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Prodigies: Devin Booker and Andrew Wiggins

Jake Rauchbach evaluates Devin Booker and Andrew Wiggins in Part Three of the Prodigies Series.

Jake Rauchbach

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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)

STRENGTHS

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.

WEAKNESSES

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):

STRENGTHS

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.

WEAKNESSES

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.

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 Daily: Credit Ujiri And Raptors For Taking The Risk

Perhaps emboldened by OKC’s ability to retain Paul George, the Raptors are taking a gamble of their own.

Lang Greene

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In any given NBA season, at the most, there are only five legitimate title contenders in play. The rest of the league could be considered as either on the rise, middle of the pack or in the hunt for a lottery pick.

There are far too many teams around the league that are content with solely making the playoffs while not seriously contending for a title. This is why the Toronto Raptors organization along with team president Masai Ujiri should be given credit for taking the ultimate gamble in acquiring a top-five player, even one who could amount to a one-year rental.

The Raptors shipped four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran wing Danny Green.

The move is the ultimate gamble for an organization that has turned itself into a perennial playoff presence with five consecutive postseason appearances and three straight 50-win campaigns. DeRozan, 28, was locked under contract the next three seasons and the organization could have theoretically decided to ride the DeRozan and fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry duo until the proverbial wheels fell off.

But instead, Ujiri unexpectedly shipped their star player, who wanted to be in Toronto long-term, to acquire Leonard who reportedly has his eyes dead set on joining one of the Los Angeles franchises once he hits free agency in 2019.

Think about this for a moment.

While Toronto has served as LeBron James’ playoff punching bag as of late, make no mistake, Raptors basketball is undoubtedly experiencing the peak of its golden era.

Sure, the team’s former stars such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh will likely go down in history considered better than DeRozan (and Lowry). But none of the aforementioned players led the franchise to a 50-win season while with the organization. None of those guys led the Raptors to a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. DeRozan was a vital cog in breaking new ground while with the team, defiantly re-signing with the Raptors despite overtures from his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in 2016.

Perhaps emboldened by the success the Oklahoma City Thunder recently had in taking a similar risk last summer, the Raptors took the gamble. The Thunder traded for All-Star forward Paul George, who also reportedly also had Los Angeles dreams, last summer, and were able to convince the wing to re-sign earlier this month to a long-term deal.

Toronto has never been a free agency hot spot and the aforementioned stars all forced their way out of town early in their careers. What if Leonard doesn’t buy the soup Ujiri is cooking? There are already some reports stating the forward has no desire to play with the Raptors at all.

Even if this is the case, Ujiri and company still have options. Leonard can still be dealt before next February’s trade deadline. Ujiri could theoretically create a bidding war between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers for Leonard’s services with an attractive.

At the bare minimum, the Raptors are all-in this season for a championship run in an Eastern Conference no longer facing the talents of LeBron James. If things don’t work out, DeRozan’s $54 million owed after this season is off the books. Lowry will be owed $33 million in 2020 but could potentially be an attractive expiring contract. All of this to say, the Raptors are simultaneously preparing for a title run and bracing for a rebuild of their current roster.

Far too many teams become content with just making the playoffs and not rocking the boat. Ujiri took his shot to boost the Raptors up the league’s hierarchy. The ultimate risk. Much respect for taking it.

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NBA Daily: Quality Free Agents Still Available

Many quality free agents are still available nearly three weeks into free agency, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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With the NBA Summer League over and training camps a few months away, the NBA would normally be quiet this time of year. Apparently the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors didn’t get the memo as they agreed to a trade centered around Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan. Additionally, Carmelo Anthony has finally been traded to relieve the Oklahoma City Thunder from a tremendous tax burden.

As the dust settles from these trades, many free agents continue to wait in the wings. The list includes many talented players who will eventually make their way back onto an NBA team’s roster. Some will return to the team they played for last year, which is especially likely for restricted free agents (e.g., Marcus Smart). Some may, for a variety of reasons, not return to an NBA roster. Last year Rodney Stuckey sat the year out and used the time to improve his health in order to make a comeback this year. Former All-Star center Roy Hibbert just announced his retirement at age 31 after not being active last season.

The list of available restricted free agents has seriously dwindled now nearly three weeks into the free agency period. RFAs such as Marcus Smart (back to the Boston Celtics) and Jabari Parker (to the Chicago Bulls) have recently signed new contracts. These signings, among others, leaves Houston Rockets RFA center Clint Capela and Los Angeles Clippers RFA center Montrezl Harrell as two of the bigger names left on the board.

Available Restricted Free Agents:

Clint Capela

Clint Capela is coming off of his best and most efficient season averaging 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks in 27.5 minutes a game (all career highs) and he is only 24 years old. Capela also spearheaded a defense that, when combined with James Harden’s offensive mastery, pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals. Reports are that Capela has turned down an initial offer to re-sign for well below his max. While the clock ticks on the Rockets and Capela, Capela finds himself in what remains a punitive free agent market. The Sacramento Kings is the only other team capable of immediately signing Capela to a competitive contract to lure him away from the Rockets. To make matters worse, the Kings have been committed to stocking their roster with as many big men as possible making them a less-than-ideal suitor for Capela’s services.

Montrezl Harrell

Montrezl Harrell won’t generate as many headlines as the other RFAs that have been in the news lately but don’t sleep on him. In a season that never went according to plan for the Clippers, Harrell was one of the bright spots for the team. Harrell, acquired by the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, showed tenacity on offense as he served as a strong offensive rebounder, floor runner and helped the Clippers weather a five-game stretch where center DeAndre Jordan was unavailable. Harrell played especially well in place of Jordan. However, working against Harrell is the Clipper’s roster crunch. The team has 18 players on the roster, not counting Harrell. If the Clippers do ultimately decide to bring back Harrell, the Clippers will have to make several moves to clear roster spots.

Rodney Hood

Cleveland Cavaliers RFA wing Rodney Hood also remains available. Utah Jazz fans can relate to the ups and downs of cheering for Hood who has flashes of brilliant play but remains inconsistent. Hood was acquired during last season to help bolster the Cavaliers’ championship run. However, Hood’s scoring, three-point shooting, overall statistics and minutes went down significantly due to his uneven play. While Hood is still a capable player, his time with the Cavaliers did not end well, which has impacted his stock around the league. It didn’t help Hood’s cause when he was benched in the postseason and he subsequently refused to enter the game when instructed to. The Kings, in need of help on the wing, could be a suitor for Hood’s services. However, Cleveland could match any such offer as the franchise continues to build a new team after the loss of LeBron James.

Available Unrestricted Free Agents:

Dwyane Wade

The group of remaining unrestricted free agents is a mixed bag. As mentioned above, there is at least a chance that one of these players may not even make a roster when the dust settles this offseason. Dwyane Wade has bounced around the league the last few years with stints with the Bulls, Cavaliers and a most recent return to the Miami HEAT under his belt. Wade remains capable of spurts of offense and is a fan favorite in Miami. The most obvious result here is a return to Miami. However, Wade himself commented regarding a potential return or possibly retirement.

“When I get back from China, I’ll focus on that [decision],” Wade said while in China. “The basketball will take care of itself. I’ll sit down and figure that out once I get back from this tour at some point.”

Michael Beasley

Michael Beasley remains unsigned despite a strong outing last season for the New York Knicks. Beasley started 30 of 74 games played. His numbers don’t jump off the boxscore: 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 22.3 minutes. However, these are some of the best numbers he’s put up in years and the most consistent he has played since 2012-13. The Knicks may likely move on from Beasley but he remains a viable scorer who could come off the bench and start in a pinch for many teams if the price is right.

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young remain unsigned veterans who offer potential teams a scoring punch off the bench. Young has the benefit of showing that he contributed in spurts to the Warrior’s championship season while not becoming a distraction. Both are known for knocking down difficult outside shots but can be inefficient scorers and potential liabilities on defense.

Honorable Mentions

A few notable big men remain available as well. Phoenix Center Alex Len never became the elite big man the Suns had hoped for when they used the fifth pick in the 2013 draft to acquire him. However he remains a serviceable player. For his career, Len averages 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes. He is somewhat mobile and could be a strong option for a team looking for a backup center. Centers Al Jefferson and Jahill Okafor can both score the basketball but have to directly combat the notion that they have become antiquated. The modern game calls for mobile centers that shoot reliably from the outside to stretch the floor, are efficient on offense, can guard the rim as well as being at least somewhat capale of covering ball handlers on switches. Okafar and Jefferson don’t fit that profile and will have to convince potential suitors that despite their meager contributions over the last few seasons that they can sufficiently adapt to the modern game and make a positive impact.

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NBA: Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan Makes Sense

In an unexpected move, DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard swapped teams, and it makes complete sense.

Dennis Chambers

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The Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio is finally over.

In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, news broke via Twitter that Leonard was about to be shipped across the Canadian border to the Toronto Raptors for — get this — DeMar DeRozan.

Leonard, and his deteriorated relationship with the San Antonio Spurs, dominated the offseason headlines, and while reports constantly whizzed around about where the All-Star small forward would wind up — maybe Los Angeles, maybe Philadelphia, maybe Boston — his final destination is one that came completely out of left field (despite the current odds).

While many people viewed the situation with Leonard as a chance for San Antonio to start fresh and plan for the future, the Spurs appeared to have no interest in that avenue. The entirety of the deal, Leonard and Danny Green for DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick displays a win-now outcome for each party.

After winning 59 games and obtaining the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors eventually were bounced by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sweeping fashion. Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 Coach of the Year, was fired after not being able to extend the franchises’ best season to an NBA Finals appearance. It appeared, with LeBron moving West, that the Raptors were going to run it back one more time to see if they could finally break through to the game’s biggest stage.

On the other side, the Spurs were coming off of a season in which they won 47 games and were two games out of the Western Conference’s third seed — all of which they achieved without Leonard. In the waning years of Gregg Popovich’s career, it appeared his team was still talented enough, and system still effective enough, to make relevant noise in the playoffs without a superstar player.

At its core, this deal comes down to each team swapping their best player for the other’s. Leonard gets out of San Antonio, to a team whose core won 59 games in the East. DeRozan gets the benefit of fitting into a system with the best head coach in the league, on a very competitive roster.

Now, it remains to be seen how happy each player will be in their situations. Reports surfaced early Wednesday morning that both players were dissatisfied with the trade outcome. But, as we all know, winning cures everything.

On the Spurs’ front, it’s interesting how little they considered trade packages for future picks and quality role players. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported San Antonio rebuffed offers from the Sixers and Celtics that were centered around future assets, in turn focusing their trade efforts on the likes of Ben Simmons, and the Celtics’ young core. Instead of landing a handful of assets or players that may not materialize until Popovich is gone, the Spurs reeled in a player who is a year removed from averaging 27 points per game. Oh, by the way, he’s also under contract for the next three seasons.

DeRozan keeps the Spurs relevant. Maybe he doesn’t help them beat the Golden State Warriors (in fact, he most certainly doesn’t), but he allows his new team the chance to win meaningful games in the postseason over the next three years.

From everything that’s been reported, there was no way Popovich was going to commit the final few years of his NBA life to a rebuild. With a man like that at the helm, and a star player like DeRozan under contract, who knows what other tricks San Antonio might have up its sleeve.

Up in Toronto, if the Raptors can convince Leonard to play this season, their core plus an upgrade on the wing might finally be enough to break through to the Finals. New head coach Nick Nurse suddenly has a player widely regarded as a top-five talent in the league on his roster to accompany a deep and talented core. Although, just like in San Antonio, Leonard might not add enough to the Raptors to dethrone the Warriors. However, he suddenly has a better supporting cast to try and give Golden State a run for its money.

Plus, given Toronto’s inability to get out of the East, a Finals appearance in its own right would be considered a success next season.

All around, maybe this wasn’t the deal we expected to get Leonard out of San Antonio, but digesting the move from all angles, it appears to be the most sensible.

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