While the playoffs get all the attention this time of year, there are still plenty of news items worthy of our attention. With that in mind, I’ll be bringing a weekly look at some of the injury news, depth-chart changes, the coaching carousel or anything else that can cause changes to the upcoming 2014-15 season. It will be posted on Thursday or Friday until the end of the playoffs, but you can also follow me on Twitter @MikeSGallagher for some discussion as the news happens.
Before we get into some of the news of the week, let’s just take a quick look at the four playoff matchups and some of the story lines within each.
Thunder even series at one on Wednesday
Considering how dominant Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were in Game 2, the Clippers have to feel pretty good about coming away with a split in OKC. It was the first time a pair of teammates had at least 30 points, 10 boards and nine assists in any game, and the shots were just falling for both. They were also just one KD dime away from becoming the first tandem to have triple-doubles in a playoff game.
The Thunder were getting easy buckets all night on Wednesday and were also lights out in the mid-range at 54.5 percent. There wasn’t a heck of a lot of ball movement and 17 of Westbrook’s 19 first-half points came without him passing even before his shot. That’s nothing new and only 18.8 percent of his field goals have come via an assist in the playoffs. Kevin Durant was the man providing those assists on 13 of the 16 times and the two-man game was in full effect. On the KD side of things, Westbrook has been responsible for 30 of the 52 assisted KD buckets. If Westy plays as well as he did on Wednesday, the Clippers are in trouble.
As for KD, he’s been going right quite a bit in this series. Here’s a look at his shot chart over the last two games against his regular season shot chart on the right:
Unlike the Grizzlies, the Clippers are not really equipped to stop Durant. They were even using Chris Paul in a defensive matchup on Wednesday. They might want to see if they can force the flow of the offense to get him on the other side of the court.
While KD and Westy are studs, let’s not forget the Clippers led the NBA in offensive efficiency rating during the regular season. Chris Paul has really improved his 3-point shooting and also getting J.J. Redick healthy, who played just 35 games in the regular season, goes a long way. They were certainly in this game until they were blown out in the fourth quarter and this series seems destined to go seven games.
Hibbert leads Pacers to much-needed win
I saw some people saying Roy Hibbert busted out because Andrew Bynum (knee) left the team on Wednesday. What? That might be the dumbest thing I’ve heard all season and I hope none of you felt that way. So why did Hibbert suddenly improve? Well, the Pacers got him the ball a heck of a lot more and were actually running plays for him. On top of that, the Wizards just were not prepared for Hibbert to be in Indiana’s game plan, so they didn’t even bother switching on him in high pick-and-rolls. That led to a lot of easy looks, making 10-of-13 from the field for 28 points, nine boards and two blocks in the win.
Hibbert also said Paul George was a big reason for his revival in the win, which kind of makes sense. If you’ve been watching Hibbert, he has been extremely slow in every facet. In other words, there’s a good chance it’s something mental. His 10.9 defensive rebounding rate in the postseason is atrocious and that includes his 21.9 from last night. How bad is a 10 percent defensive rebounding rate? Of the 169 players to average at least 25 minutes per game during the regular season, 130 of them had a defensive rebounding rate of at least 10 percent. Hibbert is 7’2”. I’m not quite ready to say he’s “back” just yet.
On the other side, arguably the best player in this series still hasn’t shown up. John Wall’s shot is off during the playoffs and it finally cost the Wizards due this 2-of-13 shooting in the loss. He’s shot just 23.7 percent outside of the restricted area in the playoffs, leading to an overall field goal percentage of 32.7 in seven games. Additionally, he’s shot just 16.7 percent from 3-point range and he probably should just abandon that area. Considering how the Wizards haven’t got their best out of Wall and were almost able to get a win on Wednesday, they have to be feeling pretty good. I picked the Wizards in six games and I still am somewhat confident about that one.
Heat spank Nets in Game 1
As it turns out, trading jumpers for layups/dunks is not a good idea. That’s what the Nets did in what was arguably the biggest mismatch of the playoffs on Tuesday. The Nets had a laughable six field goals in the restricted area and were taking bad shots all night. As a reference point, LeBron averaged 5.9 makes per game in the restricted area this season. Despite that horrible ability to get great shots, they were still able to manage a field goal percentage of 47.1.
Miami’s offense was just nuts. They posted an absurd 122.9 offensive efficiency rating and were getting open shots all night. Here’s a look at their shot chart from the win:
Wow. They crushed the Nets in just about every area and their 3-pointers weren’t even falling. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this series become a sweep.
Spurs absolutely dominate Blazers on Tuesday
Tony Parker was a one-man wrecking crew on Tuesday, shooting 13-of-24 from the field for 33 points, three boards, nine assists, one steal and one 3-pointer during Game 1's 116-92 win over the Blazers. The 24 shots were tied for his seventh-most attempts in any playoff game and he just torched the Blazers with penetration. Interestingly, the Blazers allowed the most field goal attempts to point guards during the regular season and they absolutely need to make an adjustment.
Outside of TP, the Spurs really just hit open shots. They only shot 59.3 percent in the restricted area, which is down from the 69.1 percent from that range vs. the Mavericks. The Spurs also ranked third in the NBA for field goal percentage during the regular season in the restricted area at 64.8, so really the Blazers did a solid job in cutting down easy buckets -- the calling card of the Spurs. Coach Gregg Popovich and Tony Parker are the masters of the backdoor-cut pass and the Blazers will have to keep it going with some communication on defense.
Still, this game was over at halftime with San Antonio up 65-39 at the break. The Blazers offense hit the skids in a big way in Game 1. While 92 points doesn’t sound too bad, they actually ran at a faster pace vs. the Spurs compared to the series vs. the Rockets. They had an outstanding offensive efficiency rating vs. the Rockets at 111.8, but that dropped to just 90.5 in Game 1 vs. SA. One big reason for that was just 29.0 percent of their buckets coming via an assist.
Coach Terry Stotts is one of the best at coming up with plays in half-court sets, so they’re certainly capable of making a series out of this one. He’s no Pop, but this is a must-watch series for any person who wants to be a coach at any level. It’s like the Tom Emanski series for basketball without back-to-back-to-back AAU National Championships.
Jonas to train with The Dream
Jonas Valanciunas confirmed he will train with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer, which isn't really big news. While his defense has been by far the weakest part of his game, JV’s offense continues to get better and he just turned 22 years old this week. Specifically, he shot 59.3 percent on all hook shots, 52.9 percent on turnaround jumpers and was also solid around the rim, making 62.8 percent of all shots in the restricted area during the regular season
He was such a beast down the stretch. In the last month of the season, Valanciunas averaged 14.8 points, 9.9 boards, 0.7 blocks, 0.5 steals and 1.3 turnovers on 57.2 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the line. He also had a respectable 40.7 percent of his buckets come without an assist. By comparison, DeAndre Jordan was at just 25.6 percent, Tyson Chandler had 23.0 percent, Marc Gasol at 30.7 percent and Al Jefferson had 38.7 percent of his field goals come via an assist in the regular season. In other words, Valanciunas can get his own shot.
A big reason why was his ability to get good, close shots. Here’s a look at his shot chart over that aforementioned month span:
On top of his 66.1 percent from within eight feet, those shots accounted for 76.1 percent of his total shots. The Raptors turned in a fairly impressive offensive efficiency rating in that span, ranking eighth in the NBA.
In case you forgot, Valanciunas went into 2013-14 with a ton of buzz. He finished 2012-13 on a high note and looked like an absolute stud in Las Vegas Summer League. As it turned out, JV took a really long time to get it going and many people viewed him as a bust up until the All-Star break. Most signs point to him playing 30 minutes per game next season and he could be looking at a top-40 price tag.
Joakim Noah has minor knee surgery
Joakim Noah had minor arthroscopic left knee surgery last week and he is expected to miss 8-12 weeks. That means Noah won’t be ready to begin basketball activities until late-July. Obviously, the minor surgery shouldn’t really impact his status for training camp. The All-NBA big man revealed he played through his knee soreness for much of the second half of the season, but didn’t cost him any game action as he continues to be one of the tough guys of the NBA. Additionally, Noah had his left knee drained back in December which didn’t cost him games in December either.
Despite a slew of injuries in his seven-year career, Noah’s only knee injury we have on record was a laceration back in 2012. Most arthroscopic knee surgeries do not lead to subsequent knee injuries, especially when Noah will have plenty of time to recover. Basically, this surgery doesn’t hurt his fantasy value by the time draft season comes around.
That said, I’m still a bit gun shy on Noah as a fantasy prospect. He’s likely looking at a top-15 ADP after he went in the fourth round in many formats last year. Prior to last year, Noah missed an average of 17.5 games during his previous four seasons. He’s going to be a year older and his 5.4 dimes per game from last season will undoubtedly take a hit with Derrick Rose (knee) back in the mix. Unless he’s there in the third round, I would probably look elsewhere with respect to Noah as a draft pick.
Michael Carter-Williams has surgery on shoulder
Michael Carter-Williams had surgery to repair his labrum in his right shoulder on Tuesday. This injury came out of the blue and he didn’t seem bothered by the issue upon receiving his Rookie of the Year trophy on Monday. According to CSN Philly, MCW played through some “off-and-on discomfort” during the season after he was told that he could not do any additional damage.
That raises the question of whether his shoulder injury hurt his shooting percentage, making just 38 percent of his shots in January, February and March. Although, he was great in April with a field goal percentage of 52.5 percent and the Sixers played better ball after getting blown out for months. His shot distribution was similar in April compared to the previous three months, so perhaps his shooting struggles could be due to his shooting shoulder.
Regardless, MCW did enough in April to maybe bump him back up into the top 50 picks after barely being worth owning during that aforementioned three-month stretch. He’ll probably go a bit too high for my liking and I’d imagine someone in your league would spend a late-third, early-fourth on him. We’ll revisit this in a couple months when the Sixers make two lottery picks in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Mark Jackson fired from Golden State
The Warriors defied logic this week and fired coach Mark Jackson. He and the front office just never got on the same page and it led to the two parting ways. Jackson isn’t the conventional coaches’ coach. The Warriors weren’t very fluid in half-court sets and Jackson was saved by the ridiculous shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
So what does this mean for next season? Obviously, whoever steps in as head coach is not going to do anything to take the ball out of Stephen Curry’s hands. He’ll be a top-five pick with no ifs, ands or buts about it. Klay should also be safe, especially after he made some major strides in getting to the rim more while also improving on the defensive end. According to Synergy, Thompson’s man shot just 36.3 percent from the field during the regular season. He’ll be fine and I’d probably look to target him in the fourth round. Plus, his field goal shooting after the break of 46.7 percent is another reason to like him. Thirdly, Andre Iguodala should be in a similar role as a facilitator and likely won't be hurt by the coaching change.
If there was one big surprise in the first round of the postseason, it may have been Draymond Green. In his seven games, he averaged 11.9 points, 8.3 boards, 2.9 assists, 1.7 blocks, 1.7 steals and 1.1 triples on 46.7 percent from the field and 79.2 percent from the line. That’s eight-category production right there, folks. Of course, Andrew Bogut (ribs) not playing really opened up the playing time for Green and allowed him to log majority of his minutes at power forward. One thing he made clear is that he can really cover any position. He looked phenomenal in switching on pick-and-rolls against Chris Paul, and spent some time lining up at center. That kind of versatility should be the apple of any coach’s eye. Still, he’s only a late-round pick right now due to all the depth at the forward spots.
Harrison Barnes was the 2013 Draymond Green and he was an absolute no-show this season. There’s really no way anyone can sign off on him as a draft pick, especially with Green capable of playing the small forward spot.
Mavericks want to re-sign Dirk
To the surprise of no one, the Mavericks said they will make re-signing Dirk Nowitzki their top priority. Ya think? Perhaps only Kobe Bryant is more closely associated to his team and Dirk clearly showed he has plenty left in the tank. From a fantasy angle, he ranked sixth in standard leagues with his averages of 21.7 points, 6.2 boards, 2.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.9 blocks and 1.6 triples on 49.7 percent from the field and 89.9 percent from the line. Beast.
If we rewind back to the summer, there was a lot of buzz about Dirk’s minutes dropping this season. Well, they actually increased and he played in 80 games in his age-35 season. A big reason why is he did this all with a usage rate of 26.8 percent, which is the second-lowest in the past nine seasons —his injuries two seasons ago led him to a much lower usage at 24.7. This year had a lot to do with Monta Ellis handling the ball and leading to Dirk scoring via an assist 59.2 percent of the time. Outside of the durability, he killed it from in the paint this season. Here's his shot chart from the 2012-13 season (left) vs. the past season:
Personally, I’m not really a fan of drafting older players, but I’d have no problem taking Dirk around 17-20 in standard leagues.
D'Antoni resigns from Lakers
Mike D’Antoni resigned from the Lakers on Apr. 30 and left the Lakers as yet another Pacific Division team to make a coaching change in the past year. Interestingly, Jeff Hornacek is the longest-tenured head coach in the division with the Mike Malone of the Kings and Doc Rivers coming along after Hornacek’s hire date on May 28, 2013.
The Lakers were a top-two team in my made-up rankings of most annoying teams to blurb on our Player News page. A big reason was their 319 games due to injury which led to Mike D’Antoni starting an unfathomable 35 different starting lineups this season. This caused countless players to suddenly boost their fantasy values. Kent Bazemore, Ryan Kelly, Chris Kaman, Kendall Marshall and about 12 others each had their moments in the fantasy limelight.
The first thing that comes to mind with this coaching change is how the Lakers will likely lose some of their pace. They ranked second in the NBA in pace last season at 101 possessions per game, which was actually the second-highest average in any of the last four seasons — the 76ers ranked first and that’s a story for another day. Anyway, the new coach to come in will likely slow things down a little and that will take some stats out of the piggy bank.
While losing D’Antoni does have some fantasy implications, the Lakers getting back healthy bodies is a much bigger piece of the puzzle. Outside of Pau Gasol, just about every other player is going to come with tremendous risk until further notice. Hopefully, they hire their coach before we get cracking on the 2014 Rotoworld Fantasy Basketball Draft Guide.
One player who will definitely be going early in drafts is Kobe Bryant. He’s already been cleared to run and go through some basketball-related activities, so he’s likely going to have a full offseason to get ready. Last season was just an anomaly. Prior to last season, he missed just 3.8 games per season and was extremely durable. Now that he’ll be ready for next year, there’s really no way he should slide out of the second round.
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