Broken In Boston: Retooling The Spiraling Celtics — Part I

Broken In Boston: Retooling The Spiraling Celtics — Part I

The Boston Celtics have played the third-most games that come down to clutch time, just one behind the Los Angeles Lakers and two behind the Milwaukee Bucks. They have won just 9 of those 26 games. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)



By Justin Lewis

It turns out that hoarding assets and a ton of “almost trades” may not be the best approach to build a franchise. The Boston Celtics are in the midst of suffering the ramifications of such an approach.


Boston has played the third-most games that come down to “clutch time,” just one behind the Los Angeles Lakers and two behind the Milwaukee Bucks. They have won just 9 of those 26 games. Their .346 win percentage in clutch situations is only better than the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs; three teams you do not want to be in the same company as this season if you have serious playoff hopes.

It is hard to imagine that a team with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two undeniable stars, could be currently a half-game from not even making the Play-In Tournament. The Cs still have Marcus Smart with an emerging Robert Williams for their defensive needs, but the rest of the roster just does not make sense.

Bryan Fonesca took a dive into the Tatum-Brown pairing, and he’ll join me on this quest to solve this riddle that is the currenly-spiraling Boston Celtics. I will explore the need for a point guard in Part I, while Bryan will address the frontcourt in Part II on Wednesday.

Dennis Schroder and the Celtics were a marriage of neccesity rather than pure desire. Schroder bet on himself, leaving the best he ever had to look for even better, only to find out he made a mistake. Swiping through NBA Free Agency Tinder, the Celtics and Schroder matched because they both had a void to fill. After trading Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a reunion with Al Horford, newly-named president Brad Stevens had only Smart and Payton Pritchard on the roster to run the point.

Boston had an All-Star point guard for three straight seasons, and then, last year, Walker was often injured, which led to his departure. Going from big-name point guards to unproven floor generals, the Celtics gave Schroder a prove-it deal. But all it has proved so far is that he is not a fit to lead this team at the point position.

As a matter of fact, Schroder is not really fit to be the lead point guard on any team. The best seasons of his career arguably came as a backup to Jeff Teague in Atlanta. Once the Teague era ended, the Hawks, and Schroder’s value, fell off a cliff.

In 2015-16, the final year of Teague, Schroder carried a plus-7.5 Net Rating along with his career-best Defensive Rating of 95.9. In those two following seasons as the lead guard in Atlanta, Schroder was an overall minus-8.2 with an average DRTG of 109.3.

When Schroder returned to backup duty in Oklahoma City for both Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, his NET jumped up to plus-3.6 and plus-5.5 respectively.

Looking from the lens of plus-minus, 4 of his 5 worst seasons are his rookie campaign and every year he was the primary point guard. The evidence is there: He’s not built to lead a team that way.

Through trial and error, the Celtics now know that, and are reportedly open to moving him (and other veterans) elsewhere to open up time for their young guys. So where/who do they turn to? Smart at the point alongside Brown, Tatum, Al Horford and Williams is a plus-17.6 NET with 324 total possessions per Cleaning the Glass. But can the group get it done in the fourth quarter?

If Ime Udoka and Stevens believe they can, then moves should be made to ensure the team’s depth on the bench. If not, the Celtics need grab a floor general off the trade market. Here are some scenarios:

Memphis Grizzlies

Tyus Jones is arguably the best backup point guard in the NBA and the current leader in Assist-to-Turnover ratio among qualified players (5.40). The Grizzlies are who they are in large part due to his ability to run the bench unit, but also hold the fort down if Ja Morant misses time.

So, why would Memphis do this? Well, the Grizzlies are not pressured to win the title this year. General manager Zach Kleiman has danced to the beat of his own drum, and will not accelerate his timeline simply because the team is ahead of schedule. Morant is due a rookie-scale max extension, and the Grizzlies will almost certainly have to fork over a near max to Desmond Bane when that time comes. On top of that, Jaren Jackson Jr. is already on the books for a $100 million extension, so money is tight in Memphis.

Kleiman is all about cashing in his assets; Memphis can’t afford to pay Jones, so he could very well seek compensation now rather than let him walk in the offseason for nothing. Tyus will almost certainly be a starting point guard for someone next season, so Boston should look here first.

Memphis gets some expiring money back and a protected first-round pick for a player that would significantly help Boston’s post season push. (It should be noted that Memphis may also try to get a hometown discount with Jones and keep him this offseason.)

Houston Rockets

Speaking of the Grizzlies, they once traded Chandler Parsons to the Atlanta Hawks for Solomon Hill and Miles Plumlee. A genius financial move by Memphis. Kleiman broke down the Parsons contract into two easier-to-move contracts to get Parsons off the books.

The motivation for Houston here would be similar. Schroder is an expiring deal that the Rockets could buy out immediately, while Horford could be shipped to a third team to be broken down even further.

This issue with this trade on the Celtics’ side is that Josh Richardson has been good for them, and while you upgrade the point guard position, the wing depth takes a hit. This is an all-in move for Boston that would most certainly be followed by either a trade for another wing or picking up a wing on the buyout market.

What does John Wall look like? Does he fit with Tatum and Brown? These are the questions that must be answered for this idea to even be kicked around. It’s a rather unlikely scenario, but the market for quality point guards is quite dry.

San Antonio Spurs

Here is your home-run swing. Bryan and I could not think of another available point guard (Malcolm Brogdon is ineligible to be moved) for Boston to pursue, so he mentioned this as a big swing. It may very well take more than two protected first-round picks — whether that is more picks or someone like Aaron Nesmith. The Spurs most likely have no interest in moving Murray this season, but for the right price, who knows.

This would be a massive deal for the Celtics. They would get a perfect point guard to play alongside Tatum, Brown and Smart, as well as a veteran in Thaddeus Young, who is still waiting to pounce on an opportunity to play after a solid year in Chicago. Young is almost certainly going to be moved, and if the Celtics could land him with Murray, Boston — while not becoming title favorites — could fight its way out of the Play-In Tournament.

Danny Ainge is no longer at the helm, so what will Stevens do in his first season running the show? This roster clearly needs an immediate makeover, and it starts with repairing the point guard position.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where Bryan Fonseca will address the Celtics’ frontcourt.

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Examining Potential Trade Destinations For John Collins

Examining Potential Trade Destinations For John Collins

John Collins is excellent at what he does for Atlanta, but would he look like in a different role elsewhere away from Trae Young? (Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Remy Martin)



By Evan Sidery

With rumblings surrounding the availability of Atlanta Hawks big man John Collins, BasketballNews.com’s Evan Sidery and Nekias Duncan teamed up to come up with possible destinations prior to the NBA’s Feb. 10 trade deadline.


John Collins is growing increasingly frustrated with his role. Carrying his lowest usage rate since his rookie campaign in 2017-18, Collins feels he’s more than deserving of being a more featured piece within the Hawks’ offense. Even with Collins still only holding a 19.9 USG%, he’s averaging an impressive stat line of 17.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 blocks at an above-average efficiency clip.

Collins is excellent at what he does for Atlanta, but would he look like in a different role elsewhere away from Trae Young?

He is only on the first year of his new deal, which drew lines in the sand during a tough restricted free agency period last offseason.

With extremely high expectations in Atlanta following its Eastern Conference Finals surprise, the team has been unable to clear the first bars. The Hawks already dealt promising young wing Cam Reddish to the New York Knicks in order to avoid paying him a big-figure contract. Meanwhile, if Collins is indeed available to the highest bidder around the Association, Atlanta could receive an extremely high amount of resources.

Below, Nekias and I dove into the film room, as well as five destinations that make the most sense for Collins in a trade scenario.

WHAT COLLINS BRINGS

Collins has become one of the NBA’s most versatile pick-and-roll partners. Because of his speed, soft hands and impressive vertical pop, Collins is able to sky for just about anything you throw his way after he rolls to the basket. And because of his improved shooting ability — he’s converted north of 40% of his above-the-break threes in each of the past three seasons — you can’t afford to completely sell out against rim attempts.

It’s that combination of skills that makes him deadly. Pairing that with Young — a guy that can pull from 30, make every pass in the book, and #FloaterGang you to death — is patently unfair. It’s unsurprising that trips featuring a Young-Collins ball screen has generated over 1.05 points per possessions over the last three seasons, per Second Spectrum.

Collins’ quick-leaping ability also makes him a menace on the offensive glass when he’s allowed to hover around the paint. The gradual decline in offensive rebounding has more to do with his positioning within the offense than some lack of instinct or physicality.

LIMITATIONS

There are some questions defensively.

There are fewer questions to answer than in years past, to be fair. Collins’ activity level and awareness have improved throughout his career. You could especially sense a shift from him during last year’s playoffs, and that has seemingly carried over into this year.

Collins looks a little more comfortable on the perimeter, holding his own in switches and in the rare times the Hawks have asked him to trap this year. He has the feel needed to clean up messes as a weak-side helper, especially if he’s allowed to roam against a non-shooter.

It’s still largely unclear if Collins has made enough strides to serve as a primary rim-protector for extended periods of time. Among 75 frontcourt players that have defended at least 150 picks in drop coverage this season, Collins ranks in the bottom five in points allowed per Second Spectrum.

The added activity is nice, but he’s still suffering from the too-little-too-much problem. Sometimes he’s giving up too much of a gap, which allows the ball-handler or roll man (if he receives a pass early enough) to build momentum and launch into Collins’ chest. Other times, he’s playing the gap a little too high, which allows the big to get behind him for easy lobs.

It’s fair to question how much of that is Collins trying to figure things out, and how much of it is him not trusting the point-of-attack defenders he’s had to play with over the past couple of seasons. Let’s be kind and say Young and Lou Williams leave quite a bit to be desired.

The boring answer: Collins has clear strengths and weaknesses, and a stronger defensive infrastructure could bring the best out of him.

Sacramento Kings

Rumors continue to billow out of Sacramento right now pointing towards a massive roster overhaul soon in store. Everyone on the Kings, except reportedly De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, is available in trade talks. It shows the urgency is rising in Sacramento, and someone like Collins could be the perfect remedy.

Kings receive: John Collins

Hawks receive: Harrison Barnes, Davion Mitchell

This feels like a very fair trade for both sides, especially if Collins malcontents his way out of Atlanta. Barnes would provide beautiful floor-spacing acumen for the Hawks’ guards, plus Mitchell would be a bulldog defender who’d had heavy spot minutes alongside Young.

For Sacramento, it’s easy to sell yourself on the idea of switching things up and inserting a potential 20-and-10 machine in Collins. Haliburton would be spoon-feeding easy looks for Collins, plus Fox provides a steady scoring partner as well.

Resetting around a trio of Fox, Collins and Haliburton in Sacramento could actually be a fun scenario to watch unfold. And from Atlanta’s standpoint, this feels like a win-win deal in the short and long-term.

Charlotte Hornets

An intra-division trade, huh? With the way the Hornets have played lately, showcasing a complete turnaround on the defensive end, could they be positioning themselves to make a big push at February’s trade deadline. Don’t rule it out, because Charlotte’s upside is already massive with a young superstar like LaMelo Ball running the show offensively.

Nabbing Collins from Atlanta would cost significant assets, but the payoff could be absolutely massive. Could you imagine Collins and Miles Bridges catching lobs from Ball with reckless abandon?

Hornets receive: John Collins

Hawks receive: Kelly Oubre Jr., P.J. Washington, James Bouknight

For Atlanta, Oubre would fill a similar energizer role as Collins, but with much less consistency and pop. Oubre has flashed at times brilliance this season we saw from him during his years with the Phoenix Suns; could that jump be intensified playing with Young as his point guard?

Washington and Bouknight are two former lottery picks for the Hornets who simply haven’t been able to carve out a consistent role. If Charlotte decides the time is now, relinquishing these two enticing prospects likely is the going rate to seriously upgrade. Bouknight would provide a promising young building block who could turn into a 20-plus point-per-game scorer. Washington has the makeup similar to Collins where he can feast around the rim and pick-and-pops in Atlanta’s scheme.

I would grade this one as doubtful on the potential scale of realism, but the construct of this certainly makes plenty of sense on paper.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are so much fun to watch when they’re clicking on all cylinders. Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns have been the dynamite scoring duo Minnesota had hoped for. D’Angelo Russell is also finding his footing with the Timberwolves, showcasing a strong ability to bounce-back and fit within what’s required of him.

It’s long been known the Timberwolves have really been one more piece away from taking another serious jump in the Western Conference hierarchy. That’s why Ben Simmons has been floated around Minnesota for months now.

What about Collins landing in Minnesota to play alongside Towns, Edwards and Russell? It wouldn’t provide the defensive security blanket Minnesota is in desperate need of, but he makes an already scary offense absolutely terrifying.

Timberwolves receive: John Collins

Hawks receive: Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro, Malik Beasley, draft compensation

The Hawks check plenty of boxes in this scenario where they send Collins off to Minnesota, bringing back an immediate impact scorer in Beasley, a super versatile rebounder with flashes of elite defense in Vanderbilt; plus, they would get a potentially beautiful backcourt fit with Bolmaro as a jumbo-sized playmaker. Throwing in some picks to the equation makes this so enticing for Atlanta as well.

This would be one to watch out for as a real fit for Collins, if it reaches that point in Atlanta anytime soon.

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland is in an odd spot right now. Damian Lillard is out indefinitely due to an abdomen injury that has plagued him for a while. With the Trail Blazers far out of competing for a serious playoff push, especially with no Lillard, now is the perfect time to reset a little bit and try something different.

The pressure is on for the Blazers to find another competent scoring punch to keep Lillard happy in Oregon long-term. Could Collins be the answer here? It’s a very intriguing fit for both player and team.

Hawks receive: Larry Nance Jr., Robert Covington, Nassir Little

Trail Blazers receive: John Collins

I have to admit, Collins teaming up with Lillard would be so much fun for everyone to watch. Instantly, Collins would provide an inside scoring jolt that’s been missing for the Blazers. Also, Collins would be feasting consistently playing off the gravity of Lillard and CJ McCollum.

For the Hawks, they would receive three pieces to insert into their frontcourt to replace Collins’ production. Nance would be a strong bounce-back candidate playing with Young as his point guard in Atlanta. Covington isn’t who he used to be, but can still provide winning attributes on a hopeful contender. Little is the wildcard who provides real intrigue here. Beginning to flash more consistently this season, could Little’s rise become a full-on ascension with the Hawks?

Another scenario where this feels like a win-win for both sides. Maybe Portland throws on some draft compensation to make the return more eye-opening for Atlanta.

San Antonio Spurs

The dots have already been connected around Collins to San Antonio. As Collins entered restricted free agency, the Spurs were the one team we continuously heard as a team who was seriously interested in pursuing him for a lucrative offer sheet.

San Antonio’s core has been overachieving a little bit this season, thanks in large part to Dejounte Murray becoming a key building block. It’s really almost a blank slate for the Spurs, so maybe Collins could be the piece to really augment another era of strong basketball in San Antonio?

Hawks receive: Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV

Spurs receive: John Collins

White has been thrown around in trade rumors throughout his career, but his fit next to Young is nothing short of excellent. White’s all-around ability would cover up a lot of holes and help strengthen Atlanta’s backcourt depth. Walker is a home-run swing, but an athlete like that to catch lobs every game from Young could lead to some magic happening.

San Antonio has been floating around as a potential shocking buyer at the trade deadline, including its name being thrown into the Simmons sweepstakes. Collins would boost up a Spurs core in desperate need of another strong piece.

Collins would cause a feeding frenzy in the NBA, if the Hawks are indeed shopping him around to the highest bidder anywhere. The Hawks’ big man has displayed he’s deserving of a bigger role. Whether it’s in Atlanta or elsewhere, Collins would change the dynamics of a lot of organizations.

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Report: ‘Increased Buzz’ That Caris LeVert Could Get Traded To Cavs

Report: ‘Increased Buzz’ That Caris LeVert Could Get Traded To Cavs

Caris LeVert has garnered interest from various teams in recent weeks. (John Parra/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald)



By Alex Kennedy

In early December, it was reported that the Indiana Pacers were seriously considering a rebuild and listening to offers for Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Caris LeVert among others.


LeVert seems like the most likely to be traded of the bunch, and he has garnered interest from various teams in recent weeks. The Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly expressed interest in the 27-year-old earlier this month, and apparently those talks are picking up steam.

“Buzz that Caris LeVert could end up as a Cleveland Cavalier has increased recently,” writes Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report.

If a deal does go down, Pincus says that Cleveland would likely be sending Ricky Rubio’s expiring contract to Indiana as part of the deal (for cap-matching purposes). Rubio tore his ACL and is out for the remainder of the season.

Pincus adds that “it’s unclear whether the Pacers covet Collin Sexton,” who is also out for the rest of the season due to a torn meniscus. Perhaps Indiana would be interested in acquiring Sexton before he hits restricted free agency this offseason.

This season, LeVert is averaging 18.4 points, 4.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 threes and 1.0 steal on .447/.325/.800 shooting splits. Last season, he averaged a career-high 20.7 points, but he shot just 44.3% from the field and 31.8% from three-point range.

LeVert joined the Pacers last January as part of the four-team blockbuster trade that also sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, Jarrett Allen to the Cavaliers and Victor Oladipo to the Houston Rockets.

The trade may have saved LeVert’s life, as a small cancerous mass was discovered on his left kidney during his post-trade physical. LeVert needed surgery to treat renal cell carcinoma of his kidney, which limited him to 35 games last season.

Ever since LeVert popped up as a possible trade candidate, people immediately started speculating that the Cavaliers could be a perfect landing spot for him. Hours after the bombshell report about the Pacers dropped, our Evan Sidery mentioned Cleveland as his favorite potential destination for LeVert:

“Although the Cavs are in the same division as Indiana, they immediately popped up as my best-case scenario in a potential LeVert deal. Not only would LeVert be able to slide in at shooting guard in the short-term replacing Collin Sexton — who is sidelined with a torn meniscus — but he also fits Cleveland’s long-term puzzle alongside Darius Garland, No. 3 overall pick Evan Mobley and potential All-Star center Jarrett Allen. LeVert is an ideal score-first complement to the gigantic frontcourt duo that is wreaking havoc on opposing offenses around the rim. From the Pacers’ point of view, the Cavaliers have a former top-five pick in Isaac Okoro who seems like an ideal roll of the dice and trade sweetener. Okoro is a strong, defense-first wing, but his offense still isn’t developing at the rate Cleveland had hoped. Okoro’s fit with the Cavaliers’ core is clunky, so swapping him out for LeVert is a major win for 2021-22 and beyond.

“Cleveland throwing out an offer to Indiana revolving around Okoro, Cedi Osman and a lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick has to at least lead to serious discussions. Osman is salary-filler with a contract only guaranteed through the 2022-23 season, but he’s a solid shooter who can provide wing minutes off the bench. It’s hard to peg LeVert’s overall value, but a former top-five pick and a first-round pick make up a solid baseline and, honestly, this feels like the most realistic scenario as well. Cleveland is surprisingly in win-now mode, and LeVert adds a much-needed jolt offensively.”

The NBA trade deadline is on Feb. 10, which is 17 days away.

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What If The Los Angeles Lakers Didn’t Trade For Russell Westbrook?

What If The Los Angeles Lakers Didn’t Trade For Russell Westbrook?

Russell Westbrook’s fit has been questionable, with the Los Angeles Lakers winning only 23 of their first 46 games — good for seventh in the West. (Harry How/Getty Images)



By Drew Maresca

The 2021-22 NBA season has presented us all with its share of surprises — chief among them is the Los Angeles Lakers.


The Lakers’ 2020-21 season ended badly, after a disappointing six-game series lost against the Phoenix Suns. Los Angeles entered last season as favorites to win, which would have meant back-to-back championships. But their 2021 first-round elimination forced the team’s management to confront the reality that their LeBron James-led title window was closing. Sure, Anthony Davis is also in tow, but Davis was far less successful in New Orleans without James as a running mate.

So, the Lakers did what any big market team would — they went shopping for another star. Ultimately, they added Russell Westbrook. But Westbrook’s fit has been questionable, with the Lakers winning only 23 of their first 46 games — good for seventh in the West.

Injuries and COVID protocols have played a big role in Los Angeles’ struggles with Davis, James and Westbrook sharing the floor for only 290 minutes across 15 games. Still, the Lakers are just 8-7 in those games, with a +2.6 point differential when all three share the court. For context, Davis-James-Westbrook is the Lakers’ seventh-most successful three-man combination, having logged the sixth-most minutes — that’s not the desired outcome when you add someone owed $91 million over two seasons.

But what if, instead of trading for Westbrook, the Lakers went in a different direction — would they be better-positioned to win a championship? Let’s explore an alternate reality.

Before we look at what could have been, let’s review what was given up. In the deal for Westbrook, the Lakers sent out Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and the rights to the 22nd overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Kuzma is averaging 15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 33.3 minutes per game, after just 12.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 27.0 minutes per game across the past two seasons — the only seasons that he played with James and Davis. Caldwell-Pope is also playing better without James and Davis, averaging 11.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, up from 9.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in the previous two seasons. Then there’s Harrell, whose per game averages are mostly the same, but is posting a career-best 25.2 PER.

James and Davis rank 15th and 27th in usage rate, respectively. Comparatively, there is only Beal — 14th in usage — to contend with in Washington, which obviously means more opportunity; the next-highest usage rate on the Wizards is Kuzma, who is 72nd. Ultimately, keeping Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope and Harrell might have meant a better record presently because of the games missed by Davis and James. But the same logjam would exist come the playoffs if all are healthy, which seems likely to result in ineffective contributions from at least Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope.

So, Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope and Harrell didn’t work, and neither has Westbrook. But what other options existed?

Rumors Involving Star Players

Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit: a Lakers-Kings deal appeared imminent prior to the Westbrook deal, with talks centering around a swap of Kuzma for Buddy Hield. As a I recently alluded to in a piece about off-season redos, Hield-to-Los Angeles made much more sense.

Would the Lakers be better with Hield? Probably. Hield’s 15.1 points, 22.3 usage rate and 52.7% Effective Field Goal percentage is better than Westbrook’s 18.5 points per game, 27.7 usage rate and 46.6% eFG. Like Westbrook, Hield has played in all of his team’s games this season, too.

Further exemplifying Hield’s fit — 65% of his shot attempts come off one dribble or less, which pairs perfectly with James’ style of play. Comparatively, 33% of Westbrook’s shots require seven or more dribbles, and another 33% require between three and six dribbles.

But the Lakers apparently examined both deals and chose Westbrook. Were there any other deals the Lakers considered?

The biggest rumor involved San Antonio and would have seen the Lakers enter into a Kuzma-for-DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade deal. Regardless of what combination of Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope and Harrell would have been required to get him, DeRozan is clearly an upgrade on Westbrook — or at least he would be if he’d have performed as well for the Lakers as he has for Chicago.

DeRozan was the centerpiece of the Chicago Bulls’ offseason face lift. The Buller are presently 28-16, after winning just 43% of their games last season. DeRozan’s usage rate — 31.2, which is good for 12th in the NBA — is significantly higher than Westbrook’s, and it’s higher than James, too; but the difference between DeRozan and Westbrook is obvious. DeRozan shoots 22% of his shots at the rim, 24% from between three and 10 feet, 40% from between 10 and 16 feet, 36% from 16 feet to the three-point line and only 13% from beyond the arc. And he’s shooting, 64%, 41%, 53%, 45% and 33% from those ranges, respectively. Comparatively, 21% of Westbrook’s shot attempts are three-pointers, of which he connects on only 30%. And while he’s still relatively effective at the rim (58%), he’s less efficient from three to 10 feet (37%), 10 to 16 feet (38%) and 16 feet to the three-point line (41%).

Other Possible Deals

The Lakers were clearly on the hunt for offense, and there weren’t many other difference-makers traded in 2021 — with the exception of Kyle Lowry. Lowry accepted a lesser role to join the Heat, but his impact has been obvious. Lowry is scoring less while collecting more assists, receiving about as many minutes as he has in the previous four seasons.

Lowry’s box plus/minus is 1.0. For context, a 0 box plus/minus is that of an average starter and a 2 is that of a good starter, according to basketball-reference.com; Westbrook has posted a -1.2 box plus/minus so far this season, DeRozan’s is a 2.1 and Hield’s is a -.2.

This hypothetical deal never made its way into the rumor mill, but Lowry’s $27 million in 2021-22 is a near match for Caldwell-Pope ($13.038 million) and Kuzma ($13 million). Could adding in Talen Horton-Tucker and future draft compensation have been enough to rival Miami’s deal? Maybe, though I admit most probably not.

The Lakers upgrade options were clearly limited. Instead of an incremental upgrade, Los Angeles chose to take a major high risk, high reward gamble. Now, the league’s preeminent franchise must confront the fallout from a gamble-gone-wrong.

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Mark Magsayo Dethrones Gary Russell Jr., Joins Childhood Idol Manny Pacquiao As A Filipino Champion 

Mark Magsayo Dethrones Gary Russell Jr., Joins Childhood Idol Manny Pacquiao As A Filipino Champion 

Unbeaten Mark Magsayo (left) lands a rare left hand to the head of Gary Russell Jr. (right), who was dethroned as WBC 126-pound champion following Saturday night's majority decision loss. Russell primarily used his left hand as a result of an injured right shoulder. (Amanda Westcott/Showtime)



By Lem Satterfield

Mark Magsayo admired Manny Pacquiao as a youngster growing up in the Philippines, and upon signing “Magnifico” in 2020, “The Pac Man” said Magsayo “Reminds me of myself.”


Magsayo (24–0, 16 KOs) joined his childhood idol as a champion with Saturday’s majority decision that dethroned southpaw WBC 126-pound titleholder Gary Russell Jr. (31–2, 18 KOs), ending “Mr.” Russell’s nearly seven-year reign.

Judges Mark Cosentino and Henry Grant scored it for Magsayo 115–113, while Lynne Carter had it 114–114 as did Zenger. Magsayo’s victory came 27 years to the day from Pacquiao’s 106-pound professional debut, a four-round unanimous decision over Edmund Enting Ignacio on Jan. 22, 1995.

“This was my dream, and my dream has come true,” said Magsayo, whom Pacquiao signed to a promotional contract in advance of his 10-round split-decision victory over southpaw Rigoberto Hermosillo in October 2020.

“I decided to turn pro because I wanted to be a world champion like Manny Pacquiao. I want to be like my hero and inspire kids like he did me. I’m so proud to be a champion from the Philippines, and I’m thankful for the support of my Filipino fans.”

Magsayo received a congratulatory message on Twitter from Pacquiao (62–8–2, 39 KOs), who retired as an eight-division title winner in August after falling to Yordenis Ugas. Pacquiao is the oldest man to win a welterweight title, which he did in July 2019 with a one-knockdown, unanimous decision over previously unbeaten WBA titleholder Keith Thurman.

“Congratulations @MarkMagsayo_MMM on your first world championship,” Pacquiao wrote. “Thank you for bringing honor to our country by becoming the latest Filipino world champion. Welcome to the club.”

“The club” includes Filipino star Nonito Donaire (42–6, 28 KOs), who already was the oldest man to win a 118-pound title when the four-division and WBC champion scored December’s fourth-round, liver-shot knockout of previously unbeaten Filipino countryman Reymart Gaballo (24–1, 20 KOs).

Magsayo also prepared for Russell by sparring IBF 115-pound champion Jerwin Ancajas, a southpaw from the Philippines.

“’Welcome to the Club’? That means a lot to me to be in the club, and now, I’m a Filipino champion joining Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire and Jerwin Ancajas,” Magsayo told Zenger during a phone call early Sunday morning.

“This fight was a big challenge and I felt a lot of pressure about the decision because I had asked for the Gary Russell fight, and I got it, and it went to the cards. But felt that I deserved to win because I was the one applying the pressure.”

Fighting largely one-handed minus his jab due to an injured right shoulder, Russell ended a 23-month ring absence, doing so for the first time without his father and trainer, Gary Sr., in his corner following a foot amputation stemming from Type 2 diabetes. Russell was also in action for the first time since the December 2020 death of 26-year-old brother, Gary “Boosa” Darreke, from a heart attack.

Fighting with an injured right shoulder, Gary Russell Jr. (left) landed several clean left hands on undefeated Filipino Mark Magsayo (right), who dethroned Russell as WBC 126-pound champion by majority decision on Jan. 22, 2022. (Amanda Westcott/Showtime)

Russell’s title as boxing’s longest reigning champion ended at six years, 302-days with Gary Sr. watching from ringside in a wheelchair as Magsayo out-landed his son, 150–69 in overall punches and 140–58 in power shots while trailing in jabs, 11–10.

“I injured my shoulder about two weeks ago in training camp. I believe that I have a torn tendon in my right shoulder,” said Russell, who required an hour to lose a half pound (125.5) at Friday’s weigh-in. “I haven’t competed in almost two years. This is what true champions do. I wanted to step into the ring and display my superiority regardless of the injury and whatnot. We did that.”

Magsayo had advantages in height (5-foot-6 ½ to 5-foot-4 ½) and reach (67 ½ to 64 inches) over Russell, and was advised by trainer Freddie Roach to fight from a distance despite being aware of the Capitol Heights, Maryland, fighter’s injury as early as the fourth round.

“I hit him in the [fourth] round with a good shot, so that’s when he got hurt. That was a big advantage and an opportunity for me,” said Magsayo, who was most effective with right uppercuts and crosses to the head and body.

”Since he couldn’t use his jab and was getting hit a lot, Coach Freddie and [assistant] coach Marvin [Somodio] told me to just throw good combinations and to follow through and this is how you’ll become a world champion.”

Magsayo dropped to his knees and thrust both hands skyward when the scores were announced.

Unbeaten Mark Magsayo (right) was most effective with right crosses and uppercuts to the head and body of Gary Russell Jr. (left), whom the Filipino fighter dethroned as WBC 126-pound champion by majority decision on Jan. 22, 2022. (Amanda Westcott/Showtime)

“I was surprised that there were a lot of Filipino fans there who came from Brooklyn, New York, New Jersey and Chicago,” Magsayo told Zenger. “Now that I know that they’re here, I feel like I’m in heaven because they made me feel like I was fighting at home.”

Russell was nevertheless elusive throughout the eight rounds during which he was hampered, occasionally swiveling Magsayo’s head with pinpoint left hands, knocking him off balance and winning the final round on all three judges’ cards.

“I believe that I have a torn tendon in my right shoulder. I refused to postpone this fight and push it back. I gave him a boxing lesson the whole way through. I landed cleanly whenever I wanted to,” said Russell.

“I couldn’t use my right arm, yet I was still able to throw effective shots and touch him at will. I was itching to get back in the ring and compete. I believe in my skill set and what I bring into the ring. I feel like I still won the fight.”

Russell is 7–1 (4 KOs) since June 2014, when he lost by majority decision to three-division champion Vasyl Lomachenko. “Mr.” Russell’s run included knockouts of current or former champions Jhonny Gonzalez (March 2015), Oscar Escandon (May 2017) and Kiko Martinez (May 2019) in the fourth, seventh and fifth rounds, and a unanimous decision over previously unbeaten champion Joseph Diaz (May 2018).

In his previous fight in February 2020, Russell successfully defended his crown for the fifth time by unanimous decision over Mongolia’s Tugstsogt Nyambayar, who entered at 11–0 (9 KOs).

“I refuse to not compete and to display my skills to my fans and the people who came out to show support and love. Please believe that I will be back. I still want these fights. I’m about to get my shoulder fixed and be back at it,” said Russell.

“I fought with one arm. He had his hands full with a fighter with one arm the whole fight. I gave him a boxing lesson. Will he want a rematch? That’s the question. I want the rematch.”

Edited by Kristen Butler

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Don’t Forget About Jalen Suggs

Don’t Forget About Jalen Suggs

After some poor shooting nights and a fractured thumb that sidelined him for over a month, rookie Jalen Suggs is back and showcasing the two-way potential that got him picked in the top five to begin with. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)



By Nekias Duncan

The top of this year’s rookie class has been absolutely outrageous.


We’ve seen Evan Mobley put together a fringe All-Star (and All-Defensive team) case in year one. Scottie Barnes has blown his scoring projections out of the water, and looks like a bonafide star-in-training.

Cade Cunningham shook off a slow start — now he’s making wine out of water in a tough context. Franz Wagner showed the goods defensively early on, then proved to be much more scalable offensively than many people thought.

However, two rookies at the top of the board have had shakier-than-expected starts. Jalen Green is the obvious one. The learning curve on both ends — and the flux that roster has been in all season — has been steep. But the flashes have been tantalizing; there may not be five players in the league with a better first step, and it’s hard not to believe in his combination of rim pressure and pull-up shooting truly coming together moving forward.

Jalen Suggs is the other. His first 21 games were filled with poor shooting nights and unfortunate turnovers, and that’s before he suffered a fractured thumb that sidelined him for over a month.

That, combined with things out of Suggs’ control — the controversial-at-the-time Scottie Barnes > Suggs selection looking like a home run for Toronto, plus Wagner flat-out balling in his absence — made it easy for him to slide under the radar.

Suggs is back, though, and has looked pretty solid. He’s averaging 15-6-5 over his past five games, showcasing the two-way potential that got him picked in the top-five to begin with.

Offensively, the most encouraging thing to track has been Suggs’ growing comfort getting downhill. Before the New Year, Suggs averaged a shade under 10 drives per contest while converting 35.5% of his shot attempts via drive. Since returning, his drives are up, and he’s converting over 55% of his shots on drives. This may be surprising, but improving your drive volume and efficiency is typically a good thing.

The volume is up because he’s become more determined, more fearless. The efficiency is up because he’s using his build to bring the pain versus absorbing it. Shoulder chucks are becoming a more frequent tool in his kit — defenders better hope their chests are ready. He’s also been experimenting with more extension finishes against rim protectors.

(The compilation above should give you a general idea, but I’d suggest watching the Magic’s recent outing against the Sixers to get the full “Wow, Jalen really isn’t scared” experience. Joel Embiid made him look silly a few times, but I appreciate the aggression.)

One of the benefits of Suggs getting more aggressive: his passing is starting to pop a little more on film. His potential assists are up (7.7 to 9.4) if you want to put a number on his progress. From a film perspective, he’s hitting — and creating — windows more effectively.

You can see it in pick-and-roll, depending on his partner. If it’s another perimeter player (think ghost screens), he’s starting to hit his man a little quicker. With a traditional big, he’s taking an extra dribble to suck in a defender before making a pass.

There are still warts, of course. Suggs is still trying to find his way as an intermediate scorer. Pull-up twos remain an adventure, and floaters aren’t consistent for him yet. As he continues to figure out the rim stuff, having a mid-range counter would be nice to fall back on every once in a while.

The more obvious flag is turnovers, though that’s 1) just about every rookie guard in the history of basketball and 2) something that should get better with more reps.

Suggs’ turnover tape intrigues me. His passing turnovers are generally of the “Right man, wrong pass” variety. He gets caught in No Man’s Land as a jump-passer, but that speaks to the lack of comfort he has in the middle versus any sort of aimlessness with the ball.

The thing to track is his handle. Ball pressure bothers him more than you’d like to see from a top-five pick with #LeadDawg potential. His handle limitations are exposed when he’s asked to create in tight spaces.

Defensively, Suggs is a mixed bag right now. Stop me if you’ve heard that about a rookie before.

He’s an interesting case because, unlike most rookie guards, he seems to be more impactful off the ball than on it.

You can see some of the football background come out when he’s off the ball. He’s a timely rotator, and is beyond his years as a “split the difference” guy on the weakside. As a point of attack guy, his effort is strong. He gets into a ball-handler’s jersey. On top of being a strong dude, he also has pretty quick hands. Weak handles are liable to be picked at, literally.

But then a screen comes. And that’s where the real fun begins.

For someone as smart as Suggs is, and as good as his effort is, he simply doesn’t know how to fight over screens right now. Angle a pick correctly, and he’ll swim his way right out of a play. He’s much more comfortable going under — ducking, spinning, slithering inside — and meeting the ball-handler on the other side or contesting a shot after finishing his path.

The difference between the two methods are stark, right?

I’d imagine having a guy like Gary Harris as a vet could be a help to Suggs on the screen navigation front. Honestly, with his frame and effort level, he’s a couple of “tricks of the trade” away from being solid at the point of attack. I wouldn’t be too worried if I were a Magic fan.

I think that’s the overall takeaway I have with Suggs, honestly. I just wouldn’t be worried about him. The foundation of rim pressure, passing chops and working within the framework of a defensive scheme are there already. Tightening up the handle, the jumper and screen navigation techniques are important, but none of those things are out of reach for Suggs.

Between him and Wagner, the Magic look to have really nailed their draft this past summer.

Produced in association with BasketballNews.com.

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