It’s Officially “Fit-In” Season

Written By: Vinny @sailboatstudios

Second to only the President, LeBron James’ Twitter account is the most entertaining handle on the website. The delicious dysfunction within the Cavaliers organization hidden in subtweets, almost requiring you to crack a riddle devised by an eight-year old. We’re officially in “Stop trying to FIT-out and just Fit-In” season, LeBron’s camp is already sending messages to voice his displeasure, threatening to take a meeting with the Warriors of all teams just to send the inexperienced front office aflame. To be honest, James deserves Koby Altman and owner Dan Gilbert. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the reasons for why LeBron will probably depart Cleveland for the second time in eight-years is the fault of the collective braintrust. Say what you want about Gilbert, he’s a petty, sometimes frustratingly cheap man that doesn’t want to give his well-regarded general manager a second contract – pulling the plug on his tenure right as he’s constructing a blockbuster trade for Paul George.

Left to sleep in the bed they made the Cavaliers have fallen off from a team you could pencil into the NBA Finals to in danger of not even making it to the East-Finals, with the rise of Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia and Indiana, the route to the Finals will not be a cakewalk. A aging, injured Isaiah Thomas is where Kyrie Irving used to be. Jae Crowder can’t make a three-pointer. The average age of the Cavaliers are 30.1, making them the oldest team in the NBA. The “LeBron Moves” of signing old friend Dywane Wade, and Derrick Rose haven’t made the job easier on defense; the team backing themselves into a corner paying three-point marksman Kyle Korver $22 million for three seasons is too expensive to be considered a trade chip for a contender looking for a spot-up threat.

The Cavaliers need more than just one player to magically cure them of their ailments. Their defense is terrible. Giving up the fourth most points this season (1,002), ranked 25th in net rating in January (-5.7), capping off the month by giving up 125 points to the Detroit Pistons who traded both of their wing players for the yet to have arrived Blake Griffin.

The aborted George Hill deal may’ve been a blessing, the thirty-one year old guard wasn’t going to magically inspire the distraught Cavaliers to get back on defense and rediscover his own ability to defend at a high level – quite possibly, Hill is the worse defensive guard in the NBA right now. He may be a improvement over Thomas, Wade and Rose, but the minor upgrade isn’t worth paying his $20 million a year contract for three-seasons.

A week prior, the overmatched third-year head coach Ty Lue reshuffled the starting lineup, the big change was merely shifting Jae Crowder to the bench and reinserting Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup. The twenty-seven year old center aged in dog years, like those his size have before him. Fans point to the Nets Pick as a potential asset to be flipped for Clippers center DeAndre Jordan; L.A recently dealing star Blake Griffin to Detroit, and kickstarting a potential makeshift rebuild. Problem being is there’s a rift in the front office whether or not it’s best to mortgage the future on one last year with LeBron. There’s also the fact Jordan gets run off the floor every time he faces the Warriors, his value would be maximized in earlier rounds. All-Star Kevin Love was rumored to be in many fictitious deals for the recently injured DeMarcus Cousins, the aforementioned DeAndre, and even Trail Blazers shooting guard C.J McCollum. A broken hand, expected to sideline him for two-months hampers his trade value and throws the situation in the floor into further catastrophe. Outside of LeBron, Love was the only other player able to create for himself. His presence will be missed to say the least.

If the Nets Pick is off the table, or if Brooklyn wins enough games by February 8th to make the asset distasteful, the Cavaliers should look to trade their expiring contracts and draft picks for good two-way players on bad contracts. Kent Bazemore of Atlanta; Courtney Lee of New York have shot the ball well this season and can contribute to a team in desperate need of what Jae Crowder was supposed to provide when traded from Boston. Jeff Green is their best two-way player on the wing, while Crowder cratered into oblivion. Still, Jae has a good reputation as a hard worker, doesn’t slag off on defense and is on a tremendous contract if he can regain his ability to play basketball. It’s been only five-months since he arrived and it already seems Crowder needs a change in scenery.

The reality is Cleveland can’t be in any conversation to trade for an All-Star without an occurrence of luck. David Griffin may not have been the best general manager, but he knew how to manage egos and perform salary cap gymnastics. The inexperienced Koby Altman just cannot do that. Not yet anyway. Thrusted in quite possibly the most toxic situation in basketball, Altman was doomed to fail once he traded Kyrie Irving and didn’t take the brief moment it looked like fate was giving him a second chance to undo the transaction. It’s Dan Gilbert’s fault Eric Bledsoe and Paul George aren’t in Ohio; it’s Altman’s fault for not backing out of the Irving deal; it’s LeBron’s fault for not stepping up for Kyrie when it looked like the Cavaliers were going to trade him to Phoenix.

The Cleveland Cavaliers don’t need a team-meeting, or a players only meeting. They need an intervention.

Brief Breakdown of Clippers Fleecing of Detroit

By: Vinny @sailboatstudios

And we’re off! The first trade of the new year brings many opinions from self-proclaimed experts, knee-jerk reactions/takedowns of either the Pistons or Clippers as Blake Griffin’s time in California has come to an unceremonious end. Stan Gan Gundy makes the ultimate play to save his team’s season and his job; the Pistons loss eight straight and nineteen of their last twenty-seven since starting the year 14-6. Its no coincidence the Pistons team fell into the toilet once Reggie Jackson’s ankle betrayed him, expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. The core of Jackson – Bradley – Tobias – Drummond is better than whatever SVG is gonna throw out on the floor with Blake Griffin.

The instability in Detroit is insane. In no way Blake is the player he once was; on paper seems like it, but injuries and countless lower body surgeries largely limited his ability to play above the rim. We’ve seen an awful lot of “Point Blake” this season, a role where he’s done great as the floor general, 5.4 assists, he’s shown he can play like Draymond Green. But we’ve seen bouncy players succumb to injuries in the past, and Griffin’s ability to play long stretches leaves me skeptical, he’s already missed time due to injury, his dunk totals haven’t passed 100 since 2014 (mostly because of his injuries). Stan Van Gundy treated Blake as if he were still the third best player in the NBA, giving up the farm (and a lottery pick!) for him to save their season. Who’s playing the shooting guard and small forward positions for Detroit now? Stanley Johnson? Reggie Bullock? Luke Kennard? What a horrible roster this team’s complied and they think they can make the playoffs with just Blake and Drummond? Essentially SVG elected to become the Clippers of last week, only without the standout prospects; whiffing on a couple lottery picks will do that to you.

(A major positive in this trade is for the Celtics, if the Pistons sneak into the postseason they don’t have to worry about facing Avery Bradley in a revenge series)

Willie Reed is a fine backup center, better than Boban. Los Angeles will miss having Reed as a backup to D.J.

For the Clippers, they sit a half-game behind Denver for the eighth seed, two-games behind New Orleans for the sixth spot. It’s feasible the Clippers go on a run the final thirty-three games and finish with a better record than both those teams. The emergence of Tyrone Wallace (shooting 72.7% on cuts”), the return of Miloš Teodosić round out the backcourt. Avery Bradley playing next to Lou Williams basically recreates the Tacoma Backcourt from his Boston days with Isaiah Thomas. Jerry West forced Doc Rivers to coach up younger talent this season, taking away both franchise cornerstones in five-months of showing up. When Gallinari went out of the lineup, Wesley Johnson and prospect Sam Dekker stepped in and produced. Austin Rivers, Teodosić and Beverly being sidelined forced Rivers to turn to rookies Wallace and Jawun Evans. Blake Griffin’s departure thrusts Montrezl Harrell into a bigger role which is what West wants. Stealthily taking away Rivers’ preferred players to build for the future and still be in a position to reasonably compete. Don’t be surprised if the Clippers finish 42-40 and give the Warriors some fits in the first round.

Another factor in all of this is the Pistons gave up what could be a top-10 pick (the protections are 1 thru 4) for a guy who hasn’t made the All-Star Game in three years and has a donut sized hole at their wing positions.

My Grades:
Pistons: F
Clippers: A

 

David Thompson: The Forgotten Superstar

By: Vinny @sailboatstudios

When a writer struggles to find a topic to discuss, he (me) delves into the fictional, comforting arms of alternate history. Where I (you) don’t have to take anything (or anyone) serious. Just like in real-life. But what always bugs me is the lack of imaginations on some what-if scenarios, there’s a crazy gear missing for us lowly internet bloggers. I feel we try to stay within the bounds of reality somewhat, rather than go full “Alien Space Bats.” The countless what-ifs in the NBA are relatively bland. Mostly bogged down in “What-if The Blazers Took KD”, “What-if Player X Played for Team Y”, usually the writer says something along the lines of “well, then team Y wins X championships!” and that’s it. One of the most boring takes I read is “What-if The Celtics selected Kobe Bryant”, as if his five-championships were destined to happen it was just a matter of where. In the summer of ‘96 GM Jerry West did untold of gymnastics to get around the salary cap to sign Shaquille O’Neal and snag Kobe. You think Celtics GM Chris Wallace had the same intelligence? Probably not. Chances are Rick Pitino trades Bryant for one of his former players from Kentucky.

One draft pick going differently doesn’t just alter that lone scenario, it can radically change the thinking of another team. It probably leads to a worser record for Boston in 1997-98 if Pitino gave Kobe enough burn and maybe they’re bad enough to draft Dirk Nowitzki… Kobe and Dirk on the same team? Yup, all plausible, nobody touches this. Most likely because the Celtics have had their fair share of obnoxious success six out of the last seven decades how much can you really add to the mystic of the franchise. If you can’t polish a turd of a franchise into the class of its league then it isn’t an interesting what-if.

Same rules apply to the Los Angeles Lakers. What’s the most intriguing what-if in the history of the franchise? “What-if they drafted Dominque Wilkins in ‘82 over James Worthy?” Meh. So ‘Nique is the third-best player on a couple championship teams while Worthy becomes poor man’s Alex English in Atlanta.

People forget how close the Lakers came to drafting the man Michael Jordan revered, guard David Thompson from North Carolina State. Watching the old grainy footage from the 1970’s, Thompson’s leaping ability reminded me to a younger Blake Griffin before several knee surgeries ruined him. But Thompson didn’t stand at an impressive height, standing at a listed 6’3 1/2, had to have been smaller than 6’2. Watching the “Skywalker” documentary the guests they bring on say the phrase “he played above the rim” six-thousand times. But it was true. Second only to Julius Erving David was the ABA’s main superstar in its twilight years and also gave the Nuggets a sense of legitimacy. Coming in second to Dr. J in a watershed dunk contest, converting the famed “double pump” dunk before Aaron Gordon and Blake Griffin gave us endless clips of them doing it. It’s amazing a dunk contest fielding three of the most electrifying athletes in the ABA did not utilize instant replay.

Sporting a 44-vertical inch leap Thompson earned the moniker “Skywalker” before the movie Star Wars was but a twinkle in George Lucas’ eye. Thompson battled George Gervin and the all mighty Dr. J in the last season of the ABA, joining a star-studded Denver Nuggets roster with Ralph Simpson, Pre-76ers’ Bobby Jones and Dan Issel pushing the franchise into the NBA over the Kentucky Colonels. Rookie David Thompson left his mark on the NBA landscape forever. The man we hardly mention is the main reason there is a Denver Nuggets franchise.

The ABA/NBA from 1975 to 1978 was pretty competitive until cocaine nearly sunk the entire league before two guys with nouns for names saved it. But the middle-seventies don’t get a lot of credit for being deep in the talent pool. David Thompson made two All-NBA First Teams beating out George “Iceman” Gervin and Pete “Pistol” Maravich. In 1976 and ‘77 “Skywalker” bumped off Pete, George, Doc and Walter Davis, and in 1978 nearly lead the Nuggets to the NBA Finals in an MVP caliber season. All of this before he turned twenty-four.

1977-78 was Thompson at his zenith. Battling Iceman for the scoring title, climaxing in an astounding final night of the season – also John Havlicek’s last game – Thompson scored 53 in one half of play, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s record for most points in a quarter (32) and held it for a mere five hours until Gervin broke it (33) – the record now is held by Klay Thompson (37). David finished with 73 and Gervin with 63.

You’d think the James Harden and Russell Westbrook’s of their days would’ve been frontrunners for the MVP, but both fell to Bill Walton… the best center for a two-year period, but played only 58 games.

Here’s a stat-by-stat comparison of Thompson and Gervin…

* I am using Bill Simmons’ infamous “Stocks” statistic, combining steals and blocks.*

Thompson: 51.2 FG%, 8.4 FTA, 27.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.4 stocks, 23.2 PER, 12.7 WS

Gervin: 53.6 FG%, 7.6 FTA, 27.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.7 APG, 3 stocks, 24.7 PER, 12 WS

Neck-and-neck, amirite? Both of their rebounding and assists numbers are great for a shooting-guard. Thompson excelled in getting the free throw line frequently. Thompson was only twenty-three at this time; Gervin was longer in the tooth… an old, useless twenty-five-year old man.

Anyways, here’s Kevin Durant’s statistics from his age twenty-three season from 2012:

KD: 53.5 FG%, 7.6 FTA, 28 PPG, 8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.5 Stocks, 26.2 PER, 12.2 WS – also runner-up in a contested MVP race. 

And just an added bonus here’s Blake Griffin’s age 23 season: 53.8 FG%, 5.3 FTA, 18 ppg, 8.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.8 Stocks, 22.4 PER, 10.6 WS

So in 1978 we had two shooting-guard versions of Kevin Durant in a time when the league undervalued guards that weren’t named “Cousy”, “Oscar” or “Jerry.”

Before Magic Johnson the NBA had Thompson, Walton and Gervin to hang their hats on for the future of the league. Like all things though, it all got complicated real fast. Injuries took Bill Walton’s career; white powder and expectations cratered Thompson, sending the NBA into a tailspin. Dominated by questions like “is the NBA too black?” we couldn’t even begin to comprehend the backwardness of the time. Conservative white fans lusted for a white face to relate to after Bill Walton’s career hit the gutter. There’s a bunch of other stuff that went into the NBA’s decline outside of just race and drug issues; the finals were aired on tape delay until the mid-80s, it came off as if the league was indifferent towards growing the game.

David Thompson was a mere twenty-four-years old when he signed his name on to the piece of paper that made him the richest professional basketball player. 5-years, $800,000 per, amounting to a whopping $4,000,000 – a lot of money back then. It’s the classic case of too much too soon. The story of David Thompson ran similarly to Michael Jordan, except where M.J’s dad had roots in baseball, Thompson’s burned his son’s dreams by telling him to go to NC State because the school offered the family god knows how much money (allegedly). The school gets caught red-handed and is ineligible for the tournament in the season they go undefeated. The next year Thompson (with Tom Burleson and good friend Monte Towe) NC State dethroned John Wooden’s UCLA en route to an NCAA title.

Again… the sky was the limit for Thompson. Selected by the Atlanta Hawks in 1975, he decided to go to the ABA in part because the Nuggets would sign Monte Towe to a 2-year contract. Every year expectations were escalated and Thompson up until his big payday exceeded them.

Alas… it wasn’t meant to be. Thompson’s career ended falling down the stairs inside Studio 54 when the establishment was past its due date.

So what if another organization snagged Thompson? Atlanta… eh, kinda pointless. The team was dead after they traded “Pistol” Pete for a jar of used dental floss. Milwaukee? How would’ve that been possible? Well, L.A flipped the second pick in the ‘75 Draft for Kareem – along with Brian Winters. Say if the Lakers won the lottery and did the Kareem trade only with David Thompson involved. The late-70s Milwaukee teams set the stage for the decade of silver medal finishes in the 1980s (this sounds like sarcasm, but it isn’t)… Don Nelson took over in 1978, the Bucks won 44-games that season with Brian Winters, Marquess Johnson and Alex English coming off the bench. I’ll be favorable to Milwaukee and give them the third pick in the ‘77 Draft (Johnson) and say they retain English in free agency. And believe Milwaukee is such a wasteland, not even a MVP runner-up exciting as Thompson gets any attention.

1979-80 Milwaukee Bucks starters are…

Quinn Buckner
David Thompson
Alex English
Marquess Johnson
Bob Lanier
Woof… prime Thompson, English, and old but still useful Bob Lanier is that good enough to beat the Los Angeles Lakers helmed by the greatest center and point guard in NBA history? Well… no. Thompson’s window for title contention closes around the moment Kareem is paired with Magic. The western conference those days played little defense, the only hope you had in defeating those “Showtime” era teams were to stifle their fast paced offense. Maybe if Milwaukee remained in the West they’d eventually develop the defensive personal to do just that. But Thompson wouldn’t remain productive after injuries and addiction undid him. There’s always a roof for these sorts of scenarios.
But say if the Lakers won that lottery and took and didn’t trade Thompson – either because they simply failed or didn’t want to. It isn’t inconceivable to believe a top flight prospect like Thompson could consider a small-market like Milwaukee beneath him. L.A was going to sign Kareem come hell or high water. It was just a matter of when, not if. Being set to become a free agent in 1976, the Lakers could’ve just taken their chances on signing the big man then rather than trade for him. Back then teams didn’t value draft picks… they were just traceable assets of little value to a team wanting to contend for a championship quickly.
After one season where Thompson wins Rookie of the Year over Phoenix Suns center Alvin Adams, the Lakers fail to contend for the postseason just like in OTL with Kareem, only winning less than 42. The Lakers fully move on from the Jerry West/Wilt Chamberlin era by signing Kareem in free agency; pundits tag the duo of Thompson & Kareem to lead the Lake Show back to prominence. Entering 1976-77, the Lakers have Lucius Allen, David Thompson, Cazzie Russell, Kermit “I Am Neither a Muppet or Political” Washington and Kareem Abdul Jabaar. Coached by Jerry West by the way, the greatest shooting guard arguably up until Kobe Bryant (gimme West over Kobe).
The real Lakers snuck into the West-Finals over  the Golden State Warriors in the second round, before falling to the eventual champion Blazers. People forget how great that team was outside of Bill Walton… Maurice Lucas averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds, might’ve been the second best center at the time but injuries ruined him. Lionel Hollins running the point was alright and Jack Ramsey was more than just a guy who lucked out coaching Bill Walton’s lone healthy season. The Nuggets in OTL were better than the Lakers, featuring Dan Issle, younger Bobby Jones and Paul Silas. For the Lakers Cazzie was a serviceable starter, but past his prime in the early-70s when on the Knicks; Kermit was tragically a bust; and Walton was Kareem’s equal before 1978.
In ten games against Kareem, Walton averaged 18.1 points, 15.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.7 blocks, came in second to Kareem in MVP voting in the ‘77 season, the next year he beat not just him, but also Gervin and Thompson in a season where Walton played only fifty-eight games(!). While I wouldn’t have bestowed the honor on to Walton that year, I have to give credit where credit is due, Walton was awesome and it’s a damn shame what happened to him.
No changes in the 1976-‘77 season Portland still stands atop of the world.
1977-‘78 and 1978-‘79 seasons are where we get the idea the NBA was at a nadir. With the subsequent fall of the Trail Blazers the Warriors, and Philadelphia too dysfunctional to return to the finals with their current core, the East became open to teams we wouldn’t consider led by the kind of superstar we’re used to. The Seattle SuperSonics were led by point guard Gus Williams, Marvin Webster and sixth Man Dennis Johnson; the Spurs soldiered on (in the East) with George Gervin, Larry Kenon and James Silas; Denver in OTL with David Thompsonshould’ve made it to the finals but fell to Seattle in six-games.
The Lakers were an Erving Johnson away from being serious contenders. Kareem was still an MVP caliber player no doubt, playing alongside Jamaal Wilkes, Adrian “asshole” Dantley, And Norm Nixon. 1978, 1979 are the two-years the Lakers could’ve absolutely won… even though I’m sure they’d trade Dantley midway thru ‘79 like OTL for coked out Spencer Haywood because he was that big of an asshole. Throw in David and it’s basically the greatest team of the that decade, right?
I don’t know what playing alongside Kareem does for Thompson’s career, or if the influences in L.A would prevent or accelerate his fall from grace. The Great Western Forum doubled as a nightclub in those days and god knows the debauchery that went on inside. We probably remember him more than we do now. Los Angeles still drafts Magic easing the pain of losing Thompson… if there was time to reflect on such a thing.
He probably hangs around well into the early phases of the “Showtime” era, maybe even until 1984 when James Worthy is selected as his replacement in 1982. 1983 was the last gasp Thompson’s career, an All-Star for the SuperSonics OTL. Can you imagine a 1983-‘84 Lakers squad with Magic, Worthy, Wilkes, McAdoo, Thompson (I’m butterflying the events of Studio 54 in ‘84), Kareem… is that enough to get by the Celtics? Who inbounds the pass Henderson stole in Game 2 when the Celtics were on the verge of going to L.A down 2-0? Anybody but Worthy equals a successful inbounds. Do the Lakers still win with an aging Kareem in ‘85, ‘87 and ‘88 or does Magic coast afterwards and squander his potential without the needed kick in the pants? Does what happened to Magic after losing the close series happen to Bird instead?
Despite the turbulent career Thompson managed two appearances on All-NBA First teams, one second team and managed an election to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
I don’t know if you change one thing in David’s life does it butterfly almost everything from OTL… I do know he was a great player and has been unjustly forgotten.
For Thompson his story does have a happy ending. He found Jesus. Fixed his relationship with his wife and kids. A silver lining considering those who experienced the same issues had darker endings.

Why Rodney Hood Isn’t Coming To Boston

By Vinny, @sailboatstudios on Twitter

It’s that time of year again. Names appear in trade rumors – almost as if pulled out of a hat at random. Kemba Walker, Lou Williams, DeAndre Jordan, George Hill all linked to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The sexiest names attached to the team with, seemingly, the most to offer, (Brooklyn pick) while it remains uncertain the value of the Nets pick, it’s still important and an enviable asset. The issue of course is, using it to acquire guard George Hill, an older guard on a massive contract is an overpay. The sad fact is Tristan Thompson cratering in production ruins any possibility of a Cavaliers blockbuster deal, if T.T was the players he was last season Cleveland absolutely could’ve been in the running for somebody like Jordan or Gasol. But now Thompson is a gigantic albatross, if you’re rebuilding there’s no reason to take on Thompson’s contract and not receive a lottery pick in return is borderline lunacy.

In a league where teams don’t have necessary cap space or even digestible contracts to make the idea of a transaction possible, teams in contention already have an established point guard (Milwaukee, Boston, New Orleans); don’t have the assets (San Antonio, Cleveland). So all there’s left are the bottom of the playoff standings, Philadelphia, New York, and Utah. While Orlando and Phoenix can trump an offer of Frankie Smokes and Michael Beasley 2.0, it doesn’t make complete sense for them to sabotage their chances at a high draft pick for two Kemba Walker seasons.

Course, the issues in Boston aren’t the quality of play from their starters, but the uncertainty of Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Finding offense outside of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford is a tall order, when Jaylen Brown gets going the Celtics are unstoppable but he too suffers from inconstancy. According to Marc Stein, of The New York Times, Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood reportedly is on the market. Hood is a classic case of a “He did well his first season, everybody expected him to just keep improving but he stagnated,” at age 25 Hood is no longer a prospect and likely this is the best he’s going to be. Buried under Donovan MitchellMania, Hood’s been solid this season, a career-high in three-point percentage (38.6) and points (16.7). Hood fancies himself a starter and due for a handsome payday. I suppose we cannot blame him. Garry Harris (4-Years, $84 million) and Tim Hardaway (4-Years, $71 million) are either in or slightly below Hood’s level, but this upcoming summer is a terrible time to be a free agent.

So the question, in my mind, is why do the Jazz want to trade him. And more importantly, as a Celtics fan, why would they want Marcus Smart? Why are the Jazz suddenly interested in taking on Smart’s $11,345,050 cap hold for this summer? I get it, their seasons over. But I’d rather have Hood leave for nothing than try to swap him for Smart. If Rozier is thrown in then I’d listen. Rozier isn’t a knockdown shooter, he’s shooting a below-average percentage, if you take out his one-for-seven performance against New Orleans a few nights ago, his percentage is a more respectable 35.5%. The kicker could be Rozier is under team-control until 2019 – and maybe longer since he’s very cheap to hang on to because he was drafted later than Smart.

The Celtics tried to trade Marcus Smart last off-season to make room for Gordon Hayward, but the pickings were so slim they moved Avery Bradley instead. It takes two to tango, Ainge knows how difficult it is to find a willing partner. Don’t hold your breath for Ainge to work his magic in the next month, it’s more likely he uses the DPE to pick up recently bought out Greg Monroe, Tyreke Evans, or if we’re talking bottom of the barrel: Mario Herzonja. It’s easier to just add a player relatively for free than to orchestrate a trade around players below the targeted players value.

But, just for fun, here’s my proposed trade to the Utah Jazz if Dennis Lindsey is reading this for some reason:

Utah: Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, 2019 Celtics 1st

Boston: Rodney Hood, Raul Neto

Vinny’s All-Stars, 2018, East Edition

Voting for the All-Star game on the NBA.com website is restricting. Plain and simple. You have to choose two guards, three frontcourt players and you absolutely cannot pick a player out of his position. If you cannot decide between DeMar DeRozan and Victor Oladipo and you want to cheat and vote for one as a small forward you can’t. It’s against the rules for NBA.com to acknowledge the NBA uses three-guard lineups. To make things worse my vote for Al Horford for starting center over Joel Embiid won’t be validated, fans susceptible to the bubbling personality omit the fact Embiid shoots under 30% from three and hasn’t played 1,000 minutes yet this season.

The East is an easier conference to nail down your starters. There are two locks, one “The stats don’t show it, but you should be an All-Star” and one starting center that’s not named Joel Embiid. LeBron and Giannis stand as the people you cannot leave out of the conversation. There is no reason for James to be inserted in as the starter of the East All-Stars isn’t anything beyond “He’s LeBron, he’s the best and hasn’t aged.” There isn’t much to talk about when it comes to LeBron’s greatness. He’s the best player in the world.

 

Starting Center: Al Horford

For all the MVP buzz Kyrie Irving’s received, we should also note Horford has a legitimate candidacy. Though the basic stats don’t show it, the thirty-one-year old Horford upped his game and the play of those around him. In just one season Isaiah Thomas went from a fringe All-Star to a top-5 player for the 2016-17 season. In just a few short months Kyrie Irving’s been transformed to a team-friendly player. None of this is coincidental. At age 28, Horford attempted only 65 three-point attempts. This season he’s taken 136 and made 43.4% of them. A testament to his strong work ethic, always improving himself.

Horford proves he’s still the unheralded superstar from his Atlanta glory days, stepping above Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis. Both Horford and Embiid have outstanding net ratings of 8.7 (K.P is 1.7), Al’s 5.2 BPM ranks higher than Embiid’s 2.9. The Celtics are on pace for sixty-wins, while the Sixers continue to fight New York, Indiana and Detroit for the eighth spot. Yet, superficially will demand Embiid start the All-Star Game. Horford will never get his due, will never get the respect he deserves for elevating Kyrie Irving in ways not even LeBron could. It’s a damn shame fans are hellbent on making the All-Star event “fun” not realizing Horford is pretty fun too.

 

Power Forward: LeBron James

Yeah, he’s a four on my roster because I feel like it. It doesn’t really matter where Giannis and LeBron fall on the roster, just as long as they’re on it as starters. If the Cavaliers could get their act together, James has a strong case to make for him being the MVP in a year there seems to be no front-runner. 27.3 PPG, 8.8 APG, 8 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG it’s hard to fathom how every year he’s somehow found ways to get better even at his age.

There is a time and place to talk about why the Cavaliers have struggled and LeBron’s role in it. But as a lone individual, James is an unstoppable force that continues to feast upon the hopes and dreams of Eastern Conference foes. We seen what he can do by himself in the playoffs last season even with a Cavs squad not jelling. What else can I say about him other than he’s the third-best player in the history of NBA.

Small Forward: Giannis Antetkoumpo

Just like LeBron, Giannis carries the corpse a fledgling roster unable to create when he’s not on the floor. And unlike LeBron, it isn’t Giannis’s fault. The “Greek Freak” became more than an Internet phenomenon, graduating to otherworldly status as. He’s done everything for Milwaukee short of cloning himself. An unheard of comparison for Giannis this year is 2015-16 Kawhi Leonard and 2010-11 Kevin Durant. Despite Giannis’s inability to shoot long range he still converts 54.6% of his field goal attempts, averaging 28.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 417 of his shot attempts coming from the restricted-area. 245 shot attempts coming from anywhere but in the paint. Just like Ben Simmons, Giannis is limited by an inability to extend beyond his comfort zone. But he possesses so much skill it almost doesn’t matter. Unlike Simmons, Giannis’s face does not turn green when forced to heave a mid-or-longer range shot.

His development is right up there with Kevin Durant (2010-11) and Kawhi Leonard (2015-16) were at the point Giannis is right now. In my opinion, K.D in 2011 was either the second or third best player in the league at the time (Behind Howard and maybe Kobe). Kawhi was second best (in my opinion) to the unanimous MVP Stephen Curry in 2016.

Of course, Giannis is the better athlete and the least polished of the three. Out of the 245 shot attempts outside of the paint, Giannis made only 78. He shoots a poor 28.5% on above the break three attempts and smarter teams like Boston, San Antonio, Cleveland, etc, know how to get him away from his bread and butter. Regardless, the Bucks are a hodgepodge of pieces that are either slightly above-or-below average. Prospects such as Jabari Parker and Thon Maker remain in an enigma. Head coach Jason Kidd looks overmatched at times, overthinking and under-thinking in situational spots that aren’t as complicated as they seem.

With an ORtg of 120, Giannis ranks 17th overall in the league. Giannis owns a higher usage rate than Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis. As of now he’s a step below then for the MVP race. If the Bucks can win somewhere close to fifty-games perhaps he’ll be everyone’s favorite Cinderella Pick.

 

Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan

DeRozan beats out Victor Oladipo by a hair! This is the toughest decision I’ve had to make on the East ballot. For everything DeRozan is, Oladipo is arguably better because he isn’t the same liability on the defensive side of the court. But I went with DeRozan because how crucial he’s been to the best Raptors squad of the decade. When the season kicked off, All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry stumbled out the gates, first nine games he shot a poor 37.6% from the field. In most instances when your $33 million a year PG falters you’re not winning, but DeRozan kept the Raptors heads above water at 5-4.

DeRozan’s never been one to extend his game beyond being an unbelievable finisher at the rim, over the summer he’s become less reluctant to shoot longer-range shots. Last year, DeRozan attempted 124 threes… this season 137 making 35%. With the steadily declining USG% of Lowry, more emphasis on DeRozan has been put on the offensive end. Shooting a career-high in three-point percentage, averaging the highest assists per game (5.0) and he’s doing this with a turnover rate of 9.6. Which is insanely low considering how much he has the ball. Last twenty-three games, the Raptors won sixteen, with the help of DeRozan scorching the earth 26.9 PPG, 4 RPG, 5.3 APG, 48.6 FG%, 38.6 3P% and an offensive rating of 121.

Throughout the season, DeRozan’s been money, as usual, in the RA, 64.9% on 171 attempts. In 2016-17 DeRozan made 41.2% of his mid-range shots, this year he’s upped it to 46.6%. Shooting 18 of 44 on corner three-attempts, this shows DeRozan isn’t afraid as he was in years past to shoot the ball. In the clutch, DeRozan averages 4.6 points on 45.3% shooting tight situations. He’s an amazing player, possibly the best (pure) two-guard in the NBA.

 

Point Guard: Kyrie Irving

The stats are the same as last year. So why the hell is he getting all this praise? Well, it’s the behind the scenes makeup that makes this season from Irving special. Prior to Boston, Irving’s reputation was of one of a selfish gunner. He didn’t have the right mindset to get others involved, like Mike Conley or the traditional point guards of years past. The assists totals don’t show it, but watching Kyrie this season you’d be hard pressed to argue he hasn’t tried to get others involved and forgone stats for victories. This job is difficult when you take into account he’s sharing the court with inexperienced youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart who couldn’t throw the ball into the Atlantic Ocean.

The case for Irving to start the All-Star is purely above statistics, though he’s been very reliable in the clutch. His fourth quarter heroics rivaling fan-favorite Isaiah Thomas. 48.1% from the field, 4 PPG in the clutch, a 119 ORtg and 8.6 Netrg. A remarkable amount of his scoring in the clutch comes unassisted (73.7%) meaning he an act for creating for himself. Whether it be around the basket or jump shot.

Although he isn’t the best Boston Celtics player, he’s the most compelling and deserves the praise he’s received over the course of the season.

 

Written By: Vinny, @Sailboatstudios on Twitter

The Post Up Proposition

It is no secret that the Celtics second unit has struggled to score at times when they do not have the help of Kyrie Irving or Al Horford initiating the offense. This occasional lack of output is most likely attributed to Gordon Hayward being hurt, because with Hayward, Brad Stevens would be able to stagger the three stars the Celtics have while still being able to regulate their minutes. But since Hayward won’t be coming back (at least I don’t think) any time soon, I am going to look at a way the Celtics can improve the scoring from the second unit with the players that are currently available.

Jayson Tatum, while not frequently used in the post, has been very effective in the 23 post ups he has had. Among players with 23 or more post ups, Tatum was near or at the top in a few categories such as: 3rd in points per possession, FT frequency, getting fouled 30.4% percent of the time, a 0.0% turnover frequency, meaning that he has yet to turn the ball over out of the post! Although it’s a small sample size, these numbers are very promising and impressive.

Tatum’s college numbers were even better. While this is also a small sample size, he led the NCAA among high major players with at least 30 attempts in PPP on post ups(1.303 PPP). For context, Draymond Green has 11 more post ups than Tatum and his turnover frequency is at 29.4%, which is about 10 turnovers in 34 tries. A markedly better player in the same scenario is apparently making poorer decisions with the basketball than Tatum is according to the stats. While Tatum is not near the top of the FG% category, shooting 50% out of post-ups still impressive because of how high the level of difficulty on some of these shots are.

He unleashed a few beauties in summer league, and even though it was just summer league, he made them look so easy that I was sure we would see Tatum posting up when a smaller guard was switched on to him. For example, this fadeaway over a rotation player on the Spurs actual team, Bryn Forbes.

Or perhaps this gorgeous spin fade over Kyle Kuzma, again a player who isn’t just a summer league scrub:

So, between the 50% shooting, and the free throw frequency, Tatum has a staggering 65.2% scoring frequency even with the number of fadeaways he is shooting. 2 out of every 3 times he is posting up he either gets a bucket or gets to the charity stripe. When the Celtics need points, they should attempt to go for such an efficient way to get points.

Now we must apply this to a real game scenario. Let me take you to the Pistons game on December 10th. This one sticks out because Tatum was being guarded by Ish Smith in the post and he was not getting touches. In the second quarter the Celtics were having a rough go of it on the offensive end. From the 9:54 mark until the end of the quarter, the Celtics managed only 7 points. The game did not get out of hand because the Pistons only scored 16 points in the quarter and the Celtics defense saved them once again. Often times, through a switch on a DHO or PnR with Shane Larkin, the 5’9” Ish Smith ended up on Tatum, and Tatum was posting him up but not getting the ball. As opposed to the shots they were taking, like a Shane Larkin pull up jumper, a Marcus Smart turnaround, or a fancy Rozier layup (even though I love them), maybe run the offense through Tatum, get him in a switch, and feed him in the mid or low post.. I understand this is not in the direction of the modern NBA play style but it beats watching an average to below average shooting lineup taking too many three pointers.

The Celtics have collected many players that fit the modern mold physically for today’s game, but not everyone has to try and beat the Warriors at their own game when it comes to play style. Sometimes it’s just best to let players do what they’re best at. For Jayson Tatum, that means getting buckets in a multitude of ways, including in the post.

Written by: Lucas Gaynor
Twitter: @LucasGaynor_3

The Fall of Jae Crowder

Time after time Jae Crowder remained the unsung hero of the Boston Celtics. Whether it was during the 48-win season, or his underrated 2016-17 campaign, where he shot an incredibly efficient 46.3% from the field and 39.8% from three. Of course the now twenty-seven year old forward isn’t without his flaws. Since 2015, possibly due to J.R Smith’s cheap-shot which tore Crowder’s ACL, his defense ended every season in the toilet. Especially in 2017, ending the postseason with a defensive rating of 114. Regardless, last season was Crowder’s best. Sporting a career high in offensive rating (118), a net rating of 7.1. Crowder reaches his ceiling as a fringe All-Star, three-and-D wing. Shooting 72.8% in the restricted area. 38% on above the break threes. 46.2% on corner three-point attempts, the acquisition of Jae Crowder was an underrated gain for Cleveland when the blockbuster Isaiah Thomas/Kyrie Irving trade happened. In the Finals LeBron succumbed to exhaustion having to guard both Durant and Draymond. Cleveland needed an extra wing that could give James a breather, their options last season were limited to Shumpert and J.R Smith.

But a truly awful summer, in where he lost his mother to cancer, Crowder came into camp in a funk and never looks to be clicking on offense since suiting up for Cleveland. 39.7 field goal percentage, 30.3 three-point percentage and a P.E.R of 9.8! He’s making only 62% of his attempts in the restricted area and 28.3% of above the break three-point attempts. Crowder’s dreadful play isn’t limited to offense. Last season, Crowder brought down 5.8 rebounds per game, this season it’s fallen to 3.3. In contrast, backup forward Jeff Green is emerging as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. The Underachievers averages for this season are a solid 11 PPG – 3.4 RPG – 1.4 APG – 1 Stocks, 66.4% in the RA and 39% from above the break threes. Basically, Green is giving Cleveland 85% of Jae Crowder’s best year of his career at the age of thirty-two.

Their per 100s, Green vs Crowder’s 2016-17 line are also similar:
JC99: 21.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, 2.1 Stocks (blocks + steals), 118 ORtg
Green: 24.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 2.1 Stocks, 117 ORtg

This is without a doubt a lost year for Crowder. Completely understandable given the circumstances. Still, he’s only twenty-seven, in a fantastic contract and can be moved. How far his star has fallen is yet to be determined. While writing the first draft of this piece I pitched a deal between Cleveland and New York, with the Knicks taking Crowder and whatever salary flotsam and in return they’d get either Michael Beasley (or Doug McDermott) and Jarrett Jack to replace Jose Calderon as the backup point guard. I needed to put my pencil down and reflect at what I just said… Jae Crowder is a step below Michael Beasley… MICHAEL BEASLEY?!

But, as always, I am not wrong. The man i distinctly remember wearing Spongbob Squarepants underwear while at Kansas State, revamped his career over the last three-seasons. We point to the last month or so of his run as a Knick, but the reinvention of Beasley’s been going on since 2015. In the last 110 games, played for the Rockets, Bucks before ultimately the Knicks, Beasley shot 52.6% from the field, averaging 10.9 points and 4.2 rebounds in that span. His per 100s over the last three seasons are apparently the stuff of legends, overall the numbers are 31 PPG, 12 RPG, 2.9 APG and 2.8 Stocks.

This season Beasley’s shooting an incredible 69.5% from RA, and while he isn’t the three-point threat Crowder was last season, he shoots 75% when he attempts a shot taken very, very early into the shot-clock (24-22); and 62.5% on shots take with zero dribbles. In contrast, Crowder shoots 58.3% very, very early into the shot-clock and 42.5% on zero dribbles.

Course, Beasley isn’t someone who’ll turn the tide in series against Golden State. I recommend caution in sounding the alarm on Cleveland’s hopes of going to a fourth straight finals, they should look into moderate improvements to make their path through the East less rocky. Against the Celtics, even with the Green Team thumping the Cavaliers from tip-off to the buzzer, shooters like J.R Smith and Kyle Korver struck fear into my heart as guys who can jump start any comeback. Cleveland may need an extra jumper cable if they want to bust through Washington and Boston, and maybe even Toronto.

The defensive downside to Beasley aren’t a kidding matter. But neither are Korver and Smith’s. Perhaps if you throw the former No. 2 overall pick into the LeBron washing machine he’ll come out on the other side better than ever. In Kyle Korver’s first thirty-five games next to James, he shot an incredible 49% from downtown and 48.2% on catch & shoot. Of course, Korver is one of the best long range shooters of all-time, but regardless, the same can happen to Beasley (or McDermott) if on this Cavs squad.

With Isaiah Thomas back in the fold the Cavaliers should get better in the coming weeks. With I.T, LeBron and Love all healthy come April the East playoffs should be a cakewalk for them. However, Love and Thomas have suffered their fair share of injuries in the past, perhaps it be wise to add another bullet in the chamber. It’s a damn shame how far Jae Crowder’s sunk in such a short time. There isn’t a doubt in my mind he’ll bounce back next season… but the Cavaliers won’t be title contenders next season.

Three of the Most Interesting RFAs: Niko, Favors, Randle

Players get paid based off past performance and the leverage they have to negotiate. Average starters in the cap spike era (2015, 2016) like Evan Turner, Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov made more than their wildest dreams thanks to just solid production and teams having more money then they knew what to do with. Fast forward to last summer, better players hitting free agency, Kentavious Cardwell-Pope and JaMychal Green are left dangling until the end of the free agent frenzy, due to a competitive teams not having enough cap space to sign either player. Eventually it was the Lakers tossing KCP a bone worth $17,745,894, for one season, and Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green returned to Memphis for $16,400,000 for two seasons; signed on September 27. Turner, Deng and Mozgov combine for $206,000,000 for twelve-years; all sighing on four-years contracts.

Teams aren’t smarter. The pocketbook’s just been somewhat taken away them. To observe the free agent class of 2018 is very murky, probably so unclear not many teams will allow their restricted free agents to hit the auction block. Of course there’s the top tier, LeBron, Durant, Chris Paul, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins will definitely get a big payday come July 1st. But the second, and third tiers aren’t sexy to the casual fans. A bunch of underachievers, some enjoying a renaissance.

Forward Nikola Mirotic of the Chicago Bulls isn’t getting consideration for the Most Improved Player award, already Victor Oladipo’s name is being engraved on to it. But for a player like Mirotic, one who rose to prominence in the professional ranks, for a short time in his first year rivaled Andrew Wiggins for the Rookie of the Year trophy (which Wiggins won), fell hard soon after. Injuries and inconsistency on the court plagued his career, falling apart on defense and starting only fifteen games in 2016-17. While Mirotic is on the books for 2018-19, for $12,500,000, the Bulls were rumored not to pick up his team-option once it came up this upcoming summer. Instability rocked the franchise from top to bottom. Niko got popped by forward Bobby Portis during a practice and the Bulls sank even lower, becoming the laughingstock of the NBA.

Somehow, even if it was for a short time, the Bulls leadership righted the ship stringing along ten wins in their last fifteen contests. Portis and Niko are having bounce back seasons, the aforementioned Portis just had his team-option for next season picked up. The two have so far put their differences behind them, at least for the moment. A career-best in field goal (49.5) and three-point (46.3) percentages, points (18.4) and rebounds (7.1), assists (1.5) Niko raises the Bulls’ plus/minus rating to 7.7 versus -9.1 when he’s off the floor. Though he hasn’t backed off his willingness to waive his no-trade clause. He’s on a very manageable deal, for the hypothetical team that does trade for Niko they’d inherit his Bird Rights’. You cannot say Niko will continue to produce at this level for the rest of the season. Regardless, this is a nice story and a possible Godsend to the Chicago Bulls organization. Possibly this gives them the opportunity to sell incredibly high on him.

If Portis and Niko have a run-in again, or if some other acts of shenanigans then maybe the Bulls do him a solid and let him out of his deal early. You think I’m crazy for not ruling this out? I think it’s more like Portis decks Mirotic again, than it is that Niko plays at this rate.

Playoff bound teams such as Detroit and Milwaukee could use a stretch power forward next to their rim protecting center or otherworldly franchise star. I’m picturing a Jabari Parker for Nikola Mirotic swap in my head right now.

 

In the great state of Utah, the leadership of the Jazz franchise has been impeccable since the heartbreaking loss of Gordon Hayward. Donovan Mitchell has emerged as a possible Rookie of the Year candidate, and Gilbert Arenas 2.0. Big man Derrick Favors is at his healthiest since 2014. Though starting in all thirty-six contests, Favors mostly goes against opposing teams bench units, with great success. A career-high 55.4%, he’s upped his free throw percentage considerably (73.1), his splits are an admirable 12.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.5 APG and 0.9 BPG. Favors doesn’t do one particular thing outstanding, he’s solid on the glass, around the basket and doesn’t kill you on defense. He isn’t DeAndre Jordan or even Greg Monroe on the defensive glass, but Favors can roll to the rim, take advantage of smaller defenders. His 37.1% off of shots taken more than five feet from the basket is piss poor. It makes it even more difficult to see his role in the modern NBA. Favors isn’t a floor spacer, but he isn’t a lane-clogger… if that makes any sense at all.

Derrick Favors without a doubt is a starter quality player at the center position… just not with Rudy Gobert by his side. While it’s understandable, the situation in Utah is very murky. The players the team values the most are Gobert and Mitchell, Favors is a nice guy they wouldn’t mind keeping but hardly want to push stacks of unmarked bills in front of to keep him around. The duo of Favors-Gobert is -5.9 points worse off; -8.3 in +/-, per 100; while the Favors-Jerebko duo scores in at +6.1, their +/- came in at 4.4.

The reasonable thing to do is to have Favors come off the bench. But his status and ego block Utah from doing this, so they’ll have to make good with an awkward situation. A tumultuous December, losing seven of their last nine since Rudy Gobert left the lineup with a sprained PCL and bone bruise in his tibia sustained in Boston. In the six games without his frontcourt mate, Favors averages 14.4 points and shot 56.3%. Utah’s struggles to find a cohesive starting lineup without Gobert going back-and-forth between starting Jonas Jerebko and Duke guard Rodney Hood. The recent stretched out the chances of a surprise playoff run to rest, the Jazz remain 3.5 games behind New Orleans and Portland for the last two playoff spots.

Out of the possible destinations for Favors in free agency, I’d like to see him in Atlanta playing next to John Collins. It’ll be hard to pinpoint the worth of Favors this summer, depending on his statistical output and success of the Jazz he could find himself in a lukewarm market that isn’t interested in an old school center that cannot rebound or defend at an elite level.

 

The last player I want to talk about is Lakers forward Julius Randle, fourth year from Kentucky, the former seventh overall pick in the overrated 2014 Draft enjoyed some statistical success, though it’s done little to move the needle for those uncertain whether he’s someone you break the bank for. The positives for Randle is he’s shooting 58.3% on two-pointers. His 13.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game off the bench is good for Sixth Man of the Year consideration if the Lakers as a team were better.

His per 36 numbers are even more impressive 20.9 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.7 SPG and 1.2 BPG projections him as a poor man’s Blake Griffin who can’t go to his right hand at all. Here’s Blake’s per 36 numbers from his 2013-14 season in Los Angeles: 24.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG. That same year Griffin hit 70.8% of his 651 attempts in the restricted area; Randle is currently hitting 70.5% of his 217 attempts.

On the last year of his rookie contract the Lakers are in a tough spot if their big plans don’t come into fruition. Scheduled to become a RFA in 2018, the Lakers can make a qualifying offer to Randle for $5,564,134, the cap hit would be worth $12,447,726 for the 2018-19 season. With younger, probably better players like Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma under team-control for a longer period of time and are cheaper alternatives to retaining Randle, Los Angeles holds all the leverage in the negotiations. His net rating this season’s been unimpressive (-2.9), his best month of the season came in December, 14.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists, though it didn’t lead to team success. Though the Lakers offensive rating goes up +3.3 with him on the floor versus with him off.

Randle has shown promise as a ball-handler in transition, 1.11 points per possession in that play type, and though he doesn’t run a lot of pick-and-roll as the ball-handler the small sample shows promise as Randle’s PPP is at 1.50; last season it came in at 0.86 on only a slightly larger sample size. While these are reasons for optimism, teams are prone to leaving Randle open as he converts on only 38.6% of his wide open attempts. In previous years Randle showed a reliance on “hero-ball”, frequently taking shots in isolation when his usual bread and butter was available. In 2015-16 Randle sported a ridiculous isolation frequency of 21.2 percent, almost doubling the unanimous MVP Curry’s. And registered in the 30.2 percentile. This year Randle’s cut down on the poor shot selection. Randle shoots 67.7% on attempts taken touching the ball for less than two seconds, suggesting he’s an uptempo kind of player. His 70.3% shooting on tight coverage (2-4 feet) suggest he can get to his spots whenever he wants. He also shoots an insane 76.6% on shots taken very early in the shot clock (22-18).

Julius Randle is a fascinating player to watch from afar. I doubt we’ll see him in a Lakers uniform in the future, or if he can carve himself out a starting job on a decent team. Like Favors, Randle’s also missed his preferred era by two decades. Now he’s a 6’9 center because he can’t defend threes and doesn’t have a jump shot to succeed as a modern day four. Hence why he’s coming off the bench for a bottom-feeder like the Lakers.

 

Pre-Houston Comeback Ranking of Celtics Bench Players

Since the streak ended the night before Thanksgiving the Celtics have fallen back down to earth. Going 13-8 since November 22nd, their defense morphing into last year’s inconsistent, and sometimes horrendous, iteration. The wear and tear of a long, demanding season is beginning to manifest itself in players like Al Horford, his legs look tired, the lift to his jump shot is heavier than before. But Horford is still an All-Star caliber player, him and Kyrie have worked together like peanut butter and jelly. There isn’t a lot of reasons for optimism outside of Boston’s starters. The delusional lens fans have been wearing since the sixteen-game win streak gave us the impression the backups were better than they actually are. Marcus Smart offense is akin to eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii. Terry Rozier is an average three-point shooter, however has a very below-average field goal percentage that makes him a borderline liability on offense as well. Marcus Morris cannot stay on the floor, a nagging knee injury is likely to sideline him for the ninth time in ten games.

Until Lou Williams, Tyreke Evans or Greg Monroe are bought out, this is the core of the Celtics bench that’ll make or break games like Wednesday night in Charlotte. Terry Rozier kept the offense afloat, scoring 15 points off the bench, Shane Larkin chipped in 11.

Marcus Smart won’t rank high on this list due to his everlasting woes on offense. His shenanigans win us more games than loses, an injury to Smart drastically changes the outlook of the Celtics identity as a fight you tooth and nail team. His time in green could be up this summer, as he will demander starter quality money he is not worth.

The best player on the Celtics bench this season so far has been none other than German center Daniel Theis. Yeah, the skinny white guy. I can’t decide whether he was signed to be a Kelly Olynyk or Amir Johnson replacement. Theis played for the Brose Bamberg of the EuroLeague, averaging 9.6 points in thirty-games. The stopgap center carved a role for himself on the Celtics while he did not have the body to go against the strong builds of Dwight Howard or Steven Adams. Theis proves himself useful against thinner, second unit quality centers, the Bulls is his ideal matchup. Robin Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, tall, but not athletic enough to protect the rim, Theis put out his first professional double-double, fifteen rebounds, ten points, eight of them coming from the charity stripe.

Brad Stevens tries to stretch Theis’ range, averaging nearly a three-point attempt in every game since November 25; though he’s converted on only 11.8% of them. In that span he’s also averaged nearly a block and an assist a game, an above-average defensive rating of 101. A positive net rating of 0.7 (Amir Johnson’s dead tired legs still chugged a way better net rating, 8.0, than the younger Theis). Theis is high on this list because of one key factor: consistency. You know what you’re getting with Daniel. In November he scores 16 second change points, in December… yup, 16. When the Celtics were kicking ass all of November, Theis’ net rating when playing at home, 13.4; in the up and down month of December… 11.2. Good, ole’ dependable Daniel Theis. That all being said he’s not coming back to the Celtics next summer. Either he’ll play himself out of the rotation somehow, or he’ll exceed expectations and get a contract offer too rich for Ainge’s taste.

The fact Theis is our best player on the bench, the only one not named Marcus Smart, that can consistently give a good effort on defense and score somewhat shows how flawed this team really is. The sixteen-game win streak wasn’t just a testament to the coaching brilliance of Brad Stevens, it potential gave Boston home court in at least two playoff rounds for what’s otherwise a 48-win team.

 

Coming in second is the Louisville Weirdo Terry “I Still Call Him ‘Tito’” Rozier. Possibly the next Avery Bradley, only a better ball-handler, and not the on-ball defender AB was in Boston. Rozier is a league average three-point shooter, as stated before. Bradley spent the summer of 2012 rehabbing a separated shoulder, converted on only 31.7% of his three-point attempts. But his game was right around the same place Rozier’s was in at the time. Bradley’s offensive rating in 2012-13 was 101.6; Rozier an even 101.

Sometimes you can trust Rozier to create on offense, unlike Smart, the spurts of promise that look genuine, an actual identity for what Rozier’s ceiling can be appears. For Smart he’ll stumble to he basket and side-rim a desperate finger-roll, and one every twenty-games he’ll zing the ball across court like a bulkier John Stockton. Rozier proves he can be competent… more often than Smart at least, and shoots 39.8% on catch and shoot threes. Over the years Rozier shown the ability to go coast-to-coast, immense ball-control whereas before his handling was similar to rookie year Jaylen Brown.

The ceiling for Rozier is higher than Marcus Smart, he’ll never be able to lockdown James Harden. It’s games like the one on Thursday night that make you forget just how maddeningly flawed Smart is. The poor shot selection, inability to finish at the rim, to jump higher, the incessant flopping that can cause the Celtics games. The relatively small cap hold makes Smart’s return for 2018-19 inevitable. Somehow the fourth-year guard managed to take steps backwards from last season. Field-goal percentage (33.8%) is worse than any other year in his short career, keep in mind he is two-years removed from season he shot 34.8 fg% and 25.3 3p%. Fewer free-throw attempts (2.4) since his rookie season. The only shot made consistently last season was from the corners, 41.9% in 2016-17. This year he’s shooting 26.3%. 30.3% on catch and shoot threes.

So why is Smart ranked number 3? Because his on-ball defense is better than Avery Bradley and his daily shenanigans inexplicably help Boston than hurt them. The same stuff I rally against, I have to admit has its uses. If you’re able to convince a referee a slender body one Harden is able to knock your tank sized frame down is a valuable trait. AND! Despite all of this, all of this noise, Smart’s net rating is +7.1.

But let’s not fool ourselves. Marcus Smart against playoff caliber teams almost always flounders because of better coaching, personal, and the magic of number 36 isn’t a factor. What’s Smart’s role for the playoffs? Is he going to take 5 three-point attempts like he nearly averages this season? Can he run an offense, or is he a better off-ball shooting guard than on-ball guard?

 

Coming in forth is Marcus Morris. He should be one on this list, but nagging health issues knocks him a couple spots.

During Boston’s game against the Warriors Stevens began the contest with Jayson Tatum guarding Kevin Durant, and the rook got cooked on simple zipper action. Stevens put Morris on KD and suddenly a game where he seemed destined to go for forty, instead scores only 24.

He’s a better reserve player that plays starter minutes than an actual starter. Morris’ net rating as a starter, -2.7, and off the bench, 4.4. Nights like when against the Rockets is what Boston want from their stretch forward on a daily basis, a ten point, four rebound and a block, in the second half he acted as the spark that ignited the powder keg to the comeback. Marcus Smart is the “King of the Lost Cause,” quipped cleverly by Ryan Bernardoni, but so is Morris. Except Morris can nail outside shots, can score in isolation and MAYBE guard LeBron (don’t hold me to that claim).

Move over Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, there’s a new set of M&M Boys taking over the sports landscape.

 

The Rest: Shane Larkin, Abdul Nader, Guerschon Yabusele…

Larkin: a energy scorer

Abdul Nader: Ceiling is an empty scorer

Yabusele: built like a tank, that’s all I know about him.