Friday, May 30, 2014

The Lakers are looking at Marcus Smart with the 7th pick

The 7th pick in this years' draft is giving me
a headache. After the top-3 of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid (in no particular order), which is basically chiseled in stone already (though, again, in no particular order), then the draft gets really, really interesting. After that, nobody seems to have any idea who gets selected for the rest of the top-5, let alone of the top-10. So far, the top choices to fill out those remaining 7 slots are: Dante Exum, Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Zach LaVine, Doug McDermott and Aaron Gordon. And so far, it's looking like Exum and Vonleh will round out the Top-5, leaving the Lakers with two very intriguing options.

Let's ignore McDermott, LaVine, Randle and Gordon, I'll get to them in a later piece. Let's focus on Smart, a guy who was supposed to be sure-fire Top-5 picks until Exum and Vonleh started gaining some traction. Ultimately, Smart is very talented, and there's always the chance that he ends up going in the Top-5, leaving the Lakers with one of Exum or Vonleh (a problem that I'm happy to have). Anyways, here's a quick scouting report on the one of the players who will be strongly considered come draft day:

Smart is such a strangely frustrating and completely exciting player to cover. He is a pretty physically gifted athlete, being, by far, the strongest guard in the draft. He is listed as 6'3'', and weighing in at 227 pounds, so he can easily play both of the guard positions. Despite being such a big guard, he has very good quickness and he uses that and his superior strength to get to the rim and then routinely finishes through contact. He plays hard on the defensive end, and has good lateral quickness that combines well with his massive wingspan of 6'8'' that helped him produce 3 steals per game at the college level, and helped him become one of the better perimeter defenders in the draft.

He has been very aggressive on driving to the rim, and as a result, he usually draws multiple defenders with him on any given drive; he also creates a lot of contact and reaches the free throw line at a very high rate because of his strength. Smart still has the vision to see which teammates were left open as a result of the help defense, and he usually can give a pass that is on target, despite all of the defensive attention. Smart has great offensive awareness and will usually look to involve his teammates.

Most of Smart's negatives are things that can be worked on: his offensive decision making needs some work. For example: Smart only shot 42% from the field last season, despite shooting over 51% from two point range. It was his willingness to take the three point shot (which he shot at a 29% clip) that proved to be his doom. I would hope that is corrected at the pro level, lest he become the guard version of Josh Smith; ultra-talented, and good at a lot of things that aren't three pointers, yet he can't stop jacking up threes. Smart's jump shot isn't very reliable, and he could use some work with his mechanics to help him hit on a more consistent basis. Opponents at the NBA level will find it easier to cover Smart's dribble drives to the rim if they can sag off of him because of his inconsistent jump shot. Smart needs to cut down on the turnovers and take better shot attempts, both of which can be fixed with some experience.

And then, of course, there is the Texas Tech incident, which got him suspended for 3 games. Ugly stuff.

Overall, Smart is a very talented athlete, a very hard nosed, capable defensive player and a player who can penetrate a defense with the best of them. Smart has an inconsistent jumper, and his intensity can sometimes get the best of him, but he easily holds his own against the rest of the Top-7. You could even argue that the Top-4 were set before the Texas Tech incident, with Smart taking that distant fourth place behind the Big 3 of draft prospects this year.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Top 10 Upcoming Free Agents

Greg Monroe needs a new team to showcase his ability
Okay, so we have to set some ground rules for this list, that would have LeBron James as the uncontested number one player 100 times out of 100. This list will contain guys who the Lakers could realistically pursue and acquire. So while guys like LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony would all be pursued by the Lakers, it's highly unlikely we get any of them, especially Miami's Big Three, who look like they will be re-signing as soon as possible. This includes older players, who are legendary on their respective franchises, like Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan. This does not include guys who have restricted contracts, since not all of their teams will match all of the offers that are given to them. Without further ado, your 2014 Free Agency Power Rankings:

1) Kyle Lowry, Unrestricted, Point Guard, Toronto Raptors.
17.9 PPG, 7.4 APG, 3.6 RPG, 20.1 PER.

Kyle Lowry has been absolutely fantastic this past year for the Raptors, and he could be had for less than a max contract; despite being a top five point guard in all advanced statistics, a lot of teams didn't really know how well he was playing, due to playing on the Toronto Raptors. That has changed after his good showing in that first round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, as he managed to open some eyes, averaging 19.7 points per game and a 17.5 PER.

I'm sure the Raptors think very highly of Lowry, however because he is an unrestricted free agent, they have no pull over where he might end up signing, save for the power to offer him the most money, which would be irrelevant if he really wanted to play elsewhere.

2) Greg Monroe, Restricted, Power Forward/Center, Detroit Pistons.
15.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 18.1 PER.

Greg Monroe has been the most underrated big man of the past three years. Here's a guy who has a complete back-to-the-basket game, is an excellent rebounder, has amazing court vision and passing abilities for his size and puts up consistently good numbers, despite being one of the only good players on his team, and nobody really even knows who he is.

For those who still don't know, Monroe is basically a young, athletic Pau Gasol. Monroe's numbers took a pretty big hit when the Piston's added Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, and when Andre Drummond returned from injury, yet he was still very close to averaging a double-double and was still worth an 18.1 PER. His assists numbers are way down from last year, where he was fourth among centers with 3.5 assists per game, right behind Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Joakim Noah. He has a career 19.3 PER, and he even put up a 22.0 PER season just two years ago. And he's only 23. The only real knock on Monroe's game is his weak rim protection, as he has never averaged more than 0.7 blocks per game. Thankfully, the Lakers have a chance because the Pistons are so high on Drummond and have nowhere else to put Josh Smith, since he cannot play Small Forward for an extended period of time. All reports, so far, have indicated that Monroe is the odd man out in Detroit.

3) Gordon Hayward, Restricted, Small Forward/Shooting Guard, Utah Jazz.
16.2 PPG, 5.2 APG, 5.1 RPG, 16.2 PER.

Gordon Hayward is another guy who frequently gets overlooked due to being in a small market team, despite being very talented. Hayward is a player who can do just about everything you ask of him. He rebounds well enough, distributes like a natural guard and can score from just about anywhere within 30 feet. Hayward had his worst season last year from an efficiency standpoint, shooting career lows from everywhere except for the free throw line, but I don't blame all of that on Hayward; the Jazz were a horrendous team who have promise on the inside with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, but are completely depleted on the outside, with Hayward being their only good player.

The Jazz are likely to match most offers, however if a team wanted him badly enough, I'm sure the Jazz would rather not overpay for his services. Hayward has shown that he can't be the number one guy on his team, but he would be an excellent complimentary player to someone like, say, Kobe Bryant.

4) Luol Deng, Unrestricted, Small Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers.
16.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 15.2 PER.

Good job, Cleveland. You gave up multiple draft picks for Luol Deng, who was a terrible fit for the team, yet you wouldn't relinquish one first round draft choice for the services of the far superior Pau Gasol. After the Cavaliers lucked into the 1st overall pick (again), Deng is all but certain to leave the team, unless they end up drafting Joel Embiid, and then overpaying for his services, since Deng would be a third wheel on a team he never meshed well with to begin with.

Deng has proven to be adept at defense and scoring in years past, however, thanks to Cleveland's awful spacing and terrible coaching, Deng could never get going with them. If the Lakers end up getting a coach like Lionel Hollins, I can see them pursuing Deng strictly for his defense.

5) Lance Stephenson, Unrestricted, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Indiana Pacers.
13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.6 APG, 14.7 PER.

I don't even know where to begin with Stephenson. He's a talented guy who plays defense, and rebounds with the best of them for his position. He's also a good passer and a solid playmaker. Or at least, he was before he didn't make the All Star Game this year. Since then, his play style has changed dramatically, as he has focused primarily on scoring. His assist percentage dropped dramatically in the second half, going from 25% in the first half to 19% in the second. As a result, the Pacers have become a discombobulated mess and will need the old Lance Stephenson to advance against Miami.

People have speculated that Stephenson's style of play has changed because he felt not making the All Star Team has hurt his chances at a big free agency payday. The opposite has happened, however, as Stephenson is now slated to get paid in the 6-8 million dollar range, instead of the 10-12 million dollar range it was before the All Star break. All of this is just speculation, but the fact that we're even talking about this makes Stephenson not as desirable as previously thought.

6) Trevor Ariza, Unrestricted, Small Forward, Washington Wizards.
14.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 15.8 PER.

Old friend Trevor Ariza has bounced around a bit since he was traded 5 years ago (has it been that long? Time really does fly), as Ariza has played for (and struggled) with the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans and, most recently, with the Washington Wizards, where he has excelled playing alongside John Wall. Ariza has become a lights out three point shooter, as he finished the year with 40.7% shooting from beyond the arch, and he continues to play excellent defense. It would be great to have him back, though I'm sure he would much rather stay in D.C. with John Wall and friends at this point.

7) Spencer Hawes, Unrestricted, Center, Cleveland Cavaliers
13.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 15.7 PER.

Hawes is not your typical center. For one, check out those assist totals. And two, he's basically a poor man's Kevin Love, as he actually quite the three point shooter. Last year, Hawes shot an outstanding 41% from downtown. He's not a guy who can carry the load, by any means, but he is a guy who can stretch the floor well, while still being an adept rebounder. He would be great to have to ensure that the lane isn't completely clogged when Kobe Bryant is in the post, however if you're relying on him to be your savior, then you have bigger problems.

8) Ramon Sessions, Unrestricted, Point Guard, Milwaukee Bucks
12.3 PPG, 4.1 APG, 2.4 RPG, 16.0 PER

Another old friend on the list, Ramon Sessions is really good at one thing, and one thing only: attacking the basket. That doesn't bode well for later in his career, but who cares about that, right? Sessions would be a nice guard to have, if he would be okay coming off of the bench; we already saw what happens when you put someone like Kobe Bryant with a guy who can't do anything other than attack the rim. Sessions is a quality guard, but not one who is an amazing fit, though it can be done if you get some viable options to stretch the floor.

9) Danny Granger, Unrestricted, Small Forward, Los Angeles Clippers
8.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, 10.9 PER

Many would say Granger is over-the-hill, and isn't worth much now-a-days. I, however, say that Granger can still be an important piece on a playoff team. Sure, his days of being the number one guy who averages over 25 points per game are over, but Granger is still a guy who plays tough defense and can stretch the floor, as he is a career 38% three point shooter. Granger could be a quality signing, assuming no team gives him anywhere near the 14 million he made this year.

10) Evan Turner, Restricted, Small Forward, Indiana Pacers
14.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.2 APG, 12.4 PER.

Let's get this out of the way: Evan Turner is a bust. The former 2nd overall pick (who was taken before Paul George) has been worth a career 12 PER, and has been as inefficient as they come, shooting a career 42%, despite being 6'7'' and one of the most physically gifted players in the league. Turner is also not a very good defensive player. Nonetheless, the trade from Philadelphia to Indiana took a huge chunk of his sheer numbers down a notch, costing him millions of dollars in free agency, potentially making him a steal, depending on how he is valued in free agency. There's always the chance that he could still improve, and he would at least give the Lakers a more athletic perimeter player.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lakers to interview Lionel Hollins

The Lakers will be bringing in Lionel Hollins for an interview on Thursday, and he will also be interviewing with the Cleveland Cavaliers sometime next week.

So far, the Lakers have been slow to address the coaching void left with Mike D'Antoni resigning weeks ago. It's an interesting strategy by the team that can backfire, should the desired coaching candidates sign elsewhere before the Lakers can bring in somebody credible/ready and willing to step into this mess of a team.

Hollins is a major far cry from D'Antoni, being a defensive-minded, grind it out coach, instead of a run and gun, showtime style coach that Jim Buss was looking to build when he hired D'Antoni. The Lakers have already interviewed Mike Dunleavy (ugh) and Byron Scott (okay). Hollins is the first candidate to interview with the team that doesn't have any previous history with the team, as Dunleavy coached the Lakers 24 years ago, when Magic Johnson was still playing, and Scott previously played for the team during the Showtime era and was actually coached by Dunleavy himself.

Hollins has coached for 7 seasons, all with the Memphis Grizzlies. His team won 56 games during his final season, but ultimately lost to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. I suppose the team is hoping Hollins' defensive, serious style of coaching will help win the approval of aging star Kobe Bryant. They might be right, but the coaching spot won't even matter if Mitch Kupchak doesn't do some seriously positives things with the roster.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Steve Nash Wants to Return to the Lakers

Just retire.
Let's get this out of the way now: Steve Nash has been absolutely terrible in a Lakers uniform. I don't care that Nash had a semi decent first season, in which he only played 50 games, or that he shot well during the first year here; he has still been nothing like the player the Lakers traded for. He hasn't been worth any of the draft picks the Lakers traded for him two years ago; he hasn't been worth the 9 million+ they use on him in cap space; he has barely been worth a roster spot, quite frankly. Injuries have made him more of a burden than anything else.

Now, it's been confirmed that Nash wants to return to the Lakers. Per Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. Times:
"One thing's certain: Nash wants to return next season. "I want to come back for sure," he said."
 I used to be a big fan of Steve Nash and his wonderfully complete offensive skill set. The seamless and smooth pick and rolls that Nash used to run were a thing of beauty; he was one of the most complete offensive players at his position and will likely be in the Hall of Fame when the time comes. However, Nash is a major burden on this team's cap situation and he isn't worth a roster spot anymore. Not when you have Kendall Marshall, Marshon Brooks, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar, and Kent Bazemore to play between the two guard positions. Not when all of those players are under 28 years old and ready to step in to the rotation and provide solid overall play. Nash's defense is worse than all of those players, and his offense is no longer good enough to break even when it comes to Win Shares. And this isn't even taking into account Kobe Bryant, who will probably not return this year, but it leaves even less room for Nash in an improving rotation.

Of course, the real reason I think allowing Nash to come back is a mistake is because of the cap space he takes up. There are only five players under contract for next season (Bryant, Marshall, Robert Sacre, Nick Young and Nash); the Lakers need to fill up the rest of that roster space, hopefully by retaining all of the younger players they have and filling the cracks with a few new players via Free Agency while potentially adding star level talent via a top five pick in the NBA draft and saving their cap space for the next free agency when Kevin Love will be available. Obviously, this could backfire, but the Lakers need to keep their options open, and getting rid of Nash helps them do just that.

Nash cannot be simply cut or waived. Should Nash retire, then the Lakers will still have to pay him the 9.7 million he is owed for next year, including the cap hit. Should Nash decide to stick around for another year, then the Lakers can get rid of him via the stretch provision, saving 3 million this year, and stretching out his cap hit over the next three years. For the sake of the future, just go away, Steve.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

2013-2014 Lakers Mid-Season Review: Back Court

Point Guard: Steve Nash

7.6 PPG, 4.7 APG, 1.7 RPG, -0.1 WS, -0.014 WS/48 on 30.6% shooting and 31.6% shooting from three point range. Grade: (Inc.)

There isn't much to write about a player who has only played 10 games out of the 53 games the team has slogged through this year. And if you're keeping count, Nash has played in 60 games out of 135 total games with the team. Nash has been sidelined for most of the season with nerve root irritation and has played some of the worst basketball possible when he has been on the court. Without his legs, his shooting stroke isn't there and his dribble penetration has suffered as a result. Nash is no longer the player he was; he isn't even a serviceable point guard at this stage of his career. It's sad to see such a dynamic offensive player limp to the finish line of his career like this, but it's a reality for every player. Father Time is undefeated, after all. The two-time MVP will consider retirement at the end of the year. For now, Nash is lucky he has an incomplete; if he played enough games, he would have been awarded a big, fat F.

Point Guard: Steve Blake

9.5 PPG, 7.6 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.0 WS, .054 WS/48 on 37.8% shooting and 39.7% shooting from three point range. Grade: (B)

Steve Blake has long been a favorite player of mine, even during his disappointing initial seasons early on with the Lakers. Blake is a solid, all-around guard, who may or may not suffer from peer pressure (the noticeable change in play and quality of play whenever Kobe Bryant is on the court is astounding.) Blake has had one of his best seasons so far, averaging a career highs in assists per game (7.6) and rebounds per game (3.8), while putting up his best scoring output with the Lakers (9.5). Unfortunately, Blake has had to miss quite a few games thanks to a torn ligament in his right elbow, which is always bad, but more so whenever a player is putting together one of his finer seasons. We'll see if Blake can keep up this play, and, if he does, if he's willing to take on a smaller deal to stay with the Lakers. 

Point Guard: Jordan Farmar

9.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.2 RPG, 0.5 WS, .050 WS/48 on 41.5% shooting and 38.7% shooting from three point range. Grade: (B+)

Farmar has been unexpectedly good this year. And I really mean unexpectedly. Farmar was playing in Turkey for the past year and it was questionable whether or not he would play in the NBA again because he wanted more money than what teams thought he was worth. Luckily, Farmar, a UCLA product, missed his friends and family enough to take a minimum contract with the Lakers. Farmar has been slashing to the basket relentlessly and shooting well from deep to help compliment his penetration. Overall, he has done an excellent job of leading the second unit and maintaining a Mike D'Antoni approved pace. He wouldn't be a Laker if he didn't tear his hamstring twice, costing him a lot of games this year. 

Point guard: Kendall Marshall

10.3 PPG, 9.5 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.4 WS, .086 WS/48 on 45.1% shooting and 46.5% shooting from three point range. Grade: (A++)

I can't say enough about Kendall Marshall and how big he has been for this team. He has been the best point guard on the team and he started the year without a job, before signing with a D-League team. He has been seriously good on the offensive end and has orchestrated the offense impeccably. There isn't much I can say about Marshall other than this: please come back for more than just next season. 

Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant

13.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.3 RPG, -0.3 WS, -0.082 WS/48 on 42.5% shooting and 18.8% shooting from three point range. Grade: (Inc.)

Six games. The most anticipated return of the Western Conference was up and down, and mired with turnovers. Kobe only played six games before breaking his knee. Take the rest of the year off, Kobe. Please. 

Shooting guard: Nick Young

16.9 PPG, 1.5 APG, 2.7 RPG, 1.6 WS, .057 WS/48 on 42% shooting and 35% shooting from three point range. Grade: (C)

I love watching Nick Young play. He's exciting and infuriating at the same time. He creates his own shot in the most spectacular way this side of Kobe. While you will have your fair share of ugly, ugly moments, but he was still one of the only Lakers who can create his own shot, which was an important attribute down the stretch in games. The reason Young gets such a low grade, despite his 16.9 points per game, is his very poor defense. All of the others (save for Nash) at least try to play defense, while Young hasn't been doing any of that at all. Plus, Young's stat line this year has been roughly what his Per 36 numbers project, so he hasn't been playing any better than usual. 

Shooting guard: Jodie Meeks

14.4 PPG, 1.7 APG, 2.8 RPG, 2.7 WS, .085 WS/48 on 45% shooting and 40.3% shooting from three point range. Grade: (B-)

Meeks is always a double edged sword. He can get hot in a hurry and be the most dangerous player on the court, but then, he can get cold and seriously hurt his team with his shot attempts. Meeks tries to play defense, but is usually not fundamentally sound enough to be good at it. He makes up for it by stretching the floor as good as anybody in the NBA today. Meeks has a career best in field goal percentage and in shooting percentage from three point range and has played well on the offensive end, despite his inconsistency. Hopefully, Meeks will decide to return after this year on the cheap to provide long range shooting. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

State of the West: Oklahoma City Thunder

For the next month or so, Hack-a-Shaq will be having these State of the West posts, which will be about the current and future state of each of the Western Conference teams. It will include some guest writers for certain teams and I'm really excited to see how this turns out. Enjoy! This post comes from good friend and Dodgers Digest commentator Joseph Wolfe, A.K.A Lobo. Thanks, Lobo!

Previous State of the West posts: Lakers | Blazers

Even though I grew up in LA, I wouldn’t really call myself a huge Laker fan. I definitely pull for the team, but I don’t have the same vested rooting interest in them that I do in the Dodgers. In fact, in my whole family, only my uncle is a big Laker fan, despite all of us being fans of basketball as a sport. My brother somehow ended up being a Cavs fan (LOL) and my Dad and I both are kind of just fans of the sport as a whole rather than of one team. As a result, though I will pull for the Lakers over pretty much anyone, there are really about 4 or 5 teams that I consider myself a fan of.

Chief among the teams I root for (apart from the Lakers) is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Yeah, yeah, bandwagon fans and all that but I’m a bit of a #casualfan when it comes to basketball so I don’t really care. What I care about is that the Thunder are an exciting team to watch and a very well run organization. And when it comes to basketball, that’s what I tend to look for. I like teams that are fun to watch for either their hustle or explosiveness and that are well put together. The other two teams that I tend to root for are the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies, both of whom are teams (to my eye at least) that play hard and are very well built teams, particularly the Spurs who have been great year in and year out despite swapping out role players seemingly every season.

But I digress. Back to the Thunder. Led by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have been one of the best teams in the NBA over the last four seasons. And while James Harden was a huge part of their initial success, the Thunder have been just as good in the season and a half since they traded him to the Houston Rockets. Though there is little doubt that the Thunder team is spearheaded by the dynamic duo of Durant and Westbrook, it is the solid core around them that has led to their dominance of the Western Conference. So without further ado, let’s take a look at a Thunder team that should once again be serious contenders for the NBA title.

Starting Lineup:

Russell Westbrook, PG (yes he’s injured right now but he’s clearly the starter when he comes back and he’s expected to be back for the playoffs)

Kevin Durant, SF

Serge Ibaka, PF

Kendrick Perkins, C

There is no question that the Thunder have one of the best starting lineups in the NBA. Hell, you could start with Durant and Westbrook and fill in the rest with scrubs and they’d still be pretty ok. But they have more than mere scrubs manning the other three positions, Sefolosha, Ibaka, and Perkins are all solid players who contribute a great deal to the team’s success. Let’s take a look at Ibaka first. Since coming into the league in 2009, Ibaka has been one of the game’s better big men. Though he mostly plays power forward, he has the height to play center, something he uses to his great advantage. With his long arms and thick frame, Ibaka is a force to be reckoned with down low. Averaging 8.9 rebounds to go with 14.7 points, Ibaka has provided plenty of value to the Thunder, and that’s without even considering his defense. This year, Ibaka ranks 13th in the NBA in Defensive Rating, and 10th in Defensive Win Shares, anchoring a Thunder defense that is 5th in Opponents Points per Shot and 7th in Opponents Points per Game. That’s a defense plenty good enough to support one of the league’s best offenses. But perhaps most importantly, Ibaka has really developed a nice outside shot, which lets the Thunder spread the floor and get a ton of different looks for their big three offensive weapons.

Now we move to Sefolosha and Perkins. I’m going to discuss these guys together because I want to address a trend among defensive statistics in basketball that affects both of these players. Now, as a baseball fan I tend to dismiss the impact of hustle or “grit” in the sport. In the game of baseball, there just aren’t many opportunities for hustle to greatly impact the outcome of a play or a game. It’s certainly a desirable trait, but it doesn’t really add any significant value to a players skill set. However, it’s a completely different story when it comes to basketball. Because of the nature of the sport, where every player is active on every play and every player interacts with all the other players on the court, hustle and effort can have a HUGE impact on a game. Running after a loose ball, battling for position down low, standing tough to draw a charge against a driving opponent, all of these can impact the outcome of a play. The problem is that there’s no easy way to quantify these things, the number of times a player dove to save a ball that was going out of bounds isn’t recorded anywhere that I know of. And so this hustle isn’t really reflected in a player’s defensive ratings. In the case of Perkins and Sefolosha, I really think that advanced defensive metrics sell them short, particularly with Perkins. If you watched the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals which both pitted the Celtics against the Lakers, you may recall just how much trouble Perkins presented to the Lakers. It was particularly bad in 2008, because with Bynum out for the Finals due to injury, Perkins was matched up against Pau Gasol for most of the series, and though Pau was a more skilled player, Perkins absolutely abused him down low by simply outmuscling and outhustling Gasol. It didn’t necessarily manifest itself in the scorebook but it had a huge impact on the series as Pau was basically a non-factor in every game. And while Perkins isn’t as good now as he was back then, he still provides plenty of value with his hustle and toughness. And though he may give back a lot of that value with his abysmal offensive production, because he plays on the same team as Durant and Westbrook, the damage is minimized as those two are more than capable of picking up the offensive slack. Sefolosha suffers similar disparagement from the defensive statistics, though to a much lesser extent. As the SG counterpart to Westbrook, he is allowed to be a slightly more defensive oriented player. While he doesn’t provide a ton of value on his own, he fits well in the construction of the Thunder roster as a complement to Westbrook.

This brings us to the stars of the team, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. As if I even need to tell you how good these guys are. Though Westbrook has been hurt for almost all of this season, when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best point guards in the league. For his career, Westbrook averages 20.7 Player Efficiency Rating (PER), and over the last three seasons he’s averaging 22.8 (league average is 15). His Offensive Win Share (OWS) last year was 7.7, good for 8th in the NBA. He’s one of the league’s fastest players and also one of its most trigger happy, which is probably his biggest flaw. Westbrook has a tendency to just heave up shot after shot, regardless of whether or not he makes them. While in some respects this can be a good thing (for example, he rarely gets down about missing shots and doesn’t let it go to his head), when he’s cold, it can be a huge drain on the team as he throws up miss after miss. Luckily for the Thunder, Westbrook is a darn good shooter, posting a 45.2 2P% and 30.3 3P% for his career. Even though that’s just a league average 2P% and a below average 3P%, very few players shoot well from both within and beyond the arc. And though he’s never been known as a pass-first point guard, Westbrook has still managed to average 6.9 assists per game. So while Westbrook may not do one thing particularly well, very few players possess a skill set as diverse as Westbrook’s.

What Kevin Durant is doing this season is nothing short of historic. Currently, Durant is sporting a .327 WS/48. If the season were to end today, that would be good for the 2nd best single season number of ALL TIME, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 1971-72 season when he posted a .3399 WS/48. That’s right, better than anything Michael Jordan ever did and better than LeBron James has ever done (though LeBron and Jordan each hold 3 of the top 10 spots. Durant’s 31.0 PER would be good for the 11th best single season PER, missing out on the top 10 by 0.11. For the past two years, the title of “NBA’s Best Player” has been a hotly debated topic, with Durant and LeBron having the strongest cases. But while LeBron may still be the best overall player and the one more likely to be better next year, Durant has been without question the best player in the NBA this season. It’s not even particularly close, Durant’s OWS is just 0.1 less than LeBron’s TOTAL WS. Add in Durant’s defensive value (a part of his game which he has greatly improved on over the last few years) and he’s been the league’s best player by a margin that isn’t even close. The rest of the Thunder are great players, but Durant takes them from being a good team to one of, if not the most, dangerous teams in the NBA. No player has had a bigger impact on their team this year, and this level of individual play arguably hasn’t been seen since LeBron’s days in Cleveland, when he single handedly led that team to the NBA Championship game. Durant is an incredible player and we should all be thrilled that we get to see him play in his prime.


Perry Jones PF

Nick Collison PF

Derek Fisher PG

Jeremy Lamb SG

Steven Adams C

Andre Robertson PF

Hasheem Thabeet C

Ryan Gomes SF

Royal Ivey SG

The Thunder bench is largely made up of solid but not spectacular players. With Westbrook out, Reggie Jackson has taken over starting PG duties and has performed admirably. While his quality of play is a sharp drop off from Westbrook’s, he has provided roughly league average production which is all the Thunder needed right now with how Durant has played. The bench is anchored by two longtime vets in Derek Fisher and Nick Collison. Fun fact: Collison and Durant are the only players still on the team from the Seattle Super Sonics days. Collison provides solid minutes down low with his hustle and fundamental play. Fisher, who is incidentally my all-time favorite player, may not light up the stat sheets but he is a veteran presence, and he and Collison are strong leaders for this fairly young team. Jeremy Lamb has shot very well of the bench and provides a nice counterpoint to Sefolosha so that the opposing team has to deal with two very different shooting guards. The remaining guys don’t play much, but none of them outright hurt the team. All in all, the Thunder bench does a good job of providing solid rest minutes for the starters and ensuring that the game remains even when they’re in so that the starters can continue to pull away from the opposition when they’re in.

Championship Chances:

Let’s not beat around the bush: the Thunder have to be the favorites to represent the West in the Finals and are almost certainly the favorites to win it all. There are a lot of very good teams in the West this year (Portland, San Antonio, and the Clippers), none of them have quite the talent that the Thunder do. The Spurs are always good but their Big Three are another year older and they just haven’t played as well this year as they have in the past. The Clippers starting lineup is good, but Westbrook and Paul are very close in value and the Clippers have no answer for Durant. Portland is the really dangerous team here, but again, they just don’t have an answer for Durant while the Thunder do have answers for the Blazer’s best players (Lillard and Aldridge). In the end, the Thunder are probably not going to lose unless they beat themselves. There’s just no other team in the West that can compete with them when they’re at their best, and they are almost always at their best. My prediction: Thunder beat the Spurs in 5 in the Western Conference Finals and beat the Pacers in 6 in the Finals.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

State of the West: Portland Trailblazers

For the next month or so, Hack-a-Shaq will be having these State of the West posts, which will be about the current and future state of each of the Western Conference teams. It will include some guest writers for certain teams and I'm really excited to see how this turns out. Enjoy! This post comes from good friend and Dodgers Digest commentator PFP. Thanks, PFP!

Previous State of the West posts: Lakers | 

Why You Don’t Want To Read A Sob Story From A Portland Trail Blazers Fan Right Now

Greetings! P_F_P here, taking a break from my regularly scheduled posting/campaigning for the 2016 election over at Dodgers Digest to give you a basketball update from the Pacific Northwest. Now, as usual, the Seattle Supersonics are a force to be HAHAHAHA LOL oh man got you got there, aging grungeheads. Of course, this update is regarding the Trail Blazers of Portland, Oregon, who despite several disappointing, furniture-overturning losses in recent weeks, are still a healthy 35-14 on the season (as of February 7) and in the driver’s seat to grab their first playoff spot since Brandon Roy had his own ligaments in his knee. Or since Greg Oden still had the potential to be an All-Star. Or since the front office wasn’t engaged in an annual game of musical fucking chairs that always ended with a really good GM being shown the door. Sigh.

Wait wait wait…”sigh”? What is this bullshit, you’re likely saying out loud to an inanimate computer screen? The title of this article wasn’t a lie? I actually have to feel bad for the Blazers for a few minutes, when I’m currently a fan of the Hawks/Raptors/Wizards/Bobcats/Nets/Knicks/Cavs/Bucks/Clips/Warriors/Suns/Nugs/Wolves/Hornets/Kings? (Don’t even fucking think about including yourself in that group, Laker fans. Oh, two injury-plagued seasons and a moronic front office getting you down? Go cry into your five commemorative championship sweatshirts of the Kobe era and let us manic-depressive NBA fans be manic-depressive together.)

The more I think about it, it is kind of a dick move for me to be writing this article. I mean, I just named about ten franchises in the NBA alone who have a bigger gripe than the Blazers, and there’s dozens more pro teams that fit that description as well. Plus, [retracted comment about there being many more important things to worry about than sports]. So, fuck it. I’m switching directions mid-article and making an argument about why you don’t want to read another Blazer fan’s sob story. The reasons, as follows:

  • Damian Lillard! 20.6 points, 5.7 assists, and that honestly-kind-of-stupid-considering-how-many-deep-ones-he-takes .405 three-point percentage, the kind of stat line that only a nitpicker annoyed with DL’s olẽ style of defense could take issue with. And how ‘bout him getting picked for all five skills competitions at NBA All-Star Weekend! He’ll be awesome and praiseworthy and almost definitely won’t get hurt! Great news for Blazer fans.
  • LA! Through 49 games, the best season yet for Portland’s favorite adopted son: 24.1 PPG and 11.6 RPG easily eclipse his career highs in those categories, and I will gladly ignore that it’s primarily because he’s taking a ton of shots (21.0, also easily his career high). There’s absolutely no reason to be at all worried about LaMarcus, even though he hasn’t gotten one iota better at defense, rebounding, or protecting the rim since arguably his sophomore season. LA FTW!
  • Other players who are good, like trusty wings Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews and surprisingly solid role players like Robin Lopez and Mo Williams, but since they’re currently on your fantasy league’s waiver wire let’s just skip them.
  • 18-11 against the Western Conference, bitches! (Used to be much, much better earlier in the season…but so what!)
  • 35-14! Thirty-five and fucking fourteen! (Ugh, STOP sighing and telling me it was 22-4 before a nasty 4-5 stretch with losses to Philly and Sacramento, and then 31-9 before a nasty 4-5 stretch that included a loss to Washington [Washington, sheesh]. The team is playing better than ever and definitely doesn’t need to add anyone at the trade deadline. Because good news, they probably won’t!)
  • Only 36 straight seasons without a title, and only 21 without reaching the NBA Finals. AT LEAST WE’VE WON ONE/GOTTEN THERE, NUMEROUS OTHER NBA FRANCHISES.

So that’s basically it. Six solid reasons not to feel sorry for Blazer fans, or the Blazers, in any way, shape, or form. See you in fall 2015 when we will absolutely definitely be the defending NBA Champions (note: this message has been partially recycled from 1992, 2000, and 2010).