After two close losses at home that saw their offense fizzle down the stretch and vaunted defense surrender points at a near league-high rate, the Chicago Bulls trail the Washington Wizards 2-0 heading into Friday’s Game 3 at the Verizon Center in Washington. Through two games, the Wizards have appeared by far the more talented team, and arguably possess the three most talented players in the series in Nene, John Wall and Bradley Beal. Nevertheless, the outcome of the series is not yet fait accompli. Given the competitive nature of the series, the Bulls could improve their chances by making a few adjustments. Although in-series adjustments are not a panacea for the Bulls’ overall offensive issues, a number of tweaks could enable them to at least extend the series and return it to Chicago.
Deal With Andre Miller
Watching Andre Miller inexplicably slicing up their team is one of the most vexing sights a basketball fan can witness. At a doughy 38 years of age and with no range outside of 15 feet, it seems impossible that he could still be an effective player at this point, much less one killing a great defense in the playoffs. Nevertheless, Miller has been key for Washington’s bench units in the first two games, compiling usage percentages of 28.3 and 41.7 the first two games. The Professor has 18 points in 24 minutes while keeping Wizards bench units afloat at the start of the second and fourth quarters–a time usually dominated by the Bulls when Tom Thibodeau deploys most of Chicago’s closing group including D.J. Augustin, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah.
The problem is that Miller has the size, strength and smarts advantage on Bulls backup point guard Augustin. Thibodeau normally abhors double-teaming the post, but in the fourth quarter of Game 1 he immediately ordered hard double teams from a big man on Miller right when he caught the ball in the post against Augustin. If the Bulls are going to double, this is probably the correct strategy because it keeps Miller out on the floor and obscures his passing angles with the long arms of a player like Gibson (who was the most frequent double-teamer). In Game 2, the Bulls overloaded Miller’s side with a soft double which allowed him to see over the defense and hit cutters. And if the Bulls wait to send help until Miller has already backed down, he will usually gotten to the middle of the floor where he can make passes to shooters much more easily.
Fortunately for Chicago, there are two tactics that could limit Miller’s impact. The simpler adjustment would be hiding Augustin on Trevor Ariza or Martell Webster while Jimmy Butler or another wing takes Miller. While these Washington wings have an even greater size advantage on Augustin than Miller, neither is a particularly intimidating post-up threat. Ariza scored only 14 points on 26 possessions all year on postups. Webster was better at 25 points on 24 possessions, but it is clear from the possession count that such postups are not normally a featured part of Washington’s offense. Neither is known as a particularly adept passer, so any necessary double-teaming would likely be more effective. The Bulls could also just double off Miller, who is not an effective spotup shooter. If Washington breaks its offense to get postups for either player, that is likely a win for Chicago. Ariza and Webster postups certainly seem very unlikely to match Miller’s performance from the first two games. Finally, taking Augustin off Miller will also help save his legs for offense, where he has been brutal down the stretch.
That is the easy solution, and frankly one I am very surprised the Bulls have not already deployed. But a better solution is available if Thibodeau were willing to make more drastic changes.
Rejigger the Rotation
Coaches are often reluctant to manipulate the rotation in the playoffs, for fear of upsetting team chemistry and overreacting to only a few games.* And Thibodeau is perhaps more set in his ways than most. But the Bulls could very clearly gain some advantages from simply changing the times (not even the amount) that their players are on the court. The Bulls are relatively rare in that they start two players, Kirk Hinrich and Carlos Boozer, who are clearly inferior to their backups. This is reflected by the fact that Boozer almost never plays in fourth quarters. The odd scheduling of minutes has not particularly hurt the Bulls in the second half of this season, but Washington’s personnel provides particular incentive to change to a more traditional rotation.
*Avery Johnson is famously blamed for downsizing the 67-win Mavericks’ starting lineup before their 2007 upset by Golden State, although it is debatable how much that one-game decision affected the outcome of the series. Plus, those very same Mavericks provide the great counterexample of J.J. Barea’s successful elevation to the starting lineup in the 2011 Finals against the HEAT.
Boozer has largely struggled in this series, as he has throughout the season. However, he has almost no chance of creating efficient offense against Wizards starters Marcin Gortat or Nene. Both of these players are longer, stronger, and quicker than Boozer. While he has been able to somehow squeeze off his midrangers at times,* those are barely efficient shots even when wide open. Boozer would have a much easier matchup against Trevor Booker on the second unit, or at the very least allow Noah or Gibson the matchup against Booker if Boozer is still guarded by Gortat or Nene. Against Booker, Boozer might be able to get into the post for his soft hook–a useless endeavor against the length of the Wizards’ starting big men. Moreover, Boozer is a poor matchup for Washington point guard John Wall’s pick and rolls, so having him play when Miller is on the floor is a much better option defensively.
*I am always shocked that he is able to do this, given Boozer’s overall lack of quickness and length and his complete inability to drive right. When he turns and faces, the opposition should get right in his grille and just stay there, forcing him to drive to his right hand. Nevertheless, he will often lull his defender to sleep without even taking a dribble, and somehow get enough space for his behind-the-head release.
Starting Augustin would also allow Hinrich to play with the bench unit against Miller, against whom he is an ideal matchup due to his size and willingness to scrap on postups. This would enable the Bulls to stop Miller without having to cross-match Augustin against wings like Ariza or Webster as suggested above. While Thibodeau probably considers Hinrich a better matchup against John Wall than Augustin, the latter has successfully guarded him throughout the series as well. Certainly, the dropoff between Hinrich and Augustin guarding Wall is less than the improvement if Hinrich guarded Miller.
Meanwhile, starting Gibson and Augustin would enable them to rest in the middle of the half and avoid getting worn down by playing almost the entire second half in one long stint, as Augustin did yesterday. That kind of usage does not mesh with the latest research on how humans recover.
The proof is in the pudding with Hinrich and Boozer so far. The Bulls have been outscored by 9.4 points per 100 possessions when Boozer plays, and 16.6 points 100 when Hinrich takes the floor. Spotting these players’ minutes in situations where they are more likely to be successful could help to reverse that trend, while also allowing the Bulls to better their miserable starts in the series.
More Mike Dunleavy
A big reason the Bulls struggled to score down the stretch in Game 2 was Randy Wittman’s decision to match Ariza on D.J. Augustin, who until the last few minutes had killed the Wizards. Ariza was able to use his length to go over picks and bother Augustin’s shot from behind, eliminating the open threes he was able to get on pick and rolls. The Wizards were able to put Wall on Hinrich with little chance of getting hurt. The Hinrich/Augustin pairing has been fantastic late in the season, but the Bulls have two awful fourth quarters to show it has not been effective against Washington. At least trying Mike Dunleavy in Hinrich’s place is the logical step.
Dunleavy and Augustin are the only Bulls players who are must-guard threats from long range. Hinrich has shot a decent percentage on threes this year, but has often passed up open shots in this series even when they are likely the best shot the Bulls are going to get. And Butler is pretty much unwilling to shoot out there unless he is absolutely wide open. Dunleavy has the height at 6’9 to get his shot off from the perimeter with even a sliver of daylight. What’s more, playing a true small forward might encourage Wittman to avoid putting Ariza on Augustin (although I would not abandon that effective matchup so easily in Wittman’s place). Moreover, Hinrich is not a threat to finish at the rim off the dribble either. The Bulls have scored only 90 points/100 when Hinrich has played in this series. While such numbers are to be used with caution given the small sample size, they match up with Hinrich’s poor individual offensive statistics and his performance on film.
On defense, Dunleavy is a worse individual defender than Hinrich, but is perfectly capable of guarding Ariza while providing a bit more help defense and rebounding than the Kansas product. It is a slight downgrade on defense, but the Bulls have struggled there anyway with Hinrich on the floor.
Taj Gibson Could Be a Weapon Inside
Gibson has made great strides as a post player this year. While posting up is generally inefficient and Gibson is no superstar at it, it seems likely he could at least outperform the Bulls’ stagnant late-game offense, especially when Wittman goes with Booker in his closing lineup rather than Marcin Gortat. This is not something that should be even close to a first option for a good offense, but when the Bulls have been struggling so badly it at least lets them go to a matchup where they have a half-decent advantage.
What Was That About Deck Chairs on the Titanic?
These logical adjustments could make a difference at the margins, but they are not going to give Chicago a reliable shot creator on offense down the stretch of games. However, the first two games have not proved that Washington is definitively a better team than Chicago. One would expect Chicago’s defense, which has allowed 108 points/100 so far, to improve quite a bit. And everyone seems to think that Thibodeau will eventually start outcoaching Randy Wittman, although the latter has done well so far. His approach of using Nene to pressure up on Joakim Noah’s catches out on the floor has been very effective, especially when Noah turns his back to the basket. Noah has been catching the ball at the arc rather than the elbow, disrupting his passing angles to backdoor cutters and making it difficult for the Bulls’ guards to shoot on handoffs because they are too far out. Noah had a remarkable 109 touches in Game 2*, but threw 80 passes with only three assists and zero hockey assists. Wittman’s squad has almost entirely erased Noah’s playmaking. Of particular note is that the Bulls’ easy “system buckets” (in which they get players open through play design rather than more individually focused plays like pick and rolls) have been almost nonexistent in the series.
*A game-high, two more even than Wizards point guard Wall.
The Bulls have not been quite as awful as their demoralizing fourth quarters might indicate, but the two banked Washington wins will almost certainly be too much to overcome. Nevertheless, the Bulls can maximize their chances with a few simple adjustments going forward.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com
How NBA League Pass is Changing
Ben Dowsett dives deep into some of the technical improvements being made to NBA League Pass.
As the NBA continues to grow in popularity, demands for available programing rise in lockstep. A new mammoth TV rights deal that began last season promised increased visibility and advertising dollars, and was the primary factor in a sudden jump in the league’s salary cap figure. Between that and an exploding digital marketplace, there are a lot of eyes on the NBA as an entertainment product.
For the NBA fan interested in watching the entire league and not just their home market (or even for cord-cutters who only want to watch their local team), NBA League Pass is a familiar tool. Available for both single-team and league-wide subscriptions, League Pass is a multi-device platform that allows for both live and on-demand viewing of NBA games.
For many users of NBA League Pass, this is a relatively issue-free experience. For many others, though, League Pass has long lagged behind competitors in the digital sports sphere, with a number of glitches and absent features still present as recently as last season across multiple devices. These issues are a regular source of annoyance for NBA fans everywhere, particularly the most invested ones.
Basketball Insiders spent the summer investigating the causes of some of these issues, both with the NBA and with various extended providers of League Pass. Here’s what we found regarding previous issues, their fixes, and other developments to the service moving forward. (Also be sure to check out our broader report from earlier this week on some of the general new features being offered by League Pass.)
League Pass on TV
For several years at minimum, customers of most cable and satellite providers have been able to enjoy NBA League Pass with virtually no major issues. Companies like DirecTV, Dish, Uverse and others have all had solid programs for years, with full-HD channel lineups and a simple, straightforward purchasing and viewing process.
For customers of Comcast, however, things haven’t been so rosy.
Through the completion of the 2016-17 NBA season, Comcast XFINITY customers were not offered such a robust slate. Just a single high definition channel was available on League Pass via XFINITY last season, and even that one channel wasn’t dedicated only to NBA action.
Unless a game was being broadcast on a national station like ESPN or NBATV, you simply had to cross your fingers and hope that the game you wanted was the one that was showing in HD. Otherwise, you got to watch it in standard definition or not at all.
Before we discuss how this is slated to change moving forward, a necessary aside: This is crazy. Even before the new massive TV rights deal, the NBA was unquestionably one of the most popular sports in North America; for the largest broadcasting and cable television company in the world by revenue to enter the year 2017 without basic HD channels for the league – channels present in hundreds of other areas and on every other major provider, no less – is nothing short of asinine, and speaks to the limited alternatives available and the simple power of a conglomerate like Comcast.
Back to greener pastures: Changes are in motion, even if they’re still moving a little slower and more timidly than most customers would prefer.
Per sources familiar with the service, HD channel options will be in place for all games under Comcast XFINIFY’s offering of NBA League Pass during the 2017-18 season. These will be available under Comcast’s Beta program, one that’s been offered for both MLB and NHL programming over the last several years. A sample MLB Beta page can be found here.
Beta pages are a bit nebulous and tough to access if you aren’t already paying for one of these services, but our research suggests they function reasonably well. There are multiple ways to access Beta channels, either via a voice or keypad search or through the guide – though doing it through the guide won’t be quite as simple as just clicking a single channel (you have to click a Beta channel, then choose the team you want to watch and wait for blackout and subscription verification).
Blackouts are still present for local markets and nationally televised games, but this is to be expected for all such services.
Now the bad news: There are some pretty serious limitations to this Beta program. Firstly, as you’ll note if you click the link above, it’s considered a trial offering. Features like recording, pausing or rewinding games will not be available. For the busy basketball fan who can’t be present to watch his or her team right from tipoff every night, this is an obvious problem.
Additionally, sources say that this Beta program will only be available by the end of November. As the astute NBA fan will note, the season began on October 17 – what about the time in between? The previous version of League Pass will still be available during this period, sources say, but XFINITY customers who want all their games in HD will be out of luck for about a month and a half. Combine that with some apparent clunkiness in accessing the games themselves, and this new development still leaves a lot to be desired.
Still, it’s progress where previously there had been very little. Sources say that work is being done to move each of the NBA, MLB and NHL offerings away from the Beta package and into full-time circulation, which would ostensibly get rid of most or all of those functionality issues. No firm dates were given for this, however, and NBA fans are probably safest assuming this will be the program for the full season once it kicks in during November. Make your purchasing decisions accordingly.
League Pass Broadband
Understanding how NBA League Pass fits into the broadband landscape requires a look back at the history of streaming sports technology. In particular, we have to look at a competitor: Major League Baseball.
For years, MLB’s streaming service has been considered something of a gold standard within the digital world, with numerous parties contacted for this story gushing about their quality. Basketball Insiders’ research revealed this to be a total falsehood – those compliments simply weren’t going far enough. The degree to which MLB has outpaced the field when it comes to streaming is almost shocking.
(For those only looking for the nitty-gritty details of what will change with NBA League Pass Broadband moving forward, skip to that section by clicking here.)
In the year 2000, while most of us were still worried about Y2K bugs and voting machines in Florida, Major League Baseball was getting to work pioneering online streaming sports. That was the year that the league’s owners centralized all digital rights into a new, independent tech startup called MLB Advanced Media, per sources. The “independent” part was important: MLB was purposefully building a distinct, separate entity that operated in a different facility than league HQ, hired tech-savvy folks and was, truly, its own company.
On August 26, 2002, MLB Advanced Media broadcasted their first live Major League game. Roughly 30,000 people (!!) tuned in to watch a Yankees-Rangers tilt on a date nearly three years earlier than famed video site YouTube would even launch on the web.
Over the next several years, MLBAM (pronounced em-el-BAM by insiders – it’s fun to say!) paved the way for streaming sports technology. They sold a nine-game pennant race package later that season, then a full-season package in March of 2003. By 2005, they had installed a private fiber network dedicated to streaming in all 30 MLB ballparks.
By 2008, two representatives from MLB were on stage and demonstrating the product as Steve Jobs introduced the Apple App Store for the very first time – MLB’s At Bat App was the first sports app in the history of the store, and one of the first 500 ever created of any kind. By 2010, they were pioneering connected devices like PlayStation and Xbox.
All the while, MLB made a concerted effort to keep all these efforts completely in-house. No outsourcing, no reliance on a third party.
Their success quickly started drawing attention. As other similar entities looked to enter the streaming space, they were faced with their own decision: To outsource, or to attempt to build a ground-up technology sector like MLB had.
Some went the outsource route, and their first call was to MLB. Few outside the industry knew it at the time, but MLB was behind the first-ever streaming of March Madness games on CBS Sports back in 2006, per sources. They’d later help ESPN in their switch from ESPN360 to ESPN3 in 2010, and assist with the advent of HBO Now in 2014.
Also in 2014, they helped create a groundbreaking new sector of the streaming world – a full OTT (over-the-top of subscription) network dedicated to WWE wrestling. This wasn’t just live matches, it was a full network complete with archives and on-demand programming. This kind of service is now called direct-to-consumer programming.
By this point, outsourcing demands had grown so much that MLB took some new steps. In 2016, MLBAM was spun off into a new entity called BAMTECH, which was in charge of all outsourced efforts (MLBAM remained on the baseball-only side). One third of BAMTECH was sold to Disney for $1 billion – a $3 billion valuation for what was at one time nothing but a tech startup. In August 2017, Disney acquired additional shares to reach a 75 percent controlling stake in the company at an even larger total valuation, per sources familiar with the finances.
Today, MLBAM continues to manage baseball-related streaming services while BAMTECH, now primarily owned by Disney, works with several other large entities. These include ESPN, the NHL and Riot Games, a big player in the rapidly rising eSports sphere. They also stream their own MLB client to over 400 different devices.
This is a high standard for any other sports or streaming entity to hold itself to, even one as successful as the NBA. Interestingly, though, MLB could end up serving as a perfect template for the path the NBA is now taking – just on a different timeline.
Just as the MLB decided years ago to prioritize their own in-house development of this technology, the NBA has recently done the same. About three years ago, Turner – which handles nearly all of the NBA’s entertainment assets – purchased a majority of a company called iStreamPlanet, a leader in the streaming technology sphere.
Founded in 2000, iStreamPlanet is perhaps best known in the industry for their recent work on the Olympic Games, which began in 2010 at the Vancouver Winter Games. Their coverage of Sochi in 2014 had over 9.1 million users in just 18 days of competition. They’ve also broadcast all the recent Super Bowls, starting in 2011.
Before the beginning of last season, the NBA and Turner migrated all of their League Pass technology over to iStreamPlanet, per sources familiar with the technology. This was in place of a previous internal solution that had managed League Pass streaming.
As one can imagine, the very first year under this new migration came with a few bumps in the road. The migration included a complete change of the infrastructure that processed video, from the way it’s taken to the way it’s encoded. New software was instituted, and then tech experts with Turner and iStreamPlanet meticulously went through each individual platform to diagnose issues and test functionality. Every platform has its own individual player and its own individual quirks, so this was no small project across a wide variety of platforms.
In essence, this was a test run for a product built from scratch. There’s really no other way to do this – for the NBA to truly build its own infrastructure here, they had to start from the ground up.
If last year’s inaugural season under the new technology was all about finding bugs and ensuring functionality across all platforms, the offseason has been all about fine-tuning the execution. The teams at Turner and iStreamPlanet analyzed every step of the video process, from when it left a given NBA arena to when it made its way to your device screen. They hardened the path of video from the venue to the fan, allowing it to arrive more quickly and in better quality.
A few specific changes, possible future changes, and notably similar areas to be aware of here:
- Per sources, changes to video encoding and pathways have resulted in roughly a 50 percent reduction in lag time compared to a television broadcast across a majority of NBA League Pass platforms. No platform experienced worse than a 33 percent reduction in lag time, with most up around this 50 percent figure. Lag time versus standard TV broadcasts has long been a prominent issue among broadband users.
- Down similar lines, extra steps have been taken to protect clients who want to watch games spoiler-free. A new “Hide Scores” button has been introduced at the top of users’ game menu – when clicked, it will remove the live scores from both completed and live games, allowing viewers to start watching a game late without having the score ruined for them in advance (though it appears users still have to manually rewind to the start of the game, so spoilers are still possible).
- With Adobe preparing to soon begin phasing out the Flash player from their content offerings, sources say Turner and iStreamPlanet are working on an eventual transition of NBA League Pass from Flash technology over to HTML5. This transition is expected this season for both live and on-demand content.
- While it won’t please some customers, blackout rules across all areas of League Pass appear to remain the same. These are issues of media rights, and unfortunately that’s just how things work.
- Customers have access to numerous platforms, with up to five connected devices per customer.
- Standard log time for games to enter the on-demand section of League Pass streaming is between 48 and 72 hours – once again, some of this is related to business rules with the NBA and regional television networks. For condensed games, the turnaround time is closer to an average of 24 hours.
- The NBA is offering a free trial preview of League Pass services from now through October 24.
Once again, things won’t be perfect overnight. Lag issues still exist, and media rights considerations make certain bits of timing sub-optimal. Like any platform still in its earlier stages in a relative sense, there will be glitches here and there.
When you experience these issues, speak up. Turner has a full support team in place, with logging capabilities that allow them to identify issues that frequently come up among customers – this process is how some of their biggest changes have taken place over the last year.
Stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for any updates or changes to NBA League Pass in the future.
NBA PM: Frank Kaminsky’s Massive Opportunity
The potential frontcourt pairing of Frank Kaminsky and Dwight Howard should make for an exciting season in Charlotte.
With both highs and lows to account for, it’s been an incredibly eventful offseason for the Charlotte Hornets. From trading for Dwight Howard and drafting Malik Monk to the news that defensive stalwart Nicolas Batum would be out for the foreseeable future, the Hornets will start the 2017-18 season off looking considerably different. Still, it’s difficult to see Charlotte stepping into the conference’s upper echelon alongside the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, among others, without some major internal growth.
Down those lines, there may be no better candidate for a breakout season than Frank Kaminsky, the team’s modernly-molded stretch big man. Heading into his third NBA season, Kaminsky struggles at times but has generally affirmed why the Hornets passed on the Celtics’ huge offer and selected the former collegiate stud with the No. 9 overall pick back in 2015. Combined with the more defensive-steady force of Cody Zeller, the Hornets quickly found themselves with a solid, if not spectacular 1-2 punch at the center position.
Unsurprisingly, Kaminsky’s best nights statistically last season came when he hit multiple three-pointers. There were games like his 5-for-9 barrage from deep en route to 23-point, 13-rebound effort against the Sacramento Kings in late February, but his inconsistencies often got in the way just as much. In 2016-17 alone, Kaminsky tallied 41 games in which he converted on one or less of his three-point attempts — and the Hornets’ record? 13-28. Perhaps a tad coincidental for a franchise that finished at 36-46, but the Hornets ranked 11th in three-pointers with an even 10 per contest, so when Marvin Williams (1.6) Marco Belinelli (1.4), Kaminsky (1.5) and Batum (1.8) weren’t hitting, it was often lights out for an ultimately disappointing Charlotte side.
With his 33.1 percent career rate from deep, there’s certainly room to improve for Kaminsky, but his 116 made three-pointers still put him in a special group last season. Of all players at 7-foot or taller, only Brook Lopez made more three-pointers (134) than Kaminsky did — even ranking four ahead of Kristaps Porzingis, one of the league’s most talented unicorns. Once that category is expanded to include those at 6-foot-10 or taller, the list gets far more crowded ahead of Kaminsky, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.
On that lengthier list of three-point shooting big men is Ryan Anderson, one of the strongest like-for-like comparisons that Kaminsky has today. Drafted in 2008, Anderson has been an elite three-point shooter for quite some time and his 204 makes last season ranked him ninth in the entire NBA. In fact, Anderson’s 2012-13 tally of 213 ranked only behind Stephen Curry; the year before that, his 166 total topped the rest of the field for a first-place finish. Coming out the University of California, Anderson was solid late first-round pickup by the New Jersey Nets and he knocked down one of his 2.9 attempts per game as a rookie.
Then, Anderson was traded to the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2009 and found out that true basketballing nirvana is playing on the same team as prime Dwight Howard. For three seasons, they were a near-perfect fit for each other as Howard averaged 13.9 rebounds and Anderson hit two three-pointers per game over that stretch. Howard deftly made up for Anderson’s defensive shortcomings while the latter stretched the floor effortlessly on the other end.
Although Howard is now considerably older, he’s never recorded a season with an average of 10 rebounds or less over his 13-year career. Howard’s impressive rebounding rate of 20.8 percent — the third-highest mark in NBA history behind Dennis Rodman (23.44) and Reggie Evans (21.87) — has made it easy for his partners to stay at the perimeter or bust out in transition. Other power forwards that have flourished next to Howard also include Rashard Lewis (2.8 three-pointers per game from 2007-09) and Chandler Parsons (1.8 in 2013-14), so there’s some precedent here as well.
Simply put, Howard still demands attention in the post, and Kaminsky is the Hornets’ best possible fit next to him. As Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Williams will likely slide up a position at times to help navigate Batum’s injury, throwing Kaminsky into the fire seems almost too logical.
An improved sophomore season for Kaminsky saw rises in every major statistical category outside of his percentages due to an increase in volume. However, that 32.8 percent mark from three-point range is considerably lower than the league average and it’ll need to improve for somebody that spends much of the offensive possession ready to fire away. Regardless, Kaminsky’s 11.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in 2016-17 are a bright sign moving forward, but with Howard, he’s about to be gifted his best opportunity yet.
Whether he’s operating in transition, out of pick-and-pops or catch-and-shoots, Kaminsky has the tools to join the elite stretch forwards in the near future and stay there permanently. Kaminsky’s growing chemistry with All-Star point guard Kemba Walker has made the pair difficult to defend out on the perimeter. From the aforementioned pick-and-pops to a slightly more complicated dribble hand-off, trying to guard the two three-point shooting threats is enough to make your head spin. When he’s not firing from behind the arc, Kaminsky has also exhibited a soft touch and an ability to score among the trees as well.
As he continues to grow and expand his skill set, Kaminsky just needs to find some much-needed consistency as a shooter. If Kaminsky can raise his three-point percentage up closer to the league average this season, he’ll be an invaluable asset for the Hornets as they push for a playoff berth. Over his two full NBA seasons thus far, the Hornets have never had somebody like Howard to pair with Kaminsky and past results for those shooters playing with the future Hall of Famer are promising. Of course, head coach Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded leader — Charlotte’s defensive rating ranked 14th in 2016-17 at 106.1 — so Kaminsky will need to improve there to take full advantage of the available minutes. Fortunately, Howard’s savvy rim protection should make it a palatable experience on both sides of the ball.
When the Hornets rebuffed the Celtics’ massive draft day offer in order to select Kaminsky two years ago, it would’ve been impossible to predict Howard falling right into their lap as well. Between his expanding game and the new frontcourt combination, there’s potential here for Kaminsky to take the next big step in 2017-18.
If and when they do indeed pair him with Howard, the Hornets will be both maximizing his talents as a perimeter threat and minimizing his weaknesses as a defender. While Clifford leaned on Zeller in the past, Howard’s decorated history surrounded by court-stretching shooters should make the decision even easier. Kaminsky’s got all the workings of a modern offensive big man, the faith of the front office and the perfect paint-clogging partner — now it’s up to him to put it all together and become one of Charlotte’s most indispensable players.
Where Do the Celtics Go From Here?
The Boston Celtics face an uphill climb after the loss of Gordon Hayward, writes Shane Rhodes.
The Boston Celtics suffered a crushing blow Tuesday night after losing marquee free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward to a gruesome leg injury in the early goings of the season’s opening contest. Unfortunately for Boston, the NBA will continue to march on and Brad Stevens and his squad will have to adapt, adjust and learn on the fly. With 81 games still to play, all might not be lost for the Celtics, but where can the team go from here?
A lineup shuffle is almost certainly in the cards. Marcus Smart, projected to be Stevens’ first man off the bench, will likely slot into the starting lineup as the shooting guard next to Kyrie Irving, sliding Jaylen Brown to the small forward position. From there, a larger rotation and a minutes bump for other bench guys like Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin, Semi Ojeleye, etc., would make the most sense as Stevens attempts to ensure his key guys — Irving, Brown and Al Horford — have fresh legs down the stretch. Nineteen-year-old Jayson Tatum, who impressed in his debut with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds, should also get an extended look, even after presumed starter Marcus Morris is back and healthy enough to play. Irving and Horford’s veteran presence in the locker room cannot be understated as well.
Brown, who should move into Hayward’s spot in the lineup, had already been pegged for a major role on the team this season. Now, the second-year wing will bear an even heavier burden and will seemingly have to produce all over the floor for the Celtics. Without Hayward, Brown now joins a defensive group of Smart, Horford and Morris that will have their work cut out. Brown will also be expected to produce more on the offensive end as well and do so efficiently. While he poured in 25 points last night, Brown did so on an inefficient 11 of 23 shooting while going just 2-of-9 from three-point range. Still rough around the edges as expected, Brown will need to quickly smooth out his game if Boston wants to remain competitive during the season.
Danny Ainge will certainly survey the remaining free agent and trade market as well. If a low-cost, low-risk opportunity were to present itself, don’t expect the thrifty general manager to just sit back. While low-cost and low-risk doesn’t fit Ainge’s usual MO, he knows better than to make a knee-jerk reaction to a freak injury like the one Hayward sustained; he isn’t going to break the bank and mortgage the future he painstakingly built over the past several seasons to bring Anthony Davis to Boston, but a grab at JaMychal Green or a similar player certainly isn’t out of the question.
The real key to the team’s success going forward will be the play of Irving. Formerly the 1A to Hayward’s 1B, Irving will now be the sole No. 1 option and will be relied on by Stevens and the rest of the team as such, which is what Irving has really wanted all along. The whole reason he wanted out of Cleveland, out of LeBron James’ massive shadow, was to show that he could be “the guy” and now Irving has a prime opportunity to prove that he can be. The Celtics from here on will go as he goes; if Irving falters, the team will as well. While the initial showings were positive — Irving posted a double-double of his own with 22 points and 10 assists — there is a lot of basketball left to be played.
All is not lost for Boston and the 2017 season can certainly be salvaged. While Hayward’s injury is devastating and certainly sucked the enjoyment out of what many expected to be a very exciting season, the Celtics are more than capable of weathering this storm and coming out stronger on the other side with Ainge and Stevens at the helm and Irving, Brown and others leading the team on the floor.