Tag Archives: Jared Sullinger

Brad Stevens and Boston Skip Tanking for Winning

The Boston Celtics are far from a focal point of conversation these days as the NBA season inches closer the playoffs, yet it’s hardly been a disappointment. You’d be hard pressed to find a single Celtics fan who really believed this team would have any realistic shot at being a playoff team. Trading Rondo and Jeff Green were inevitable moves that most C’s fans (myself included) thought were going to improve chances of “tanking” the season in an effort to acquire a coveted lottery pick and a potential franchise player. However, the reality is that this continues to seem like a less likely outcome as the season progresses. Let’s not forget the season ending surgery for the promising Jared Sullinger. There have been moments this season where fans thought that this team would implode and rapidly trend towards being forgettable, yet Brad Stevens has managed to keep the ship afloat with what seems to be a continually revolving roster of players. Don’t get me wrong, this team is by no means spectacular in any fashion, but Stevens is showing that the popularized “tanking” notion is not the fail proof method for rebuilding franchises. He’s creating a culture that allows players to thrive, and his players are responding.

There have been quite a few pleasant surprises for Celtics fans this season to help restore some of the faith that was lost in Danny Ainge. I think the most fascinating development has been the emergence of Evan Turner. When you look at this current roster, Isaiah Thomas certainly may be the most talented player, but Turner has been the leader. Stevens’ best move this season has been moving Turner to the point. He has really thrived as a facilitator and is running an offense that currently ranks sixth best in assist ratio AND is tied for seventh lowest in turnover ratio in the league. Turner has quietly had two triple doubles this season as well as twenty-three (!) games of at least 10 points/five rebounds/five assists. His scoring is not very consistent but he is a capable enough ball handler for Stevens to place trust in him to run the offense. And why not?

This Celtics roster right now is entirely comprised of players that can score at least ten points on a given night. Besides Tyler Zeller, they can all shoot the three. Why is this important? Floor spacing. That’s one of the more underlooked aspects when planning defensive schemes against this Celtics team. They have no single player that will be the primary focus of a defensive game plan which actually makes them intriguingly problematic for their opponents.

One of the more promising things that Celtics fans can look forward to is Brad Stevens’ willingness to commit to team basketball, as noted in a recent NESN article. Stevens has been able to get the most value out of his players this season while building great team chemistry. In addition to the aforementioned Evan Turner, the recently acquired Isaiah Thomas has thrived as well. Thomas is a unique player as he can score as good as anyone but is likely not a true starter at point guard due to his size. The truth is, he is a perfect security blanket as a backup combo guard for any playoff contender.

Although it’s been a relatively small sample size, Thomas is averaging 21.4 points per game while averaging under 28 minutes a game in Boston. He is scoring at a higher average currently with this Celtics team than he did when he had his best scoring year with the Kings, when he averaged over 20 points per game. He’s also playing seven less minutes per game with the Celtics as a player coming off the bench than as a starter with the Kings. Thomas has proven his ability to score the basketball and is certainly someone that teams account for in the scouting report. However, he plays in a free flowing offense where players share the ball to get the best shot. This has been the main reason that his scoring efficiency is the highest of his career.

The Celtics will wrap up the season with the hopes of snatching the eighth and final playoff spot in the East where they could potentially be in a tough matchup with a Hawks team that has been remarkably good all year. While the Celtics would be far more likely to get swept than win the series, that would certainly be a matchup of interest to hardcore fans as both teams play very similar styles of basketball. Regardless of how the season ends for this young Celtics team, it is certainly reassuring to see Brad Stevens’ continued focus on playing the right way and the team’s ensuing improvements. If you call yourself a Celtics fan, you are thrilled to have Stevens at the helm for the foreseeable future given everyone’s expectations for them and what they have shown this season. This team plays to win, not to tank. As a Boston sports fan, you really have to admire the fight against the odds. It is the attitude carried by the city and its fans who are used to seeing their teams thrive. Brad Stevens is a winner, and this team will be too if they continue to show this progression.

Reverse Engineering an NBA FanDuel Winner

If you’re like me, you spend hours on DFS nearly every day. Truthfully, there are countless ways you can build a winning lineup, and even more countless ways you can spend your time researching and digging through stats to build it. One commonly overlooked aspect of building a winning lineup has nothing to do with the day you’re actually building that lineup. I’m talking about really sitting down and taking 10 minutes to look over the previous day’s winner of the GPP you played in. More so, look at the top 10 on the leaderboard of your GPP and analyze each and every pick and try to reverse engineer what that person was thinking and why. How did this person make sense of the market today, and take advantage of weaknesses and strengths. Let’s take a look at February 11th’s 13 game slate so I can give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

First, I’ll show you what I had…

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I won’t spend much time here because I really had a crappy lineup. Somehow it managed to cash in all three of my 50/50s and I made $12 on the night. James Johnson was dubbed the starter again about an hour before tipoff and his salary was rock bottom so I thought I was getting a lot of value there. That was really my first mistake, as I should’ve spent up more there and gone with a mid-tier option like Middleton, Parsons, or Ariza. Truthfully, I got lucky because Johnson was one of the most owned SFs of the night, so it didn’t sink me. The other mistake I made was going for Tyreke and I suppose Asik. That game should’ve played a lot closer, but the Pelicans just did nothing and the pacers were great. It probably made more sense to go with Oladipo or a Lou Williams/Crawford there and take my 30-35 points and upgrade elsewhere.

Now, let’s take a look at the winner of the Wednesday 150K NBA Shot tournament. On a night like Wednesday where there were 13 games, I wouldn’t worry about making contrarian picks, except in the case of James Harden, so I really won’t include much talk about being contrarian in this article.

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Point Guards

This guy went after a lot of players I really like on Wednesday. Barea was an excellent option, especially as Monta Ellis was a GTD. I used him in my DK lineup, but not on FD. There’s really not much analysis that needs to be done here. That pick made a lot of sense. Barea had been playing really well with Rondo out and had a great matchup against the Jazz. The other PG pick is the more unique pick, which helped propel him up the leaderboards. George Hill was owned in just 7.2% of entries, and was certainly on my radar, but it felt riskier, which is why I went Payton who was supposed to see an uptick in usage with Harris out. Anyway, Hill was coming off bad games against San Antonio and Charlotte. Neither are particularly good defensive teams, but before that he had a small stretch of 30+ FP games. The Pelicans were giving up the most FPPG to opposing PGs over their last five games (thanks Russell), and had played in a number of tough games recently giving Hill a reasonable opportunity for another 30+ FP night. On a night where PG scoring was relatively low, Hill was the greatest value.

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The strategy of going cheap at PG on Wednesday was really what you needed to do. There was so much value with guys like Rubio, Hill, Parker, Barea, Clarkson, Chalmers and Payton, that you really didn’t need to spend up for a Steph Curry, Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook although you could have done fine with either Curry or Westbrook (more so for Curry). The main lesson you can take away from Wednesday night here is that on large slates the position with the most viable plays is where you need to save your money, as you can get much more overall value out of cheaper guys than the high priced studs.

Shooting Guard

jklein didn’t blow anyone away at the SG spot, but most importantly he faded Harden, Tyreke, Thompson, and Monta (obviously). The Harden and Monta fades were easy, but the Tyreke and Thompson ones were a little harder to make. DeRozan was a quick lock in my lineup and I bet jklein’s. He just plays too big of a role in the Raptor offense for his price of $6,900, and the Wizards were going to be without Beal in a seemingly close game. I was surprised to see him owned at just 13.3% in this GPP. He made another very safe play with Crawford at his second SG spot. The LA/Houston game was a game that I was planning to go after hard (as you can see by my Paul, Barnes, and Smith plays), and jklein had a similar strategy while nabbing Crawford, Ariza, Smith, and Jordan.

Again, on a big slate it can pay to take certainties over wildcards. Crawford at $5200 was almost a lock for 25 FPs, and facing Houston on a back to back left room for upside if Houston fell behind (which they did in the fourth quarter).

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Small Forward

Small Forward was a position where you could’ve gone in a million different directions Wednesday. There were attractive options everywhere and at all tiers of salary. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the position can be somewhat of a crapshoot at times. Going with the “safe” theme, he took KD at home against the Grizzlies. Not an ideal matchup, but you know in all likelihood Durant will get you a minimum of 40 FPs. It worked out well in his favor as Durant was the top scoring SF on the night, and was only owned in 9.1% of entries. If you’re paying up for Durant, it makes sense to go cheap at the other SF spot, especially with aspirations of getting DeAndre Jordan as your Center. Thus, he went for Ariza in a game that had the highest O/U of the night and a close spread. Smart! Personally I liked Barnes more, and he was the better value but hey, he won.

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Power Forward

Josh Smith was another guy I knew I had to have Wednesday as he had a great matchup against the Blake Griffin-less Clippers and had been on a roll without Dwight Howard around. Super easy pick to make. Going with Sullinger was quite a bit ballsier, but the spread was surprisingly small for that game if I remember correctly (maybe 7.5), and he had been playing really well since he was taken out of the starting lineup for being late for a walkthrough a couple weeks back. Anyone who finished in the top ten Wednesday had Sullinger, West, Josh Smith, or Jason Smith. There was really not much else you could do there with the exception of Dirk.

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That being said, PF was definitely one of the weakest positions Wednesday loaded with a lot of iffy matchups and poor punt options. Instead of paying up for picks like Favors, Millsap, Bosh, or Aldridge, he took Sully, who was sure to be a huge part of the Celtics win if they were going to keep the game close, and it held true. Honestly, the Sullinger pick was probably the riskiest pick outside of maybe George Hill this guy made, but more importantly it allowed him to spend money on guys like Durant and Jordan, who were in much better positions to produce solid numbers in weak position groups.

Center

Finally, the pick you almost had to make to finish high on Wednesday was DeAndre Jordan. I toyed with throwing him in my lineups, but decided against it because I thought the value with Asik was too good to pass up while AD was out, and it was contrarian. Well I was wrong about that, and he went for 59 FPs while only being owned in 17% of entries, which was nearly 8% less than Josh Smith. I partly shied away from Jordan because I thought the market would go really hard on him, and there was a chance of getting in foul trouble against the white hot Harden. The important takeaway from that is don’t bother trying to be contrarian on giant slates. Let the market do its crazy things, and take guys you know will perform at or above expectation (Smith, Jordan, Durant, Barea, Hill, Sullinger).

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Conclusion

Looking at the top entries from Wednesday tells us a few things. First, on big slates like this it’s important to remember to not try to be overly contrarian. Let the market do its crazy things, and just pick who you like to have a nice game. Josh Smith only being owned in 25% of entries is insane. The odds of him going for 5 or 6x value was likely the highest of any PF.

Another thing that’s important, but difficult to do on a big slate, is make sure you’re spending your big money wisely. It was all too easy to fall into a trap of spending big on Curry or Paul Wednesday who had good scenarios for big production, but that would’ve left you with significant holes elsewhere. The PG market was very strong, and he took advantage of that by playing Barea and Hill who were both criminally undervalued by both the market and salary. SG was also very strong with a lot of good mid-tier plays, so he attacked the strength of that spot as well landing two high usage players in DeRozan and Crawford and avoided spending big on Harden, Thompson or Evans, which were all riskier than DeRozan and Crawford. Nothing crazy, but both would keep him in the running to cash a GPP.

Then, he spent big on Durant and snuck a great value play in Ariza into his lineup. Durant was one of the top scorers of the day, and had a very good floor for production Wednesday, which made sense in the always unpredictable SF group. However, there were a number of solid value plays that day, so you could’ve done fine with two of those and spending on Curry instead, but the top four entries all had Durant.

Josh Smith was then an easy decision for a lot of people, but Sullinger was a sneaky good pick. The Hawks had been struggling against PFs, and had played a lot of tough games recently. I don’t love the pick, and would rather have David West, but Sullinger won him this GPP. More importantly though, he avoided falling into a trap of just spending up at a position when you’re not sure who to pick there, and landed two guys in Smith and Sully who play big roles for their respective teams when they’re in the game.

Finally, he went with another safe, but extremely high upside pick in Jordan, who had scored 60 FPs in his previous game without Griffin. Again, an easy pick to make in retrospect, but this is why we’re reverse engineering this lineup and understanding the strategy. To get back to my main point, on big slates it’s important to not make very unusual picks for players with high upside. The market will do that for you, and you’ll be able to take advantage of knowing that and landing a big number of great value plays. However, on smaller slates it makes more sense to go contrarian as you need picks to differentiate yourself from others if there are only four or five games that day.

I hope this analysis proves useful to you, and please don’t hesitate to contact me on twitter (@thoreosnmilk) or by email at thor.akerley@gmail.com for DFS or fantasy sports related questions!

 

Shipping Down to Boston

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Life is tough for a Celtics fan right now. Seeing one of the most storied franchises in the league gather a whopping 25 wins in addition to finishing last in the completely irrelevant Atlantic Division was simply a cherry on the farewell cake that saw three Hall of Famers and a head coach bolt for other teams.

While a championship run certainly won’t be in the cards for the foreseeable future, the Celts still have managed to make enough unique moves during the offseason to pique the interest of us avid NBA fans who remain loyal to the cause.

Here is the beautiful thing about the NBA today: being terrible gives you a chance of getting a player that can turn the franchise around, wherever he may be found in the draft. One player in the draft can have a drastic impact on a team (ex: LeBron, Durant, Curry, Aldridge, etc.) almost instantly. This is something that is not common in other professional sports leagues, notably the MLB. Sure, you have the Kwame Browns and Darko Milicics of the draft, but you also have plenty of diamonds in the rough, as draft history has continually showed us in years past.

The hope of drafting a potential franchise superstar is always on the forefront of fans minds whenever they see their team tank a season. That certainly was the case for me. Was I hoping that the Celtics would be in the sweepstakes for Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker? Of course. It would be idiotic to not want to take a risk on a player of that caliber who has so much potential to be great in the NBA. Unfortunately for the Celtics last season, they were bad, but they weren’t the worst. I can live with that though, seeing as the C’s still had the 6th and 17th overall draft picks. I thought they did a pretty good job acquiring talent with their selections of Marcus Smart (Oklahoma St.) and James Young (Kentucky), both who possess above average athleticism and have fairly strong offensive capabilities respectively. I will touch on each of these two players a little later on in this piece.

So what are left with here looking at this young Celtics team? From where I stand, I see a group of players that lack the leadership of a superstar player that they so desperately need. That’s not to say that the Celts don’t have valuable pieces, because they certainly do. However, the fact that they do not have a top 20 player who plays at an elite level night in and night out will impede any hopes of getting into the playoffs or having success in the playoffs this year. Enough negativity though. I want to dive into this team of young misfits and address how some of the personnel changes they made this offseason will impact the team moving forward.

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First things first, I absolutely loved the hiring of Brad Stevens. This guy worked with a team that really only had one All-Star caliber NBA player in Gordon Hayward during his tenure at Butler. He was able to evoke a style of hard-nosed and team oriented basketball, something that is not seen too frequently in the NBA. The guy is a winner and he knows how to manage conflicting player attitudes. His energy and focus are very transparent from the sidelines and you can see the demeanor of his players both on and off the court. Hiring Stevens was a very strategic long term move by the Boston Celtics in my opinion. Stevens is not a coach that they plan on canning after a year or two after sustaining a few bad seasons. Danny Ainge is fully aware of his current roster as well as the team needs and talent gaps. I really do embrace his logic of growing Stevens with the team from the ground up to really develop a fundamental basketball system that players can all buy into once the right pieces come into place over the next few seasons.

I briefly discussed how I truly appreciate the direction that the coaching staff and team management is going towards in the future. What about the players though? The Celts may not have acquired Kevin Love or Melo in the offseason, but they did make some moves that are worthy of further observation and analysis. The two major offseason moves I liked the most were the acquisitions of Evan Turner and Tyler Zeller. Starting with Turner, he came to the C’s after being underutilized as a role player for the Pacers as they tried to make a deep playoff push last season. The one thing I like about his game is the fact that he can do a little bit of everything. He is not necessarily top notch in any offensive or defensive category, but he certainly is able to contribute in many different areas. His addition to the roster will certainly alleviate a lot of the scoring burden that was primarily placed on Jeff Green last season. It also gives the Celtics another wing player that is actually meant to be a wing player based on physical size and strength, which will help defensively in terms of matching up against opposing teams 2 and 3 spots.

Another player that I expect to make an immediate impact for the Celtics this season is Tyler Zeller. I truly believe that he is one of the more underrated players in the whole league. He is a legit seven footer with a well developed offensive skill set in addition to being an excellent rebounder. His presence will certainly be noted on the defensive end as he will serve as the primary rim protector for the Celtics this season. His addition to the roster also allows for players like Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger to match up against more traditional power forward size players rather than having to guard players that are simply just bigger and stronger. I digress. Going back to Zeller, he should also help balance out the scoring attack for the Celtics this upcoming season. He provides another easy scoring outlet for Rondo to dump the ball off to for easy dunks when attacking the basket.

Both Zeller and Turner will help the Celtics out in terms of scoring distribution as well as their overall team defense. Both are well above average NBA talents that will improve a depleted Celtics roster from last season. More importantly, they are valuable trading pieces to have if and when the C’s are trying to make a big move in the future. However, for now I am content with having both of these guys on the roster for this season because of the fact that they will be more involved in the offense. They will be asked to carry more of the scoring burden than they have had to on their previous teams. Maybe this will serve as the perfect opportunity for both of these players to break out and have career years.

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Looking back at the players the Celtics have gotten through the last few drafts, I really can’t complain too much. They have a young nucleus of drafted players that includes Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart, and James Young. Sullinger has shown signs of incredible productivity on the boards as well as proficiency from beyond the arc and around the rim. I fully expect him to elevate his play to a higher level this season. Olynyk had a few bright moments last year but I still think he has room to improve. I see him as one of the backup centers (with Vitor Faverani) to Tyler Zeller who will earn his time based on his ability to score and rebound in the sparing minutes that he will receive this season.

The Celtics hope for big contributions from their rookies
The Celtics hope for big contributions from their rookies

Obviously it is a little early to make an accurate projection for Smart and Young, but I will give one anyways based off of practice reports and the current structure of the roster. I am a big fan of Smart. I think he has a rare combination of size, strength, and athleticism that makes him a tough guard to cover. At 6’4″ Smart can be considered either a 1 or 2 guard when he is on the floor. Although it is a little far fetched, I can understand the early comparisons that he drew to Dwyane Wade while he was still playing college ball. I think he will get some good opportunities to showcase his abilities with the absence of Rondo for the beginning portion of the season due to surgery on his hand. I am interested to see how Smart fits into the Celtics gameplan going forward. Another player who is very intriguing to me is James Young. If you don’t remember this guy, just think back to some of the electric plays he had for the John Calipari during the NCAA tournament. From his thunderous dunks to draining wing threes, this guy really impressed viewers with the multitude of offensive skills he has in his arsenal. He also has a very long wingspan and is left handed which can make him a defender’s nightmare when trying to cover him. He needs to bulk up a bit so he can be more physical when facing other 2 and 3 positions in the league, but it is difficult not to be optimistic about this kid’s future. He is a very capable ball handler and seems to mesh well into different offensive sets, even an elite offense like that of the Kentucky Wildcats. He may take some time to really thrive in the NBA, but he is definitely someone to keep an eye out for going forward into the season.

In closing I would just like to throw out a few notes about the Celtics going into this season. Rondo will not be playing for at least the first week of the season seeing as he is still recovering from hand surgery. Avery Bradley will most likely be asked to shoulder the point guard duties for a while in his absence with Phil Pressey handling some of those duties off the bench. Jeff Green has a temporary setback with a strained left calf but the coaching staff does not see that being serious enough to prevent him from being ready for the season opener. Although there are some scattered injuries and inexperienced players, Brad Stevens will have these guys ready to compete as soon as the regular season starts. They may not be tremendously successful this season, but there is no doubt that it will be entertaining to watch the new blend of young players integrated into the Celtics rotation as well as the players from last year who continue to progress.