Los Angeles Lakers: Where Will Their Defense Come From?

By Tashan Reed: Staff Writer/Hoopstuff…

Defense was a major topic of discussion of the Lakers’ 2014 season, and not for a good reason. Their defense was so bad that it was almost unbearable for Lakers fans to make it through watching an entire contest. They allowed the 2nd-most points in the league with 109.2 per game, the 4th-highest field goal percentage at 46.8 and allowed the most field goals in the NBA with 3,440. It only takes one word to describe the Lakers’ defensive effort in the 2013-14 season, awful.

Mike D’Antoni was a large part of that, and he’s gone now, but the Lakers’ defensive struggles were a result of much more than him. Injuries riddled the Lakers’ roster once again, but even without them their team wouldn’t have been very good defensively. The best defender in their starting lineup for most of the season and maybe for the entire team was Jordan Hill (Ouch). The core players on the roster were either old or slow – or both. Even most of the younger players weren’t strong on defense (Nick Young, Kendall Marshall, Ryan Kelly, etc.). The Lakers had no hope to be a good defensive team last season, and the same could be said about this one.

Kobe Bryant is returning, but with his advanced age and offensive responsibility one has to wonder just how much he can give on the other end of the floor. Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash and Carlos Boozer are pathetic. Nick Young may have the physical tools, but hasn’t put them to use. Ed Davis is the only major defensive upgrade for them this offseason, and even he will share minutes with Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre and Julius Randle. See where I’m going here? Even a defensive mind like Byron Scott can only do so much with a scheme to get solid defensive play out of this roster.

Almost certainly the Lakers will be in the bottom-half of the league defensively, the goal needs to be to avoid being one of the lowest teams. The first step to accomplishing this will be to get maximum effort out of the entire roster on the defensive end of the ball, as that’s the biggest part of it. The rest comes from picking up assignments, rotating and helping when needed. Byron Scott will surely have a solid set in place on paper, the Lakers just have to execute and try.

 

New York Knicks: 5 Reasons They Are Better Than

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff..

People aren’t talking about the Knicks much when it comes to this season and it’s hard to blame them, as they have only re-signed Carmelo Anthony, traded Tyson Chandler and hired Derek Fisher this offseason and they missed the playoffs, but this team has talent. There seems to be 10 teams in the East that can make the playoffs and based on talent, they are probably 7-9, but they are better than the Knicks team which was just the 9th seed in the East. Yes, the conference is better, but for 5 reasons they will make the playoffs this season.

1. Carmelo Anthony

– When you have one of the five best players in your conference and the best scorer, you have a strong chance to make the playoffs and the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo will give them about 30 points and 8 rebounds per game and he alone gives them an excellent chance to be one of the 8 best teams in the East. Having one of the best players in the league gives them a big advantage this season and is the main reason why they will make the playoffs.

2. Jose Calderon’s Talents

– Calderon is the best point guard Carmelo Anthony has played with on the Knicks. He is an elite shooter and distributor, will help run a productive offense and will look to distribute 1st, while Jeremy Lin and Raymond Felton looked for their shot 1st. The Knicks have a lot of skilled scorers and with Calderon they have a point guard that can get them the ball in the best position to score the ball. Having one of the best distributors in the NBA giving the ball to one of the best scorers in the league is just a recipe for a strong offense and he will get their shooters the ball. With the double teams coming to Anthony, Calderon will get the rest of the offense the ball and he will make this offense more efficient this season. Trading for him was an excellent decision by Phil Jackson.

3. Amar’e Stoudemire’s Health

– Most haven’t noticed, but when healthy and on the court, Stoudemire has produced incredible numbers for the Knicks, even in his injury seasons. His per minute numbers are elite and he should be healthy going into this season and in Derek Fisher’s offense (see number 5), he is likely to thrive and be better than with Mike D’Antoni and Mike Woodson. A healthy Stoudemire can be an excellent 3rd offensive option for the Knicks this season and if stays healthy he is going to have a big season.

4. J.R. Smith’s Better Season

– This is simple, Smith went from being arguably the best sixth man in the NBA to mediocre and he has to be better. It can be assumed that he will and playing with Jose Calderon, he won’t have to find his own offense as much and with the attention paid to Carmelo, he should have a big season and be a strong 2nd option.

5. Derek Fisher’s Coaching

– With Mike D’Antoni and Mike Woodson, they played a very Melo-centric offense and played wild. Derek Fisher will likely be turning this offense into the triangle, as he played in the offense, won in the offense and his boss is the king of the offense. Like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony should thrive in this offense and like Shaq, Gasol and Bynum, Amar’e Stoudemire should play well as the main big man option in this offense. This team should be better in the triangle offense.

 

Denver Nuggets: Extend Kenneth Faried Now

By Josh Morgan: VP and Director of Content at Hoopstuff…

Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky isn’t what you would call a traditional basketball powerhouse. Only six alumni of the university have played in the NBA and only one has produced much in the league, Kenneth Faried. After being named third team All-American during his stellar senior season for the Eagles, leading them to just their seventh NCAA tournament appearance and a first round upset of fourth seeded Louisville before being bounced by Richmond in the next round, Faried was drafted 22nd overall by the Nuggets in a draft that has produced more busts than anything else. His energy and relentlessness have carried over quite well into the NBA over his first three years in the league and now he is being recognized on an international level by excelling for Team USA in the FIBA World Championships. With free agency looming for him come next offseason the Nuggets’ front office needs to extend him now before the situations that have played themselves out this summer rear their ugly heads once again, this time for Denver.

The situations I alluded to involve the four biggest restricted free agents from this offseason in Eric Bledsoe, Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons. Bledsoe still refuses to sign his qualifying offer after the extension he was presented with was received as an insult by his representatives and he couldn’t find another team to offer him what he is looking for. The Suns are likely to lose their best player sooner rather than later because they did not take the initiative to lock him up long term when they had the chance. Monroe also rejected the extension put in front of his reps by the Pistons’ brass and chose to sign his qualifying offer to return next season and become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Detroit will lose a potential All Star power forward and a very good compliment to their budding All Star caliber center Andre Drummond because they, like Phoenix, did not see fit to lock up Monroe long term and mind boggling have decided to keep Josh Smith instead, one of the most inefficient players in basketball. In the case of Hayward the Jazz allowed him to get to free agency instead of meeting his representatives half way on an agreeable extension and will now have to overpay to keep him around thanks to the Hornets signing him to a max offer sheet. Parsons moved on to the Dallas Mavericks after the Rockets decided not to match his over-inflated offer sheet thanks to Chris Bosh deciding to stay in Miami. So what am I getting at after all of this rambling (most of which you were probably already aware)? The Nuggets have to take heed of these situations and avoid having something similar happen to them. Faried may not be a franchise player or in reality have the pure basketball talent of these four but he is a top-five, or even top two, player in one category; unrelenting effort. The only other person in the league that can come close to him in this is Joakim Noah. Every team that wins a title has a guy that may not get all of the attention but does all of the dirty work to end defensive possessions by getting rebounds, defending their man one on one and making the proper rotations and just simply not giving up no matter what the situation may be. If Denver is serious about winning a title or even being in the conversation in the future, Faried is this type of person and is someone they have to keep on their roster.

His outstanding performance in the World Cup of Basketball that culminated Sunday in the USA winning the gold medal has only increased his value on the free agent market, even if it is as a restricted free agent. He set the tone for the US, rebounding the ball on the offensive glass and finishing with aggressive dunks and impressive one handed tip ins that seemingly come out of nowhere. His defensive effort was simply incredibly to watch as well, flying around the court blocking shots, pressuring the inbounds pass and coming up with a steal or coming up with deflections to start a fast break the other way. This wasn’t coming against vastly inferior competition either. Sure he wasn’t playing against his own teammates like Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond or Mason Plumlee but there were NBA players and players at the NBA level in this tournament and he outworked everyone else on the floor. Before other teams are able to come knocking on his representatives’ door and have their phones ringing off the hook the Nuggets should come to the table with an offer in the range of four years and 48 million dollars and lock him up when they have the chance to do so. His play this past season and stepping up on an international stage when his team seemingly had everything going against it shows that he is worthy of this kind of money.

Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose Wins Gold And His Confidence

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

The 12 man USA Men’s Basketball Team has won the FIBA World Cup gold medal. Excellent job by each player, but this is about Derrick Rose. With a healthy Derrick Rose the Chicago Bulls are 1 of 2 teams (Cleveland) that are likely to win the Eastern Conference. Rose wasn’t elite in the tournament and was the 3rd point guard and the 4th or 5th guard in their rotation, but him playing healthy and staying healthy is bigger for Derrick Rose than winning gold, although he won’t admit it. Rose has won his 2nd gold medal, but he has gained something far more vital, confidence.

He only averaged about 5 points and 3 assists per game and his jumper is off, but he proved that he has the athleticism and quickness that made him League MVP 3 seasons ago. He has the it factor again, which he lacked in the 10 games he just played for the Bulls. His athleticism and his ability to get where he pleases on the court to get his shot or to find the open man is one thing that makes Derrick Rose so incredible and although he wasn’t being defended by Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo, he looked to have that ability. He has to work on his jumper which is just ugly, which is odd because that was the one thing from the 10 games of his MCL season that looked better, but he looks to be an excellent distributor and again, the athleticism is there. However, there is another thing that is there with Derrick Rose, confidence. Playing extended minutes for multiple games, playing healthy and staying healthy for the 9 game tournament, the games they played to get ready for the tournament, training camp and practices has to give him confidence for this season.

He started training camp healthy and now that they won the gold he is still healthy and there has to be a feeling of relief, a feeling that he can be MVP Derrick Rose again and the feeling that he can play 82 games. Rose was proving to himself more than the media or fans by playing in this tournament and no, his numbers weren’t that of James Harden or Kenneth Faried, but he proved that he is himself again and that he can stay healthy and the value of that is more than 10 gold medals. The gold will be another note on his list of accomplishments, but getting extended playing time for the 1st time in a 2 years and getting through the tournament healthy is the biggest thing he can take from playing for his country. Expect a big season from Rose and kudos to the USA Team for an excellent tournament and another gold medal.

Atlanta Hawks: A 3 Franchise Trade For Dion Waiters

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

Hawks Get: Dion Waiters

Cavaliers Get: Bismack Biyombo and Dennis Schroder

Hornets Get: John Jenkins and Matthew Dellavedova

The Atlanta Hawks have an excellent starting 5, with Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, but their bench? It isn’t pretty. They have solid big men on the bench, which is the strength of this team, as their two starting big men (Al Horford and Paul Millsap) are All Stars and Pero Antic, Mike Scott and rookie Adriean Payne are each strong role players. Payne can be a productive starter as well. Shelvin Mack is a strong second point guard, but they have little depth at the 2 and 3. By trading Louis Williams they also lack a scoring sixth man. This team has the starting 5 to be a strong playoff team, but they lack the depth and bench talent to be more than a 1 series playoff team ans so they would be wise to make a trade for an elite sixth man and with this trade they would get one in Dion Waiters.

This trade is with 3 teams, each team getting pieces they lack and each team a playoff team in the East; for the Hawks they would be trading 2 mid 1st round picks, but get a player who is better than each combined and was just the 4th pick in the draft. They wouldn’t miss Jenkins or Schroder if it were to help them get Waiters and this is a trade they should make with no 2nd thoughts. Waiters just scored 15.9 points per game for the Cavaliers and playing the combo guard, sixth man role off the bench for the Hawks, he would be one of the best sixth men in the NBA.

Dion Waiters can come off the bench, play with Teague or Mack and play on the ball or off, so he is a versatile player, but he would have the coach’s blessing to shoot, shoot and shoot some more and although he is considered a volume scorer, he is actually pretty efficient. He can also distribute when he feels like it and averaged more than 3 assists per game in his 2nd season. He could average 16+ points, 3+ rebounds and 3+ assists a game and give the Hawks the bench scoring they lack. He would help the Hawks with one of the biggest weaknesses on the roster and give them the sixth man they thought Williams would give them. If they can trade 2 young bench players for Waiters than they should. This would make them a better offensive team, a better playoff team and would be a very strong trade for this franchise.

Cleveland Cavaliers: A 3 Team Dion Waiters Trade

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

Cavaliers Get: Bismack Biyombo and Dennis Schroder

Hornets Get: John Jenkins and Matthew Dellavedova

Hawks Get: Dion Waiters

For the Cavaliers this trade is Dion Waiters and Matthew Dellavedova for Bismack Biyombo and Dennis Schoder. This may seem like the Cavaliers are losing this trade based on talent and that may be the case, but as I have written many times, Dion Waiters isn’t a fit on this Cavaliers team. He has an ego, he has problems with Kyrie Irving and this team has more scorers than they can use, meaning they have zero need for him and for the sake of chemistry, it could be addition by subtraction. He is an excellent talent, but this trade would give them 2 pieces they lack and could use.

Biyombo is basically useless on offense, but again this team has a lot of scoring and they lack defense and big man depth. They have an elite trio of big men with Kevin Love-Anderson Varejao-Tristan Thompson, but Thompson is short, Love is no defender and Varejao is aging and injured too much and their rotation could use a young, incredibly athletic and skilled defender to play 10-20 minutes per game and provide rebounding, defense and shot-blocking, 3 things that he thrives at. His role with the Hornets was far less with 1st season coach Steve Clifford than in his 1st 2 seasons (23.1 minutes per game as a rookie, 27.3 minutes per game in season 2 and only 13.9 minutes with Clifford), but the numbers show that he was ridiculously productive, averaging 12.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per 36 minutes. In a 15-20 minute per game bench role he can be a very valuable player for the Cavaliers, who besides LeBron and Varejao are lacking on defense.

As for Schroder, he had a poor rookie season, but he is a very strong young point guard, who has excellent distribution abilities and for a young guy to be compared to Rajon Rondo, he has talent. The Cavaliers’ 2nd point guard is John Lucas III, so they could use talent at the position on their bench. Yes, LeBron and Kyrie are basically co-starting point guards, but they could use a distributor to come off the bench and with a little seasoning in a season or 2 he can become an elite 2nd point guard and would be a nice prospect for the team, who could use as much youth in the rotation as LeBron ages.

These are 2 very talented young players who won’t have the stats of Waiters, but can each play a role for the Cavaliers. This is a trade of getting rid of a redundancy and getting 2 players that can make a difference for them, which is why they would be smart to make the trade.

 

 

 

Los Angeles Lakers: Where Will Their Offense Come From?

By Tashan Reed: Staff Writer/Hoopstuff…

Kobe Bryant is “100% healthy” and will be ready to go for the Lakers’ October 28th season opener against the Houston Rockets. A healthy Kobe Bryant is still the best shooting guard in the NBA and one of the best players in the league, but surely the Lakers can’t lean on him too hard after coming off of two season-ending injuries, right? Hopefully they don’t plan on it. Kobe’s in great shape, but he still needs time to readjust to playing a full-length NBA contest as well as the competition that he’ll face. Other players in the league won’t let up on Bryant for a second, and he doesn’t expect them to. To start off, at least, the Lakers should come in with an offensive scheme that doesn’t rely on Kobe as much as it has in previous seasons where Kobe would have the ball in his hands exceedingly more than anyone else.

Last year, the Lakers didn’t do many things right, however, offense was something that they excelled in. As a team, they scored 103 points per game and they shot 38% from deep, which is pretty good for a team that only went 27-55. Former-coach Mike D’Antoni is a great offensive mind, however towards the end of the season it appeared that the Lakers were simply playing freelance and doing whatever they wanted. That’s nice for offensive stats, but not so much for checks in the win column. Nick Young, Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Kent Bazemore, and Chris Kaman led the Lakers in scoring in terms of points per game average. Four of those five players are gone now, and their replacements are Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin, Julius Randle, Ed Davis and Jordan Clarkson. While this group of players is certainly younger as a collective and has more potential, in terms of skill they’re considered a downgrade even from last year.

Bryant and Young are going to be able to score, that’s a given, but who else on the Lakers’ roster can that be said about for certain? To be honest, no one; Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle showed promise in the Summer League, but they’re likely too raw to make large offensive impacts. Carlos Boozer and Steve Nash were great offensive players in their prime, but both are clearly on the decline and exactly how much is left in their tanks is questionable. Xavier Henry and Jeremy Lin have both shown the ability to score in the NBA, but the consistency hasn’t been there.

Byron Scott isn’t exactly an offensive wizard, he’s a defense first coach and that’s what he’s known for. Obviously he knows how to coach offense, otherwise he wouldn’t have the job he does now, but how well he can do this will have to be seem. The Lakers will have to come together as a team to consistently produce on offense and contributions will be needed from everyone. From Kobe Bryant to Ryan Kelly, everyone needs to have a role and fulfill it to the best of their abilities. Byron Scott will have to get clever with his play calling as well, at least until Kobe Bryant returns to his superstar form. Defense has been labeled the biggest concern for the Lakers going into the 2014-15 season, but their offense isn’t set in stone as reliable by any means.

Houston Rockets: Finding Their 3rd All Star

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

It isn’t a secret that Houston had just about as poor of an offseason as any NBA team. They couldn’t sign a 3rd All Star to make a Big 3 with Dwight Howard and James Harden and the only big move they made was signing Trevor Ariza, who is a 4th option on a contender, but cannot be a 3rd. They let Chandler Parsons sign in Dallas, they traded Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin and are now a far less talented team. They made the right decision with Parsons as he isn’t valued close to the max money that Dallas gave him and Lin and Asik were each redundant and expensive secondary pieces. However, they couldn’t sign the 3rd elite player they lack to become contenders, as Chris Bosh stayed with the Heat, Carmelo Anthony stayed with the Knicks and Dirk Nowitzki stayed with the Mavericks. They could technically make a trade for a 3rd elite player, but the trade assets they have are either picks or cheap young talent and they cannot make the money work for a Rajon Rondo type. So how can Houston get their elite 3rd player?

Well the answer isn’t as promising as you would think; they cannot acquire this player this offseason or mid-season, they just lack the value in their trade assets. They are stuck with the team assembled, a team that cannot win a title, but they can make a difference next offseason, as they will have the cap space to sign a big free agent and it will be an excellent class. Who should they look at? The 2 positions are point guard and power forward and the best option is Paul Millsap. He is a hard working, big man scorer and rebounder, who can score at the rim and from 3 and would be a very strong fit with Dwight Howard, as he can give the paint to Dwight and score anywhere on the floor. He is a very versatile scorer for a big man and he is just a perfect option for the team. The Houston Rockets are going to have a difficult season, but in the offseason they can make this team a contender again and signing Paul Millsap is an excellent first step towards becoming an elite franchise in 2 seasons.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Mike Miller or Dion Waiters At SG?

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

The Cleveland Cavaliers have 4 of their 5 starters written in stone, as Kyrie Irving is their point guard, LeBron James is their small forward, Kevin Love is their power forward and Anderson Varejao is their center, however the shooting guard spot isn’t as settled. Looking at their roster, Dion Waiters would seem to be the pick, as he is an excellent young scorer who just averaged 16 points per game, but this team is a contender and wouldn’t they be smart to start excellent veteran shooter Mike Miller?

Yes. Miller is one of the NBA’s best shooters, someone who played with LeBron for 3 seasons and LeBron having as many teammates in the rotation as they can who he has played with is vital, as he is on a different team and has only played with Miller, James Jones and Varejao and has to have some semblance of normal in Cleveland. For 20 minutes per game Miller will provide elite shooting, smart veteran play and having as many shooters playing with LeBron James as they can fit on a court is the best way to win with him and it is proven. With Kyrie Irving, Mike Miller and Kevin Love, they would have 3 excellent-elite shooters in the same starting 5 with LeBron, which is a ridiculous thought.

Waiters could still be traded this offseason, but assuming he is still with the Cavaliers this season, a sixth man role is best for him whether he appreciates it or hates it. Waiters has an ego and playing off the bench is harmful to that ego, but this is about the team and he is the best fit for the team playing as a sixth man. They have more offense than they can use on this team, especially in the starting 5, which is why having a player whose only elite skill is scoring the ball playing in the same starting 5 as LeBron-Irving-Love isn’t smart. They would actually be smartest trading him, but that’s another story.

The Cavaliers should start Mike Miller at shooting guard this season, he is an elite role player, he has played with LeBron and is the perfect role player to play with their 3 of the league’s best players. This team needs as many shooters as they can and having one of the best playing with the best Big 3 in the NBA is the right choice. Start Miller and have Waiters as the sixth man (or trade him), it’s best for this team that can win a championship if the pieces fit. With such a different team, finding the right rotations is vital to the Cavaliers and David Blatt.

Chicago Bulls: Start Dunleavy or McDermott?

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

With 4 of the Chicago Bulls’ 5 starters basically written in stone, with Derrick Rose the point guard, Jimmy Butler the shooting guard, Pau Gasol the power forward and Joakim Noah the man in the middle, there is no drama with 4 positions, but the small forward position is different, as there are 2 options. It will either be stud rookie Doug McDermott or veteran Mike Dunleavy Jr. Conventional wisdom would say start the veteran, as this team is going for a championship and it is better to have experience in the starting 5, especially with an excellent role player, but McDermott is a potential elite starter. It is a difficult choice, so who should Tom Thibodeau pick?

Each player has their merits, but Dunleavy is the best choice. This isn’t anything against Doug McDermott who will be a starter for them probably in 2 seasons, but Dunleavy is best for the rotation this season. With Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, the offense in their starting 5 is in very strong shape. Those are 3 All Stars and playing with them, it is best to have elite role players and Dunleavy is one of the best shooters in the NBA and fits with them perfectly, as he will get open, hit his shots and just stay within the flow of the offense while playing smart.

McDermott is the better offensive player, even as a rookie, but fitting a young player into an offense that is established and basically the same, with Rose and Noah still Rose and Noah and with Jimmy Butler taking the Luol Deng role and Gasol taking the Carlos Boozer role is difficult. Have the veteran start and have the rookie play as an excellent 3rd perimeter player. Off the bench he can take a bigger role, as he can be the best scorer in the 2nd unit, which includes defensive players like Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell and their bench star Taj Gibson. Playing him 25 minutes per game off the bench and giving him the chance to shoot and score as he pleases is best. He will be a starter, but it shouldn’t be in his 1st season.

Be smart, start the vet. It is best for the Bulls.