Category Archives: Player Profiles

The lowdown on some of the best and most interesting players league-wide.

Erik Murphy and the (Potential) Value of a Second Round Pick

courtesy Chicago Tribune
courtesy Chicago Tribune

When the NBA and its Players Union finally came to an agreement on the collective bargaining agreement in the fall of 2011, there was one thing that most of the owners never wanted to do again: overpay for mediocre talent. Owners for years were seemingly unable to resist the temptation to hand out terrible contracts to players who would never be worth what they were making. Every summer there would be a slew of “wow THAT guy got paid?” conversations with my friends. In order to protect themselves from themselves, the owners implemented incredibly strict tax penalties that would cost owners so much they wouldn’t have a choice but to adhere to the salary cap in place.

The new, harsher tax penalties have led to lots of interesting developments across the league, but perhaps the most interesting is the way that teams value (and hoard in some cases) both first and second round draft picks. Rookie contracts have become the new market inefficiency as they present teams with four years of control over a very cheap asset. Take for example Kyrie Irving: Irving, on the open market, would make easily $10 million a year. But 2013-14 will only be the former #1 pick’s third season in the league, which means he is only able to make about $4.8 million.

But the real gold lies in places not so easy to find: the second round. Guys drafted in the second round do not automatically receive guaranteed deals. Historically, players who aren’t chosen in the top 30 do not have long and prosperous NBA careers. NBA teams in the past have used that round two pick on a “project” player, or sometimes on someone from overseas. But more and more teams are closely scouting players who they project to slip past every team at least once. The potential upside is astronomical.

Chandler Parsons is the poster child of second round success stories: Last season, Parsons averaged 15.5 points 3.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds on 48% field goal shooting and averaging 38.5% from three. Parsons, at 6’9″, is the incredibly valuable stretch forward, a guy who is able to draw the attention of the defense when he’s dotted around the perimeter. By draggin an opposing forward a few steps out of the lane, the entire offense opens up and is capable of executing several different offensive actions. The beauty of Parsons is that he is providing all this production and floor spacing while making $900K. In 2013-14, Parsons will enter into the third year of his guaranteed four year contract which will in total pay him a little less than $4 million over its life span.

The last two offseasons have been exciting in Houston. Last summer saw the mega trade that brought James Harden into town, where he was promptly handed a hefty extension. And this summer’s biggest free agent, Dwight Howard, decided to team up with Harden and try and return the title to Houston. Those two huge moves would not have been remotely possible without the financial flexibility afforded to the Rockets by Chandler Parsons and his super cheap contract.

Erik Murphy was the second round pick for the Chicago Bulls, going #49 overall. Murphy is listed at 6’10” and can play either power forward or center. To be clear, Murphy is not the prototypical stopper that Tom Thibodeau loves to have on the floor. Although the former Gator is blessed with great size, he is not exactly fast, agile or much of a jumper. In his senior year at Florida, Murphy only averaged about 5 rebounds a game, a pretty small number for a big dude.

So why did the Bulls decide Murphy was worth a roll of the dice? Last season, Murphy shot 45.3% from three. Murphy averaged two made three balls a game. In 2012-13, the Chicago Bulls averaged only 5.4 threes a game, the second lowest mark in the entire league. They also attempted the second fewest threes in the league, barely edging out the Memphis Grizzlies in both categories.

Coach Thibodeau is one of the most highly regarded and respected minds in the game of basketball today. His overload defensive schemes, made popular by the championship winning 2008 Celtics before he brought it to Chicago, is one of the most commonly replicated defensive systems in the league today. The system has many principles and is difficult to describe, let alone execute on the floor. But one of the most interesting parts of the scheme is the way it limits opponents three point attempts, especially from the corners. The Bulls allowed opponents to shoot just 35.8% from behind the arc, good for the fourth best percentage in the league. Obviously, the architect of this system understands the value of the three point shot. And while most of his energy has previously been expended on preventing them, this season the Bulls brain trust will surely focus on how to more effectively incorporate the shot into the offense. Jimmy Butler made a big leap in regards to his shooting and many fans hope that his averages can tick up a few more percentage points. But Butler alone as a deep threat is not enough. That’s where Murphy becomes interesting.

Last season, Murphy posted a true shooting percentage, or TS% of 64.3%. To put that in perspective, Lebron James put up a 64% TS% in his historically great war path through the NBA. TS%, for those who either don’t know, gives extra weight to three point accuracy, Murphy’s specialty. Murphy, despite his status as a rookie drafted in the second round, is going to force defenses to pay attention to him whenever he is on the floor.

And that’s where things potentially get interesting for the Bulls. Coach Thibodeau is a perfectionist by nature, and I’m sure that he has spent the summer thinking about how he needs to improve as a coach. The most glaring flaw in Thibs’ style is the number of minutes his best players are on the floor. This season, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich and hopefully Tony Snell can pick up some minutes at small forward to allow Luol Deng to stay fresh for the post season. The biggest disappointment for Bulls fans this summer was that the overuse of Joakim Noah seemingly went ignored in free agency. The Bulls brought back Narz Mohammed to play backup center, despite the fact that he was born in the crustacean period.

Perhaps Gar Forman and the front office view Murphy as the (incredibly cheap) solution to finding minutes for Joakim to rest. Obviously a Murphy-Boozer frontcourt would become a layup line, but if the rookie is paired with the tenacious Taj Gibson the Bulls D could hold up over short stretches of time.

Murphy’s presence on the floor could be a big help to that Rose guy who’s coming back from an ACL injury. Rose, who’s greatest ability is slicing through the lane and getting to the rim, will only find it easier to score from close when an opposing big man is forced to play 15 feet from the basket in anticipation of a kick out to Murphy.

The beauty of it all is that while second round picks are more valuable now than ever, it’s still such a minuscule investment in the grand scheme of things that if he totally flops it won’t be that big of a deal. But if he turns into a cog in the rotation, that super team friendly contract either becomes a potential trade asset or allows the Bulls to address other pressing needs via free agency.

Mile High Expectations for Javale McGee

javale-mcgee-throw-in-dunk21

Hey Guys,

Sorry, it’s been a while.  Apparently, I have to get a job after I graduate.  I’ve been scrambling to create my resume, learn computer programming and practice logical sequences.  News to me.

But, here’s some news for you.   The Denver Nuggets are counting on a big season from the biggest goon in the NBA, C Javale McGee.

Disclaimer: This is not an Onion article.

When it comes to McGee, the big fella draws both the highest and lowest of praises.  In many ways, Javale and I share some similarities.  At times, McGee has looked like the best player on the court.  At others, he can’t find his way around the court.

For a Nuggets franchise that has been depleted of its GM (Masai Ujiri), Head Coach (George Karl) and featured player (Andre Iguodala), there’s a lot of pressure on McGee to finally grow up and be the player that’s he capable of being.

From a statistical perspective, the Flint, Michigan native has made some significant strides since his arrival to Denver from D.C..

In just over 18 minutes per contest, McGee stuffed the stat sheet by averaging 9.1 PPG, 5 RPG and 2 BPG.

For a player who only graced the court with his presence for roughly a third of the game, these figures are a bit mind-boggling.

Figuring to be the starting center with Kosta Koufos finally out of town, double those figures to get his “per 36 minutes” numbers.

If a center can average 18 points and dominate the game with four blocks, your team is in good position to win night in and night out.

The trouble with McGee is that you never know what to expect.  One minute, he’ll swat a shot into the stand.  The next, he’ll run into the stands.

While the big man is only a tender 25 years of age, he’s been in the league since 2008.

Although McGee entered the league completely unseasoned, I’d blame the stall in his development mostly on his time with the Washington Wizards.

javale

Year after year, the Wiz have one of the laughing stocks of the NBA.  Fittingly, Javale contributed his fair share of comedic acts.

Albeit McGee should be held accountable for his actions, he really had no one to show him the ropes of surviving in the NBA.  It’s not like he could call up Brendan Haywood or Andray Blatche for advice.

I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t let my 20-year-old get life coaching from Andray Blatche.

You get the gist. At 18th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, McGee wasn’t a great fit for a losing franchise.  He needed to learn how to handle himself from the get-go by sitting on the bench and watching professionals play for a while.  For some individuals, being throwing into the fire is detrimental to long-term success.

While it’s taken some time for McGee to progress, talents that come in his size don’t grow on trees.

I think Javale’s finally starting to understand that it’s time for him to prove his naysayers wrong.

In Denver, he’s being given his opportunity to shine.  Nuggets ownership had the choice between keeping Karl or McGee and they chose McGee.  For me, that’s the ultimate sign of confidence.

For a franchise in the midst of a transition, I’m betting on Javale to be up for the challenge. I can’t believe I just said that.

Breaking News: McGee encouraged to take mid-range jump shots. Gulp.

Time to rewrite this article…

Have a good weekend,

-Stav

End Of The Line For Michael Beasley?

michael-beasley-suns
Courtesy NBA.si.com

 

Remember writing DRose/Beasley debate stories. Sigh. “@Suns: OFFICIAL: Suns Waive Michael Beasley. http://t.co/8F8kjhVc8O

— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) September 3, 2013

As the great K.C. Johnson emits a sigh of disappointment that is undoubtedly tinged with sadness, I can’t help but recall the incredible promise and excitement that surrounded Michael Beasley in the months leading up to and during his one season at Kansas State. Beasley put up video game numbers during his stay in college and seemed prime to take the NBA by storm. At 6’10”, Beasley had a diverse skill set that, in theory, would turn him into a complete nightmare of a match up in the NBA.

Here’s Beasley’s numbers as a freshman:

26.2 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 53% FG%, 37.9 3P% and 77.4% FT%. Beasley led the Big 12 in points, rebounds, and free throws. It seemed like he was going to develop into an unstoppable pro. So what happened?

When the Bulls won the draft lottery that spring, the Rose vs. Beasley debate was hotly contested throughout Chicago. Beasley was by far the more nationally hyped player, and his obvious scoring prowess caused casual fans to fall in love. But Rose, the hometown hero, plays a more premium position at the point and was too great a talent for the Bulls to pass up. Some red flags existed for Beasley even back then: he attended six different high schools before eventually graduating. Rose, as we know, went on to win Rookie of the Year, MVP, and eventually had a quasi-successful NBA blog named after him. Beasley’s career path took an opposite turn upon entering the NBA.

Before ever stepping on the floor, Beasley already found himself in some trouble. At the NBA Rookie Symposium that year, an event where the NBA educates new players about how to handle everything from the media to sudden incredible wealth, Beasley was involved in an incident that resulted in two other rookies (Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur) being sent home from the Symposium for having women in their hotel room, and were also suspected of smoking marijuana. Beasley, who was not kicked out himself, incurred a $50,000 fine (compared to the $20,000 fine Chalmers and Arthur got) for obstructing the league’s investigation into the matter. Beasley eventually admitted he had been involved in the incident.

In Beasley’s rookie season, he didn’t quite destroy the league like many people had predicted, but he managed to put up a respectable stat line. Beasley, in about 25 minutes a game, averaged 14 points and five boards a night. He also stroked 40.1% from three, an excellent mark for any NBA player, let alone a rookie.

But in his first offseason, Beasley found himself in trouble again. After photos of the young player were posted online where Marijuana could be seen in the background, Beasley checked himself into a Houston rehab facility. The reason for his rehab stint is unknown, and while it is easy to suspect it was a drug related issue, there are those who believe Beasley had been dealing with emotional stresses that caused him to seek treatment. Either way, this was not a good sign for Beasley’s NBA career.

In Beasley’s second season his efficiency slipped. While he was playing for a pretty terrible Heat team, the one that was just a bunch of expiring contracts to set up for the crazy summer of 2010, Beasley did not seize the opportunity to showcase the talent NBA scouts and GMs believed he possessed.

Following his second season, Beasley was basically given away to the Minnesota Timberwolves to free up some extra dollars that were necessary in the pursuit of Lebron, Bosh and Wade. The change of scenery perhaps did the troubled youngster some good initially. Beasley averaged a career high 19.2 points a game, although he was averaging a pretty ridiculous 17 shots a night.

But that summer, Beasley found himself in some off court trouble again. This time, the three year NBA veteran was pulled over for speeding in suburban Minneapolis and was arrested for possession of marijuana.

In the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, Beasley saw his numbers take a significant dive. Beasley put up career lows in points, rebounds, field goal percentage, and assists. Despite the obvious warning signs that this was not a player destined for greatness, the Phoenix Suns decided to sign him to a 3yr/$18 million contract that was universally scoffed at the minute it became official. Beasley was pretty horrible in his Phoenix stint, The career lows that he put up the year before fell even lower, and Beasley’s PER for the season was an embarrassing 10.8.

This offseason, the Suns cleared out the entire front office and coaching staff. Change was inevitable. On August 6, Beasley was again arrested for having Marijuana in his car. This clear indication that Beasley was not taking his basketball career seriously was all new GM Ryan McDonough needed to know before he made his fateful decision to cut Beasley from the team.

The NBA is quickly becoming one of the smartest leagues in sports. Dumb contracts are becoming less and less common throughout the league as harsher salary cap penalties are forcing every team to think deeply before making any decisions.  Just 10 years ago, half a dozen GMs would look at the current situation surrounding Beasley and would be willing to take a flier on him. He’s just 24 years old and only two years removed from a season in which he averaged nearly 20 a night. But to take a chance on a guy with serious character flaws is just not financially feasible in today’s NBA.

There was mild buzz that the Bulls, who still need to sign somebody before training camps open, would consider taking a shot with Beasley. It would be a strange turn of events, as the first team to take a pass on him could end up being the last team to take a chance. But with the culture the Bulls have built the last couple of seasons, I can’t see Gar Forman deeming it a worthwhile risk for a team that has championship aspirations.

Beasley, who should really stop driving around smoking weed, will need to convince someone that the player who wowed everybody in college still exists. But is anyone willing to listen?

Gary Payton’s Legacy: The Glove Fits the Hall of Fame

i

Hey Guys,

When it comes to the greatest point guards of all-time, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and John Stockton obviously come to mind.

On September 8th, the Basketball Hall of Fame will induct yet another member of elite point guards: Gary Payton.

Throughout his 17-year career, the “Glove” suited up the Seattle Supersonics, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat.

Playing in an era dominated by the likes of Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and others, Payton often found himself a little forgotten about in the Pacific Northwest.

That is, until Shawn Kemp and him formed a Batman & Robin duo.

kemp-payton

Taking the league by storm in the mid 90s, the Sonics were perennial contenders in the Western Conference.  In 1995-96, the Payton-led Sonics actually made M.J and the Bulls sweat a bit in the NBA Finals.

After looking at his numbers, I was initially left a bit disappointed.  Per the average PG, Payton was not a great three-point chucker (31%), his assist numbers didn’t jump off the charts (6.7 APG) and his FT% would not cut it in today’s game (72%).

How did Payton put food on the table?

Night in and night out, the former Oregon State Beaver was a game-changer on the defensive side of the ball.  Payton had the unique ability to not only contain his matchup, but also clean up traffic in the passing lanes.

From Ages 22 to 37, the Glove played no less than 77 games a season.  That’s a remarkable feat.  Payton owes his durability to George Karl’s easy practice schedule.  Rumor is, that’s why A.I. had that freakout in 2003.

Like many of my favorites, he was also in the class of NBA elite “chirpers.”

Because most of our readers were probably pretty young when the Glove menaced the rest of the league, I’m going to do my best to compare and contrast his style of play with some more timely names.

Steve Nash- Obviously, Nash is one of the best shooters in the history of the game.  His shooting ability coupled with his play-making ability clearly were superior to that of Payton.  Payton, on the other hand, played more minutes per game, gobbled up more boards and shut down the likes of Stockton, Kevin Johnson and Marc Jackson on a consistent basis.  Nash hasn’t played a lick of defense since his soccer days in South Africa.  Advantage: Payton

Jason Kidd- The correlation between the careers of Kidd and Payton is more similar than to Nash.  During his early years, Kidd used his athleticism to run rampant from end to end.  Throughout his time with the Dallas Mavericks (the first-time), Phoenix Suns and New Jersey Nets, Kidd essentially quarterbacked successful, up-tempo offenses.  Whereas Payton struggled to find his niche in the twilight of his career, Kidd reinvented himself.  To turn away Father Time, Kidd taught himself how to shoot and score on the block. Advantage: Kidd.

This is the one that kind of intrigues me.

Russell Westbrook- Payton was taken 2nd overall in the 1990 NBA Draft. Westbrook was taken 4th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft.  At 6”4, 180 lbs, Payton had the ability to get to the bucket whenever he pleased. At 6”3 187 lbs, Westbrook is more or less doing the same.  Their stat lines are eerily similar in almost all facet of the game. Check it.

Screen shot 2013-08-30 at 3.09.38 PM

While Westbrook plays second fiddle to Kevin Durant in OKC, Payton enjoyed the best years of his career with Kemp.  Although similarly built, Westbrook hasn’t displayed the same grit on the defensive end.

Using our jumping to conclusions map, it would not be far off to say that Westbrook’s career will end up looking a lot like Payton’s when all is said and done.  And I’d bet that Russ wouldn’t be too disappointed.

Thanks for reading,

-Stavi

 

 

Making a Case for the HOF: TMac

TMac dunking on Shawn Bradley courtesy hiphopwire.com
TMac dunking on Shawn Bradley
courtesy hiphopwire.com

Tracy McGrady has recently retired from playing professional basketball. McGrady will be remembered as one of the most dynamic scoring threats to play in the first decade of the 21st century. He will be remembered for his high flying dunks and his incredible scoring binges. Unfortunately, he will also be remembered by many as being a loser.

Until this most recent postseason, in which McGrady did not score a single point in the 31 minutes of garbage time he played in during the Spurs’ run to the Finals, Tracy had never made it out of the first round of the playoffs. McGrady’s postseason futility is the number one reason people cite as to why this great player is not worthy of enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

And it’s a pretty good point to make. The Hall of Fame is a special place reserved for champions of the game. Sure, there’s great players who never won the big one. But guys like Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and even the great Elgin Baylor never won titles, but they all played for teams that came within a few bounces of the ball of winning one. TMac never even sniffed a conference finals! Is it insane to even have the HoF discussion about a guy who was on vacation every May and June?

In 2003, TMac submitted one of the most impressive seasons in NBA history. At the tender age of just 23, McGrady, who was playing for a pretty terrible Magic squad that was dealing with the oft injured Grant Hill, averaged 32 points a game on 45.7% shooting from the field and 38.6% from three. While Orlando only managed to go 42-40 that season, McGrady led the league in scoring and became the youngest scoring champion in league history. That distinction has since been passed onto Kevin Durant, but McGrady’s ability to dominate the league, despite youth and the lack of a decent supporting cast, at least creates the need for the HoF conversation to happen.

Over an eight year period, from 2000 until 2008, McGrady put up insane video game numbers. TMac averaged 26 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists a night. To put that type of dominant run in perspective, Lebron James, who may be the second greatest human to ever step on a basketball court, is currently in an 8 year stretch of his own where he has averaged 28 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7 dimes a game. While Lebron has significantly better numbers when it comes to shooting percentage and overall efficiency on the floor, it would be crazy to say that TMac did not have a dominant run that make him HoF worthy.

In 2004, McGrady was traded to the Houston Rockets in what was probably one of the worst all time trades ever to be traded. McGrady was acquired by Houston so that he could match forces with Yao Ming and terrorize the Western Conference for the next decade. In their first season together, the Rockets went 51-31. McGrady led that team in both scoring and assists, averaging 25.7 and 5.7, respectively. Yao averaged about 18-8 that season. The team ultimately was defeated by Dallas in the first round, a series that extended to a seventh game. Although the season was not the roaring success the Rockets had hoped for, it definitely felt like the beginning of something special.

Unfortunately for the Rockets, the dream of pairing the giant center and the dynamic scorer would never become the long term reality they had hoped for. Yao only played in 57, 48 and 55 games in the next three seasons. In 2009, Yao strung together a final productive and dominant season. He played in 77 games and averaged nearly a 20-10 with two blocks a game. Unfortunately, McGrady only suited up for 35 games that season.

McGrady, who jumped straight into the leauge from high school, flamed out pretty quickly. At age 34, TMac is hanging it up after not being effective at all in the last four years. While being able to play in the NBA for 15 years is a pretty impressive feat, it’s certainly fair to question what kind of shape TMac kept himself in. With guys like Kobe, Nash, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan and others still playing at a high level on the other side of 35, McGrady’s lack of longevity is definitely a solid knock against him for anyone making the case that he belongs in Springfield.

At the end of the day, I don’t think McGrady will make the Hall of Fame. While the Hall has made room for bit players who enjoyed incredible success as members of the Boston Celtics in the 1960’s, there is not much data to support TMac’s inductions, especially when so many members of the media are focused on championships. This is a tad unfair to McGrady, who is without a doubt a Hall of Fame talent who suffered unbelievably bad luck during the prime of his career.

For me, Tracy will always be an iconic player of my childhood. In middle school, everyone wore his shoes. His jersey was always one of the most popular to have as a kid. He was a force of nature in NBA Live and 2K. While I think voters are likely to keep him from the HoF, I’ll certainly be rooting for him.