Four-Point Play

1. 19 Prospects For ‘19

NBA players are in their so-called “prospect” years when they are 19, 20, 21 and 22 years old.

That is because the majority of stars who earn All-NBA and All-Star accolades first do so when they are 23, 24, 25 and 26 years old.

With that in mind, I thought we would take a look at the 19 best NBA prospects—by this definition—as we head into New Year 2019.

22-Year-Olds

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Ben Simmons: The Philadelphia 76ers point guard is the one prospect on this list that has already played in an All-Star Game, and should get selected again, after averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists.

Donovan Mitchell: The Utah Jazz shooting guard is experiencing a sophomore slump of sorts (true shooting percentage dropped from mediocre .541 as a rookie to subpar .498 this season), but he is still a 20-points-per-game scorer, just like last season.

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Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner: The Indiana Pacers postmen serve each other well as tag-team centers, with either playing well alongside power forward Thaddeus Young (+7.0 net rating per 100 possessions in 735 minutes with Turner; +12.1 in 344 minutes with Sabonis), or almost as well as a frontline duo (+4.5 in 203 minutes).

Dejounte Murray: The San Antonio Spurs point guard was named a 2017-18 All-Defense second team player and was headed toward star status in 2018-19 until a season-ending torn right ACL injury in October sidelined the 6-5 playmaker.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Devin Booker: The Phoenix guard could always get his own shot whenever he wanted, but his best reveal this season has been how well he has led the Suns as a catalyst for others. Booker’s assists-per-game average has risen from 4.7 last season to 7.1 this season in similar playing time.

 

21-Year-Olds

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De’Aaron Fox: The Sacramento Kings point guard is the fastest player in the NBA and will likely be the next prospect—following Simmons—to make an NBA All-Star team. Perhaps as soon as 2020.

Jamal Murray: The Denver Nuggets guard is the baby of a three-guard contingency—alongside 23-year-old Monte Morris and 24-year-old Gary Harris—that may one day win an NBA championship together.

Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

John Collins: The Atlanta Hawks power forward is a point away from becoming the NBA’s seventh 20-10 player this season (centers Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Nikola Vucevic, Karl-Anthony Towns, forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and guard Russell Westbrook are the others). Collins is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds in 30 minutes per game in 2018-19.

Bam Adebayo: The Miami Heat center is reminding many of a younger Montrezl Harrell, with a versatile defensive game that has him shutting down stretch forwards and postmen alike, not to mention wings.

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Brandon Ingram: The Los Angeles Lakers forward is at his best when he is playing 2 guard alongside the muscle of LeBron, Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac. With LeBron handling much of the scoring load, Ingram has been able to develop into a plus defender.

Thomas Bryant: The Washington center that was released by the Lakers, is making the Wizards forget they ever signed Dwight Howard. In 26 starts, the 6-11, 248-pound Bryant is averaging 9 points and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes per game on a paint-dominant .729 true shooting percentage.

20-Year-Olds

Jayson Tatum: The Boston Celtics forward grabbed the spotlight during last year’s playoffs, which very few 20-year-olds ever do (Magic Johnson in 1980? Tony Parker in 2003?).

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Jarrett Allen: Every East team besides Philly would trade their center for the Brooklyn Nets’ centerpiece who is starting to post double-doubles and two-block games on the regular.

Deandre Ayton: The Phoenix Suns’ young center is already one of the best one-way prospects in the League, averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds per game.

19-Year-Olds

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Luka Doncic: The Dallas Mavericks forward is an icon whose modern game already matches those of teenage LeBron James and teenage Anthony Davis. Doncic is one of four teenagers in NBA history to average 20-plus points per game (LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are the others).

Jaren Jackson: The Memphis Grizzlies forward-center already shoots three-pointers almost as well (.333) as his 1999 NBA champ father Jaren Jackson Sr. (.355). Meanwhile, the young Jackson scores (13 points per game), rebounds (5 per game) and blocks shots (2 per game) as well as almost all 19-year-old bigs before him (only Anthony Davis at 14-11-2 and Dwight Howard at 12-10-2 fared as well).

Marvin Bagley: The Sacramento Kings power forward is the giant complement to Fox’s quick-as-a-fox playmaker. A bone bruise sidelines Bagley until mid-January, but the Kings are excited for their prodigy to return (he already averages 13 points and 6 rebounds in 23 minutes per game).

Wendell Carter: The Chicago center may land more playing time if backup Robin Lopez is traded or bought out in the following month or so. As of now, Carter averages 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 25 minutes per game, making him one of 23 teens in NBA history to average double-digit points per game.


2. How Much Is A.D. Worth?
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An A.D. on the market can fetch a hefty price via trade.

So much so, that if I were the Los Angeles Lakers, I would trade a whole string of prospects and players just to land Anthony Davis before he hits the June predraft trade market.

As of now, the Pelicans are 17-22 and the second-worst team in the West. The timing for a trade will never be better than the present.

With the New Orleans Pelicans center signing on to Klutch Sports Group in September, a player agency run by LeBron James’ lifelong friend Rich Paul, the writing is already on the wall. Davis can sign with the Lakers in summer 2021 or force a trade beforehand, resulting in less-than-market value if L.A. waits for this to happen on its own course.

If New Orleans were to offer Davis now in exchange for prospects Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Ivica Zubac, along with players Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and contract filler (Michael Beasley), the Pelicans may be swayed. And the Lakers may be able to make a trade without giving up future first-round picks if they are willing to part with their valuable prospects now.

Meshed with Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic and ex-Laker Julius Randle, the incoming talent could spur a 2019 Pelicans playoff run and also make NOLA a 50- to 60-win team in the near future.

The Lakers, meanwhile, could start Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron, Davis and JaVale McGee as its first five, which might give pause to a team as talented as the Golden State Warriors.

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Even better, the Lakers would be able to offer yet another free agent a super-max contract in summer 2019, with only LeBron, Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and potentially A.D. on the books next season.

Some Lakers fans—and perhaps even Lakers management and ownership—may think this bounty is too much to give up for A.D.

But think again.

Ingram and Ball will have to be scuttled if the Lakers want to bring a third star into the mix next summer. So why not trade both now if it gets you A.D. plus summer cap room?

Remember, the Lakers need to get a head-start on Davis before other teams—like the Boston Celtics—become eligible to make their pitches.

The Celtics—because of the designated veteran player exception rule—cannot acquire a five-year contracted player like Davis as long as they have their own five-year contracted Kyrie Irving under contract (Kyrie’s status lifts this summer when he becomes a free agent, meaning Boston could then make a trade to acquire Davis).

Until then, the Lakers have an advantage that lasts only as long as this window stays open.


3. The Sad Truth About Klay And Dray

There once was a time, as recent as last season, when the Golden State Warriors fielded four All-Stars on the regular, but those days are far and between now.

To be blunt, neither future Hall of Famer Thompson nor Green, plays like an All-Star anymore, with both stars fading as they approach age 29—a fact becoming evident even mores0 as we reflect on the seasons since Golden State’s historic 73-win season in 2015-16, when the Warriors broke down at the 2016 NBA Finals finish line.

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Back then, both Thompson and Green were All-League players. Now? Not even All-Star worthy.

Granted, both still play important roles on a team led by MVP candidates Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant—Thompson as a 3-and-D guard and Green as a small-ball defensive catalyst.

But their market value has dropped as both have struggled to remain uber-efficient in recent times, even as the Warriors won back-to-back 2017 and 2018 titles following the aforementioned 2016 season.

One of the casualties of winning—as any NBA multi-champ will tell you—is that champions sometimes sacrifice salary for the good of the team, if they indeed want to keep title teammates together.

That is precisely what Kevin Durant has done when sacrificing his salary for Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Nick Young in Years 1, 2 and 3 as a Warrior, and it is precisely what Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili did for many in the Spurs’ dynasty run during their twilight years.

It would be understandable if Warriors ownership did not want to pay $33-$40 million annual contracts to Thompson and Green, especially when they are paying $38-$49 million annual contracts to Curry and Durant over the next four seasons.

When you look at the declining metrics between the two men who turn 29 in coming months (Thompson in February and Green in March), you start to realize there is no way Warriors ownership will pay middle-max contracts to Thompson this summer or Green next summer; that is, unless Durant forced them to overpay Thompson to get K.D. to commit on his end.

Klay & Dray’s Metric Decline

 Player  PER  TSP  RPM  On  On-Off
 Klay Thompson 2018-19  14.7  .531  -1.62  +0.6  -10.8
 2017-18  16.1  .598  +1.81  +7.7  +3.7
 2016-17  17.4  .592  +2.33  +14.4  +7.8
 2015-16  18.6  .597  +1.77  +15.2  +12.7
 Draymond Green 2018-19  11.6  .476  +1.28  +9.8  +10.2
 2017-18  16.1  .556  +4.04  +6.9  +1.4
 2016-17  16.5  .522  +7.14  +16.0  +11.6
 2015-16  19.3  .587  +8.97  +18.3  +25.6

PER Player Efficiency Rating; TSP True Shooting Percentage; RPM Real Plus-Minus; On On-court net rating per 100 possessions; On-Off On-court net rating minus Off-court net rating.

Sources: Basketball-Reference and ESPN

 

Trust me, the Golden State Warriors do not want to pay two players who have fallen from star status contracts that start out at $32.7 million in Year 1, then escalate up to $35.316 million in Year 2, $37.932 million in Year 3 and $40.092 million in Year 4.

Not when they will be 30, 31, 32 and 33 years old.

That is why Warriors management tried to get both Thompson and Green come down to $20 million-ish contracts a year ago, with neither player ultimately co-signing on that offer (Thompson already turned down the opportunity to re-sign a four-year, $102 million extension last summer, while Green was adamant he was not playing that game.

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Unfortunately, for the two Warriors, the efficiency and team metrics for both Thompson and Green continue to decline this season.

In retrospect, adding a player like Durant to play alongside Stephen Curry should have made it easier for Klay and Dray to become more efficient shooters. Alas, they have grown more inefficient.

Both have seen their true shooting percentages drop significantly (Thompson is a subpar .531 this season; Green, a horrific .476); while their three-point percentages have plummeted (Thompson, a subpar .344; Green, a horrific .246).

Players with mediocre and league-worst percentages–even past All-Stars–are normally not the type to attract middle- or super-max four-year contracts worth $146 million or more, especially when a $40 million luxury-tax repeater overage now brings a $175 million penalty.

No team can afford that fee.

Not even the dynastic, new-arena, cash-flowing San Francisco Warriors.

It is noble that Warriors management is even offered Thompson $25 million to maintain the core.

Any more than that, however, does not make fiscal sense for the Warriors, especially since both Thompson and Green are leaving (have left?) their prime for their plateau years.

Sooner or later—one or both—must be traded for a first-round draft pick, for the good of Golden State’s future and present fiscal sanity.

The longer Dubs management delays, the less return they get in any potential deal.


4. Dodgeball

Every time Russell Westbrook takes a shot, he is expected to produce 0.95 points this season, which is a remarkably inefficient number that stems from his .476 true shooting percentage.

Now when you amplify that with the 19.3 shots he takes per game—and compare that to the League average (.557 true shooting percentage that produces 1.11 points per shot)—you can start to see where his inefficient shooting may be costing the Oklahoma City offense as much as 3.1 points per game this season.

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Granted, the triple-double machine also known as wild, wild Westbrook is an All-Star caliber player, with his ability to garner 21 points, 11 rebounds and a League-leading 10 assists per game.

That said, you can also see Mark Cuban’s point when the Dallas Mavericks owner says he does not consider Westbrook to be one of the NBA’s superstars.

How could he be when his shooting detracts from the team game so much? Oklahoma City ranks 20th in offensive efficiency and first in defensive efficiency.

With that in mind, we present the 10 worst high-volume shooters this 2018-19 season and wonder if any of them will shoot better—or perhaps shoot less—during the season’s second half.

The All-Dodgeball Team

 Player  TSP (FGA/G)  2FG% (2FGA/G)  3FG% (3FGA/G)  FT% (FTA/G)
 Josh Jackson PHX  .455 (8.8)  .421 (6.5)  .292 (2.3)  .639 (2.1)
 Russell Westbrook OKC  .476 (19.3)  .476 (14.5)  .236 (4.8)  .626 (5.6)
 Kevin Knox NYK  .478 (11.5)  .390 (6.9)  .359 (4.7)  .663 (2.7)
 Lonzo Ball LAL  .486 (9.2)  .494 (4.6)  .316 (4.6)  .450 (1.1)
 Collin Sexton CLE  .488 (13.9)  .430 (11.9)  .368 (2.0)  .866 (2.6)
 Trae Young ATL  .493 (13.8)  .459 (8.8)  .277 (5.0)  .782 (4.0)
 Andrew Wiggins MIN  .496 (15.4)  .425 (10.6)  .354 (4.8)  .728 (4.0)
 Justise Winslow MIA  .497 (10.6)  .430 (7.1)  .370 (3.5)  .681 (2.2)
 Dennis Schroder OKC  .497 (14.6)  .453 (10.4)  .318 (4.2)  .816 (2.3)
 Donovan Mitchell UTA  .498 (18.4)  .474 (11.7)  .291 (6.8)  .791 (3.9)
TSP True Shooting Percentage; 2FG% two-point field goal percentage; 3FG% three-point field goal percentage; FT% free throw percentage; FGA/G field goal attempts per game; 2FGA two-point field goal attempts per game; 3FGA/G three-point field goal attempts per game; FTA/G free throw attempts per game.
Source: Basketball Reference, using Field Goal Percentage qualifier