Posts Tagged ‘Greg Monroe’

Early Numbers Show Problems With Lineup Combinations

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – We’re 15 days into the 2013-14 season and the standings don’t quite match what we thought they’d look like. The Nets and Knicks are down and the Suns and Sixers are up.

It’s early, but more data is coming in every day, and it’s giving us an early look at some interesting lineup combinations around the league. We were all wondering how the Pistons’ new frontline would work out and whether Rockets coach Kevin McHale could play Omer Asik and Dwight Howard together.

Some results are expected, some are surprising and some are inconclusive. Again, it’s early. So the numbers below aren’t necessarily an endorsement of the combos that are working or an indictment of those that aren’t. Everything must be taken in context, and the most important context right now is that we’re looking at small sample sizes.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

How are Smith, Monroe and Drummond faring?

Minutes: 141
Pace: 91.3
OffRtg: 101.3
DefRtg: 116.9
NetRtg: -15.7
+/-: minus-34

No team put together a more fascinating mix this summer than the Pistons. And the thought was that, due to floor spacing issues, they would struggle offensively with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond on the floor together. The other thought was that, thanks to their length, they would be strong defensively and on the glass.

They’ve been a good offensive rebounding trio, but not a good defensive rebounding trio. That’s not their biggest problem, though. Opponents have shot 51 percent (effective field goal percentage: 56.0 percent) with the three on the floor together and all together, the Pistons have been absolutely brutal defensively with their big lineups. Of the 205 three-man combinations that have played at least 100 minutes together, the only ones that have been worse defensively are two other Detroit trios that include Monroe and either Drummond or Smith.

The Grizzlies, who rank 19th offensively, scored 68 points in less than 32 minutes against the Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontline. The Pacers, who rank 13th offensively, scored 59 points in less than 21 minutes.

There are a bunch of issues that need to be cleaned up. It starts with transition, where Monroe is particularly slow. He also struggles to contain ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls. Smith and Drummond can be too aggressive, often biting on pump fakes or sacrificing rebounding position by trying for blocks. And sometimes, the problem is with the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups, a pair of liabilities in their own right.

After getting trounced by the Warriors on Tuesday, the Pistons rank dead last in defensive efficiency. It’s early and five of their seven games have been against above-average offensive teams, but the numbers are such that coach Mo Cheeks will need to seriously consider staggering the minutes of Smith, Drummond and Monroe more than he already is. More minutes for Kyle Singler and/or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would have a positive impact on the Pistons’ D.

Within the big-man trio, the only pair that’s logged a decent amount of minutes without the third guy is Monroe and Smith, which has played 70 minutes without Drummond. The Pistons have been even in those minutes, allowing just 96.3 points per 100 possessions.

The Asik-Howard combination

Minutes: 93
Pace: 93.6
OffRtg: 87.3
DefRtg: 103.1
NetRtg: -15.8
+/-: minus-35

Those numbers — the pace and the offensive efficiency in particular — do not typify Houston’s style. With only one of the two centers on the floor, the Rockets have played at a pace of 102.3 possessions per 48 minutes and have scored 108.1 points per 100 posssessions. That does typify Rockets basketball and those numbers would rank third and fourth in the league, respectively.

Rockets efficiency

On floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Asik + Howard 93 93.6 87.3 103.1 -15.8 -35
Only Asik 88 105.3 102.5 92.0 +10.5 +19
Only Howard 196 100.9 110.8 98.3 +12.5 +39
One of the two 284 102.3 108.1 96.3 +11.8 +58

With a second center in the game, the Rockets can’t space the floor for their ball-handlers. Here’s James Harden running a side pick-and-roll with Asik and with Howard’s man in position to help in the paint.

20131102_hou_side_pnr

If you replace Howard with Francisco Garcia or Omri Casspi and place him on the left wing, Harden has a much clearer path to the basket … or one of the shooters is wide open behind the 3-point line.

Asik is a very good player and deserves to play more than 12 minutes per game, especially considering how much he’s being paid. But Howard is going to play 36 minutes a night and it’s getting harder to justify playing the two together as it’s basically putting the Rockets in a hole every game. Only the Knicks have been worse in the first six minutes of games (minus-35.4 NetRtg) than the Rockets (minus-35.1, scoring a paltry 79.0 points per 100 possessions).

The two-center combo may have already reached the end of the line. On Tuesday against the Raptors, Asik was on the bench to start the third quarter, marking the first time both centers weren’t on the floor to start a half. Going forward, McHale isn’t sure what he’s going to do, as Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle writes.

“That big lineup – I am 50/50 on that,” McHale said. “It takes time, and the chemistry has to get better. Every time I think I am done with it, they do something that makes me want to keep trying it.”

Ultimately, this has to end with a trade. As nice as it is to have Asik as Howard’s back-up, the Rockets would be a better team if they could trade Asik for a 30-minutes-per-game forward who can shoot and defend. Greg Smith isn’t on Asik’s level, but he can hold down the fort for 12 minutes a night. In fact, the Rockets were a plus-5.4 per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor last season.

Anthony and Bargnani struggle to fit together

Minutes: 133
Pace: 94.8
OffRtg: 97.6
DefRtg: 118.0
NetRtg: -20.4
+/-: minus-52

Oof. The only two-man combinations that have been worse are in Utah, Sacramento, Milwaukee or Detroit.

You expect the offense to come around somewhat as Anthony’s shooting improves, but Bargnani still doesn’t space the floor as well as guys the Knicks lost this summer, or pass the ball very much. In six games, he has five assists and four secondary assists. It’s early, but Anthony has shot better with Bargnani on the bench than with him on the floor.

Of course, the defense is the much bigger concern. Even in 41 minutes with Tyson Chandler on the floor with Anthony and Bargnani, the Knicks’ defense was terrible. Now, Chandler’s out for 4-6 weeks and … yikes.

The Knicks have allowed 114.8 points per 100 possessions with Bargnani on the floor and just 91.1 with him on the bench. We’re at the point where one good or bad half can skew those numbers a bit, but they’re damning just the same.

To be fair, Kevin Garnett has a pretty bad on-off-court DefRtg discrepancy – +11.0 – through his first six games with Brooklyn. It’s not nearly as bad as Bargnani’s +23.7, but still worth noting.

Interestingly, Bargnani has played just 10 minutes with Anthony on the bench. Mike Woodson might experiment with staggering their minutes more, but that would require having another healthy big man he could trust. And right now, the only other bigs on the roster are Cole Aldrich, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire. Two of them have minutes restrictions and the other is Cole Aldrich.

That Chris Smith still has a roster spot at this point is probably twice as amazing as the idea of giving up three Draft picks to take Bargnani’s contract off Masai Ujiri‘s hands.

Three guards in the Big Easy: Holiday, Evans and Gordon

Minutes: 51
Pace: 98.4
OffRtg: 99.0
DefRtg: 105.8
NetRtg: -6.8
+/-: plus-1

It’s a little surprising that the Pelicans’ three guards — making a combined $36 million this season — haven’t played much together. At this point, Evans is getting paid $12 million to play a little less than half the game. The trio averaged just over five minutes of floor time together in New Orleans’ first four games and have played about 10 minutes together in each of the last three.

Anthony Morrow‘s hot start has probably been a factor. When you have a guy shooting 63 percent from 3-point range and showing signs of an expanded off-the-dribble game, you want to make sure he gets his minutes too.

Either way, it’s hard to make any judgements regarding the Holiday-Evans-Gordon trio. The Pelicans have had good and bad stretches (both offensively and defensively) with the three on the floor together.

Two-point-guard combinations

Most of these sample sizes are very small, but here are some early numbers from a few two-point-guard combinations worth keeping an eye on…

On-court efficiency, two-PG combos

Team Combination GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
CHI Hinrich & Rose 6 48 108.8 81.0 110.5 -29.5 -37
CLE Irving & Jack 8 101 94.3 86.2 91.3 -5.1 -8
DEN Lawson & Miller 6 70 101.3 97.5 96.0 +1.5 +3
DEN Lawson & Robinson 4 42 103.3 102.3 110.3 -7.9 -3
DEN Miller & Robinson 6 66 95.3 83.3 95.2 -11.9 -14
HOU Beverley & Lin 5 61 104.4 107.6 90.2 +17.5 +14
MEM Bayless & Conley 5 39 100.4 118.7 95.8 +22.9 +18
NYK Felton & Prigioni 5 74 93.8 91.7 89.9 +1.9 -4
OKC Jackson & Westbrook 4 22 106.6 133.2 92.4 +40.8 +19
ORL Nelson & Oladipo 8 81 102.5 106.9 88.5 +18.4 +21
PHX Bledsoe & Dragic 4 70 94.8 110.2 101.1 +9.1 +11
POR Lillard & Williams 7 105 96.6 111.6 111.4 +0.2 +11
SAC Thomas & Vasquez 5 44 94.8 101.6 92.2 +9.4 0

Pistons’ Sluggish Start Prompts Change




VIDEO: Josh Smith’s early season highlights with the Pistons

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A blockbuster free-agent/trade summer doesn’t always deliver the desired results come the start of the regular season, at least not immediately.

The Detroit Pistons are living that reality after just seven games. Pistons coach Mo Cheeks benched veterans Chauncey Billups and Josh Smith at the start of the second half of Tuesday night’s rout at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, inserting youngsters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler in their places, respectively.

This season was supposed to mark a shift in fortunes for the Pistons, an escape from the grips of the lottery and a move back into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. The summer additions of Billups, Smith and point guard Brandon Jennings was the masterstroke that was going to jumpstart that process.

But so far … it’s just not happening. The Pistons are 2-5 and showing no signs of being the playoff outfit some of us assumed they would be. In addition to chemistry issues that need to be sorted out, they’re also the worst defensive team in the league.

Losers of four straight games, Cheeks is rightfully trying to get out ahead of what could be a bigger problem. If his intent was to light a fire under his veterans, mission accomplished. If it was to point out to veterans and youngsters alike that no one is safe from being removed from their spot in the starting lineup or rotation, no matter how big a name or reputation they have, then he should be commended for taking that sort of stance this early in the campaign.

Cheeks said he wasn’t trying to send a message by singling Smith and Billups out, but did offer up specifics for Smith to shake out of his mini-funk, telling Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News:

“He has to get involved in the offense, get some offensive rebounds, run the floor, get some post-ups,” Cheeks said of Smith. “Get your hands on the ball and things will change for you.”

To his credit, Smith handled it like a pro, something that his critics probably didn’t expect given his history of clashing with authority during his formative stages in the league. Instead, he put the onus back on the leaders in the locker room and pointed out their lack of focus and attention to detail on the defensive end:

“Just gotta cheer my teammates on. You can’t focus on decisions people make, higher than you. You have to adjust around it and as long as I’ve been in this league, that’s what I’ve been willing to do — learning to adjust.”

With investment the Pistons have made in Smith, knowing that they have to make decisions on the long-term futures of young bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, everyone needs to maintain the proper perspective on things during the start.

Smith is averaging 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks so far this season. He’s been a factor. The Pistons, however, need him to be a force. They need him to lead the way in the frontcourt. They need his play, his all around abilities and particularly his penchant for facilitating from the point-forward position, to bolster the production up front.

With Jennings returning from injury, Smith was bound to lose some of that freedom he enjoyed in the first few games of the season. So ultimately, it’s up to Cheeks to make sure all of the pieces fit and the Pistons don’t lose any more ground in the Eastern Conference standings.

So if a change is needed after this sluggish start, even a minor one at halftime of a road game in mid-November, so be it. Better to fix it now than have to worry about it later.

Huge NBA Opening Week; And You Wanted To Wait Till Christmas?

VIDEO: The top plays from the NBA’s opening week

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Six nights. That’s all it took to remind yet again why we play the games, all 82, and why any claim of less being more is pure folly.

Why not November? I say.

As the 2011 lockout ushered in a reduced schedule of 66 games starting on Christmas Day and firing off a fan-pleasing crush of games nightly, a spark ignited into a full-blown media/Internet forest fire: Why not start every NBA season on Dec. 25?

Heck, no one’s paying attention in November, let alone a pre-Halloween slate. With the NFL and college football beast roaring, who’s got the attention span to cram in hoops, too?

So congratulations to the NBA for a wholly unpredictable and fascinating opening week that featured scintillating individual performances and take-that victories by teams who’ve been told they stink. And so the games are played. Yes, even in November.

There isn’t a more outrageous narrative than Philly’s 3-0 start that includes takedowns of the Heat and Bulls led by The Kid, Michael Carter-Williams. Our own John Schuhmann couldn’t help but unprecedentedly vault the Sixers from 29th to No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

While all will likely right itself before too long, one week in and we’ve got upside-down standings. The trifecta tankers — Philly, Phoenix and Orlando — are 7-2. Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York are 5-8.

Along with some fascinating upsets and  fast starts, we’ve seen a bevy of fantastic individual scoring and rebounding frenzies.

Here’s a quick look at some of the opening week’s wildly unpredictable highlights:

*  Carter-Williams has to sweep the Player of the Week honors for rookies and everybody else. In his season debut against Miami, he nearly notched a quadruple-double with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals. A fluke? A few nights later against the Bulls and the comeback kid Derrick  Rose, he dropped 26 points and 10 assists. Golden State, in Philly tonight (7 p.m. ET, League Pass), has been warned.

* You can probably name more traded Suns than current Suns, but they’re 2-1 and on Sunday pushed Oklahoma City to the brink in their home opener even with Russell Westbrook supercharging the evening with his unexpected return. By the way, he looked super-fast.

* Let’s not forget the Magic’s supposed bid for massive ping-pong-ball accumulation. Rookie Victor Oladipo has other plans. The Magic aren’t disappearing after two rousing victories over the improved Pelicans and (title-contending?) Nets by a combined 41 points to even their record at 2-2.

* The no-name Lakers bench crushed the star-studded Clippers’ starters in the fourth quarter in both teams’ opener.

* Chris Paul has stat lines of 42 points and 15 assists and 26 points and 10 assists.

* Kevin Love is all the way back, averaging 29.7 ppg, 14.7 rpg and 3.7 apg to help Minnesota start 3-0. He already has games of 31 and 17, and 34 and 15.

* The 2-1 Pistons’ front line is living up to expectations. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are walking double-doubles. Monroe has a 24 and 16 game under his belt and Drummond already has 15-and-12 and 12-and-16 games.

* Second-year Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson went off for 38 points on 15-for-19 shooting in 31 minutes.

*Kings center DeMarcus Cousins notched 31 points and 14 rebounds against the Nuggets.

* In the same game, Knicks center Tyson Chandler pulled down 19 rebounds and Bulls center Joakim Noah grabbed 15.

* In a battle of point guards, Steph Curry and CP3 combined for 80 points, 11 3-pointers, 24 assists and 17 turnovers.

* Also in the same game, Mavs forward Shawn Marion and Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph posted matching stat lines of 21 points and 14 boards.

* Greg Oden dunked on his first offensive possession since Dec. 5, 2009.

* Dwight Howard is averaging 15.0 ppg and 17.0 rpg in three games. His 51 rebounds nearly double his free 26 throw attempts, of which he’s made half.

* Pelicans second-year center/forward Anthony Davis is taking this breakthrough stuff seriously, averaging 23.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg and 4.0 bpg. He has games of 25 points and six blocks, 26 points and 17 rebounds and 20 points and 12 boards.

There are even more big games to get to from Kevin Durant to Paul George to Monta Ellis to Nicolas Batum‘s apologetic triple-double, but in the interest of fair time, we must also get to the surprising (or in some instances the not-so-surprising, but still noteworthy) developments at the other end of the spectrum:

* The Nuggets, 0-2, and center JaVale McGee are not off to inspiring starts. This is supposed to be McGee’s big moment, but the 7-footer has averaged just 11.5 mpg and 5.0 ppg and 2.0 rpg despite starting both games.

* Raptors forward Rudy Gay again has a nice-looking scoring average (17.0 ppg), but just think what it might be if not for shooting 32.7 percent from the floor and 30.0 percent from beyond the arc.

* Rookie Nets head coach Jason Kidd served a two-game suspension stemming from his DUI situation and then got hammered by 21 points in his debut at Orlando.

* Memphis is in transition after the promotion of Dave Joerger following Lionel Hollins being shown the door. Joerger is credited as the architect of the Grizzlies’ stifling defense, yet even with a virtually unchanged roster, the defense is being picked apart, allowing more than 106 ppg.

* Detroit’s active big guys, Monroe and Drummond, are pushing high-dollar free-agent signee Josh Smith out to the perimeter. Smith likes to shoot the long ball, but averaging 7.3 attempts from back there is a bit much, especially when he’s making just 27.0 percent.

And you wanted to wait until Christmas? Bah!

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan dismisses Pera’s challenge | Oden misses practice (knee) | Monroe won’t get extension …  yet | Howard hopes his jersey is retired by Magic

No. 1: Jordan calls Pera’s challenge ‘comical’Just two days ago, Grizzlies owner Michael Pera took to Twitter to challenge Hall of Famer and Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan to a game of one-on-one. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell, Jordan had a quick reaction to Pera’s challenge:

Hours removed from the owner of the Memphis Grizzlies challenging Michael Jordan to a charity one-on-one game, MJ had a response:

“Comical.”

That’s the word the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats (and Hall of Fame player) used in a brief interview with the Observer Wednesday. If new Grizzlies owner Robert Pera wants to play one-on-one for $1 million to charity (as he said on Twitter), Jordan won’t be his opponent.

“I think that’s comical,’’ Jordan said. “It didn’t make any sense. Why would I play one-on-one? It’s a no-win situation for me no matter what.”

***

No. 2: Oden sits out practice with knee swellingTwo days after participating in his first full practice as a member of the Heat, center Greg Oden suffered a small setback on Wednesday. The big man was held out of Miami’s practice, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, due to swelling in his left knee:

Oden’s return to contact work had spurred some optimism that he could play in a preseason game. Those hopes have been dimmed now as he’s had to ease off his workload.

The Heat and Oden have been very careful to avoid setting a timetable for the center’s return in part because they’re preparing for setbacks such as this.

“This has been three years for me, as long as it’s no surgery, it’s OK,” said Oden, who last played in an NBA game in 2009. “This is going to be a long season, I’m going to get there.”

The Heat training staff measures Oden’s troublesome knees before and after every workout to monitor any swelling. The team has moved cautiously but had slowly been increasing his workload as he responded well to the first weeks of training camp and the preseason. Getting back to doing full-court work was an anticipated step.

“I was hoping it didn’t (swell up) but it did, but what can I do about it?” Oden said. “Next thing to do is get (the swelling) back down and get out there and figure out what I can do to not let it swell again.”

***

No. 3: Pistons’ Monroe will have to wait for extension — Pistons fans shouldn’t read too much into the news that Detroit is unlikely to offer center Greg Monroe a contract extension before the NBA’s Halloween deadline to do so. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press says much of the reasoning behind the Pistons holding off on the move is not because they don’t want to offer Monroe an extension, but more due to them wanting to monitor the development of fellow big man Andre Drummond:

At this point the Pistons still consider Monroe a huge part of their rebuilding effort, but the circumstances suggest the team would be better off letting the season play out.

The Pistons probably could get a signature on a five-year, maximum contract offer. There wouldn’t be much point in the offer being declined. But the collective bargaining agreement dictates that teams can have only one five-year, designated player. That spot likely is reserved for second-year center Andre Drummond in the off-season before 2015-16.

So the season plays out and Monroe builds on his promising first three seasons, couldn’t he just walk? Nope. The most another team could offer is four years. The Pistons match it and still retain the five-year designation for Drummond.

The situation works for Monroe because things can change. What if Drummond is hurt or Monroe outplays Drummond this year? Circumstances could change where the Pistons would be open to offering Monroe five years. Or Monroe could be linked to trade rumors if the grouping with Drummond and Josh Smith isn’t working.

***

No. 4: Howard hopes Magic retire his number one day – Yesterday, Dwight Howard spoke with Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel and said he had ‘no regrets’ over how the end of his tenure played out in The City Beautiful. Before Howard’s Rockets topped the Magic in Houston last night, Howard said he hopes he and the Magic can one day mend fences enough to consider retiring his No. 12 jersey (which is today worn by Magic player Tobias Harris):

This morning, after Howard’s Houston Rockets completed their shootaround, I asked him whether he can envision the Magic retiring his number one day in the distant future.

“No doubt,” he answered.“Despite how things ended, we had eight or seven great years. We went to The Finals. A lot of those banners that are in the arena happened when I was there. I was a major part of that. A lot of the records that are there, I put them there.

“I hate talking about myself, but I feel like I’ve done a lot, not just for the team but the city and the arena itself and the businesses that were around. There’s a lot of things that happened that didn’t happen before I got there. Our team, we did an excellent job at putting all that stuff together, especially in the community. I was deeply embedded in the community and I feel like one day it should [be retired].

“But with all that happened, I can’t control that. All I’ve got to do is win. And, hopefully, when I’m done playing here, I’ll have my jersey retired here.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Spurs still seeking a capable backup for budding star Kawhi Leonard … Cavs coach Mike Brown wants a better defensive effort from Dion Waiters Caron Butler of the Bucks has trimmed down a little this season

ICYMI Of The Night: Derrick Rose‘s regular-season debut is in 12 days, but if you asked the Pistons after this move on Peyton Siva, they’d say he’s in mid-season form already …

One Team, One Stat: Pistons In The Paint

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Detroit Pistons, who underwent major changes this summer.

The basics
DET Rank
W-L 29-53 t-23
Pace 93.2 22
OffRtg 100.9 22
DefRtg 105.6 23
NetRtg -4.8 24

The stat

660 - Field goal attempts in the restricted area from Greg Monroe, 96 more than any other player in the league.

The context

It helps that Monroe played 81 of 82 games, but he also led the league with 8.1 restricted-area shots per contest.

Monroe is decent in the low post and solid as a roll man. He even had 94 fast-break points last season. But he’s most comfortable operating from the elbow. In games tracked by SportVU, Monroe led the league with 10.2 *elbow touches per game.

* Elbow touch = Touch that originates within a five-foot radius near the edge of the lane and free throw line, inside the 3-point line.

Whether he catches the ball as a trailer, from a straight, high-post entry pass, or in a pick-and-pop, Monroe knows what he wants to do. It doesn’t matter if he starts at the right or left elbow, he wants to get to the basket with his left hand. There’s not much hesitation, but maybe a pump fake to get his defender off-balance. He shot just 31.4 percent from outside the restricted area, so you really shouldn’t be biting on those pump fakes.

Here are some examples of Monroe’s elbow offense…


Joining Monroe at the basket is new teammate Josh Smith, who also ranked in the top 10 in made field goals in the restricted area. While Monroe’s spot in the top 10 was about volume, Smith’s was more about efficiency. Of 236 players who attempted at least 100 shots from the restricted area, Smith ranked sixth in FG% (73.3 percent).

Most field goals in the restricted area

Player FGM FGA FG% *Rank
LeBron James 411 541 76.0% 2
Greg Monroe 389 660 58.9% 138
Dwight Howard 388 564 68.8% 23
Blake Griffin 364 493 73.8% 5
David Lee 325 516 63.0% 80
Russell Westbrook 323 548 58.9% 136
Thaddeus Young 321 496 64.7% 63
Josh Smith 311 424 73.3% 6
Dwyane Wade 311 447 69.6% 17
Brook Lopez 309 468 66.0% 42

*Among 236 players w/ at least 100 restricted area FGA
Chris Wilcox (103-for-131 – 78.6 percent) ranked No. 1.

Only one team – Denver – attempted a greater percentage of its shots from the restricted area than the Pistons did (without Smith) last season. But Detroit ranked 24th in restricted-area field goal percentage. Brandon Jennings (47.3 percent in the restricted area, 231st of 236) will hurt them there, but Smith and more playing time for Andre Drummond (67.7 percent, 29th) will more than make up for it.

So the Pistons should continue to be strong in the paint … and on the glass. Of 263 players who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season, Drummond, Monroe and Smith ranked third, 29th and 67th in rebounding percentage. So it would be a surprise if Detroit wasn’t a top-10 rebounding team on both ends of the floor this season.

But shooting is more important than rebounding. And the biggest question surrounding the Pistons is how well they’ll be able to space the floor, especially if Smith plays a lot of minutes at small forward.

As noted above, Monroe shot 31.4 percent from outside the restricted area. Drummond shot 11-for-51 (21.6 percent). And Smith…

Among 202 players who attempted at least 100 shots from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line), Smith ranked 192nd at 30.5 percent (102-for-334). And among 172 players who attempted at least 100 threes, he ranked 160th at 30.3 percent (61-for-201). That’s bad shooting in high volume.

The Pistons have some good shooters in their backcourt, but putting more shooters on the floor takes away from their dominance inside. It should be a fascinating give-and-take all season.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

SportVU Adds To The Conversation

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Every season, the NBA and its fans get smarter, and the league’s new deal with Stats LLC is a big step in the process. The deal puts Stats’ SportVU cameras in every NBA arena and makes the information they collect available to you via NBA.com, NBA TV and the NBA Game Time app.

So what kind of information is that?

The SportVU cameras track every player and the basketball 25 times a second. The data the cameras collect can tell how fast a player moves, how close he was defended on a shot, how many times he dribbled and a plethora of other fascinating nuggets.

Here are a few videos of SportVU in action …

1. Here’s the SportVU model overlaid on footage from one of the overhead cameras. And you’ll notice that it’s calculating the distance between Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant


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2. Here’s another overlay of Knicks’ possession, showing the changing shape of the Miami defense …


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3. The third clip is just the simulation itself, again showing the distance between Durant and Leonard as Durant steals a Manu Ginobili pass and turns it into a layup for Russell Westbrook


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4. The final clip shows the same possession and the changing shape of the OKC defense …


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These visualizations really just scratch the surface. What SportVU will do is add another layer of information to any NBA discussion that we, as writers and fans, want to have.

There are 15 teams that had SportVU data last season and some were able to make better use of it than others. The one real (and fascinating) example that we’re aware of is the Toronto Raptors’ ghost defenders, which Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe chronicled in March.

How useful that stuff is to a coach — and in making players better — is an interesting question, but there are some obvious and simple ways to translate the data into coaching. For instance, Mike Woodson could tell J.R. Smith that he shoots 41 percent from 3-point range off the catch, but just 21 percent off the dribble.

While teams are still figuring out what advantages they can get by mining the data, fans and analysts can just dig in and explore. We already have what we see with our eyes, what we find in the box scores and what we discover in advanced stats. Now we can add more context to everything.

A deeper look into dimes

If you’re discussing the best passers in the game, you can compare their assists per game, their assist percentage (the percentage of their teammates field goals they assisted on while on the floor), their assist rate (assists per 100 possessions used), and their assist/turnover ratio. You can also dig into how well their teammates shoot with them on and off the floor.

All that is great, but assists only account for shots that go in the basket. And there’s never been a way to quantify passes that lead to a missed shot, to free throws, or to an assist by a teammate (sometimes called a “hockey assist”). SportVU does that.

For example, in 27 games tracked by SportVU last season, Rajon Rondo had 37 “free throw assists,” which are passes that don’t lead to a made basket, but do lead to at least one made free throw. That’s an additional 1.4 dimes per game.

Tony Parker, meanwhile, had 96 “secondary assists” in 48 games tracked by SportVU. That means that twice a game, he made a pass that directly led to a teammate’s assist.

If you watch the Spurs, you know that happens a lot. Parker comes off a pick-and-roll, draws an extra defender, and kicks the ball out. San Antonio is maybe the best team in the league in passing up a good shot for a great one. Danny Green will pass up a contested look from the wing if Kawhi Leonard is wide open in the corner.

If you want to talk about how well a team moves the ball, you have the numbers to back you up. So who led the league in secondary assists per game last season? Kirk Hinrich, who had 47 of them (2.9 per game) in 16 games tracked by SportVU.

Some assists are better than others, of course. We can now tell how many of Rondo’s assists lead to wide-open layups and how many lead to contested, mid-range jumpers. And if you’re really focusing on quality of the pass, the result of the shot shouldn’t matter.

So you could just count how many open shots Rondo’s passes produce. Heck, you can come up with a assist grade by figuring out the average expected field goal percentage from all his assists and potential assists, taking into account where the shots were taken and whether or not they were contested.

Before, you had to break down the film to figure out how whether a shot was contested or not. Now, SportVU can tell you right away. And it can tell you who was the guy contesting the shot.

Putting a numbers on the ethereal

Defense is just as important as offense, but has always been the hardest thing to quantify. We know that the Celtics allowed 8.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when Kevin Garnett was on the floor than when he was on the bench last season. We know that Carmelo Anthony shot just 10-for-39 with Garnett on the floor. And from watching him over the years, we know that KG is an active and vocal defender who’s great at snuffing out pick-and-rolls.

Now, we can quantify how well KG does just that. Beginning this year, SportVU will track the two offensive players and two defenders involved in every pick-and-roll run in every game. And that should provide us with some fascinating data.

Want to talk about rebounding? SportVU will tell you how many rebounding chances a player had, how many of his rebounds were contested or uncontested, and how much distance he travels for his rebounds. Reggie Evans led the league in rebounding percentage (the percentage of available rebounds that he grabbed while he was on the floor), but teammate Brook Lopez (in 18 games tracked by SportVU) actually converted a greater percentage of his rebound chances (63 percent vs. 62 percent) where he was in the vicinity of the ball. Furthermore, 54 percent of Lopez’s rebounds were contested, while only 31 percent of Evans’ were. And Lopez traveled 6.4 feet per rebound, while Evans traveled just 4.3 feet.

SportVU will also add to discussions about usage and efficiency. Per NBA.com/stats, Anthony led the league in usage, but that just tells us how possessions ended. SportVU tells us that Anthony had the ball in his possession for only 3:28 (three minutes and 28 seconds) per game, while teammate Raymond Felton had it in his possession for 5:51 per contest.

We can find out who gets the most elbow touches (Greg Monroe at 10.2 per game last season) and post touches (Dwight Howard at 8.5 per game), as well as who makes the most of those touches by producing points for himself or his teammates.

No single stat or number exists that’s going to tell you all you need to know about a player. Everything must be taken in context and the more information you have, the better argument you can make. Well, SportVU is a lot of information.

All of the above is just the tip of the iceberg. If it can be tracked, it can be quantified.

Get ready to get smarter.

New Coaches: Five That Fit

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HANG TIME, Texas – Sometimes it’s the big things, a change in philosophy or overall team strategy that’s required to make a difference. Sometimes it’s just a new attitude, a new voice that’s needed in the locker room.

With a baker’s dozen new coaches ready to roam NBA sidelines — at least one in every division — this season, some will find the task a heavier lift than the circus wagon that holds the elephants.

Others will pick up their new teams immediately. Here are the five coaches who’ll make themselves right at home in their new digs and have the smoothest transitions:

Doc Rivers, Clippers – The veteran of previous stints with the Magic and Celtics definitely has the least room for improvement in the win column, since the Clips already won a franchise-best 56 games and their first-ever division title a year ago. But the little brothers of Staples Center won’t really shed their “second-class-citizen” image until they make a real run in the playoffs and that’s where Rivers’ experience will pay off. While they will still dance to the tune of Chris Paul’s talent on the court, Rivers will get them marching to a more serious, professional beat at both ends of the floor and in the locker room. They have to be more than just a group that jumps into the passing lanes to get steals on the defensive end and thrives on Lob City dunks on offense. He knows what it takes to win a championship and will put his stamp on the team early so we’ll notice the difference.

Mike Brown, Cavaliers — Let’s face it. Other than a fat man in an undersized Speedo, there wasn’t a more uncomfortable fit anywhere than Brown coaching the Lakers for a year and a smidgen. But now he’s back in Cleveland in a familiar role with a young team that is trying to build something special around an All-Star talent. OK, Kyrie Irving isn’t LeBron James, but he is the kind of lead horse that can pull the wagon. The truth is that these Cavaliers have a deeper collection of all-around talent than ever surrounded James, from Anderson Varejao to Tristan Thompson to Jarrett Jack to No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett and maybe a rehabilitated Andrew Bynum. Brown will emphasize what he knows best — defense — to give the Cavs a toughness and identity that, assuming Irving stays healthy, will have them back in the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left.

Jason Kidd, Nets – If it was so easy, the Naismith Hall of Fame would be filled with plaques of many more All-Stars who took off their uniforms one night and slipped easily into the role of head coach the next. There will be plenty about the nuts and bolts of the job that Kidd will have to learn as he goes along. But it helps that as point guard he already possessed some of the coaching genes. It also helps that he’s walking into a locker room filled with veterans names Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko, who are all looking to erase recent seasons of disappointment to come together and win a championship. Kidd won’t have to sweat the small stuff with this bunch. Garnett, Pierce and Terry have all won rings before and know the sacrifices that have to be made and the work that must be put in. In fact, Kidd’s toughest job might be holding them back and limiting regular season playing time. Since he’s in the glare of the New York media, any mistakes along the way by the rookie coach might be magnified, but he’s played a good portion of his career there and knows how to survive.

Mike Budenholzer, Hawks – After nearly two decades in San Antonio and the past six seasons as Gregg Popovich’s right hand man on the Spurs bench, this was finally the right time and the right place for Budenholzer to make the move into the No. 1 seat. For one thing, the Hawks are certainly not bereft of talent, even after the departure of Josh Smith. Free agent Paul Millsap will fill in capably. For another, it’s not as if there is the burden of having to live up to decades — or even one or two seasons — of greatness. But mostly it was time because Budenholzer was hand-picked by general manager Danny Ferry, his old Spurs buddy, as the start of a plan to finally have the Hawks build something special and to do it the right way. The Eastern Conference has gotten stronger at the top and it will be much tougher for Atlanta to break through against the likes of Miami, Indiana, Chicago and Brooklyn. But Budenholzer and Ferry won’t be impatient, are in this for the long haul and will have each other’s back. There’s no rush this season.

Maurice Cheeks, Pistons – After previous stints as head coach in Portland and Philadelphia, Cheeks spent the past four seasons as Scott Brooks’ assistant in Oklahoma City getting prepared for his third chance. The understated Cheeks knows his stuff and knows what he wants and could be just the right personality to get the newly acquired, up-and-down pair of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to deliver every night. The real heat is on general manager Joe Dumars to build the once-proud franchise back up after a half decade of serious slippage has had the Pistons way outside of even playoff contention, let alone the championship conversation. Cheeks will have Chauncey Billups back with his championship pedigree as an extension on the court and if he can keep the young big man tandem of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe moving ahead together, the Pistons could bring some joy back into The Palace with a run at a playoff spot.

Summer Dreaming: Executive Of The Year

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HANG TIME, Texas – Never mind that the weather map says it’ s hurricane season. This is the time of year when there are nothing but blue skies over every NBA franchise from Miami to Portland to Los Angeles to Toronto.

Draft picks have been chosen and brought into camp. Free agents have been signed and trotted out for the TV cameras. Trades have been made to fill holes in the lineups. It’s a time for championship planning among the elite class and fantasizing about moving up by the wannabes.

But the truth is that, despite so much spin doctoring that comes out of all the front offices, there are a handful of team presidents and general managers that made the most of the offseason. That’s why we don’t have to wait till next April — or even the season openers — to know who’ll be taking bows for their work. They’re our summer dreaming picks for Executive of the Year:

Daryl Morey, Rockets – Unless Dwight Howard wakes up one morning and declares it was all a mistake — that he really loved having Kobe Bryant as a playmate, that he thoroughly enjoyed Mike D’Antoni’s offense and that he never, ever meant to leave those clever recruiting banners in L.A. — this is as sure a thing as Usain Bolt outrunning a lead-boot-wearing Charles Barkley. If Howard stays healthy, he and fellow All-Star James Harden will team up to make the Rockets instant challengers for one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference and could even be a dark horse contender to advance all the way to The Finals. But before they even chalk up one “W” in the standings, Morey has put a headlock on the award simply by making the Rockets franchise relevant again for the first time in years. After drifting on a sea of anonymity and mediocrity since the star-crossed Tracy McGrady-Yao Ming pairing came undone, the Rockets are back in the spotlight. A year ago, they were on national TV once. Now they have 10 appearances on ESPN, nine on TNT, one on ABC and even made it into the Christmas lineup with a date at San Antonio.

Billy King, Nets – It’s like walking into a casino with a sack full of money, walking straight to the roulette table and plopping it all down on red. Or black. Either way, it’s a 50-50 gamble and you live with the results. King certainly has the cushion and the endorsement of Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokorhov and the understanding that paying the luxury tax bill of nearly $100 million is no problem. Still, it takes considerable nerve for King to bet it all on the hope that a 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 35-year-old Paul Pierce, 35-year-old Jason Terry and a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd can take down the two-time defending champs from Miami along with the rest of what has become a strengthened Eastern Conference lineup. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson were enough to make Brooklyn a postseason sports destination for the first time since the Dodgers left town, but now it’s the old Celtics who’ll be expected to show them how to win a series or more. To get Andrei Kirilenko to walk away from a guaranteed $10 million to sign a cut-rate deal was probably the second-best move of the entire NBA offseason, trailing only Dwight Howard’s move to Houston. Kirilenko adds a tough defender and a slashing finisher to a lineup that hopes to have Brook Lopez improving on his first ever All-Star season. If he’s accomplished one big thing already, King has jumped the Nets over the Knicks as the headlining team in New York, which is signficant.

Chris Grant, Cavaliers – Things have changed considerably since that first summer on the job as GM when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the temptation might have been to turn out the lights and simply declare the NBA party in Cleveland over. Grant has steadily reassembled the franchise one piece at time to a point where people are whispering that it’s not out of the question to think James could return next summer when he becomes a free agent. Before that, the Cavs figure to have a resurgent seasons between their splendid young point guard Kyrie Irving and all the other pieces that Grant has put around him. Anthony Bennett may have been a bit of a surprise on draft night, but should fill a need on the front line and free agent signee Jarrett Jack will be both a firecracker lift off the bench. Of course, the big bonanza would be if free agent Andrew Bynum can overcome the knee injuries that left him notable only for sitting on bench modeling outrageous hairstyles last season in Philly. A return to the form that once made him an All-Star with the Lakers makes Grant a genius and, even if Bynum falls short, the Cavs have not made a long crippling financial commitment to the gamble. And don’t forget to give Grant credit for not listening to the suggestions that he should have traded Anderson Varejao. The Cavs will likely make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference and, depending on how bright the future looks next spring, could turn the head of a familiar figure to come home.

Joe Dumars, Pistons – Let’s face it. The Hall of Fame guard-turned-GM has taken his fair share of abuse through recent seasons for allowing the once-proud franchise to drift way out of the playoff picture and even have trouble drawing crowds to The Palace. Was it a curse for making Darko Mlicic the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade? Then there was that disastrous free agent splurge on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in 2009. But lately Dumars has been making a comeback, drafting a pair of big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond who have the potential to anchor the Pistons front line for years to come. He made his biggest play in signing free agent Josh Smith, hoping that the stat-line filler can step into the role of No. 1 option and even team leader. Then Dumars traded for Brandon Jennings with hope that he can be both reined in and unleashed and brought home former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups to show him how. Mo Cheeks gets his third shot as a head coach and it’s all a mix that could put the Pistons back in the playoffs.

Dell Demps, Pelicans – The easier path for Demps would have been to keep Nerlens Noel when the big man fell into his lap at the No. 6 pick and keep on selling a theme of acquiring young assets and building for the future. But with a new team name, new franchise colors and a new owner (Tom Benson) writing the checks, it was a time for a new and bolder direction. The young and oh-so-slender Noel was deemed too much duplication on the front line with 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis and was trade to Philly for 23-year-old guard Jrue Holiday, who puts the only All-Star credentials in the New Orleans lineup. Demps then kept dealing to bring more firepower into the lineup with former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. Of course, that immediately brought talk of a crowded backcourt with Eric Gordon still on hand, but Demps and coach Monty Williams are betting that a three-man rotation cannot only thrive, but put some punch into what was a thoroughly mediocre offense last season. Assuming Davis takes another big step forward in his second season, the Pelicans could contend for one of the final playoff spots in the West.

PREVIOUSLY: Comeback player | MVP | Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Another Look: The 2010 Draft Do-Over!



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Once you’ve acknowledged the NBA Draft for the inexact science that it has been, is and forever will be, it makes looking back at past Drafts much easier.

You won’t be nearly as upset with the president or general manager of your favorite team when you glance back at a Draft and recognize just how many more misses there are than hits. Many guys pegged as future stars are barely holding on to starting spots just three or four seasons into their careers.

The hit-or-miss rate in the lottery is pretty staggering from year to year, especially when you consider the amount of financial and human resources teams spend on their Draft preparation. For every LeBron James or Derrick Rose as No. 1 overall picks and future MVPs, there is a Greg Oden or Andrea Bargnani to balance the scales — guys who for whatever reason simply are not able to live up to where they were drafted. And it goes on and on like that down each Draft board.

Most players only get two or three seasons to prove they are going to be a player to be reckoned with. Rookie deals are shorter these days, so the only way to curb the uncertainty is for a player to produce immediately. Three seasons of work is a quality sample in most cases.

Take the 2010 Draft class as Exhibit A. As of this morning, only two members of the class have extensions of their rookie deals: Washington’s John Wall and Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders are set. Indiana All-Star Paul George is a sure bet to get something worked out before the Halloween deadline and the Sacramento Kings would be wise to figure out their future with DeMarcus Cousins. But beyond those names, it’s unclear if anyone else in this class will be smiling when trick-or-treat season rolls around.

In the meantime, we’re going to examine the lottery selections from 2010 and unveil our the first in a series of our Hang Time Draft Do-Overs (lottery picks only), based on what we know now. Too bad the teams who made the original selections couldn’t do it this way.

Hang Time’s 2010 Draft Do-Over

Pick, Player, Position, College (where they were originally picked in 2010 Draft)

1. Paul George, SF, Fresno State (No. 10 by Indiana)

One of the brightest young stars in the league, George made his case for the top spot with a mercurial rise in his first three seasons that culminated with an All-Star nod last season and by battling LeBron James inch-for-inch in an epic seven-game Eastern Conference finals last season. It was a remarkable star turn for a player casual fans had barely heard of on Draft night.

2. John Wall, PG, Kentucky (No. 1 by Washington)

Plagued by uncertainty and a somewhat suspect supporting cast early on, Wall came on in the second half of the 2012-13 season. He shook off the after effects of knee surgery and played at an All-Star level in the Wizards’ final 49 games. He was the first member of the class to cash in with a five-year, $80 million extension earlier this month.

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3. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kentucky (No. 5 by Sacramento)

Cousins has had more than his share of issues, on and off the court, but his raw talent remains undeniable. Whether or not he has the desire and work ethic to become the All-Star big man his talent suggests, however, also remains in question. Being dominant in flashes is not a sufficient existence for a player with his talent.

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4. Larry Sanders, PF, Virginia Commonwealth (No. 15 by Milwaukee)

Sanders was undervalued on Draft night, but you couldn’t tell by his first two underwhelming seasons with the Bucks. But he came alive last season, turning in a season worthy of the Defensive Player of the Year consideration he received and finally becoming the consistent force his abilities suggested he should be. The Bucks rewarded him with that $44 million extension.

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5. Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown (No. 7 by Detroit)

Monroe isn’t as physically dominant as either Cousins, Sanders or Derrick Favors, but there’s a good chance he could end up being the most polished and productive big man in this class. He quickly developed into a low-post anchor for the Pistons and will now get the chance to work alongside Josh Smith and Andre Drummond as the franchise moves back into the playoff picture.

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6. Avery Bradley, SG, Texas (No. 19 by Boston)

Undersized as a shooting guard at the NBA level, Bradley saw his stock dip on Draft night. It was a foolish assessment by many, because Bradley has evolved into one an absolute lock-down defender at his position and one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. It will be interesting to see if he continues to improve under coach Brad Stevens the way he did under coach Doc Rivers.

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7.  Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech (No. 3 by New Jersey)

Favors had to play behind veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap after being traded to Utah. It was probably the best thing that could have happened to him, too. Now that those veteran bigs have moved on via free agency, Favors will become the low-post anchor for the Jazz. He’ll become the walking double-double he should be now that he’ll have an expanded role.

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8. Gordon Hayward, SG, Butler (No. 9 by Utah)

Hayward has improved as much as anyone in the class between Draft night and this summer. He stood out among the young stars assembled in Las Vegas last month for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s mini-camp. A young Jazz team in need of leadership will get a solid boost in that department, and others, from Hayward.

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9. Eric Bledsoe, PG, Kentucky (No. 18 by Oklahoma City)

John Calipari was operating with an absolute embarrassment of point guard riches with Wall and Bledsoe on the roster at Kentucky together. Bledsoe had limited opportunities in 38 starts in three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers. Traded to Phoenix this summer, he should thrive now that he won’t be overshadowed by Chris Paul.

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10. Greivis Vasquez, PG, Maryland (No. 28 by Memphis)

A solid back up in Memphis, Vasquez proved himself to be a capable starter in two years in New Orleans and will try to do the same in Sacramento this season. With his size, savvy and fearlessness in the clutch, it’s hard to see how many teams missed on the former ACC star on Draft night.

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11. Evan Turner, SF, Ohio State (No. 2 by Philadelphia)

Turner has been a solid pro in his first three seasons, but the No. 2 pick in any Draft needs to be much more than solid. The Big Ten Player of the Year in college, Turner struggled to find his fit early on with the Sixers. But he blossomed in his third season playing alongside All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, who was traded away this summer.

12. Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina (No. 13 by Toronto) 

It was understood that Davis was going to be a project, a guy with fantastic long-term potential that might not be realized until his fourth or fifth season in the league. So he’s right on target heading into his fourth season, his first full season in Memphis. Davis is still coming into his own physically and just needs more time.

13. Quincy Pondexter, SF, Washington (No. 26 by Oklahoma City)

A quality role player from the moment he set foot in the league, Pondexter carved out a nice spot for himself in the Grizzlies’ rotation over the past two seasons. While he’s not necessarily a future star, Pondexter is one of those players who should spend the next decade or so playing a significant role for whatever team(s) he’s on.

14. Lance Stephenson, SG, Cincinnati (No. 40 by Indiana)

Stephenson had a lottery grade coming out of high school but saw his stick drop dramatically after one season at Cincinnati. He’s still wildly inconsistent and was a flat-out liability at times against the Heat during the Eastern Conference finals. But Larry Bird saw something in him on Draft night and continues to believe in his ability to contribute on a championship-caliber Pacers team.

Blogtable: Surprise Teams?




Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Surprise Teams | Teams Likely to Fall | Rookie Coaches


Which team will do better than most expect next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I think Cleveland has done more in a fairly short amount of time than I expected. Sure, I’m projecting a happy outcome in the Andrew Bynum gamble, but at least the terms of that deal are sensible and maybe he’s ready – physically and mentally – to kick his career into top gear. Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark rate as second- or third-tier acquisitions that could have a surgical benefit on the Cavs’ promise to push into the playoffs this season. Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson all will be better. So I’m watching Anthony Bennett for how well he fits in and works on his game, rather than taking his No. 1 status in a grab-bag draft too seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m taking a flyer on the Pistons, who already had two solid front-line up-and-comers in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond and landed veteran Josh Smith in free agency.  Smith should be the consistent scorer that the Pistons need to make scoring easier.  The acquisition of Brandon Jennings should give the offense a further boost, especially if he can heed the wise counsel of returning favorite Chauncey Billups as a mentor. If rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can show what he can do early, new coach Maurice Cheeks could have his team sniffing at the playoff race.

Boston Celtics v Sacramento Kings

DeMarcus Cousins leads the young Kings.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: It’s interesting because I think in the West many believe that most of the bottom seven teams improved themselves with the exception of probably Utah, which has taken on a youth movement. I don’t know what the perception of the sad-sack Sacramento Kings is, but I’m suggesting this team will be better, maybe much better, than it has been in a long, long time. Everything is fresh, from ownership to management to the coaching staff to the point guard (emerging Greivis Vasquez) to — wait for it — DeMarcus Cousins‘ attitude? With Mike Malone in charge on the bench, there should be a vitality to this bunch that has been lacking, and more than that there’s actual talent and some toughness, too, so Sleep Train Arena should wake up to a new brand of exciting basketball.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Washington. I’m not sure what “most expect,” maybe good enough to make the playoffs, but the Wizards have a chance for more than sneaking in. A healthy John Wall, Bradley Beal off the rookie learning curve and heading toward a long career, Nene and Emeka Okafor up front, Otto Porter as the perfect complementary piece – that has real potential. Just over the horizon and coming quick: Orlando.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comGolden State could be top three in the West if Andrew Bogut plays close to a full season. With a healthy Bogut and Andre Iguodala, they have the potential to improve several spots defensively (where they ranked 13th last season), and we know they’ll be potent offensively with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee. Denver has obviously taken a step backward and it’s hard to believe in the Clippers until they show us that they can defend consistently, so there’s a real chance for the Warriors to have home-court advantage in a first round series next spring.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Call me crazy, but the Detroit Pistons could be on to a little something with their risky free agent summer. Smith, Billups and now Jennings, who the Asch Man points out gets his cash and a fresh start in the Motor City. For a franchise that has been searching for a way back to the playoff mix the past few years, the Pistons seem like they are on the right path with their mix of edgy veterans, potentially All-Star-laden homegrown talent (young bigs Monroe and Drummond) and an intriguing mix of worker bees (Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko, Will Bynum) and specialists (Italian shooter Gigi Datome). Most people had the Pistons picked as a borderline candidate to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. I think they are not only going to make it but they could challenge for the sixth seed behind Miami, Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York, if things play out the way Pistons’ general manager Joe Dumars has them planned.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: How about the Lakers? Last season was such a mess for them, from injuries to coaching changes to the never-ending Dwight Howard saga. But this year, with Dwight gone, they’re firmly under the radar, even in their own city. (Even in their own building.) If Steve Nash can stay healthy, and Kobe returns and is able to give anything, we’ve seen what head coach Mike D’Antoni can do with a team that nobody expects much from.