Serge Ibaka Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)

Most people probably viewed Serge Ibaka peaking as a menace shot blocker and a volume rebounder when he first entered the NBA as a 20-year old. The evolution of his individual skill-set season after season is a huge testament to his work ethic and the Thunder’s player development program.

In his sixth season, Ibaka has completed the expansion of his scoring zone. He’s gone from proving capable of hitting the eventual long-two when left open in his first year to now taking over a quarter of his shots from three-point range and 80.7% of such shots from above the break. Ibaka quickly developed into one of the league’s very best mid-range shooters by his third season and it makes sense that the Thunder have attempted to extract the most value out of this skill by selectively sending him to the corner these previous two seasons and now parking him on the wings with more frequency.

In a vacuum, this has been a success. It might seem a bit excessive that Ibaka is on pace to triple his career high in three-point attempts, but he has hit his 113 long range shots at a 40.7% clip. Of particular importance is the fact that the Thunder were able to get him open (i.e. shooting with no defender within four feet) on 101 of his 113 three-point attempts, according to NBA.com’s SportVU tracking technology. This is important, for Ibaka is not a complete shooter yet. He has a rather natural stroke for a big guy, but doesn’t have a particularly quick release and needs the extra time to load his shot in rhythm, missing eight of his 11 contested three-point attempts so far.

While Ibaka is producing at an above average clip from beyond the arc, the increase of possessions in which he spots up in the perimeter has cost him production around the basket, where he was once an elite player. According to basketball-reference.com, Ibaka is taking less than a quarter of his shots at the rim this season, after taking almost a third of them there the previous two seasons. He’s a truly great finisher at the basket due to his ability to play above the rim as target for lobs, the speed and force with which he can attack off the catch diving down the lane with momentum, and his activity on the offensive glass. According to nbasavant.com, dunks and tip shots accounted for 24.2% of his 501 two-point field goals last season. But we are seeing far less of that this season.

Ibaka gets most of his mid-range jump-shots out of pick-and-pops with Russell Westbrook, so his long-two point jumpshot rate has only slightly declined, and is still large enough to represent over a quarter of his shots. What has changed however is, on those possessions where Ibaka is on the weak-side, he is no longer cutting baseline or establishing rebounding position below the rim as much due to his tendency to spot up from beyond the arc a lot more. He collected 10% of Oklahoma City’s misses last season and ranked in the top 10 in the league in this category a couple of seasons ago, but that number is now down to just 7.3%. Dunks and tip shots have accounted for just 25 of his 145 two-point field goals this season, and he is averaging less than two free throws per 36 minutes.

While one can understand why Oklahoma City is developing Ibaka into a player with an unlimited scoring zone, one also ponders if by doing so they aren’t failing to maximize what he does best and what the eventual net gain is. Ibaka is extracting that extra point of value out of his spot-up jump-shooting, but he’s averaging the same scoring per 36 minutes as a season ago on roughly the same usage rate, and his effective field goal percentage is down a bit as an effect of operating farther away from the rim.

Perhaps Oklahoma City’s motivation is hidden below the surface. In a breakdown of the Thunder’s game four loss to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, Coach Nick raised the question of whether Ibaka could be one of the reasons why the Thunder don’t run a more complex offense. If that’s the case, by developing Ibaka into a player who can be parked anywhere beyond the three-point line on the weak-side late in games, Oklahoma City can try running better plays (with Durant screening, perhaps) than it has been able to with Ibaka potentially failing to recognize what’s needed of him based on how the opposing defense is reacting.

It is of huge importance for the Thunder to have Ibaka on the floor late in the game because of his help defense. While he doesn’t play position defense at the same level that Andrew Bogut and Tyson Chandler do, for example, Ibaka is an elite rim protector due to his shot blocking skills. He has great quickness for somebody his size rotating off the weak-side, elevating off the ground in a pinch and using his nine-foot-three standing reach to erase layup attempts. Ibaka led the league in blocks last season and currently ranks second in this one. Opponents are shooting just 41.9% at the rim with him protecting it – the fifth best mark among players who defend a minimum of five shots at the rim per game, according to SportVU.

Logging more minutes with Steven Adams than the floor-bound Kendrick Perkins has affected Ibaka’s defensive rebounding rate some. Nevertheless, he remains a good rebounder, who looks to box out consistently on long-range shots and can get off the ground quicker to track the ball off the rim than most opposing big men. Most importantly, perhaps, he has proven able to box out bigger players thanks to the strength in his 220-pound frame, which is vital for Oklahoma City’s flexibility to downsize with Durant as a big man in the second half of important games. He is the rebounder and defender that this team – every team – needs, and year on year, he has improved and expanded his offensive game.

So many factors went into Sam Presti’s decision to trade James Harden in order to maintain financial flexibility for a longer period. One of them was him prioritizing getting Ibaka signed first, likely because he envisioned Ibaka developing into the perfect hybrid big man to complement Westbrook’s and Durant’s style of play. And with the addition of his jumpshot range, it has worked out that way.

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.

Nicolas Batum Scouting Report

(Orginally posted at BballBreakdown)

Despite little mainstream notice, the Portland Trail Blazers lead the NBA in wins at the moment. The stacked Western conference is shaping up to be matchup-driven in the postseason, and therefore home-court advantage might make a huge difference on which teams survive the first round. With over a third of the regular season now passed, Portland is in play for the top overall seed. Damian Lillard has taken yet another step into superstardom, LaMarcus Aldridge has been his usual consistent self and Wesley Matthews is well on his way to earning a $70-million contract next summer.

But Nicolas Batum hasn’t been the same. After logging 93 games with the Blazers last season, Batum joined the French national team in the summer and helped it to a third-place finish at the FIBA World Cup. As a result, fatigue might be playing a role in his production being down across the board. He has also dealt with a wrist injury that may in part help explain the biggest drop-off in his performance; his outside shooting. Whatever the reasons for it, however, it is unmistakable that Batum has struggled during the first third of the season.

Playing most of minutes with two elite shot creators, Batum normally gets open quite often. According to NBA.com, Batum took 63.6% of his shots with no defender within four feet of him last season, and hit his 315 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts at a 38.7% clip. Batum has been just as open this season, on 67.8% of his shots, but has hit a putrid 25% of his 92 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts prior to the game against the New York Knicks. The issue appears to be on the follow-through; in his misses, Batum is not keeping his off-arm pointed up through the release, which he’s consistently doing at the free throw line and enjoying his normally high foul shooting percentage.

Batum is also struggling to create his own shot off the bounce, shooting just 28.6% on 63 pull-ups and 13% on 38 attempts with less than seven seconds on the shot clock. His overall two-point shooting percentage is holding up well thanks to his ability to play above the rim as a target for lobs on cuts and in transition, but Batum hasn’t been able to create separation when turning the corner. Despite standing at six-foot-eight, he doesn’t have long strides and, without a sudden change of gear, Batum is not being able to get past athletic defenders. He entered Sunday’s game shooting 71.4% on his 45 attempts within eight feet of the basket, but had been assisted on 25 of his 35 makes. Last season, more effective on his individual drives, he was assisted in only 58.9% of such scores.

Batum has never been a volume foul shooter but he’s extremely rarely at the line this season, averaging only a single attempt per 36 minutes this season. He has drawn just 12 shooting fouls in 26 appearances, which is also a reflection of his inability to attack opponents with much quickness off the dribble.

As a passer, Batum is assisting on 21.2% of Portland’s scores when he has been on the floor, in line with his performance the previous two seasons. Yet that has been mostly through his ability to hit the pocket pass out of the pick-and-roll in stride, his quick ball moving instincts, how he’s able to post up smaller players in a pinch and use his court vision identifying open teammates on the weak-side. Using SportVU’s new movement asset, I counted only seven of his first 41 assists coming from inside the lane out of dribble penetration (there’s no data available for games over the last month).

However, despite his struggles shooting from the outside and off the dribble, and while contributing less on the offensive glass than he did last season, the Blazers have still scored more efficiently with Batum on the floor, in large part because he has shared 60% of his minutes with all of Aldridge, Lillard and Matthews in the lineup. The team have played well with him, even if they have had to do it without him.

Defensively, Batum is holding up fine on the surface. Though unable to contain dribble penetration through contact due to his lean 200-pound frame, Batum still possesses the lateral mobility to keep pace with most players in isolation and uses his length very well to challenge shots. But Terry Sttots has been less aggressive using him against smaller players this season, which is something he was very comfortable doing last year. And after an elite performance collecting opponents’ misses in 2013-2014 (seventh-best defensive rebounding rate among small forwards), Batum has only been average in these 26 games.

Portland is not a team with much depth. It relies heavily on its top unit producing at an elite level, and Batum has yet to do so. But with Lillard, Aldridge and Matthews all doing what was expected of them and the Blazers leading the league in wins as a result, Batum suddenly finding his legs is what’s missing for people to realize this team is a legit title contender.

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.

Myles Turner Scouting Report

(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)

Texas closed its non-conference schedule on Monday with an 11-point win over Rice at home, featuring one of Myles Turner’s best performances to date. The six-foot-11 freshman scored 16 points on seven shots in 22 minutes, hitting both of his three-point attempts in the process.

Turner hasn’t been particularly impressive against high level competition this season, with non-descript performances against California Berkeley and Connecticut, a struggle against Kentucky and an OK outing against Stanford. But his skill-set remains very appealing and he has done just enough to continue being viewed as a lottery-rated prospect over these first two months of the season.

Turner projects as a floor spacing big man at the pro level. He has a smooth shooting stroke and solid mechanics, flexing his elbows comfortably and keeping the off-arm pointed up on the follow through. Turner doesn’t elevate off the ground much but doesn’t need to for a high release point thanks to his six-foot-11 frame and the speed of his release. He has hit eight of his 20 three-point attempts and entered Monday’s game having hit 42.8 percent of his 42 two-point jump-shots, according to Hoop Math.

His other most intriguing skill is his passing. Turner has flashed a very high basketball IQ, doing little things such as swinging the ball quickly when he catches on the perimeter in non-shooting position to make sure the offense keeps moving. He also tends to post up his man to tie up a rim protector when one of Texas’ guards opts not to enter the ball to the post but rather drive towards the basket.

Turner is an excellent asset for high-low action, proving able to assist a teammate below the rim by flashing to the foul line or from the perimeter after popping off a ball-screen. He’s also flashed the ability to pass out of the low post. I don’t feel like Texas is using his passing ability enough but even as is, Turner has assisted on almost 12 percent of Texas’ scores when he has been on the floor, per Basketball Reference. When he is in the lineup, the team plays at a noticeably faster pace.

Other areas of his offensive game aren’t as developed, though. On the pick-and-roll, Turner is a decent screener who looks to draw contact but can’t dive hard to the front of the rim due to an inability to move fluidly in space. He hasn’t been able to finish strong in traffic or finish through contact.

On the low post, he has struggled establishing deep position against high level competition. Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl Towns, Jr. consistently pushed him off his spot, as Draft Express’ Mike Schimitz detailed in this video. Stefan Nastic also successfully denied him the ball last week. When he has caught it below the foul line, Turner has looked hesitant to create separation by backing opponents down, often opting for quick turnaround hooks or fadeaway jump-shots. He has a lean 240-pound frame in the context of his six-foot-11 height and doesn’t play with much strength, which also makes him unable to push people off the way on the offensive glass.

Although Turner functions well as a floor spacer, he often settles for contested looks in an attempt to get his shot off quickly. His high shooting percentage at the rim (67.7% on 31 shots prior to Monday’s game) is mostly a result of him making a killing against low level opponents. His lack of explosion has held him back against better teams. Although he did get to the foul line fine against California Berkeley, Connecticut, Kentucky and Stanford (15 free throws in four games), Turner was limited to just five two-point baskets in his 82 minutes.

As I mentioned in his offseason profile, Turner looked uncomfortable defending in space in the FIBA Americas U18, so it was expected this was also going to be the case at the college level. Texas has played some zone to maximize the effectiveness of his seven-foot-four wingspan and limit the amount of ground he’s asked to cover. But when they’ve switched to man-to-man, Turner hasn’t looked particularly quick rotating off the weak side to protect the rim, leaving the impression he might be a step too late at the next level.

His 35 blocks are a virtue of his prolificacy blocking shots in individual defense. Turner is a disciplined defender in the post, holding his ground and using his length extremely well to challenge opponents’ finishes.

Turner is very active going after uncontested rebounds, showing decent jumping ability and good instincts tracking the ball off the rim. His long wingspan gives him a big rebounding area as well. But as Mike Schimitz also documented on that video, Turner struggled badly establishing inside position to collect misses against Kentucky’s frontline. He just didn’t look strong enough to fight against that level of athleticism. Turner did much better against Stanford, making sure he boxed out Reid Travis diligently, but that remains a concern with regards to his pro prospects.

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.

Caris LeVert Scouting Report

(Orginally posted at Upside & Motor)

Michigan is off to a rough start this season. Losses to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Villanova, Eastern Michigan, Arizona and Southern Methodist have the Wolverines at an unusual position as they start Big Ten play on Tuesday. John Beilein lost a lot of older talent to the NBA draft and graduation over the last couple of years, and will be forced to rely on a more inexperienced core as they move forward and look to find their feet before tournament play.

Once he gets those freshmen up to speed, Beilein will be counting on junior Caris LeVert to lead them into conference title contention. Based on the way Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Nik Stauskas looked in their final years in Ann Arbor, there are high expectations LeVert will be the next wing Beilein develops into a first round pick.

LeVert has improved his physical profile significantly, adding more mass to his frame in a matter of months. But through the first couple of months of the season, his skill-set hasn’t really expanded the way most were anticipating. That’s not to say he has disappointed. LeVert’s strengths appeared to have solidified even more. But other undeveloped areas of his game seem to have stagnated as weak points.

LeVert’s top skill remains his outside shooting off the catch, and in a draft starved of floor spacers, his shooting ability is what’s guaranteeing his status as a lottery prospect at the moment. LeVert has a quick trigger off the catch, elevating off the ground in a pinch and releasing at a high point thanks to his height at six-foot-seven. He has shot tremendously well even if the looks haven’t been as clean as they were a year ago, when opponents gravitated more towards Stauskas, hitting 42.3 percent of his 59 three-point attempts, according to Basketball Reference.

LeVert’s excellent shooting opens up opportunities for him to attack closeouts and take advantage of his other above average skill; his passing. LeVert has proven very willing to make the extra pass around the perimeter and able to pass on the move out of dribble penetration. With Stauskas gone — Spike Albrecht has been very limited creating off the bounce and Zak Irvin just starting to develop his floor game — LeVert has dealt with increased ball handling responsibilities this season and done rather well.

I mentioned in his offseason profile LeVert was one of the better players in college basketball assisting out of the pick-and-roll and in transition, and that remains the case. LeVert has a tight handle dribbling from side-to-side, can drive with either hand and shows a high basketball IQ. When Michigan’s offense staled against Syracuse’s zone, LeVert was active trying to get to the middle of the zone and swing the ball quickly around the perimeter in an attempt to ignite some movement.

He has assisted on almost a quarter of Michigan’s scores when he has been on the floor and his 14.7 percent turnover rate is quite low in the context of him ending almost half of Michigan’s possessions (24.3 percent assist rate, 24.2 percent usage rate) with a shot, foul shot, turnover or assist.

His ability to create for others is of particular importance because LeVert has not improved creating scoring for himself. Though he is stronger than he was a season ago, more physical types can still deny him the ball successfully, as Stanley Johnson proved in a few instances when Michigan visited Arizona on December 13th. Once he gets the ball, LeVert has shown flashes of being able to attack the rim with good quickness. One of his 11 baskets against the New Jersey Institute of Technology, he drove through traffic from the left side of the wing to the basket in one dribble. But that has not been the case often. According to Hoop Math, LeVert has taken just 16 percent of his shots at the rim, though he has finished at a nice 74 percent clip when he’s gotten there. And despite an increase in usage rate, he’s drawing shooting fouls at the same pace he did last season.

LeVert was a lousy pull-up shooter and that remains the case through these first 12 games. He proved able to create decent separation from Stanley Johnson and Villanova’s athletes but simply continues to struggle shooting off the bounce, converting just 29 percent of his 62 two-point jump-shots. To add to that, only seven of his 25 three-point makes have been unassisted.

LeVert has always played with good effort on defense but his contributions on that end have been more impactful this season due to Michigan’s lack of meaningful contribution from its younger players. He gets in his stance and has very good lateral quickness to keep pace with opponents in isolation. His added strength should help him guard bigger wings but Beilein still preferred matching Irvin up with Stanley Johnson most of that Arizona game.

LeVert’s navigation through screens was subpar last season but Michigan switched more aggressively with its perimeter players against Oregon, Villanova, Syracuse and Arizona, so I was unable to notice if he improved or stagnated on that area.

With Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle replacing Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, more has been needed of LeVert on the boards and he has contributed by collecting 18 percent of opponents’ misses — which is an elite mark for a perimeter player. He also continues to play the passing lanes to force turnovers on a consistent basis. Michigan is allowing just 94 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, the lowest defensive rating on the team among rotation players.

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.

Justise Winslow Scouting Report

(Orginally posted at Upside & Motor)

After a strong month of November, which featured impressive performances against Michigan State, Stanford and Temple, Justise Winslow rose to the top six of both Jonathan Givony’s and Chad Ford’s prospect rankings. Winslow has slowed down a bit in December, with a non-descript outing against Wisconsin and an average one against Connecticut, but has still been what was expected of him early in his college career.

When I profiled him in July, I mentioned how advanced Winslow’s physical profile is for someone his age and how he maximizes the impact of his athleticism on defense by playing with a lot of effort. That remains the case at Duke, where Winslow does the blue collar work. Mike Kzryzewski has him and Amile Jefferson switching on ball screens, feeling very comfortable with Winslow guarding taller players in the post and boxing them out. He is listed even bigger than he was with Team USA in the summer, apparently growing from six-foot-six and 221 pounds to six-foot-seven and 229 pounds.

Winslow is actually logging a portion of his minutes as a small-ball power forward with Marshall Plumlee at center when Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor go to the bench for rest. He does good work helping the team protect the glass, showing the willingness to get physical bodying up bigger players. His rebounding rate doesn’t emphasize that, yet for good reason — Okafor, Jefferson and Plumlee are vacuum cleaners collecting misses. He has guarded very few pick-and-rolls as a big man but did well against Michigan State, looking in control of his responsibilities by dropping back to protect the lane.

Winslow’s huge frame for a wing doesn’t mean he is in a quickness disadvantage on the perimeter. He is not a factor playing the passing lane to generate turnovers and didn’t close out on Wisconsin’s shooters with the short range speed expected of an athlete his caliber. Nevertheless, his individual on-ball defense is probably the best of any player likely to declare for next year’s draft. Winslow has shown great lateral mobility to keep pace with smaller players in isolation, core strength to contain dribble penetration through contact, and the length to challenge shots at the rim. Duke is allowing just 89.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, per Basketball Reference.

Winslow doesn’t do much ball-handling within Duke’s motion offense but has had chances to create shots by bringing the ball up the court in semi-transition or running side pick-and-rolls off baseline inbounds. Duke also runs a play that gets him the ball at the top of key for a middle pick-and-roll with Plumlee. Winslow has proven himself as a very willing passer on the move and has flashed some really nice instincts passing out of dribble penetration, assisting on 12 percent of Duke’s baskets when he’s been on the floor. But he is a lousy pull-up shooter at this point, missing 16 of his 18 mid-range jump-shots, according to Hoop Math.

Off the catch, Winslow has been a far more capable three-point shooter than he was in the summer, when he often opted for putting the ball on the floor even when left wide open. He is only mostly an average open-shot shooter at this point but his mechanics look quite good on makes — solid balance, off-arm pointed up, elbows flexing, wrist flicking and great arc on his shot. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of getting him to elevate off the ground with some consistency and making sure he releases at the highest point. There’s good reason to think he’ll be a fine shooter eventually, though. He has hit a decent 36.4 percent of his 33 three-point attempts, with all 12 of his makes assisted.

By hitting the open shot at a decent clip, Winslow is forcing opponents to close out on him with some urgency and taking advantage of them on straight line drives. Duke isolates him in the post against noticeably smaller wings from time to time, usually by running a simple play where Okafor handles at the high post and hits Winslow diving to the front of the rim for an easy catch-and-finish. He is able to play above the rim as a target for lobs but we haven’t seen much of that at Duke so far. Only eight of his 26 scores at the rim have been assisted, with only five coming on putbacks.

Winslow is mostly getting to the basket off the bounce. His handle is okay, though he struggles when forced right. He is averaging three turnovers per 40 minutes as a result. However, few players at the college level can keep him in front after his first step, and Winslow has show great balance and touch finishing against length, shooting 70.3 percent at the rim on 37 attempts. That force attacking the basket has also translated into 7.3 foul shots per 40 minutes, but Winslow hasn’t shown the same improvement he does from beyond the arc, missing 20 of his 48 free throws at this point. The issue seems to be the follow through; he will often move that off-arm down rather than keep it pointed up.

Because of the free throw misses and the merely average three-point shooting, Winslow hasn’t been as positive a presence on Duke’s offense as his diverse skill-set should allow him to be. He has the second lowest offensive rating on the team among the rotation players, only marginally better than Rasheed Sulaimon’s, who is also struggling with his three-point shooting.

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.

Deshaun Thomas Scouting Report

I was generally confused when Barcelona signed Deshaun Thomas as Kostas Papanikolaou’s replacement. Thomas played as a stretch four in France and Barça already had a full depth of options for the wing with Juan Carlos Navarro, Alex Abrines, Brad Oleson, Mario Hezonja and Tomas Satoransky in place at the time of Thomas’ signing. That turned out to be a good decision, though. Navarro, Abrines and Oleson have struggled with injuries in December and Thomas has been a more productive player than Papanikolaou was last season.

Thomas’ role in this team is mostly as a spot-up shooter, though his three-point rate (30.6%) isn’t as high as you would expect from someone in that role. He gets good elevation off the ground and has a sound release off the catch but is more reliable as an open shot shooter from the left corner than as shooter with gravitational pull. Thomas has converted his 42 three-point attempts at a 40% clip. Attacking closeouts, he has proven a willing passer on the move but is not a consistent shot creator for others out of dribble penetration, assisting on just 6.7% of Barcelona’s scores when he’s been on the floor.

Thomas has logged the majority of his minutes with Marcelinho Huertas and Juan Carlos Navarro (or Mario Hezonja, over the last month), so he’s had no ball-handling responsibilities from the perimeter and mostly gets to create his shots posting up smaller players. Barça often gets him deep position by having him as one of their players in the high post on horns alignment, then dive to the strong-side low post as Huertas and Tomic run a high pick-and-roll.

Thomas has a big frame for a wing at the European level but will more often use skill rather than force to get his shot off. He can get a bit clumsy with his dribbling but has shown good touch finishing through left-handed jumphooks and turnaround, fadeaway jump-shots. Between those looks off post-ups and one-dribble pull-ups when the opponent runs him off the three-point line, Thomas has converted on 50% of his 28 mid-range jump-shots in 205 Euroleague minutes this season, after converting on 47.6% of his 21 such attempts in 93 Euroleague minutes with Nanterre last one.

He has a good handle but doesn’t attack the rim with much speed on straight line drives, needing to rely on fast-breaks and weak-side cuts to get his interior scoring. Thomas is a good runner in transition, though not impressively explosive in the open court. He does not finish with power in traffic and has not shown able to finish through contact but has good hands to catch the ball on the move and touch to finish around length at rim level. Thomas has converted 15 of his 20 attempts at the rim in the Euroleague and 62% of his 47 two-point attempts in the Spanish league, with only five of his 137 total shots in both leagues blocked.

Thomas defends with effort, getting on his stance and moving his feet well enough so he’s able to contain dribble penetration through contact in isolation. But he struggles badly navigating through screens due to his frame. He is just not built to go over the pick, consistently crashing into the opposing big man. Thomas also doesn’t leverage his athleticism as an asset in rim protection or rebounding much – blocking just three shots in 22 appearances and collecting just 8% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor. His on/off splits are mixed, with Barcelona preventing scoring better with him in the Euroleague but without him in the Spanish league.

Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched at gigabasket.org, basketball.realgm.com , ACB.com and baloncestostatsacb.es

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

Dario Saric Scouting Report

(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)

Dario Saric is the highest touted European prospect since Ricky Rubio and many were disappointed when it was announced the 12th pick in last June’s draft would not be transferring to the NBA until 2016. 76ers’ fans wait patiently, though, as Saric continues to add to his legend. Named the Euroleague player of the month in November, the youngest to ever do it, he’s off to a good start to the season in his first year playing for Anadolu Efes in Turkey.

Efes’ head-coach Dusan Ivkovic has utilized him as a stretch-four, which is technically the same position he played at Croatian club Cibona Zagreb last season, except for the fact he got to do more ball-handling from the perimeter. Saric even used to have the chance to run some offense when point guard Jerel Blassingame was subbed out, maximizing his top skill which is his feel for the game. Saric is an excellent passer who is constantly looking to assist teammates in better scoring position, particularly in transition.

But while Saric can pass off dribble penetration, especially as a ball-handler out of the pick-and-roll, he has limitations as a shot creator from the top of the perimeter. Saric has a good handle dribbling from side-to-side for somebody who stands at six-foot-10 but struggles with his left hand. He does not create much separation off the bounce due to a first step that is not at all explosive at the highest level of European ball. He is also a lousy pull-up shooter, missing 18 of his 26 mid-range shots in 10 Euroleague appearances this season, according to GigaBasket.

Saric no longer does much ball-handling from the perimeter and his new team doesn’t get in transition as much as his old one, but he still has plenty of opportunities to flash his feel for the game by attacking closeouts, passing up decent perimeter looks to better shooters, placing himself at the foul line when the opponent play zone, facilitating from the high post, and hitting cutters and shooters out of post-ups. Saric leads both the Euroleague and the Turkish league in assist-rate among power forwards, and has assisted on 22.3 percent of Efes’ scores when he has been on the floor, according to RealGM.

As a scorer, Saric gets most of his points within close range. He struggles to finish around length on straight post-ups and has had 10 of his 89 attempts in the Euroleague blocked. He doesn’t have a jump-hook or a fadeaway jump-shot to rely on, almost exclusively looking to pass with his back to the basket. But he is great in transition and filling open voids around the rim. Saric is also able to take it to the rim attacking closeouts on straight line drives, although it’s important to keep it mind he is a better athlete than most position peers he plays against, especially in the Turkish league. He doesn’t finish with much power but has shown great touch, converting 70 percent of his 40 attempts at the rim in the Euroleague and averaging five foul shots per 36 minutes.

Saric has struggled badly from three-point range, though. He has always been merely capable but has regressed this season, missing 29 of his 38 attempts from beyond the arc. Saric gets good elevation off the ground and has a quick release but doesn’t keep his off arm consistently pointed up, fails to angle his body straight towards the rim, and has a habit of kicking with his right leg. His jump-shooting struggles have affected his efficiency and impact on the team. Saric has posted a lousy .472 effective field-goal percentage on 161 shots and Efes has scored just 99.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, while netting 106.8 overall, per RealGM.

On the other end, Saric has been a more positive presence. It’s noticeable how hard he plays. That’s particularly impressive because players who become stars as teenagers often lose focus on defense. Saric defends on the ball with a lot of effort, getting on his stance and using his lateral quickness to stay in front of opposing power forwards. However, stronger players have found success in overpowering him in the post, and Saric lacks the wingspan to effectively contest these shots without leaving his feet, thereby making himself vulnerable to fouling.

On a team-level, Efes switches a lot on pick-and-rolls and Saric has been attentive with his help responsibilities, rotating to pick up opponents diving to the basket. He is able to play above the rim as a shot blocker but not in volume, which limits his impact despite his effort. Saric maximizes his athleticism as an asset protecting the glass, though, ranking 10th in the Turkish league and 12th in the Euroleague in defensive rebounding rate. That has translated on Efes allowing 94 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, while permitting 96.2 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.

Marc Gasol Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)

After back-to-back wins over the Warriors and the Spurs the last couple of the days, the Grizzlies currently lead the league in wins. Though Andrew Bogut, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard were absent, it can’t be argued how impressive Memphis looked in these two tests of strength. It’s off to a 21-4 start because its offense has caught up to its defense, with both units now ranking in the top 10 in scoring and scoring allowed per possession, a strong indicator of legit title contention. This improvement on offense is not due to any significant offseason addition or change in style of play, but because Marc Gasol is now getting enough touches to extract the most out of his unlimited scoring zone.

Throughout the Grit-and-Grind Era, Memphis has relied heavily in interior scoring, ranking in the top 10 in field goals within eight feet in three of the last four seasons. It has done so through elite offensive rebounding and post up scoring, led by Zach Randolph as the go-to option with his back to the basket. Randolph was held to just 1.14 points per shot the last couple of seasons, though, after averaging 1.25 his first couple of years in Memphis, signaling the start of his athletic decline. The Grizzlies have countered by playing through Gasol more, a shift that started last season with him as a playmaker from the high post and has now been completed with him leading the team in usage.

There has been no significant development to Gasol’s game. The Grizzlies are simply using his versatility a little more.

The one area where he seems improved is scoring out of the pick-and-roll, perhaps because he is simply at peak health. Gasol does not carry the gravitational pull of a Tyson Chandler, perhaps, but he looks like more a force than he did in the past, when he mostly rolled to establish post position rather than to attack the basket off the catch. The extra bit of hop in his step is what was missing, because pretty much everything else is there. Gasol is a very good screener who looks to draw contact and whose 265-pound frame is difficult for on-ball defenders to navigate around. He has soft hands to catch the ball on the move and touch to finish at rim level. According to basketball-reference.com, Gasol is taking 26% of his shots within three feet of the hoop and finishing them at 76% clip, which is particularly jaw-dropping because he does not play above the rim as a target for lobs. That extra quickness diving down the lane is also leading to 10 free throws per 100 possessions – a career high.

Gasol is complementing his prolific close range scoring with his consistent outside shooting. He is taking 25% of his shots from outside 16-feet, which is also a career high. His is a flat-footed, standstill outside shot without a high release point, but with decent speed on the trigger and the elbows flexing enough that it has gone in at a 44% clip this season and 42% throughout his career. Gasol mostly takes jump shots when he is open off the catch or when the opponent backs down a step to respect his passing, which was maximized last season when he ranked fourth in assist rate among centers. He is excellent in high-low action, entering the ball from the elbow to Randolph below the rim, and has great feel to hit cutters and spot-up shooters in stride. His 13% turnover-rate is extremely low in the context of his 25.6% usage rate and his 17.7% assist rate.

He also takes that high skill level to the low post, though without the same glaring results. Gasol uses his 265-pound frame to set decent position but rarely uses his strength advantage to back down his defenders. He is a very patient player going through his routine; using a couple of dribbles to feel his defender and setting up his running hook over the right shoulder. That is his preferred move, but Gasol has also proven capable when forced to take turnaround, fade-away jump-shots from the baseline. He has OK touch in these finishes, although he is not one of the better players in the league at it, despite of what most seem to think. According to nbasavant.com, Gasol hit 46.6% of his 150 hooks/fadeaway jump-shots last season – a decent mark considering the expected field goal percentage on shots out of straight post-ups, but one that ranked only 27th out of 31 players with at least 100 such shots. This season his efficiency is down a bit, as he has hit his 67 hooks/fadeaway jump-shots at a 41.7% clip prior to the game against the Spurs.

That is not to say, however, that Gasol is a mediocre post player. He is great waiting out double teams and igniting ball movement once he forces the defense out of position, hardly ever getting clumsy when the opponent tries to crowd him and showing great court vision on passes towards the weak-side. That is probably more valuable on a team-level than being able to score out of isolations on an average rate.

The one area in his offensive game that is really subpar is offensive rebounding. Gasol has collected just 5% of Memphis’s misses when he has been on the floor these last couple of seasons, a very below average rate among position peers. Part of this can be explained by his role. He did a lot of passing away from the basket last season, while he has been on the ball a lot more in this one. It is hard to crash the glass when you are one taking the shots, especially with only a quarter of them being taken in the restricted area. Gasol is capable of generating second chances when he is below the rim due to his physical profile, but does not track the ball off the rim with a lot of energy.

On the other end, Gasol’s rebounding is average. His defensive rebounding rate is perhaps a bit underwhelming for a guy who stands at seven-foot-one but he is a mammoth giant who takes up a lot of space. The Grizzlies as a team protect their glass better when he is on the floor, per NBA.com/stats/, and it is important to mention that Gasol plays most of his minutes with Randolph, a menace who currently leads the league in rebounding chances, according to NBA.com’s SportVU tracking technology.

Named the defensive player in 2012-2013, Gasol has not been as dominant of a defensive force this season. He is still the master of clogging the lane for 2.9 seconds at a time and still has the foot speed to keep pace with smaller guards who attempt to run at him out of the pick-and-roll, but has been a step late rotating off the weak-side to protect the rim in help defense. Gasol can play above the basket as a volume shot blocker, but that has not translated into the elite interior defense we have grown accustomed from him, with opponents shooting 49% on approximately 218 shots at the rim with Gasol protecting it. Surprisingly, Memphis is allowing 4.5 points per 100 possessions fewer without him on the floor.

But considering how limited the Grizzlies were on offense in the past couple of seasons, Gasol’s difference making production on that end far outweighs his slight drop-off on defense. And so it makes sense that he is being mentioned in the MVP conversation in a season when LeBron James has been great but not dominant and Kevin Durant lost significant time due to injury. Gasol may not be as effective defensively as he has been in the past, but he is stepping up in the aspects of the game in which his team needed him the most. And the results speak for themselves.

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.

Draymond Green Scouting Report

David Lee has logged just seven minutes this season due to a strained left hamstring, and the majority of his vacated playing time has gone to Draymond Green, who is off to a breakout season after the first 25 games. Green has fit like a glove in the motion offense installed by Alvin Gentry and been a vital part of the Warriors’ 22-win, three-loss bottom line.

Green was a very diverse player at Michigan State, where he was used as a point forward towards the end of his college career. He started to show signs his skill-set could be translated to the pro level last season, assisting on 12% of Golden State’s scores in his 1,797 minutes and upping his three-point rate to 36% of his shots.

But Gentry has fully maximized his ball skills this season. Green is utilized as a hub to initiate offense, handling the ball on the break or from the high post so Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can run around screens off the ball or catch and attack off live dribbles. He is an above average passer for a player his position, thanks to great feel to hit cutters in stride facing the defense from the perimeter. He is currently assisting on 14% of Golden State’s scores when he is on the floor.

Green has also developed into a much more willing three-point shooter, averaging five three-point attempts per 36 minutes and 44.4% of his shots being taken from beyond the arc. But he remains average, hitting his 116 attempts at a 34.5% clip – including only 36.4% of his 107 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts and 33.6% with no defender within four feet. Green sets a wide base in his stance, doesn’t elevate much off the ground and has a long motion. The arc in his shot is pretty good but the low release point and the slow trigger make him strictly an open shot shooter.

When those dribble hand-offs evolve into pick-and-rolls on the fly, Green has been a decent screener who looks to draw contact but whose compact 230-pound frame doesn’t disrupt the defender off his path if he merely chips him. He doesn’t play above the rim as a target for lobs but has good hands to catch the ball on the move and explosion to dive down the lane with some force. That fluidity sprinting in space also translates in transition. Green has shot 64.6% at the rim on 96 attempts, including 75.8% when assisted.

Other areas of his game are not of use to the way Golden State plays offense. He doesn’t spend any time in the low post, taking only four hooks/fadeaway jump-shots in 844 minutes. And while facilitating offense and spotting up in the perimeter, Green spends little time below the rim and has collected just 4% of the Warriors’ misses when he’s been on the floor.

But thanks to his passing and ability to extract the most value out of his average jump-shooting by taking mostly three-pointers rather than long-twos, Green is vital to Golden State’s offensive machine, which actually still struggles with spacing a bit when Curry rests. The Warriors are averaging 110.5 points per 100 possessions with Green on the floor, and only 100.1 when he’s on the bench.

On the other end, he has also been essential to the unit that currently leads the league in scoring allowed per possession. While the Warriors do miss Lee to some extent, for his rebounding, it can be argued that they’ve climbed to the top of the defensive rankings specifically because he is out of the lineup. Golden State has become very flexible switching on screens, in large part because of Green’s versatility. He doesn’t have the foot speed to chase quick guards or small wings around the perimeter and struggles navigating screens due to his frame but has enough lateral mobility to keep the average wing in front in isolation and is able to contain dribble penetration through contact.

Green is coached to guard the pick-and-roll flat; he moves fluidly in space and has an eight-foot-nine wingspan to effectively contest mid-range shots. Opponents have shot just 31.4% from outside 16-feet with him guarding them. He is able to play above the basket as a shot blocking threat, which, combined with his mobility, has translated into average rim protection. Opponents have shot 47.9% at the rim with Green protecting it. That’s not elite but very descent considering his size. Good enough for Steve Kerr to play him as a small-ball center in the fourth quarters of games against other western conference powerhouses like Houston, Memphis and Oklahoma City.

Green is an undersized big but one that is not taken advantage of in the post. He has the lower body strength to absorb contact and hold his ground, and it’s also able to use his long arms to net some standstill blocks. He is not as good a rebounder as Lee but has collected 20.5% of opponents’ misses when he’s on the floor – which is an average rate, and the Warriors have protected their glass significantly better than when rests.

Overall, Golden State is allowing just 94.1 points per 100 possessions when he’s in the lineup and 100.1 when he’s off the floor.

Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched on basketball-reference, NBA.com/stats/ and nbasavant.com.

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

Harrison Barnes Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)

After a disastrous sophomore campaign, Harrison Barnes is back on track, showing some of the same promise he flashed towards the end of his rookie season.

The Warriors are off to a 21-2 start, fueled by a starting lineup that has blitzed opponents and outscored them by 28 points per 100 possessions in 245 minutes, a league-best mark among lineups that have logged a minimum of 100 minutes, per NBA.com/stats/. Much of the attention has gone to Stephen Curry’s MVP-caliber performance, the changes Steve Kerr made to the offense and the emergence of Draymond Green as a high end contributor.

It is important to note that there has been no significant development to Barnes’s skill-set. I profiled Barnes in preseason, looking back at his first two seasons, and found that he showed flashes of ability in every facet of the game to go along with great physical tools. Barnes never lacked for talent. His spike in productivity can instead be explained by how his existent skill-set is being employed in a healthier ecosystem.

When the Warriors signed Andre Iguodala, previous head coach Mark Jackson immediately installed the veteran in the team’s top lineup and designated Barnes as the go-to option of his unproductive units built of five reserves. Barnes did well in the post but struggled attacking set defenses, especially recognizing the second line of help, often driving into crowds. This is still not a particularly strong area of the game for him; Barnes has a decent handle dribbling from side-to-side but does not attack with as much speed off the bounce when he does not have a live dribble, and has only so-so instincts passing out of dribble penetration. Golden State also did not have much passing and shooting in those lineups, except for Green – who last year was not the player that he is now.

Barnes is not the sort of player who can create for himself and others at this point, and he knew he was miscast in such a role, as he revealed to the Mercury News’s Marcus Thompson a couple of weeks ago. The combination of his limitations as a shot creator and the iffy talent around him resulted in Barnes shooting 27.8% in 97 shots in isolation and averaging only 0.62 points per possession on 97 pick-and-rolls, according to mysynergysports.com.

Kerr has solved this issue by inserting him back in lineups that feature Golden State’s best playmakers and shooters, which has freed Barnes to make better use of what he is good at; weak-side cutting and attacking closeouts. He has no ball-handling responsibilities any more (in part because the Warriors have a surplus of ball-handlers) and only gets isolated in the post in the flow of the offense, when a thinner player switches to him after he screens for the ball-handler. Those 1-3 pick-and-rolls have also been used to get Barnes other chances to attack off the catch with a live dribble, aside from defenders running him off the three-point line. He has shot 47.8% on 38 drives so far this season, an improvement from his 38% inefficiency on 223 such attempts last season. 29.5% of his two-point baskets have been dunks, and Barnes has shot 76% at the rim overall, per basketball-reference.

His interior scoring has been complemented by improved outside shooting, also best explained by context. Barnes logged just 42.1% of his minutes with both Curry and Klay Thompson on the floor in 2013-2014, a rate that has gone up to 58.7% in 2014-2015. The release in his shot is not any noticeably quicker, but by playing more time with two of the league’s most respected shooters, Barnes has been open more often and his efficiency on long-range looks have increased as a result. According to NBA.com’s SportVU tracking technology, he is taking roughly 57% of his shots with no defender within four feet of him, an increase of 10% in comparison to last season. With no ball-handling responsibilities and playing alongside a bunch of high end passers, he is taking 38.1% of shots off the catch, and has hit his 48 such three-point attempts at a 43.8% clip. Barnes has taken only four three-point attempts off the bounce and only three with a defender within four feet of him. Maybe only Tony Allen could do poorly with such a recipe.

Another area where his productivity has spiked is on the glass. David Lee has logged only seven minutes this season due to a strained left hamstring, and the bigger part of his playing time has gone to Green, with Barnes cast as a small-ball power forward whenever in alternate lineups and Marreese Speights logging 92% of his minutes as a center.

On the offensive glass, Barnes is taking advantage of a less-packed lane in Lee’s absence. Green is essentially a perimeter player when the Warriors have possession, developing into a much more willing and productive three-point shooter while also being utilized as a hub to initiate offense to enable Curry and Thompson to catch the ball with live dribbles. Very few players in his position can outrebound Barnes due to his leaping ability, and there are not that many big men who can successfully finish their box-outs on Barnes because he can bounce off the ground a consecutive time quicker than most of them, a term Jay Bilas has coined “second-jump-ability”. Barnes is playing with enough energy to transform those attributes into an asset, and his almost two rebounds per 36 minutes rank in the top 10 among position peers.

The understanding of Barnes’s rebounding numbers within a team concept is important here. Lee’s absence is a big factor – Green is a good rebounder despite his height disadvantage but he is not as good as Lee. The improved defense without Lee, however, is also a factor. Barnes’s improved numbers on the defensive glass are mostly a result of more rebounding chances being made available, in part due to opponents converting only 41.1% of their shots against Golden State, which leads the league in scoring allowed per possession.

While the Warriors do miss Lee to some extent, for his rebounding and scoring talents, it can be argued that they have climbed to the top of the defensive rankings specifically because he is out of the lineup. Golden State has become very flexible in switching on screens, in large part because of Barnes’s versatility. Against New Orleans last week, Barnes successfully defended power forward Ryan Anderson with his length in the post in one possession and contained point guard Austin Rivers’s dribble penetration with his 210-pound frame on the next. It was the sort of display that gave Kerr confidence to play him and Green as the two big men, with no true center, in the fourth quarter of the game against Houston, with great results.

Barnes is not the most important player on this elite Warriors team, but he is playing as a star role player at the moment, and has been a part of Golden State’s success. As a part of the right lineups and catching the ball at the right spots, he has been a far more productive and vital player than the one Warriors’ fans wanted to run out of town last season, even if his skill-set remains about the exact same. His breakout season is a testament to the values of coaching, systems and team work, rather than individual talents. He already had those.

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.