rs, Russell has not proven to be effective this season, ranking in the 29th percentile in the league when hitting the roll man, the 27th percentile when hitting the cutter, and the 49th percentile when hitting the spot up jump shooter. When refusing to come off of the pick, Russell has been the least efficient, where he ranks in the 8th percentile in the league averaging .67 points per possession.
NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role
The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.
The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.
On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.
Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.
“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .
Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.
Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.
“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.
In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.
Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.
“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”
If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.
Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.
“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”
After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.
Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.
Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd
The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Bucks assistant coach Joe Prunty will be installed as interim coach, league sources tell ESPN. He will coach Bucks against Phoenix tonight.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 22, 2018
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17
Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.
It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.
There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
6. Hassan Whiteside
After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.
5. Anthony Davis
Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.
4. Josh Richardson
Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.
Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.
3. Kevin Durant
This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.
In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.
2. Joel Embiid
Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.
Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.
Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.
Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.
He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.
1. Paul George
Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.
Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.
“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”
Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.
“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”
Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.
“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”
That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.
Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.