Homecoming Hurrah: Is There Hope for Former No.1 Pick Anthony Bennett Back in Canada?

Anthony Bennett has been a stud in FIBA play for Canada, but he hasn’t been able to break through in the league with Cleveland or Minnesota. Will the former No. 1 pick find his niche with his hometown Raptors?

It’s official. Anthony Bennett, the former No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, the first Canadian to ever be drafted No. 1 overall (followed by fellow Canadian Andrew Wiggins being drafted No.1 the next drat), is back in his home country of Canada. After the Timberwolves bought out the remaining year of his contract, Bennett cleared waivers and signed with the Toronto Raptors for a 1 year, $947,000 deal, not bad change considering that Bennett will still be getting the $3.65 million from the Timberwolves in the buyout deal. Nonetheless, it is a bit of a tough pill to swallow for Bennett, who will be on his 3rd team in 3 years. Though always seen as a stretch for the No. 1 pick, Cleveland, Minnesota and NBA fans in general surely expected more than what Bennett has produced his first two seasons in the league.

In his rookie campaign, Bennett was injured and out-of-shape in Cleveland, which limited his court time and production (he only played in 52 games and averaged 12.8 MPG). In his second season, he was traded along with fellow Canadian and No.1 pick Wiggins in the LeBron “super-deal”, and many expected Bennett to have a better opportunity to improve in a rebuilding situation rather than a competitive one in Cleveland (which was the case with LeBron arriving back home). However, he was unable to find a fit on the young Wolves squad amidst Wiggins, Zach Lavine, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, and Ricky Rubio. His minutes only improved to 15.7 MPG and his stats only improved slightly across the board (6.9 PER to 11.4 PER; minus-0.4 win shares to 0.3). Yes, the class he was part of wasn’t good at the top (though foreign picks like Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo are looking like steals and may end up being the cream of the crop along with Nerlens Noel, who is already a plus-plus defensive player after his first full year in the league), but even compared to his peers, Bennett pales mightily. His career win shares in negative-0.1, which ranks him 54th out of the 60 players drafted that year. Bennett may not be a bust just yet, but he hasn’t done anything so far in his first two years to prove that narrative wrong either.

So far, the biggest thing people remember of Bennett’s career so far is the wild reaction from fans, other draft picks and commentators when he was surprisingly selected No. 1, as evidenced in the video below:

Again, the shock from Bill Simmons’ “Whoa!” The hands on the back of the necks of the Cleveland Cavs fans in attendance. The shock on Noel’s face, unable to even look in Bennett’s direction. Hell, I think even David Stern, who was performing his last NBA Draft as commissioner, was shocked, as he took a second to pause before announcing Bennett’s name over the loud speakers to the passionate NBA fans in New York City. All profiled in the video demonstrated such a state of utter disbelief that has been a microcosm of the Bennett pick and his early NBA career: how the heck did he go Number One in the NBA Draft?

Nonetheless, scrape away the No. 1 pick aura. It was a lousy draft that really had no consensus No. 1 pick going in. He may rate as one of the lesser No. 1 picks in the NBA Draft’s history, but he won’t be the worst, as long as he stays healthy, which he has done for the most part (no missed seasons like some No. 1 picks). It’s easy to understand the performance in the first two years as well. He just wasn’t in prime physical condition due to nagging injuries prior and during his rookie year, and in Minnesota, it was understandable that he was unable to crack Flip Saunder’s rotation, especially with more proven and traditional bigs like Nikola Pekovic and Dieng (and later Kevin Garnett), and wings that Saunders was more familiar with such as Muhammad, Thaddeus Young and Chase Budinger. Lastly, it’s difficult to see where Bennett projects in the league position-wise: he is not quick enough to be a regular on the wing at small forward, but he is not big enough to be a regular at the 4 position either.

There certainly are a lot of warts with Bennett’s tenure in the NBA, and his game overall has been hard to define and project ever since he was at UNLV (is he a 3 or 4 is the biggest debate concerning Bennett; some argue he has to be a 3 to last in this league, but on a BS Report with Bill Simmons, Steve Nash remarked that Bennett is a more natural 4 whose preference is to play like a stretch 4; this isn’t exactly pushover analysis, as Nash is currently the GM for the Canadian Men’s National Team). But, as evidenced during the Pan American Games and FIBA Americas Tournament, Bennett can put up games like the one below:

It’s easy to see why scouts and organizations were so enamored with Bennett when they see him play for his home country. He plays confident. He shows surprising athleticism and ability to drive to the rim. He can hit the 3-pointer with regularity and ease. His post game is still a bit raw, as I don’t think he is truly a natural post player and still needs to work on his footwork around the paint (as do many young big men in the NBA). That being said, what he lacks in physical skills he makes up intangibles. Bennett has the aggressiveness, body and strength to overpower smaller wings on the block, while still maintaining the good shooting touch and quickness with the dribble to beat bigger forwards who are with him out on the perimeter. When it comes to FIBA play, Bennett makes his naysayers question a bit for dubbing him a “bust” and “one of the worst No. 1 picks ever”.

But unfortunately for Bennett, NBA legacies are determined by NBA games, not FIBA ones. Maybe Bennett will simply be a greater international competition player than a NBA one. Maybe he will find a team in Europe or another foreign country that will appreciate that FIBA success and he won’t be judged by the stigma of being a former No. 1 pick. But if he wants to be more than just a FIBA player and stay in the league, he will have to transition those intangibles he showcases in FIBA play to the NBA court. At times last year, Bennett showed that in Minnesota, and you can see it below in his highlight tape from last year. There were at times Bennett flashed the “Team Canada” swagger and brilliance with the Timberwolves last season. Unfortunately, for Bennett and the Wolves, those moments were too few and far between.

There are a lot of things to like though about Bennett and his new team. First all, I truly think Bennett appreciates being Canadian and playing in front of home-country fans. Yes, FIBA competition is a lot different from the NBA. But, there is a special electric charge some players get when representing their country. Toronto provides Bennett that same kind of outlet as Canada’s only NBA team. If there is a NBA organization that could motivate Bennett in the same way that the Canadian National Team does during FIBA competitions in the summer, it has to be the Raptors with their fervent and heavily nationalistic fan base. (Seriously, can you argue that with their “We the North” campaign?)

Another benefit in Bennett’s favor is that it will be easier to crack the rotation than it was in Cleveland and even Minnesota. The Raptors won 49 games, finished as the winner of the Atlantic Division in the East (though the division was pretty lousy, as the sub.500 Celtics finished second), and were one of the better offensive teams in the NBA (4th overall in Offensive Rating). But, there is a lot to be determined with this Raptors roster this season. The Raptors lost long-time post player Amir Johnson and valuable scoring wings Lou Williams and Grievis Vasquez to free agency, and while they did sign DeMare Carroll from the Raptors, it’ll be interesting to see how Carroll fares offensively transitioning from Mike Budenholzer’s system in Atlanta. That is not to say Bennett will leap Carroll by any means, but if Carroll struggles to adapt to head coach Dwane Casey’s system, it’ll be interesting to see who minutes and shots will go to at the small forward position off the bench.

The most interesting position where Bennett could fit in though will be at power forward. Though Patrick Patterson has been good, he is far from spectacular, as evidenced by his 14.6 PER and meager 8.0 ppg and 5.3 rpg in 26.6 mpg last year. However, Patterson fit in with the Raptors as an excellent stretch four, as he took 52.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and hit 37.1 percent of them. Patterson and Bennett’s games are similar, and Bennett may be a better ball-handler and a bit more athletic on the wing. It’ll be interesting to see if Casey utilizes Bennett in a similar way to Patterson and maybe cut Bennett some of Patterson’s minutes. After all, Bennett could provide the same kind of arsenal that Patterson already brings, but with a bit more athleticism, positional versatility and obviously, more youth. That being said, Patterson won’t be giving up his minutes easy, as Patterson really established himself on this team last season as a key contributor (his 6.1 win shares were 4th most on the team) as well as fan favorite.

Bennett certainly could have fit in Portland (where his national team coach Jay Triano is an assistant) as well as Charlotte and Philly (where there were more obvious playing opportunities). But, I think the Raptors situation is the best for Bennett now. He needs to be in a place where he’s comfortable and he’s been the most comfortable and passionate as a player when he’s wearing the Red and White for Canada. The Raptors should give him the same kind of energy: he’s representing his country in another way, and realizing the dream of finally playing for his hometown team growing up only adds more fuel to Bennett’s fire. Bennett has always made it known how much he liked the Raptors growing up and has been impressed with Toronto fans, and that was on display in this interview last year with fellow Canadian and former teammate Tristan Thompson:

And while all the home country and hometown team ties are important, let’s not forget the most important aspect for Bennett and his NBA future: he’s in a good situation where he can compete and earn playing time right away for a competitive, playoff-seeking team. Granted, it won’t be starting playing time, and I doubt it’ll be in the 20-minute marks, especially early-on, but he’ll have a shot to make his mark and perhaps earn more if he can play loose and display his versatile offensive game. His skill set and size are a need for a team that is a bit shaky in the post, and his ability to shoot the 3 as well as score in the paint and finish with authority in the fast break will help give the Raptors a valuable option off the bench, which will help the keep competitive in the NBA Eastern Conference.

The big question about Bennett is whether NBA fans should have any hope going further for the guy after how bad his first two years have been. I think so. I don’t know if he’ll be a major star in the league, heck, I am not even sure if he can be a regular starter on a competitive team. But, as a key role player, a 7th-8th man who can stretch defenses and find multiple ways to score in limited 16-22 minute stretches? To me, that is possible for Bennett, even as soon as next year.

That kind of production will make him worth much more than the $947,000 the Raptors will pay him next year.

And that kind of production too will at least give him a better legacy than Greg Oden and Darko Milicic as well.

Can Mike Malone Revive the Denver Nuggets?

Mike Malone has said all the right things so far in Denver…but what else can he do to make the Nuggets competitive again?

Mike Malone’s hire in Denver generated a lot of buzz this off-season. And rightfully so. After getting canned early in his second year in Sacramento, despite getting off to a “better than expected start” and being the one coach that actually was a favorite of Boogie Cousins, the Kings fell apart without his leadership (though the jury is still out on George Karl), and people began to realize that maybe Malone was more successful to the Kings’ success than management initially thought or gave him credit for. (Sacramento Kings fans of course will be quick to point this out and on constant occasion).

Now, Malone will get a second chance, as he succeeds Brian Shaw, a once-heralded assistant whose initial head coaching job in Denver was an amazing thud. The Nuggets failed to make the playoffs in any of his two years at the helm, let alone have a winning record. And furthermore, the Nuggets were filled with internal turmoil, ranging from style of play to his inability to motivate his young players. Injuries certainly didn’t help his tenure, but this is the NBA, and this was a Nuggets team that won 57 games and earned a No. 3 seed in the West prior to his arrival. It’s not like he was leading the Philadelphia 76ers here where the cupboard was bare and there were zero expectations.

Malone definitely will be a breath of fresh air for an organization that has been a bit rudderless the past couple of years after the departure of Karl (who was let go) and Masai Ujiri, who is now the current General Manager of the Toronto Raptors (and doing wonders there). However, despite his strong work ethic, and ability to work with “volatile” personalities, he will have his work cut out for him in Denver. It is obvious that the Josh Kroenke and the Nuggets ownership group expect the Nuggets to be immediate contenders (at least for a playoff spot), or else they wouldn’t have parted ways with Shaw so quickly. Lucky for Nuggets fans, Malone has been on this boat before, and under much murkier and unpredictable management circumstances as well (I mean, who thought Malone would be fired after the start he had? Yes, they faded a bit when Boogie went down, but every Kings fan and media member has constantly said the timing of the move was ill-advised and ended up costing the Kings any chance of competitiveness). It probably goes without saying that Malone learned from his time in Sacramento, and will have the right plan going forward, especially when it comes to working with an overbearing and lofty-thinking management (not as bad as Vivek and Co., but Korenke isn’t Philly or Minnesota management here either).

Malone has said pretty much all the right things. He promises up-tempo basketball, which is not a surprise since the Nuggets circumstances (high elevation) and history (Westhead, Karl, etc.) has always favored that kind of play. However, he also plans to incorporate stronger defense in that mold of play, something that has not been seen quite often with the Run and Gun Nuggets teams (they always were offensively-focused squads). Furthermore, there also seems to be a plan in place for more structure and discipline, especially in-season, something that fell apart toward the end of Shaw’s tenure (the no shoot-around due to let guys party thing didn’t seem to go well, especially with players like Ty Lawson having DUI issues during the season). If any new coach won their introductory press conference and off-season, one would have to think the trophy would go to Malone.

But Malone also won his press conference in Sacramento, and though he showed signs of breakthrough, he still overall had a losing record in his short tenure there (he went 39-67 as head coach of the Kings). What will Malone need to do to truly be successful in Denver? What needs to fall in place?

Let’s take a look at a few things to pay attention as the Nuggets enter training camp and build up to the start of the 2015-2016 campaign.

Making Danilo Gallinari a Crucial Part of the Offense Again

Zach Lowe wrote a pretty good piece examining the importance of Danilo to the Nuggets’ chances this year and I couldn’t agree more. For someone that was in the Denver area during their solid 2012-2013 campaign, it was obvious that the Nuggets’ chances were sunk when Danilo tore his ACL and was lost for the playoffs and the 2013-2014 season. Gallinari was averaging 17.9 ppg, 1.16 PPP and a true shooting percentage of 56.1 percent on an increased usage rate of 21.3 percent (up .6 percent from the previous year). After being more hesitant the previous year from beyond the arc, the Italian sensation embraced the 3-pointer more (41.6 percent attempt rate, up from 39.3 percent in 2011-2012) and it payed off. He produced a 16.7 PER and accumulated 7.2 win shares, a career high at that point. After an up and down career in New York (who drafted him), it was nice to see Gallinari shining and being a crucial cog in the Nuggets’ offense and Karl’s system.

But, Gallo got hurt, the Nuggets got bounced in the first round, Karl was showed the door, Shaw came in…and you know the rest. When Gallinari did return, all was pretty much lost, as the Nuggets were a non-factor in the playoff race seemingly from January-on. But, as pointed out in Lowe’s piece, Gallo was one of the Nuggets best players after the All-Star break, as he averaged 18.6 ppg and 4.8 rpg on 31.2 mpg in 24 contests down the stretch. He also seemed to show signs of his old shooting prowess from 2012-2013, as he shot 40.3 percent beyond the arc on 31 more 3-pt attempts from the first half in the 24-game span, and averaged 1.19 PPP (a .16 point improvement from the first half). There were not a lot of bright spots for the Nuggets in the second-half with the firing of Shaw, the troubles of Lawson, and the mixed feelings for Kenneth Faried, whose legacy changes all the time it seems in Denver (more on this later). But Gallo’s return to form was a glimmer of hope for a fanbase that has been used to disappointment, especially as of late.

The big question now though is if the 24-game sample of Gallo will translate over a full year. Is he really back to that 2012-2013 form or better? Or was that post-All Star break performance a flash in the pan? One sign that he might be closer to the former was his recent performance this September in international play. Gallo was a force for an Italian squad that finished 6th in the recent Eurobasket, as he led the team in scoring with 17.9 ppg and also showed a boost in some other categories as he averaged 6.9 rpg and 2.8 apg during the 8-game span. Additionally, he also shot 56 percent from the field, including 40 percent from 3, thus demonstrating Gallo’s hot touch from the end of the year has carried over to FIBA play. Of course, FIBA numbers should always taken with a grain of salt, especially considering this was solely against European competition (i.e. no USA). But, if Gallo can be the lead dog on a team with NBA players such as Marco Belinelli, Andrea Bargnani and Gigi Datome, it makes you think he could also serve such a role on a Nuggets team that is going to be much younger than in years past.

Will Malone lean on Gallinari early, especially as youngsters such as rookie Emmanuel Mudiay and second-year center Jusuf Nurkic continue to grow into their games? It’ll be interesting to see, that’s for sure. Malone at the core is a defensive guy, and Gallinari has never proven to be better than an average defender (and that is saying it kindly). And Gallinari struggles with the more physical parts of the game, and though he showed more physicality in the Eurobasket than usual, he will struggle against bigger power forwards if Malone should go small and put him at the four. Gallinari has never had a rebounding percentage in the double digits, and even for a small-ball four that is not a promising sign, especially considering playing Gallinari at the four means benching Faried or Nurkic, who are solid rebounding bigs.

How Malone will utilize Gallo will be a strong indicator to the Nuggets’ success. Will Malone make him a focal point of the offense? Can he help him improve his defense? Can he motivate him to show that 24-game self over the full course of the season? If Malone can do that, the Nuggets could be getting better quicker than expected.

Reaching Kenneth Faried

The Nuggets need a focused and committed Faried in 2015-2106

Faried has been a hot and cold player for the Nuggets. He went under-drafted in the 2011 draft, going 22nd and being thought as a “good small-college player who would be exposed by bigger posts” in the NBA. Faried though has proven the critics wrong somewhat, as he has averaged nearly a double-double over his career so far (12.2 ppg and 8.7 rpg over  281 games). That is not bad for a guy many thought would be out of the league in a few years (as is typical for late-round picks).

But, while his hustle and fan-favorite style (gotta love the “Manimal” nickname) has boded well in his favor, his albatross contract and prickly personality has made him a pariah of sorts in the Nuggets locker room. This interesting quote below came out about Faried in this ESPN piece by Kevin Arnovitz last November:

“[Faried] is a helluva player and plays hard, but he isn’t well liked [in the organization],” a league source said. “That gets glossed over. He says crazy s—. He thinks he’s the guy, and other guys take exception to his contract.”

Not exactly glowing praise for a guy thought to be a key piece for the Nuggets going forward.

But, Malone has been in this boat before. Cousins was widely known as a volatile sort that many felt would be un-coachable when he came into the league, and early on in his career, he proved them right. He struggled to get along with Paul Westphal. (But then again, who doesn’t? Has any player of his ever come out and said “God, I loved playing for Paul Westphal! He was the best!” Phoenix, Seattle and Pepperdine players…you can email me anytime). He struggled with Kenny Natt and Keith Smart. For a while, it looked like Cousins was destined to being a great player on a bad team who just couldn’t get out of his own way, in the Rasheed Wallace or Zach Randolph mold (both whom I love by the way).

And then Malone came in. Malone got him to give more commitment to defense. He helped channel Cousins emotions a bit better. And let’s face it. Who knows if Boogie becomes a third-team All-NBA player and an All-Star if not for Malone’s tutelage. Time and time again when asked, Boogie always has good things to say about Malone, something not a lot of past or even present Kings coaches can boast.

The Faried situation is not easy, especially on a roster filled with young players and under-whelming veterans like JJ Hickson and Randy Foye. Faried will be relied upon for leadership in some way, and it makes you wonder when you see articles like the one from Arnovitz if Faried is up for the challenged considering his ego issues. However, this is not new turf for Malone, and it is a safe bet that Malone is banking on mending Faried’s image similar to how he mended Cousins’ in Sacramento for the benefit of Faried as well as the team in general. This team is not deep talent-wise and they need a focused Faried if they want an outside chance at a playoff berth.

Focus on youth, especially Mudiay and Nurkic

Lawson is now a Rocket, which means that the Nuggets’ future at the point is rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, whom the Nuggets got at No.7 in this recent draft. Considering that Mudiay was considered a No. 1 pick a year ago before he went back on his commitment to SMU and played in China instead, I think the Nuggets got a steal. Mudiay, a big point guard at 6-feet 5-inches, has all the intangibles that made Elfrid Payton such a hot commodity in the draft years ago, but has a bit more offensive upside than Payton. He average 18 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 5.9 apg in 12 games with the Guangdong Tigers last year, and he also showed some flashes of brilliance in Summer League as well. Also, in his prospect profile, Aran Smith of NBADraft.net said this about Mudiay:

“An elite level PG with the dynamic talent to be in the category of PGs such as Derrick Rose, John Wall and Damian Lillard. He has a terrific feel for the game, and will just need to learn to become more composed with his decision making and shot selection.”

You can see now why the last DUI was the final straw for Lawson in Denver. If Mudiay can develop as scouts project, they could have a franchise-cornerstone at point guard for years to come. It’ll be interesting to see if Malone will give the keys to the offense right away though, or if he will have incumbent backup Jameer Nelson take over the starting role to allow Mudiay to get more comfortable and keep too much pressure off of his young guard right away. That being said, Mudiay is the future, and Malone has leaned on his young guys before (he was liberal at times with giving Ray McCallum minutes at point in Sacramento), so it won’t be surprising if Mudiay becomes “the man” at point sooner rather than later in Denver.

Mudiay isn’t the only young budding star that Malone needs to pay attention to though. The “Bosnian Beast” Nurkic was a key reason the Nuggets decided to part ways with Timofey Mozgov, who ended up having a bit of a coming out party against the Warriors in the Finals. Nurkic gained mainstream popularity for his physical play and his fearlessness, as he seemed willing to stand up to any and everybody, including the volatile and intimidating Cousins. However, though Nurkic had a strong stretch December-February (hence, the Nuggets finding Mozgov expendable), he struggled through injuries, as he only played 26 games in the last 3 months and saw his minutes decline from 24.5 mpg in February to 17.2 mpg in March and 16.8 mpg in April. The decline in minutes also resulted in a decline in efficiency, as his offensive PPP went from 1.04 in February to 0.87 and 0.90 in March and April, respectively.

Whether the decline the past couple of months was due to injury or fatigue or the league scouting him better, Malone and the Nuggets will need some kind of progression from Nurkic in year 2. On the positive side, he is hell of a rebounder, as he led the team in rebounding rate at 18.7, which was 1.4 percent better than Faried, who is widely known for his rebounding (sometimes selfishly so…it has been said he goes after rebounds to pad his stats at times, especially on defense). Also, Nurkic was one of the Nuggets’ most effective defensive players last year, as he was second in defensive win shares at 1.8 and led the team in defensive box plus-minus by a considerable amount (his 3.1 was 2.2 better than the second-leading regular, Faried). At the very least, the “Bosnian Bear” will have a future as an animal on the glass and defensive end.

The main question concerning Nurkic will be how his offensive game progresses, and a lot of that will ride on Malone. Nurkic only posted a 14.8 PER and 48.3 true shooting percentage, both lackluster numbers for a post player (as evidenced by his negative-.02 offensive win shares). One area that needs considerable improvement or change his 3-10 feet game (i.e. the floater/short mid-range). Nurkic took 40.2 percent of his total shots from that range, and he only converted 31.2 percent of those shots. For a big guy that is six-feet, 11-inches and 280 pounds, he should be getting to the rack more, as he converted 58.2 percent of shots 0-3 feet (i.e. dunks/layups), but only got that shot 48 percent of the time. Maybe in time, Nurkic’s short range game will get better. But for now, the Nuggets and Malone need to make a concerned effort to get him touches in areas where he can finish at a high rate. If that happens, Nurkic will start to be known around the league for being one of the better big men in the game and not just one of the better trash talkers (though I’m not complaining about the latter).

Can the Milwaukee Bucks Win the East Next Year?

The Bucks’ uniforms got better (love the blue!), but will their record improve? Flannel, PBR and PER likes to think so…

The NBA season is still months away. In fact, we aren’t really done with free agency just yet this summer (some players are still yet to be signed). However, despite the distance from the start of the NBA season, it is never too early to talk about next season and what teams will be making an impact and dominate the headlines in 2015-2016.

A select number of teams have been dominating the headlines this July, in good ways (San Antonio Spurs), bad ways (Sacramento Kings) and good/bad/hilarious/emoji ways (Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks and DeAndre Jordan). However, one team that has gone under the radar has been the Milwaukee Bucks this off-season. Of course, it makes sense that they haven’t dominated the “big off-season” discussions in major media circles. They didn’t sign any “big” names, and haven’t really been involved in any July drama with players, though the team’s arena issues did put a fright in many Bucks fans who were afraid they would see their team leave to Seattle (the NBA’s eternal bargaining chip). Now that it is certain that the Bucks are going to be in Milwaukee next season and beyond, the focus can be what they did in improving their roster and how they set themselves up for next season.

And let me just say this: the Bucks are going to be good…and not just good like 5-8 seed in the East good, like last season. The Bucks next year may be a serious threat to the heavy East favorite Cavs, and that is saying something considering how the Cavs will most likely improve with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (and committed Love after re-signing to a 5-year extension this off-season) and the Hawks still return mostly everybody from their squad a season ago (minus DeMarre Carroll).

So why are the Bucks a dark horse in the East? How can they potentially dethrone King James and his merry men of Cavaliers? Let’s take a look at three reasons why the Bucks should be taken seriously next season and could greatly surpass their 41-41 record from a year ago.

Reason #1: Greg Monroe is a huge upgrade for the Bucks in the post.

Monroe’s stock wasn’t as high as many initially thought when he entered this summer as an unrestricted free agent, but that isn’t to say he isn’t one of the more productive post players in the league. Despite playing 13 fewer games from a year ago (69 last year), and struggling to find a role with the crowded Pistons front court in the beginning of the year (with Josh Smith and Andre Drummond garnering minutes; though Smith was waived early, which freed up playing time for Monroe), Monroe posted improvements in PER (18.8 to 21.2), win shares (5.9 to 6.8), points per 100 possessions (26.6 was a career high in that category) and true shooting percentage (53.1 to 54.9 percent). Though Monroe certainly wasn’t an indispensable part of the Pistons’ future (Drummond is the younger, more valued commodity, and coach Stan Van Gundy prefers stretch 4’s over traditional posts, so the writing was on the wall for Monroe in Detroit), Monroe was a big reason in the Pistons’ surge mid-way through the season that nearly result in a playoff berth for them despite a 3-15 start. With his strong ability to score and adept passing ability for a big man, it was not surprising that the 25-year-old from Georgetown garnered heavy interest from the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks this summer.

But, instead of being in the Big Apple or Tinseltown, Monroe finds himself in the Cheese Capital of the USA thanks to a three-year $50 million deal from the Bucks, an aggressive and unexpected move from a small-market franchise that ranked 29th in attendance in 2014-2015. The deal appears to be a considerable upgrade over what the Bucks trotted out there in the center position last season. Larry Sanders went AWOL a quarter of the season in, and while Zaza Pachulia was a fan favorite (and noted public speaker mind you) and John Henson has been an underrated young talent, they have not and will not match the production that Monroe will generate as Milwaukee’s go-to center next season. In fact, let’s compare the career advanced numbers for all four players:

Rk Player G PER TS% FTr ORB% DRB% AST% BLK% TOV% USG% OWS DWS WS VORP
1 John Henson 200 18.0 .541 .317 11.6 20.5 9.0 6.1 14.1 20.1 3.6 5.1 8.7 2.3
2 Greg Monroe 378 19.7 .545 .376 11.3 22.8 12.6 1.5 13.8 21.9 19.3 12.8 32.2 12.3
3 Zaza Pachulia 815 14.2 .533 .534 12.2 19.4 9.0 1.3 17.2 17.3 17.5 18.8 36.3 5.2
4 Larry Sanders 233 15.5 .494 .235 11.0 21.4 6.0 7.1 12.6 17.0 1.8 8.5 10.3 3.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2015.

It is obvious Monroe has been the best and will be the best offensive player of the bunch going forward in Milwaukee. He bests all the other four in nearly every scoring category, and he also demonstrates excellent efficiency (career 19.4 PER) and ability to generate offense off his passing prowess (career 12.6 assist rate). Pachulia has been the better offensive rebounder, and Sanders appears to be the better defensive player (7.1 career block rate) and Henson is the young “upside” pick (second-highest PER of the four). But, Monroe is head and shoulders above the other 3, as evident by his 12.3 VORP (value over replacement player). Bucks fans should be excited about the options Monroe will give this Bucks team, especially with his passing ability in the post, which should open up the offense for athletic forwards such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker (who is coming off injury though).

A lot has been made about whether or not Monroe will fit in with Milwaukee’s hyper-aggressive, switching defensive scheme (as chronicled in this Zach Lowe piece). In a changing league that is starting to utilize more “small” posts to promote nightmare matchups offensively and defensively, Monroe leaves a lot to be desired in the latter end. His athleticism is average to below for a big, and he has never been categorized as a shot blocker at any point in his career (in fact, his lack of athleticism and lackluster shot blocking ability was a big reason why he slid to the Pistons at No. 7; the Kings drafted Demarcus Cousins at 5, wisely; the Warriors drafted Ekpe Udoh at 6, not so wisely). It’ll be interesting to see how Kidd will utilize him within the defensive scheme that carried the Bucks to such radical success a year ago (remember, the Bucks were one of the worst teams in the league two seasons ago), and if Monroe will be a fit, or if he’ll be subbed in key moments with someone more athletic to mesh better with what Kidd and the Bucks do best defensively.

Defensive issues aside though, it is a clear that Monroe will help the Bucks improve upon their .500 record a season ago. Monroe is the most productive and talented center to arrive in Milwaukee in quite some time (Ervin Johnson he is not) and he gives the Kidd and the Bucks the kind of offensive flexibility they haven’t had since the Karl days. Furthermore, his presence will give the Bucks a major weapon to compete against the best bigs from the best teams in the East such as Chicago (Gasol, Noah and Mirotic), Cleveland (Mozgov and Thompson), Washington (Gortat and Nene), and Atlanta (Millsap and Horford).

Reason #2: Head Coach Jason Kidd could be even better in year two

It is hard to imagine now how much Kidd has progressed as a NBA head coach, especially considering two seasons ago, it looked like his hire was a colossal mistake in Brooklyn. The Nets, coming off the major acquisitions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, were 5-12 by the end of November, and Kidd was widely ridiculed in the media as “unprofessional” and a “hack” for this incident below:

Since then though Kidd has done few things wrong. He led the Nets to a 44-38 finish and a first round victory over the higher-seed Toronto Raptors (including a Game 7 win in Toronto). Last year, despite taking over a team that went 15-67 the year before, and with little established, veteran talent, he coached the Bucks to a 41-41 record and pushed the Bulls (who looked like the second-best team in the East in the playoffs) to six games (they won 2 emotional games after giving up the first 3 in the series). “Sodagate” aside, this is certain: Kidd can coach.

That being said, year two remains a bit of a mystery to Kidd and Bucks fans. Kidd has only coached for two seasons, and this is the first time he has had a full off-season with his current team. While there is expected to be some growing pains and some adjustments other teams will make to what Kidd likes to do offensively and defensively as a coach, it goes without saying that there will be a lot of improvement from Kidd as a coach with this roster in year two. Kidd has done an extraordinary job reaching his young talent, while also getting the most out of his under-the-radar veterans. Jerryd Bayless and OJ Mayo were big-time contributors for the young Bucks last season, even though they had been widely maligned throughout their careers for inconsistent play. Kidd excels as a player’s coach, while also doing a good job of communicating what he expects from his players on the court, which is more characteristic of a “coach’s coach” in the mold of a Tom Thibodeau, for example. That puts Kidd in a rare class, and it is enticing what he can do going forward with this organization.

The biggest challenge and judge of him as a coach though centers on how Michael Carter Williams develops, whom they acquired in a 3-way trade with Philadelphia and Phoenix that involved them shipping Brandon Knight, who was on the cusp of making the All- Star team a year ago. Carter Williams, though the Rookie of the Year a couple of seasons ago, has been categorized as an “efficiency-killer” who gains gaudy per game numbers while doing it inefficiently (his career offensive rating is 94, which means 9.4 points per 100 possession; average is 10) and on losing teams. Kidd has voiced his confidence and faith in Carter-Williams and his future with the Bucks in the past, making the improvement and revitalization of MCW’s career somewhat of a side project for the 3rd year coach. After all, no one is questioning MCW’s ability: at six-feet, six-inches, he remains a nightmare matchup for the league’s point guards, and there is hope that MCW will turn into what Shaun Livingston would have had Livingston not suffered that grotesque leg injury with the Clippers early in his career. But, it will be interesting to see if Kidd, who also struggled with his shooting early in his career much like MCW, has the coaching chops to turn around MCW’s struggles and develop him into a Kidd 2.0.

If that, or some progress on that side mission, can happen next year, not only will MCW revitalize his career, but Kidd will have proven that he is one of the top “coaches” in the game and the Bucks will be serious threats to Cleveland’s hold in the Eastern Conference. Pay attention next year to MCW’s development. With a full off-season under Kidd, I can’t help but think there will be improvement in MCW’s game and thus, the Bucks’ play in 2105-2016.

Reason #3: The Bucks will have underrated depth on their roster.

The signing of Monroe not only improved their starting five, but also their bench immensely. In terms of the front court depth, John Henson, as displayed in the table above, is an underrated big who is an efficient scorer and rebounder, and has outperformed expectations when he first came into the league. Miles Plumlee, with Ersan Ilyasova now a Piston, will give the Bucks valuable minutes in the post, and is the kind of “dirty work” player that will help the Bucks compete against some of the “tougher” squads in the East. Even Johnny O’Bryant, an end of the bench player who offers “stretch 4” skills, could greatly improve in his second year in the league and give the Bucks an added boost when needed.

Furthermore, the backcourt depth for the Bucks will be really impressive and should help make “Fear the Deer” a phrase worth repeating on multiple occasions next season. The Bucks added Greivis Vasquez this off-season, a tall point guard in the MCW mold who can push the tempo and generate instant offense off the bench. He excelled in that role in Memphis and Toronto, and though he is prone to inconsistency, he is the kind of dynamic player that will maintain the offense when MCW is off the floor. Also, the return of Bayless will also be a boost to the backcourt, as he is a similar kind of player to Vasquez. Though he doesn’t have the height of Vasquez, he can find ways to create offense, and isn’t afraid of the big moment, as evidenced in the video below:

The Bucks will also return Mayo, who has to prove he can have more seasons like last year in Milwaukee rather than the lackluster year before, as well as second-year guard Tyler Ennis, who came from Phoenix in the Knight-MCW trade and looks to be a project of sorts (He seems destined for more D-League time next year). However, one of the more overlooked options on the bench next season could be Jorge Gutierrez, who signed a multi-year deal at the end of the season with the Bucks after succeeding on multiple 10-day-contracts. Gutierrez has been a D-League stud, as he has a career per 36 average of 13.8 ppg, 6.3 apg and 5.8 rebounds per game. Gutierrez also offers a lot of defensive upside, as he is a tough, gritty defender who can match up well with opposing wings as well as points. Should anything happen to Vasquez or Bayless, don’t be surprised to see Gutierrez breakout and become a star in the mold of Matthew Dellevadova in 2015-2016.

The Bucks will have a great starting lineup with MCW, Khris Middleton, Giannis, Jabari Parker (when healthy), and Monroe. But the Bucks’ options off the bench and the underrated talent that they have stacked up last year and this off-season will help them go from fringe to possibly a serious contender next year.

Final Analysis on the Bucks

The race for the Eastern Conference crown will be more of a dogfight than in years past. Cleveland will most likely improve in LeBron James Era 2.0 year 2, especially with Kevin Love back and committed for the long haul. Boston is another young team that will improve under their excellent coach, Brad Stevens, and Chicago could turn the corner now that they have a coach (Fred Hoiberg) who is more in touch with the modern game (i.e. better at offense) than his predecessor (Thibs). And Atlanta remains an interesting team as well, especially considering they returned everyone but Carroll, and declared coach Mike Budenholzer as in charge of basketball operations as well. They were still the no.1 team after the regular season, and they still will provide a challenge to the rest of the Eastern Conference, as well as the league in general.

But, the Bucks did so much this off-season with the signing of Monroe and the re-signing of Middleton. Add that with more depth on their bench, and the possibility of Kidd improving as a coach in year 2 with the Bucks organization, and Milwaukee’s hopes next year look scary good. There without a doubt will be improvement from the Bucks next year. They will not be just a .500 team next year. However, how much they improve is the real question. Will things come together and will Milwaukee take the next step to being the “team to beat LeBron” in the East? Or will they fall in that “contender, but not really” pack with Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto and Washington?

Whatever happens in 2015-2016 for the official basketball team of the Cheese State, this is for sure: the Bucks will be required League Pass viewing for NBA fans across the nation (myself and FPP included).

NBA Hipster Profile: Jason Williams (i.e. “White Chocolate”)

Jason Williams (center) was not just known for his spectacular play, but also carrying a NBA Hipster legacy

NBA Hipster Profile is a part of Flannel, PBR and PER where I look at NBA players both past and current who represent the “Hipster” players of their generation or time. This can be in terms of style, the way they played, their attitude with media, management, players, etc. Hopefully this becomes a year-around series that also delves into the D-League and College game as well.

Jason Williams was probably one of the most important players during the Rick Adelman era in Sacramento. I am not saying he was the best player or most crucial to their success. In fact, his successor, Mike Bibby, experienced much more success as the point guard of the Kings, especially in the postseason (Bibby was a catalyst in the 2002 playoffs, especially against the Los Angeles Lakers, where he almost pushed the Kings to the NBA Finals). But even though Bibby was probably the better overall point guard and had a more lasting impact on the Kings in terms of wins and losses, nobody jump started the new era of the Kings more than Williams. Through his brash, highlight-making, and unapologetic style of play, Williams helped the Kings jump onto the national radar and began the process of what would be their incredible run in the early 2000’s. But more importantly, he inspired a generation of point guards and guard play that was incredibly against the grain and well…hipster.

Why was Jason Williams hipster, even if such a term did not really exist for him during his playing career? Let’s look at a few reasons why.

Reason #1: His style of play was incredibly different from what was expected from NBA point guards

Williams in all sense of the word was a showman, especially when it came to his passing and ballhandling. Regularly, Williams was a regular feature on Top-10 lists on Sportscenter and his style of play not only captivated fans, but also inspired a generation of “streetball” players that eventually morphed into a greater interest and participation into the “And1 MixTape Tour” movement.  You wouldn’t think a white guy from West Virginia, who played college basketball in a Football-Mad conference (He played at Florida and in the SEC) would have such a profound impact on the game of basketball not just in the NBA, but at the amateur level with And1. But, I have a hard time seeing And1 stars such as “The Professor“, for example, reaching the kind of legendary And1 status without the influence and success of Williams in the NBA his first 3 years in the league.

And if you don’t believe me, watch some of the highlights below. Watch as Williams make incredible crossovers (he crosses up Bibby quite a bit when Bibby was a Grizzly; ironic considering they were traded for each other) and passes with style, swagger and ease. Witness as his expressions pump up the Sacramento fans and teammates. (Heck some of his plays made Tariq Abdul Wahad look good…no simple task mind you!) Tell me that was not fun to watch. You’re either a curmudgeon or a middle school basketball coach from Southern Indiana if you cannot find some kind of joy or entertainment in Williams’ highlights.

Without a doubt, his streetball style changed what was expected going forward from NBA point guards. Point guards were expected to be Bobby Hurley types: leaders, intense competitors and quarterbacks on the floor who were known to be composed and consistent in order to leader to efficiency on the floor and boredom in the personality area. As a Gonzaga alum, I love John Stockton. He was the prototype of what was expected from a NBA point guard: no flash, play within the offense, execute regularly to the point where it almost becomes routine. A lot of NBA point guards have followed that mold. You could argue current NBA point guards such as Chris Paul and Tony Parker have found success following the mold Stockton set before them (and Paul’s excitement comes from his arguing with the refs and flopping; when the ball is in play, he is consistent and deliberate in his play and it is beautiful to watch).

Williams on the other hand? Everything was flashy. The behind the back passes. The crossover step backs. The baseball bounce passes from beyond half court. Everything Williams did was high risk on the floor, the antithesis of what a good point guard did. A good point guard, in any coaches’ mind, is to run the offense while minimizing risk. Williams wanted to maximize the risk. He would go faster in a car to see if he could jump a gorge rather than brake and stop before it like any sane, normal driver would. This kind of quality endeared a lot of Kings and NBA fans to Williams, especially the younger generation as well as those who enjoyed the playful spirit of street-style, playground basketball. Williams was anti-expected, anti-establishment when it came to the foundation of what constituted a “good” point guard in the league and that was a “hipster” quality in him that becomes more and more appreciated as the years pass, especially as the game gears more toward his style that he helped push and pioneer when he entered the league.

Reason #2: Williams bucked the expectation and style of the “white” player in the NBA.

Stockton wasn’t just the quintessential “NBA” point guard. He was also the prototype image for every “white” player in the league. Stockton was clean-cut, wore short shorts, did ho-hum interviews and did borderline “dirty” things on the court that was usually characterized as “scrappy” or “intelligent” by the mass media. Bobby Hurley followed that mold. So did Greg Ostertag and Bryant Reeves and Christian Laettner. They were not just basketball players, but they also could have served as presidents of their chapters Young Democrats or Young Republicans in college.

Williams could have followed that mold. When he initially came into the league, he had a full-head of hair and a boyish look that made him resemble more like a Boy Band member than the point guard of a NBA squad. But, as he garnered more minutes and started to display his “streetball” style of playing that made him such a hit with NBA and Kings fans, it became obvious that Williams was going to break that “white point guard” mold that had become expected from media and general basketball fans.

By the second year, Williams ditched the Boy Band haircut and went with a shaved head and went with a buzz cut for most of his career beyond Sacramento (he also played for the Grizzlies, Magic and Heat). He started to garner more tattoos each year, as he only had a couple as a rookie but by his later years in the league his arms were covered almost as much as Chris “Bridman” Andersen’s. There was an urban swagger to Williams and unapologetic way he carried himself not just on the court, but off it as well. Williams, from West Virginia (he played high school sports famously with Randy Moss), didn’t care if the traditional media or basketball fans didn’t approve of his style. He didn’t care if people claimed he was trying to be something he wasn’t (which proved to be untrue; Belle, West Virginia is like any coal-mining West Virginia town and though it was primarily white, the town had its hardships like any major town from that tri-state area (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) suffering both socially and economically after the fallout from many mines and plants closing; Williams never claimed he was from Compton or Baltimore or somewhere likewise). And his uncompromising way of carrying himself endeared Williams to many young basketball fans and players who wanted to rebel against the status quo regardless of race or background (I know as a half-white, half-Asian american, I secretly admired Williams both on and off the court growing up).

In fact, if you don’t remember, check out this segment from ESPN’s “The Life” which profiled Williams’ first year in Memphis. He is candid, honest, blunt, and incredibly intense both on and off the court. If you have some time, watch the 20-minute clip. I find it hard to see a lot of point guards in general both then and now displaying the kind of honesty that Williams displayed in this video segment.

Reason #3: His style still influences guards today

In his day, Williams was the leader of the “rebel” cause at point. He didn’t look to make the “sure” play, but the spectacular one. He was a gunner when he wasn’t making the flashy pass, as he posted a career 49.1 percent 3-point attempt rate (the percentage of his shots that came from beyond the arc), something that wasn’t typically associated with great point guards. Point guards, when they weren’t passing the ball or making the assist, were supposed to get to the hoop on the pick and roll. And while Williams was certainly capable of that, his affinity for the 3-point shot drove him a little bit more.

For many NBA fans, Williams probably seemed to be the last of his kind, the product of the “Streetball” “And1 Mixtape” movement that died out in the late 2000’s. But since the turn of the decade, we are starting to see more and more point guards not just dominate the ball with flashy move and energy, but the 3-point shot as well. The biggest example is Stephen Curry who displays the same kind of highlight producing skills that Williams showcased in the early to mid-2000’s. Look at the highlights of Curry below and see how similar Curry and Williams’ games are similar nearly a decade later.

Is that saying Curry is the modern-day Williams? No. Curry was a whole lot more efficient with the ball and a much better shooter. (After all, Williams never won a MVP award). But, Williams broke the mold that a point guard could show flash and be successful. He displayed that a point guard could be a 3-point shooter and still be labeled and successful running the point. Maybe Stephen Curry exists without Jason Williams. But to say Williams game didn’t have an influence on guards like Curry, whether intentional or not, is dubious to think.

Final Thoughts on “White Chocolate”

Williams was a unique character both on and off the court. Even though he came off as a showboat on the court, he was incredibly reserved and easily agitated off of it. He was incredibly blunt and not just with the media, but opposing fans, as it even got him into trouble quite often (I remember his incident where he got in an intense heckling match with Golden State fans where Williams crossed the line with his comments). For a while, Williams was characterized as a “malcontent” and a “cancer”, but in reality, he just happened to by a hyper-competitive player who wanted to win, who wanted to play the game the only way he could (with panache and style) and wanted to stick close to his roots despite the misconception and sometimes, criticism (Williams was a West-Virginia proud guy; for those from Kansas City, he was like someone from Wyandotte County, which I got a lot of love for since I used to live there for a couple of years and found it hard to leave).

In short, Williams was hipster before the term was popular or even existed. The only thing Williams cared about was the game. He didn’t care about making movies. He didn’t care that he punted a lot of opportunities to market himself beyond the court more because of his style and the way he carried himself. As I said before, Williams could have probably been a media and marketing darling if he bought into the “98 Degrees” look he sort of sported his rookie year. But Williams passed off on that, because he knew that wouldn’t be who he was at the core, and “White Chocolate” can only be him at the end of the day.

There probably won’t be a hall of fame spot for Williams. And frankly, I don’t think Williams cares nor does he think about it, and that not only makes him a retro NBA Hipster, but so endearing as well. It is refreshing to see, in a day where many athletes are so self-conscious about their image and legacy, that he willingly stays out of it and doesn’t give a crap. Instead, his legacy is displayed in the current crop of budding NBA point guards endearing themselves to new waves of fans (like Curry) and his son, who is already gaining notoriety as “White Chocolate Jr.

It is exciting to think that another Williams can make it in the league. It gives hope to future generations that they can enjoy basketball like we younger fans did in the early to mid-2000’s when Williams was out there tearing up and “Hipstering” up the league.

FPP NBA Free Agency Chronicle: Day 1 Hipster Beer Edition

So it’s July 1st, which means (other than it being 3 days from July 4th holiday) that it’s the official start of the NBA free agency period. Much like any NBA Blog or Web site, I will be doing my own ratings with a “Flannel, PBR and PER” spin. I will categorize the free agency signings from Day 1 into 4 “Hipster” beer choices as follows:

Miller High Life: The champagne of beers meaning that these are the best of the best signings. They make sense for the team and will have great long-term value down the road.

Pabst Blue Ribbon: These solid deals are worth a blue ribbon and overall are more positive than negative. They aren’t quite elite deals, but it’s hard to argue with the signings (i.e. like PBR, which is great, but doesn’t really touch Miller High Life).

Rolling Rock: The deals are meh. They have serious warts with them, but if you had to weigh it on a positive to negative basis, it’s probably like 55-51 percent positive. Just enough to be worthwhile, but certainly not the No. 1 or 2 choice. These deals, just like Rolling Rock, are ones that you settle for when choices 1 or 2 are off the board.

Natural Light: These deals, much like Natural Light and the Budweiser company in general, suck. We don’t know what these teams were thinking.

So now that we have the categories set let’s get started.

(Note: a lot of the linked articles come from SB Nation, since I have been primarily following Twitter and SB Nation’s Free Agency stream. Gotta love Tom Ziller and crew).

High Life Signings

  • Kawhi Leonard, 5-year, $90 Million deal with the Spurs: This was probably expected. After all, Leonard in all seriousness embodies what it means to be a Spurs player. He was undervalued (ala Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker), he’s a quiet leader (ala Tim Duncan) and he holds a ton of position flexibility thanks to his offensive and defensive skill set (ala Boris Diaw). Leonard was the Finals MVP in 2014, and he improved across the board last season, posting career highs in PER (22.0), usage rate (23.0), rebounding percentage (12.9) and defensive rating (he allowed only 0.96 points per possession which was best in the league). It is obvious that Leonard is one of the most complete players in the league and is a budding star that looks prime to take the mantle as the Spurs’ franchise player when Duncan finally retires. Furthermore, the deal is mostly back-loaded, with his contract only counting $7.2 million against the cap this year (he will supposedly earn up to $16.5 million in the final year of his deal), which gives the Spurs flexibility to sign other guys both currently on the roster (they have already signed Danny Green) as well as other potential Free Agents (LeMarcus Aldridge is apparently a target). Both financially and for the future competitiveness of this team, this deal fires on all cylinders and should be seen as the toast of the early free agency period.
  • Anthony Davis, 5-year, $145 Million extension with the Pelicans: This is a deal that just makes sense and he’s worth every penny. Davis led the league in PER at 30.8 and he is only in his 3rd year. His 3rd year people! He is a two-time All-Star, was a dark horse MVP candidate last year, and will be a more serious MVP candidate this year because he’ll have a better head coach in Alvin Gentry. Gentry will bring an offensive system that will make it not only easier on the Pelicans in general, but Davis, and that is scary. $145 Million over 5 years seems like a steal when you think about what impact Davis will have in the next half-decade, and by then, he will still only be 26 at the end of his deal.
  • Danny Green, 4-year, $45 Million deal with the Spurs: Green pretty much is what he is: a sharpshooter in the Kyle Korver mold that fits well with the Spurs “Pace and Space” system (62 percent of his shots last season were 3-point attempts, and he’s been over 60 percent the past 3 seasons with the Spurs). But, at an average of about $12-13 million per year, and considering the hot market for players of such caliber after the success of the Golden State Warriors last year, Green really comes as a value. Khris Middleton, a similar kind of player for the Bucks, earned another year and $25 million more total than Green. Again, I know the Spurs had bargaining power because Green has not had success beyond San Antonio, but he’s still a valuable fit that keeps the Spurs’ future bright when the sun finally sets on the Duncan-Ginobili-Parker trio.
  • Paul Millsap, 3 years, $58 million with the Hawks: Millsap has always been vastly underrated over his career. But, he’s finally getting some love in Atlanta and rightfully so. He’s a two-time All-Star, he is coming off a season where he put up a 20.0 PER and a 56.5 true shooting percentage, and he accumulated a career high 8.3 win shares. He has thrived under Mike Budenholzer in all aspects of his game, as he has improved defensively in Budenholzer’s sytem, and he has been more prone to shoot the 3-ball, as his 3 point attempt rate has been 20.2 and 23.2 percent the last two years with the Hawks (his career 3 pt attempt rate in Utah was 2.2 percent). And, with a 35.7 3-pt percentage in Atlanta, Millsap has made the more attempts worthwhile. He is really a versatile weapon that can hurt teams in a variety of ways, and his contract is cheaper than Brook Lopez, even though Millsap is infinitely a more flexible and versatile player than Lopez, especially these past couple of years. The Hawks know the Cavs will be the team to beat, but like last season (when they snagged the East’s top seed), they are looking to make it a dog fight for the top spot. Millsap will be the prime reason they do so, as long as he is healthy.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Signings

  • DeMarre Carroll, 4-year $60 million with the Raptors: I don’t make this a High Life signing because it is really risky. Carroll has always been a defensive force, but he was always a one-trick pony prior to his arrival in Atlanta. But once he played in Mike Budenholzer’s system, his offensive game improved, as his true shooting improved to 57.5 and 60.3 percent in his two seasons with the Hawks. Consequently, he averaged double figures PPG also (11.1 and 12.6, his first and second year respectively) and combined for 7.4 offensive win shares, over triple what he generated in Utah (2.3), where he played two seasons and was most effective prior to coming to Atlanta. And thus, I worry about his offense going south, because while I like Dwane Casey, I do not think he’s as talented or creative a coach as Budenholzer, and the Raptors are filled with high-usage guys who need the ball (Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, etc.). But, the Raptors were woeful defensively last year, ranking 25th in the league in defensive rating. Carroll’s energetic and versatile defensive play will improve that. Furthermore, Carroll also provides good insurance for the Raptors should Terrence Ross not work out, who is coming off a woeful season where he ranked 10th on the team in Win Shares (2.4). Carroll will bring either defensive punch to the starting lineup or be a force off the bench and take the pressure off of Ross, who needs to rebound after a bad year. I think it was a lot of money for a guy who still has a lot to prove, especially offensively, but I liked the idea of Toronto improving themselves immediately on the wing and defensively with Carroll.
  • Goran Dragic, 5-year, $90-million with the Heat: What I like about this deal? Dragic is one of the more under-appreciated point guards in the league. Two seasons ago he had a PER of 21.4 and when he moved to Miami, his PER was 18.8 (up from 16.7 in Phoenix, which demonstrated the dysfunction with the three point guards had an effect on his performances). Dragic is an effective playmaker (career 28 percent assist rate) with a great ability to get to the rim (41.4 percent of his shots came from 0-3 ft). And lastly, Pat Riley once again used his psychological skills to the Heat’s advantage, as Dragic was eligible to make up to $110 million on the open market, and he settled for $20 million less to stay in Miami. What I don’t like? Dragic really didn’t help the Heat all that much when he arrived (they actually fell out of playoff contention in his time there, though a certain share of that has to be attributed to Chris Bosh missing most of the time when Dragic arrived due to a blood clot in his lungs) and Dragic’s deal only looks great if Wade comes back. If he doesn’t, the deal probably goes to Rolling Rock status. (Though it seems as if Wade is likely to re-sign with Miami).
  • Brook Lopez, 3-year $60 Million with the Nets: I know Lopez isn’t the dominant post he was a few years ago. But Lopez had a bounce back last year after missing most of the 2013-2014 season due to injury. He played 72 games and posted a career best rebounding rate (14.3 percent) and his PER was once again solid at 22.7. Furthermore, with Mason Plumlee now gone (in a trade to Portland), Lopez will be the center of the Nets’ offense in the post, which is likely since Lionel Hollins is the kind of coach who earned his chops getting the ball to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the post in Memphis. What I like the most about this deal? The fact that it is only 3 years. Lopez is certainly a lot more valuable in my mind than Tyson Chandler, and Chandler got a 4-year deal from Phoenix. If Lopez can continue to come back from his All-Star form from three seasons ago, this deal could be a lot more valuable than the experts think.
  • Khris Middleton, 5-year, $70 million with the Bucks: I like the Green signing more, but don’t get me wrong: I love Middleton and think he’s going to form a great young combo with Giannis, MCW and Jabari in the years to come. Middleton posted career bests last season in win shares (6.7), PER (15.6), PP36 (16.0) and true shooting percentage (56.3 percent). Also, Khris was widely known for his play in the clutch (with buzzer beaters being a common occurrence) and his impact in helping the young Milwaukee Bucks make the playoffs and give the Bulls an entertaining six-game series. Middleton was a second-round pick whom the Bucks received along with Brandon Knight in the Brandon Jennings a couple of years back, and has been a pleasant surprise for a guy who was imagined as contract fodder in the deal.
  • Paul Pierce, 3-year, $10.5 million with the Clippers: No question Pierce is over the hill. He’s going to be 38 years old next season and his All-Star days are behind him. But Pierce put up a surprisingly effective campaign as support to John Wall and Bradley Beal last year. His 16.3 PER was his best mark since 2010-2011. He also developed into a 3-point specialist, with 46.2 percent of his shots being 3-point attempts (he shot 38.7 percent on threes). Pierce is not the same kind of game-changing superstar he once was in Boston, and Washington knew that and put him in a role that helped him mentor the younger stars and incorporated a system that allowed him to succeed individually despite his limitations (something Brooklyn didn’t do two years ago; they wanted him and Garnett to be 2008-2010 Pierce and Garnett and it failed miserably). I can see Los Angeles doing the same. Doc Rivers knows Pierce, and Pierce will bring instant leadership and production in a more limited role. He is Matt Barnes but with more consistency and less headaches (though he won’t match Barnes’ athleticism). What keeps this from being a High Life pick though? I just don’t know how he’ll mesh with the Clippers more temper mental talent. If things don’t go well initially with Pierce’s arrival, I could see him clashing with the younger stars, especially DeAndre Jordan (if he’s back) and Blake Griffin (I think Chris Paul is temperamental as well but Paul’s a bit more of a vet that will have instant respect for Pierce). I know Doc is all about team chemistry, but he hasn’t reached the kind of “ubuntu” in LA that he had in Boston. Will Pierce be the difference or will he fall into the anti-“ubuntu” that has kept the Clippers from going further in the playoffs?

Rolling Rock signings

  • Kevin Love, 5-year, $110 million with the Cavs and Tristian Thompson, 5-year, $80 million with the CavsI am glad for Cleveland and LeBron’s sake that Love re-signed with Cleveland. It would have been devastating for him to leave in free agency considering not only did they not even get a healthy playoff season with him and they lost out on the reigning rookie of the year (Andrew Wiggins) in the process (seriously…imagine LeBron and Wiggins running the floor…I think LeBron would have won the Finals with Wiggins if the Love trade never happened). However, I just don’t know if Love fits in this team. He really emerged as more of a spot-up corner 3 player on this Cavs team (his corner 3 percentage was 32.1 percent; his previous high in this category was 13.2 percent his sophomore season), and there are guys who can come a lot more affordable than Love. And furthermore, this leads to Thompson, who earned an $80 million extension. With Love, Thompson and Mozgov, one post is going to be the odd-man out. And while Love is the more established player, it was obvious that the combo of Mozgov and Thompson was very effective in the playoffs for Cleveland, probably more so than with Love supposedly because Thompson and Mozgove are both upgrades defensively over Love. In fact, if I was Cleveland, I would have simply gone forward with Mozgov and Thompson, even if it meant the Wiggins trade was all for naught. I think the former Longhorn and the big Russian just have more long-term upside than Love, who I am not sure is the dominant post presence that he was in Minnesota (though he certainly has diversified his game). If they re-signed just one, I would credit that to them committing to a certain style of play (either more wide open with Love or more post-oriented with Thompson). But both? It just smells like a recipe for disaster in year 2 of the James era 2.0.
  • Brandon Knight, 5-year, $70 million and Tyson Chandler, 4-year, $52 million with the Suns: Phoenix confuses me. Last year, they signed Isaiah Thomas to a multiple year deal though they already had three point guards on the roster (Dragic, Bledsoe and Tyler Ennis, their first round pick). Then they traded Dragic for Brandon Knight, and much like the deal for the Heat, it really didn’t help their playoff chances. Knight just seemed like a better fit in Milwaukee and he doesn’t have the ballhandling or playmaking ability that complements Eric Bledsoe like Dragic did. In his 11 games, Knight stopped going to the rim (29.1 percent of his shots came from 0-3 in Milwaukee; that fell to 15.4 in Phoenix) and settled to being an outside shooter (46.9 3-point attempt rate), which is fine if that’s from your wing specialist, but not a guy who’s allegedly taking over for Dragic at the point. Maybe Phoenix likes this version of Knight. Maybe they see Bledsoe taking over more point opportunities. But $70 million seems a lot for a guy who didn’t perform well and is suspect when it comes to the running the point. As for Chandler? Can he fit into Coach Hornacek’s run and gun system? I watched Phoenix live against Sacramento and they can push the pace. It was common to see one of the Morris twins play small-ball center. Can Chandler handle it? I know, he’s there for defense and maybe leadership, but I have trouble seeing Chandler as a fit with this squad and their style of play. And four years? Maybe Phoenix is just holding him as a trade asset to eventually trade back to Dallas in a year or two?
  • Jimmy Butler, 5-year, $95 million with the Bulls: On paper, it really is a pretty solid deal. Butler is coming off his best season yet in his career, posting a PER of 21.3 and a true shooting percentage of 58.3 percent while accumulating 11.2 win shares last season. Butler is an athletic guard who really assumed the mantle as one of the go-to perimeter scorers for the Bulls as Derrick Rose struggled through injury. The fact that they got him for only 5 million more than Dragic and Kawhi Leonard seems like a good deal, especially when you consider how much he meant to the Bulls last year. However, Butler’s breakout seemed random (never posted a PER above the 15 range in his 3 previous seasons), and he seemed to rely heavily on the mid-range last year, shooting 12.1 percent of his shots from 10-16 ft and 21.2 percent of his shots from 16 to the 3 point line. This was a big increase from two years ago where he shot only 8.5 percent and 19.8 percent of his shots from those spots respectively. And likewise, his 3-point shooting percentage went down from 34.6 percent in 2013-2014 to 21.2 percent last year. People may argue that his true shooting went up when he started embracing the mid-range more (his true shooting was 52.2 percent in 2013-2014), but it wasn’t as if his efficiency improved in those shots much better than his 3-point shots. He went up 2 percent in 10-16 range and 1.5 percent in 16 to 3 point shots while his 3-pt percentage improved 9.5 percent. This will be interesting to see how this shot selection will mesh with Fred Hoiberg, who tends to embrace a lot of modern-day NBA principles (i.e. 3 and Key). Butler may be worth the $95 million and I think Butler will fit with the up-tempo style of Hoiberg, but I am a little skeptical to see Butler put together two All-Star campaigns in a row.

Natty Light Signings

  • Brandan Wright, 3-year, $18 million with Grizzlies: This is a weird one because I actually like Brandan Wright and think he is a very good, underrated player in the right situation. Plus, the contract is very friendly, being only about $6 million per year on average. But, I don’t see Wright fitting in on this team. He obviously will come off the bench with Z-Bo and Gasol manning the four, five posts, respectively, but I am not sure how effective he will be in Dave Joerger’s offense. I think this probably also means the end of Kosta Koufos, who I think was a very underrated cog for the Grizzlies and fit their needs better (which was defense from the posts). Maybe they will keep Koufos of course, with Jon Leur now a Phoenix Sun, but if Wright is the primary bench option off the bench for Memphis, I think that isn’t a good sign, because I don’t know if he can play the style (i.e. Grit and Grind) that is demanded of a post player in Memphis.
  • Thaddeus Young, 4-year, $50 million with the Nets: Thaddeus Young is the king of tweener player that in my mind seems enticing on paper, but ends up being disappointing. He is like a Natty Light bottle. It looks cool. The design is somewhat cool. You pop it open though, take it in and…just disappointment. Young cannot shoot from beyond the arc, as he is a career 32.3 percent 3-pt shooter, and has only taken 14.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in his career. And thus, that has kind of limited him in the small and power forward positions, as he is not really big enough to establish himself down low there, and he is not skilled enough to keep defenders honest. Young is pretty much a poor man’s Andre Iguodala, ironic considering they both played for the Sixers to start their careers. I could see Young find a renaissance as a small-ball center, but unfortunately, Lionel Hollins is not the kind of coach to employ that kind of strategy, and the presence of Brook Lopez further hinders it from reality as well. I think Young could have fit in a lot of places in a different kind of role. Unfortunately, that won’t be in Brooklyn, and that’s what makes this deal seems unappealing (like Natty Light).
  • Al-Farouq Aminu, 4-year, $30 million with the Blazers: I don’t get Aminu love by any means. This is a guy who is a poor man’s Thaddeus Young, which is sad because Young is a poor man’s Iguodala (I could continue the cycle here, but I won’t for space sake). Aminu’s career true shooting percentage is 50.5 percent. His career PER average is 12.4. He flamed out of New Orleans even though the organization spent a lottery pick on him, and while he did bounce back in Dallas in a reserve role, he only averaged 18.5 minutes. To spend about an average of $7.5 million per year over FOUR YEARS just seems like way, way too much. I know Portland likes their versatile big guys who can play multiple positions. I am sure that the Blazers wanted to replace former Swiss Army knife Nic Batum in some kind of way. And yes, Aminu can play multiple positions, as he logged in time, according to basketball reference at every position but point. But unlike Batum, Aminu can’t really play any position well, which is the reason why he is not a starting caliber player in the NBA anymore and barely serviceable as a bench player.
  • Iman Shumpert, 4-year, $40 million with the Cavaliers: The Cavs want to keep the band together. And that is understandable as the Cavs were two games away from bringing that elusive title to Cleveland. Signing Love to a massive contract is understandable. He is an All-Star, a big name, and you traded a possible future superstar (Wiggins) for him, so you have to keep face and hope that Love pans out. Thompson was a Cavs draft pick and had a good playoff run, especially in the Finals. You can’t blame them wanting to reward Thompson for the good work (not to mention beat the rush before another team offered him a contract; Thompson was a restricted free agent). But Shumpert? $10 million on average per year for a guy who only scored .98 points per 100 possessions last season? I am all for team chemistry and do believe that Shumpert provides a lot of defensive value to the Cavs (he has accumulated 6.5 defensive win shares in his four-year career). But $10 million per year just sounds like a lot to pay for it. It’ll be interesting to see if Shumpert can find a more refined offensive role in his first full season in Cleveland to help justify this signing.

I will probably create another post in the next day or so to discuss some other signings and extensions, but this is the list so far. It’s only July, but the 2015-2016 NBA season couldn’t start soon enough.

Why Adam Morrison is the Godfather of Hipster NBA Players

Morrison was a trendsetter for Hipster basketball players today.
Morrison was a trendsetter for Hipster basketball players today.

Adam Morrison generates all kinds of different opinions depending on who you ask. The most common viewpoint on Morrison is “bust“, and you would be totally in the right to say that. After being drafted third overall in the 2006 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats (and being personally selected by Michael Jordan), Morrison had a decent rookie season which really wasn’t as good as it seemed. Yes, he averaged 11.8 ppg and 29.8 mpg his rookie season, but the advanced stats don’t paint him in quite as positive a light. His PER was 7.9 that season (i.e. horrendous) and he was worth negative-1.5 Win Shares as well. That’s right negative-1.5! That basically means the Adam Morrison COST the Bobcats victories when he was on the floor.

It is not surprising that Morrison was so ineffective his rookie year. He struggled from beyond the arc (33.7 percent 3-PT % on a 27.3 3-PT attempt rate), and he didn’t have the strength or ballhandling to consistently get to the rim (only 11.9 of his shots came between 0-3). Add that with little-to-no post game (which he didn’t have at Gonzaga), and Morrison basically turned into a jump shooter who wasn’t good at jump shooting (and his 45 percent True Shooting Percentage proved that). And, Morrison was terrible defensively. Very, very bad. At 6-feet, 8-inches, Morrison had the potential to be a matchup nightmare for small wings or stretch-fours. The only problem? He lacked any lateral quickness whatsoever. I mean, Hedo Turkoglu looked like an all-NBA player compared to Morrison. And thus, despite advantageous height, his total, utter lack of athleticism killed him from ever being a slightly-below average defensive player (and that is putting it nicely).

But, I love Morrison. Yes, Morrison only played 83 more games and 952 more minutes in the NBA over the next three seasons (he missed his entire sophomore campaign to a knee injury, which only further killed his lack of athleticism). He did win two titles as a bench warmer with the Los Angeles Lakers, but safe to say he had as much contribution to those Lakers teams as Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times did. Case in point, his “contribution” was so ridiculed, that Jimmy Kimmel had a segment on his show featuring “Adam Morrison Highlights“.

That being said, I love Morrison for two reasons. First off, I am a Gonzaga alum, who saw the heyday of the Morrison era my freshman season. The shaggy hair, the thin mustache, the retro socks, the crying on the court after the loss to UCLA in Oakland, etc. I loved all that, and even to this day, that still remains the most enjoyable Gonzaga season I have ever followed in my lifetime as a Gonzaga Bulldogs fan and alum. This recent team was awesome. Kevin Pangos, Kyle Wiltjer, Domas Sabonis (who’s slowly climbing up the ladder as my favorite Gonzaga player ever), Przemek Karnowski (with him and Sabonis forming “Low Bloc” the best nickname for a pair of post players ever)…that team was certainly the best and most talented in my lifetime. They didn’t have the charm of that 2005-2006 team. They didn’t have the big Brazilian JP Batista who literally couldn’t jump. They didn’t have Mamery Diallo who earned a technical foul before a game for dunking in warmups. They didn’t have PMAC, whose mixtape still earns legendary status amongst hardcore Gonzaga fans (please watch it…it is a DELIGHT!). They didn’t have David Pendergraft, the redhead who was completely and utter position-less and yet still somehow contributed. They didn’t have the Battle in Seattle where Morrison banked in a three pointer to beat Oklahoma State, despite having 3 defenders on him (it also happened to be one of the all-time great Gus Johnson-Bill Raftery called games, which are now a relic of ancient times; also, check out Pendegraft and Morrison yelling at each other during the timeout at the :50 mark; I have no idea if they are yelling at each other to get each other pumped up or if Morrison said something to piss Pendergraft off; one of the great mysteries of our time).

So yes, Morrison brings all kinds of nostalgic memories for me as a Gonzaga fan. However, another reason I love Morrison? Morrison was in my mind, the ultimate basketball hipster. He was the ultimate basketball hipster in college, the NBA and even abroad when he was playing for Serbia Belgrade. Whether it was his style, his antics, his game, Morrison embued “hipster” in every conceivable sense of the word in basketball circles, and to me, that is something I have grown to appreciate about his legacy, even if every other aspect (i.e. being the next “Larry Bird”) deteriorates each passing day. Here are the three major reasons why Morrison will always be the “forefather” of “Hipster” basketball players in my mind.

1. His college days were against-the-grain from what was typical of a college basketball player

Morrison stories are somewhat legendary at Gonzaga. Even before I stepped on campus as a freshman in August of 2005, everyone and their mother had a Morrison story about his freshman and sophomore years living in Desmet, the primary All-Male dorm. Let’s take a look at some of the stories.

  • The most popular one was that Morrison listened to Rage Against the Machine and considered himself a communist. Never mind that he probably was the furthest thing from a communist because he was the one that built up his image as the next Larry Bird for marketing reasons which is probably the least communist thing you could do. But Morrison, in his eyes, was a damn hammer and sickel flag-waving commie up there with Ivan Drago. His communist views (as well as his battle with type 1 Diabetes) were so widespread that they were intimately featured in a SI profile about him his freshman year, a bigger deal in retrospect than when I initially thought (I mean, to have a Gonzaga player, let alone a freshman, profiled in Sports Illustrated was really rare since Gonzaga was known more as the “chic” mid-major school rather than the budding powerhouse that they are known as today). I don’t know if Morrison still holds his communist views as passionately as a 30-year-old today as he did as an 18-year-old freshman, but his political views definitely pushed his hipster-meter to the max.
  • Morrison also was widely known for a lot of his personal upkeep quirks. If you have not watched “The Season” profiling Gonzaga basketball in 2004, drop what you’re doing and start watching Episode 1 NOW (it’s free on Youtube…as I say that, it will probably be taken off soon). One of the most underrated joys of watching the series is how the team and even Few constantly bash Morrison for his dress and his hygeine. Consistently, they bash him for the shirts, he wears, not showering, not wearing a tie, etc. It really is hilarious, especially since Mark Few just does it in the most dry, “Mark Few-esque” way possible. And Morrison really plays with it, and sorta gets annoyed with their comments, but keeps his whole routine because he likes to be noticed, even if he acts like he doesn’t care, but you can tell that he probably does (sound confusing? Yeah it is, but that is the case with most hipsters).
  • Morrison really brought back the whole retro style thing, which to be honest, was kinda cool. Yes, were the Larry Bird comparisons unfair in terms of his game? Probably. But, you had to love the “Larry Bird”-style he brought back to the college game. The striped, mid-socks, the baggy jersey, the shaggy hair, the mustache, etc. Morrison harked back to a style of the 70’s that was widely missed. Morrison reminded you of ABA, Dr. J, and a time where wearing black socks with sneakers was considered sacrilege. Did Morrison look ridiculous at times? Absolutely. His hair always bordered between aging beatnik and possible “Thomas Harris-esque” serial killer. But I liked how unabashed Morrison was in being a “throwback” without actually overtly mentioning he was going throwback while he was in college.
  • And speaking of “throwback” Morrison’s game goes totally against the grain of what is expected today. Morrison struggled to get to the rim both in his college and professional career. He wasn’t the greatest ballhandler or playmaker, and he really wasn’t that much od a dead-eye beyond the arc (yes he did shoot 42.8 percent from beyond the arc his final season at GU, but this was before they extended the line back; and only 28 percent of his shots were from beyond the arc too). Morrison in all ways was a mid-range shooter, and man was he an entertaining one. And it wasn’t like he had some great “Kemba Walker”-esque step back or some great Iso move. He just would catch take a dribble and shoot over in the mid-range, and somehow be really effective offensively. Yes, that kind of game is archaic in today’s “3 or Key” style of basketball play, but it was pretty retro, since many NBA players in the 70’s and 80’s made their bread on mastering the mid-range jumper. Thus, was Morrison probably in retrospect inefficient? Most likely. But you can appreciate the artistry and nostalgia his game summoned.

I could go into way more “Why Morrison was a hipster before hipster was a fad in college” here, but we need to move on. Some highlights I didn’t mention: his affinity for Halo 2 (even as a junior, he would come to the frosh-soph dorms and play Halo 2 on the network against all of us); living in an all-male college dorm for two years (pretty unheard of since most college star basketball players would live in an apartment with just basketball players); and chewing tobacco (yes, he dipped…Grizzly I believe was his preference).

2. Morrison seemed content, but uncaring he was a bench player in the NBA

I am sure being a bench warmer gnawed at Adam Morrison following his rookie year. I know he and Larry Brown struggled to co-exist, and he went to a loaded LA Lakers team that really had no spot or plan for him (really, they just acquired to get Kwame Brown the hell out-of-town before Kobe Bryant murdered him). But, it seemed Morrison seemed content with being a bench guy, and I think that is refreshing because if I were in his boat, I’d be pretty content too making almost 10 million dollars over two years to be courtside to two NBA championships. Seriously. Sign me up for that now.

But the one thing that was pretty “hipster” of Morrison was that he gave off an “uncaring” cool about being a bench warmer. He wasn’t pouting, but he wasn’t that Mark Madsen-Mateen Cleaves-esque bench warmer who was always the first one out, slapping butts, waving towels, etc. I mean, to be honest, those guys are annoying, and they get way too much fanfare in my opinion. We know you suck. We do not need you to make us feel less bad about your sucking because you’re the first to give high fives to the starting 5 off the bench. And we certainly don’t need to go batshit crazy when you come in just so you can throw some airballs and bricks from beyond the arc and maybe make 1 out of 10. Whether its college or pro, the lovable end of the bench guys is an overrated arc in our basketball society.

Morrison never seemed to buy into that. Sure, there were a couple of times he got fired up, but for the most part, he was simply a “Well, I’m happy to be here, but I’m bored and I wonder what I am going to do after the game” kind of player. Even in practice, it seemed like Morrison toed the line between “caring” and “not caring”, so much so that he never seemed to get called out on it, but he never really was recognized as the “Ollie from Hoosiers” type of player that coaches recognized or sung the praises of. Check out Morrison toeing that line in a fight that breaks out in practice between DJ “Tacos” Mbenga and Chris “How the Hell Do I make this Much Money” Mihm.

Starting at the :30 mark, you can see that Morrison comes in, tries to break it up as if he cares, but then five seconds later just walks off in a “screw it…this is stupid…I’m breaking up a fight between DJ Mbenga and Chris Mihm” fashion. It’s really the perfect, totally hipster ploy: show you care enough for just enough time to look good in the eyes of your teammates before you are able to do what you really want, which is walk away because the whole moment is asinine in the grand scheme of things (after all, it’s two backup centers fighting).

But, the crown hipster jewel of Morrison’s NBA campaign? His legendary NBA Live commercial which aired on draft day. Bask in its glory below:

The whole things feels like the ultimate fantasy of every middle-aged white corporate executive who wished they could play basketball, but can’t beyond their night rec-league. (“Let’s create a commercial that echoes what really matters to us in basketball! Not dunks! Not great play! Not athleticsm! But EMOTION! PURE COLLEGE BASKETBALL EMOTION PEOPLE! THE NBA DOESN’T GET THAT!”). Even Morrison seems not really in the whole thing, but is doing it a.) because he knows its part of his image and b.) because he’s probably getting paid bank to do this commercial. The whole “I appear I care, but I don’t really” persona of Adam Morrison. And you wonder why I consider him the “Godfather” of Hipster basketball players. That ad above should clinch it for you.

3. His Tenure with Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade

Some people will say that him playing in Serbia was an absolute sign of failure. Personally, I loved it. Euro ball is so underappreciated in general. I would rather watch the Euroleague championships than any high-major conference tournament nowadays. Euro ball is actually great ball to watch, and the fans are so “soccer-esque” that the environment are more batshit insane than soccer games because it is all happening indoors and seems like a firehazard to the max. If you have not seen any European games, Google it or Youtube it or something. I guarantee you that if you’re a basketball fan you’ll slowly come to love it.

And with that being said, Morrison playing in Serbia just seemed like the perfect fit. It was counter-cultural and he seemed to be truly appreciated for his throwback style and game. In the highlights below, check him stepping inside the arc for a highly inefficient long two, get in the face of opposing players who probably don’t speak English, and get all kinds of Serbian fans riled all up. All this, while looking like a guy who plays Magic the Gathering in Comic Book shops but hits the gym five times a week and is in really good shape. Truly a sight to behold and take some time to do so below

The Legacy of Morrison

Again, Morrison without a doubt was a disappointment at the NBA Level. But he needs to be appreciated. Appreciated as the true NBA Hipster pioneer that he is. He cared, but not cared about style, both his personal and playing before it became cool to do so. He was unapologetic for who he was and he left us a lot of great memories and anecdotes to associate him with. There probably will never be another player like Adam Morrison, simply because players will be too self-conscious to ever pull the stunts and stuff he did.

I will write more posts about hipster basketball players in college, the NBA, D-League and even abroad. But in all honesty, I doubt any of them will ever touch the heights of hipster-ism that Morrison set before them.

Teague vs. Schroder: Who’s the Hawks’ Better Long-Term PG Option?

teague-schroder
Jeff Teague (right) is the man for now, but don’t count out Dennis Schroder in the next year or two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stumbled upon this post by Brett LaGree of Hoopinion, an Atlanta Hawks blog that used to be part of the True Hoop Network on ESPN. I have always had massive respect for Brett and his blog, even though he doesn’t write for it much anymore. First off, I think a lot of what I want to do this blog stems from what I’ve seen and read on LaGree’s blog, as it is obvious he is a NBA junkie, but he is able to write about different topics and subjects. And second, he is a KC native. While I am a KC Ex-Pat, I do admire someone from KC writing a quality blog about something other than the local sports teams (i.e. Royals, Chiefs, etc.). While I love KC, I do feel the sports blogger scene in this area wanes beyond the major teams (though I do believe Royals Review is the best blog in the KC area). To see someone get over that hump is a bit inspiring, and helps me believe that maybe I can do something with FPP similar to what Brett did with Hoopinion.

Anyways, Brett makes some good points about building for next year, pointing out that the Hawks may be closer to a modern-day Mavs rather than Spurs (which is the common comparison, mostly due to the fact Mike Budenholzer was a long-time assistant), and the Hawks’ best chance may be to keep the gang together as much as possible and hope for a lightning in a bottle moment to help them get over the Cavs in the Eastern Conference. The point he makes is practical and sound: the Hawks are not a free-agent destination, and probably won’t be anytime soon (after all, if they could not attract Atlanta native Dwight Howard, I don’t know who else they could get). The Korver injury demonstrated that they need more shooting on this roster, but after this Warriors championship, more teams are looking for shooting, so that may be a taller (and more expensive) task than one would initially think. And thus, the Hawks might succeed best by just staying pat, and hoping Al Horford can stay healthy a full year and lead this team in 2015-2016, with the hope they can get hot and catch a cold Cavs team in the Eastern Conference Finals. LaGree really hits this point hard, and for more details, I would suggest reading his full post, as he goes into the nitty gritty details about the Hawks’ cap space, draft possibilities, etc.

However, I felt the most compelling story concerning the Hawks last season (other than them having the Eastern Conference’s best record) was the play of their two points guards: Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. Without a doubt, the Hawks’ improved point guard play was a key reason why this Hawks’ team reached great heights in 2014-2015 after sort of running in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack the previous 3-4 seasons.

First off, let’s take a look at Jeff Teague, who really thrusted himself in the discussion of being a Top-10 Point Guard last year, unthinkable a couple of years ago. If you think my comment might be exaggeration, take into consideration these numbers: he ranked 31st in the league in Win Shares at 7.7, ahead of other big-name PGs such as Kyle Lowry (7.1), Ty Lawson (7.0), Eric Bledsoe (7.0), Goran Dragic (6.8) and Mike Conley (6.8). In terms of PER, Teague (20.6) was rated better than not just all those previously listed, but also John Wall (19.9). In fact, he was only a shade worse in terms of PER than Damian Lillard, who had a 20.7 PER (though Lillard was much better than Teague in Win Shares at 10.6). A couple of years ago, Teague was not even in the Top-10 discussion for Point Guards. Now, he seems capable of cracking the Top-5, not an easy task considering that position is the deepest and most talented currently in the NBA.

Teague has always been consistently a force for the Hawks in his six-year NBA career, but the past three seasons he has really come into his own as a playmaking force for Atlanta. In addition to his advanced numbers such as PER and Win Shares, Teague sports a near 2-1 assist to turnover ratio in his career, and has a 3-year True Shooting percentage of 55 percent, which included a 56.6 percent mark a year ago. Add this, along with a 15.9 ppg, 7.0 apg and 46 percent FG% over a 73 game span in the regular season on the Eastern Conference’s best regular season team, and one can understand why Teague made the All-Star squad this season.

Most of Teague’s strengths come on the offensive end, especially when it comes to his ability to score. Teague proved to be a versatile, playmaking guard who finished well at the rim, but also had the ability to stretch defenses out with his shooting on the perimeter. Let’s take a look at Teague’s shot chart last season.

Shotchart_1434770842701

 

Teague preferred to get to the rim as a scorer as nearly 55 percent of his field goal attempts came within 8 ft. Considering the high percentage of shots relative to his other field goal attempts, the fact that he is only 2.5 percent below league average is pretty impressive, especially when you remember that he is a point guard.

An area of the court Teague proved to be strong in was in the middle of the court, especially on floaters in the middle of the court, around the free throw line. He shot 10.6 percent better than league average in that area. Another strong point in Teague’s ability to score was his ability to hit the shot from the top of the key, as he shot 8.5 percent above league average on 52 attempts from the top of the key to beyond the arc.

So, as you can see from the shot chart as well as his numbers, both traditional and advanced, there is a lot to like about his game. Furthermore, Teague is under contract for the next two years at $8 million per year, a relative bargain when you consider the contracts of Lowry (who is making $12 million per year through 2017-2018) and Conley (who is making $9.58 million next year, after which he will be a free agent and will see a significant pay increase whether in Memphis or elsewhere), both players whom Teague performed better against when it comes to PER and Win Shares. And thus, it seems hard to believe that the Hawks would be willing to part with Teague in any way considering the value they are getting from him and will be getting from him going forward as long as he remains healthy and around the same level of performance.

That being said, Schroder is making a case as star-point-guard-in-the-making off the bench for the Hawks. In this player-by-player comparison via NBA.com, one of the strengths of Schroder’s game is his defensive value and versatility, and his ability to keep opposing guards from scoring in the paint. Though only 6-feet, 1-inch (an inch shorter than Teague), “the Menace” has gained praise from scouts as a Rajon Rondo type thanks to his hands and ability to use his length on the perimeter. Thanks to his craftiness, Schroder also proved to be a solid rebounder as a point guard, as he bested Teague in rebounding percentage (6.3 to 4.8).

That isn’t to say of course Schroder is in the same level as Teague by any means. Teague is obviously the better player and should be the starter and catalyst for the Hawks next season. No doubt about that, and him besting Schroder in net rating, effective field goal percentage and assist ratio prove that point as well. But, Schroder’s improvement from year 1 to year 2 was pretty phenomenal. In 2013-2014, Schroder was pretty pedestrian posting a 5.8 PER in 49 games and seeing some time in the D-League to help him adjust to basketball Stateside. This year? 15.7 PER, 2.5 WS (compared to -0.7 the previous season), and an 18.5 ppg and 7.5 apg on a per 36 minute basis with his turnover rate staying pretty much the same from year 1 to year 2 (3.4 to 3.6 from rookie year to soph season, respectively). Whether it was maturity, more opportunity, or a full off-season to digest Budenholzer’s system, this much was clear: Schroder took a leap from fringe role player to fringe starter and impact player (pretty big difference in the “fringe” stratosphere).

What also is interesting about Schroder’s offensive game is how similarly he compares to Teague. Almost all the areas that Teague excels in Schroder excels as well. And the areas where Teague struggles? Well, Schroder has issues too (jump shooting, the corner 3, etc.). Let’s take a look at Schroder’s shot chart from a year ago.

Shotchart_1434770222954

 

Teague is a bit better finishing around the rim, but Schroder proved to be a much better outside shooter, especially beyond the arc, from the top and left side of the key. Schroder still has to work on his mid-range, as he doesn’t have a go-to spot in that area of his game. All his categories were average to below, which was a knock on his game when he first entered the league (scouts figured he’d struggle to find a consistent mid-range jump shot). However, the shot chart shows marked improvement from year 1 to year 2, and his ability to shoot from the top of the key and top-left displayed his ability to broaden his range beyond the arc.

When you think about it, when you compare the two, Schroder compares favorably. After all, this was year 2 for Schroder, while it was year 6 for Teague. Teague is expected to outperform the younger Schroder (Teague is also six years older than Schroder). However, here are some key things to consider about Schroder when comparing him to Teague:

1.) Schroder is only 21 years old and made a tremendous leap from year 1 to year 2. It makes you wonder how he’ll progress in year 3. In 10 games as a starter, when Teague was out of the lineup, Schroder averaged 14.1 ppg, 7.7 apg, 3.4 rpg and a 51.7 TS percentage in 29.2 MPG. That’s pretty impressive when you compare Teague’s season line of 15.9 ppg, 7.0 apg, 2.5 rpg and 56.6 TS percentage in 30.5 MPG. Teague has obvious advantages in shooting and scoring, but Schroder holds a slight advantage in assists and has a bigger advantage in rebounding.

2.) Teague obviously led the Hawks’ best 5-man unit (Teague-Korver-Carroll-Millsap-Horford) which played 915 minutes and had a plus/minus of Plus-170, according to 82games.com. But, with Schroder inserted for Teague in the same lineup, the Hawks didn’t miss much of a beat. The same lineup with Schroder actually performed better on a Points scored per possession basis than with Teague (1.18 to 1.12). Defensively, the Hawks were better with Teague, but not by much (1.04 to 1.07). Either way, it makes you wonder what the Plus/Minus would look like (Plus-170 for the Teague-Led to Plus-21 for the Schroder-led) if the Schroder-led lineup had more minutes (i.e. Schroder started more games).

3.) Teague’s contract is a bargain now, but don’t think that the Lowry extension won’t have an impact on his desire for a bigger contract two years from now. While Teague is signed through 2016-2017, he and his agent will certainly have a lot of bargaining power if Teague continues to be the player he is. After all, he is an All-Star, Top-10 PG on one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams (and to make the case for Lowry money, Teague’s team made it to the Eastern Conference Finals this year while Lowry’s Raptors squad got bounced again in the first round despite having home court advantage). Teague will want to get paid something similar to Lowry, if not more. However, if Schroder continues to make strides in year 3 and 4, there’s no question he may be a Teague-like player who’ll demand less money and be a much easier sign (if the team exercises their option in 2016-2017, he’ll still be only making around $2.1 million). Teague may be the same or a slightly better player after 2016-2017, but there’s no question Schroder will most likely come cheaper than Teague, and that difference (anywhere from 3 to 5 million dollars per year is my estimate) may be the reason the Hawks management (i.e. Tsar Budenholzer) might hand the keys over the Hawks Train to Schroder in 2017-2018.

So what do the Hawks do? The next two years the decision is easy: stick with Teague. He’s an All-Star caliber point guard who offers a lot of offensive upside and some good playmaking skills. There is no reason why the Hawks should cut him loose now, especially considering they are a Top-3 team in the East presently (they are competing only with Cleveland and Washington). However, Schroder’s development will be interesting to watch. I expected improvement from his rookie season, but not this much, and you can’t help but feel Schroder is going to get better as he logs more NBA minutes. Considering his rebounding and playmaking upside, he certainly is an enticing player that will certainly put more pressure on Teague and make things interesting a couple of years from now. But until the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season, the Hawks can simply enjoy the dynamic duo they have at point, an advantage they have over every other team in the Eastern Conference going into 2015-2016.