In the third installment of the Prodigies Series, Basketball Insiders takes a look at two of the most exciting up and coming wings in the league, Devin Booker and Andrew Wiggins. Both of these players make their mark on the game from the wing slot, but in a slightly different manner. Nevertheless, their potential for greatness is quite clear.
Booker, who just turned 20 years old in October, is a silky-smooth scorer who impressed many around the league during his rookie campaign. In fact, in a poll of NBA general managers, Booker received 31 percent of the votes for the player most likely to have a breakout season in 2016-17. Booker has not disappointed.
Wiggins has improved each season since he came into the league three years ago. He combines supreme athleticism with great size and continues to increase the number of ways he can positively affect the game.
Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of both Booker and Wiggins.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
19.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.1 APG, 41 percent from the field, 34 percent from three (37 Games)
Transition – Booker is very effective in transition. This season he has recorded 186 points on 157 possessions, which ranks him in the 66th percentile in the league, according to Synergy. He sprints the floor hard and effectively maneuvers around defenders for finishes at the basket. Booker is leading the league in scoring efficiency from the middle of the floor in transition, averaging 2.18 points per possession. When leading the break, Booker has proven to be very effective, converting 60 points on 59 possessions.
Spot-ups – A knockdown shooter, Booker excels with spot-up play. He has scored 109 points on 96 possessions, ranking him in the 82nd percentile in the NBA. The Suns’ guard is posting 1.14 points per possession on such plays, and on pure catch and shoot opportunities, Booker is averaging 1.33 points per possessions (86th percentile). His great shot preparation, silky-smooth form and quick release allow him to get his shot off in various situations, especially on short clock possessions. On end of clock situations, Booker is excelling, averaging 1.19 points per possession (ranking him in the 84th percentile in the NBA).
Post-up Play – At 6’6, Booker has good size for an NBA wing and he uses this size and his strong post-up skill-set to excel with his back to the basket. He is averaging 1.0 point per possession in the post, good enough to be ranked in the 80th percentile in the league. From both blocks, Booker has the tendency to turn over his left shoulder but likes to mix up his production with drives to the basket, turnarounds and passes to open teammates for spots-ups and cuts to the basket. Because of his high efficiency with his back to the basket, the Suns should look to get the ball to Booker in the post more frequently to act as a facilitator.
Isolation Play – The Suns’ guard has recorded 90 points on 106 isolation possessions this season, ranking him in the bottom half of the league (48th percentile), according to Synergy. Isolation possessions make up 13.2 percent of Booker’s offensive production, according to Synergy. Although a righty, Booker likes to drive it hard left from both sides of the floor. From the left side, he looks to get to the baseline, but struggles with his pull-ups and runners as he currently is averaging .53 and .75 points per possessions in these situations, according to Synergy.
When operating out of right side on isolations, Booker looks to his mid-range game, where he is adept at driving to the middle of the floor, getting to his spot and shooting or fading over his defender (1.66 points per possession going middle). However, in most other areas he struggles to create scoring opportunities from this side of the court. When driving baseline, he often allows himself to be funneled into the opposing shot blockers. So far this season, Booker has not scored the ball when driving baseline from the right side of the court.
Improving this part of his game will be a part of Booker’s development.
Handoff – Booker is clearly a wing who has a knack for putting the ball in the basket. That being said, the second-year man out of Kentucky has not yet shown that he can be effective scoring consistently off of handoff opportunities. He only ranks in the seventh percentile in the league, scoring 22 points on 41 possessions this season. Booker does not always do a great job of getting his footwork and body squared up to attack the rim off of the rub created from the dribble handoff (“DHO”), especially when coming off right. Because of this, his poise and effectiveness in these situations suffer. As Booker becomes more and more comfortable creating opportunities going both left and right, nuances of the game, such as DHO effectiveness, will improve.
Off Screen – Surprisingly, another area where Booker has struggled thus far this season is when he is looking to score the ball off of screens. At this point, Booker is below average in this category, only posting 69 points on 95 opportunities this season. This play type makes up 11 percent of his total offensive production. As you would imagine, Booker is more effective coming off left, where he has scored 30 points on 33 possessions, with the straight cut being his most effective method of scoring. When coming off right, he ranks in the 15th percentile of the NBA in scoring efficiency, where he again finds himself in many straight cut opportunities within the Suns’ offensive sets.
Booker is on track to become an elite scorer in this league and working off the ball should be one of his main priorities moving forward.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
21.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 44 percent from the field, 35 percent from three (38 Games):
Transition Play – Wiggins uses his world-class athleticism to excel in the open floor. Wiggins attacks the rim in transition and often will get hit-ahead passes, or dimes by running the lanes hard. Although he excels running the lanes, Wiggins is especially adept at leading the break as the ballhandler. In these situations, he ranks in the 86th percentile in the league and loves to attack the rim and get back to his right hand finish around the rim. So far this season, he has scored 111 points on 89 possessions in transition, per Synergy.
Put-backs – Wiggins has been great cleaning up missed shots on the offensive glass. Similarly to how he attacks the rim in transition, Wiggins appears to employ the same aggressive mentality on the offensive glass. His high motor, long arms and his lighting fast second-jump ability allow him to corral rebounds and convert put backs over defenders. He also does a great job of following his own missed shots on drives. Wiggins has scored 47 points on 31 possessions, good enough for 1.52 points per possessions on these types of plays.
Cut – Wiggins does a great job cutting to the basket within the Timberwolves’ offense. On basket cuts, Wiggins is averaging 1.38 points per possession, ranking him in the 72nd percentile in the league. When teammates drive it to the rim, Wiggins naturally seems to make his way to the basket, positioning himself effectively for finishes in the pant. Overall, Wiggins is averaging 1.44 points per possession off of cuts, scoring 52 points on 36 possessions, according to Synergy.
Post-up Play – Wiggins is a solid post player. He has posted 91 points on 100 possessions, ranking him in the 58th percentile in the league. He does his best work on the left block, where he likes to turn over his left shoulder (right-hand finishes) to make plays. Wiggins finds himself there 61 percent of the time and ranks in the 68th percentile in efficiency from that side of the floor. Remarkably, he is the best player in the NBA when it comes to jump shots from the left block, scoring 18 points on 15 possessions. He likes to crab dribble his man deep enough in to turn, fade and use his length and athleticism to shoot right over top.
From the right block, Wiggins is not great, ranking in the 38th percentile in scoring efficiency, where he still looks to turn left his shoulder to free himself.
PNR Ball Handler – The majority of Wiggins’ play types on the offensive end are out of pick-and-rolls (“PNR”) (32 percent of his offensive plays are as a PNR ballhandler). He ranks in the 45th percentile in the league, posting a .77 points per possession in PNR ballhandler situations, and at this juncture of his career, Wiggins’ efficiency is only average out of PNRs. When coming off of PNRs and with the defender going under screens, Wiggins struggles. He is shooting just 33 percent, scoring 26 points on 35 possessions. Dribbling into his jumper out of PNRs is also an area of weakness for him as he ranks in the 30th percentile in this category and is currently shooting 36 percent from the field. Improving his comfort-ability in PNRs, especially from the left side of the floor, could help Wiggins level up his offensive efficiency as his career progresses.
Spot-up Situations– Wiggins can and does score in a myriad of ways, and for the most part he does it very effectively. However, one area where Wiggins has yet to separate himself from the pack is with this jump shooting. Spot-ups make up 15 percent of Wiggins’ production, where he has scored 124 points on 137 possessions. He is shooting 37 percent on these opportunities. On catch-and-shoot opportunities, he is just average, shooting 36 percent from the field. When driving it or pulling up right or left out of spot-up situations, Wiggins struggles, ranking in the 27th and 28th percentile of the league, respectively. Improving his balance and mid-range scoring capability could prove invaluable in expanding his game.
Isolation Play – Wiggins also could stand to improve his isolation play, where he is averaging .845 points per possession. Isolations make up 11 percent of his overall offensive production. From the top of the key, Wiggins likes to drive right aggressively, but if he can’t get all the way to the rim, he has a default tendency to get to his fade away jumper. He also likes to pull up on and within the perimeter if his defender sags. Wiggins often will catch the ball off of the right and left elbows within the T-Wolves’ offense, where he will often drive to the right side. When this happens, opposing team’s help side defenses look to stop splits, dig, and take charges on Wiggins as they know what is coming. Improving his ability to make plays going left in traffic could prove useful as Wiggins progresses.
In the next part of this series, Basketball Insiders will break down the games of Zach LaVine and Myles Turner.
NBA Daily: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On
At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.
At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.
Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.
“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”
Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.
But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.
“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”
Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.
Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.
Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.
“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”
But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.
“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.
But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.
“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”
Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.
Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.
Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.
“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.
“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”
For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.
“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.
From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.
* * * * * *
*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.
Updating the Buyout Market: Who Could Still Become Available?
Shanes Rhodes examines the buyout market to see which players could soon be joining playoff contenders.
While it may not be as exciting as the NBA Trade Deadline, another important date is approaching for NBA teams: the Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.
March 1 is the final day players can be bought out or waived and still be eligible to play in the postseason should they sign with another team. As teams continue to fine-tune their rosters, plenty of eyes will be on the waiver wire and buyout market looking for players that can make an impact.
So who could still become available?
Joakim Noah, New York Knicks
This seems almost too obvious.
The relationship between Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks hasn’t been a pleasant one. Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016, has done next to nothing this season after an underwhelming debut season in New York and has averaged just 5.7 minutes per game.
After an altercation between himself and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek at practice, Noah isn’t expected to return to the team. At this point, the best thing for both sides seems likely a clean break; there is no reason to keep that cloud over the Knicks locker room for the remainder of the season.
Noah may not help a playoff contender, but he should certainly be available come the end of the season.
Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic
Arron Afflalo isn’t the player he once was. But he can still help any contender in need of some shooting.
Afflalo is averaging a career-low 12.9 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic this season. He is playing for just over $2 million so a buyout wouldn’t be hard to come by if he went asking and he can still shoot the basketball. A career 38.6 percent shooter from long distance, Afflalo can certainly get it done beyond the arc for a team looking to add some shooting or some depth on the wing. He doesn’t add the perimeter defense he could earlier in his career, but he could contribute in certain situations.
Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings
Vince Carter was signed by the Sacramento Kings last offseason to play limited minutes off the bench while providing a mentor for the Sacramento Kings up-and-coming players. And Carter may very well enjoy that role.
But, to a degree, the old man can still ball — certainly enough to help a contender.
Carter is 41-years-old, there is no getting around his age, but he can still provide some solid minutes off the bench. Playing 17.1 minutes per night across 38 games this season, Carter has averaged five points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range. Combining all of that with his playoff experience and the quality of leadership he brings to the table, Carter may be an ideal addition for a contender looking to make a deep playoff run.
Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings
Like Carter, Zach Randolph was brought in by the Kings to contribute solid minutes off the bench while also filling in as a mentor to the young roster. Unlike Carter, however, Randolph has played much of the season in a starting role — something that is likely to change as the season winds down.
Randolph has averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.6 minutes per game; quality numbers that any team would be happy to take on. But, in the midst of a rebuild, the Kings should not be taking minutes away from Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and (eventually) Harry Giles in order to keep Randolph on the floor.
As he proved last season, Randolph can excel in a sixth-man role and would likely occupy a top bench spot with a team looking to add rebounding, scoring or just a big to their rotation down the stretch.
Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks
Wesley Matthews remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He provides positional versatility on the floor and is a solid player on both sides of the ball.
So, with Mark Cuban all but saying the Mavericks will not be trying to win for the remainder of the season, Matthews is likely poised for a minutes dip and seems like an obvious buyout candidate. Matthews, who has a player option for next season, has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals this season across 34.1 minutes per game this season.
If Cuban is true to his word, both parties would be better served parting ways; the Mavericks can attempt to lose as many games as possible while Matthews can latch on to a team looking to win a title. It’s a win-win.
Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers
Isaiah Thomas’ three-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break looked much like his short tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers: up-and-down. Thomas shined in his Laker debut, putting up 25 points and six assists in just over 30 minutes.
He then followed that up with three points and two assists, and seven points along with five assists in his second and third games with the team, respectively.
Thomas needs time to get himself right before he can start playing his best basketball. Re-establishing his value is likely his top priority.
But will he be willing to come off the bench for a team that won’t be making the postseason?
With Lonzo Ball close to returning, Thomas will likely move to the Laker bench. Adamant in recent years that he is a starting guard in the NBA, Thomas may be more inclined to take on that role for a team poised to make a deep playoff run — there is no shortage of teams that would be willing to add Thomas’ potential scoring prowess while simultaneously setting himself up for a contract and, potentially, a starting role somewhere next season.
Other Names to Look Out For: Channing Frye, Shabazz Muhammed, Kosta Koufos
There are still plenty of players that can make an impact for playoff-bound teams should they reach a buyout with their current squads. And, as the Postseason Eligibility Waiver Deadline approaches, plenty of teams out of the running will move quickly in order to provide their guys an opportunity to find their way to a contender.
NBA Daily: Eric Gordon, The Houston Rockets’ Ex-Factor
James Harden and Chris Paul are stars that have faltered in the playoffs. Eric Gordon could be their ex-factor
The 2017-18 Houston Rockets are shaping up to be one of the league’s best regular-season teams over the past decade. The squad features a fan-friendly and fun to watch style, two legitimate superstar talents and a seemingly well-rounded contingent of role players willing to do whatever it takes to help the team get to the next level.
But as strong of a force as the Rockets appear to be developing into, there are still major question marks about how this team will perform in the playoffs when the game gets tighter, bench rotations are reduced and the spotlight glares the brightest.
All-Star guard James Harden has played in 88 career playoff games over the course of his career – 45 with the Rockets where he’s averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The statistics look good in the aggregate, however, Harden has noticeably faded down the stretch during pivotal playoff moments in the team’s recent runs. The most recent example being Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs where Harden finished with just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor.
The Rockets other superstar, Chris Paul, has never reached the Western Conference Finals in a career dating back to the 2005-06 season. Paul’s most memorable playoff collapse came when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. His team surrendered a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals to the Harden’s Rockets back in 2015.
While there are undoubtedly questions at the top, their bench unit is anchored by 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, once considered one of the rising shooting guards in the league while he was a member of the Clippers.
Gordon, was traded as part of a package by Los Angeles to acquire Paul from New Orleans. Since then, a combination of injuries and reported frustration in New Orleans seemingly derailed Gordon from the once promising ascent and trajectory he was projected to achieve. But Gordon has gotten his career on track. Once injury prone, Gordon suited up for 75 games in 2017 and is on pace to play 73 games this season.
“It’s almost like it is consistent to be here now,” Gordon said during All-Star weekend. “It’s been great. When I’ve been healthy, I’ve always had that chance to do some good things.
When you’re winning things come easier. You’re scoring easier [and] it’s easier to come into work and play well every single practice and game.”
Gordon believes there’s something special about this Rockets team because of how quickly they have gained cohesion since training camp. Gordon is averaging 18.5 points in 32 minutes per contest on the season. The guard will play an integral role off the Rockets’ bench and will play heavy minutes in any playoff series involving the Western Conference elite teams – namely Golden State and San Antonio. In three games versus the Warriors this season, Gordon is averaging 20 points on 43 percent shooting from the field.
“We definitely have to figure things out but we just clicked so quickly and early in the season,” Gordon said. “We just knew we had a chance to maybe win it. I’d say at this point we know what we need to do and it’s all about being consistent enough on both sides of the ball for us to have a chance.”
Golden State, as defending champs, have to be respected as the better team until proven otherwise. Many do believe the Rockets have at the very least a puncher’s chance because of how they can score the ball in bunches. The Warriors, for all of their past defensive prowess, have slipped on that side of the floor this season with declining efficiency numbers. But is that slippage enough for the Rockets to gain ground or are the Warriors’ defensive struggles a combination of regular season boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.
In a seven-game playoff series, the cream rises to the top. Are the Rockets legit? Or are they a team best suited for the regular season as in seasons past? They currently lead the season series against the Warriors 2-1 and are 2-0 versus the Spurs to date. We have witnessed regular-season dominance from Paul and Harden in the past. Is this the year both guys put it all together and finally get over the hump? Time will tell and Eric Gordon figures to play a big role in determining the outcome.
The Rockets resume play on Friday versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.
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