Over the course of the previous month, Tommy Beer has ranked and tiered the free agents at each position.
Today, he’ll combine these rankings in order to determine the top 50 free agents available.
1. LeBron James – Player option
Obviously, the best player on the planet sits atop this list. LeBron will likely opt out of his current deal this summer and sign another two-year contract with an option to become a free agent again in 2016. That will allow him to sign an insanely lucrative long-term contract with Cleveland next offseason, after the salary cap spikes to upwards of $90 million.
2. Kawhi Leonard – Restricted
Here is the complete list of all NBA players who have won both an NBA Finals MVP award and the Defensive Player of the Year award at some point in their career: Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and… Kawhi Leonard. Amazingly, Leonard earned both of those commendations before he turned 25 years old. The Spurs will obviously offer Kawhi the max (or match if he signs a max offer sheet from another team). The only question is, might Leonard be willing to gamble and sign just a two-year deal with an option to opt-out in 2016, which would allow him to sign a far more lucrative contract next summer? Last month, we outlined the pros and cons of this potential strategy that may be employed by top-tier free agents this summer.
3. Marc Gasol – Unrestricted
Gasol is the crown jewel of the free agent center crop. A terrifically well-rounded big man, he can score on the low block or face up. He can defend the rim and rebound. He’s also one of the best passing centers in the NBA. He’ll have plenty of options next month, but it would be surprising if he took less money and left Memphis.
4. Kevin Love – Unrestricted
Unsurprisingly, because it makes the most fiscal sense to do so, Love has decided to opt out of his current contract. He basically has two options: 1. Sign a contract that gives him an option to become a free agent again next summer – the most likely scenario would be a two-year deal with an opt-out clause after the first season, just as LeBron did last year and will likely do again this year. 2. Sign a long-term max contract (which would be a five-year deal with Cleveland or a four-year deal with a team other than the Cavs). The most likely outcome may be Love signing a two-year deal with the Cavaliers, spending one more season in Cleveland proving he is fully healthy, and then cashing in with a huge contract next summer.
5. LaMarcus Aldridge – Unrestricted
Early on in the proceedings, most assumed Aldridge would re-sign with the Blazers this summer. However, reports have indicated that he has all but ruled out a return to the Rose Garden, and may be keenly interested in returning to his home state of Texas and joining either the Mavericks or Spurs. Might Aldridge make the same gamble as Kevin Love? If LaMarcus signed a max contract in 2016 (when he’d have 10 years of experience and could sign for 35 percent of the cap), here is what that deal would look like:
6. Draymond Green – Restricted
Green struggled a bit in the first few games of the NBA Finals, but the big-picture reality remains: Draymond is the type of young, hungry, defensive-minded, versatile, unselfish, aggressive player that general managers covet. And it’s not just intangibles that Green brings to the table. His all-around contributions would improve any roster. This past season he just missed becoming the second player in NBA history to tally at least 110 blocks, 110 steals and 110 three-pointers in the same season.
7. Jimmy Butler – Restricted
Some were surprised when Butler turned down a long-term offer from Chicago last summer (likely in the neighborhood of $44 million over four years), choosing instead to bet on himself. Well, the gamble paid off. Butler blossomed into a legit star this past season. His scoring average jumped from 13.1 points per game in 2013-14, to 20 points per game in 2014-15, due mainly to the fact that his field goal percentage soared from 39.7 percent to 46.2 percent. He also set career highs in rebounds, assists and blocks. He’s going to get multiple max offers this summer.
8. DeAndre Jordan – Unrestricted
Jordan has steadily improved year-to-year, and has firmly established himself as one of the NBA’s best big men. He finished the 2014-15 campaign averaging 11.5 points, a whopping 15.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks, while shooting a mind-boggling 71.0 percent from the floor. He joined Wilt Chamberlain as just the second player in NBA history to average at least 15 rebounds per game and shoot over 70 percent from the field. Jordan will demand max money on the open market. Yet, considering how invaluable he’s been for the Los Angeles Clippers this season, it’s hard to imagine Doc Rivers letting him leave L.A. (the Clippers will have his “Bird Rights” – which means they can offer a fifth season and significantly more money than other suitors).
9. Goran Dragic – Player Option
Dragic is the top point guard in what is a relatively weak group of free agents point guards. In 2013-14, Goran averaged 20.3 points per game and 5.9 assists, while shooting over 50 percent from the floor (LeBron James was the only other player to average at least 20/5.5/50 percent in 2013-14, and no player in the NBA matched those numbers this season). Dragic’s numbers weren’t quite as impressive in 2014-15 as he had to split minutes in a crowded Phoenix backcourt before being traded mid-season. The HEAT paid a steep price (two first-round draft picks) to acquire him from Phoenix at the trade deadline, so it’s safe to assume Miami will be willing to pony up and offer Dragic near-max money this summer.
10. Brook Lopez – Player Option
Lopez is arguably the best offensive center in the NBA. He’s averaged at least 20 points per game in five straight seasons. The problem is he’s also missed at least 65 games in two of his last four seasons. Even though he has a $16.7 million option he can exercise for next season, it appears he’ll opt out (while he’s healthy) and get a new long-term deal.
11. Paul Millsap – Unrestricted
Millsap had to settle last time he hit free agency. He ended up signing a two-year deal with Atlanta for just $19 million. Millsap was named an All-Star in each of his two seasons with the Hawks, and will be looking to cash in with a lucrative long-term deal this summer. However, is Atlanta willing to pony up to keep their core together (DeMarre Carroll is also a free agent this summer)?
12. Tim Duncan – Unrestricted
While Tim Duncan hasn’t yet beaten the undefeated Father Time, Timmy D has somehow managed to play him to a standstill. Duncan clearly can still produce at an elite level for another year or two. Will he retire, or sign one more contract with the Spurs before riding off into the sunset?
13. Dwyane Wade – Player Option
Wade is obviously no longer the player he once was, but he is a still capable of playing at an elite level. While durability is definitely a concern (he’s missed a total of 48 games over the last two seasons), his performance on the floor is still awfully impressive. Last season, he was one of just six players to average at least 21 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds. The other six members of this exclusive club were Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Blake Griffin. Wade has a $16.1 million player option for the 2015-16 season. It will be very interesting to see if he opts out this summer in order to sign one last big contract.
14. Danny Green – Unrestricted
Green starred at the University of North Carolina, where he became the only player in ACC history with at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 three-pointers, 150 blocks and 150 steals, yet still slid into the second round in the 2009 draft. He was eventually waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers before the San Antonio Spurs scooped him up. Green has flourished in the Spurs’ system ever since. He has played extremely well in big games, and helped propel the Spurs to a title in 2014. It could be argued that Green is the best all-around 3-and-D wing on the market this summer. Although he has publicly professed a desire to return to San Antonio, plenty of other GMs will come calling to test his allegiance.
15. Greg Monroe – Unrestricted
Monroe flashed elite talent and very intriguing upside early on in his career. As a 21-year-old, he averaged 15.4 points (on 52.1 percent shooting), 9.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game in his second pro season. However, he’s never taken his game to the next level. His field goal percentage has dipped below 50 percent for three consecutive seasons. His steal and block totals have decreased three years in row. Still just 24, some team will throw plenty of money (and possibly even a max deal) his way.
16. DeMarre Carroll – Unrestricted
Carroll bounced around the NBA, playing for four teams over his first three years in the league, before signing a two-year deal with the Hawks in the summer of 2013. He developed into a terrific two-way player in Atlanta and returned tremendous value for the Hawks (Carroll made just $2.4 million this past season). He survived a scare in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when it appeared he had suffered a major knee injury. Plenty of teams will be knocking down his door on July 1 to eagerly offer him a major raise.
17. Tristan Thompson – Restricted
There was a lot of debate last summer when Thompson reportedly rejected a four-year, $52 million offer from Cleveland. Many pundits felt it was a foolish decision. Well, after Kevin Love was injured in the Cavs opening round series versus Boston, Thompson played arguably the best basketball of his career. In the process, he proved just how valuable he is to Cleveland. The league’s best offensive rebounder boosted his stock considerably in the process.
18. Khris Middleton – Restricted
Middleton, who slipped into the second round in the 2012 draft, has improved dramatically in each of his first three seasons of his career. This past season, he emerged as a solid starter for the up-and-coming Bucks, averaging 13.4 points with an effective field goal percentage of 53 percent. At just 23 years old, is he just scratching the surface of his potential? That enticing ceiling will result in plenty of lucrative offers – but the early word is the Bucks have every intention of matching any offer.
19. Reggie Jackson – Restricted
Jackson is coming off a roller-coaster 2014-15 campaign. Over the first 15 games of the season, with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sidelined for the majority of those contests, Jackson averaged 19.3 points, 7.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds. Jackson was one of only two players to average at least 19/7/5 over the first month of the season. However, Jackson landed in coach Scott Brooks’ doghouse shortly after Kevin Durant and Westbrook returned, and Jackson’s numbers nosedived. He was then traded to Detroit, and after stumbling a bit in his first few games, played terrifically for the Pistons. In fact, Jackson was one of only four players to average at least 17 points and 9 assists in post-All-Star break action. The other three were Chris Paul, Westbrook and John Wall. Will the Pistons, who have Brandon Jennings returning from injury next season, be willing to match a large offer to Jackson this summer?
20. Brandon Knight – Restricted
Knight has already played for three different teams in his short NBA career. He’s shown steady improvement, but he is just a career 41 percent shooter from the floor and maybe more of an undersized combo-guard than pure PG. Still, he flashed considerable upside in 2013-14, when he averaged just under 18 points and five assists per contest. There will be plenty of interested parties vying for the 23-year-old’s services.
21. Monta Ellis – Player Option
Ellis had a $9.1 million option for 2015-16, but has decided to opt out. He’s durable (playing at least 80 games in four of the last five season) and he’s an offensive force, averaging at least 19 points per game in each of the last seven seasons. However, Ellis’ game is not without flaws. He’s a volume shooter, and he can be a liability on the defensive end. At the right price point, he’d be a solid addition to nearly any roster. The issue is a GM may have to overpay to land him, which reduces the value of return on investment.
22. Wesley Matthews – Unrestricted
Matthews tore his Achilles tendon in early March and is facing a daunting rehab, which will scare off plenty of suitors and likely drive his price down considerably. Before the injury, the underrated Matthews was enjoying another solid season, playing well on both sides of the ball. In fact, he was leading the entire league in made three-pointers at the All-Star break. Recovering fully from an Achilles tear is certainly scary, but if his price tag drops far enough, Matthews could end up being a very shrewd signing.
23. Tobias Harris – Restricted
Harris is one of the more difficult free agents to peg. He’s dealt with some injury issues (missing 35 games over the last two seasons), and his defensive aptitude isn’t all that impressive. However, Harris has shown plenty of intriguing upside during his stint in Orlando. Last season, he was one of just six players to average at least 17 points, six rebounds and one steal per game. (The other five were: Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, DeMarcus Cousins and Carmelo Anthony). Still just 22 years of age, Harris has yet to hit his prime.
24. Tyson Chandler – Unrestricted
Rumors of Chandler’s demise were greatly exaggerated. The Knicks dumped the injury-prone Tyson, believing his best days were behind him. However, Chandler bounced back in a big way in Big D. He averaged a double-double and, amazingly, posted the highest PER of his career (20.1). A veteran and proven winner, he’ll have plenty of suitors this summer.
25. Timofey Mozgov – Team Option
Any doubt about whether or not the Cavaliers would exercise Mozgov’s option and bring him back to Cleveland was wiped away by his phenomenal play in the NBA Finals, which confirmed the Cavs have a valuable player, who’ll only get paid $4.9 million next season.
26. Thaddeus Young – Player Option
Young doesn’t have any one particular skill that will bowl you over, but he contributes across the board. He’s been stuck playing for bad teams the last few seasons, which has depressed his value as he’s been forced into a larger role than he’d prefer. A player like Young excels when he can thrive as a complementary piece of a bigger puzzle (as he did with the Nets after coming to Brooklyn in the Kevin Garnett trade). A long, lengthy defender, Young can guard numerous positions, and also contribute on the offensive end of the floor as well. During the 2013-14 season, he became the first player in eight years to average at least 17 points, six rebounds and two steals over the course of a full NBA campaign.
27. Josh Smith – Unrestricted
While Smith still uses his length and athleticism to contribute defensively, his offensive game is so inconsistent and inefficient that the net returns aren’t always positive. Consider this: In 2013-14, Smith was the only qualifying player in the NBA to shoot below 42 percent from the field and below 55 percent from the free-throw line. Then, last season, Smith did it again. And, again, he was the only player in this ignominious club. A team will inevitably take a chance on his upside, but how much will a prudent GM be willing to gamble?
28. Luol Deng – Player Option
Deng’s production has trended in the wrong direction the last few seasons, but he still plays hard and plays the right way. For the right price, he’d improve any team he’s a part of.
29. Enes Kanter – Restricted
Kanter remains a bit of a mystery. He’s been in the league for four years, but just turned 23 and has never averaged more than 27 minutes per game in any season. He got a chance to play heavy minutes down the stretch in Oklahoma City last season and made the most of his opportunity, averaging 18.7 ppg and 11 rebounds. Will a team make a serious offer and force the Thunder to match? What offer would be high enough to scare OKC away?
30. Robin Lopez – Unrestricted
Not nearly as accomplished on the offensive end as his brother, Robin is a better defender and rebounder than Brook. Robin has also been far more durable. He’ll be available at a relatively affordable cost compared to the rest of the centers listed here. If you have plenty of offensive firepower on your roster, Lopez is solid fit as he will be happy to clog up the paint, board and bang.
31. Patrick Beverley – Restricted
The ball-hawking Beverley has been one of the NBA’s most aggressive defenders since elbowing his way into the Rockets’ rotation. However, his health is a bit of a question mark after missing the end of the regular season and the playoffs after undergoing surgery on his left wrist that will require four months of recovery. This may decrease demand for his services. If so, he may end up as one of the better values on the market.
32. Rajon Rondo – Unrestricted
It seems like only yesterday when it was all but a forgone conclusion that Rondo would have teams beating down his door to offer him a max contract when he hit the open market. However, Rondo’s stock, which was dipping, bottomed out in Dallas. After an uninspired effort in Game 2 of their playoffs series, the Mavericks sent him home and refused to pay him a postseason share. While Rondo’s performance this past season was undeniably disappointing, the signs of regression were certainly evident. Not only is he injury prone (Rondo has missed at least 14 games each season this decade), his production even when healthy is no longer elite. Once a feared defender, Rondo is now merely average. And his offensive efficiency has gone from bad to worse. He’s a career 26 percent three-point shooter and last season he became the first player in NBA history shorter than 6’6 to shoot below 40 percent from the free-throw line over the course of a full NBA campaign. We know he won’t be back in Dallas, but where will he end up? And for how much? The Rondo situation is extremely interesting and largely unpredictable.
33. David West – Player Option
One of the most respected professionals in the sport, West’s significant contributions are not limited to what he does on the floor. West’s role as a mentor and team leader greatly increases his value and overall worth.
34. J.R. Smith – Player Option
Employing Smith is akin to riding a roller-coaster, as his defensive effort and on-court focus often wax and wane. Still, he’s undeniably one of the best long-range shooters in the NBA.
35. Lou Williams – Unrestricted
Lou Williams bounced back in a big way for the Raptors this season. He tore his ACL in January of 2013, but proved he was fully recovered last season, averaging a career-high 15.5 points per game en route to winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. Williams is ideally suited for any team that needs a scoring spark off the bench.
36. Iman Shumpert – Restricted
Shumpert showed flashes of star potential as a rookie, averaging 9.5 points and 2.8 assists and earning First Team All-Rookie honors in New York. He also finished in the top 10 in steals that season (1.7 per game), and was recognized as one of the preeminent young perimeter defenders in the NBA. However, his game has regressed in the years since, possibly due to an ACL tear in 2012. He’s not quite the same feared defender, and his offensive game hasn’t improved (his free throw percentage has actually decreased in each of his last three seasons). Still, he’s a hard worker who’s yet to reach his full potential. He’ll draw interest on the open market.
37. Paul Pierce – Player Option
Pierce is obviously no longer the superstar he once was, but he clearly demonstrated his value during the Wizards’ playoff run last month, when Washington leaned on him heavily in the clutch and he came through time after time. Furthermore, his important contributions as a locker room leader may be more important than his on-court offering at this point of his career. Recent rumors have, once again, linked him to the Clippers.
38. Kosta Koufos – Unrestricted
It will be very interesting to see what offers Koufos fields once he hits the open market. Backing up Marc Gasol, his playing time has been limited. However, his Per-36 minute averages are impressive: 11.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
39. Arron Afflalo – Player Option
Afflalo, who dealt with a number of nagging injuries last season, is coming off an extremely disappointing 2014-15 campaign. He shot below 43 percent from the floor for the first time since his rookie season and posted near career-lows in rebounds and assists. He finished the year with a putrid PER of just 10.7, well below the league average. Afflalo opted out of the final $7.75 million on his contract, eager to prove last season was an aberration.
40. Corey Brewer – Player Option:
Brewer is set to make $4.9 million next season. It’s safe to assume he’ll opt-out and hit the open market, as he’s due for a raise and a longer contract after a solid showing in Houston over the second half of the 2014-15 season and especially in the playoffs.
41. Brandan Wright – Unrestricted
Wright had the best season of his young career in 2013-14 in Dallas, when he averaged 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds, while shooting 67.7 percent from the floor. Still, there are noticeable flaws in his game. Can he handle the rigors of starter’s minutes? Is he worth upwards of $6 million a season? We shall see….
42. Amir Johnson – Unrestricted
He’s played 10 seasons in the NBA, but he’s still just 28 years old. We know what Johnson is at this stage of the game: A solid rotation player with some obvious limitations.
43. Ed Davis – Player Option
Davis slid through the cracks last summer and had to settle for a low-ball offer from the L.A. Lakers. After a decent season in L.A., he’ll be a free agent again this summer.
44. Jordan Hill – Team Option
While he wasn’t quite as efficient this past season as he was in 2013-14, Hill posted career highs across the board in 2014-15, scoring 12 points and grabbing 7.9 rebounds per game.
45. Rodney Stuckey – Unrestricted
Stuckey filled in solidly for the Pacers last season, shooting a career-high from both the floor (44 percent) and from behind-the-arc (39 percent).
46. Al-Farouq Aminu – Player Option
His counting stats will never jump off the page, but the former lottery pick (eighth overall selection in 2010) continues to steadily improve. His PER and Win Shares have increased each season he’s been in the league. He was a tremendous value signing for the Mavs last summer, as Dallas paid him less than a million bucks this past season. He will undoubtedly opt-out (his player option is for just $1.1 million). This improving, defensive-minded wing could still be a solid value if signed for the right price.
47. Manu Ginobili – Unrestricted
He’s clearly still talented, but certainly not the same player he once was. Does Ginobili come back for one last stint in San Antonio, or ride off into the sunset?
48. Jae Crowder – Restricted
After seeing limited and sporadic minutes over his first few seasons in Dallas, Crowder got a chance to shine in Boston after a mid-season deal sent him to the Celtics. Efficiency is an issue (he posted just an eFG below 47 percent), but the energy and defensive effort he brought to the table reportedly impressed Celtics management. We shall see what kind of offers Crowder might receive this summer, and if Boston will match.
49. Jared Dudley – Player Option
Every good team needs a ‘glue guy’ like Dudley. A solid shooter with a high-basketball IQ, Dudley is the type of veteran bench contributor that GMs desire when fleshing out a roster. Dudley has yet to decide if he will exercise his player option (he has one year and $4.3 million left on his current deal).
50. Marco Belinelli – Unrestricted
As more and more of a premium is placed on three-point shooting league-wide, sharp shooters such as Belinelli will always have value.
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Houston Rockets
Ben Nadeau continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by analyzing the Houston Rockets.
Over the course of July and August, Basketball Insiders embarked on grading all 30 NBA teams for their offseasons — additions, subtractions, draft picks, trades, etc — and their potential headed into the 2019-20 campaign. Between today and autumn, franchises will be tasked with figuring out how their roster pieces, both new and old, might mesh together on the floor. At long last, the journey has nearly reached its conclusion but a reshuffling of the hierarchy has left the recently-superior conference in a state of unpredictability.
Between Kevin Durant leaving for new opportunities, Anthony Davis finally getting his way and Kawhi Leonard teaming up with Paul George, the Western Conference, for now, is anybody’s best guess. Among those with an imaginable volatile future, the Houston Rockets will be a mystery box of highs and lows, anchored by two ball-dominant MVPs and former teammates. James Harden and Russell Westbrook need no introduction, but their fit has been questioned since the latter was snagged in a shock deal for the oft-injured Chris Paul.
There are other pieces here, most definitely, as general manager Daryl Morey continues to find gems in the league’s tiniest nooks and crannies, but make no mistake: The Rockets’ ceiling will only rise as far as Harden and Westbrook can co-habitat. It’s both the million-dollar query and a philosophical wonder, a beard-sized challenge that’ll come to define the new-look NBA by January — for better or for worse, however, that remains to be seen.
But before any Westbrook-related fireworks can commence, it’s worth looking back on a mostly successful campaign for Houston in 2018-19.
Despite experiencing major turnover to a roster that was once an ill-timed Paul injury away from eliminating the perpetually historic Warriors during the previous postseason, Houston recovered better than many expected. An early, ugly spat between Paul and the Lakers’ Rajon Rondo, a long-time rival, helped to put the Rockets in a 1-5 hole to start the season, where an ever-so-slight inkling of worry began to creep in. But Harden — the eventual runner-up in a contested MVP race, only bested by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s other-worldly efforts — erased those apprehensions with an electric effort every night.
For the Rockets, that was often more than enough.
Harden played 36.8 minutes per game, practically a dead tie with Bradley Beal and Paul George for the league lead, and finished as one of two players with a PER over 30 (Antetokounmpo). The feared iso-ball mastermind tallied 36.1 points per game — a staggering eight full points ahead of the second-placed George — and ended as the seventh-best assister (7.5) on the ladder too. The former MVP made 4.8 three-pointers and nabbed an even two steals per game too, numbers that placed Harden, once again, as second-best in the NBA. Not a single player attempted or made more free throws than Harden either — a result largely thanks to the bearded-assassin’s flat-out insane 40.47 usage percent, the second-highest season-long rate in basketball history.
(Westbrook’s 41.65 rate in 2016-17, his MVP-worthy campaign, ranks first all-time, but that is a detail better suited for another section.)
To cap off a list of personal achievements that could truly run the length of this entire piece, Harden scored 30 or more points in 57 games, topped 50 in nine of them and hit 60 twice. For everybody else that stepped on the court for Houston in 2018-19, they reached the 30 point-mark a combined total of five times (Eric Gordon, 3; Clint Capela, 1; Paul, 1).
After the All-Star break, when Harden embarked on the equivalent of a nirvana-induced bender in all the best ways, the Rockets went 20-5 and secured the conference’s fourth seed. Unfortunately, a significantly tight race in the standings left Houston on the same side of the bracket as Golden State, who dispatched them in a tough six-game series during the second round and eliminated the Rockets for the fourth time in the last five postseasons.
All and all, it was a concentrated, historic effort for a franchise that was doubted after losing key rotation pieces like Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza the summer beforehand.
But what they did next might’ve been even more unbelievable.
So, Russell Westbrook — let’s get into it, finally.
On Jul. 11, the Rockets pushed all-in by trading Paul and first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, plus pick swaps in 2021 and 2025, for Westbrook. Apparently, James Harden was a loud, positive voice during the acquisition of the point guard and believes that the union can work.
In any case, Westbrook is an upgrade over Paul, if nothing else, given his nearly clean bill of health over the last half-decade. 80, 81, 80, 73 in the games played department for Westbrook compares so generously to Paul’s injury-riddled count of 74, 61, 58, 58 that the Rockets might consider the reliability worth the blind leap of faith alone. Since Harden and Durant departed Oklahoma City, Westbrook turned into a usage beast and evolved into the type of No. 1 option that many had envisioned for the floor-running, high-flying future Hall of Famer.
Additionally, Westbrook’s 10.7 assists per game crushed second- and third-placed Kyle Lowry (8.7) and Paul (8.2), respectively, while his rebounding efforts should help a Rockets side that ranked almost dead-last in rebounds per game last year at 42.1. On offense, the ball-hawking, aggressive duo should get Houston in transition early and often, a place where they succeeded all year long by putting up 18 points per game off opponent turnovers. When considering a near-perfect outcome, the pair would have to reignite their dynamic partnership, equally share responsibilities and not end up watching alternate possessions as the other isolates.
However, the Rockets have built their brand on volume three-point shooting — that, naturally, is one of Westbrook’s weakest tendencies. At 16.1 three-pointers made (and a ridiculous 45.4 attempted), Houston blew away opposition from behind the arc in 2018-19. The season before that, they did it again (15.3, 42.3) — but how about the year prior? You guessed it: The Rockets’ 14.4 three-pointers made on 40.3 attempts per game during 2016-17 also lead the entire league. Simply put, it’s the key tenant of Houston’s up-tempo offense and the forward-thinking Morey often fills out the roster with like-minded players during free agency to boot.
Westbrook has only shot over 34 percent from three-point range on one occasion over his 11-year career and is coming off a disappointing 29 percent effort during his final season in Oklahoma City. Like most professionals, Westbrook can get scorching-hot from deep but it’s inconsistent enough to question his perimeter fit alongside Harden, an elite penetrator that often drives and kicks to open three-point shooters. Still, mixing two recent MVPs, and getting out from under Paul’s albatross-sized deal, is a chance the Rockets will swing on every time — so, at this moment, the only thing left is to wait and see.
Of course, Houston made other moves too — that certainly happened!
Danuel House, Austin Rivers and Gerald Green all returned to the fold after dipping their toes into free agency — more of those athletic, adequate three-point shooters, obviously — while Iman Shumpert and Kenneth Faried both departed. On Jul. 19, the Rockets snagged Tyson Chandler to backup the blossoming Capela, then took fliers on Ben McLemore and Anthony Bennett a week later.
As a small note, Houston left the 2019 NBA Draft with no new additions.
PLAYERS IN: Russell Westbrook, Danuel House, Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett
PLAYERS OUT: Chris Paul, Kenneth Faried, Iman Shumpert
Lots of prayers, right?
There’s an undeniable magnetism in joining Harden and Westbrook together once more — two former MVPs in their respective primes — but how that practice plays out is still a relative unknown. The Rockets will continue to shoot a metaphorical truckload of three-pointers — hopefully, with some better looks than he got in Oklahoma City, Westbrook can get closer to the league-wide average. Even if he doesn’t, Houston holds plenty of deep-hitting cards to use at head coach Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced, high-volume mercy.
Clint Capela, bless him, has taken a backseat in discussions all summer because of Westbrook, but the 25-year-old has continued his ascent and recently averaged 16.6 points and 12.7 rebounds, both career-highs, on 64.8 percent shooting. He’s still range-limited but with Harden and Westbrook dishing open looks, and surrounded by many capable three-point shooters, Capela fills his role perfectly. In spite of some draft-time chatter of a possible Capela trade, Morey held onto his 6-foot-10, rim-protecting stalwart — a decision that’ll keep the Rockets from bleeding points in the paint for years to come.
So, then, what is next? Is their ceiling higher than last year? Lower? With an injured Thompson and departed Durant, could this be their year to enact revenge on the Warriors? Or did they fall behind the other conference risers? In August, these are some heavy questions that don’t have answers today, understandably.
Honestly, it’s impossible to fully and accurately predict the Rockets’ forecast — still, there is one fact already written in the stars, however:
It’ll be fun as hell, so buckle up and enjoy the show.
OFFSEASON GRADE: B
High-Performance Mindfulness: Energy Psychology – The NBA’s Best Kept Secret
Jake Rauchbach takes a deep dive into the positive correlation between the effectiveness of leading-edge Energy Psychology techniques in removing mental baggage and improving on-court statistical performance.
With the NBA’s latest initiative requiring all 30 teams to have mental health professionals on staff, the door has now been kicked wide open on in regards to High-Performance Mindfulness and mind-based holistic methods that support the well-being of the player both on and off the court.
As teams all around the league begin to expand their mental health groups, and the scope of their player development departments, the next logical step in player support could be the application of Energy Psychology-based techniques. These techniques zero in on the elimination of subconscious performance blockages for the direct aim of exponentializing on-court statistical improvement.
Before we discuss how NBA, college and international professional teams are implementing these High-Performance Mindfulness modalities to move the dial on on-court statistical performance, let’s first discuss the foundational mechanics of the player mindset, starting with the subconscious mind.
Energy Psychology techniques interface directly with the subconscious mind of the athlete for the goal of unlocking the player’s full potential.
The Subconscious Mind
Science tells us that the conscious mind makes up 1-10 percent of total brain capacity, while the subconscious mind makes up 90-99 percent. The conscious can focus on one to two things at any given time (reading and writing, e.g.), while the unconscious can manage thousands of tasks all at once, doing so while a person is generally unaware that it is happening.
The subconscious mind is about habit, pattern and muscle memory. For a player, tending to the subconscious is vital, because all hours of practice, training and repetition get logged there. A player’s subconscious is like a supercomputer, storing all programs (thoughts, emotions, feelings, images) from life’s past experiences.
Subconscious Performance Blocks
If not fully processed on the mental and emotional levels, thoughts, emotions, feelings and images from negatively-charged past experiences can often become trapped within the player’s subconscious mind. When this happens, performance blocks occur, ultimately throwing a wrench into instinctual response, muscle memory and on-court performance execution.
A prime example is Nick Anderson’s missed free throws in the 1995 NBA Finals, and the unresolved subconscious loop of blocking thoughts, emotions and feelings that ensued and sabotaged the remainder of his career.
Mental blocks can stem from on and/or off-court experiences. Off-court situations that seemingly have nothing to do with basketball frequently present the biggest challenges when improving performance by working through the mind.
Many times, players are unaware that the unresolved thoughts and feelings from their past are acting as performance impediments to success. Furthermore, these players generally do not have the skills to resolve these performance-blocking imbalances on their own.
From the pool of NBA, college, international and national team players that I have observed, below are some of the most common subconscious blocks to on-court statistical improvement:
1. Epic Failure: Epically failing the team, no matter the level of basketball, is one of the most commonly observed performance-blocking experiences. Often, the anxiety, embarrassment and shame attached to these unresolved memories can be carried throughout a career, effectively hampering performance. Case in point is Nick Anderson.
2. Freshman Year of College: When a player has not quite solidified their role or found their confidence and rhythm within the context of the team, volatile experiences on both the mental/emotional and performance levels can occur. The first few games of a college career can be overwhelming. Players often carry forward emotional discord from these events, until resolved.
3. DNPs & Injuries: When a player does not play for an extended period, it can mess with the psyche. NBA veterans who have experienced these stretches often carry it with them throughout their career with emotions such as lack of confidence, confusion and frustration. Watching teammates contribute while they are resigned to the bench can be debilitating.
4. Family & Home Life: Many performance issues at the deepest levels map back to off-the-court issues. It is important to note that the older the blocking emotional discord, generally, the more debilitating to performance it can become.
5. Recent Poor Performances: Subconscious blocks relating to recent hiccups in performance are common. It is prudent to address these immediately when fresh in the mind of the athlete so that long-term performance barriers do not occur.
With this breakdown, we are providing context to what coaches and players intuitively already understand: past negativity can affect future performance if it is allowed to linger.
This being said, when performance blocks exist, there is generally no amount of additional skill-development repetition, film study or strength and conditioning work that will help to unblock or unlock big time improvement for the player. The root cause of down trending performance held at the unconscious level has to be eliminated first.
This is something that many player development approaches have historically overlooked.
The Gap Within the Traditional Player Development Model
Although closing fast, a gap has existed within old constructs of traditional player development strategies.
Players have been viewed as purely mechanical commodities as if they were robots repeatedly able to generate top-level performance by the click of a button. Outside of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and maybe a couple of other all-world players, this is simply not the case.
Players are multi-dimensional beings requiring customized, specific support at all levels of their awareness (especially the subconscious, where performance habits are created and fostered).
Only addressing the physical component (on-court work/strength and conditioning), or only addressing the conscious mind/analytical component through film analysis and scouting, neglects possibly the most important aspect of the athlete – the subconscious (muscle memory) element, which directly influences the player’s effectiveness in each one of these areas.
Tweaking the player development model, by addressing this aspect, may present the best opportunity to date for helping players consistently optimize on-court performance throughout a season and a career.
This, then, begets the question: What is the most effective way to do this when incorporated within the context of an overall team dynamic? Enter Psychology.
Closing the Gap Through Energy Psychology
Energy Psychology or EP is quite possibly the best-kept secret in basketball player development, and may be on the verge of breaking out big-time as a way to facilitate massive statistical on-court performance improvement for players.
Based on ancient traditional Chinese healing principals, and rooted in empirically-based results, EP works directly with the natural energetic flow, or meridian system of the body, to unburden and unblock past lingering experiences still residing within the subconscious mind of an athlete.
This has the effect of freeing up the player’s ability to perform better and, quite possibly, could be the fastest way to supercharge on-court statistical performance when integrated within the totality of an existing player development program.
Once deemed nonsensical and out there, techniques like Touch-Point tapping, muscle testing and Reiki and Quantum-Touch are now being implemented by NBA teams, high-major Division-1 college programs, and European ball clubs, as ways to supercharge performance.
Players and coaches are beginning to turn to these methods to dramatically improve three-point shooting percentage, free-throw percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, VAL analytics, plus-minus offensive efficiencies and defensive efficiencies, mental focus, confidence, decision-making and leadership qualities, just to name a few.
This past season, the Los Angeles Clippers and their Integrated Player Development Department, employed the next level skill-sets of Dr. Laura Wilde, a cutting edge High-Performance Consultant who has been working with professional athletes for years. Dr. Wilde is a pioneer in this space, applying advanced Energy Psychology methods as a way to promote player well-being and to improve performance.
The Utah Jazz rely on Graham Betchart’s expertise as a long-time Elite Mental Skills Coach to star NBA players as a way to support their players both on and off the court.
As awareness around this space continues to build and these practices become common knowledge for helping players, roles for the High-Performance coaches who administer these Energy Psychology–Player Development-based techniques will become more defined.
For now, the most effective implementation of this type of specialist is likely as an embedded, trusted resource within an overall coaching staff or player development department.
The bottom line: The trend for improving performance through unlocking the mind is growing, and so too are the innovative and proven ways for producing positive change for players.
Energy Psychology and other types of High-Performance Mindfulness methods like it are now coming on-line as player development – secret weapons – in facilitating big-time statistical performance improvement for players.
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Philadelphia 76ers
In this edition of Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series, Matt John takes a look at the Philadelphia 76ers, one of the most talented albeit confusing teams in the league
When evaluating a team’s offseason, it can take a while to complete.
Between going over what happened last season, what they did this summer and predicting what lies ahead – it’s quite the exercise. You could almost call it a process.
Oh hey, speaking of processes, the next team up in this series? The Philadelphia 76ers.
Philadelphia has to feel good about itself. It came within a literal buzzer-beater from overtaking the reigning champion Toronto Raptors. They don’t have the same team that they did three months ago, but they still have a team that, should things break their way, can feasibly win its first title since 1983.
Their roster makeup is a tad confusing at the moment. Then again, saying that would imply that their roster construction has always made sense in the Embiid-Simmons era, which it hasn’t.
One thing is for sure, though: This team is going to be good. With Kawhi Leonard out of the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant probably out for the year, the Sixers have a bigger window than they’ve had in decades.
Give Elton Brand credit. In just his first year as general manager, the guy didn’t shy away from shaking things up. Between Philly’s so-so start to their season to the trade deadline, Brand made the following moves.
- Traded for a bonafide scorer who was available for cheap (Jimmy Butler)
- Gave up on a prospect whose lack of progress was not helping the team (Markelle Fultz)
- Acquired a pseudo star whose abilities fit like a glove next to Simmons and Embiid (Tobias Harris)
Since starting from scratch in 2013, Philly has always been about the future. The moves they made signified that the future was now. Butler wasn’t the best fit next to Embiid and Simmons, and Harris had never been on a team with aspirations nearly as high as Philly’s, but the talent that the Sixers had at their arsenal was gargantuan – gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated-like gargantuan.
Though Butler and Harris clearly made the Sixers a bigger threat for a title, progress was kind of slow after adding both of them.
Without Butler/Without Harris: 9-6 (Winning percentage of 60), Offensive Rating: 106.8 (19th overall), Defensive Rating: 106.9 (9th overall)
With Butler/Without Harris: 25-14 (Winning percentage of 64), Offensive Rating: 113 (7th overall), Defensive Rating: 108.9 (13th overall)
With Butler/With Harris: 17-11 (Winning Percentage of 61), Offensive Rating: 112.1 (10th overall), Defensive Rating: 110.3 (15th overall)
There are other factors that played into this. For example, it could’ve been the opponents who they played in those time frames. Or maybe it was Joel Embiid missing 18 games. Still, the Sixers somehow didn’t really take that next step they were hoping for. They finished the season 51-31, which qualified them for the third seed.
With Toronto and Milwaukee as their primary competition, that’s a mark the Sixers should be proud of. Maybe it would have been different if they had Butler and Harris from the get-go.
In their defense, some growing pains are in order when you shake up the roster to the degree that the Sixers did. When the playoffs come around, you can’t afford to wait for progress. When the Sixers entered the postseason, the progress they desired came, and it came swiftly.
After making quick work of the upstart Brooklyn Nets – and making someone look really dumb in the process – Philadelphia had quite the duel with Toronto. There were times where the Sixers looked completely outmatched against the Raptors. There were times where they completely outclassed the Raptors. To make a long story short, the craziest buzzer-beater – perhaps in playoff history – took them out for good.
As heartbreaking as that was, when you look at how the rest of the postseason turned out, the Sixers were the closest to eliminating the team who ended the Golden State superteam. Even if things didn’t end the way they wanted to, last season proved that Philadelphia is on the right track.
In a perfect world, the Sixers would have retained all three of Butler, Harris, and J.J. Redick. As we know, not everything went according to plan. That doesn’t mean the Sixers had a bad offseason. Far from it.
It all started with the draft. The Sixers had five picks coming into the draft and wound up keeping two of them. They wound up with Matisse Thybulle and Marial Shayok. There’s not much to say about Shayok besides that the best hope for him is adding some guard depth.
For Thybulle, he could add so much to the 76ers. He was one of the best defenders coming out of this draft. At the very least, he should make Philadelphia much stronger on that end of the floor. He’s not necessarily a future star, but his potential as an impact player is very high. Expect him to be in Philly’s rotation sooner rather than later.
As for free agency, well, the Sixers were among the teams that went through quite a bit of turnover.
Let’s just get to the main course. Jimmy Butler decided to take his talents to South Beach, which honestly was a “surprised, but not surprised” type of move. Unlike say, oh, Kyrie Irving and Boston, Butler didn’t leave Philly on bad terms. In fact, he didn’t leave the Sixers empty-handed either.
While Butler is gone, in comes Josh Richardson. There is definitely a talent disparity between Butler and Richardson. In fact, there were many times where Butler carried the Sixers on his back when the team could not get things going. Richardson doesn’t command the same kind of respect, but he brings certain advantages that Butler does not.
-At 25 years old, Richardson fits better with Simmons and Embiid’s timeline than Butler does
-As a career near-37 percent shooter from three, Richardson is a better floor spacer than Butler is
-At $10 million, he’s one of the best bargain contracts in the league with his production
Brand probably would have preferred keeping Butler, but considering the alternative – letting Jimmy Buckets walk for nothing – getting Richardson expertly salvaged the situation.
That wasn’t the only sly move Brand made this summer.
When you’re building a contender, nothing helps your chances better like taking away a valuable piece from one of your biggest rivals. Philly took Al Horford right under from Boston’s nose, simultaneously giving the team another dimension while knocking the Celtics down a peg.
Over the last two years, Horford has established himself as one of the better defensive bigs in the league. He’s not a rim protector, nor is he the best pick-pocket, but his elite defense comes from his smarts. You wouldn’t think he could match up against Embiid’s girth or the footwork to contain Ben Simmons’ speed, but he can and he has.
As one of the few players who has shown the ability to slow both Simmons and Embiid, Horford has been Philly’s worst nightmare since “The Process” went full-throttle. With him on board, both of their young stars should be able to play their games more smoothly, especially against Boston.
That would be more plausible if Horford’s fit on the Sixers was a perfect one, which it isn’t. Horford is slated to start at power forward, which he only played eight percent of the time last year. At 33 years old, Horford’s footwork is on the decline. Plus, last season, he struggled to play well on back-to-backs. The Sixers already have enough worries on their hands with Embiid’s conditioning. With Horford, they’re going to have all their fingers crossed.
The Sixers also brought in plenty of new faces to help round out the roster. Raul Neto and Trey Burke are good flyers to take when looking for a second or third-string point guard. Kyle O’Quinn didn’t do much for the Pacers last season, but he’s an upgrade over the likes of Greg Monroe and Amir Johnson.
This offseason hasn’t just been about who they brought in, but who they brought back.
Considering what they gave up for them, the Sixers had to keep at least one of Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris. Butler leaving for Miami increased the urgency to keep Harris at all costs. The Sixers definitely took that to heart, as they gave him a five-year/$188 million extension.
Harris is a talented scorer. Before he was traded to Philadelphia, he gained a lot of well-deserved All-Star recognition. He didn’t put up the same numbers as a Sixer – with some of that understandably coming from less touches – but those numbers fell further in the playoffs. Being traded mid-season gives him the benefit of the doubt. With more time, maybe he’ll figure it out.
That’s going to be hard though, because with Horford on the team, Harris is going to be playing a lot more at small forward now than he’s played in years. His best position is playing a stretch four because he’s not quick enough to cover wings, but his strength holds up against power forwards.
He could make the proper adjustments, but if he doesn’t, that could spell trouble. What makes it more troubling is that the Sixers paid Harris superstar money when the man, as good as he’s been, is not a superstar. If he’s put in the right role, keeping Tobias could be the right move no matter what he gets paid. Finding that role is going to be hard with the frontcourt logjam.
The Sixers wanted to keep their wing depth this summer. Along with Harris, management brought back James Ennis III – who carried his weight in the playoffs – and Mike Scott, who, regardless of his production, will get plenty of attention because of The Office.
Oh, and the Sixers are going to have to adjust to losing three-point marksman that is J.J. Redick. Redick’s three-point shooting was a threat. Richardson and Horford have a respected deep ball, but they don’t command the same respect that Redick did. He fit perfectly next to Simmons/Embiid. Playing without him is going to take some time to adjust to.
Losing Butler and Redick bites, but Philadelphia compensated well in response to their departure.
PLAYERS IN: Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Raul Neto, Trey Burke, Kyle O’Quinn, Shake Milton, Isaiah Miles, Chris Koumadje, Norvel Pelle (two-way), Marial Shayok (two-Way)
PLAYERS OUT: Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick, Greg Monroe, Boban Marjanovic, TJ McConnell, Amir Johnson
Boston, Milwaukee, Toronto and Philadelphia all lost a player(s) that played an important role in each team’s success. The difference between Philadelphia and the aforementioned teams is that they brought in a fair amount of talent to cover its losses. But was it the right talent?
This has been said about the Sixers all summer, but it bears repeating: This roster doesn’t make a whole lot of sense right now. Brett Brown is a good coach, and he redeemed himself pretty well in the playoffs following an embarrassing loss at the hands of the Celtics in 2018, but he’s got a lot on his plate this season.
This can go right or it can go so very, very wrong. It’s not just about who the Sixers gained and lost this summer. There still remains the question as to whether Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can reach their full potential when they play together. Simmons may never get a respectable jump shot, and Embiid’s conditioning is still an issue.
Both are two of the best young players in the game. If the Sixers are serious, they may have to choose between one or the other going forward. This isn’t something that needs to be taken care of now, but it is something that the Sixers should be paying close attention to.
This season could be the one where the Sixers finally cash in on the process just as much as it could be the confirmation that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will never co-exist on a championship team.
OFFSEASON GRADE: B+