EuroBall and Beatz: Malcolm Delaney and “Pink Toes” by Childish Gambino

Loko’s Malcolm Delaney was one of the best players in the Euroleague last season; now he is taking his talents to the NBA.

Malcolm Delaney-Highlights Euroleague 2015/2016

Some people take unique paths to success in the NBA. Some do it the traditional way: go to college, get drafted, succeed with the team that drafted them until they sign an extension with that team or go elsewhere in free agency. That has been the tried and true method for the most part to NBA success.

However, there are stories where players take a different road to NBA success. For example, Hassan Whiteside, probably left Marshall a year too early, was drafted in the second round by the Sacramento Kings, where he failed to adjust to their roster and the NBA game in two seasons, and knocked around the D-League and in China until he got an opportunity with the Miami Heat. After succeeding as one of the best “traditional” big men in the league last year, the Heat rewarded him lucratively this off-season, and with Dwyane Wade gone, he seems primed to be the Heat’s building block for years to come.

Whiteside’s story is nice. Those stories show that you can’t label someone a “bust” within the first few years of their career. And, it shows that even if a player might not find success in the NBA initially, there is always a chance they can develop as a player and mature into a NBA-quality player.

Malcolm Delaney is the next in line of great “late bloomer” players.

Of course, we have no idea if Delaney is a “late bloomer” or not because he’s been pretty fucking good for most of his basketball career since college. The East Baltimore native, is a dynamic player who shined as Virginia Tech’s primary combo guard, but because the NCAA is stupid and corrupt, they ended up shutting the Hokies out of the NCAA Tournament during Delaney’s two best seasons in college. (Because of “strength of schedule” or some other bullshit; I don’t know. The NCAA doesn’t have any criteria for anything.) Due to this “lack of exposure” on the big stage in college (i.e. the Tourney), Delaney went undrafted, mainly because he played for a basketball program that pales in comparison to its football program in terms of profile, attention, and fan and school investment.

However, after not making a NBA team, Delaney took his talents to Europe, where he’s done nothing but kick ass and take names as a big, athletic, sweet-shooting point guard. He went to Elan Chalon of the LNB in France, and impressed in his professional debut. After a successful rookie year in Europe, he made his way to Ukraine, to play for Ukrainian league power BC Budivelnyk, where he made first-team All-Eurocup, despite it only being his second year out of college. And, in his third season, he made the leap to a higher profile club and scene, transferring to FC Bayern Munich of Germany, where he helped Bayern qualify automatically for the Euroleague by helping them take the BBL crown 3-1 over Alba Berlin, earning Finals MVP honors in the process.

Despite a season where he is was named a Eurocup First-Team players, and BBL Finals MVP, Delaney still didn’t seem to get the respect he deserved from the States. The NBA still didn’t call, and he was making too much money to go settle for paltry amounts in the D-League. So, in 2014-2015, he signed a 1+1 contract (the other 1 being a player option) with Lokomotiv Kuban of Russia, where they were looking to be a major player in the European scene after years of deferring to major Moscow clubs like CSKA, Khimki and Unics.

This season, Delaney, after exercising his contract at the end of 2015, was arguably Loko’s best player, and that was saying something considering this team had Anthony Randolph, a former NBA lottery pick, and Victor Claver, a former NBA player. Delaney cut people up in the pick and roll with his three stretch bigs Randolph, Claver and Chris Singleton, not necessarily in the traditional way, where he would hit them rolling to the basket, but by attacking the rim off the ball screen (and hitting them on the pop) or shooting from beyond the arc if they went under the screen and didn’t hedge. Delaney routinely torched defenders and defenses this year, as he shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc, and had a 60.5 true shooting percentage. What was even more incredible was Delaney also had a 0.52 FT/FGA ratio and a 0.52 3FG/FGA ratio. What the fuck does this mean? Well, these numbers show that he got to the free throw line a tremendous amount (which means he wasn’t afraid to get to the rim or absorb contact) and he relied a lot on the three-point shot (more than half of his field goal attempts were threes). To have a guy who can do BOTH of these things is an analytic-guy’s wet dream, and it makes sense that an analytic-heavy organization like the Atlanta Hawks (with their analytic-driven head coach Mike Budenholzer) would sign a player like Delaney, which they did to the tune of a two-year contract this summer.

Granted, I would have loved to see Delaney return to the Euroleague, perhaps on a different team since Loko did not make the Euroleague’s 16-team field. (It would have been awesome to see him and Georgios Bartzokas reunited on Barcelona.) However, Delaney deserves this contract from the Hawks, and to be in the NBA. He’s worked his ass off to get this far, and he has the skill set, attitude (dude is a straight out competitor, no bullshit), and the kind of personality that will endear to the Hawks’ growing millennial fanbase (low key, his twitter account is great). Europe will miss him, but Delaney deserves this opportunity in the NBA. It’s his time, and I guarantee you NBA teams will be wondering why teams gave guys like Austin Rivers so many chances when Delaney was waiting in Europe the whole time (oh yeah…I forgot why Rivers is still in the NBA…nepotism).

 

Childish Gambino (right) and Jhene Aiko collaborated on “Pink Toes” which correlates with how upbeat and hopeful Malcolm Delaney is feeling now after signing with the Atlanta Hawks.

Childish Gambino featuring Jhene Aiko-“Pink Toes”

I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of rappers today. From the late 90’s to mid 2000’s, the rap scene had become a bit stagnant. Rappers kind of evolved into heavy metal musicians of sort: they all were the same, and a lot of their music touched on the same subjects. Now, I’m not saying the rap game was a complete desert at the time. You still had Jay-Z, you had Eminem in his peak, and you still had Kanye West pre-Kim Kardashian. (The best Kanye period really; he was spitting fire as a rapper and a producer; and then one Taylor Swift beef and a marriage to a reality TV star and he’s gone off the rails and hasn’t produced his best shit; I’m waiting for a Kim divorce to get Kanye back to being Kanye musically.) However, other than that, other than a few artists and tracks here and there, rap kind of failed to differentiate itself artistically and musically.

Since then though, rap has been flooded with talent who not only offer a bevy of different skills and sounds, but talents as well. Action Bronson used to be a chef of a high-end restaurant. Drake has succeeded as an actor (Degrassi), rapper, and courtside staple at Raptors game (seriously, Drake got everyone to give a fuck about the Raptors again post-Vince Carter). And Lupe Fiasco is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful activists in the United States today (as well as one of the most creative rappers in the game as well). Rap is going through a renaissance, as different backgrounds and education have produced rappers who aren’t just categorized by their music or appearance, but by their bevy of skills and talents that display the well-roundedness of these young savants of this art-form today.

One of the biggest talents in the rap game today is Childish Gambino. A former actor on 30 Rock and Community, Gambino has captured fans in the Hip-Hop game with his ear-snaring beats as well as thoughtful, multi-layered lyrics. One song that I particularly enjoy is “Pink Toes” a collaboration with Jhene Aiko from his album Because the Internet which came out in 2013. For those who don’t know what the phrase “Pinktoe” means, this is one of its definitions, according to Urban Dictionary:

Pinktoe
Refers to caucasian-female,
you got yourself a pinktoe.

The song is primarily about a black guy finding himself in a different environment from what he is used to, with “pink toes” (i.e. white girls) being what primary attracts his attention in this new environment. It’s a bit of a relevationary track from Gambino, as the main chorus (“Rainbows…Sunshine”) refers to a different place, or a refreshing change of scenery from what Gambino has been exposed to previously in life. This song could have been in reference to maybe when Gambino first arrived at Tisch School of the Arts, where he would have probably been one of the few minorities at the prestigious arts school in New York, and everything seemed so different from what he was used to during adolescence.

I think this song coordinates with Delaney in a multitude of ways. First, it’s an upbeat track, and Delaney deserves an upbeat track after finally making it to the league after years of scrapping and working toward his ultimate goal. Secondly, I could see Delaney feeling a lot of the similar emotions Gambino echoes in this track when he first arrived in Europe from Virginia Tech. Instead of pink toes though, I think the basketball court was what attracted him and ensnared him: the different kind of game, rules, and fans that Europe provided in comparison what he was used to in college (which was usually lukewarm Hokie fans who didn’t give a shit about their basketball team until late January; after bowl season was over). And for Delaney, yes it wasn’t the NBA, but he embraced the European game, and before you knew it, fans from France, Germany and Russia (and Europe all over, really) embraced him.

It would be cool if Delaney walked into the Hawks arena after signing his contract with this booming in the background. Because again, I’m sure Gambino’s 2013 track will resonate with him once again next year. Things will be different. The NBA will have brighter lights. More production value. The best of the best will be around him on the court on game day. And I’m sure there will be plenty of groupie “pinktoes” looking for a “companionship” (i.e. sex if you’re that dim) after games, especially in ones where Delaney tears it up.

Enjoy the sunshine of the NBA, Delaney. You deserve it.

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Who You Should Cheer for in the NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference

I’m not going to go all analytical like I usually do with my NBA posts. To be honest, while I have been up to date with the NBA season thanks to League Pass, a swirl of coaching, job and other things have kept me from really being fully immersed in the NBA season as I have been in years past. That being said, I wanted to do some kind of NBA Playoffs preview, even if it was brief and more tongue-in-cheek and less “stats-based”. In fact, rare for one of my basketball posts, I am not going to use any stats at all. This is just a 100% from the gut, totally biased look in terms of who you should cheer for in the Eastern Conference first round playoffs. If you like it, great. If you feel my opinions are un-founded, I get it and agree with you. They probably are, but that’s not going to stop me from expressing them.

Enough with all that. Let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference First Round.

No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons

I have a love-hate relationship with LeBron. I loved him when he started out his career, defended his Rookie of the Year award over Carmelo, and thought his performance against Detroit in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals was one of the single-best playoff games in history. However, I hated him his first year in Miami for all that “Decision” hoopla, but I grew to love how he adjusted his game (mainly his back to the basket game) and truly became the alpha dog on those two championship Miami Heat teams. I liked that he came back to Cleveland, but I didn’t like how he used mainstream media again as his own personal PR firm (really when you think about it, the “Decision” and the SI “I’m Coming Home” piece really weren’t all that different, it’s just that we all liked the message more because we all resonate with that “coming home” feeling at one point or the other in our lives…more on that later). I really admired LeBron in the playoffs, especially in the Finals, as he pretty much won 2 games against the Golden State Warriors by himself.

And then Game 5 happened…and then all the “I’m the greatest player in the world” stuff…and then he got David Blatt fired mid-season this year, even though Blatt took them to the Finals and had them in first place in the East at the time and is a very good coach whom I liked from his Russia and Maccabi Tel Aviv days who didn’t sign up for the “LeBron circus” but adjusted anyways for the sake of his superstar and his team.

Seriously, Fuck LeBron. I am not questioning his talent or his hall-of-fame status. But he isn’t the player he once was, and he has gotten so into his own “persona” as Cleveland’s savior that everything he does both on and off the court just comes off as pretentious and disingenuous. And he hasn’t even been that good this year, as he is nowhere in the conversation when it comes to MVP, a rarity we haven’t seen in almost a decade. Add that with a supporting cast that includes a talented, but often-injured point guard (Kyrie Iriving), a post player who ransomed his old franchise to just become a spot-up shooter (Kevin Love) and a bunch of overpaid role players (Shumpert, Smith, Thompson…the list goes on) and it’s hard to cheer for this Cavs bunch. They’re talented, they deserve the No. 1 spot East, and when they are on, goddamn it they are tough to stop. But unless you’re from Cleveland, it’s hard to really get behind them and they don’t offer anything endearing except for the fact that they could bring a long-suffering city their first title in decades.

The Pistons on the other hand, really don’t have much of a chance. They lack a true point guard, and Andre Drummond, though a beast and one of the best “pure” low post players in the league currently behind Demarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan, is so bad at free throws that you can’t play him in crunch time (as evidenced in their Game 1 loss). However, this is a Stan Van Gundy team and you can guarantee a couple of things:

1.) They are going to launch it. SVG made his bread in Orlando by surrounding Dwight with a whole bunch of shooters. The Magic went deep in the playoffs thanks to guys like Rashard Lewis and JJ Redick launching it from deep. The Pistons are built in that mold with guys like Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris as the Lewis-type stretch 4’s and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ad Stanley Johnson providing the Redick-esque support. Unfortunately, SVG lacks a Jameer-like point guard. Reggie Jackson is too much of a gunner and ball killer, and unlike his former teammate Russell Westbrook, when he loses his shit, he loses his shit in a way that takes his team out of the game. His stupid technical foul basically killed any shot or hope the Pistons had in terms of coming back.

2.) SVG makes great adjustments, and he has them play with great intensity and tempo. SVG knows how to coach. He finds weaknesses well and makes great adjustments. He did that with the Pistons often-times this year, and got them in the playoffs for the first time since the “Sheed” days because of his ability to adjust on the fly. And furthermore, SVG is a great motivator. Yes, superstars butt heads with him, but this Pistons team doesn’t have a Dwight or Shaq or DWade superstar. Drummond is still young and impressionable, and he doesn’t have the kind of ego that sunk the Dwight-SVG relationship. These Pistons will go through a brick wall for SVG and that will be key, especially considering it is yet to be determined how Tyronn Lue will handle in his first playoff series as a head coach.

3-point-oriented, tough, a great coach, young, and playing against LeBron…I don’t see how you cannot cheer for the Pistons this first round.

 

No. 4 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 5 Boston Celtics

This is a tough one. Atlanta has a lot going for them. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are underrated and effective post players who go unnoticed because they play in Atlanta and don’t have the “big” personalities (i.e. they haven’t dated any major celebrity of note). Dennis Schroeder has an awesome name, an awesome nickname (“German Rondo”) and is a fun player to watch when he’s on. Mike Budenholzer is one of the best NBA coaches in the league, who still got a lot from his team this year, despite some down years from some key players (Kyle Korver especially).

But, damn, this Celtics team. They are…so…freaking…fun to watch. They blitz it on the court with their tempo, and they are all young, all fiery as hell (Marcus Smart, Evan “The Villain” Turner, Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, just to name a few, all play with serious “chips on their shoulders”, so much so that it comes off as endearing, unlike Jackson of Detroit or any white guard from Duke where it comes off as annoying), and play with the kind of tenacity that makes you forget about the pretentious “Unbuntu” days when Doc Rivers complained endlessly to refs (seriously did he do any coaching? Or did he just leave that to Tom Thibodeau and Lawrence Frank?), Kevin Garnett picked on point guards, and Paul Pierce was being carried out on wheelchairs, only to return 15 minutes later. I know Boston, that era brought you a title, but your current Celtics are way more endearing to us general NBA fans and make us forget not only about that insufferable team, but also the crappy weather and over-bearing nature of your New England population.

Back to the Celtics, they do have major some major issues. Isaiah Thomas is one of the most fun players in the league, and I hit myself on the head everyday as a Kings fan that they let him walk for practically nothing because DeMarcus Cousins didn’t like how he shook hands with Chris Paul after a meaningless mid-season loss to the Clippers. However, he’s going to struggle defensively against Jeff Teague and he is closer to Nate Robinson than Chris Paul when it comes to point-guard mold. And, they lack a true offensive post player (Amir Johnson gives you post defense, but not much post offense), which will make things interesting against Horford and Millsap. That being said, despite these glaring disadvantages, you still feel like the Celtics are the favorites in this series because of their depth (They can play 10-11 deep, though losing Avery Bradley hurts big time), their breakneck pace and 3-point heavy approach (they nearly came back on the road against Atlanta despite being down as much as 29 points at one point), and Brad Stevens, who really should be Coach of the Year along with Portland’s Terry Stotts.

Speaking of Stevens, I have totally turned around on him since he was hired away from Butler. I didn’t know if he was going to be a good fit at the NBA, because it seemed like his personality and style didn’t mesh well with the NBA game. He wasn’t a former NBA player, and he seemed to rely more on unheralded talent to gain long-term success. I figured he would be overwhelmed or struggle to mesh with top talent and egos, which he never had before at Butler. However, Stevens has totally turned around this Celtics team in the post-Unbuntu era, and somehow molded into the kind of teams he coached at Butler: tough, relentless and well-prepared on a night-in, night-out basis (though to be fair, Danny Ainge really built this team to his strengths as a coach; a poor GM wouldn’t have given Stevens the amount of young talent and patience in a market like Boston; case in point: New York). And, he’s really good at drawing up inbounds plays. Jon Barry on the broadcast was gushing about his in-bounds play artistry like a 42-year-old overweight divorcee would about Pornhub now offering VR videos.

This one is a coin toss. But, the combination of Stevens, youth and fun style of play not only make the Celtics more endearing in this one, but also in a potential second-round matchup with LeBron and the Cavs.

 

No. 3 Miami Heat vs. No. 6 Charlotte Hornets

This Hornets team came out of nowhere, really. Two years ago, in their final years of the Bobcats, they surprised everyone and made the playoffs. Then last year, in their first year of their rebirth as the Hornets, they acquired Lance Stephenson, and consequently chemistry went to shit, and they finished in the Lottery. With lower expectations this year, they acquired a bunch of guys coming off down years (Nic Batum, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lamb, Spencer Hawes, etc.), got rid of Stephenson, drafted Frank the Tank from Wisconsin, decided to jack up more 3 pointers, and now they’re the six-seed in the playoffs. It’s fucking nuts how the NBA works sometimes.

The Hornets are the underdogs this playoffs, akin to Florida Gulf Coast in the NCAA Tournament, and there’s something endearing in that description. However, despite their “Island of the Lost Toys” roster, this Heat team is infinitely more interesting and worth cheering for. Here’s three reasons why:

1.) This Chris Bosh health issue sucks. Nobody deserves a playoff run without Lebron more than this guy. I watched him live when he was with the Raptors and he truly is a unique talent that sacrificed more than people think to win two titles with the Heat. I’m convinced that he and DWade could be just as competitive as LeBron and the “Misfit Army” of the Cavs. But, this health issue with the blood clotting is keeping him out, and thus, we are deprived of that potential Miami-Cleveland matchup that would be all kinds of intriguing and fun. And the worst part is that Bosh cares so much about all this. He really seems like a truly genuine guy who wants to be out there on the court, and is not just posturing because he’s the Heat’s top-paid guy (along with Wade). I freaking hate this. Fate can be so cruel. I just hope this issue doesn’t force an early retirement, as I want at least one more year where Bosh could have a shot against LeBron in the playoffs.

2.) Goran Dagic doesn’t get enough love or appreciation from NBA fans for his talent and impact. He played in the shadow of Steve Nash, then was on lukewarm Suns teams that never made the playoffs post-Nash, and then went to the Heat post-LeBron where nobody gave a shit about the Heat except for the 50 percent of the Miami sporting fan population who stayed around when Lebron left town. Dragic has just always gotten overlooked. People talk about Kyrie. People talk about John Wall. People talk about Jeff Teague and Kyle Lowry. But Dragic? Never. And it’s too bad because he’s one of the most complete point guards in the league. He deserves to get more pub, and a potential opportunity to carve up Kemba, Lowry and maybe Irving en route to an Eastern Conference Championship would be the perfect scenario to get him more of the respect he deserves when it comes to being compared to other point guards in the Eastern Conference.

3.) And speaking of people who don’t get love, what about Erik Spoelstra? I love him because he’s Filipino, but with all this Coach of the Year talk, Spoelstra doesn’t get mentioned in the convo. He was a hell of a coach pre-Lebron and is showing that he’s a hell of a coach post-Lebron, but he’s barely mentioned as one of the best coaches in the game. Spoelstra has done wonders with this squad, molding them into their own unique blend without LeBron and has them playing as one of the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference as of this moment (especially true after their demolishing of Charlotte in game 1). Spoels, like Dragic, needs more love, and a deep run would do so, not to mention it would be an especially juicy story if it came at the expense of LeBron.

This is a tough series, because I like the Hornets a lot and have enjoyed following them this year on league pass. But this Miami team has more long-term potential, especially since they may be the team best-equipped to de-throne the Cavs. And that is why you should cheer for them not just now, but in the further rounds as well.

 

No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Indiana Pacers

I don’t think Toronto will get far in the playoffs. And this is a tough series for them. Paul George is looking like Paul George pre-broken leg. Frank Vogel is one of the more underrated coaches in the league. The Pacers play a tough, physical kind of game that I think guys like Demar Derozan struggle with. And that was on full display in game 1, as the Raptors dropped game 1 at home, continuing their trend from the past two years of disappointing in the playoffs despite the tremendous support and regular-season success.

That being said, I am pulling for them. Dwane Casey is a much better coach than people think, and I think he gets way too much shit for the Raptors’ playoff woes than deserved. He has put the Raptors in situations to succeed, it’s just that a combo of youth and lack of somebody stepping up in the moment has done the Raptors in these past couple of years, not something Casey really could control. (What’s he supposed to do? Put magic dust on Derozan?) The Raptors fans are great and really have pulled for this team the past five years or so in a way that shows how big basketball really is in the Maple State. They basically treat every playoff game at home like Kansas City does for the USMNT during the World Cup at Power and Light (and like those KC fans, the Raptors fans get their hearts ripped out in big games…seriously, beating Algeria is NOT THAT BIG A DEAL soccer fans). Lowry, despite his own issues, is a gritty type of player who really has come a long ways from his days with the Grizzlies, and Jonas Valanciunas, one of my favorite Lithuanian players ever along with Sarunas Marciulionis, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Arvydas Sabonis and Domantas Sabonis (see what I did with the names there?) has also developed into one of the more underrated bigs in the game who can bang and board down low with any other post player in the NBA while still maintaining some offensive skill and touch around the basket.

But the biggest reason? I want to see them break the playoff hex. Being in bad losing streaks like this suck, especially when it is on such a big stage (as a Gonzaga fan, I think we can relate to the Raptors’ playoff disappointment) These fans care too much and have been through too much shit after those losses to Brooklyn and Washington in consecutive years. Furthermore, this team is young and built in a way that is unique compared to other teams in the league, especially in the Eastern Conference. Their roster is filled with guys who overachieve and overcome the modest expectations people have for them year after year. Lowry doesn’t have what it takes to be an elite point guard. Derozan is too perimeter-oriented. Jonas doesn’t have the skills to compete with other post players. Demarre Carroll doesn’t have a position in the NBA. Casey is dubious as a head coach as evidenced from his Minnesota days. And despite those expectations, the Raptors continue to win and continue to get better and better. I don’t think anyone thought the Raptors would be the second-best team in the Eastern conference going into this year and here they are, the No. 2 seed after one of the best seasons in franchise history.

But that would all go to crap if they lose to the Pacers. And they don’t deserve that. Not after all the progress they’ve made and the season they had. I’m not saying they can or will go far. I think Miami would be too much for them in the second round. But they are better than Indiana and they need to step it up. The fans and the organization deserve to at least get out of the first round for the first time since the Vince Carter days.

And lastly…the Raptors have super-fan Drake. Let’s not see Drake jump off this bandwagon after another first round exit. I want to see him courtside cheering for the Raptors in Miami in the second round.

That would just be oh-so-fitting.

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.