Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
Below are the 15 players I think have helped their stock the most with their performance in contract years. That’s not to say that all of these players made a point to try harder this season specifically to sucker a team into paying him for performance he likely won’t deliver during the tenure of his deal. Most of these players simply grew into their own by way of expected physical development and/or the presentation of new opportunities.
After starting off the year with rather pedestrian performance, Dragic went on an absolute tear when Kyle Lowry went out with a virus. Here are my two previous columns on Dragic’s breakout play this season: Dragic Continues To Magnify Suns’ Big Mistake (TCDB) and Dragic making money filling Lowry’s shoes for Rockets (Corpus Christi Caller-Times).
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s piece…
Rush was acquired by the Golden State Warriors in a nondescript pre-season swap for Lou Amundson. Rush had an unspectacular start to his career and produced at a low enough level to be labeled a bust, which was warranted even for a late lottery pick. He had a single digit PER in his first two seasons and in 2009-2010 he became one of the worst players in NBA history to lead his team in minutes and have a sub-10 PER. He never really found his niche with the Pacers even though he was hogging a lot of playing time. He was a good spot-up shooter but his offensive game lacked any other reliable weapons and his defense was fairly mediocre.
Getting traded to the Warriors presented Rush with an opportunity and he has taken tremendous advantage of it. Being that shooting the three-ball was the lone NBA skill that he put on display in Indiana, he has fit in well with the Warriors and their propensity to launch shots from beyond the arc. Rush ranks sixth in basketball in three-point percentage at 48% and sixth in the NBA in points per possession produced on spot-up shots (at least 100 possessions). Of players with at least 500 offensive possessions, Rush also ranks sixth in overall offensive production at 1.077 points per possession.
Rush would be the perfect complementary two guard for a team with a strong scorer at point or small forward. He’s fantastic on the catch and has shown the ability to catch the defense off guard by shot faking and driving by his man. Rush is also a decent defender with the physical tools to be a good defender in the right system. He’s one of those players that feeds off his teammates extremely well and can punish a defense for helping off of him. I like the way he fits in Golden State but he’d do well on pretty much any team.
If the NBA had their all-star game after the regular season like the NFL, there’s a good chance that Ilyasova would have made the team; and not just because of other folks dropping out, either. If we’re looking at the overall body of work I think he’s outperformed Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Paul Pierce and you can make a case he’s played better than Carmelo Anthony over the course of the season.
Being just 24 years old and an incredibly versatile and mobile four man that is putting up a 17-point/11-rebound per 36 minutes line with shooting splits of 49%/46%/79%, it’s safe to say that Ilyasova made himself a ton of money this season. This is a guy whose PER is just slightly below Pau Gasol‘s on the season and is probably the best overall player on the Bucks right now. Of players with at least 600 offensive possessions, Ilyasova ranks 10th in the league in points per possession, putting him just a few spots behind guys like Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Paul. Ilyasova also ranks second in the league in three-point percentage at 46%.
Ilyasova could be a better defender with his size and mobility but he’s very good on the glass. He’s got a top 10 offensive rebound rate amongst power forwards and he’s one of only eight players in the league to put up a 20-20 game this season (he had 29 points and 25 rebounds against the Nets). Milwaukee has a decent amount of cap space this summer and they need to hold on to Ilyasova. They will certainly have competition for his services, though. A team like Boston – with Kevin Garnett‘s contract coming off of the books – would be a perfect fit for Ilyasova.
Ryan Anderson has played the best basketball out of anyone on this list this season but he also presents a fair amount of questions about his NBA future. Anderson has played himself into a big payday and even though he’s a restricted free agent, there’s pretty much no way the Magic are going to be able to keep him. While that may be a good thing for his bank account, if he decides to sign elsewhere he’ll also be leaving Stan Van Gundy, the coach that has put him in the perfect system to capitalize on his talents, and Dwight Howard, the player that creates several open looks for Anderson by way of double and triple teams while also covering up his defensive deficiencies.
Anderson is a great shooter (40% from three this season), of course, and I don’t doubt that Anderson will be an effective player wherever he ends up. But I do wonder whether or not he’ll be able to replicate this kind of success he is having this season. He’s got a 21.10 PER right now, which is the ninth best mark amongst power forwards, and for players with at least 500 offensive possessions he ranks fourth overall in points per possession. And for a power forward that shoots seven threes a game, the fact that he is a top 10 offensive rebounding power forward is remarkable. I absolutely love his game but I have to believe that his efficiency will likely take a hit in any other offense, and anybody’s defense would look worse without Dwight there to clean up his mistakes.
I said many times when the Vince Carter deal went down that Ryan Anderson would be the star of the deal and that’s turned out to be the case. When Anderson is on the floor, the Magic have an offensive rating of 110.27. When he’s off the floor the Magic’s offensive rating drops to 93.51. Anderson’s net value of 16.76 points per 100 possessions on offense is the best in the league. Outside of Kevin Love, I think Anderson is the best floor stretching big man in the league and he will likely be the hottest commodity in basketball this off-season. I don’t think he’ll be putting up any more eight win-share (win-shares) seasons if he leaves Amway – his current .220 winshares per 48 minutes rate is higher than all but two of Amare Stoudemire‘s seasons in his nine year career - but I think he will be a all-star level player going forward.
The Philadelphia 76ers gave up too early on Speights, though reported clashes between the seven footer and Doug Collins provide at least one excuse for trading a talented young big man for two second round picks. One team’s trash is another team’s treasure and Speights did a more than admirable job filling in for Zach Randolph and is still acting as a starting power forward for the Grizzlies although I’d imagine that won’t be the case in the playoffs. Speights’ biggest issue in Philly was his defensive effort. While he hasn’t been a standout performer on that end of the floor he has certainly improved from being a sieve. He’s done a good job corralling ball-handlers off the pick-and-roll this season and he’s been OK guarding his man on post-ups.
Offensively is where Speights has provided the Grizzlies with some real value. His field goal percentage (45%) is noticeably low for a big man but that’s due in large part to his poor field goal percentage at the rim (49%). If you watch Speights you’d notice that he misses quite a few bunnies but he also has a pretty good offensive rebound rate, too, so he does grab a few of his misses at the basket. Speights has a pretty non-existent post-game – he’s only shooting 28% on the block – but the Grizzlies haven’t relied on him much in that regard. So if he is poor around the rim and doesn’t have a post-game then where does he score his points?
From 16-23 feet.
Thanks to NBA.com/Stats we can look at what areas of the floor that Speights thrives in. In a way Speights is the anti-big man, seeing as he is most effective further away from the hoop, but his high release point allows him to get his shot off over anybody and being guarded by another big man that usually sticks to the paint rather than his man provides Speights with several open looks. He’s pretty much automatic from the top of the key, which is where the majority of his looks come from. According to Hoopdata, for players that average 20+ minutes per game and have played in 30 games this season, Speights ranks 13th in the league in field goal percentage from 16-23 feet at 47%.
While he’s not a complete big man there is a place in this league for big men that space the floor very well offensively. He isn’t quite Ryan Anderson but he’s a reliable outside shooter and has risen to competent defensively. I think a good player to compare Speights to is Brandon Bass, who has virtually the same exact role for the Celtics as Speights plays for Memphis. In fact, he is one of the 12 players ahead of Speights in shooting percentage between 16-23 feet at 48%. Bass was considered a huge defensive liability for the Magic like Speights was for the 76ers but in Doc Rivers’ system he has become one of the best defenders in basketball (he ranks first in the NBA in points per possession allowed for someone with 500 possessions played). Bass signed his current contract before being traded to Boston, where his value as risen, but I think the $4-5 million he is making is a good market value for Speights.
At some point this season the story of Lucas III went from “it’s nice to see this journeyman succeed on a good team” to “wait a minute this guy is actually a viable rotation player”. After posting a -0.04 PER last season, Lucas has seen a large improvement in his game, thanks in large part to an increase in playing time. Derrick Rose has missed quite a few games this season with various injuries and even though he only as two starts on the year, the increase in minutes per game as a back-up to C.J. Watson when Rose was out gave Lucas an opportunity to prove himself. Lucas had never averaged more than 8.2 minutes per game in his three previous NBA seasons and, assuming he plays in three more games this season, he will have played the most games of his career in 2012, a lockout shortened season no less.
Lucas has a rudimentary field goal percentage, mostly because of his poor shooting percentage at the rim and some poor pull-up jumpers from the mid-range area that he tends to take once he gets on a roll. But he’s shooting 40% from deep and has produced at a good rate on pick-and-rolls. He is a very aggressive player that is scoring 20 points per 40 minutes this season. He’s not a tremendously efficient offensive player but he’s someone that can give a good team a nice scoring punch off the bench for 15-20 minutes a night.
Lucas III is a little bit past his prime (he’s 29) so his impressive season is unlikely to net him a lucrative deal. That said, he’s risen to a Scalabrine level of popularity in Chicago and has augmented Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson well. After a long and hard journey to the NBA, Lucas has finally found himself playing a semi-meaningful role for a contender and I’d imagine he’d like to parlay his performance this season with an extension of some sort in Chicago. That’s not to say he couldn’t provide value elsewhere, but it seems like he’d be best off staying with the Bulls.
Just a couple of months ago Gerald Green was playing for the Los Angeles Defenders in the D-League averaging 19 points and five rebounds while shooting a blistering 46% from three. The 26-year old Green was once thought to be a long-term starting shooting guard for the Boston Celtics, the team that drafted him with the 18th overall pick back in 2005. But after flopping with Boston he bounced around from Minnesota to Houston and finally to Dallas. Green only played in 38 games for the Mavericks that season so he decided to go play in Russia for a couple of seasons. After a brief stint in China in 2011, Green found himself in training camp with the Los Angeles Lakers. Green had played for the Lakers in Summer League but hadn’t impressed. That trend continued with what was reported as a weak training camp showing. The result was another trip to the D-League.
After putting up a pretty good line in the D-League, the player starved New Jersey Nets inked him to a 10-day contract on February 27th. Green performed well enough during that trial run to earn a second 10-day contract and good enough there to get himself a deal for the rest of the season. Since then Green has emerged as a pretty good NBA player. Known solely for his insane athleticism and out-of-this-world highlight reel dunks, Green has developed into a solid all-around player. He’s playing a career high in minutes per game while contributing a career high points per game average as well.
Green is averaging 13 points per game on the season with 50%/40%/74% shooting splits. The most impressive thing about Green’s surprising development is that he’s scoring at an extremely efficient mark as a spot-up shooter, in the post, in isolation sets and while coming off of screens. After watching him in the summer league there was little reason to believe he’d have such a refined game, relative to where he was back then (just a high flyer). Green is now shooting 55% on short range jumpers, shooting 63% on post-ups and holding his man to 11% shooting in ISO situations. It may have taken Green seven years to develop into an NBA player but at 26 he’s still got some prime years of athleticism left and with a pretty well-rounded game to complement this tremendous physical skills, Green has earned himself a nice paycheck from someone for next season.
It’s not very often that the San Antonio Spurs make a mistake, but it appears as if waiving Steve Novak last season was a poor decision. Novak didn’t look like an NBA player at the start of the season – he just seemed like another player billed as a shooter that couldn’t find his way onto the floor to take those shots. But then Jeremy Lin came along and Mike D’Antoni started looking in different places for production. Novak got on a role playing alongside of Lin and he’s now a regular rotation player for the Knicks and a Garden favorite.
Novak is a textbook three-point specialist. 81% of his shot attempts come from behind the arc and he is currently leading the league at 46% from beyond the arc (.459 to Ilyasova’s .456). According to Synergy Sports Technology, Novak is the most efficient offensive player in basketball, producing 1.264 points per 100 possessions. That’s not to say he’s the best offensive player in the league – high points per possession marks are common amongst spot-up shooters and big men that get a lot of dunks – but it does show just how well he has perfected his craft this season. Per BasketballValue, the Knicks score 3.02 more points per 100 possessions when Novak is on the floor and even though he’s not a great defender, New York’s defensive rating doesn’t suffer at all when Novak is on the floor.
Novak has never had any trouble putting the ball into the basket from three-point land prior to this season but for whatever reason this is the first season that his accuracy from deep has earned him some real playing time for a playoff team. Novak is averaging a career high 17.9 minutes per game this season and it’s paid off for both him and the Knicks. Contenders are always dieing to add dead-eye shooters and Novak and his discount double check will look good spacing the floor for just about any team next season.
As recently as two weeks ago suggesting that J.J. Hickson had played a single impressive minute this season would have been hard to prove. But since Hickson has arrived in Portland he’s shown a little bit of that potential that Cleveland was interested in a couple of years ago. It is definitely a small sample size (14 games with the Blazers so far) but Hickson is scoring 1.038 points per possession right now, an elite mark. Surely that will come down but for him to be able to put together a 14 stretch at that rate is still impressive based on his previous performance in Cleveland and Sacramento.
Hickson has wisely stopped relying on his mid-range jumpshot and has started getting to the rim more often by way of the pick-and-roll. In his last full season with the Cavs (2010-11), 14.7% of Hickson’s offense came on spot-up jumpers. During his 14 games with Portland only 5.9% of Hickson’s offense comes from spot-up jumpers. His post-up rate is about the same but he’s seen a dramatic increase in pick-and-roll possessions. A fifth of Hickson’s offense comes on pick-and-rolls and he’s producing 1.103 points per possession, a very good mark. Additionally, Hickson is shooting a white hot 57% on post-ups. Again, these elite numbers are sure to come down but the fact that he is spending less time spotting up is a good sign. Hickson has always had a lot of talent and now he’s starting to use it in a more efficient manner. It’s not clear what kind of contract a 20-game run will earn Hickson but if a team can use Hickson is a similar fashion he can be an effective player in this league.
The Dallas Mavericks took a flyer on the very athletic but previously unpolished Brandan Wright this off-season and gave themselves no risk by signing him to a sub-$1 million deal for just one season. Wright has given the Mavericks their best production at the center position this season in a three-man rotation that includes Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi and himself. His most impressive attribute is his thunderous finishing ability on pick-and-rolls. In that regard, Wright has effectively replaced Tyson Chandler as Dallas’ primary role man.
Just like Chandler last season, over 50% of Wright’s offense comes off of basket cuts and pick-and-rolls. Also like Chandler, Wright ranks extremely high in points per possession produced because of where he gets his baskets. Wright ranks fourth in the NBA in points per possession at 1.158 PPP. Coincidentally, Chandler is just one spot behind him at fifth, producing 1.154 PPP this season. Wright isn’t close to Chandler on the defensive end but he does act as an elite shotblocker. Though he hasn’t played enough minutes to qualify for the league lead in any category, he does rank fourth in the NBA in blocks per 48 minutes at 3.9.
Previously labeled a bust, Wright has made some very nice contributions for the Mavericks this season and at just 24 years of age, his ability to finish strong at the rim efficiently (he has a 21.77 PER right now) will certainly garner the attention of a lot of teams this summer. I’d like to see what he could do in Dallas, though, especially if they can pull in Deron Williams this summer. Can anyone say Lob City – Texas Division?
It is important to note Smith’s limited playing time when analyzing his statistics this season. But still, it’s hard to ignore how well Smith has helped push the pace for the Magic this season. According to NBA.com/Stats, the Magic average 91.33 possessions per game this season. When Smith is on the floor the Magic average 92.36 possessions per 48 minutes. Smith has rarely gotten on the floor with Orlando’s best players at once so it’s hard to judge his offensive and defensive ratings, but he has a respectable 16.34 PER and a pretty good assist rate of 30.5. I’m not sure what the market value is for Smith but I think he can be effective in the right situation – he can also be effective for the Magic but Chris Duhon has been getting minutes of him for some reason.
It’s refreshing to see Livingston having some success at the NBA level. He was doing a nice job as the third guard for the Bucks earlier in the season but the Monta Ellis trade has lessened his role. The Bucks have a team option for Livingston worth $3,500,000 but with Beno Udrih likely to cash in on a more expensive deal, Milwaukee may be better off using that $3.5 million to offer a big deal to Ilyasova. I think Livingston can be a valuable piece with the right coach because he can effectively split time between the one and the two. He hasn’t had a breakout year but he’s proven he’s healthy enough to play and that’s a big success for Livingston.
McGuire is only averaging 16 minutes per game for the Warriors this season but you’d be hard pressed to find another player that provides the quality of defense he does whenever he gets onto the floor. Some nights McGuire will find himself on the bench until the Warriors are in a “must get a stop” and other times he’s matched up against someone for the majority of the game. McGuire would be playing double the minutes he does now if he were a bit better offensively – not a good shooter and can’t really attack either – but his contributions defensively have earned him a nice, inexpensive deal to play a defensive stopper role on a contender.
He’s the kind of player any coach would die for. He doesn’t complain about his inconsistent playing time and does all of the little things every second he is on the floor. Mark Jackson has been far from good in his debut season as a head coach but one thing I have enjoyed from him is how he uses McGuire in offense/defense switches in crunchtime. At six-foot-nine McGuire has the size to guard both three’s and four’s but he’s spent some time on point guards, too. Being able to switch on all pick and rolls is a huge asset that many coaches covet.
McGuire has guarded a player in an isolation situation 75 times this season. On those 75 possessions he has only allowed 44 points (.587 points per possession) while holding his man to 24% shooting from the field. For players with at least 75 possessions as the defender in a one-on-one situation, that PPP mark ranks seventh overall behind only Kendrick Perkins, LeBron James, Joe Johnson, Jason Richardson, Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons and his field goal percentage allowed ranks third behind only James and Parsons. McGuire is also one of two perimeter players (James Johnson being the other) that rank in the top 40 in blocks per 48 minutes this season and he is also in the top five for rebound rate amongst small forwards.
While he brings almost nothing on offense outside of making some nice swing passes, his defensive pedigree puts him in some very elite company. Teams looking for that final rotation piece will look at McGuire as the perfect option. 15-20 minutes a night of lockdown defense is something that any team can use and if he’s mixed with a good offensive unit – can you imagine him with San Antonio? – he can be a very effective player.
Ivan Johnson’s season started with one breakout performance against the Miami Heat early in the season and has turned into a pretty good rookie season relative to his pedigree. He is pretty old for a rookie (28) but it is very nice to see Johnson finally get some burn in the pros. Johnson has had a very long journey to the NBA, even longer than Gerald Green‘s. Johnson played at four different colleges before playing the D-League for a couple of seasons. He then moved onto South Korea for two seasons, then back to the D-League, then to Puerto Rico and then China before ending up on this Hawks team. Johnson is a league average player but that’s more than we could have said about him this time last year. He should be able to get another one or two year deal in the NBA this off-season.
Stiemsma is an old rookie, too. The 26-year old center has played in Turkey and South Korea and has had a few runs in the D-League as well. The big-starved Celtics gave Stiemsma a shot and he’s done pretty well in his specific role. Doc Rivers calls on him for about 14 minutes a game and expects good defense, which is what he’s gotten. Only Serge Ibaka averages more blocks per 48 minutes as Stiemsma checks in at 5.18 swats per 48. He’s not a complete player and will probably never have a good offensive game, but he can protect the middle of the paint and block shots at a very good rate, so he’ll find a place somewhere – and it wouldn’t surprise me if he stayed in Boston.