Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
At this point, the only thing that New Orleans Hornets fans get truly excited about is when the Minnesota Timberwolves lose a game. At least then, as Minnesota’s 1st round pick gains higher odds in the draft lottery, the future of their team improves a bit. While the Hornets do have a nice collection of younger players, at least for a team that couldn’t even have a five-on-five practice when training camp began, with Eric Gordon sitting out with an injury, no major components of their future is getting playing time right now.
But even though the Hornets are just 4-20, there is one player in that organization that deserves a lot of credit: head coach Monty Williams. Williams had a strong debut with the New Orleans Hornets last season as his team made it to the playoffs and gave the Lakers a tough test despite not having all-star power forward David West available to play. Sure, Paul’s brilliance was responsible for a lot of what New Orleans accomplished but Williams was able to get a team with guys like Marco Belinelli, Carl Landry, Willie Green, Jason Smith and Aaron Gray to play excellent defense.
That same effort is there this season and even though the results aren’t the same, you have to hand it to him for getting his group of players to fight. New Orleans is in a situation where winning is counterintuitive of the ultimate goal. The Hornets are better off giving up on the season and attempting to build their franchise around Anthony Davis. Of course, New Orleans isn’t rattling off wins or anything, but if you’re interested in moral victories, the way that the Hornets are playing for their head coach is certainly one of them. The Hornets have come oh so close to pulling out wins over teams like the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs but because of a lack of depth, they haven’t been able to hold onto leads. Nonetheless, everynight they take the floor, they aren’t scared of their opposition and their demeanor is impressive for a team with such a poor record.
Perhaps even more impressive than New Orlean’s collective mindset has been their production in the pick and roll. I know it seems dumb to pick out one offensive play for a team that is 4-20 but when a team loses Chris Paul and David West, two of the best pick and roll players in the league, you would have to think that their production as a team would take a significant hit. But instead, they are actually operating the pick and roll even better than they were last season under Paul’s direction. As good as a defensive coach as he is, Williams has a great pick and roll package for his set of guards and that’s evident in the results.
Data courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology
|Los Angeles Clippers||14.5%||1||318||.925||46%|
|New Orleans Hornets||13%||2||314||.889||47%|
As shown in the table above, the New Orleans Hornets get the second most production from their ball-handlers in pick-and-rolls in the league. The only team that sits above them is coincidentally the Los Angeles Clippers. Being second in the league is am improvement over last season for the Hornets as they were seventh last year, shooting a lower 43% as well.
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s musings…
Keeping the Hornets boat afloat this season has been Jarrett Jack. Jack has always been the prototypical back-up point guard that could come in and run your offense for 20 minutes a night and you could count on him to make decisions. He received his promotion to starter in New Orleans once Paul was traded and he’s taken advantage of the opportunity by posting career highs in points and assists per game as well as PER.
Playing the back-up role that Jack filled last season is Greivis Vasquez. The Hornets traded forward Quincy Pondexter to the Memphis Grizzlies to make Vasquez their back-up point guard and after posting a 9.47 PER for the Grizzlies as a rookie last season, the Maryland product has risen above the NBA average mark of 15 this season (15.59).
Jack is in some pretty elite company when it comes to pick-and-roll production this season, which is due in large part to a career best 47% shooting from 16-23 feet on the season. When a point guard has a reliable mid-range jumpshot, the pick-and-roll is easily one of the most deadly play in the entire league and Jack has proven to be a fantastic operator of the set.
But how about the big men? Jack and Vasquez have been good scorers off the pick and roll but with David West gone they are working with a pretty mediocre group of post players. Carl Landry is a good player but not one that works well in the pick-and-roll, Gustavo Ayon is young and untested and Chris Kaman has barely played. Despite all of that, the Hornets are also getting better production from their big men out of the pick-and-roll this season.
|San Antonio Spurs||1||6.7%||173||1.214||61.2%|
|Golden State Warriors||2||4.7%||103||1.146||59.5%|
|New York Knicks||4||3.9%||100||1.14||60.6%|
|Portland Trail Blazers||8||7.4%||189||1.074||53.8%|
|New Orleans Hornets||9||8.2%||198||1.03||51.1%|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||10||4%||97||1.021||53.2%|
New Orleans ranked 13th in roll man production last year (1.017 points per possession, 50% shooting) and they’ve risen to 9th this year. You’d think that losing the most effective pick and pop man and the best passer in the league would cause the Hornets’ production in pick-and-rolls to drop. And you’ll also notice that the Clippers are absent from this list. With Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, you wouldn’t expect it, but they rank just 20th in the league in production from their roll men.
The key has been the play of Emeka Okafor, Jason Smith and rookie Gustavo Ayon. Okafor has long been an effective pick-and-roll player and he’s been even better this season, Smith provides a great pick-and-pop threat (he’s shooting 45% from 16-23 feet on over four attempts a game) and Ayon has been excellent in doses on the pick and roll for New Orleans (more on him later).
Okafor ranks very highly with some of the best big men in the league. If the possession limit was removed, Ayon would be number one in the league in PPP production. Of those with at least 50 possessions as a roll man, it’s not surprising to see Tyson Chandler, a former Hornet.
Even though the team is struggling mightily this season, I think this is a very interesting situation to monitor throughout the year.
I have long thought of Caron Butler as a player that compiles decent stats on bad teams. After an injury cost him to miss the majority of his season with the Dallas Mavericks, I never got to see whether or not that stereotype would hold true on a good team.
|Play Type||League Rank||% Time||Poss||PPP||FG%|
During his last full season with Washington, Butler was a high isolation player that was shooting six or seven shots from 16-23 feet a night. You can kind of understand it in hindsight. When you play with ballhogs like Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, you kind of have to hog the ball yourself if you want to make an impact scoring the ball. It would have been nice to see him play a full season with a pass first point guard like Jason Kidd and a star power forward that he’d have to get the ball to in Dirk to see how he adapted but now that he’s with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, he’s done a great job of changing his game.
|Play Type||League Rank||% Time||Poss||PPP||FG%|
As you can see, Butler has stopped isolating so much (and he’s not shooting well when he does) and has turned into primarily a spot-up shooter. After shooting six mid-range jumpers a game at 38% (just 33% assisted) during the 2008-09 season, Butler has trimmed his 16-23 feet shots to just four a game (74% assisted) and is shooting a career high five three-point attempts per game. And by the way, every one of the 33 three-pointers that Butler has made this season has been assisted on.
Butler isn’t exactly on fire from deep (he’s shooting a respectable 36% from three-point range) but he’s been a reliable offensive option for a Clipper team that doesn’t have many offensive threats that don’t play point guard.
Just a week after deactivating him, the New Orleans Hornets have decided to bring back center Chris Kaman, who they acquired when they traded Chris Paul. Kaman was shut down so that he didn’t get hurt while the Hornets explored trade options for him.
While Kaman returning to action could be seen as the Hornets being disappointed with the trade market, Kaman’s suitors may also want to see that Kaman is still an effective player. Either way, don’t think that Kaman trade talks will be dieing down because he’s going to be suiting up again.
That’s because a source close to the situation tells The Chase-Down Block that the Houston Rockets are in pursuit of the seven foot center.
Houston has been stockpiling assets over the past few seasons and attempted to use them to acquire Pau Gasol. But Daryl Morey’s dream acquisition was vetoed by David Stern. Now the Rockets are looking to move some of their younger players in order to give themselves a better shot at advancing in the post-season this year.
Though he was recently benched after starting Houston’s first seven games at center, third year player Jordan Hill is a piece that the league has asked to be included in a package for Kaman, according to a source. Hill isn’t the only Knick draft pick the Hornets are after, the Rockets also have New York’s 2012 1st round pick that will likely be included in a deal for Kaman, as well.
Houston does not have strong ties to fellow youngsters Hasheem Thabeet, Terrence Williams and Jonny Flynn, though they plan on keeping at least two of those players around to use as future trade chips. One player that Houston is unlikely to let go is second year forward Patrick Patterson. According to a source, the Kentucky product is coveted by Houston brass because of his high basketball IQ.
The Rockets have been playing well to start the season and that’s due in large part to the play of center Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert recently took the starting center spot away from third year center Jordan Hill. Hill was inconsistent to start the year and Dalembert has given the Rockets a sturdy defensive presence in the paint.
Kaman would be an upgrade over Hill for the Rockets as Dalembert’s back-up and would be able to come off the bench as a potent low-post scorer.
Kaman has an expiring contract worth $14,030,000 so the only long-term implication a trade would have on the Rockets would be losing a couple of nondescript pieces that are currently getting minimal if any playing time for the team.
There’s no question that Ricky Rubio coming over from Spain was the most exciting and impactful international acquisition this summer but don’t forget that the New Orleans Hornets also signed someone from overseas: Mexican center Gustavo Ayon.
For a team that has little chance to win each and every night, the Hornets have been pretty careful with Ayon’s minutes. He’s averaging just 12 minutes per game so far this season, playing in 16 of the Hornets’ 23 games to this point. Then again, you can understand Monty Williams giving Ayon some more practice time especially for someone who doesn’t speak English well and got into camp days before opening night.
That said, with a Chris Kaman trade likely coming, Ayon is finally going to get some consistent time on the floor.
Ayon isn’t exactly a prospect at age 26 but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a productive big man right now. My first impression of Ayon is that he’s a heady player. He seems to find the right spots on the floor on offense and he gets into good position defensively. The Hornets aren’t using him in any groundbreaking ways but in this era, a smart and active big man is a useful asset.
The pick and roll has been Ayon’s most effective way of becoming involved in the offense. Ayon is scoring 1.643 points per possession in pick and rolls, which is the number one mark in the entire league. Of course, sample size must be accounted for (14 pick and roll possessions to date for Ayon, seven rolls and seven pops), but his percentages on the roll (85% shooting) and the pop (83% shooting) show that he is an efficient big man when he does receive the ball.
The impressive numbers don’t stop there. Ayon also has a 22.63 PER at the moment, which is the fifth highest in the league for power forwards. Again, sample size must be pointed out, but that doesn’t take away from the incredible smart play Ayon has delivered when he has been on the floor. Provided the Hornets don’t get back another promising young big man in any deal for Kaman, Ayon should see his minutes per game rise up to around 20-22. Once that happens, expect a few more people to take notice of Ayon’s smart and effective play.
I have been such a huge fan of Dell Demps since the whole Chris Paul fiasco went down. After David Stern vetoed his original Chris Paul deal with the Lakers and Rockets there were reports that Demps was considering stepping down. I’m glad he didn’t. As he attempted to fill out a roster just days before the season started, he made a great find with Ayon. He signed him to a three year deal, with only one being guaranteed (this year at $1,567,500), and the third year being a team option. With the way things are going, picking up Ayon for next season at $1,500,000 and even his third year at the same price.
I think Ayon has a future in this league. Smart big men will always be able to stick around and I’m glad that Ayon has been given a shot to do that at the NBA level this season.
This deal only makes sense if the New Jersey Nets end up with Dwight Howard because they’re not trading for Stephen Jackson if they don’t. But if the Nets can pair up Deron Williams and Howard, then acquiring Jackson, who Dwight Howard has said he’d like to play with, would make sense, and assuming they don’t deal MarShon Brooks to Orlando, he’d be the only choice left for the Bucks to take back for Jackson. Even though that’s bad basketball deal, New Jersey may be willing to make the move to keep their star happy.
This would give the Bucks a great chance to pair Brooks with point guard Brandon Jennings to become their backcourt of the future and the Celtics the chance to get a franchise big man for the future. Even though Bogut has been bitten by the injury bug a lot lately, a point guard/center combo of Rondo and Bogut would be as good as any other in the league defensively. This would give the Bucks the chance to bring back Ray Allen and play Paul Pierce in the role Scott Skiles created for Stephen Jackson.
Pierce is a more efficient scorer than Jackson but works in the same areas, making him a logical fit for the top scorer role on this team for at least this year and next. Allen would bring some consistent outside shooting for Milwaukee for at least one season and he may be willing to stick around to play with Pierce going forward. And if Allen commits to finishing his career in Milwaukee, perhaps Kevin Garnett would join the fray, too.
If Allen didn’t commit, the Bucks would still be set at shooting guard with Brooks and in the off-season they could amnesty Drew Gooden and make offers to Marcus Camby or JaVale McGee to come and play center. That would make their starting five Jennings, Brooks, Pierce, Leuer and Camby/McGee. That’s not bad provided they can still afford to re-sign Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova to keep their bench strong. That team can win in the post-season, can’t it?
There is a bit of knucklehead potential with Jennings, Brooks (may be selfish) and McGee but there’s a lot of talent there, too. If they bought into Skiles’ defensive system, they’d be a small market favorite. It may be a stretch but that’s why it’s a hypothetical scenario that I picked out my brain that has no chance of happening but appears to work for all sides in my head.
1. Kyrie Irving, Point Guard, Cleveland Cavaliers – I will start by admitting that I was wrong about Kyrie Irving when he entered the NBA Draft. I stand by the theory; I don’t think you can say that a player will be a star based on 11 games at the college level. That said, Irving has definitely delivered number one pick production and has performed better than some of the top point guards in the league so far this season.
Irving has the fifth best PER in the league for point guards, trailing only Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash and Russell Westbrook, he’s shooting 51% from the field and 41% from three and he’s been better than LeBron James was during his rookie season in Cleveland.
That’s pretty incredible stuff from Irving.
2. Ricky Rubio, Point Guard, Minnesota Timberwolves -Rubio would be the run away rookie of the year had he come over after he was drafted. Instead, he’ll have to settle for second from now until the rest of the year barring a complete collapse or an injury. Rubio does have an impressive resume, though, as he leads the NBA in total assists and steals and ranked third and fourth in steals per game and assists per game respectively. Since taking over the starting point guard job Rubio is averaging 12 points and 9.6 assists (which would be second in the league).
The one downside with Rubio is that his supposed weakness has gone from a strength relative to his reputation and back to a weakness in a month’s time. Rubio is shooting just 38% from the field and 35% from three on the season. Still, if you haven’t spent countless hours watching YouTube videos of his lob attempts I don’t wish to know you.
3. MarShon Brooks, Shooting Guard, New Jersey Nets – Brooks is currently out with a broken toe but I couldn’t leave him off of this list. Celtics fans must have an awful feeling when watching this kid knowing they traded his draft rights to the Nets rather than hanging on to the first good perimeter scorer their team had drafted since Joe Johnson in 2001. Instead, New Jersey ended up with him and provided they don’t trade Brooks in a deal involving Dwight Howard, they are going to have a pretty nice backcourt going forward with him and Deron Williams.
Prior to the draft there were several reports that Brooks had the Kobe mindset and attempted to mirror his game with an array of isolation jumpers and fadeaways. While that’s obviously not an efficient plan for anybody not named Kobe or Jordan, Brooks has actually been extremely effective as an isolation player this season. He’s scoring .974 points per possession in those situations, good for 8th in the NBA for players with at least 50 ISOs. Brooks has been great on the drive, especially to his left, as he’s shooting 56% on pull-up jumpers when he’s driving left. Calling him the next Kobe at this point is premature and crazy but he is producing pretty darn well for a rookie and he even has the tongue move down.
4. Jon Leuer, Forward, Milwaukee Bucks – For some reason this kid is only averaging 15 minutes a game and despite that you can argue he’s been the best big for the Bucks so far this season. Leuer has been extremely versatile offensively as he has five different play types (spot-up, roll man, cut, post-up and offensive rebounds) making up at least 10% of his offense. He’s been especially good as a spot-up shooter and his touch in the post makes me wonder why I didn’t hear much about this kid heading up to the draft. As far as total offensive production goes (overall points per possession) for players with at least 100 possessions, Leuer ranks 11th in the entire league at 1.098 PPP.
5. Kawhi Leonard, Small Forward, San Antonio Spurs – You can read what I wrote about Leonard’s play so far this season here.
6. Nikola Vucevic, Center, Philadelphia 76ers – Despite missing some time with an injury, Vucevic has been excellent this season when filling in for the injured Spencer Hawes at the center spot. He’s shown some touch from beyond the arc and inside the paint, he’s been a great passer from the high post and he has the second best rebound rate for rookies behind only Enes Kanter. Even though I wasn’t impressed with him all that much defensively at USC, Doug Collins has him fitting him in well wit the league’s best defense in Philly.
7. Lavoy Allen, Power Forward, Philadelphia 76ers – When Vucevic went down Allen, a second round round pick, stepped in seamlessly, making the same smart plays that Vucevic did, finding the right spots on the floor and moving the ball around. Allen has the best assist rate among rookie big man averaging at least 10 minutes per game and he’s shooting 58% from 10-15 feet.
8. Brandon Knight, Point Guard, Detroit Pistons – Again I’ll admit that I was dead wrong on Knight being just as good of a pro prospect as Irving but Knight has been fine on his own right. If Irving and Rubio weren’t having such good rookie years and guys like Derrick Rose and John Wall didn’t raise expectations with their hype, there would be a bit less pressure on Knight but so far he’s handled it well. Knight isn’t exactly in a point guard friendly situation which is why I’m not too worried by his low assist rate but he does need to get his field goal percentage up sometime soon.
9. Chandler Parsons, Forward, Houston Rockets – You can read what I wrote about Parsons’ play so far this season here.
10. Andrew Goudelock, Point Guard, Los Angeles Lakers – There are several good rookies that could go here but Goudelock is playing the biggest role for a good team outside of Norris Cole, but it’s not like the Heat have a middling offense and awful second unit. Since he really started getting playing time in January, Goudelock is shooting 44% from three. For the Lakers, a team that runs everything through Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum when Kobe isn’t on the floor, that will do from the point guard position.
The best thing about Goudelock shooting well is that he’s also got a counter move as defenses start to respect his shot. Goudelock has a great floater and is very confident in pulling-up with a teardrop when he gets into the lane. Take a look at these numbers via Synergy Sports Technology.
The only players that use runners more frequently than Goudelock are Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague and neither has shot it as well this season. Goudelock is making an incredible amount of floaters and even if he regresses at some point, if he can keep it above 50% (which is what he shot on runners in college last year), the Lakers are finally going to have some perimeter scoring relief from a guard not named Kobe Bryant. I guess the Mini-Mamba nickname works, for now.
Kobe Bryant scores 41 points against the Boston Celtics followed by a 53 point performance against the New York Knicks.