All posts by Ray Pattanaik

How Love’s Injury Impacts The Bulls

How Kevin Love’s injury impacts the Eastern Conference:

It is yet another tough day to be a Cleveland sports fan. The current state of affairs as it relates to NBA playoffs has experienced a monumental shift now that we are armed with the knowledge that Kevin Love will most likely be out for the rest of his first ever playoff run in addition to J.R. Smith being suspended for the Cavs next two playoff games. We have seen injuries plague many teams around the NBA this season, notably the Thunder, but this one may be the most devastating of them all, potentially snatching away a title from LeBron and his red hot Cavaliers team. There has been much more open dialogue about other teams remaining in the playoffs, and we will observe how these changes to the Cavs roster affects these teams, notably the Chicago Bulls.

Biggest beneficiary in the East: Chicago Bulls

This one seems almost too obvious of a choice to anyone who has been following the NBA recently. Chicago has now transcended into the most offensively talented team in their conference and their path to the NBA finals has certainly become a little clearer than it was just a few days ago. This is somewhat of a surprising notion for a Bulls team that has struggled to take care of the ball in addition to struggling in putting away a young, inexperienced, and less talented Bucks team. This is not to say that all the praise in the world should not go to Jason Kidd and his team for their ability to continually make life difficult for the Bulls offensively, which has helped Milwaukee quietly climb back into the series after a very impressive road win and fighting off elimination twice in a row. It has mainly been due to the Bulls inability to handle the Bucks defensive length and wingspan which has proven to be very effective in terms of contesting shots and creating turnovers. All things considered, the Bulls have been playing terrible recently by their standards, but I think 10 out of 10 people will tell you they will move on from their first round matchup, myself included. How poorly Chicago has been taking care of the ball is a major cause for concern and certainly won’t fly against their next potential playoff foe in the Cavs, who will be looking to get more easy transition buckets now that the offensive resources at their disposal have been significantly depleted. I am running under the assumption that the Bulls won’t drop two straight against the Bucks, including a final game at home, and that they quickly return to a closer version of their normal standard of play.

That being said, it is hard to argue that the Bulls don’t have a legitimate shot at dethroning the King in the playoffs if they advance to the next round. Throw in the fact that the Cavs are without another huge perimeter threat in J.R. Smith for their next two games and we can really see how daunting of a burden winning will be for LeBron and Uncle Drew. If the Cavs face the Bulls in the next round they are going to be in huge trouble, no question. If I’m Thibs I attack the main Cavs weakness, which is their newfound lack of three point shooting. I would take a page out of Jason Kidd’s playbook and counter Irving defensively with someone who is bigger and has a longer wingspan to contest outside shots (Jimmy Butler). Not only does it decrease Irving’s chances of getting hot from long range as he has demonstrated very proficiently thus far in the playoffs, but it also forces him to drive into a very defensively sound group of Chicago bigs that in all likelihood will force him to give the ball up to other teammates, a gamble that I am sure the Bulls would love to take. I think that the Bulls plan offensively is rather simple as well: play keep away from LeBron. The Bulls are in a favorable position offensively because of the multitude of scorers that they have. The Cavs will have a tough time containing all the scoring threats that the Bulls have. Whether it’s making a determined effort to get the ball to Gasol down low, feeding Butler or Mirotic as they run off ball screens, or spacing the floor to create driving lanes for Rose to get to the basket; there are many offensive variations that Coach Thibodeau can run depending on how LeBron is positioned defensively. Being able to properly react to different defensive schemes thrown at them can be a huge advantage for the Bulls. This definitely won’t be a cakewalk for them since their first two games are on the road and the Cavs still have the best player in the world who may decide to bear the whole team burden on himself, but there are definitely tactical individual matchups to be exploited successfully both offensively and defensively.
With the Hawks coming back to Earth after their incredible regular season and an up and down Wizards team still standing in the East, the Bulls can see a glimpse of a coveted NBA Finals appearance if they can clear the Cavaliers hurdle. That potential matchup will be close if these two teams face off against each other because we always seem to underestimate LeBron’s ability to bring the best out of anyone he plays with, but the Bulls know that if they revert to their consistent style of play they have shown this season, then they have a very realistic shot of making a deep run. However, in the short term they need to address their turnover issues and move the ball better to utilize all the offensive potential that they have on their roster so they can begin to trend towards the right direction. That being said, I would be much more optimistic about what the future holds based on the recent developments if I were a Bulls fan. It will be fascinating to watch.

Advertisements

Brad Stevens and Boston Skip Tanking for Winning

The Boston Celtics are far from a focal point of conversation these days as the NBA season inches closer the playoffs, yet it’s hardly been a disappointment. You’d be hard pressed to find a single Celtics fan who really believed this team would have any realistic shot at being a playoff team. Trading Rondo and Jeff Green were inevitable moves that most C’s fans (myself included) thought were going to improve chances of “tanking” the season in an effort to acquire a coveted lottery pick and a potential franchise player. However, the reality is that this continues to seem like a less likely outcome as the season progresses. Let’s not forget the season ending surgery for the promising Jared Sullinger. There have been moments this season where fans thought that this team would implode and rapidly trend towards being forgettable, yet Brad Stevens has managed to keep the ship afloat with what seems to be a continually revolving roster of players. Don’t get me wrong, this team is by no means spectacular in any fashion, but Stevens is showing that the popularized “tanking” notion is not the fail proof method for rebuilding franchises. He’s creating a culture that allows players to thrive, and his players are responding.

There have been quite a few pleasant surprises for Celtics fans this season to help restore some of the faith that was lost in Danny Ainge. I think the most fascinating development has been the emergence of Evan Turner. When you look at this current roster, Isaiah Thomas certainly may be the most talented player, but Turner has been the leader. Stevens’ best move this season has been moving Turner to the point. He has really thrived as a facilitator and is running an offense that currently ranks sixth best in assist ratio AND is tied for seventh lowest in turnover ratio in the league. Turner has quietly had two triple doubles this season as well as twenty-three (!) games of at least 10 points/five rebounds/five assists. His scoring is not very consistent but he is a capable enough ball handler for Stevens to place trust in him to run the offense. And why not?

This Celtics roster right now is entirely comprised of players that can score at least ten points on a given night. Besides Tyler Zeller, they can all shoot the three. Why is this important? Floor spacing. That’s one of the more underlooked aspects when planning defensive schemes against this Celtics team. They have no single player that will be the primary focus of a defensive game plan which actually makes them intriguingly problematic for their opponents.

One of the more promising things that Celtics fans can look forward to is Brad Stevens’ willingness to commit to team basketball, as noted in a recent NESN article. Stevens has been able to get the most value out of his players this season while building great team chemistry. In addition to the aforementioned Evan Turner, the recently acquired Isaiah Thomas has thrived as well. Thomas is a unique player as he can score as good as anyone but is likely not a true starter at point guard due to his size. The truth is, he is a perfect security blanket as a backup combo guard for any playoff contender.

Although it’s been a relatively small sample size, Thomas is averaging 21.4 points per game while averaging under 28 minutes a game in Boston. He is scoring at a higher average currently with this Celtics team than he did when he had his best scoring year with the Kings, when he averaged over 20 points per game. He’s also playing seven less minutes per game with the Celtics as a player coming off the bench than as a starter with the Kings. Thomas has proven his ability to score the basketball and is certainly someone that teams account for in the scouting report. However, he plays in a free flowing offense where players share the ball to get the best shot. This has been the main reason that his scoring efficiency is the highest of his career.

The Celtics will wrap up the season with the hopes of snatching the eighth and final playoff spot in the East where they could potentially be in a tough matchup with a Hawks team that has been remarkably good all year. While the Celtics would be far more likely to get swept than win the series, that would certainly be a matchup of interest to hardcore fans as both teams play very similar styles of basketball. Regardless of how the season ends for this young Celtics team, it is certainly reassuring to see Brad Stevens’ continued focus on playing the right way and the team’s ensuing improvements. If you call yourself a Celtics fan, you are thrilled to have Stevens at the helm for the foreseeable future given everyone’s expectations for them and what they have shown this season. This team plays to win, not to tank. As a Boston sports fan, you really have to admire the fight against the odds. It is the attitude carried by the city and its fans who are used to seeing their teams thrive. Brad Stevens is a winner, and this team will be too if they continue to show this progression.

Fantasy Focus: Give Inefficiency a Chance

The NBA season is underway and in full throttle. As a fan, I must admit that this year’s happenings thus far have left me rather baffled, yet also entertained. The main headlines are glaring and unexpected at this point of the season. With the Cavs struggling much more than expected early on, the Griz in first place in the West, and the Sixers rapidly trending towards unchartered waters of historically bad franchises, it’s tough to not be at least mildly amused.

However, these are not headlines that we’re used to seeing. There’s something different about the NBA this season that draws a fascination from fans like myself. Maybe it’s the fact that the top two teams in the Eastern Conference (Toronto and Washington) are being led by emerging young superstar point guards. Or how about the fact that young squads like the Kings and Pelicans are in the mix for a potential playoff spot this year? Whichever way you slice it, it’s very transparent to the objective NBA fan that different mixes of young athletic talent make sense for some teams (Phoenix) but not others (my Celtics…).

The NBA has certainly drawn more intrigue from a fantasy perspective because of how players can take advantage of opportunity when it strikes (Tony Wroten) or become more effective when used in the right role (Tyreke Evans). It’s tough to measure a player’s value because of the different metrics used. An NBA coach will value a good close out by a defender on his team while a fantasy owner will just be upset he didn’t get the rebound. However, for the sake of today’s article, we’ll be looking through my eyes as a fantasy owner. That being said, let’s dive into today’s topic: why some bad shooters should be given a chance.

Let’s look at some scenarios where it can be deemed acceptable to roll with guys that like to shoot around six for 15 (or worse) consistently. There are two guys on my current fantasy roster that fit the bill perfectly for this article: Josh Smith and O.J. Mayo. Both have different styles of play and are involved in different team dynamics, but they do have one thing in common: dreadful shooting percentages. My boy J-Smoove is coming in hot with a shooting percentage of 38% this year while Mayo is shooting at a 39% clip. Why keep them you ask? For different reasons.

Josh Smith's contract hasn't worked out as planned in Detroit but you aren't paying him!
Josh Smith’s contract hasn’t worked out as planned in Detroit but you aren’t paying him!

Let’s start with Josh Smith. This talented guy somehow finds a way to suck night in and night out. He only averages 13 PPG while taking close to 15 shots per contest. Such terrible field goal percentages have always been a turn off for most fantasy investors. I am not one of them. I am a big believer in what people like to call next-level statistics. Take this particular case. People place so much emphasis on Smith’s field goal percentage that they tend to neglect everything else he brings to the table. He is a very valuable commodity due to his ability to contribute in virtually every fantasy category. He is good for around seven boards, five assists, a block and a steal per game. Throw in the added bonus of a three every two games for a power forward and you have a better look at why he is often ranked higher than people would have guessed on fantasy lists.

Smith’s all-around game is surprisingly consistent, especially considering how bad the Pistons have been playing this season. In a fantasy league where each category is a win, I will no doubt bite the bullet on his field percentage and turnovers for his multi-category contributions.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks

Let’s switch gears now. Mr. Mayo lacks the defensive consistency that Smith brings every night and doesn’t really do too much other than score in the high teens on a good night. Now the question comes up again. Why keep him? Unlike Smith, Mayo has had to really earn his minutes this year. A couple of good scoring performances saw him move to a starting role recently, which has also gifted him, and fantasy owners, with more minutes on the floor.

One of the underrated metrics in fantasy basketball is the effect of a team system or rotation on a player’s performance. The increase in minutes due to the reliance on Mayo’s ability to score the basketball gives him the opportunity to contribute more heavily across the board. There are already scorers in the Bucks lineup around Mayo and he will need to find other ways to keep his starting role and increased usage moving forward in the season. His minutes and role are not guarantees by any means, but the potential that comes with increased minutes is intriguing enough for me not to drop him like other expendable players who barely average double digit points. With the fantasy football playoffs coming up, let’s make analogy. We see this every week with less skilled running backs; they get a heavy volume of touches on a weekly basis when it comes to carries, targets, or both, which is why fantasy owners take a gamble on them. I think of Mayo’s situation the same way. He is obviously more likely to accumulate more categorical stats for my team if he is on the floor more. He is one player in my opinion who will keep that starting role if he is able to display and improve his overall value in fantasy and actual performance with the bump in playing time.

There you have it. Two vastly different justifications for why some bad shooters can be given a chance in the fantasy basketball world. Who knows? In two weeks I could be singing a different tune but that is just the nature of the NBA, which is why is why I find it so addicting. I hope this sheds some light on your fantasy basketball woes and go Celtics.

Shipping Down to Boston

b0352c961ba333cb9d7ec1d0c4219e2d

Life is tough for a Celtics fan right now. Seeing one of the most storied franchises in the league gather a whopping 25 wins in addition to finishing last in the completely irrelevant Atlantic Division was simply a cherry on the farewell cake that saw three Hall of Famers and a head coach bolt for other teams.

While a championship run certainly won’t be in the cards for the foreseeable future, the Celts still have managed to make enough unique moves during the offseason to pique the interest of us avid NBA fans who remain loyal to the cause.

Here is the beautiful thing about the NBA today: being terrible gives you a chance of getting a player that can turn the franchise around, wherever he may be found in the draft. One player in the draft can have a drastic impact on a team (ex: LeBron, Durant, Curry, Aldridge, etc.) almost instantly. This is something that is not common in other professional sports leagues, notably the MLB. Sure, you have the Kwame Browns and Darko Milicics of the draft, but you also have plenty of diamonds in the rough, as draft history has continually showed us in years past.

The hope of drafting a potential franchise superstar is always on the forefront of fans minds whenever they see their team tank a season. That certainly was the case for me. Was I hoping that the Celtics would be in the sweepstakes for Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker? Of course. It would be idiotic to not want to take a risk on a player of that caliber who has so much potential to be great in the NBA. Unfortunately for the Celtics last season, they were bad, but they weren’t the worst. I can live with that though, seeing as the C’s still had the 6th and 17th overall draft picks. I thought they did a pretty good job acquiring talent with their selections of Marcus Smart (Oklahoma St.) and James Young (Kentucky), both who possess above average athleticism and have fairly strong offensive capabilities respectively. I will touch on each of these two players a little later on in this piece.

So what are left with here looking at this young Celtics team? From where I stand, I see a group of players that lack the leadership of a superstar player that they so desperately need. That’s not to say that the Celts don’t have valuable pieces, because they certainly do. However, the fact that they do not have a top 20 player who plays at an elite level night in and night out will impede any hopes of getting into the playoffs or having success in the playoffs this year. Enough negativity though. I want to dive into this team of young misfits and address how some of the personnel changes they made this offseason will impact the team moving forward.

Celtics

First things first, I absolutely loved the hiring of Brad Stevens. This guy worked with a team that really only had one All-Star caliber NBA player in Gordon Hayward during his tenure at Butler. He was able to evoke a style of hard-nosed and team oriented basketball, something that is not seen too frequently in the NBA. The guy is a winner and he knows how to manage conflicting player attitudes. His energy and focus are very transparent from the sidelines and you can see the demeanor of his players both on and off the court. Hiring Stevens was a very strategic long term move by the Boston Celtics in my opinion. Stevens is not a coach that they plan on canning after a year or two after sustaining a few bad seasons. Danny Ainge is fully aware of his current roster as well as the team needs and talent gaps. I really do embrace his logic of growing Stevens with the team from the ground up to really develop a fundamental basketball system that players can all buy into once the right pieces come into place over the next few seasons.

I briefly discussed how I truly appreciate the direction that the coaching staff and team management is going towards in the future. What about the players though? The Celts may not have acquired Kevin Love or Melo in the offseason, but they did make some moves that are worthy of further observation and analysis. The two major offseason moves I liked the most were the acquisitions of Evan Turner and Tyler Zeller. Starting with Turner, he came to the C’s after being underutilized as a role player for the Pacers as they tried to make a deep playoff push last season. The one thing I like about his game is the fact that he can do a little bit of everything. He is not necessarily top notch in any offensive or defensive category, but he certainly is able to contribute in many different areas. His addition to the roster will certainly alleviate a lot of the scoring burden that was primarily placed on Jeff Green last season. It also gives the Celtics another wing player that is actually meant to be a wing player based on physical size and strength, which will help defensively in terms of matching up against opposing teams 2 and 3 spots.

Another player that I expect to make an immediate impact for the Celtics this season is Tyler Zeller. I truly believe that he is one of the more underrated players in the whole league. He is a legit seven footer with a well developed offensive skill set in addition to being an excellent rebounder. His presence will certainly be noted on the defensive end as he will serve as the primary rim protector for the Celtics this season. His addition to the roster also allows for players like Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger to match up against more traditional power forward size players rather than having to guard players that are simply just bigger and stronger. I digress. Going back to Zeller, he should also help balance out the scoring attack for the Celtics this upcoming season. He provides another easy scoring outlet for Rondo to dump the ball off to for easy dunks when attacking the basket.

Both Zeller and Turner will help the Celtics out in terms of scoring distribution as well as their overall team defense. Both are well above average NBA talents that will improve a depleted Celtics roster from last season. More importantly, they are valuable trading pieces to have if and when the C’s are trying to make a big move in the future. However, for now I am content with having both of these guys on the roster for this season because of the fact that they will be more involved in the offense. They will be asked to carry more of the scoring burden than they have had to on their previous teams. Maybe this will serve as the perfect opportunity for both of these players to break out and have career years.

jared-sullinger-celtics

Looking back at the players the Celtics have gotten through the last few drafts, I really can’t complain too much. They have a young nucleus of drafted players that includes Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart, and James Young. Sullinger has shown signs of incredible productivity on the boards as well as proficiency from beyond the arc and around the rim. I fully expect him to elevate his play to a higher level this season. Olynyk had a few bright moments last year but I still think he has room to improve. I see him as one of the backup centers (with Vitor Faverani) to Tyler Zeller who will earn his time based on his ability to score and rebound in the sparing minutes that he will receive this season.

The Celtics hope for big contributions from their rookies
The Celtics hope for big contributions from their rookies

Obviously it is a little early to make an accurate projection for Smart and Young, but I will give one anyways based off of practice reports and the current structure of the roster. I am a big fan of Smart. I think he has a rare combination of size, strength, and athleticism that makes him a tough guard to cover. At 6’4″ Smart can be considered either a 1 or 2 guard when he is on the floor. Although it is a little far fetched, I can understand the early comparisons that he drew to Dwyane Wade while he was still playing college ball. I think he will get some good opportunities to showcase his abilities with the absence of Rondo for the beginning portion of the season due to surgery on his hand. I am interested to see how Smart fits into the Celtics gameplan going forward. Another player who is very intriguing to me is James Young. If you don’t remember this guy, just think back to some of the electric plays he had for the John Calipari during the NCAA tournament. From his thunderous dunks to draining wing threes, this guy really impressed viewers with the multitude of offensive skills he has in his arsenal. He also has a very long wingspan and is left handed which can make him a defender’s nightmare when trying to cover him. He needs to bulk up a bit so he can be more physical when facing other 2 and 3 positions in the league, but it is difficult not to be optimistic about this kid’s future. He is a very capable ball handler and seems to mesh well into different offensive sets, even an elite offense like that of the Kentucky Wildcats. He may take some time to really thrive in the NBA, but he is definitely someone to keep an eye out for going forward into the season.

In closing I would just like to throw out a few notes about the Celtics going into this season. Rondo will not be playing for at least the first week of the season seeing as he is still recovering from hand surgery. Avery Bradley will most likely be asked to shoulder the point guard duties for a while in his absence with Phil Pressey handling some of those duties off the bench. Jeff Green has a temporary setback with a strained left calf but the coaching staff does not see that being serious enough to prevent him from being ready for the season opener. Although there are some scattered injuries and inexperienced players, Brad Stevens will have these guys ready to compete as soon as the regular season starts. They may not be tremendously successful this season, but there is no doubt that it will be entertaining to watch the new blend of young players integrated into the Celtics rotation as well as the players from last year who continue to progress.