Outside of a few key movements (LeBron and Boogie), we haven’t seen a ton of exciting moves, and at this point not many top teams have improved from last year. Let’s run through every playoff team’s offseason thus far.
- The Rockets lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, two key role players who offered solid three-point shooting and defensive versatility. Rumors are swirling of Carmelo replacing them. Really, Houston? You pushed Golden State to a Game 7 on your home court and do nothing to improve, c’mon. WORSE.
- The Warriors added a top 5 big man in Boogie Cousins, so the easy assumption is that they are even more of a juggernaut than before. Not so fast. Cousins likely won’t play until after Christmas, and there are still questions regarding fit. It could be worth the risk, but their improvement is still yet to be determined. IMPROVED SLIGHTLY.
- Portland is essentially bringing back the same team, but replacing Shabazz Napier with Seth Curry. Virtually no improvement for a team that got throttled in the first round. WASH.
- OKC brought back Paul George, but is so strapped for money that they can’t improve anywhere else. They are getting rid of Melo but it’s still hard to see this team improving. WASH.
- Utah waived Jerebko and brought back Derrick Favors — no improvement. WASH.
- New Orleans replaces Boogie with Julius Randle, and Rajon Rondo with Elfrid Payton. WORSE.
- San Antonio is barely holding on to Kawhi Leonard for now, and have done nothing else but let Kyle Anderson walk in free agency. WORSE.
- Minnesota brought back Derrick Rose and replaced Nemanja Bjelica with Anthony Tolliver. Plus they still have Wiggins’ untradeable contract and Butler seems unhappy. WASH.
- All Toronto has done is bring back Fred VanVleet and push their Coach of the Year out the door, while their top players aged another year. WORSE.
- Boston has done little thus far, and still have to decide on Marcus Smart. I don’t blame them for staying pat and I wouldn’t give up their assets for Leonard. But Hayward and Irving getting healthy is enough to call this offseason a win. IMPROVED.
- Philadelphia replaces Belinelli and Ilyasova with Wilson Chandler and Nemanja Bjelica. Their draft pick likely won’t be ready to contribute this season. They need to do more if they want to beat Boston. WASH.
- Sorry Cleveland. WAY WORSE.
- Indiana replaced Glenn Robinson III, Lance Stephenson, and Trevor Booker with Doug McDermott, Tyreke Evans, and Kyle O’Quinn. IMPROVED.
- Poor Pat Riley, hindered by awful contracts, has done absolutely nothing. Hello one more mediocre season. WORSE.
- The Bucks took one of my favorite prospects in the draft, Donte DiVincenzo, and signed a much-needed shooter in Ersan Ilyasova. Jabari Parker is still a question mark, but either way they have gotten better this offseason. IMPROVED.
- The Wiz traded for Austin Rivers and will sign Dwight Howard. Some thought Washington might explore trading one of their top three players this summer, but Rivers is still an upgrade over Ty Lawson and Howard is an upgrade over Gortat. IMPROVED.
It’s obvious every team in the West has failed to close the gap on the Warriors dynasty. The LeBron-led Lakers will fall somewhere in the middle of the pack with their current roster and mind-boggling free agency additions outside of LeBron. Boston could run away in the East with seeds 2-8 interchangeable, as Philly and Toronto haven’t improved, and Milwaukee, Indiana, and Washington got a bit better.
Knee-Jerk Reaction to Summer League Action
Pacers 2018 second round pick, Alize Johnson, is already better than Pacers 2017 first round pick, TJ Leaf: Mr. Leaf didn’t get much playing time last season, and when he did he didn’t exactly impress. Expectations for Leaf in summer league were pretty high, and oh has he disappointed. Leaf bounced back from his dreadful first game but is still only averaging 12.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, and 0.5 apg while shooting 36.4% from the field and 20% from 3. Meanwhile, rookie Alize Johnson is averaging 13.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, and 1.5 apg on 45.7% shooting while playing fewer minutes than Leaf. Of course, this is a small sample size, but you can see the difference watching the games. Johnson is more athletic, stronger, faster, a better ball-handler, better passer, better rebounder, better defender, and has better basketball instincts. Here is a glimpse of his communication and instincts in transition defense:
His ball-handling and vision offers offensive versatility in transition:
And Johnson is able to create shots in the half court as well. There is lots of room to improve, especially with his perimeter shot, but I’ll take Johnson’s motor over slo-mo Leaf every day.
Trae Young will be a bust: It seems like some people are tuning into Young just hoping to see him fail. Through 7 summer league games Young is averaging 15.1 ppg, 5.7 apg, and 3.7 turnovers. Doesn’t seem so bad, huh? But wait — Young is shooting 30-99 (30.30%) from the field and shooting 15-55 (27.27%) from beyond the arc. Yeah, yeah. It is a small sample size, but a pattern is already emerging. Any length bothers him and changes his performance drastically. His best two games have come against the worst defenders he has played, Ryan Arcidiacono and Aaron Holiday (I’ll get to Holiday’s D later). Both of those players are limited athletically and no bigger than Trae. During those games Young shot 14-33 (42.4%) from the field and 9-20 (45%) from three. In all other games against opposing guards with slightly more length Young has shot 16-66 (24.2%) from the field and 6-35 (17.1%) from 3. I don’t think these numbers are a coincidence. In today’s switching-defense league, Young will struggle with length on him as was the case against Wendell Carter. Not only will length bother him on the perimeter but it is going to alter a crucial part of his game, the floater. Sorry Trae, you are not the next Steph Curry. Bust.
Wendell Carter will be the best big to come out of the 2018 draft: Carter fell to number 7 in the draft because analysts questioned his athleticism and ability to play above the rim. After seeing him play in summer league, I don’t give a hoot that he isn’t as long as Bamba or as explosive as Bagley, because this dude can play. Carter is consistent: after 4 games he is averaging 16.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.8 blks, and 1.5 apg. He is shooting 63.4% from the field and 50% from three (6 attempts). Beyond those numbers, watching the games you can see that he brings the most advanced post moves for any big in this draft, a nice face-up game, the ability to finish with either hand with contact, action in the pick-and-roll, ball-handling, passing, and shooting to stretch the floor. Defensively he has been just as impressive. His rotations and timing on blocked shots have been excellent, he can switch onto guards effectively, and he rebounds. Carter has an all-around skilled game with no glaring weakness. Best big in the draft.
Aaron Holiday is not the Indiana Pacers point guard of the future: This isn’t what Pacer fans want to hear, but Holiday’s ceiling is a backup point guard. Fans love the first-rounder and there are reasons to love him, but there is plenty to be concerned about. Holiday will contribute in the years to come with his solid shooting, scoring, and passing abilities (averaged 14.5 ppg and 6.8 apg). He has pulled up in transition for threes, come off screens in the halfcourt for threes, and found open threes using ball screens. He has operated the pick-and-roll and used penetration to find shots for teammates, but everyone expected this. However, most analysts raved about Holiday’s peskiness defensively and readiness to guard, but this has not been evident. In fact, we’ve seen the exact opposite.
Guards like Trevon Duval, Collin Sexton, and even the athletically limited Trae Young have dribbled by Holiday with ease. Holiday’s poor lateral quickness for his position is a serious issue not only defensively, but offensively as well. He doesn’t get much separation on drives, forces tough shots in the paint, and forces tougher decisions with the ball in his hands resulting in nearly SIX turnovers per game. Sorry, optimistic Pacer fans that thought he was a steal during the draft, but Holiday is nothing but a second unit contributor.
Kevin Knox will be the best player out of the 2018 NBA Draft: New York fans booed the pick of Knox on draft night but I imagine they have taken those boos back. Knox, with his elite size and crazy athleticism, could have the most upside of any player in this year’s draft. Through summer league he’s shown glimpses of that potential.
Through four games, his averages are 21.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, shooting 35.1% from the field and 35.7% from deep. His scoring efficiency will get better as he gains experience and repetition, and the reps will be available playing for the lowly Knicks. Even with his shooting inconsistency he has shown a promising shooting stroke from beyond the arc and playmaking that utilizes his elite athleticism. And don’t forget the kid is still only 18 years old. For the take’s sake, best player in the 2018 draft.
Top 5 Free Agents Available
Remember to check out the Free Agency Tracker to stay updated on every offseason move so far. Top guys yet to sign:
- Clint Capela
- Marcus Smart
- Jabari Parker
- Rodney Hood
- Montrezl Harrell