Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mamadou N'Diaye

At The Cauldron, a look at the biggest player in college basketball.

Evan Fournier

At RealGM, a look at how Orlando continues to find free money on the ground.

SMU Basketball

For SMU, everything is harder the second time around. They were one of the surprise teams in the country last season, emerging from out of nowhere to finish with a 24-10 record and a trip to the NIT championship game. With most of the team coming back and one of the top recruiting classes in the country coming in, they were expected to be one of the top teams in the country. Their schedule reflected that, as they had nationally televised showdowns with Gonzaga, Indiana and Arkansas in the first few weeks of the season.

It was supposed to be a national coming out party for the program, which was ranked in the pre-season Top 25 for the first time in a very long time. After missing out on an NCAA Tournament bid because of a weak non-conference schedule, SMU had a lot of chances for quality wins in November and December. That, at least, was how it looked in April. Since then, they have seen their top recruit - Emmanuel Mudiay - bolt for China and their second-leading scorer - Markus Kennedy - ruled ineligible right before the start of the season.

This is the kind of stuff you don't have to deal with if you are an NBA coach. A potential Top 5 pick like Mudiay would have increased the program's profile, but Kennedy was the bigger loss for this year's team. He was their security blanket in the half-court, a guy whom they could throw the ball inside too at any time of the game and get a good shot. At 6'9 250, he had the size to establish post position on every team in the country as well as the skill to score with his back to the basket and find the open man out of a double team.

Without Kennedy, SMU had to junk a good portion of their half-court offense and rely on a number of younger players earlier in their careers than the coaching staff had anticipated. There is still plenty of talent on hand, but it has been a huge adjustment process, one made more difficult by the incredibly tough schedule to start the season. Gonzaga and Indiana are two of the toughest places to play in the country while Arkansas, who beat the Mustangs on their home floor on Tuesday, is a deep and experienced team who could surprise folks this year.

SMU looks much different without Kennedy, as they have to play a different style with Ben Moore as their starting PF. "We worked all year on making him a perimeter player and then the situation with Markus changed things," said Larry Brown. "Ben is still a sophomore. It's going to take him awhile, but he's a really good player." At 6'8 185, Moore has a lot of skill and athleticism for a guy with his size. He is a smooth player who can take the ball up the court, get it to the front of the rim and make the right play if the defense collapses.

The sky is the limit for Moore, who is leading the team in points (13.3) and rebounds (5.8) and is second in assists (3.3). The key for him is developing an outside shot that forces defenses to respect him 20+ feet from the basket, which you can see still needs work from his 58% mark from the line. If he can make that shot, he will have a chance to make it in the NBA as a small forward. The problem for now is that he can't really post up or stretch the floor, so he limits the type of sets that SMU can run in the half-court.

There are two youth-related prongs to the problem for Larry Brown - SMU is much better in the open court, but they aren't playing defense at the same level they were last season, when they were 19th in the country in defensive rating. They can't get stops as easily, so they can't get out in the break, which means they have a hard time getting good looks on offense, which allows the other team to run the ball back at them. That was the formula for the early 10-point lead for Arkansas on Tuesday, who made SMU play from behind all night.

SMU is depending on Moore and three other sophomores - Keith Frazier, Sterling Brown and Ben Emelogu - to step into major roles this season. It's a big jump from the year before, when Frazier and Brown were barely playing as freshmen while Emelogu was sitting out a year after transferring from Virginia Tech. Each of those guys is playing over 20 minutes a night and they have to learn how to become consistent contributors, as there aren't as many guys to pick up the slack as last season, when they were one of the deepest teams in the country.

Without Mudiay and Kennedy, SMU went from a 10-deep rotation to an 8-man group with just enough players to survive. The sophomores, Larry Brown's first recruiting class at SMU, have the talent to carry this program back into national prominence, they are just being asked to do it a year in advance. The pieces are there - Frazier, a McDonald's All-American, is an electric scorer, Brown, the younger brother of long-time NBA veteran Shannon Brown, is a great glue guy and Emelogu had a really solid season as a freshman at Virginia Tech.

All that youth has increased the pressure on junior PG Nic Moore, who is also the only true PG on the roster. When he is on the floor, he has to control tempo, get shots for everyone else and look for his own offense. When he is off the floor, SMU is holding on for dear life. He is one of the savviest guards in the country, but at only 5'9 185, he can struggle with ball-pressure from bigger and longer guards. "We wanted to get the ball out of his hands and force other people to make decisions," said Arkansas wing Michael Qualls.

With Kennedy gone and so many younger players stepping into big roles, SMU is still figuring out what they want to do on offense. In that respect, there was only so much you could tell from their game against Arkansas, which spent most of the game pressing full-court and then falling back into a zone, dictating the type of shots that SMU could get. They had success running some offense for Ben Moore in the high post, but for the most part, they weren't really able to get things going until the second half, when they started beating the press.

They are figuring things out, but there is still enough talent on hand that you figure they eventually will. One guy who could see a bigger role is Yanick Moreira, their 6'11 starting center, who is coming off a very strong showing for Angola in the World Championships. He has the ability to score out of the post, but he isn't nearly as reliable a finisher as Kennedy and his teammates are far more leery of giving him the ball. Something that worked well against Arkansas was pairing their two PG's, Moore and Ryan Manuel, together.

The good news for SMU is they don't leave the friendly confines of Moody Coliseum for the next month, until a road date at Michigan on December 20. The bad news is there are some more quality teams coming down the slate, including games against UC-Santa Barbara and Wyoming in the next few weeks that no longer look like gimmes. At this point, SMU's only goal is triage and keeping their heads above water until the start of conference play in January, when Kennedy should be able to return to the team for the spring semester.

In a best-case scenario, their young guys benefit from the increased playing time to become different and more fully-formed players in February and March, when their lives should be made much easier by the presence of Kennedy. The question is how deep of a hole they will be digging themselves out of and whether they will need to win the AAC conference tournament to ensure they make the field of 68. Larry Brown is building something at SMU, but as they are finding out, the only thing harder than being a success is sustaining it.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chris Paul: Hate Hard

At 29, Chris Paul has made six All-NBA teams (four first-team), six All-Defensive teams (four first-team) and seven All-Star Games. "The Point God" is widely considered the best PG in the NBA and is a near lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection. There's only one blemish on his resume. CP3 has been in the league 10 seasons and has never advanced past the second round, despite playing on three different teams that won more than 56 games.

When you try to evaluate his lack of playoff success, there's one school of thought that says there is nothing to see, no great mystery to unravel. Shit happens in the playoffs and a few bad bounces in Game 5 against the Thunder shouldn't make a huge difference in how we perceive a great player. Paul has been doomed by untimely injuries, bad match-ups and the poor luck to play in an extremely competitive conference.

Winning or losing a playoff series never comes down to any one player, even if they are a superstar. However, the playoffs aren't a complete black box either - there are things you can learn from what happens when a guy has to play multiple seven-game series against the best teams in the world. There is a middle ground between yelling ringz and throwing your hands in the air and saying my shit doesn't work in the post-season.

Let's take a closer look at the Thunder/Clippers series, particularly the match-up at the PG position between Paul and Russell Westbrook.

In Game 1, Paul had 32 points and 10 assists on 14 shots. It was the kind of performance you would expect from an All-NBA PG - if he had played at that level all series, the Clippers would have advanced. Of course, no one can really do that, so Paul wound up averaging 22 points and 12 assists a game on 51% shooting in the series. Pretty hard to complain about those numbers, right?

The only problem was that Westbrook's were even better. He averaged 28 points, 6 rebounds and 9 assists a game on 49% shooting in the series and he had games of 29, 33 and 38 points. Paul didn't have a game over 25 after Game 1. He was putting up a lot of points, but not as many as Westbrook and not in the same types of bunches. As many points as CP3 was scoring, he was giving them up just as fast, if not faster, on the other end.

The numbers are right there, once you start to look for them.


First round: Clippers beat Grizzlies in 7

- CP3: 20, 6 and 7 on 46% shooting
- Mike Conley: 14, 3 and 7 on 42% shooting

The Clippers and Grizzlies split their two first-round series, but CP3 clearly got the better of Conley. It was some of the best work he has done in his time with the Clippers - really nice numbers in the midst of two archetypal Grit N Grind series. Those games certainly felt like late 90's Knicks-Heat, especially in the paint.

Second round: Spurs beat Clippers in 4

- CP3: 13, 4 and 9 on 38% shooting
- Tony Parker: 17, 3 and 8 on 38% shooting

It's hard to do the individual match-up thing against the Spurs since they move the ball so much, but at best you can say that CP3 played Parker to a draw. Tony Parker is really good - he doesn't put up stats like Paul, but he doesn't get to hold the ball like Paul does either. Pop doesn't run a system designed to maximize his PG's statistics.


First round: Clippers lose to Grizzles in 6

- CP3: 23, 4 and 6 on 53% shooting
- Conley: 17, 3 and 8 on 41% shooting


First round: Clippers beat Warriors in 7

- CP3: 17, 5 and 9 on 42% shooting
- Steph: 23, 4 and 8 on 44% shooting

The Warriors lost the series, but this still felt like a passing of the torch to me. Paul is 29 and he has been first-team All-NBA for most of the last 5 seasons - there are a lot of hungry, young PG's out there, waiting for their chance. Steph is 26. Russ is 25. Eric Bledsoe is only 24. One day, maybe not anytime soon, but sooner than you might think, CP3 is going to wake up and play the Phoenix Suns and find out this is his life:

Second round: Clippers lose to Thunder in 6

- CP3: 22, 4 and 11 on 51% shooting
- Westbrook: 28, 6 and 9 on 49% shooting

Look at it this way - how could you tell Russell Westbrook with a straight face that Chris Paul is better than him after that series? Oh you mean the guy I just gave 30 a night too? Didn't I just send his team home? If Paul had 28 and Russ had 22, the Clippers would have won easily. He couldn't do it, though.

Take a look at what Westbrook did in the 2014 playoffs:

First round: Thunder beat Grizzlies in 7

- Russ: 26, 10 and 8 on 38% shooting
- Conley: 16, 5 and 8 on 43% shooting

Second round: Thunder beat Clippers in 6

- Russ: 28, 6 and 9 on 49% shooting
- CP3: 22, 4 and 11 on 51% shooting

WCF: Thunder lose to Spurs in 6

- Russ: 27, 7 and 6 on 41% shooting
- Parker: 13, 2 and 5 on 49% shooting

That's what a guy carrying a team in the playoffs looks like. The Thunder win a lot of playoff series for a reason - they have two guys who can just take over games against the best players in the world. When Westbrook is playing the best of the best, he thrives. 

The difference between the playoffs and the regular season is the level of competition. You don't see many bad or average PG's in the post-season. Just about every guy you are going to face is a high-level player, especially out West. In the last three years, Paul has went up against Westbrook, Steph Curry, Tony Parker and Mike Conley. Last season, Westbrook matched-up with Conley, CP3 and Parker. You see a lot of familiar faces in the playoffs and the deeper you go, the more likely you are to face a great player.

And if you compare Paul to his peers, to the other great players in the league instead of the average player, something jumps out at you immediately. Here's a look at the height and weight of every player to make first or second-team All-NBA in the last five years:

See the one at the bottom left? That's Paul. At 6'0 175, he's the outlier among the outliers.

Most great players are really big - the average height and weight is about 6'8 230, right around Carmelo Anthony. As a rule, they are bigger, faster and more skilled than the average player. At that point, there isn't much the defense can do to a guy. They have to give up something, either the shot, the drive or the pass.

Paul's formula for success is a little different. He has maximized every bit of his physical ability to get himself in such august company - there's no one else with his size and speed who is considered among the best players in the NBA. He is the perfect analytic player because he is operating at 100% at all times. He doesn't make mistakes or cut corners - he is always doing the most efficient thing that he can do when he is on the court.

In a sense, CP3 is Moneyball at the individual level. The market undervalues shorter players, particularly around draft time - if CP3 was 6'3+ like John Wall or Derrick Rose, he would not have went No. 4 in 2005. He doesn't have the physical tools of those guys, but he is just as effective because he has studied the game and perfected his craft. He thinks the game at as high a level as anyone in the sport and you can see that in the absurd efficiency numbers he puts up.

The one thing about Moneyball is that analytics isn't alchemy. It can't change what a guy is. Dwight Howard has height privilege. He doesn't need to deal with all that to win games. He's just bigger and faster than everyone else.

Here's a theory.

In the regular season, when CP3 is going up against a bunch of average guards who don't know what they are doing, he can absolutely devastate them. Most of them don't have the speed or athleticism to take advantage of his clutch-and-grab style defense that seems lifted from Bill Belichick's New England Patriots.

That TNT game against a short-handed Miami Heat team the other night? CP3 had 26 points on 13 shots and 12 assists on 1 turnover and the Clippers won by 17.

That shit only goes so far in the playoffs, though. As Charles Barkley likes to say, them other guys, they get paid too. When you are going up against the best of the best, the margins for error become really small and Chris Paul never had a really high margin to begin with.

When you think about it, it was always going to be hard for Paul to be the best player in the NBA at his size. The greatest players can score at will against guys who are smaller and less athletic than them - that's what makes them great. The problem for CP3 is he is smaller and less athletic than every other great player in the NBA, so he's always the underdog when he goes up against those guys, regardless of what his stats are against the rest of the league.

It's not that Chris Paul lacks the will to win and he comes up short in the playoffs because he doesn't have the heart of a champion. The problem is that he's short and his lack of size always rears its head at some point in the playoffs. If there was a bar that said you must be this tall to be the best player on a championship team, you would probably put it around 6'6. While CP3 is a franchise player, he's much, much shorter than most of the franchise players who got ringz.

Here's a look at the height of the best players on championship teams since 1979:

7'1 - Shaq
7'0 - Hakeem, Duncan, KG, Dirk
6'11 - Rasheed Wallace
6'9 - Bird, Magic, LeBron
6'7 - Dr. J
6'6 - MJ, Kobe
6'4 - D. Wade (and he has a 6'11 wingspan which makes him play like he's 6'8)
6'1 - Isiah Thomas

All things being equal in a game of basketball, the bigger and more athletic player is going to win the individual match-up. When Paul is playing most NBA players, things aren't equal. When he is going up against another All-NBA guy, they are. The problem for him is that if he's going to win a title, he's probably going to have to go up against 3-4 All-NBA guys in 4 seven-game series.

The NBA playoffs are like a video game. You get to the end of the level and you have to beat a boss. In a good game, you have or 3 or 4 boss fights against a character with as much power as your own, if not more. You had to figure out a different strategy to beat them - they were too good to beat straight up. It wasn't hard to exploit the weakness on easy or medium, but it was almost impossible to do on hard. On extreme? Forget about it. You had to play the video game almost perfectly to do it and I never had the patience for it. After awhile, I just started using cheat codes.

Chris Paul is playing the game on extreme mode. He has to play essentially perfect basketball to beat guys like Russell Westbrook - it has to be like Game 1 of the second round every single time. Otherwise, the only thing he can do is try to minimize his lack of height and athleticism as much as possible, which means clutching, grabbing and holding the other player.

Do I think it's a coincidence 6'1 Isiah Thomas played on a team that essentially broke the game? No. What puts CP3 on his own level is that he will take some very aggressive fouls on one end and then flop on the other. You can't be Reggie Evans and Manu Ginobili at the same time. It just isn't right.

This is when I knew DeMarcus Cousins was the realest dude in the NBA:
“It’s just, some players I don’t respect,” Cousins said. “Just their playing style of basketball. I don’t respect it. I feel like it’s basically cheating and I don’t respect a cheater. If that’s your tactic to winning, I don’t respect you.”
One of the things that has been lost in our celebration of the way that guys like Jordan and Kobe carried themselves as they won championships is that basketball is a gentleman's game. There are certain things you should not be doing in order to win basketball games and there are certain lines that should not be crossed. There's a right and wrong way to play this game that goes beyond winning and losing.

What CP3 does to poor Julius Hodge in this play is well over that line:

That's all I could think of during the final seconds of Game 5 in OKC. All the things that Paul gets away with on the court, all the ways he tries to tilt the playing board in order to shave the odds his way - they all came rushing back at him at once. He bent the rules of the game as far as they would go before they broke. A guy with CP3's size and athleticism trying to carry a team through four consecutive seven-game series might as well be Sisyphus. He is defying the natural order of things and there's only one way that's going to end.

Paul's teams punch above their weight in the regular season because he doesn't let up and he maximizes everyone's performance over the course of an 82-game season. When he gets to the playoffs, though, all the times that he ran up the margins against the Luke Ridnours of the world don't really matter.

He is still going to put up good numbers, but he isn't going to dominate the guy across from him. If he runs up on a bully like Russell Westbrook in a seven-game series, he's going to be fighting for a draw. The problem with the way the Clippers are set up is that Paul has to do everything for them to advance. He does his best against guys like KD and Russ, but if he's on either of those guys, there's still a mouse in the house. If he's going to get to the NBA Finals, he's probably going to need two wings like Trevor Ariza and Jimmy Butler around him, not JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford. Look at what Golden State is doing with Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala around Steph Curry.

CP3 isn't Kobe or LeBron, no matter what the stats say. Those two guys could take over a series on defense - they could man-up the opposing team's best perimeter scorer and suffocate their offense. That's the kind of thing that can turn a playoff series and it's the kind of thing that CP3 has never been able to do. He lost to Carmelo in the first round in 2010 - if that was LeBron, he would have tried to lock up Melo.

Of course, you can't expect Paul to do something like that. What it does is show you the limitations of his ability to impact the game, in comparison to some of his Olympic teammates.
At this point in his career, CP3 is like Tom Glavine - he's a finesse pitcher who wins on control and out-thinking the other guy. He's not out there throwing 95 MPH high heat. You can be a great player with that style, but when you are going up against the best of the best, talent tends to win out. If CP3 and Westbrook had a Freaky Friday moment, Chris Paul in Westbrook's body would win 10 out of 10 times. Westbrook in Westbrook's body might only win 8 out of 10, but that's more than enough in a seven-game series.

One of the things that makes basketball different than most team sports is the way individual match-ups are embedded into the game. The same two guys are going at each other on offense and defense - I have to guard you but you have to guard me. Imagine Peyton Manning playing defense against Darrell Revis or Yu Darvish trying to get hits off Miguel Cabrera.

As great as CP3's stats are, that's only 85-90% of the equation in basketball. That last 10%? Throw away the numbers, the TV commercials and the brands and it comes down to lacing up your sneakers, stepping on the court and being better than the guy across from you.

Chris Paul is great, but is he any greater than Steph Curry? Tony Parker? Russell Westbrook? There have been too many times in the last few playoffs that CP3 hasn't been able to say that for me to think he is really a Top 5 player in the NBA. 


Friday, November 21, 2014

Cal Scouting Report

All I could think while watching Cal dismantle Syracuse last night was Mike Montgomery must have actually wanted to spend more time with his family. After an unsuccessful stint in the NBA, the former Stanford coach had moved across the Bay and revitalized the Cal program. He was headed into his fifth season in Berkeley and he had everything going in the right direction. As a coach, this is not a team you would have an easy time walking away from - Cal has all the pieces to be a really good team.

The way they beat Syracuse gave proof to the idea that rankings are essentially meaningless this early in the season. They were clearly the more talented team, opening up a 34-22 half-time lead and never looking back from there, winning the game 73-59. It took them awhile to get used to the Syracuse zone, but they eventually figured things out. They are a veteran team with a lot of guys who know how to play the game - they can move without the ball and make plays for each other. This is not a team to be taken lightly.

Cuonzo Martin could not be in a better position to succeed. He inherits a ready-made team with multiple NBA prospects on it, all of whom can play multiple positions. They have more skill than the teams he assembled in Tennessee, which generally preferred to smash you over the head and win 54-50 rock-fights. It wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing style of basketball, but he got a pretty raw deal at Tennessee. He's a good coach who knows what he is doing and he isn't going to do anything to mess up the gifts he has been given.

Cal lost two good seniors - Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon - but it may have been a case of addition by subtraction, as it has allowed some of their younger players to step into bigger roles. They go 6'5, 6'3 and 6'6 on the perimeter and all of them are NBA-caliber athletes. They have two sure-fire future pros in Jabari Bird and Tyrone Wallace and at least three more guys who will get looks from NBA scouts. You may not have heard much about Cal, but this is a win that would look awfully good on the resume in March.


PG - Tyrone Wallace - Wallace is the guy who stepped up the most, going from complementary wing to full-time starting PG. He doesn't have a ton of experience in the role, but he's a huge guard (6'5 200) with the ball-handling and passing chops to pull it off. He is putting out straight outrageous numbers so far, at 17 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists on 51% shooting. You want to make him an outside shooter - he was 0-3 from deep and one of those shots was an airball. He might cough up the ball if you pressure him, but you don't want to get him in the open court either.

SG - Jordan Matthews - Position labels are a little meaningless for Cal's guards, since they can all handle and score the ball and they are capable of handing off defensive assignments pretty freely. At 6'3 205, Matthews is the smallest of the their perimeter starters, even though he would be one of the bigger guards on the Texas roster. He's the scorer - he can shoot and fill it up really quickly. He had 22 points against Syracuse and his ability to shoot and get to the line was key in blowing the game open.

SF - Jabari Bird - The shooter. If you leave him open from the perimeter, he will kill you. The problem is that he's a big, athletic guard (6'6 200) with a high release point, so it's almost impossible to contest his shot. He destroyed the Syracuse zone, going 4-5 from 3. You better play scouting report defense on Bird - stay glued to him on the perimeter, make him put the ball on the floor and make him be a passer. He will be a first-round pick regardless, how high he goes depends on how much he can expand his game.

PF - Christian Behrens - 6'8 225 junior forward. Behrens is the glue guy - he gives up his body and does a lot of the dirty work inside. He can be effective as a release valve on offense, but he's not going to kill you on that side of the ball. It will be interesting to see if Martin plays Behrens as a 3 to match-up with the bigger Texas front-line.

C - David Kravish - The senior big man had himself a game against Syracuse - 12 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists on 5-9 shooting. He is a prototype high-post player, with the ability to knock down mid-range shots, facilitate offense from the free-throw line and even put the ball on the floor a little. At 6'10 240, he's a better athlete than you would expect and he has turned himself into a legitimate NBA prospect. The way you get at him is on defense because that's not really what he is about. Attack the rim and get him in foul trouble.


C - Kingsley Okoroh - A big-time recruit that Martin brought with him from Tennessee, emphasis on big. At 7'1 245, he is, by my scientific estimation, big as fuck. I'm not really sure what to make of him because he didn't really play like a freshman against Syracuse. It was weird. He can move without the ball, catch and finish at the rim, which doesn't sound like a big deal, but really is for a guy his size. If they can get him going, his ability to protect the rim could take this team to another level. 

PG/SG - Sam Singer - You would think this guy is a shooter just from looking at him, but that is not the case. Singer can't shoot to save his life, as he went 0-3 from 3 against Syracuse, including one particularly egregious air-ball. What he is is a big PG (6'4 200) with a good feel for the game who can take advantage of all the weapons around him. He had 8 assists against the Orange.

SF/PF - Dwight Tarwater - A senior role player who knows his role and stays out of everyone else's way. Tarwater can make open shots and that's about it. This is way more shooting that Cuonzo ever had at Tennessee - it may be something that starts to grow on him.

SF/PF - Roger Moute a Bidias - I don't really remember what he did in this game and his 9 trillion stat-line would indicate that I didn't miss much. He's an athletic body (6'6 200) whose useful as a second front-court defender behind Behrens.

Keys to the Game:

1) The first half of the Iowa game was a worst case scenario for this Texas team and they can't have a repeat of that tonight. If the Texas guards get sped up and get into a track meet with Cal, I don't think they have the personnel to keep up. Wallace, Bird and Matthews have more speed and athleticism than the perimeter guys at Kentucky, so this will be a real challenge for the Longhorns guards. Texas still has an advantage inside, but that won't matter if the guards don't take care of the ball and control tempo.

2) The converse of staying in the half-court on offense is that you don't want Cal getting a lot of easy looks in transition. If they can start running into rhythm 3's, this game could get out of hand. You got to make them score against a set defense and you want to make sure that you are letting the right guys shoot 3's and not the wrong ones.

3) Jonathan Holmes - He is the one guy that Cal doesn't really have a great match-up for. If he can thrive as a SF and force Cal out of their three-guard comfort zone, he can really alter the flow of the game. Get him the ball as much as possible is probably a good rule of thumb for a game like this. 

You can pretty much throw out the rankings in this one. Cal starts a senior, two juniors and two sophomores and four of those guys are NBA prospects. I hope Texas is ready to play because this should be a really serious basketball game.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Alex Len and Patience

At RealGM, a look at why people were too quick to jump on the Suns big man.

Kentucky vs. the 76ers

99% of the time, the Kentucky vs. the 76ers storyline is dumb. The best team in college doesn't have much of a chance of competing with the worst team in the NBA. It's a good rule of thumb because 99% of the time, that's what is going to happen. This is still probably one of those 99 times.

However *Stephen A Smith voice* 

I'm not saying I agree with Eric Bledsoe, but there's a chance he isn't completely crazy. Take a look at the match-ups if Kentucky played the 76ers, if we use Philly's line-up from tonight:

C - Nerlens Noel vs. Willie Cauley-Stein - You have to throw out all the NBA vs. NCAA arguments with this one. Noel and WCS were in the same recruiting class. They are peers, except WCS has been playing continuously for the last 3 seasons while Noel is still extremely rusty after missing the last half of his college season and his entire rookie season in the NBA. WCS even knocked down a mid-range jumper against Kansas and if he's making that shot, watch out.

There isn't all that much separates the two former teammates. If Noel had stayed in school, there's no guarantee he would have held off WCS for the starting job. WCS should be in the NBA right now. He had to have ankle surgery after the season, which I guess is why he stayed in school. Once guys are projected to go in the lottery, they usually don't come back. He's an NBA C who is moonlighting at the college level.

PF - Henry Sims vs. Karl Towns - Sims wasn't drafted, which according to Deadspin means you are a complete bum, but he has a chance of sticking in the league. He has good size for an NBA big man - 6'10 250 - but here's the thing - Karl Towns is an enormous human being. He is 7'0 250 and he is much bigger and faster than his NBA counterpart. Kentucky is bigger and more athletic upfront than Philadelphia. That usually wouldn't happen. 

I remember watching Towns in the 2013 Hoop Summit, which featured Wiggins, Jabari, Randle and all those guys, and thinking this guy is 17 and he could play in the NBA right now. He wouldn't be a star or anything, but he is big, fast and skilled enough that he would be able to survive. That's what happens in Europe - 7'0 like Tiago Splitter and Jonas Valanciunas are competing against grown men as teenagers. Towns plays the game like a pro.

He may be only 19, but he is definitely good enough to give Henry Sims and Nerlens Noel the business! Kentucky has a front-court that would give a lot of NBA teams trouble. It's a weird thing to say, but it's true. They go 7'0, 7'0, 6'9 and they have 7'0, 6'9 and 6'10 behind them. That's way more size than a lot of NBA teams.

Where this question falls apart is the back-court, where the Harrisons are giving up a ton of speed and athleticism to MCW and Tony Wroten. They do have the size to at least match-up with them on defense, but if the 76ers started pressing them, I'm not sure what type of shots they could get off. Any game between these two teams would probably swing on Tyler Ulis and whether Calipari could find a place to hide him on defense.

I'm not totally sold on Kentucky's guards, so I wouldn't be stunned if they ended up losing a couple game this season. Even the Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and MKG team lost 2 games. Either way, Kentucky has the big men upfront to where they could at least give the 76ers a game. If I had Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl Towns and Trey Lyles (who could be crazy nice in his own right) on my NBA team, I would be feeling really good about my future. 

That's the thing, though. It doesn't actually matter whether Kentucky could play with the 76ers. It's far more likely than someone on Kentucky ends up playing for the 76ers. 

And if Philly gets Karl Towns and Joel Embiid together ... well, let's just say that people are going to be awfully upset. The amount of whining you would hear from Basketball Twitter, it almost makes you root for it to happen.