In the fourth installment of the Prodigies Series, Basketball Insiders takes a look at Myles Turner or the Indiana Pacers and Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Out of all the players included within this series, Myles Turner may be the guy whose game has the most balance. On both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, Turner excels in numerous categories. Although “hard” stats—such as points and rebounds per game—may not be at the top of this list when compared to his prodigy peers, his efficiency, when compared to his peers, is off of the charts. The second-year man out of Texas seems to be on the verge of really taking off. He has made large scale improvements within his game from his rookie season, and because of this, the versatility and balance that he brings the Pacers is quite evident.
Like Turner, Zach LaVine also has turned heads in Minnesota. The super athletic LaVine is the 2015 and 2016 NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion. However, now in his third year in the league, LaVine has the potential to develop his game into much more than just a high-flyer. There are several parts of his game, if improved, that could generate substantial performance improvement.
Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of both Turner and LaVine.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
15.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 53% FG, 79% FT, 43% 3PT (through 40 Games)
Versatility – As his numbers are reflecting, Turner is showing the ability to effectively master many parts of the game on both sides of the court. Compared to all of the other players included within this series, Turner’s versatility stands out the most. He ranks in the top half of the league in almost every offensive and defensive category. In some areas, Turner is off the charts. His jumpers off of the dribble, finishes around the basket and offensive rebound put-backs are stellar. Turner ranks in the 100th percentile (in other words, as the best player in the league) in jumpers off of the dribble. In regards to finishes around the rim, Turner ranks in the 95th percentile and with put backs, he is in the 97th percentile. On the defensive end, he is stellar when it comes to isolation defense. He has only allowed 16 points on 35 possessions this season, which ranks him in the 96th percentile of the league in this category.
Moving without the ball – Turner moves fluidly through the Pacers’ offense and effectively finds the open areas down low for dump-offs on his teammates’ drives to the basket. Turner also effectively sneaks behind defenses and uses his length and ability to finish around the rim. He is shooting 68 percent from the field and averages 1.38 points per possession in these situations. That ranks him in the 72nd percentile of the NBA. Off of flash cuts, Turner is averaging 1.14 points per possession and ranks in the 83rd percentile in the league. Turner does a really good job filling open spots on the floor and presenting himself to teammates, whether on hand off pops or screen and pops to the basket. On basket cuts, Turner is in the 72nd percentile in the league, averaging 1.45 points per possession.
Spot Up Opportunities – Turner has scored 95 points on 85 possessions in no dribble catch-and-shoot situations and ranks in the 78th percentile in the league. He is effective on catch-and-shoot opportunities because he has his body to the rim, has good foot work, and does a good job getting his shot off quickly.
Transition Scoring – Turner runs the floor like a guard. He excels by sprinting the lanes on the break and attacks the rim on finishes. He ranks in the 79th percentile in offensive efficiency in transition, averaging 1.26 points per possession. In secondary transition, Turner also does an effective job seeking out trailer scoring opportunities. As the trailer, Turner ranks in the 83rd percentile in the league, is averaging 1.36 points per possession, and is shooting 61% from the field.
Assist to Turnover Ratio – It is hard to find areas in which Turner struggles. However, one area where Turner could improve is with taking care of the ball. Turner’s game is not built around facilitating for his teammates. He generally creates his production through looking to score the ball himself. This being said, Turner could take care of the ball more effectively. Almost halfway through the season, Turner is averaging 0.9 assists and 1.4 turnovers per game. His -.64 A/TO ratio is not terribly concerning, considering his tremendous improvement in all other areas of his game over the course of the past year, but he could stand to improve.
Post Up – Turner has the most room for improvement in the post, where in the half court he is averaging just 0.8 points per possession, scoring 44 points on 55 possessions. Turner is shooting just 38 percent from the field in these situations.
Guarded Jumpers and End of clock – Turner ranks in the 38th percentile on short clock jump shots, scoring 11 points on 17 possessions, where he is shooting only 24 percent. On guarded jumpers in the half court, Turner is also shooting a low percentage (34 percent), ranking in the 22nd percentile in the league.
Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
20.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.0 apg, 47% FG, 86% FT, 42% 3PT (39 Games):
Dynamic Transition Scorer – LaVine has a knack for scoring the ball in transition. Overall, he is averaging 1.3 points per possession. He is especially effective from the right side of the court, where he ranks in the 92nd percentile in the league, scoring 42 points on 26 possessions. He ranks in the 75th percentile in scoring efficiency when running the middle of the floor, scoring 18 points on 11 possessions. He also does a solid job pushing the ball in transition as the ball handler. In these situations, he is averaging 67 points on 63 possessions, ranking in the 73rd percentile in the NBA.
Perimeter Shooter – LaVine is a great spot up jump shooter. He has scored 105 points on 78 possessions this season, ranking him in the 89th percentile in the league. He is effectively shooting the ball when left open or when guarded. LaVine currently ranks in the 90th percentile in the league in catch-and-shoot opportunities when left open and when guarded in the half court, shooting 41 percent guarded and 50 percent when left open.
Scoring, Moving without the ball – LaVine does a great job mixing up how he scores the ball in the half court. He uses dribble hand off, screens and cuts to free himself for opportunities. On hand offs, LaVine is shooting 48 percent from the field and ranks in the 80th percentile of the NBA, scoring 138 points on 129 possessions.
Off of the ball, LaVine uses basket cuts to create scoring opportunities around the rim. He ranks in 90th percentile in the league on scoring while coming off cuts. LaVine does a great job using dribble hand offs to create space between himself and his defender. This is also true on dribble hand offs, as LaVine ranks in 81st percentile in the league, scoring 70 points on 64 possessions. Off of screens, LaVine loves to come straight off of the screen for scoring opportunities. Interestingly, like Devin Booker (another prodigy), LaVine shoots the ball more effectively when he is coming off to his left side. Coming off left, he averages 1.38 points per possession, ranking him in the 92nd percentile in the league, while coming off right he averages just .75 points per possession, ranking him in the 23rd percentile in the league.
Transition, Left Lane Finishes – Despite LaVine’s overall stellar transition scoring numbers, he has struggled scoring the ball when operating from the left side of the floor. He ranks in the 30th percentile in the league, averaging just .96 points per possession and scoring 24 points on 25 possessions. In transition from the left side, he shoots just 48 percent from the field.
Isolation from Top of Key – LaVine struggles with efficiency when scoring the ball from top of the key. He is averaging .67 points per possession and ranks in the 22nd percentile of the league in this category. When driving the ball from the top of the key going left, LaVine really struggles, ranking in the second percentile in the NBA. As mentioned above, LaVine is a hard driver right and is most efficient creating going right. When he drives left, LaVine wants to get back to his right hand to finish. Often, this tendency has him shooting back into the defense as opposed to relying upon his left hand around the rim. His efficiency going left will need to improve if he is to improve his performance.
Pick-and-Roll, Right Side of Floor – Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler Refusals – When LaVine turns down ball screens off the dribble, he also struggles. He ranks in the 25th percentile in the NBA in these situations, averaging just .79 points per possession and shooting just 35 percent. When refusing ball screens, LaVine tries to get all the way to the rim but has only scored 10 points on 12 possessions.
Pick-and-Roll, Right Side of Floor – LaVine ranks in the 11th percentile in the NBA when working off of the right side of the floor in pick and rolls. Again the theme remains, when LaVine is forced to come off to this left hand in these situations, which generally happens in ball screen action taking place on the right side of floor, he struggles. LaVine is posting .61 points per possession in these situations this season, scoring 17 points on 28 possessions.
In the next part of this series, Basketball Insiders will evaluate the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and The New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis.
NBA Daily: Three Trade Targets for the New York Knicks
Drew Maresca explores three restricted free agents-to-be who the Knicks should explore adding via trade before the March 25 trade deadline.
Often the NBA’s biggest flop, the New York Knicks have been significantly better-than-expected to start the 2020-21 season. They’ve won eight of their first 16 games and have surrendered the fewest points per game on the season, placing them squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
That said, they’re not out of the woods yet; with much of the season left to play, the Knicks are devoid of any meaningful offensive weapons. Additionally, the roster features a number of high-quality veterans whose deals are set to expire, the kind of players that contenders like to fill out their rotations with down the stretch, so the roster could look much different at the end of the year than it does now.
So, the Knicks are expected to be active on the trade front, again – no surprise there. But this year could be among the last in which the Knicks are sellers at the deadline. And, while moving some of those veterans for future assets is smart, the Knicks may also want to look at players they can add to bolster that future further.
Of course, New York shouldn’t go all-in for Bradley Beal — they’re not there yet — but there are a number of restricted free agents to-be that would fit both their roster and timeline nicely.
But why give away assets to acquire someone that the team could sign outright in just a few months? It may sound counterintuitive to add a player that’s about to hit free agency, restricted or otherwise, but procuring that player’s Bird rights, an exception in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own players (not to mention offer them an extra contract year and bigger raises), can be key to securing a player’s services and building a long-term contender.
Further, the 2021 free agent market isn’t might not live up to expectation, with many presumed free agents already agreed to extensions. So, with that in mind, which players should the Knicks pursue via trade prior to the March 25 trade deadline?
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Collins’ production is down this season, but that has nothing to do with his ability. A 23-year-old stretch-four who’s shooting 35% on three-point attempts, Collins is big, athletic, can score the ball (16.7 points per game this season) and is a great rebounder (7.5 per game). He also connects on 80% of his free-throw attempts.
Despite those impressive stats, Collins was even more productive last season, averaging 21.6 points on better than 40% three-point shooting and collecting 10.1 rebounds per game.
But the Hawks rotation has become increasingly crowded this year. They added Danilo Gallinari and rookie big man Oneyeka Okongwu, the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, to the frontcourt this offseason, while Collins was already vying for minutes with Clint Capella, who Atlanta added via trade last season. Cam Reddish, a second-year wing who is versatile enough to play some power forward, has also stolen some of Collins’ potential minutes.
So, as much as the Hawks seem to like Collins, he may be a luxury they can do without. He’ll obviously demand a relatively high-priced contract. The fact that Atlanta and Collins failed to reach an extension last summer would also seem to make a reunion less likely; would the Hawks invest so heavily in him now that they have three players at the position signed through at least the 2022-23 season? Further, could they invest even if they wanted to at this point? The Hawks are already committed to more than $100 million next season and, with Trae Young and Kevin Huerter extensions on the horizon, they might be hard-pressed to scrounge for the cash Collins would want in a new deal.
He won’t come cheap, for sure. But, while Julius Randle fans may not love the idea of bringing in his replacement, Collins is simply a better long-term solution.
Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans
The point guard position has been a sore spot for the Knicks for some time. And while Ball might not be the franchise cornerstone that many hoped he’d become, adding a young player with his upside is clearly a positive move.
Granted, Ball is inherently flawed. His jump shot appeared to be much improved last season and he’s showcased a significantly improved shooting form from years past. But he’s struggled in the new season, shooting only 28% on three-point attempts (down from 37.5% last season). In fact, he’s struggled on the whole on the offensive side of the ball, posting just 11.9 points and 4.4 assists per game (a career-low). He’s also missed some time with knee soreness and moved to more of an off-the-ball role as new head coach Stan Van Gundy has put the ball in the hands of Brandon Ingram more and more.
But, with New York, Ball would step into a significant role immediately. For his career, Ball is a net-positive player and, despite his shooting woes, has posted a positive VORP every year he’s been in the league, save for this season. He’s an above-average defender and, while he does need to ball in his hands, he doesn’t necessarily need to take shots to be effective.
Ball may never become the All-World caliber guard many pegged him as before the 2017 NBA Draft, but he’s better than any other option currently at the Knicks disposal. And, best of all, his trade value is arguably as low as it’s ever been. So, while the Pelicans won’t just give him away, New York should do what they can to acquire him for a reasonable price.
Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets
Last but not least, the surprise from the 2018-19 rookie class. Graham is possibly the hardest sell on this list, but it’s not for a lack of talent.
Graham burst onto the scene last season, posting an impressive sophomore campaign of 18.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. Unfortunately, those numbers have taken a drastic dip this season with the arrival of Gordon Hayward and the highly-touted rookie LaMelo Ball in Charlotte. Likewise, Graham’s struggles through the Hornets’ first 10 games limited his opportunities further.
That said, he would appear to be done slumping, as he’s connected on 43% of his attempts from deep in the team’s last two games.
But his efficiency wouldn’t be the main challenge when constructing a Graham trade. Instead, some in New York could be concerned with lack of size – Graham is only 6-foot-1 – and his inability to act as a facilitator at the guard spot.
But Graham is talented, plain and simple. In fact, he’s the exact kind of talent the Knicks should be looking to add right now. More specifically, Graham shot 37.3% on three-point attempts last season; the Knicks rank 21st in three-point percentage so far this season.
The Knicks could ultimately sit tight, swap a few veterans for future draft picks and rest assured that they’ve made enough progress by simply adding coach Tom Thibodeau. But they could and should be aggressive while they can. If New York can add one or more the players mentioned, they may not only build a brighter future, but improve on what the team could do this season. Either way, the Knicks look to be on a good trajectory, but every move they make from here on out can and will affect how quickly they make the leap from laughingstock to respectable contender.
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.