In the third installment of the Prodigies Series, Basketball Insiders takes a look at two of the most exciting up and coming wings in the league, Devin Booker and Andrew Wiggins. Both of these players make their mark on the game from the wing slot, but in a slightly different manner. Nevertheless, their potential for greatness is quite clear.
Booker, who just turned 20 years old in October, is a silky-smooth scorer who impressed many around the league during his rookie campaign. In fact, in a poll of NBA general managers, Booker received 31 percent of the votes for the player most likely to have a breakout season in 2016-17. Booker has not disappointed.
Wiggins has improved each season since he came into the league three years ago. He combines supreme athleticism with great size and continues to increase the number of ways he can positively affect the game.
Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of both Booker and Wiggins.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
19.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.1 APG, 41 percent from the field, 34 percent from three (37 Games)
Transition – Booker is very effective in transition. This season he has recorded 186 points on 157 possessions, which ranks him in the 66th percentile in the league, according to Synergy. He sprints the floor hard and effectively maneuvers around defenders for finishes at the basket. Booker is leading the league in scoring efficiency from the middle of the floor in transition, averaging 2.18 points per possession. When leading the break, Booker has proven to be very effective, converting 60 points on 59 possessions.
Spot-ups – A knockdown shooter, Booker excels with spot-up play. He has scored 109 points on 96 possessions, ranking him in the 82nd percentile in the NBA. The Suns’ guard is posting 1.14 points per possession on such plays, and on pure catch and shoot opportunities, Booker is averaging 1.33 points per possessions (86th percentile). His great shot preparation, silky-smooth form and quick release allow him to get his shot off in various situations, especially on short clock possessions. On end of clock situations, Booker is excelling, averaging 1.19 points per possession (ranking him in the 84th percentile in the NBA).
Post-up Play – At 6’6, Booker has good size for an NBA wing and he uses this size and his strong post-up skill-set to excel with his back to the basket. He is averaging 1.0 point per possession in the post, good enough to be ranked in the 80th percentile in the league. From both blocks, Booker has the tendency to turn over his left shoulder but likes to mix up his production with drives to the basket, turnarounds and passes to open teammates for spots-ups and cuts to the basket. Because of his high efficiency with his back to the basket, the Suns should look to get the ball to Booker in the post more frequently to act as a facilitator.
Isolation Play – The Suns’ guard has recorded 90 points on 106 isolation possessions this season, ranking him in the bottom half of the league (48th percentile), according to Synergy. Isolation possessions make up 13.2 percent of Booker’s offensive production, according to Synergy. Although a righty, Booker likes to drive it hard left from both sides of the floor. From the left side, he looks to get to the baseline, but struggles with his pull-ups and runners as he currently is averaging .53 and .75 points per possessions in these situations, according to Synergy.
When operating out of right side on isolations, Booker looks to his mid-range game, where he is adept at driving to the middle of the floor, getting to his spot and shooting or fading over his defender (1.66 points per possession going middle). However, in most other areas he struggles to create scoring opportunities from this side of the court. When driving baseline, he often allows himself to be funneled into the opposing shot blockers. So far this season, Booker has not scored the ball when driving baseline from the right side of the court.
Improving this part of his game will be a part of Booker’s development.
Handoff – Booker is clearly a wing who has a knack for putting the ball in the basket. That being said, the second-year man out of Kentucky has not yet shown that he can be effective scoring consistently off of handoff opportunities. He only ranks in the seventh percentile in the league, scoring 22 points on 41 possessions this season. Booker does not always do a great job of getting his footwork and body squared up to attack the rim off of the rub created from the dribble handoff (“DHO”), especially when coming off right. Because of this, his poise and effectiveness in these situations suffer. As Booker becomes more and more comfortable creating opportunities going both left and right, nuances of the game, such as DHO effectiveness, will improve.
Off Screen – Surprisingly, another area where Booker has struggled thus far this season is when he is looking to score the ball off of screens. At this point, Booker is below average in this category, only posting 69 points on 95 opportunities this season. This play type makes up 11 percent of his total offensive production. As you would imagine, Booker is more effective coming off left, where he has scored 30 points on 33 possessions, with the straight cut being his most effective method of scoring. When coming off right, he ranks in the 15th percentile of the NBA in scoring efficiency, where he again finds himself in many straight cut opportunities within the Suns’ offensive sets.
Booker is on track to become an elite scorer in this league and working off the ball should be one of his main priorities moving forward.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
21.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 44 percent from the field, 35 percent from three (38 Games):
Transition Play – Wiggins uses his world-class athleticism to excel in the open floor. Wiggins attacks the rim in transition and often will get hit-ahead passes, or dimes by running the lanes hard. Although he excels running the lanes, Wiggins is especially adept at leading the break as the ballhandler. In these situations, he ranks in the 86th percentile in the league and loves to attack the rim and get back to his right hand finish around the rim. So far this season, he has scored 111 points on 89 possessions in transition, per Synergy.
Put-backs – Wiggins has been great cleaning up missed shots on the offensive glass. Similarly to how he attacks the rim in transition, Wiggins appears to employ the same aggressive mentality on the offensive glass. His high motor, long arms and his lighting fast second-jump ability allow him to corral rebounds and convert put backs over defenders. He also does a great job of following his own missed shots on drives. Wiggins has scored 47 points on 31 possessions, good enough for 1.52 points per possessions on these types of plays.
Cut – Wiggins does a great job cutting to the basket within the Timberwolves’ offense. On basket cuts, Wiggins is averaging 1.38 points per possession, ranking him in the 72nd percentile in the league. When teammates drive it to the rim, Wiggins naturally seems to make his way to the basket, positioning himself effectively for finishes in the pant. Overall, Wiggins is averaging 1.44 points per possession off of cuts, scoring 52 points on 36 possessions, according to Synergy.
Post-up Play – Wiggins is a solid post player. He has posted 91 points on 100 possessions, ranking him in the 58th percentile in the league. He does his best work on the left block, where he likes to turn over his left shoulder (right-hand finishes) to make plays. Wiggins finds himself there 61 percent of the time and ranks in the 68th percentile in efficiency from that side of the floor. Remarkably, he is the best player in the NBA when it comes to jump shots from the left block, scoring 18 points on 15 possessions. He likes to crab dribble his man deep enough in to turn, fade and use his length and athleticism to shoot right over top.
From the right block, Wiggins is not great, ranking in the 38th percentile in scoring efficiency, where he still looks to turn left his shoulder to free himself.
PNR Ball Handler – The majority of Wiggins’ play types on the offensive end are out of pick-and-rolls (“PNR”) (32 percent of his offensive plays are as a PNR ballhandler). He ranks in the 45th percentile in the league, posting a .77 points per possession in PNR ballhandler situations, and at this juncture of his career, Wiggins’ efficiency is only average out of PNRs. When coming off of PNRs and with the defender going under screens, Wiggins struggles. He is shooting just 33 percent, scoring 26 points on 35 possessions. Dribbling into his jumper out of PNRs is also an area of weakness for him as he ranks in the 30th percentile in this category and is currently shooting 36 percent from the field. Improving his comfort-ability in PNRs, especially from the left side of the floor, could help Wiggins level up his offensive efficiency as his career progresses.
Spot-up Situations– Wiggins can and does score in a myriad of ways, and for the most part he does it very effectively. However, one area where Wiggins has yet to separate himself from the pack is with this jump shooting. Spot-ups make up 15 percent of Wiggins’ production, where he has scored 124 points on 137 possessions. He is shooting 37 percent on these opportunities. On catch-and-shoot opportunities, he is just average, shooting 36 percent from the field. When driving it or pulling up right or left out of spot-up situations, Wiggins struggles, ranking in the 27th and 28th percentile of the league, respectively. Improving his balance and mid-range scoring capability could prove invaluable in expanding his game.
Isolation Play – Wiggins also could stand to improve his isolation play, where he is averaging .845 points per possession. Isolations make up 11 percent of his overall offensive production. From the top of the key, Wiggins likes to drive right aggressively, but if he can’t get all the way to the rim, he has a default tendency to get to his fade away jumper. He also likes to pull up on and within the perimeter if his defender sags. Wiggins often will catch the ball off of the right and left elbows within the T-Wolves’ offense, where he will often drive to the right side. When this happens, opposing team’s help side defenses look to stop splits, dig, and take charges on Wiggins as they know what is coming. Improving his ability to make plays going left in traffic could prove useful as Wiggins progresses.
In the next part of this series, Basketball Insiders will break down the games of Zach LaVine and Myles Turner.
NBA AM: The Utah Jazz Are Showing Continuity Is Key
Is Utah’s early success an indicator of things to come? Between Donavon Mitchell, a stingy defense and hot three-point shooting, they may just be the real deal.
The Utah Jazz are riding high on a seven-game winning streak, hotter, at this point, than all hell. 15 games into the season, the Jazz have been the third-best team in the Western Conference. The key for them has been continuity as they have 11 guys who were on last year’s team. The only addition they made to their rotation this offseason was Derrick Favors, who was with the team for nine seasons before a one-year departure.
Quinn Snyder is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, and he’s showing why this season. The Jazz are currently in 7th in both offensive and defensive rating. Beyond that, there are only three teams who can say they are top 10 in both: The Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. Often, teams that finish in this select category are historically serious contenders.
Moreover, the Jazz have been on a shooting tear. Using Gobert’s rolling ability to collapse opposing defenses and find open shooters, Utah’s offense is clicking right now. It’s worked tremendously too, considering the Jazz have attempted and made the most three-pointers of any team this season – and hitting on 40.3 percent as a team. Royce O’Neale, Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and Mike Conley are all shooting above 40 percent; while Bojan Bogdanovic is almost there at 37.8.
Basically, the Jazz are just shooting the ball at a ridiculously well rate right now and good ball movement has propelled them.
Mitchell seems to have taken another jump in his development, although it is subtle, and his growth as a playmaker has benefitted everyone. He’s made teams pay for overhelping, often initiating the ball movement that has led to open looks. He’s also taking fewer mid-range jumpers, converting those attempts into three-pointers. The budding star’s play has been more consistent overall, and he’s been effective out of the pick-and-roll.
Mike Conley’s improved play this season has been needed – now he’s settled and red-hot. Coming off a disappointing season last year, there were questions as to whether he was declining. While it’s safe to say he’s no longer the guy he was in Memphis, this version of Conley is still a good one. He looks a lot more comfortable in his role and the Jazz are reaping the benefits. In a contract year, Conley is averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from three.
Jordan Clarkson is a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, fitting in perfectly as the Jazz need his scoring and creation off the bench – even leading the league in such scorers from there. But the Jazz’s bench is more than just Clarkson though, as they’ve gotten strong minutes from Joe Ingles, Georges Niang and Derrick Favors too. They’re a solid group that plays both ends of the court, and all fit in nicely with the starters as well.
Sorely needed, however, Bojan Bogdanovic’s return has helped tremendously. He gives them another big wing who can shoot and is a scoring threat, and before he got hurt last season, he was averaging 20 PPG. While he isn’t at that level this season, he gives them another reliable scoring option that they badly need. Better, it also allows Ingles to remain on the bench, where his playmaking ability can really thrive.
The Jazz have been playing stylistically a little bit different this year and it has worked. They don’t run often but when they do, they have been potent. Playing at the same pace as last season, Utah is scoring almost five more points per game in transition. Additionally, they are taking six more threes a game too. This all amounts to a 6.1 net rating, which is good for fourth-best in the NBA.
Lastly, their defense has been impossible for teams to penetrate, inviting opponents to try and finish over Rudy Gobert in the paint. Gobert is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate for a reason – his presence alone almost assuredly guarantees his team will be a top 10 defense, which the Jazz are. Favors’ addition has helped stabilize the defense when Gobert sits, which was a major issue last season. Overall, they are just a very disciplined defense that makes teams earn their points, rarely committing cheap fouls.
As it stands today, the Utah Jazz are solidifying themselves as one of the best teams in the Western Conference. It remains to be seen if the hot shooting is sustainable, but the way they are generating those open looks seems to be. The defense is legit, and if they can remain healthy there’s reason to believe that this team can continue to compete at this level. The Utah starting lineup has outscored opponents by 58 points, but they’ve also had one of the best benches in the league – needless to say, the Jazz’s continuity has been a big part of their early success.
NBA Daily: Defensive Player of the Year Watch
An inside look-in at the early frontrunners for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
In this fresh edition for Basketball Insiders, there are a few players that should be finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Of course, this prestigious award is given to the contributor who makes the biggest impact on the floor for their team on the defensive side of the ball. In two out of the last three seasons, the award has gone to Rudy Gobert, the rim-protecting center for the Utah Jazz. This past season, Giannis Antetokounmpo won both the DPotY award, as well as Most Valuable Player for a second straight year. Over the past few years, the trending group of finalists for the award has been consistent no matter what the order ends up being.
Can anyone new break in this year?
Anthony Davis will always be in the conversation for this award as he has shown throughout his career that he is one of the league’s most ferocious game-changers. Despite never winning the award before, he has made four NBA All-Defensive teams as well as being the NBA’s leader in blocks on three occasions. Davis’s block numbers are a little lower than they usually are at 1.9 blocks per game this season – compared to 2.4 for his career, per Basketball-Reference. This could be due to the addition of Marc Gasol to the Lakers’ frontcourt, a move that has boosted the team’s rim protection. If Davis can raise his numbers again, he should be in consideration for the award purely based on his defensive presence on the court – but he should still finish among the top five in voting.
The center for the Indiana Pacers – the former potential centerpiece of a Gordon Hayward trade with the Boston Celtics – has continued to show why the team would not package another one of its top players with him. Turner is the current league leader in blocks with 4.2 blocks per game, elevating his game beyond any doubt in 2020-21. He is one of the more underrated rim protectors in basketball, as he has only one top-five finish in the DPotY voting in his career. Turner has also improved his steals metrics this season by averaging 1.5 per game, thus providing a strong defensive presence alongside All-Star frontcourt mate, Domantas Sabonis. Turner should be the frontrunner for the award as things stand right now, but that could change as the season progresses, especially as his injury impacts proceedings.
The reigning two-time MVP should always be in the conversation for the DPotY award as he revolutionizes the defensive side of the floor at an elite level. Currently, Antetokunmpo is averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game to go along with a 106.5 defensive rating, per NBA Advanced Stats. It goes without saying, but Antetokounmpo is a chase-down block artist, always there to contest shots around the rim with his long frame. The 6-foot-11 power forward is one of the league’s top five players due to his exceptional play on both sides of the ball and will always be considered for the DPotY award as long as he in the NBA.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar has been arguably the best defensive small forward in the game over the past few years. He first gained major recognition for his defense during the 2014 NBA Finals against the LeBron James-led Miami HEAT. Since then, Leonard has racked up six All-Defensive team nominations to go along with two Defensive Player of the Year awards. This season, Leonard remains an elite defender for the championship-hopeful Clippers with 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game – but his defensive rating is the highest of his ten-year career at 107.8.
The current league leader in rebounds for the Cleveland Cavaliers is having a monster season thus far. In a contract year, Andre Drummond is currently putting up 19.3 points per game, 15.8 rebounds per game, 1.7 steals per game and 1.6 blocks per game. He also has a very stellar defensive rating of 105.0, a culmination of points allowed per 100 possessions. Drummond is not on a very good team, but that should not take away from the impact he makes when he is on the floor. As a pure rim protector and rebounding machine, he should finish higher up in the voting results than usual, even if his season doesn’t end with Cleveland.
Honorable Mention: Tobias Harris
The Philadelphia 76ers have started the season on a very high note at 9-5, all despite loads of COVID health and safety protocols preventing their full team from taking the floor. Tobias Harris has played a major part in their early-season success leading the NBA in defensive win shares among starters who have played at least 10 games with 0.184, per NBA Advanced Stats. Along with that, Harris is also second in defensive rating among qualified starters at 99.6. The veteran forward has averaged 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. So if the 76ers want to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference, Harris’ overall play will be a huge reason for that success.
As the old saying goes, defense wins championships – and these players are the type of players that can change the result of a game every night. Keep an eye on these players as the season moves along as they should garner consideration for both All-Defensive team nominations and the DPotY award.
NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – Jan. 21
Basketball Insiders’ Tristan Tucker provides an update on some of the rookies around the league and which are truly in contention for the Rookie of the Year award.
Through the NBA’s first month, the rookie class has continued to show what they can do on the court. While some have faltered or succumbed to injuries as the games have piled up, others have shone bright and even cracked their team’s starting lineups as the race toward the Rookie of the Year award heats up.
With that in mind, let’s take a third look at Basketball Insiders’ Rookie of the Year ladder stands and see where they stand.
1. LaMelo Ball (Previous: 2)
Through the first month of play, Ball has been, undisputedly, the Rookie of the Year. With numbers that could rival some NBA veterans — 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game — Ball has found a way to impact winning for the Charlotte Hornets without starting a game thus far.
While much of the hoopla around Ball has come from his offensive, he’s been pretty solid on the defensive end as well; his 1.5 steals per game are good for 13th in the NBA, while his 21 total steals tie him for 10th.
On Jan. 9, Ball also made history as the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. An eventual move to the starting lineup should only further promote his game.
He could stand to improve his efficiency, as Ball has shot just 40.3% from the field, 33.3% from three and 67.9% from the free throw line. That said, the sky’s the limit for the young rookie. With Ball at the helm, Charlotte and their fans should feel pretty confident about their group going forward.
2. Tyrese Haliburton (Previous: 1)
Haliburton’s late-lottery selection was a surprise, as the point guard that reportedly shot up draft boards late in the process had always played with a hardworking and winning mentality at Iowa State. Still, he hasn’t missed a beat with the Sacramento Kings and paced the Rookie of the Year race from the start.
His 11.1 points, 5.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game, along with his 51.6% mark from the field and 51% clip from three (on over four attempts a contest) are mightily impressive. Meanwhile, lineups that have featured Haliburton with the Kings’ usual starters have fared exceptionally well; when he’s replaced Marvin Bagley, the Kings are a plus-10.6 and play at a torrid pace.
Haliburton and Ball have comparable stats, with Ball being a better rebounder and Haliburton being a better shooter. But Sacramento’s 5-10 record has kept him out of the top spot for now, as leading his team to a positive record — and a potential playoff spot — will almost certainly work in Ball’s favor when voting commences at the end of the season.
3. James Wiseman (Previous: 3)
After taking a year away from competitive basketball, the fact that Wiseman has been able to contribute at such a high-level right away has come as a pleasant surprise for the Golden State Warriors. Wiseman’s 10.7 points per game place him fifth among rookies, while his 6 rebounds per game place him second.
Fresh off a career-high 20 points against the San Antonio Spurs, Wiseman has continued to learn more each day. Draymond Green’s role in Wiseman’s development could also pay some extreme dividends for the Warriors, as the young center might prove unstoppable were he to incorporate Green’s court vision and handle into his own game.
With numbers comparable to Kevin Garnett’s and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s age-19 seasons, Wiseman has helped put the Warriors in prime position to push for a playoff spot despite the loss of Klay Thompson prior to the season.
4. Tyrese Maxey (Previous: Not Ranked)
With a move into the starting lineup, Maxey has rapidly climbed the board as he’s earned more and more praise. He was always going to be an impressive piece for the Philadelphia 76ers — in fact, Maxey was seen as so crucial to Philadelphia’s future success that he was held out of any potential James Harden trade package — but his 39-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets has seemingly sparked more trust from the team in Maxey early on.
For the season, Maxey has averaged an impressive 11.4 points on 47.7% shooting from the field. But his numbers have spiked since he moved into the starting-five: in six starts, Maxey has averaged 16.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and assists and has shot 46.7% from the field.
If he can sustain that kind of productivity as the 76ers’ health improves, Maxey might be a lock for the All-Rookie First Team. Likewise, expect him to hold down a spot on this list for the foreseeable future.
5. Patrick Williams (Previous: 5)
Despite his late rise, many saw Patrick Williams’ selection by the Chicago Bulls as a reach. But, so far, Williams has proven the doubters completely wrong, as he’s started every game in which he’s made an appearance for the 6-8 Bulls.
That isn’t to say Williams hasn’t been perfect, as many of Chicago’s groups that feature the young forward are net negatives by a good margin. But, so far, Williams has already brought the confidence and energy that you want to see out a top pick. He hasn’t shied away from tough matchups, either, as Williams took to the task of guarding both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in the Bulls’ recent games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, valuable experience that should only further improve his game.
His 10.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 48.5% field goal and 87% free throw percentages are nothing to slouch at, either. So, while it may be a while before he reaches the height of some of his classmates, Williams has look of a special NBA talent.
6. Anthony Edwards (Previous: 4)
Edwards has put up some incredible scoring numbers off the bench for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as he’s averaged a rookie-leading 12.2 points in 25 minutes per game.
However, Edwards’ shooting splits have disappointed, while he hasn’t been able to do much to turn around the Minnesota Timberwolves 3-10 season in the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns.
Edwards’ placement on this ladder is contingent on how the Timberwolves both fare in Towns’ continued absence and how different they look upon his return; they showed plenty of promise when he was on the court and Edwards’s standing could improve drastically if the team can turn it around and win some games.
Each year, it would seem as if that the next group of young talent is more exciting than the last. And, with so many talented rookies in the fray, almost any of them could crash the Rookie of the Year party. Make sure to check back on our next update to see who might do just that.