In the fourth installment of the Prodigies Series, Basketball Insiders takes a look at Myles Turner or the Indiana Pacers and Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Out of all the players included within this series, Myles Turner may be the guy whose game has the most balance. On both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, Turner excels in numerous categories. Although “hard” stats—such as points and rebounds per game—may not be at the top of this list when compared to his prodigy peers, his efficiency, when compared to his peers, is off of the charts. The second-year man out of Texas seems to be on the verge of really taking off. He has made large scale improvements within his game from his rookie season, and because of this, the versatility and balance that he brings the Pacers is quite evident.
Like Turner, Zach LaVine also has turned heads in Minnesota. The super athletic LaVine is the 2015 and 2016 NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion. However, now in his third year in the league, LaVine has the potential to develop his game into much more than just a high-flyer. There are several parts of his game, if improved, that could generate substantial performance improvement.
Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of both Turner and LaVine.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
15.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 53% FG, 79% FT, 43% 3PT (through 40 Games)
Versatility – As his numbers are reflecting, Turner is showing the ability to effectively master many parts of the game on both sides of the court. Compared to all of the other players included within this series, Turner’s versatility stands out the most. He ranks in the top half of the league in almost every offensive and defensive category. In some areas, Turner is off the charts. His jumpers off of the dribble, finishes around the basket and offensive rebound put-backs are stellar. Turner ranks in the 100th percentile (in other words, as the best player in the league) in jumpers off of the dribble. In regards to finishes around the rim, Turner ranks in the 95th percentile and with put backs, he is in the 97th percentile. On the defensive end, he is stellar when it comes to isolation defense. He has only allowed 16 points on 35 possessions this season, which ranks him in the 96th percentile of the league in this category.
Moving without the ball – Turner moves fluidly through the Pacers’ offense and effectively finds the open areas down low for dump-offs on his teammates’ drives to the basket. Turner also effectively sneaks behind defenses and uses his length and ability to finish around the rim. He is shooting 68 percent from the field and averages 1.38 points per possession in these situations. That ranks him in the 72nd percentile of the NBA. Off of flash cuts, Turner is averaging 1.14 points per possession and ranks in the 83rd percentile in the league. Turner does a really good job filling open spots on the floor and presenting himself to teammates, whether on hand off pops or screen and pops to the basket. On basket cuts, Turner is in the 72nd percentile in the league, averaging 1.45 points per possession.
Spot Up Opportunities – Turner has scored 95 points on 85 possessions in no dribble catch-and-shoot situations and ranks in the 78th percentile in the league. He is effective on catch-and-shoot opportunities because he has his body to the rim, has good foot work, and does a good job getting his shot off quickly.
Transition Scoring – Turner runs the floor like a guard. He excels by sprinting the lanes on the break and attacks the rim on finishes. He ranks in the 79th percentile in offensive efficiency in transition, averaging 1.26 points per possession. In secondary transition, Turner also does an effective job seeking out trailer scoring opportunities. As the trailer, Turner ranks in the 83rd percentile in the league, is averaging 1.36 points per possession, and is shooting 61% from the field.
Assist to Turnover Ratio – It is hard to find areas in which Turner struggles. However, one area where Turner could improve is with taking care of the ball. Turner’s game is not built around facilitating for his teammates. He generally creates his production through looking to score the ball himself. This being said, Turner could take care of the ball more effectively. Almost halfway through the season, Turner is averaging 0.9 assists and 1.4 turnovers per game. His -.64 A/TO ratio is not terribly concerning, considering his tremendous improvement in all other areas of his game over the course of the past year, but he could stand to improve.
Post Up – Turner has the most room for improvement in the post, where in the half court he is averaging just 0.8 points per possession, scoring 44 points on 55 possessions. Turner is shooting just 38 percent from the field in these situations.
Guarded Jumpers and End of clock – Turner ranks in the 38th percentile on short clock jump shots, scoring 11 points on 17 possessions, where he is shooting only 24 percent. On guarded jumpers in the half court, Turner is also shooting a low percentage (34 percent), ranking in the 22nd percentile in the league.
Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
20.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.0 apg, 47% FG, 86% FT, 42% 3PT (39 Games):
Dynamic Transition Scorer – LaVine has a knack for scoring the ball in transition. Overall, he is averaging 1.3 points per possession. He is especially effective from the right side of the court, where he ranks in the 92nd percentile in the league, scoring 42 points on 26 possessions. He ranks in the 75th percentile in scoring efficiency when running the middle of the floor, scoring 18 points on 11 possessions. He also does a solid job pushing the ball in transition as the ball handler. In these situations, he is averaging 67 points on 63 possessions, ranking in the 73rd percentile in the NBA.
Perimeter Shooter – LaVine is a great spot up jump shooter. He has scored 105 points on 78 possessions this season, ranking him in the 89th percentile in the league. He is effectively shooting the ball when left open or when guarded. LaVine currently ranks in the 90th percentile in the league in catch-and-shoot opportunities when left open and when guarded in the half court, shooting 41 percent guarded and 50 percent when left open.
Scoring, Moving without the ball – LaVine does a great job mixing up how he scores the ball in the half court. He uses dribble hand off, screens and cuts to free himself for opportunities. On hand offs, LaVine is shooting 48 percent from the field and ranks in the 80th percentile of the NBA, scoring 138 points on 129 possessions.
Off of the ball, LaVine uses basket cuts to create scoring opportunities around the rim. He ranks in 90th percentile in the league on scoring while coming off cuts. LaVine does a great job using dribble hand offs to create space between himself and his defender. This is also true on dribble hand offs, as LaVine ranks in 81st percentile in the league, scoring 70 points on 64 possessions. Off of screens, LaVine loves to come straight off of the screen for scoring opportunities. Interestingly, like Devin Booker (another prodigy), LaVine shoots the ball more effectively when he is coming off to his left side. Coming off left, he averages 1.38 points per possession, ranking him in the 92nd percentile in the league, while coming off right he averages just .75 points per possession, ranking him in the 23rd percentile in the league.
Transition, Left Lane Finishes – Despite LaVine’s overall stellar transition scoring numbers, he has struggled scoring the ball when operating from the left side of the floor. He ranks in the 30th percentile in the league, averaging just .96 points per possession and scoring 24 points on 25 possessions. In transition from the left side, he shoots just 48 percent from the field.
Isolation from Top of Key – LaVine struggles with efficiency when scoring the ball from top of the key. He is averaging .67 points per possession and ranks in the 22nd percentile of the league in this category. When driving the ball from the top of the key going left, LaVine really struggles, ranking in the second percentile in the NBA. As mentioned above, LaVine is a hard driver right and is most efficient creating going right. When he drives left, LaVine wants to get back to his right hand to finish. Often, this tendency has him shooting back into the defense as opposed to relying upon his left hand around the rim. His efficiency going left will need to improve if he is to improve his performance.
Pick-and-Roll, Right Side of Floor – Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler Refusals – When LaVine turns down ball screens off the dribble, he also struggles. He ranks in the 25th percentile in the NBA in these situations, averaging just .79 points per possession and shooting just 35 percent. When refusing ball screens, LaVine tries to get all the way to the rim but has only scored 10 points on 12 possessions.
Pick-and-Roll, Right Side of Floor – LaVine ranks in the 11th percentile in the NBA when working off of the right side of the floor in pick and rolls. Again the theme remains, when LaVine is forced to come off to this left hand in these situations, which generally happens in ball screen action taking place on the right side of floor, he struggles. LaVine is posting .61 points per possession in these situations this season, scoring 17 points on 28 possessions.
In the next part of this series, Basketball Insiders will evaluate the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and The New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis.
NBA AM: Most Likely All-Star Snubs
Damian Lillard seems to top the All-Star snub list every season. It couldn’t happen again, could it?
This year the NBA has famously decided to mix up the way the All-Star rosters work, while rather infamously deciding against televising the draft that will organize those players into teams, but even as some things change, some things remain the same.
Just like every year, there will be snubs when the All-Star reserves are announced on Tuesday night. Oh, there will be snubs.
The starters already have been selected, chosen by a combination of fan votes, media votes and player votes, the latter of which were taken so seriously that Summer League legend Jack Cooley even earned a single nomination from one especially ornery player voter.
For those that missed the starters, they include LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid from the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and James Harden from the Western Conference.
That leaves seven more reserves from each conference and way more deserving players than that from which to choose. These will be selected by the coaches, per tradition, but it’s anybody’s guess who ends up making the team. There absolutely are going to be some massive snubs this year, so let’s take a quick look at the most likely candidates to earn roster spots this winter, as well as who that might leave out of this year’s event in Los Angeles.
The Eastern Conference
Let’s start with the “sure things,” which almost certainly will include with Indian Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. Not only is he putting up a career-best 24/5/4 line, but he’s also averaging two steals per night for an Indiana team that currently lives in the playoff picture despite dismal expectations. That’s almost entirely because of Oladipo.
In the frontcourt, there was plenty of healthy debate when Embiid was voted the starter over Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, so there’s a very good chance that those two guys find their way to the roster, as well.
Kevin Love, who also is having a monster statistical season, seems like the most obvious third frontcourt guy, but his defense stinks and the Cavs haven’t exactly proven themselves worthy of two All-Stars. Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris both are having borderline All-Star seasons for a borderline playoff team, but they are the closest contenders to stealing away that third frontcourt reserve slot from Love.
Beyond that, Bradley Beal or John Wall likely will be the “other” guard reserve, but choosing which one is dicey. Wall’s the four-time All-Star, but Beal arguably is having the better year and has been snubbed for this event entirely too many times already. It doesn’t seem likely that both guys will make the team.
The wild cards could be that “other” Wizards guard among Beal and Wall, one of those two Pistons players, Miami’s Goran Dragic (they are fourth in the conference, rather surprisingly), Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, or Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons.
What seems most probable is that Oladipo and Beal earn the Eastern Conference reserve slots, with Horford, Porzingis and Love earning the backup frontcourt positions. Lowry and Wall feel most likely as reserves.
That means the most likely Eastern Conference snubs will be: Goran Dragic, Ben Simmons, Andre Drummod, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton.
The level of controversy with this group feels fairly low, though if Dragic or Drummond were to make the team over Wall or Love, the conversation would be a lot feistier.
The Western Conference
Choosing the reserve guards in the Western Conference is a no-brainer. It will be MVP candidates Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, which immediately means that if Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Paul George are not named as Wild Card players, they will be left off of the team. That’s about as “yikes” as “yikes” gets.
The battle for the frontcourt spots are going to be no less brutal, even with Kawhi Leonard effectively out of consideration having missed so much time at the beginning of the season. The Spurs will have an All-Star anyway, though, which makes LaMarcus Aldridge all but a lock.
Towns, who is averaging a 20/12 with over two assists and 1.5 blocks per game on one of the West’s top teams, also feels likely to get in. That means Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic are the two guys expected to battle over that last frontcourt spot, and both deserve real consideration. Green’s importance is less obvious to this Warriors team with Durant on the roster, but he’s no less essential even if his offensive numbers are down. Jokic, meanwhile, has kept Denver in the playoff hunt even without Paul Millsap, and is the best passing big man in the game.
The most likely scenario in terms of Western Conference reserves has Butler and Westbrook getting voted in at guard, Aldridge, Towns and Green voted in as frontcourt players, and Thompson and Lillard voted in as the wild cards.
That means the most likely Western Conference snubs will be: Chris Paul, Paul George, and Nikola Jokic.
Paul has missed 17 games this season, which is just too many when there are so many other great guards from which to choose, and George’s usage has dropped massively in Oklahoma City. As for Jokic, somebody has to get snubbed, and the other reasonable possibility is that he be named a wild card player at the expense of Lillard, and no NBA fan should have to see that happen yet again.
The 2018 NBA All-Star Reserves will be announced at 7:00 p.m. EST on January 23 on TNT.
Tune in Tuesday night to see which players will make the team, and which will inevitably be snubbed.
NBA Daily: Rockets Might Be Formidable Challenge For Warriors
If nothing else, the Rockets gave everyone, including the Warriors, something to think about by beating the champs.
For those that had any lingering doubt as to the authenticity of the Houston Rockets, Saturday afternoon’s win over the Golden State Warriors should serve as a bit of a wakeup call.
Sure, championships aren’t won in mid-January, but by virtue of the win, the Rockets won their season series against the Warriors, 2-1.
Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season—the year the Warriors won the first of three consecutive Western Conference Finals—they’ve lost a season series to just one other team: the San Antonio Spurs.
A review of the tape suggests that those that believe that Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are truly the team that has the best shot of beating the Warriors is founded in some fact. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have lost a total of 39 games.
In total, during that span, seven teams have failed to beat the Warriors even once, while 12 teams have beaten them one time. Four teams have beaten the Warriors twice and only the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have beaten them thrice.
The Spurs, though, have managed to beat the Warriors five times, with Popovich leading his team to a 2-1 regular season series win over the Warriors during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.
It’s safe to say that they have been the only team worthy of calling themselves anything near a worthy adversary to Stephen Curry and company.
At least, that was the case until Saturday night.
* * * * * *
With all due respect to Michael Jordan, if the Warriors win the NBA Finals this season, they can legitimately claim to be the best team in NBA history.
Two titles in three years is nothing to sneeze at, but the claim holds no weight whatsoever without ever having won two in a row, especially when scores of other teams have been able to accomplish the feat.
Aside from the two championships, the Warriors can claim the best regular season record in the league’s history and the distinction of being the only team to ever win 67 or more games for three consecutive seasons.
It is true that the Warriors have been almost invincible since the 2014-15 season, but things have changed now that Chris Paul has joined forces with James Harden.
This season, the Mike D’Antoni coached team ranks 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, a marked improvement over last season’s rank of 18th.
With Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute, they have four defensive stalwarts, one of whom (Ariza) who wasn’t able to suit up due to being suspended.
At the end of the day, beating a team in the regular season doesn’t really count for much, especially when you consider the greatest irony: in each of the seasons the Spurs beat the Warriors in their season series, the Warriors won the NBA Finals. The obvious asterisk there is that the Warriors didn’t play the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs and only managed to sweep them once the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in 2017.
Still, beating the defending champs in any game, much less a season series, has got to feel good. Whether they want to admit it or not, Saturday’s game against the Warriors was one that the Rockets wanted to get, that’s probably why Mike D’Antoni opted to reinsert James Harden into the game after he surpassed his 30-minute playing restriction.
In the end, Harden logged 35 minutes and ended up making what was the game’s clinching three-pointer.
* * * * * *
With the season a little more than halfway over, the Warriors still appear to be head and shoulders above those competing for their throne. Of the other contenders, the Rockets and Boston Celtics, at least for now, appear most formidable.
At the end of the day, what the Warriors have to fear more than anything is their own arrogance. As a unit, the team believes that it’s the best at playing small ball and that no other team can beat them as their own game. While that may be true, there have been a few instances over the past few years where that belief has ended up costing them.
What the Warriors seem to struggle with is understanding that not every possession can be played the same way, and as some possessions become more and more valuable, it would be wise for the team to play more conservatively and traditionally.
For example, when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving made one of the most incredible shots we’ve ever seen, but it was Stephen Curry who helped leave the door open for the Cavs with a pitiful final five minutes of the game.
Among the worst atrocities he committed was an ill-advised turnover that came as a result of an off target behind the back pass to Klay Thompson. In such a situation, any second grader could have and would have known that a simple bounce pass to the flashing Thompson would have sufficed.
Steve Kerr’s message to his team, though, is to play like themselves and not overthink their execution.
While that’s fair, it does at least leave room to wonder if the Warriors will have the humility to play conservatively when the game is on the line.
Curry himself admitted to playing too aggressively and making poor reads and decisions down the stretch versus the Rockets. The team passed up wide-open two-point shots for three-pointers that didn’t fall, and those botched opportunities played a direct role in causing the loss.
Fortunately, for the Warriors, not much was at stake, but their performance and decision-making in those tight minutes leave us to wonder what will happen if and when they find themselves in another tight moment or two…
And by virtue of the Rockets becoming just the second team to take a season series from the Warriors since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, we can also fairly wonder whether they truly have what it takes to take down the Golden Goliath.
G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts
David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.
Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.
Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.
Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.
With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.
1. Christian Wood
Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.
His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.
2. Jameel Warney
Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.
With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.
3. Melo Trimble
After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.
He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.
4. Joel Bolomboy
Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.
At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.
5. Jeremy Evans
Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.
With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.
Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.