While it's sad that we're quite possibly looking at the last week of the season, there still should be no shortage of news for the next couple months. We have the draft coming up in two weeks, free agency starting on July 1 and there will be tons of summer league action for the majority of July. It's OK, NBA fans. We'll get through this together.
Follow me on Twitter @MikeSGallagher for stats, analysis and anything else NBA-related.
Kawhi so serious?
Kawhi Leonard had himself a game in Tuesday’s Game 3 win over the Heat. The 22-year-old forward scored 29 points -- the most he’s scored since high school -- with four rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks and three 3-pointers on 10-of-13 from the field. He scored just 18 points in the first two games and the move of Boris Diaw into the staring lineup may have taken some pressure off him on defense. There is no doubt Kawhi is a superstar in this league and he's actually starting to develop some character to the media. Here are a couple of my favorite Kawhi quotes:
As far as fantasy goes, he was a top-five player after he returned from his hand injury. He should not go outside of the top 15.
The other huge game came from Danny Green with 15 points, one board, three assists, five steals, one block and one 3-pointer on 7-of-8 shooting. This was certainly not your stereotypical Green game either. During the regular season he had just 72 drives, but he was way more aggressive and attacked much more. In fact, he made all six shots from two-point range — all in the paint — and Thursday was just his fourth NBA game in which he had six two-pointers.
These two guys have been instrumental in San Antonio’s wins this season. The tandem shot a ridiculous 11-of-12 on contested shots on Tuesday, so obviously their magnificent games were more about being lucky. Still, Green is sporting a pristine 71.0 effective field goal percentage in SA’s 14 playoff wins while he and Kawhi Leonard lead the NBA playoffs for net rating during wins (minimum= 20 minutes per game).
If you want to see how basketball should be played, you might want to check out how the Spurs played in the first half. This possession was particularly awesome:
The Spurs had 25 possessions with at least six passes or more, which seems like about a week’s worth for the Kings or Pistons. They also went a ridiculous 38 possessions to start the game before the Heat were able to get a stop.
So what can the Heat do? One thing they did way too much of was switching on pick-and-roll. A passed basketball travels faster than a person (#analysis, I know) and guys not staying home created way more passing lanes, so all the ball movement has really hurt Miami. This was also a big factor in Game 1, but Game 3 was more of the Spurs just hitting shots. That won’t continue.
On the Heat side for Game 3, this one isn’t really on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The two biggest duds came from Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh. Chalmers just looks lost and the speed of Norris Cole makes it seem like a no-brainer to throw him out there for more minutes. After Bosh averaged 39.5 touches per game in Game 1 and 2, he had just 12 in Game 3. He completely disappeared. He absolutely has to step up for the Heat to bounce back.
The winner of Game 3 of a 1-1 NBA Finals has gone on to win the series 83 percent of the time, but nobody should count out LeBron and Co. I have San Antonio in 7 and will stick with that for now.
After Steve Kerr burned them, the Knicks introduced their 26th head coach in franchise history on Tuesday and Derek Fisher sounded like he’s had a press conference like that 100 times. Clearly, 17 years of playing experience, his NBA-record 259 career playoff games played, and five championship rings may have helped. President Phil Jackson is certainly going to play a major part in how the team is put together as far as personnel goes as well as how the team operates on the court.
Fisher said he’ll spend a couple weeks talking to former coaches to help lay a foundation for his new endeavor. He’s had plenty of great coaches in his career, including Jackson, Don Nelson, Jerry Sloan, Scott Brooks and Rick Carlisle. Those coaches all have different styles and should certainly give Fish plenty of ammunition for forming his own ideology. Most importantly, he said he enjoyed “tremendous success” with the Triangle system and he believes the team can utilize the Triangle system with his guys. It seems more than likely Fisher is going to hang onto every word Phil Jackson has to say. Jackson’s offense had a lot to do with quick passes, but that wasn’t exactly an area of strength for the Knicks last season.
We’ll get to Carmelo Anthony in a minute, but the Knicks offense should be a little different. Mike Woodson’s team set the record for most 3-pointers in a season back in 2012-13 and they also ranked sixth last season. They also had some of the worst ball movement in the entire league and would probably make coach Gregg Popovich blow a gasket. Raymond Felton ranked 28th in the NBA in passes per game and was the only Knick in the top 75. They were also last in the NBA for makes within five feet, ranked second in mid-range makes and 29th in pace. That is not gonna cut it.
I would expect basically every Knick to see an increase in fantasy value should the roster remain the same. That might not be the case, though.
A big story from Wednesday was ESPN reporting that the Heat are targeting Carmelo Anthony this offseason. In case you missed it, Melo has a player option for the last year of his deal worth $23.3 million and could opt out to become a free agent. While I was watching Derek Fisher’s press conference, I don’t think he seemed confident that Melo would be back. He was saying things like “possibly” and had just a sense of indifference about bring back the All-Star. If I had to bet, I say Melo opts out and signs somewhere else. Yes, I think the Miami Big Four is for real and all four could take pay cuts. Basketball is so marketable and the market for selling basketball shoes is huge. Plus, LeBron made about $30 million when Apple bought Beats by Dre.
If he does say, this is going to be really tough to project in how it affects his play and shot selection. The Zen Master’s previous teams look nothing like the current Knicks roster. The most recent volume scorer Jackson had was Kobe Bryant. As it turns out, Bryant's shot selection wasn't all too different under Jackson compared to other coaches. Jackson took a year off in 2004-05 and Kobe only attempted 28.1 percent of his shots at the rim in that season. By comparison, he had 33.0 percent of his shots come at the rim with Phil in 2003-04 and just 20.8 percent in 2005-06. His overall production shouldn’t change much and I’ll spend a little more time researching the triangle over the next couple weeks. Hopefully, Melo makes his decision quickly.
Pain in the shoulder
Michael Carter-Williams admitted he has dealt with his shoulder injury for a couple years and said his labrum grew back in the wrong place. He did suffer a shoulder injury during the season and missed the game on Feb. 1, but that was the only time he was out of action with that ailment. As an aside, he missed 11 other games due to ankle and foot injuries.
He obviously played through some of the shoulder soreness to his shooting arm and maybe that was a minor role in failing to shoot above 39 percent in January, February or March. Although, there was a clear downward trend in getting shots at the rim from January to April. In other words, we really can’t attribute his sub-par shooting to a shoulder problem. It’s more than likely that it was NBA teams forcing him to hit more jumpers, which has been the most talked-about weakness since he was drafted. He finished the season with ninth-round value and I don’t anticipate drafting him on any of my teams despite the fast pace of Philly.
Just like Chevy Chase, Al Horford had a European vacation this month (I feel old making this reference). He traveled to Italy to continue his rehab with assist coach Darvin Ham and participated in Basketball Without Borders. Horford is still not taking contact yet and mentioned his shoulder is still getting sore. Considering he tore his pectoral muscle, some soreness is to be expected. In other words, it’s not like he’s had a setback or anything. He had surgery on his torn pectoral on Dec. 31 and is fully expected to be ready for the start of training camp.
In other Horford news, Zach Lowe of Grantland.com reported the Hawks “dangled” Horford at the trade deadline. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise and it shouldn’t be an indictment on the star center. Atlanta really needed to bolster their roster to make any sort of noise in the 2013-14 playoffs, but they wisely stood pat. The Hawks were sitting in the third spot in the standings earlier this year and had a 16-13 record at the time of Horford’s injury. They should compete in the Eastern Conference.
When the injury occurred, he was sitting pretty as the 10th-ranked player in standard fantasy leagues. Despite how he has two freak injuries on his medical chart, there should still be some confidence in taking him in the second or third round.
Love to Hate
Well, we got another Love update. Sam Amick reported the Rockets are “outgunned” for Love due to their lack of assets. The Wolves aren’t necessarily looking for picks, but a lot of the buzz from ownership talking about the draft suggests they’d like to at least get something back in that regard. Obviously, if a team comes up with a deal composed of players, Minnesota wouldn’t hesitate to pull off a deal. In other words, you can ignore the last three sentences, including this one.
So, with the Rockets likely out of the running this week and the Cavs expected to be out as well, that leaves the Suns, Lakers, Knicks, Bulls, Kings and Warriors as the frontrunners. If the Warriors are willing to part with a couple starters, they might be able to get a deal done. Of course, the Kings, Celtics or Lakers could deal their lottery pick as the centerpiece. This is going to be fun. Not.
Batum bringing the boom down low
Nicolas Batum said he’s going to work on his post game this offseason. That hasn’t really been a big area of his game with just 19 post-ups last season (Synergy). Although, he did make 10 of them to rank 31st in field goal percentage on those attempts.
The Frenchman’s style of play is more like a shooting guard. Last season, most of his attempts in halfcourt came off screens, on spot-ups, as a pick-and-roll ball handler and on cutting to the hoop. Coach Terry Stotts frequently used Batum as the facilitator to help Damian Lillard get free for 3-pointers without the ball.
After a rough start, Nic turned in top-20 value in standard leagues after the break. He’s still just 25 and entering his prime, so there’s really no way he should slip past the third round in Roto formats.
Quick Mock Draft
I spend entirely too much time reading beat writers from around the NBA, so that's a big factor in how I imagine the draft playing out. Here's what I'm thinking right now for the top 10 (subject to change):
1. Cavs - Joel Embiid - His back would probably need to have a tentacle coming out of it for the Cavs not to take him.
2. Bucks- Jabari Parker - I really didn’t like what I saw out of him on defense, but the Bucks don’t like Wiggins, apparently.
3. Sixers - Andrew Wiggins - Stealin’.
4. Magic - Dante Exum - He’s shredded for a teenager and is an absolute freak. Ceiling is sky high.
5. Jazz - Noah Vonleh - They could go Marcus Smart with Trey Burke really struggling to score. Enes Kanter's D is horrible
6. Celtics - Aaron Gordon - He could become one of the best players in this class, but he has to not choke on free throws.
7. Lakers - Marcus Smart - They need help everywhere, so they are likely going to take the best available.
8. Kings - Julius Randle - I feel like this pick is going to be dealt.
9. Hornets - Doug McDermott - This one seems like a no-brainer for the Hornets. Cody Zeller and DMC2 would be a nice start for a second unit. They need more perimeter scoring.
10. Sixers - Jusuf Nurkic - If they get Wiggins, they obviously have to go for a big man.