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Prodigies: Andre Drummond and D’Angelo Russell

Jake Rauchbach uses advanced numbers to break down the games of Andre Drummond and D’Angelo Russell.

Jake Rauchbach

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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):

Strengths:

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.

Weaknesses:

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)

Strengths:

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.

Weaknesses:

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.

After playing four years of college basketball at Drexel University, Jake Rauchbach coached at the collegiate level, founded The MindRight Pro Program and trained numerous professional and Olympic athletes. Now, Rauchbach writes about the NBA and college basketball for Basketball Insiders and serves as the Player Performance Specialist for Temple University's men's basketball team.

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NBA AM: Was Watson Setup To Fail or Just Ill Equipped?

Was Phoenix’s Earl Watson setup to fail or did he just not have the tools and experience to overcome the tenuous job of a rebuild?

Steve Kyler

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Set Up To Fail? Maybe

The Phoenix Suns have parted ways with head coach Earl Watson just three games into the 2017-18 season. Associate head coach Jay Triano is expected to be his replacement as interim head coach.

Some have suggested that Watson was set up to fail, but let’s be honest for a minute. Was Watson really the best option the Suns had after parting ways with Jeff Hornacek during the 2015-16 season? Watson was well liked and that an easy and intoxicating concept, but even as an interim coach Watson won just nine games in 33 tries.

It’s not as if Watson took the team in a totally new direction; the Suns were a bad team when they took the gamble on Watson. Moving the needle wasn’t exactly likely when the massive inexperienced Watson took over the team. Is anyone really surprised he couldn’t make it work?

Sure, the roster and the priorities of the franchise were an uphill climb, but let’s be real for a minute: The Suns couldn’t have expected Watson to have the tools to bring it all together. Rebuilding is hard all by itself, and doing so with a head coach that has never coached isn’t exactly smart. In fact, it rarely works out.

It’s easy to say Watson was set up to fail, but equally easy to say he never had the experience to believe he’d be successful. It was a gamble on the Suns’ part, a gamble that ran its course.

So What Next?

The Suns are not very good, as three straight blow out losses have proven. It’s possible that Triano can make enough changes to at least get the Suns to compete, but the word in NBA circles was the Suns locker room had basically quit after three games, so Triano’s task may be tough for even a coach that been around the block a few times.

Like Watson, Triano is incredibly likable and approachable, but unlike Watson, Triano has experience. Triano has experience not only as a head coach, having coached the Toronto Raptors for three years, but he is the head coach of the Canadian National Team and has been on the Team USA and Portland Trail Blazers staff as an assistant. While Triano’s stint in Toronto looked a lot like Watson’s stint in Phoenix, the big difference is Triano has been around a lot more situations and may be better equipped to put a system and structure in place that could yield improvement, or at least that’s the newest bet the Suns are making.

With Triano at the helm, it’s also likely that the front office will have a better relationship than what’s emerged in Watson’s time in Phoenix. General Manager Ryan McDonough and Watson haven’t exactly been on the same page, and Watson had grown emboldened enough to make it clear in the media somethings were not in his control, often taken subtle shots at decisions made by the front office.

It is rare for inexperience and dysfunction to yield success. The hope is Triano will smooth some of that over.

“I Dont wanna be here.”

As news of Watson’s firing began to leak Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who had a very good relationship with Watson, took to Twitter to announce “I Dont wanna be here.”

Bledsoe has been a constant name in NBA trade circles for the last few years, and with Watson out of the picture, Bledsoe seems to be looking for the door too.

The 27-year-old Bledsoe has two more seasons remaining on his deal, $14.5 million this season and $15 million owed for next season. The Suns have listened to offers on Bledsoe off and on for some time, with many in NBA circles believing this would be the season the Suns would finally trade him.

With Watson, a long-time champion of Bledsoe, out of the picture, there is a belief that Bledsoe’s role is going to decrease, which is likely why Bledsoe took to Twitter.

Pulling off a trade three games into the season seems highly unlikely, especially given that Bledsoe has likely killed his own trade value. There have been several teams over the last two seasons with interest in Bledsoe; the question is, will the Suns close this chapter or try and see if Bledsoe can help them right the ship under Triano and rebuild some trade value when the trade market opens up in December?

$41.11 Million

Of the Phoenix Suns’ $85.448 million in guaranteed contracts, $41.11 million belongs to Bledsoe, injured guard Brandon Knight and center Tyson Chandler. You can toss $10 million more for injured forward Jared Dudley. While Bledsoe and Chandler have played in all three regular-season games, both are not part of the long-term future of the team.

The question becomes, what role will they play under Triano?

The Suns are truly a tale of two teams. There is the old veteran squad that is clogging up the top of the Suns salary cap chart, and there are rookie scale players that are the future, and not coincidentally the players performing at their worst so far this season.

Will the Suns just let the $41.11 million owed at the top just sit, or will the Suns try and fire-sale some of those veterans? The belief is they would like to do the latter.

As much as people may want to say Watson was set up to fail, the evidence in the situation is he was never proven enough to succeed.

The Suns are in a dreadful no-man’s land of bad contracts and underperforming players. Maybe a more proven established coach could have set this situation in a better direction, but the reality is Watson was never experienced enough to handle a rebuild like this because getting the most out of players while losing is a very tough job even for the most experienced of coaches.

Watson, like many before him, will find another job in the NBA. Maybe like Triano who is replacing him, he can take the lessons learned in Phoenix and become a better coach somewhere down the road and get a shot with a team that wouldn’t require as much as the Suns desperately need.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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