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.

Starters: 

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.

Bench:

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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Karl Towns Passing (Video)

Kentucky was everything we were promised and more on Tuesday night, when they ran No. 5 Kansas out of the gym in a 72-40 game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. They were bigger, longer and more athletic at just about every position on the floor - Kansas is plenty big for a college team, but Kentucky made them look like a bunch of little kids. That's what happens when you start 6'6, 6'6, 6'9, 7'0, 7'0.

There are more than enough accolades to go around, but the guy I want to focus on today is Karl-Anthony Towns. While he only played 19 minutes, he still managed to rack up 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 assists and it seemed like he was in the middle of every Kentucky run. The guy is a 7'0 250 with a 7'3 wingspan and he has the speed, skill and athleticism to play as a PF full-time. There are few things he can't do on a basketball court.

What really jumped out to me on Tuesday was his passing ability. Towns is a guy you can run offense through out of the high post or the low post - he's so big that he demands a double team and he has a great feel for where everyone else is on the court. Watch how he doesn't rush things in this play, even when he is facing a triple team. He is patient, he plays under control and he waits until Andrew Harrison is wide open to pass the ball.


Just as important, he is so much taller than the defenders that he can pass over them with absolute ease. When Towns is moving the ball around the court, Kentucky is operating on a different plane than any college team (and most NBA teams). That's why it is so nice to be able to run offense through a 7'0 - no matter what else is going on in the game, you can always slow the ball down, throw it inside and get a good shot.

Kentucky really went to another level in last year's NCAA Tournament when Julius Randle started to look to pass, instead of hunting for his own shot. That's how they beat Wichita State - Randle had 6 assists, most of them to three-point shooters. When your best player is looking to pass, it opens up the game for everyone else and puts the defense in an impossible bind. You blow out teams by giving shooters rhythm 3's.


Towns is the glue that holds the rest of the team together. A big guy who can defend, shoot and pass makes everyone better, so no matter what type of line-up Calipari uses, as long as he has Towns out there, Kentucky will be able to defend and score against anyone. They can go super-size upfront with Towns creating offense out of the high post at the 4 and they can go "small ball" with Towns playing as the 5 in a 4-out set.

There really is no ceiling for how good he can become. Towns may not put up a bunch of stats this season because of the platoon system, but he is why Kentucky has a chance to do something really historic this season. If 2014 is like 2012, it's because Karl Towns is Anthony Davis. Here's what should really worry every other team in the country - he's already bigger than Davis and AD didn't do stuff like this in college:


Sir, I am kindly going to ask you to get the fuck out of here with that. That's just silly. Jay Bilas said it best: "[Towns] is a guy who makes it really easy to play with him and really difficult to play against him."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Utah Rebuilding Plan

The Utah Jazz are only 4-7 this season, but they have one of the most talented young teams in the NBA. They have had a pretty stacked schedule - four home games (all against good teams) and seven road ones. They just finished a five game in seven day swing through the East Coast, with 2 of the 3 losses coming on the second night of a road back-to-back. The record will come around and the future is bright in Utah.

Getting to this point, though, took a whole lot of work and patience. Let's take a look at how the Jazz built this team:

2010: 

1) After losing to the LA Lakers in the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the Jazz lost Carlos Boozer to the Chicago Bulls in FA and began a re-loading process, trading Kosta Koufos and a first-round pick in 2010 and 2012 for Al Jefferson.

2) One of the reasons they made that trade was because they had the Knicks lottery pick in 2010, a pick which had changed hands numerous times over the years. It was originally conveyed to Phoenix as the final part of the Stephon Marbury trade. The Jazz used it on Gordon Hayward.

3) Half-way through the season, Utah realized they had taken a step back in the Western Conference. Rather than try to put a new elite team around Deron Williams before he hit free agency in 2012, they sold high, shipping their franchise PG to New Jersey for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and first-round picks in 2011 and 2013.

* It's important here to realize how far into the future Utah was looking when they made this trade. This was made in Year 1 of the LeBron era in Miami. We are now in Year 1 of LeBron's return to Cleveland and we still can't totally decide on some of the pieces that the Jazz got in this deal.

2011:

1) They use the lottery pick they acquired from the Nets to draft Enes Kanter at No. 3.

2) They use their own lottery pick, No. 12 overall, to draft Alec Burks.

A veteran team lead by Jefferson, Harris and Paul Millsap sneaks into the bottom of the playoff picture in the lockout season, before eventually being swept by the Spurs. Hayward starts and Favors is the 3rd big man while Kanter and Burke play small roles off the bench in their rookie seasons.

2012:

The only year they don't have a pick, as they have to send it to Minnesota as part of the Jefferson trade. They shuffle a few veterans around and remain an above .500 team, but with the bottom of the West continuing to improve, they fall out of the playoff picture with 43 wins.

2013:

1) They bundle their first-round pick (14) and the final Nets pick from the Deron Williams trade (21) to move up to No. 9 and draft Trey Burke.

2) They buy the No. 27 pick (Rudy Gobert) from Denver for a second-round pick and cash.

With Jefferson and Millsap hitting FA at the same time, the Jazz decide it's time to turn over the team to the young core they have been developing. They definitely aren't trying to win right away - instead of using their cap space to acquire helpful veterans, they let the Warriors dump Brandon Rush and Andris Biedrins into it for the price of two future first-round picks. Burke's injury to start the season and the lack of any real veteran depth sends them plummeting to the bottom of the Western Conference.

2014:

1) The #subtletank (keeping Ty Corbin as coach, starting Richard Jefferson most of the season) pays off, as Utah winds up with the No. 5 pick in one of the most stacked drafts in recent memory and grabs Dante Exum. In essence, the Jazz got the franchise player at the end of the rebuilding process, rather than the beginning.

2) One of the picks from the Iguodala trade (No. 23) becomes Rodney Hood.

They aren't going to make the playoffs this season, but they are headed in the right direction. If the Jazz can finish above .500 at home and near .500 on the road, the season should be a success. Their first real shot at the playoffs may not be until 2015-2016, but they have spent the last five seasons diligently building to reach that point.

Here's a look at their future depth chart, their age and when they were acquired:

PG - Dante Exum (19 - 2014), Trey Burke (22 - 2013)
SG - Alec Burks (23 - 2011)
SF - Gordon Hayward (24 - 2010), Rodney Hood (22 - 2014)
PF - Enes Kanter (22 - 2011), Trevor Booker (27 - 2014)
C- Derrick Favors (24 - 2010), Rudy Gobert (22 - 2013)

The Jazz have length and athleticism at every position on the floor but PF and they have all home-grown guys - this is not a coincidence. The only one in their top 9 whom they didn't draft themselves is Trevor Booker.

What you are looking at is the Oklahoma City model in action. A small-market franchise that 1) builds through the draft by looking for key physical characteristics and 2) develops their young players in an internal culture isolated from the rest of the NBA on 3) a very long time-table without any quick fix solutions in free agency.

And when I look at this team, I see a group that can one day give the Thunder a serious run for their money in the West. They need to figure out what happens with Kanter, but my guess is they keep him around at a reasonable price since he is still only 22. What happens if he figures it out in his mid 20's and him and Favors learn to co-exist in terms of spacing and interior defense? The Jazz are going to be unstoppable.

Exum, Burks, Hayward and Favors are all two-way players. The amount of length and athleticism they can throw at you is mind-boggling - 6'6, 6'6, 6'8 and 6'11 - and all those guys are really good at offense too! And while Burke, Hood and Gobert all have holes in their game, they should still be able to develop into quality bench pieces.

This is a textbook model for how you rebuild through the draft. If you take the OKC formula, you aren't always going to wind up with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in consecutive years, even if you are really good at drafting. However, if you stay patient and you keep drafting young guys with two-way potential who play different positions, you should end up looking pretty good.

The key is to remain patient. The decisions Utah made in 2010 aren't really going to pay off until the second part of the decade. Compare their rebuilding process with what happened in Denver in the post Carmelo Anthony era. In the NBA, slow and steady wins the race.

Texas Basketball: Key Non-Conference Games

At Barking Carnival, a look at the four most important games for the Longhorns over the next two months.

Minnesota's Road Trip from Hell

At RealGM, a look at the road trip that strangled the Wolves season in the cradle.