Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Indiana Pacers

Continuing my series projecting the 2013–14 NBA regular season using xRAPM and minutes projections, today I’ll be discussing the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers had a very strong starting group last year. According to Basketball-Reference, the Pacers starting five-man unit was fourth in the entire league in Net Points per 100 possessions among lineups that played at least 300 minutes together, clocking in at a sterling +12.1 points per 100 possessions. Over the course of an 82 game season, a +12.1 MOV translates to a roughly 72-win team. The Pacers’ five of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert played over 1200 minutes together, ranking them as the second most played 5 man unit in the entire league, trailing only the Oklahoma City Thunder’s starting five of Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins. The Thunder’s starting five only managed a (still incredible) +10.7 Net Points per 100 possessions. Basically, the Pacers’ starting five players was arguably the best in the entire league, given the relatively large sample of minutes they played together and their excellence when they were on the floor.

The Pacers’ problem was that their bench was pretty terrible. They gave pretty significant minutes to sub-replacement level players like D.J. Augustin, (-3.68 xRAPM), Gerald Green (-3.21), Orlando Johnson (-3.36), Sam Young (-4.94) and Dominic McGuire (-2.93). Well, this coming year that will no longer be the case. With the exception of Orlando Johnson, all of those guys will not be on the team next year. Instead, they’ve been replaced by C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland, Luis Scola, a returning Danny Granger, Donald Sloan (another below replacement player, but hey, you can’t win them all), and rookie Solomon Hill (who projects to be just above replacement level at -2.3). In addition, Orlando Johnson projects to be better this year, as he progresses upward in his career trajectory, though he’ll still likely be below replacement level. The Pacers starting five has gotten significant reinforcements. How much better will this make the Pacers?

Well, there’s one more thing to worry about and that’s just how good will Danny Granger be when he returns to the floor. I have no way of knowing what Granger will look like in xRAPM should he return healthy. I don’t know if he will be the roughly +1 xRAPM player he was in just 5 games this year or if he will look more like the +2.5–3.0 player he has been over the two years prior. Tendinosis is a scary injury. So, I ran the projections using Granger’s bad numbers from last year and then again with a possession-weighted average of Granger’s last few seasons adjusted for his 30 year old age. Up first, what the Pacers look like with a significantly reduced (like last year) Granger playing about 63 games.


Next year, the Pacers with a less-than-peak-effectiveness Granger look like a 55 win team. Given that they won 49 games last year, this might seem like a disappointing improvement considering how much better their bench has gotten this offseason. But a six-win improvement is very significant. That’s a 12% increase in wins. In addition, Paul George’s minutes projection is lower than his actual minutes from this past year by a shade under 400 minutes. So if George is able to play as many minutes as he did last year, the Pacers could be even better. Speaking of the Pacers being better, what would they look like if Granger comes back and plays like he did at his peak effectiveness?


The Pacers now look like a 57 win team. This may be understating things for the Pacers, too. If Granger is playing like he did 2–3 years ago, chances are that means he’s basically healthy, so he’d likely play more than the 63 games he’s projected to play here. That would push the Pacers win total even closer to the very top of the Eastern Conference. The Pacers, with their revamped bench and the return of Danny Granger to the rotation, look to be a team firmly entrenched in the top 4 of the Eastern Conference. It looks more or less like a four way toss up for which team will be the East’s best in the regular season. For Pacers fans, the more encouraging part of this exercise is looking at how much better their bench now is, to complement their returning starting five, which was the league’s best last year. In the playoffs, the Pacers’ ability to shorten their rotations and play their best five players for longer periods of time is the reason, along with their superior interior play, that the Pacers were able to take the Miami Heat to the brink of elimination. The Pacers now have a bench with competent players to play minutes in the playoffs and not be totally overwhelmed. That change could be the difference between their falling short this postseason and an NBA Championship in the 2013–14 season.

Image from ONE/MILLION via Flickr

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Miami Heat

The Miami Heat are great. They have been since their big 3 players joined up together 3 years ago. They will almost certainly be great again this year. The question is just how great will they be. Let’s take a look at what the Heat looked like last year from an xRAPM and xWARP perspective.


The Heat here look like a 59 win team. So why, then, did they actually win 66 games? Well, there are two major reasons for this. First, they played the easiest strength of schedule in the league — part of that is that they didn’t have to play themselves, part of that is that they play in the weaker Eastern Conference, and part of it was just lucky for them. Second, they won more than their share of close games. It might be that they were a team that was better at executing late in close games, and while there is definitely some of that for this team, these sorts of overperformances tend not to reoccur year-to-year.

Going a little deeper on these two factors, the Heat had an SOS of -.84 according to Basketball-Reference. This means their opponents were, on average, .84 points worse than league average per 100 possessions. Over the course of an 82 game season, that produces an extra 2 wins using the simple margin of victory (MOV) to wins calculation (2.54*MOV + 41 = Wins). In addition, the Heat overperformed their MOV (+7.87) by about 5 games. The Heat, then, performed like a 59 win team had they played a league average schedule. As a result, we should expect some regression to the mean for this team, even without any major changes. Additionally, the Heat have a lot of older (30+) players who project to decline slightly. So what does the projection say for the 2013–14 Heat?


The Heat of next year look like … a 59 win team, again. This result should not be terribly surprising. Although they recently amnestied Mike Miller, which will hurt a bit as he is an above replacement level contributor and they have no way of adding anyone else who would be as good as he was and is, the Heat will have a full season of Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who was a pretty amazing per minute contributor (+5.19 xRAPM) in his role for the Heat this past season (and also in the playoffs). As a result, even with a bit of a projected per minute decline in productivity for Birdman (down to +4.79 xRAPM), due to his age, the loss of Mike Miller should not be too damaging in terms of the Heat’s overall regular season record.* Where the Heat may ultimately most miss Miller is in the playoffs when rotations shorten and the loss of a top 8 rotation player will be magnified. The Heat have come quite close to defeat in the playoffs two years in a row and losing Miller is not nothing. He was quite safely above replacement level and he’s one less reliable floor spacer the Heat will have in their playoff rotation. Fortunately for the Heat, they still have LeBron and shortened rotations tend to favor the team with the best player in the world.

After projecting the Bulls, Nets, and Heat, thus far, all three teams look to be very, very strong with the rankings as 1. Nets, 2. Heat, and 3. Bulls. The projections are so close, though, that any number of things could tilt things. If my minutes projections are off, if some major contributor declines much more or much less than I estimated, or if there is a major injury or Jason Kidd turns out to be a lousy head coach, any of these things could upset the projections quite easily. The big takeaway is that all three of these teams should be absolutely great and the top of the Eastern Conference is going to be a total slugfest.**

* I only projected Birdman to play 17.6 minutes per game for next year’s Heat. This seemed appropriate to me, as that is his career average, and he played 15 MPG for the Heat in this year’s playoff run, so I doubt that Coach Spo plays him much more than that, especially given how much the Heat like to keep Bosh at the 5. I think Birdman’s per possession effectiveness is maximized in that role, as he is able to go totally full tilt with the energy and hustle in his limited minutes. So playing him more than that runs the risk of him being worse overall per possession.

**As an added footnote, Hickory High has just released a post today with their full RAPM projections for this year’s rookie class, for this year. I will be using those numbers from here on out. Go read that post, though, it’s great stuff. They don’t change the projections for the Bulls or Nets really at all, as for those teams rookie’s the numbers I used previously look to be about the same and I had projected them all to play such few minutes that they didn’t really change the expected wins of either team.

Image from Keith Allison via Flickr

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Brooklyn Nets

Last time out, I explained the method I would be using to project the records for the 2013–14 season. There was a lot of dense explanation that I won’t cover again in this post. You can re-read it here. This post will be about updating the method to take into account new research from Jeremias Englemann on aging and RAPM and also to try to project the new rookies entering the league based on projections done over at Hickory High by Cole Patty, Jacob Frankel, and Jam Draper. Finally, I’ll show the updated results for the Bulls and also discuss what this off-season’s biggest splash-makers, the Brooklyn Nets, should look like provided their health holds up.

First up, aging. Aging affects performance, obviously. It cuts both ways. As players get stronger and smarter when they are younger, they tend to perform better year over year. Eventually, usually at around age 30 or so, they start to decline, due to the negative affects of aging and a lifetime of basketball played. Jeremias Engelmann wanted to know the effects of aging on average performance under RAPM. So he did some research and came up with the following graph:


As a result of that graph, I decided to add adjustments to the xRAPM of each member of every team based on the expected change in their performance based on the change in their age. Here are the numbers that I used, based on an eyeballing of the graph provided by Jeremias:

Age 19 to 20 = +.6

20 to 21 = +.4

21 to 22 = +.4

22 to 23 = +.35

23 to 24 = +.3

24 to 25 = +.15

25 to 26 = +.1

26 to 27 through 28 to 29 = 0

29 to 30 = -.1

30 to 31 = -.2

31 to 32 = -.2

32 to 33 = -.3

33 to 34 = -.4

34 to 35 = -.4

35 to 36 = -.6

36 to 37 = -.6

37 to 38 = -.75

Second, I wanted to try to get a projection of what rookie performance for this year might look like. I looked around for projections in RAPM of the incoming rookie class and the closest thing I found was 4 years in the league RAPM projections done by the guys at Hickory High mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, 4 year in projections don’t help me for projecting the league for this year. So I subtracted out the RAPM performance bumps those players would have expected to receive via the aging curve over the 3 seasons following their rookie year from their 4th-year RAPM projections to try to approximate a guess as to what their production might look like for this year. It is, admittedly, a janky solution. But it’s the best I could figure for the time being. If I find a better solution, I will change things and post updated results.

Okay, now on to the more fun stuff: projecting the Bulls and the Nets with the updated method.


The Bulls look more or less the same as I had previously suggested. Tony Snell’s projection is much worse as the 4-year RAPM projection had him as one of the worst projected players drafted. Erik Murphy looks about the same as I had projected him last time. I don’t expect either of them to play significant minutes so this change had little effect on the Bulls estimated win total. I believe Derrick Rose will play his normal level of minutes as he has had plenty of rest and should be back, better than ever. Rose, Jimmy Butler, and Marquis Teague project to have improvements based on their ages which helps the Bulls, while Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, and Kirk Hinrich all project to decline slightly. The rest of the major minutes contributors should be more or less the same. As a result, I have the Bulls pegged at about 58 to 59 wins, which is right in between where my two earlier projections of 57 and 60 wins would suggest. So the age adjustment did not make a huge difference for the Bulls.

One team for whom the aging adjustment did matter was the Brooklyn Nets. Prior to age adjusting their roster, the Nets looked like a 63 win team. This is how their projection shook out:


After adjusting for age, however, the Nets still look great. They project as a 60 win team, provided they stay reasonably healthy. I made a point of keeping Kevin Garnett’s minutes low relative to his career average, as he has stated in interviews that he can no longer handle the heavy minutes loads that he has been tasked with his whole career. The good news, for Garnett and Nets fans, is that it looks like he will not need to be asked to handle such heavy minutes. The Nets appear to be a juggernaut in waiting. Here are the results with the age adjustment:


I have seen the Nets compared to this year’s Lakers as a top-heavy team full of oldsters assembled together to take a shot at a title, with the implication being that the Nets will fall apart just as spectacularly as those Lakers did. I think this is wrong because these two teams could not be more different in terms of roster construction. This Nets team is DEEP. Eight of their top 10 players in projected minutes played are positive xRAPM contributors and ALL of the top 10 in projected minutes played are above the replacement level of -2.5 in xRAPM.

By way of contrast, the 2012–13 Lakers gave over 1300 minutes to Earl Clark (-4.14 xRAPM), 1175 minutes to Steve Blake (-3), plus over 1500 minutes combined to Chris Duhon and Darius Morris (-3.95 and -4.93, respectively). Steve Nash was merely above average (+.7) when he played and on top of that, he was hurt often (hence all the minutes for Duhon, Morris, and Blake). This year’s Lakers squad had little depth and suffered significant injuries to key contributors (Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, and Kobe Bryant) and saw Dwight Howard play when he likely should have been recovering from back surgery. Dwight was awesome (+5.54), but he wasn’t as great as he can be (+8.8 in 2011–12, +9.7 in 2010–11). This is not to say that the Nets will necessarily be much healthier at the top than the Lakers were, but it is to say that they are better prepared to handle injuries thanks to their far superior depth.

If these Nets stay reasonably healthy and Jason Kidd is worth a lick as a coach, they represent a significant threat to the Heat, Bulls, and Pacers at the top of the Eastern Conference. They may even be the favorites to win the regular season Eastern Conference crown, under this analysis, if not in Vegas. Speaking of Vegas favorites, the Miami Heat will be next up in this series of posts.

Image from Keith Allison via Flickr

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Chicago Bulls

I really like advanced basketball stats and trying to learn as much as I can about them. As a result, I spend an inordinate amount of time perusing the threads over on the Association for Professional Basketball Research (APBR) message board. Through my reading there and elsewhere (usually following links I found there), I have come into contact with a statistic called regularized adjusted plus-minus or RAPM for short.

Adjusted plus-minus is essentially an approach that attempts to use on / off data to determine how much a given player contributes to the margin of victory (or loss as the case may be). It does this through regressions on lineup data found in play-by-plays to determine the +/- of a given lineup over a given shift that they were out there. The regressions then spit out numbers which show how much a player is likely worth + or — per 100 possessions. The problem with adjusted plus-minus in its regular form is that is quite noisy and that there are collinearity issues. Collinearity, in this context, just means that there are often players who play together a lot and thus it is hard to disentangle their value in +/- from one another. Additionally, the sample sizes of minutes played by each lineup are small, which leads to the aforementioned noisiness in the data.

RAPM improves upon the regression-based approach of standard adjusted plus-minus by using a technique called regularization or ridge regression. It’s basically a high level math technique that statisticians use to deal with the problems presented by the normal adjusted plus-minus type of regressions. It leads to much less noisy, more accurate results.

Finally, xRAPM, the subject of this post, includes a box-score based statistical prior to further inform the player ratings and thus improve the predictive effectiveness of the metric. All of this is a long-winded way of saying that xRAPM is the most accurate +/- metric that exists for predicting future results of which I’m currently aware. As a result, it’s the method that I will use to project each of the 30 teams’ records in the NBA next year, based on estimated minutes, and impact of the players on each team. The numbers for xRAPM are available here. (Thanks to Jeremias Engelmann for publicly providing the data).

xRAPM is a great tool for projecting, but I wanted to translate it to something more tangible to the common fan. Wins. After talking to Nathan Walker of the Basketball Distribution on Twitter, I learned a way to convert xRAPM into WARP (wins above replacement player). In short, xWARP (for short) examines the number of wins a player contributed over what an available replacement would provide in the same number of minutes. I set replacement level at a xRAPM of -2.5 points per 100 possessions in xRAPM. Nathan uses -3.5, according to our Twitter conversation, but the end result of projecting is the same.

Now, for the true purpose of this post. I will be examining every team in the league by looking at their xWARP for this past season and trying to project their xWARP following their offseason moves. I’m starting with the Central Division and the Chicago Bulls, because they’re my favorite team, I know them best (and can best guess minutes distributions), and because their offseason is more or less done (save a cheap big man or guard signing, which are likely to be replacement level players themselves, so have basically no impact on this math).

The Bulls this year were a team that outperformed their point margin by about 3 wins. Their MOV was a relatively small +.32. Subbing that into the standard MOV to wins converter equation from The City’s Advanced Stats Primer ( 2.54*MOV+41 = wins), the Bulls should have won about 41.8 games, so basically 42 wins. Instead, the Bulls were statistically lucky. They won 3 more games above their expected win total. A lot of that probably had to do with Marco Belinelli’s 3 ridiculous game winners. But basically, the Bulls were better than expected based on how close they played their opponents. This was not a 45 win team, it was more like a 42 win team. Here are the numbers:


By xWARP the Bulls look more like a 41 win team but the point is roughly the same. They overperformed their expected win performance level based on what amounts statistically to luck.

So the Bulls just signed Mike Dunleavy Jr this year, a good player, and they get their MVP, Derrick Rose back, so surely they will win many more games this year, right? Short answer: yes. But let’s look at the numbers.

I projected the Bulls’ minutes distribution for next year using a combination of a method described here by Kevin Pelton formerly of Basketball Prospectus and currently of Insider, based on a study by basketball statistician Ed Kupfer and my own intuition about how many minutes a player would play per game played based on rotations. Pelton describes the method as setting the expectation for a player starting at 76 games and going down about one game for each six missed the previous season and one for each 20 missed two years ago. Two years ago was a 66 game season, so I used 16 games instead of 20 games when calculating that number of games in the projection. I did two projections. I projected what the Bulls would look like with Derrick Rose playing just 61 out of 82 games (the number according to the Pelton-Kupfer projections) at his usual 36 minutes a game. Then I looked at what they would look like if Rose matched his career high in minutes played of 3026 minutes (a/k/a the scenario where he’s truly 110% in Rose-speak). In the latter scenario, I subtracted Rose’s additional minutes from Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague, the back-up point-guards. Here are the results for the less optimistic, (probably) more realistic numbers for Rose playing about 2200 minutes over the season:


The Bulls here project as … a 57 win team. After not having their MVP for an entire year and winning 45 games (and really being more like a 41–42 win team) a 57 win season with him playing nearly 2200 minutes would be great for Bulls fans and should signal return to the East’s top tier. What about if the Bulls get 110% super-healthy Derrick Rose and he plays 3026 minutes?


Congratulations Bulls fans! With a very healthy Rose, you’re looking at … a 60 win team! Adding about 800 minutes to Rose’s minutes projection yields an additional 3 wins in xRAPM. Basically, if DRose is back to the level that his old self and able to play 2010–11 level minutes, then the Bulls will look very much like the team that won 62 games that year and 50 out of 66 the following year. Even if Rose is only able to go 61 out of 82 games, the Bulls still look to be a high 50 win team. Of course, there are caveats, in all of this. Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer have both been declining by xRAPM for 3 years in a row. They may further decline. Rose may not be at the level that he was before his injury right away. There could be another major injury to a significant piece of the core group (*fingers crossed, knocking on wood that this doesn’t happen*).

But there are potentialities that would allow the Bulls to look even better. Jimmy Butler improved quite a bit over his rookie xRAPM of -.7 to a solid 1.04 this past year and he’s young enough he should continue to improve. Joakim Noah is still just 28 years old and is in his peak years, so he will likely remain the same or slightly better. Marquis Teague may improve more than I have estimated (I assumed he would be at least a -3 in xRAPM this year, slightly below replacement level still but not as bad as his terribad previous season xRAPM of nearly -5). The new rookies may be better than the -4 xRAPM level that I have pegged them at, just to be safe, and may get more minutes if they outplay the older players, though with Thibs at the helm, I highly doubt the rookies get many minutes, as is clear from my minutes projections. Finally, Derrick Rose may be better than ever. He was on a solid upward trajectory prior to his injury and he’s had a long, long time to improve on his jump shot and other skills. He’s been able to observe and watch for defensive tendencies. Now he’s coming back after taking his time with his recovery and feels 100% right. I’m certainly not going to rule out him possibly ratcheting up another level. I’ve learned not to doubt the man.

After all that dense reading, I leave you with a whole bunch of awesome DRose highlights:

Image from Keith Allison via Flickr

It’s Not About Money, It’s About Sending a Message: Mikhail Prokhorov’s Money Torching Quest for an NBA Championship

Mikhail Prokhorov has clearly shown that he doesn’t care one iota about spending money as an NBA owner. In the time since he purchased the Nets franchise, he has traded for the albatross contracts of Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson, then earlier this summer he added Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry for basically a bunch of draft picks and useless players. Yesterday came word that the Nets have convinced stat-stuffing swingman and defensive savant Andrei Kirilenko to sign for merely $3.1 million a year, using the luxury taxpayer’s mini midlevel exception, after he earlier opted out of a $10 million final year with the Minnesota Timberwolves. As a result of the signing, the Nets’ owner will be paying over $186 million for the Nets roster for JUST THIS YEAR. (h/t: Devin @ TheBrooklynGame for the figures.)

As noted above, the Nets have been no stranger to spending since Prokhorov took over, but this is something else entirely. With this summer’s moves, the Proker is showing the rest of the league that money simply does not matter to him at all. He’s become the NBA’s rogue, chaotic force, hell bent on sending a message that he will build a winner, no matter the cost.

The Nets now have a starting five featuring 2 future Hall of Famers and rounded out with All Stars at every other position. Their bench now looks similarly stacked. There’s backcourt scoring and floor stretching in Jason Terry. Kirilenko’s great defense and all around solid play everywhere else. Reggie Evans’s ability to hit the glass. Andray Blatche’s post scoring and occasionally solid defense. Plus, capable point guard play holding it all together from Shaun Livingston. The whole bench has roles that fit together reasonably well with solid contributors.

The Nets have built a deep roster that should allow them to rest the old dudes from Boston and keep them fresh for what should be a deep playoff run. If Jason Kidd proves up to the task of managing the egos and crafting an offense that emphasizes ball movement, as he’s promised, the Nets could be incredibly dangerous. It’s all because Mikhail Prokhorov is determined to show the rest of the NBA that this league deserves a better class of owner and he’s gonna give it to them.

The Cavs make a smart bet on Andrew Bynum

The Cavs have reportedly signed Andrew Bynum, the much maligned center formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers… sort of. Bynum never actually played a minute for the Sixers, spending much of the year alternating between being injured and angering the good people of Philadelphia by bowling, despite his fragile knees, suffering a setback in his knee rehab in the process.


Going into the offseason, there was a lot of curiosity over what would be the market for Bynum’s services. The Sixers quickly took themselves out of that market, through their draft day acquisition of Nerlens Noel and a top-3 protected 2014 first round pick in exchange for All-Star point guard, Jrue Holiday. With that maneuver, Sixers’ GM Sam Hinkie signaled that he was committing to a rebuilding season and that Nerlens Noel would be his center of the future.

It quickly became clear that only three teams were really pursuing Bynum- the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Dallas Mavericks. As it turned out, the market for Bynum was pretty dry. The Cavaliers made the best offer, and from Bynum’s perspective, it’s not even that great an offer. Bynum’s deal will potentially pay him $12 million per season for 2 seasons, but he has to reach performance incentives, including a minimum numbers of games played in the first season. The second season is a team option. All told, Bynum is only guaranteed $6 million in this deal. This is basically a no brainer for the Cavaliers. The contract incentives Bynum must reach to get his money provide him a reason to care, to show up, and to not spend his time bowling instead of rehabbing. An engaged Andrew Bynum is a very, very good player. He’s arguably the second best center in the league, behind only Dwight Howard, when he’s on it. The trouble is his health and his attitude. This deal protects the Cavaliers from both of those potential downsides.

As far as things on the court go, the Cavs have built a neat team around star point guard, Kyrie Irving. They have a floor stretching power forward in the recently drafted Anthony Bennett. They have two very good big men, when healthy, in Anderson Varejao and now Bynum. They have backcourt scoring in bunches in Irving and promising shooting guard, Dion Waiters. Additionally, they added veteran guard and third place finisher for this year’s Sixth Man of the Year, Jarrett Jack. On the wing, they signed Earl Clark, who could intrigue if he builds off of a solid season of improvement last year. Head coach Mike Brown will get this group to defend better than last year, and now with Bynum, Brown has a very good rim protector to pair with Varejao’s active all-around defensive efforts. This is a team that should compete for a playoff spot, if things go right. Bynum will have a lot to say about that. Here’s hoping he takes advantage of this opportunity and reminds everyone of how good he can be when he’s right mentally and physically.

Feature image from Keith Allison via Flickr

For some reason, the Detroit Pistons have signed Josh Smith

Get used to this, Detroit fans

Josh Smith agreed to a 4 year, $56 million deal with the Detroit Pistons yesterday. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Detroit would make this move. Smith is a pretty good, sometimes really good player but he doesn’t really fit with the Pistons current roster, at all.

Detroit’s best two players last year were young big men, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.  The reports of the deal suggest that Smith will likely start alongside those two players, with guards Brandon Knight and the recently drafted Kentavious-Caldwell Pope rounding out the Pistons’ starting unit. Drummond and Greg Monroe are both players who want to operate close to the basket, and Josh Smith, when he’s at his best, is a player who operates near the basket. Josh’s problem, and the biggest problem with this signing, is that Josh Smith does not love to operate near the basket. What Josh Smith really loves are jump shots. But sadly for Josh, jump shots do not love him back. Josh fancies himself more of a swing man than his size and skill-set would suggest is wise.

Unfortunately for the Pistons, and fans who would like to see J-Smoove reach his peak effectiveness, playing Smith alongside Monroe and Drummond will do nothing to dissuade him from floating more and more around the perimeter, likely tempting him to take more and more of the jumpers that, try as he might, Josh just can’t make. In a vacuum, Smith is worth right around what the Pistons have committed to him over the next 4 years. But Smith will not be playing in a vacuum, he will be playing with Monroe and Drummond and barring a, likely unwise, trade of one of their young, promising, cheap (!) big men, the Pistons figure to have serious spacing issues for their foreseeable future. Piston’s President of Basketball Operations, Joe Dumars has created a mess for himself when there were likely much more prudent options available. He’s improved the overall talent of his club, there’s no doubting that, but it’s hard to see how that translates to winning more games when the talent now fits together so poorly. It could be that Dumars just believes in grabbing talent when it’s available for a team that was so bad last season, but I can’t help but thinking patience should have won the day here. Ah well. As a Bulls loyalist I say, you take those jumpers, Josh Smith. You take them as much as your heart desires.

The Houston Rockets have won the Dwight Howard Sweepstakes

This about sums it up, really.

Kudos to Houston Rockets General Manager, Daryl Morey. He got his second superstar to pair with James Harden. After years of hovering around Western Conference mediocrity, the Rockets now have two of the best players in the league 27 years old or under. Dwight Howard is, unquestionably, the best center in the NBA and James Harden is, probably, the best shooting guard currently operating in the league (apologies to Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant, whose respective runs at the top of the position have passed). In addition to simply being two incredible talents at their respective positions, Harden and Howard have synergistic skillsets. Howard is one of the league’s absolute best and most dangerous fingers as the roll-man in the pick and roll and James Harden is one of the best guards in the league at running the pick and roll. There’s a potential for so, so many Harden to Dwight lobs for easy dunks, you guys. It’s going to be so fun.

There’s still loads of work to be done filling out the remainder of the roster. Current center Omer Asik has requested a trade, as he’s too good to be a backup, even for Dwight Howard, and the Rockets need to move his salary to have the space to pay Dwight what they’ve offered him. They will also likely move Jeremy Lin, as Patrick Beverly has proven to be his better at the point guard position for a small fraction of Lin’s salary. There are rumors that the Rockets may try to sign and trade for Josh Smith, using one or both of the Lin and Asik contracts, or possibly trade Asik for stretch power forward Ryan Anderson, a former teammate of Howard’s from Orlando. It will be interesting to watch how Morey is able to round out this roster to maximize its chances at winning it all, but the heaviest lifting is done. Dwight Howard is a Rocket. Daryl Morey’s long chase for a true top 5 player is over.

Kudos, also, to Dwight for choosing the best fit for his talents and his best chance at winning a title, all while sacrificing $30 million in guaranteed money, which is HUGE given his back surgeries. As Dwight reportedly said, he’s betting $30 million that the Rockets will be better positioned than the Lakers going forward to win a ring. Now that Dwight’s wearing the Rocket uniform and not the Purple and Gold, it’s probably a pretty safe bet.

James never has to worry about this again

Andre Iguodala is a Warrior, at a future cost

Dre doing what Dre does

Andre Iguodala, unofficially, became a Golden State Warrior today, when he agreed to a 4 year, $48 million deal with the Bay Area club. In order to sign Iguodala, the Warriors had to dump the sizable contracts of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins, as well as Brandon Rush on the Utah Jazz.

In exchange for accepting those bloated contracts attached to relatively useless players, the Jazz extracted the price of a 2014 first rounder, a 2017 first rounder and multiple second round picks. The 2014 pick should be relatively late in the first round, as it is almost a certainty that the Warriors will be improved from the 6 seed they were this year with Iguodala in the fold. The location of the 2017 pick is much less certain as the only players on the Warriors’ books for that season are Stephen Curry and now Iguodala. This is the move of a team very much taking its chances at a Finals run this season. Iguodala is 29 years old and a player who relies heavily on his athletic gifts as the keys to his effectiveness. He’s not a terribly skilled player in the sense that he has tremendous offensive footwork or a reliable jump shot. He’s explosive and gets to the basket and can handle the ball fairly well. He’s also a very smart defensive player and knows what to do against just about anyone he’s matched against. He does, however, use his athleticism on the defensive side of the court quite a bit, as well.

As I’ve mentioned before, wing players (particularly the ones who are explosive athletes like Iguodala) tend to decline rather quickly after they hit 30 years old.  It’s worth considering that they have just committed $12 million a season for 4 years to a wing player who turns 30 next season. The salary is quite a bit and worth worrying over by itself but when combined with the picks surrendered to clear the cap space to sign Iguodala, this has the potential to be a bad overall transaction for the Warriors should they fail to win big in the next few years. More optimistically, the Warriors should be much improved for next season, which is really what this move is all about. With Iguodala and Klay Thompson manning the starting wing positions, Stephen Curry should be much more easily protected on defense so that he can go absolutely NOVA more often, like he did so often in the playoffs.  You remember, like this:

If the Dubs are able to improve on their second round ouster from last year and maybe even make a run all the way to the NBA Finals, this move will seem much more worth it. With the Clippers and Rockets also improving markedly it will be interesting to see if the Warriors can pull it off. At the very least, they have struck a significant blow to the Denver Nuggets, taking their best player for nothing at all in return. That has to be a bitter pill for Nuggets fans, especially after already watching these same Warriors defeat them in the first round of the playoffs.

Tyreke Evans got paid but will he be overpaid?

Tyreke is really good at this

The New Orleans Hornets Pelicans got their man on Thursday by completing a three team trade with the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trailblazers. The Pelicans agreed to pay Tyreke Evans $44 million over 4 years, the Kings received combo guard Greivis Vasquez from the Pelicans to help facilitate the sign and trade plus a second round pick from the Blazers, and the Blazers got center Robin Lopez in exchange for the newly drafted, Jeff Withey.

Evans is a player who showed enormous promise in his first year, winning the rookie of the year award, dropping a very good (for a rookie) 18+ Player Efficiency Rating. The problem for Evans, and now for the Pelicans, is that Evans hasn’t gotten any better, really, since that rookie season. He got worse for two years following his rookie year before bouncing back this year where he was marginally better than his rookie year. Players this young and this talented shouldn’t stagnate for 3 full years but that is just what Evans has done. This deal feels like it could be a pretty big overpay, but Tyreke Evans has consistently shown the rare ability to get wherever he pleases on the basketball court, along with solid passing and rebounding for a wing player. He’s still a below average shooter and his defense is poor. If his shooting continues to improve, as it did this year, and if he can figure things out defensively, this will seem like a good, maybe even great deal. Looking at it without the benefit of knowing the future, it feels like a reach. The Pelicans are betting on Evans’s talent and their own coaching staff’s ability to get the most out of him, and it’s hard to totally blame them. After his first year in the league, Evans looked like a sure bet to be a candidate for a maximum contract extension. If he lives up to that promise in New Orleans, this deal will go from looking like a reach to an absolute steal. That’s the way these things go sometimes. Just ask people who bashed Mike Conley’s extension or questioned the Warriors for locking up Stephen Curry when concerns about his weak ankles were rampant. Conley now seems appropriately paid and Curry is, rightly, perceived to be an absolutely incredible value as a borderline superstar level player working on a contract several million a year below the maximum he could be paid. Evans will be just 24 next season and if you’re going to risk overpaying a player based on projected growth, betting on a player who will be just 24 in the first year of a 4 year deal is one of the best bets you can make, especially when it is already clear, as is the case with Tyreke, that the talent is there.

The Kings, under newer, much more competent management, have done well for themselves here. Once it became clear that New Orleans was going to pay much more for Evans than his production the last few years would suggest is wise, and the Kings knew they were uncomfortable making the bet that Evans lives up to his potential, getting assets in return for losing him became paramount. That’s just what the Kings have managed. Greivis Vasquez is a solid offensive player, who doesn’t really have the physical tools to be a plus defender. Vasquez has improved every year he’s been in the league and stands to make just a bit over $2 million next year. He’s a nice value to go with the second round pick the Kings picked up in the deal from the Blazers.

The Blazers got Robin Lopez as a defensively focused center to pair with their star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Lopez is also an efficient scorer on an average usage level, so he is not a negative on the offensive end by any means. He should be a very good fit with Aldridge, and the Blazers must hope his presence will help convince LMA to stop demanding trades to my beloved Bulls.