In the latest installment of the Prodigies Series, we will be evaluating Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert. Both big men have a superior level of talent but affect the game in different ways. Davis employs balanced scoring and defensive ability for the Pelicans, while Gobert is a quintessential energy guy whose defense, rebounding and high field goal percentage have been a major asset for the Jazz this season.
Davis is top ten in scoring, rebounding and blocks and is having a historic season. He was recently selected to be a starter in this year’s All-Star game, his 4th All-Star selection. Despite being snubbed from this year’s All-Star game, Gobert is having a breakout season. He is the only player in the league ranked in the top-5 in rebounds and blocks and who averages at least 12.8 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of both Davis and Gobert.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
12.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 66% FG, 66% FT:
Pick-and-Roll (Roller) – In short clock situations as the roll man in pick-and-roll (P&R) action, Gobert has been highly effective, scoring 19 points on 10 possessions, ranking him as the best player in the league in this category. Gobert has also dominated in high ball screen action, where he ranks in the 99th percentile in the league, averaging 1.5 points per possession. 62 percent of his P&R production is generated from high ball screen action. Not surprisingly, Gobert has no pick-and-pop opportunities this year and solely relies on slips and rolls to the basket out of P&Rs.
Transition – Gobert is feasting in transition, averaging 1.62 points per possession, scoring 60 points on 37 possessions. He ranks as the fourth most efficient transition scorer in the league (99th percentile). Gobert is a great rim runner and is crushing opposing defenses with his scoring efficiency running the middle of the floor.
Post Play – Gobert is also excelling in the post, where he is in the 86th percentile in scoring efficiency. The majority share of his scoring comes from flashes to the middle, as opposed to work from the left or right block. When flashing middle, the big man likes to turn over his right shoulder, using either a drop step, hook or drive to the rim to finish.
Defensive Stopper – Gobert is a great post defender, currently ranking in the 86th percentile in the league and giving up on average .67 points per possession. He has allowed 69 points on 103 possessions. Gobert is the fourth best right block defender in the league (98th percentile), giving up just 14 points on 33 possessions. His length bothers the opposition and often forces players into rushed or contested shots.
Pick-and-Roll Coverage – Gobert is a stellar P&R defender when it comes to guarding the pop man. He ranks in the 95th percentile overall when defending the roll man, allowing just .56 points per possession. On pick-and-pop situations, Gobert ranks in the 93rd percentile, giving up .53 points per possession. Again, his length and ability to close space quickly on shooters allows him to effectively contest pick-and-pop bigs.
Isolation – In one-on-one defensive situations, Gobert is also highly effective, giving up just .73 points per possession, ranking him in the 75th percentile in the league. He is especially effective at deterring right side isolation play, ranking in the 90th percentile, giving up just .54 points per possession.
Offensive Put Backs – Gobert ranks in the 50th percentile in the league when it comes to offensive put back opportunities. Considering over one fifth of his offense possessions are generated off of put backs, improvement in this area would markedly improve his overall offensive numbers. So far this season, Gobert is averaging 1.07 points per possession, scoring 130 points on 121 possessions.
Scoring On Cuts – Gobert often struggles when utilizing cuts to free himself for opportunities at the rim. He has scored 185 points on 149 possessions off of basket cuts this season, ranking him in the 37th percentile. On flash cuts, he ranks in the 3rd percentile in the league in scoring efficiency.
Isolation Scoring – Gobert’s game is not necessarily based off of creating shots for himself or his teammates. This being said, he is posting only average isolation scoring numbers to this point in the season. He ranks in the 54th percentile in the league in isolation and will usually look to take it all the way to the basket in these situations.
Isolation, Hard Drive Right – It is hard to find many faults in Gobert’s defensive skill set. However, when guarding isolation situations, the big man sometimes struggles. On hard right drives, the opposition has scored 25 points on 24 possessions, ranking Gobert in the 29th percentile on this play type.
Face Up Post Moves – Another area in which Gobert could focus on improving is when his offensive opponents face him up in the post. So far this season, Gobert rates in the 11th percentile in the league in this regard, giving up 17 points on 13 possessions.
Going Under the Screen in P&R Coverage – When Gobert has struggled this season when he goes under the screen while guarding the ball handler. In these situations, he is giving up 1.14 points per possession, ranking him in the 28th percentile in the league. This is not surprising as Gobert’s forte is not perimeter defense. However, in order to diversify his defensive skill set further, shoring up his P&R coverage is important.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
28 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 50% FG, 79% FT, 30% 3PT
Dribble-Hand-Off – Davis ranks in the 100% percentile as the most efficient player in the league with dribble-hand-offs, averaging 1.62 points per possession. Davis finds rhythm in hand-off opportunities and mixes things up often by driving to the rim or taking mid-range pull ups.
Isolation – Davis also excels going one-on-one, averaging .96 points per possession, ranking him in the 72nd percentile in the league. He is equally effective from the right and left sides of the floor, ranking in the 79th percentile in the league in scoring efficiency from both. Davis can drive it both right and left and has been successfully getting to the middle of the lane for finishes as well as driving it baseline. This being said, Davis prefers getting to his left hand drive. He is an efficient drive and pull-up jump shooter in isolation situations.
Transition Scoring – Like Gobert below, Davis is a highly effective transition scorer. He is averaging 1.19 points on 122 possessions. This ranks him in the 66th percentile in the league. Davis’ versatile skill set allows him to run the break. As the ball handler this season, he has been superb, ranking in the 92nd percentile in the league. Davis has also scored the ball well as the trailer in transition, where he fills in for open jumpers and at times will use his momentum in transition to get downhill at the rim off-the-dribble.
P&R Coverage (Roller) – Davis has been effective guarding pick-and-pop screeners thus far this season, holding the opposition to .58 points per possession and ranking him in the 88th percentile in the league. When the screener has slipped to the rim, Davis has also proven effective, ranking in the 68th percentile, while limiting opposing teams to .9 points per possessions. His mobility and length allow him to close the distance to shooters on pops.
Isolation Coverage – As a one-on-one defender, Davis has been great this season. He ranks in the 65th percentile, giving up 35 points on 44 possessions. He is capable of guarding from either wing and ranks in the 82nd percentile in the league when it comes to guarding jump shooters. His length, athleticism and ability to close the distance to a shooter have helped in this regard. He also will look to contest the sight line of the shooter, further throwing off the offensive player.
Spot Up Defender – When players are spotting up within their offensive schemes, Davis has been very effective in limiting their scoring efficiency. In pure catch-and-shoot situations this season, Davis ranks in the 72nd percentile, scoring 91 points on 94 possessions. On drives to the basket, Davis has limited opponents to 26 points on 25 possessions.
Perimeter Shooting – As versatile as Davis has become, his three-point shooting stands to improve. He is shooting 29 percent from the three-point line, making 21 out of 72 attempts this season. Three-point jump shots make up 20 percent of Davis’ overall field goal attempts. Thus, any improvement upwards in percentage could have a huge impact on his overall scoring efficiency.
Isolation jumpers – In isolation plays where Davis shoots a no-dribble-jumper, he is shooting just 33 percent, ranking in the 24th percentile in the league. He is averaging .73 points per possession in this category, scoring 21 points on 29 possessions. It seems as if Davis lacks rhythm when shooting a jumper without a dribble. Working in a jab step series could help provide the flow he might require to become a consistent isolation jump shooter with no dribble.
Top of Key Isolation – Davis has struggled when he has gone one-on-one from the top of the key. He currently ranks in the 23rd percentile in the league in this category and finds himself either driving it left or shooting without driving. His tendency to drive it hard left often leaves him running into help side defenders.
Top of Key Isolation Coverage – Davis has also struggled guarding from the top of the key when it comes to isolation play. He has scored 21 points on 19 possessions, averaging 1.1 points per possession. Davis has a tendency to come out of his defensive stance when guarding ball handlers. This hurts him as players look to drive it right by him. He ranks in the 25th percentile from the floor in this category.
Left Block (Right Shoulder Finishes) – Davis has given up 22 points on 21 possessions when players turn over their right shoulder in the post. This ranks him in the 30th percentile in the league. Often, players look to drop step Davis baseline to finish at the rim.
Pick-and-Roll (Ball Handler) – When the pick-and-roll ball handler goes away from the screen, Davis has struggled this year as he is giving up 1.1 points per possession. When players refuse screens like this against Davis, most of the time they are looking to get to a one or two dribble pull-up. Davis ranks in the 16th percentile when guarding refusal pull-ups in ball screen action.
It’s clear that both of these are very talented and are big-time difference makers for their respective teams. Amazingly, both of these young players have a lot of room for improvement and still haven’t hit their physical primes yet.
In the next part of this series, Basketball Insiders will evaluate the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond and The Los Angeles Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell.
* All statistics are courtesy of Synergy and Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of February 2, 2017.
A Few Good Free Agents Left
David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.
The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.
A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.
For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.
Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.
He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.
Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.
Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.
He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.
The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.
He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.
The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.
During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.
With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.
With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.
“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”
Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.
“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”
In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.
“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.
“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”
One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.
“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”
Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.
“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”
The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.
“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”
With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.
NBA Opening Night Storylines
Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.
The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.
Rejoice, hoop heads.
Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.
With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.
As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?
Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.
Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.
And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.
The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.
But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.
While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.
By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.
Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.
Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.
Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.
And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.
Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.
This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?
Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.
Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.
While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.
Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?
After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.
“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”
It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.
That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.
Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.
With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.