7-footer, Catch&Score Finisher, Post Scorer, Shot Creator

Nikola Vucevic Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)

As first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, the Orlando Magic and Nikola Vucevic reached an agreement yesterday on a four-year, $53-million extension that will keep the young center under contract through 2019.

Neither the monetary figure nor the deal in itself is particularly surprising. There is a new financial landscape in place in the NBA now due to the signing of the new television rights contract, and the first group helped by it is constituted of players like Vucevic, with just enough production and promise left as they get in line for their second NBA contract. Orlando’s front office is now entering the third year of its post-Dwight Howard rebuilding, and it identified Vucevic as a linchpin back when it started this process by trading Dwight Howard. And while he does not appear to be developing into one of the 10 most impactful centers in the league, he is one of the 10 most productive.

With three years remaining on Victor Oladipo’s rookie deal and four in those of Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon, Vucevic’s extension is by no means crippling to Orlando’s cap sheet. Other spending will of course still need to happen during the term of Vucevic’s extension, but their core will stay cheap for a while yet. Vucevic represents the largest expense so far and at any point in the near future, but with a phenomenal amount of financial flexibility even before the upcoming spike in the salary cap, Orlando can certainly afford this amount. The question is whether the amount is right.

Ultimately, Orlando invested two years developing Vucevic, not just in terms of giving him playing time but also emotionally. After Howard forced his way out and cost the franchise Stan Van Gundy in the process, Vucevic has become part of their culture and a certain part of their core, in comparison to the less certain prognoses of others such as Tobias Harris, Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and head coach Jacque Vaughn. Even if Vucevic does not develop into more than what he is now – very much a worse case scenario considering his age – the Magic are retaining him at fair market value, especially in light of comparable deals elsewhere this summer – the Washington Wizards, for example, signed the considerably older Marcin Gortat to a five-year, $60 million contract. Bigs, of course, have always cost more.

Entering his age-24 season, Vucevic is an average scorer at this point. He dealt with injuries that limited him to just 57 appearances last season, yet his 1.16 point per shot average was in line with his 1.12 career average, and low for a center. His main role in Orlando’s offense was as a finisher off of ball-screens, but despite this, Vucevic is only an iffy screener, in part because the Magic’s guards were not particularly great at leading on-ball defenders into him and he often needed to drag his leg in order to draw contact. For a guy listed at seven-feet tall and 250 pounds, Vucevic is not all that big in comparison to other NBA centers and opponents managed to navigate around his picks without much struggle.

Orlando ran a lot of pick-and-rolls from about 28 to 30 feet away from the basket, and Vucevic showed good hands to catch the ball on the move and good quickness when diving down the lane with momentum. But he does not play above the rim as a target for lobs (only 19 alley-oop scores in his three-year NBA career) or play with a lot of explosiveness through traffic. And with Orlando’s inability to generate any sort of spacing last season, there was a lot of traffic inside the lane. As a result, he shot just 42% out of the pick-and-roll.

Popping into the in-between range, Vucevic was elite, hitting his 254 shots at a 44.5% clip. He is a very good jump-shooter off the catch due to smooth mechanics, a quick trigger in comparison to other big men, and a high release point. This is also reflected in his 76.7& foul line shooting, and perhaps Orlando should attempt to extract higher value from his jumpshooting by having him develop into a stretch five, stretching out the jump shot he already has. It seems like a waste of a rare shooting talent not to, especially considering that Vucevic does not earn free throws at a rate expected of someone his size (shooting a single foul shot for every five field goals he attempted last season).

As a shot creator, Vucevic improved a lot from his second season and did rather well in the post. He lacked strength to back opponents down or create much separation, but nevertheless proved quite effective with his turnaround jump-shots and hooks, capable of releasing over either shoulder, even when well contested. His 46& shooting on post-ups ranked him in the top 100 in the league. He is a capable passer out of there, too, identifying shooters rotating into open spots on the perimeter, although he is far from the type of player who can ignite consistent ball movement at this point.

Vucevic’s strengths and weakness are roughly the same on the other end. He played very impressive post defense, allowing just 0.72 points per possession, which ranked him 43rd in the league. He surrendered deep position at times, and struggled to hold his ground against stronger players but kept himself alive in these plays and contested shots extremely well thanks to his length. That length also helped him challenge a lot of close range shots, although it did not translate into quality rim protection, as opponents shot 56.6% at the basket with him protecting it. Vucevic is a capable shot blocker on occasion and has flashed decent quickness rotating from the weak side, but either he was coached to stay bound to the ground or he simply does not feel as comfortable leaving his feet. As a result, his mere lengthy presence was not as effective as hoped.

Vucevic also was not very effective contesting shots out of the pick-and-pop. The Magic had Vucevic guarding the ball screen flat, positioning himself at the foul line, even against notoriously good mid-range shooters, for it was the best he could do. Vucevic has good feet to move in space, but lacks great short range quickness to be effective against these plays. Overall, Orlando allowed almost a point and a half less per 100 possessions without him in the line-up.

A player of average efficiency on offense and negative impact on defense, Vucevic’s difference making skill is as a rebounder. He collected 66.5 percent of available boards last season, which ranked 10th in the league among big men who logged a minimum of 20 games and 20 minutes per game. Vucevic has very good instincts tracking the ball off the rim a split second quicker than the opposition, and can rebound outside of his area due to his seven-foot-four wingspan. He is also very active fighting for tipped balls thanks to impressive “second jump-ability” (term coined by Jay Bilas). Tip-ins and put-back layups accounted for 98 of his 181 field-goals at the rim.

By re-signing Vucevic now rather than letting him reach restricted free agency next summer, the Magic are counting on him having a better season and making that deal look better after the fact. The Raptors, for example, lucked out when doing that with DeMar DeRozan. Orlando worked this offseason on making sure there is a better ecosystem around Vucevic for that to happen – after drafting Oladipo last year, the Magic added two more athletes with the same defensive pedigree in Payton and Gordon to play in front of him, a signed star role player Channing Frye in free agency to open up the lane some on offense. Yet the supporting cast can only do so much. The real justification for the paycheck can only come from Vucevic. And when still stuck with defensive concerns and offensive inefficiency, Vucevic has a way to go yet.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

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7-footer

Omer Asik Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)

Omer Asik remains the most underrated player in the NBA. And as much as this may seem like an odd statement when regarding somebody who is about to earn $15 million dollars this season (even if only half of it will count against New Orleans’ cap), Asik’s level of compensation has more to do with the way the Rockets structured his contract a couple of summers ago than what he was deemed worth when he reached the open market back then.

Because he has spent three of his four seasons in the NBA backing up Joakim Noah and Dwight Howard, the common perception of Asik is that he is a nice rotation player, but hardly a 2000-minute linchpin. Part of this stems from the fact that Asik has opted to keep a low profile rather than making himself into a personality or a ‘brand’, one who endears himself to the fans by giving outlandish statements that will eventually call attention to his play, like Marcin Gortat or Chris Kaman. For Asik, only the play does any talking. But the bigger reason for this misconception is that Asik is, at his best, a very average offensive player.

That is not to say that he is unproductive. Asik has averaged 1.4 points per shot on 1101 field goal attempts in his four-year NBA career, and ranked 10th in the league in offensive rebounding rate in the one season he logged over 2,000 minutes. He is quite active in looking to set inside position and tracking the ball off the rim, with the size to move people around. But no defense accounts for Asik as a significant scoring threat. His high efficiency is a result of low usage and taking roughly 80 percent of his shots around the basket area while assisted on two thirds of them. As evidence of this, the average distance of his shot attempts is a mere 2.5 feet.

Other than put-backs, Asik makes his contributions as a catch-and-score option out of the pick-and-roll, or by filling the vacated spot near the baseline on dribble drives. He is an excellent screener, who sprints to set a pick high in the perimeter and looks to draw contact, thus making himself a consistently viable pick-and-roll option in the halfcourt, diving hard down the lane with good agility. Even in pick-and-roll action, however, his significant offensive limitations are evident. Asik does not play above the rim as a target for lobs (he has only nine alley-oop scores in his NBA career), often struggles to catch the ball on the move, and lacks great touch to finish at the rim when he is unable to dunk. Despite his size, he is only a career 59.7 percent shooter within three feet of the basket, below the league average.

Asik has flashed some decent passing skills on the move, sending the ball out to shooters rotating to open spots in the perimeter, but was not asked to do this much in his two years in Houston, solely deployed as a finisher. He was fouled a good deal, averaging two free throws for every three shots he took, but he consistently struggles at the foul line. Asik’s free throw shooting motion consists of several dribbles to calm himself down, bringing the ball up at face height, stopping for a split second, bringing the ball up higher a few inches and then releasing it without exuding any great natural rhythm. He does not flex his elbows enough and none of it looks particularly smooth. Asik hit only 61.9 percent of his 126 free throw attempts last season, which was actually an improvement in comparison to his previous three years, but which remains poor, and there is no jumpshot to speak of.

Asik is a capable scorer and passer out of the post when the play develops in such a way that gets him the ball against a single defender, but he becomes much more limited if that is the case too often and is too easily hounded by a double. He can set good position in the block and back opponents down due to his 255-pound frame, yet once there, he does not have many moves to create separation, is quite mechanical handling the ball, and does not get much elevation to shoot over opposing length.

As he is such a limited scorer and general contributor on offense, then, the majority of Asik’s value comes out of his defense. And in a league heavy in rim attacks, that is also constantly looking to defend the pick-and-roll with just two players and limit the need for weak side defenders to help over and leave open three-point shooters, Asik is a commodity.

In particular, Asik plays excellent positional defense against the middle pick-and-roll, and despite his size, Asik is quite nimble and has shown good foot quickness when backpedalling against smaller guards to challenge them at the rim. He is not a high volume shot blocker, but he is a known threat to do so, as leaping off the ground is not a chore for him. Opponents shot just 46.8% at the rim last season on approximately 278 attempts with Asik protecting it, which ranked eighth in the league among big men who logged a minimum of 20 games and 20 minutes per game. In the post, Asik is difficult to move due to his lower body strength, but impressively has shown lateral quickness to keep pace with other big men when they turn those post-ups into short drives, able to contain them through contact.

Asik is an excellent rebounder on the defensive end as well, grabbing 30.1% of all available defensive rebounds when he was on the floor last season. A big part of it is that he is a large human, of course, but his general activity level and his attention to boxing out the opponent are what make him so effective on this end. Marc Gasol, for example, is just as big as Asik but a far worse rebounder, for he does not have those same traits to be so. Due to this rebounding and defense, the Houston Rockets conceded more than a point per 100 possessions fewer with Asik on the floor than without him last season.

New Orleans had a decent pairing up front in 2012-13 with Robin Lopez alongside Anthony Davis, but they gave up on that last season for the right to overpay Tyreke Evans (trading away Lopez in the process). Injuries disrupted their campaign significantly, yet, even with Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson healthy, last year’s rotation only ever projected as a lousy defensive unit. Asik, a legit star role player, upgrades them in this department significantly. Whether or not New Orleans will seriously contend for a postseason berth will still depend on how big a step into superstardom Davis takes, the health of their top eight and if they can get average production out of their wing rotation. But Asik’s presence at least guarantees they will be able to focus on these things, knowing they can now field a defense that is better than bottom five.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

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Pure Passer, Pure Shooter, Shot Creator

Marcus Paige Scouting Report

(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)

North Carolina was an underrated team last season. They didn’t look as good as Virginia, Syracuse and Duke but still won a very respectable 13 games in the ACC, ranking 21st in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency and 48th in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. Their performance on offense was particularly surprising considering Leslie McDonald was suspended for a quarter of the season and PJ Hairston was eventually dismissed from the program. The reason for their success was the emergence of second-year guard Marcus Paige.

The six-foot-one combo guard accounted for almost 60 percent of North Carolina’s three-pointers. His shooting was very important not just because the Tar Heels had only one other deep threat to provide spacing but because he shared so many of his minutes with Nate Britt — a volume ball handler, which pushed him off the ball some. As a result, he took 90 more three-pointers in comparison to his freshman season in just 190 more minutes.

Paige has a quick trigger off the catch and gets great elevation with his feet set. Like most lefties, he doesn’t angle his body straight towards the basket but rather on a 45 degree angle. The arc in his shot isn’t particularly high but steady. Three-point attempts accounted for 51 percent of his shots and he hit his 221 tries at a 39 percent clip, with two thirds of them assisted, according to hoop-math.com.

Paige does not possess an explosive first step to attack closeouts or generate separation in isolation against top competition. He flashed a nifty crossover at times but generally lacked quickness off the bounce, particularly when forced right. Paige struggled to maintain his balance through contact due to his thin 175-pound frame, but that in part led to his productive 4.8 free throw attempts per 40 minutes.

What he did very well on the ball was utilize screens to create space for his pull-ups, hitting his 167 two-point jump-shots at a 45 percent clip, with only 20 percent of them assisted. Paige elevates for his step-back jumpers off the dribble with good balance and also possesses a floater to finish against length, which he converted with good success last season – as the shot chart courtesy of Austin Clemens attests.

He showed decent instincts passing out of dribble penetration, assisting on 22 percent of North Carolina’s possessions when he was on the floor, and has the underrated skill of passing the ball ahead in transition. His floater and his passing are particularly important because Paige struggles to finish against quality rim protection due to his lack of explosion. He took 21 percent of his shots within five feet of the basket and made them a borderline average 59 percent clip.

But the biggest skepticism about his transition to the next level regards his defense. Paige plays with a good deal of effort but doesn’t have the athletic ability to be an impactful defender. He showed good lateral quickness to stay in front of similarly built athletes in isolation but lacks the strength to contain bulkier players in dribble penetration by not being able to navigate through screens and contact. Paige was active crashing inside to help, closed out on shooters with urgency and was active playing the passing lanes, ranking eighth in the conference in steals. But overall North Carolina still defended significantly better the few minutes he sat, allowing 102.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in comparison to 98.9 overall.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

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3D wing

Iman Shumpert Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)

Iman Shumpert has had a bumpy career path.

He did a lot of ball handling at Georgia Tech, where he showcased impressive athleticism but also an unpolished skill-set. The Knicks thus drafted him as a point guard project – the vision was to have this elite athlete pushing the ball in the open court (Mike D’Antoni was still the coach) and enveloping opposing point guards with his length on the other end.

For that to actually happen, however, the erratic decision making on the ball and poor shooting Shumpert displayed in college needed to be cleaned up. The 2011 lockout disrupted his first offseason as a pro, though, and Shumpert did not develop in those areas as a rookie. He ended up running point for a third of his minutes and yet bad passes accounted for 47 of his 111 turnovers. 316 of his 534 shots were taken from outside the lane, and he hit them at only a 33 percent clip. Shumpert impressed with his effort on defense, which made him a positive presence in the line-up, but was far from what was envisioned of him on offense.

Unfortunately, a torn ACL suffered in the first round playoff series opener against the Heat disrupted his second offseason as well and sidelined him for almost half of his sophomore campaign. By the time he returned, Donnie Walsh, the head of the front office that drafted him, was no longer in charge and his replacement, Glen Grunwald, had signed three veteran point guards, which shifted Shumpert to the wing full time since. He ran point on just five percent of his minutes the last couple of seasons.

Entering his fourth year, the vision of what is expected of Shumpert on offense has changed. He is now viewed as a prototypical three-D wingman. But can he be one?

Shumpert is a very good individual defender, thanks to his combination of effort, six-foot-nine wingspan and lateral mobility. He is very active pressing ball handlers, and generated a steal in almost a fifth of the possessions he defended in isolation, according to research by Posting & Toasting’s Christian Baber. Perhaps more impressive is how often he gets a deflection. Though a leaner type (listed at 212 pounds), Shumpert has shown good lower body strength to contain dribble penetration through contact and the quickness to keep pace side-to-side. Mike Woodson had the Knicks switching on pick-and-rolls a huge amount last season but prior to that, Shumpert was good navigating screens as well.

Some argue that Shumpert gambles for steals too often, but throughout Woodson’s tenure, the Knicks played better when they were forcing a lot of turnovers on defense and shooting a lot of three-pointers off ball movement ignited by Carmelo Anthony on offense. In gambling, then, Shumpert was doing what was needed of him. Woodson also had the Knicks doubling the post, and Shumpert showcased good short range quickness when helping and recovering. According to research by Wall Street Journal’s Chris Herring, he was the best player in the league double-teaming by late February.

Shumpert also leveraged his athleticism by contributing on the boards, ranking sixth in the league in defensive rebounding rate among shooting guards. New York allowed only 101.8 points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup, a rate that would have ranked it a top seven defense, and haemorrhaged points at a worse rate than the league-worst Jazz when he hit the bench. The defensive tools, then, are there.

Offensively, Shumpert returned for that shortened second season as a much improved shooter, hitting not only 43.4 percent of his 53 attempts from the corners but also 38.9 percent of his 72 three-point attempts from above the break. He regressed from above the break last season, missing 70 percent of his 126 attempts, but remained deadly from the corner, hitting 39 percent of his 101 shots. Shumpert is a very good shooter with his feet set; he gets great elevation and has excellent mechanics, with the off-hand pointed up and textbook follow-through, leading to a beautiful arc in his shot. But he does not have a particularly quick release when the ball is passed to him outside of his shooting pocket, which dips his efficiency when contested. And the offense the Knicks ran last season – heavy in isolations and lacking in player movement – led to a lot of contested shots.

Shumpert’s clear role on offense was as a floor spacer, with over 40 percent of his total shots classified as catch-and-shoots and almost 70 percent of his attempts coming from outside 16-feet. He was merely average shooting off the catch, but yet he was at his most productive doing so. Other than uncontested long range shooting, Shumpert struggled badly as a scorer last season, averaging a lousy 1.02 points per shot on 484 total attempts, and he is not even average as a shooter when shooting off the bounce, hitting just 35.1 percent of his 148 pull-up attempts.

In a recent interview, Shumpert revealed he did not feel as comfortable elevating off one leg last season due to the lack of strength in his left one after he underwent another knee procedure in the 2013 offseason. In light of his ineffectiveness in driving the ball, perhaps it showed. Shumpert flashed some quickness dribbling from side-to-side at times, but generally struggled beating many opponents in isolation and attacking closeouts, shooting 46.4 percent on 111 attempts off drives. He is also an iffy ball handler in traffic, with lost balls and offensive fouls accounting for 31 of his 79 turnovers, and is only OK when passing out of dribble penetration. Shumpert is still an above average athlete, ranking third in offensive rebounding rate among his positional peers, but is not as explosive as in his collegiate days after back-to-back years in which he had to have his knee cut open, which has affected his ability to finish against length. He hit only 52.9 percent of his 102 attempts in the restricted area and generated only 71 free throws in 74 appearances.

Perhaps aware he can no longer rely on that high level of explosiveness he had when he entered the league, Shumpert has supposedly worked on his floater in training camp. This is good to hear, because Shumpert needs to continue to develop. This is a big year for him, if not the biggest.

The Knicks are said to not be negotiating a contract extension with him, and thus Shumpert will be a restricted free agent next summer, when the cap is expected to rise substantially. If he develops more, he can get himself paid. Already, Shumpert is a plus-defender who can contribute on offense as an open-shot shooter and rebounder, and his value should increase if he gets open more often, which would have been the case if he had been traded to the Thunder and is what the Knicks are attempting to do by installing the triangle offense. New York looks to be a more stable franchise than it did the past three years, and Derek Fisher seems to have a clearer plan for what he wants his team doing on offense than Woodson used to. Shumpert is the exact type of player who can benefit from this. The potential for a star role player is still there.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

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3D wing

Harrison Barnes Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)

Harrison Barnes had a promising rookie season as an important part of a team that was tied 2-2 with the Spurs heading into game five of the Western Conference semifinals. But either because of Andre Iguodala’s addition changing his role or some other unknown reason, Barnes’s second season was a disaster. Other than on-ball defense and transition scoring — aspects he can be easily effective in due to his physical profile and by playing hard — Barnes tanked in all other areas of his game.

The biggest difference was the way he was used. Barnes spent 1318 of his 2058 minutes in his first season in five-man lineups that had all of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee in it. Once the Warriors signed Iguodala, head-coach Mark Jackson installed the veteran in Barnes’ place and designated the 21-year-old as the leader of his second unit. A second unit is an outdated concept, as it’s widely understood by now the best way to manage your rotation is staggering minutes in order to always have one of your best players on the court and limit the drop-off in production once you substitute. Jackson, however, was not much of a forward thinker in that department.

As Iguodala dealt with injuries that held him to 63 appearances, Barnes still had opportunities in his absences to log 593 minutes with Golden State’s aforementioned most gifted offensive trio. Yet throughout the season, Barnes was mostly cast as the go-to option of dreadful units built of five reserves, lineups that lacked much talent in the way of shooting and passing outside of Draymond Green. With Jarrett Jack gone to Cleveland, the Warriors struggled to find a capable backup point that provided his combination of shot creation and off-ball usefulness, going from Toney Douglas to Jordan Crawford to Steve Blake. To try and circumvent those issues, Jackson emphasized playing through Barnes in the post.

It is actually understandable as to why that was. Barnes has impressive footwork for a wing player and a varied post game, utilizing two-step running jump-hooks, pull-up face-up jumpers off jab-steps, turnaround fadeaway jumpers, and spins left to take it to the basket. He was somewhat effective, too, particularly so when guarded by smaller players, showing good patience using his lower body strength to back them down or create separation. And although Barnes was only an OK scorer in comparison to the rest of the league, ranking in the top 100 on a per-possession basis, his attempts from three- to 16-feet away from the basket – a low percentage area, in general – increased from 31.5 percent in his rookie season to 36.3 percent in year two.

He did, however, only look to score from the post. Scoring off post-ups is a lost art, as increasingly often nowadays, teams post up to draw a double team and kick the ball out to generate a more valuable look from three-point range, moreso than to score. However, Barnes was not that sort of offensive catalyst, passing out of the post on less than a fifth of his post-ups and teammates averaging just 0.727 point per possession off those passes. With defenses keying on him without Curry and Lee in to ignite ball movement, Barnes further struggled scoring out of dribble penetration. He was held to 38% shooting on 223 drives, only able to take less than a quarter of his shots at the basket and held to 59.2% shooting there. Barnes is an incredible athlete who, it figures, would be a much more efficient finisher at the basketball because of this, but he does not consistently play up to his level of athleticism. Barnes’s physical tools are also not enough on their own to get him to the rim; he has a tight handle when dribbling from side to side, looking to dribble the ball low in traffic, but struggles at recognizing the second line of defense, has not shown many instincts passing off the bounce, and also did a lot of catching-and-holding. Of the team’s rotation players, only Thompson, Jermaine O’Neal and Marreesse Speights passed the ball fewer times per game, and those are all also better finishers.

Every now and again, Barnes will explode off the ground and remind you of the kind of physical specimen he is. However, he was more likely to do so in his first year (his dunk-attempt rate dropped five percentage points as a sophomore), when he was in a better position to attack closeouts with his explosive first step and long strides. Barnes struggled badly as his own shot creator, shooting just 27.8 percent on 97 attempts in isolation and held to 0.62 point-per-possession on 69 attempts off pick-and-rolls, averaging three free throw attempts per 36 minutes.

With regards to his jump shot, Barnes looks like a good shooter when shooting off of the catch. He does not possess a particularly quick trigger, especially in comparison to Curry and Thompson, but he has a smooth release with good mechanics. Even then, though, the ball did not go in as much as it should. Barnes hit only 40 percent of his approximately 192 catch-and-shoot attempts, and while 40 percent of his attempts were from the corner, he hit them only at a 35.5 percent clip. In fact, if you discount his three-point shooting in transition (44 percent on 38 attempts), he hit just 33 percent on jump shots in the half-court.

Barnes played with good effort on defense and leveraged his athleticism to make an impact in individual defense. He held opponents to 33.3 percent shooting in 83 plays defending in isolation, and allowed just 0.87 points per possession in 167 defended pick-and-rolls. His short range quickness is particularly impressive, as he can take an extra step inside to help seal the lane and return to his man with great momentum to intimidate average shooters when the ball is swung to them. However, his off-ball statistics were not as flattering, and he ranked outside the top 45 in defensive rebounding rate among position peers. Overall the Warriors defended better on a per-possession basis without Barnes on the floor, even though he shared a third of his minutes with interior defensive anchor Andrew Bogut.

Barnes, then, needs to have a bounce back season. In his first two years of the league, he has shown flashes of effectiveness at all facets of the game, but he has also shown little in the way of being able to adapt effectively to his own scouting report and developing his skill set. Many players stagnate as sophomores, but Barnes arguably regressed as the team around him improved. He needs to quickly reverse this trend, especially with his extension window opening up next summer. Perhaps, with a new coach and some slightly different personnel, this will happen.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

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3D wing

Andrew Wiggins Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)

Andrew Wiggins is not the perfect prospect. He was not a dominant scorer in his one year at Kansas, the Jayhawks were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and most statistical models project him as a middle of the pack prospect in his own draft class. Wiggins is a victim of expectations that are impossibly difficult to reach. The idea that an 18-year-old who has logged just barely over 1,000 minutes of truly competitive basketball should be a complete player is extremely misguided.

Nevertheless, Wiggins enters the NBA as an incredible athlete who already translates his physical profile into production on defense, and possesses the traits of a multidimensional but unpolished skill-set on offense.

The perception is Wiggins is a poor scorer, who struggled as a jump-shooter and was disappointing at the rim despite his tremendous athletic ability. In reality, however, Wiggins is a solid shooter when shooting off of the catch. He has a quick enough trigger and good mechanics, consistently keeping the off-hand pointed up and following through. Most importantly, when he gets his feet set, the arc in his shot is beautiful. The statistics back this up: according to research by draftexpress.com, Wiggins averaged a slightly above average 1.1 points per catch-and-shoot attempt.

Wiggins is not as effective when shooting off of the bounce, as his balance is not the same when he is stepping back and shooting over contesting defenders. According to hoop-math.com, Wiggins took a third of his shots from the mid-range area and yet hit them only at a putrid 33.8 percent clip. Many of those shots were taken in isolation possessions, which raise valid concerns regarding his shot selection. If Wiggins often settled for low percentage attempts against opponents who normally could not match his athleticism, why assume that tendency will simply go away now that he will face more athletes of his caliber?

That is not to say he failed to attack the rim at all, however. According to Upside & Motor’s Austin Clemens, Wiggins took 39 percent of his attempts from within five feet of the basket, and hit them at a good 65 percent clip. Wiggins has a loose handle dribbling from side to side and often dribbles the ball too high, which makes him susceptible to being stripped, but he is quite fast on straight line drives, thanks to an explosive first step, long strides and a very smooth go-to spin move.

His attacking the basket game is far from complete, though. Wiggins leaps off the ground in an instant, a lightning fast leaper, but he does not dunk all that often on dribble drives, simply not as comfortable rising through traffic when he is crowded. He hangs in the air very impressively, but does not have great touch to finish at rim level, and cannot yet consistently score through contact which results in an underwhelming shooting percentage when contested. At the collegiate level, however, the speed of his moves often overwhelmed defenders and resulted in 7.9 free throw attempts per 40 minutes, which he hit at a 77.5 percent clip.

There is a narrative that Wiggins was not assertive enough of a scorer at Kansas, a theory that completely ignores the structure of Kansas’s offense. As Grantland’s Brett Koremenos explained here, the Jayhawks emphasized feeding their post scorers as often as possible, a fact already evident to those who watched them play regularly. Had Kansas isolated Wiggins a handful more times per game, he would have scored enough to have rendered that perception different. But Wiggins does not necessarily enter the league a versatile enough player in facets of the offensive game other than scoring yet to be able to assuage the doubts about his scoring. The pick-and-rolls he ran were merely a different way for him to attack to score individually, as he did not show much in the way instincts when passing the ball out of dribble penetration. Playmaking for others in general was not a strong suit; Wiggins used on average 20.7 possessions per 40 minutes, yet recorded only 1.9 assists.

Wiggins’ efficiency in his first NBA season will likely largely depend on the level of Ricky Rubio’s play and what kind of system Flip Saunders installs. With his physical tools, he would surely thrive on a fast-paced attack, one that is transition-oriented and emphasizes early offense in the half-court. Wiggins is tremendous on fast-breaks, sprinting up the court with great speed. His long strides are also an asset here, as he can go from the top of key to the basket in two steps, and as has already been mentioned, he is a far better finisher when uncontested, exploding off the ground when running with momentum.

Though his open court prowess is the most aesthetically pleasing aspect of his game, it is Wiggins’s defense that is the most exciting part of his game. It is very hard to find plays in which he is not locked in.

The combination of his natural interest in providing full effort when the opponent has the ball, and his physical profile (six-foot-eight height, seven-foot wingspan, quick feet, explosive leaping ability) provides Wiggins the potential to become one of the very best defenders in the pro game right away. And nowhere on defense is this more evident than in his ability to contest shots. The clips below highlight how, even when Wiggins crashes inside to provide help packing the lane or when he gambles for a steal, his recovery is consistently outstanding and he makes it very difficult for his man to get the catch-and-shoot out cleanly.

Defending in isolation is another area where he excels impressively. Wiggins is not necessarily unbeatable off the dribble – Florida’s Scott Wilbekin and Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim did manage to enjoy some success in individual matchups. But he was undoubtedly a dominant one-on-one defender at the college level, and, with his projectable physical profile, also projects to make an immediate impact in the NBA. Wiggins possesses great lateral mobility and is hardly ever blown past; notice in the clips below how disciplined he is with the use of his hips to slow down the momentum of the driver, while also extending his arms in anticipation of a pull-up attempt. He demonstrated a good understanding of Kansas’s defensive principles, consistently sending opponents towards the help defense. His athleticism helped him overwhelm smaller opponents, so much so that Bill Self asked him to defend point guards on several occasions during the season.

Wiggins also displayed good instincts on help-defense, though he was not as impactful as he is capable of, at times being too hesitant to leave his man and more actively seal the edge of the lane. Due to Joel Embiid and Jamari Traylor’s presence inside, Kansas did not need Wiggins to be an overaggressive help-defender outside of the principles of their scheme to make up for a shortage of interior protection from big men. But now in the NBA, Wiggins has been traded to a team that allowed 63.1 percent shooting within five feet last season (worst in the league) and where more will likely be asked of him in this department. With his long arms and explosive leaping, Wiggins has the ceiling of becoming more of a true force in weak-side shot blocking than we saw in college.

The one aspect of Wiggins’ defense that is sub-par thus far is his navigation through screens. In a pick-and-roll heavy league like the NBA, he will be quite exposed in this department if he does not start fighting through those picks harder than he did at Kansas. He consistently went under the screen, which makes it fair to assume that is how he was coached to defend them. But with his quickness, Wiggins should have been able to go around the big and recover to contain dribble penetration a lot better than the clips below demonstrate. He often got caught on picks, and even when the opponent did not attack off the screen right away, Wiggins became a less effective isolation defender after getting screened. New Mexico and Oklahoma State noticed that and enjoyed good success exploiting it, essentially erasing the best perimeter defender in college basketball on several possessions.

Because he is such a smooth athlete, Wiggins’s defensive effort does not pop out of the screen like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s, for example, However, it is evident when watching him more closely.
The ceiling of becoming a force that impacts every single play around him, potentially on both ends of the floor, is very much there for Andrew Wiggins in a way it is for few others. In the early going, he is farther along defensively, and the skillset he brings on that end is rarer. But in time, with good coaching and patience, Wiggins has the potential to emerge as a star in all facets and both halves of the game.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

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Pure Passer, Shot Creator

Nicolas Laprovíttola Scouting Report

Argentine point guard Nicolas Laprovíttola was the most impressive player on Flamengo’s two-game Intercontinental series against Maccabi Tel Aviv last week.

Flamengo runs the same base offense we see in most NBA and high level European teams; high pick-and-roll up top, with the ball handler either looking for the pocket pass or to draw a help defender and pass it to the corner off dribble penetration or shovel pass to the opposite wing if he’s iced to the side, with that spot-up shooter either taking the three-pointer, attacking a closeout or touch passing to the strong side corner.

And Laprovíttola impressed as the engine of that offense, which scored 156 points on 140 possessions against the Euroleague champions.

He’s not particularly explosive but showed decent speed on straight line drives and has a tight handle dribbling from side to side to get into the lane, mostly looking to pass off dribble penetration. Laprovíttola is a good passer off the bounce, showing the presence of mind to simply throw the ball around the basket area for his big men to finish when crowded and possessing good vision to pass crosscourt when iced to the side due to his six-foot-four height. He assisted on six of Flamengo’s 30 field-goals in the second game and 27% of the team’s scores in his 1,393 minutes in the Brazilian league and the Liga Americas last season.

He also looked attentive to dribbling low in traffic to avoid getting stripped, turning it over just five times in his 58 total minutes against Maccabi, but has otherwise been turnover prone most of his career, posting a 19% turnover rate last season and over 20% in his two previous seasons in the Argentine league.

Laprovíttola’s scoring comes mostly out of his shooting. He didn’t do it well against Maccabi – missing 11 of his 14 three-point attempts – but 110 of his 196 field-goals last season were three-pointers, hitting them on 42.8% efficiency. Laprovíttola is a bit methodical setting up his shot off the dribble and doesn’t elevate much off the ground but has a generally quick release and good mechanics. He hit 40.2% of his 596 three-point attempts over the last three seasons.

He is not a high leaper and doesn’t have much strength to absorb contact in the air but possesses a floater to finish against length within close range and is a savvy player who looks for contact. Laprovíttola hit his 182 two-point attempts in the Brazilian league and the Liga Americas at a 47.2% clip and averaged almost five free throw attempts per 36 minutes.

Laprovíttola struggled to defend Jeremy Pargo in isolation, lacking the lateral mobility to stay in front and the strength to contain dribble penetration through contact the few times he did. He worked hard to go over the screens on the pick-and-roll, though, and did a generally good job to stay alive in these plays. Laprovíttola is merely average generating steals and contributing on the defensive glass, which limits his impact on this end. Flamengo allowed two points per 100 possessions more with him in the lineup in comparison to overall last season.

Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched at basketball.realgm.com.

Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

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