From Distance: Grit Goes North

[Editors Note: be sure to check out Mike Schreiner’s look back at the Cavs’ deadline deals also from this morning] 

four point play….

1. Well, that was fun? Jonathan Simmons, a 2020 Thunder first round pick, and a future second rounder. That was the price for the 2017 number one overall pick, Markelle Fultz. What an abject disaster.

It’s not like I am the biggest fan of “The Process” and Sam Hinkie. I’m a bigger proponent of “The Process” than I am of Hinkie as his drafting was, er, questionable. Still, the fact that so many years of Process got so horribly destroyed because of Fultz’s inability to play professional basketball is extremely disappointing. Poor Sixers fans.

An optimistic fan may look at the new starting lineup of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick, and Ben Simmons and think, “sheesh, we have a chance to compete with the Warriors!”

A pessimistic fan would look at Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris as two unrestricted free agents seeking max deals, one of whom the Sixers would like to keep, and the other…? I mean, would you like to play with Butler?

Again all of this is rather silly to discuss before the playoffs work themselves out. There is a chance that the Sixers use their huge starting lineup to rip through the East before shocking the Golden state Warriors in the Finals.

I don’t see that happening, but they surely have the talent and the multiple ball-handlers necessary to puncture a Warriors defense. Clearly, the summer’s outlook would be a little different if they were to be defending champions. But let’s be real. They could as easily lose to the Raptors, Bucks, or Celtics before the Eastern Conference Finals even begin.

Considering the prime position the Sixers were in before the 2017 draft, it is quite the bummer that the 2019 Playoffs are already an All-In proposition. Fultz. Man, what a whiff.

2. Up North, the Raptors surprised quite a few people by acquiring Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. I have seen many people roughly equate Gasol to Jonas Valanciunas. Yes, they’re both large European centers with a soft touch around the rim. Neither is going to beat a wing in an agility test.

Other than that, they are drastically different players. Before Gasol sprained his ankle on Nov 27, he was having a dominant season at 34 years old. It lingered for a solid two months. He seems to be rounding into shape over the last two weeks. If he can regain some of his early season touch, watch out.

There is no way to be sure that Gasol will stay healthy thus maximizing the benefit of this trade, but assuming he is for the playoffs, Gasol provides the Raptors a defensive force in the paint.

Somehow Gasol is still underrated as a defender. Yes, he has lost a step as he enters his mid 30s, but his brilliance has never been based on athleticism. It has always manifested itself through angle and play recognition, active hands, and defensive leadership. Remember this is a man who anchored a great defense paired with Zach Randolph.

Those Memphis teams gave the proto-Warriors a lot of trouble. He was able to stay on the floor against the Warriors, albeit as a younger man, because of his smarts and incredible defensive intelligence. Gasol is still sporting good efficiency numbers on the defensive end this season despite his injury issues.

The Raptors much upgraded their roster by exchanging Valanciunas for Gasol. Jonas can be a beast on the block, and he has extended his range over the last few seasons, but he has never truly understood how to consistently leverage his post play with play-making. Defensively, he has also improved, but he has never approached the high level thinking of Marc Gasol in Pick and Roll defense.

In order to get out of the East, the Raptors will likely have to beat Joel Embiid. Gasol gives the Raptors a two-way center that can stay on the floor against the likes of Embiid, Lopez, and Horford, while not having to dominate the rock like Valanciunas is wont to do. Gasol’s play-making nature should fit right in with Nick Nurse’s offensive game plan.

For those concerned with how he will handle a reduced load, I ask you with this: Do you really think Nurse is going to play Ibaka over Gasol in crunch time? Ibaka is a fine player, but he is best suited at the five, doesn’t switch onto smaller players anymore, and contrary to popular opinion, is no longer a great defender.

If you are going to have to employ show and recover on defense for your five man anyway, I would rather do it with Gasol than Ibaka. Gasol, Siakam, Leonard, Green, and Lowry. The ball moving and intelligence of that lineup is absolutely staggering. I expect the raptors to play incredibly well post trade.

3. Another big Eastern Conference winner of the 2019 trade deadline was the Milwaukee Bucks. By acquiring Nikola Mirotic, the Bucks further diversified their line-up possibilities adding still more shooting to surround Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Mirotic isn’t exactly an elite shooter, but he does have unlimited range and can get incredibly hot. He was a monster in last year’s Western Conference Playoffs for the Pelicans. He is also a slightly underrated defender, not because he is actively good, but because he isn’t quite the sieve that most people considered him to be upon entering the league.

Mirotic is also a good rebounder to pair with Brook Lopez. Side-note: Brook Lopez is a great rebounder even if his counting numbers do not reflect it. His teams’ rebounding rate has always been massively better with Lopez on the floor. He is a master at boxing out. A 7’0″ Delly, if you will. Combining Lopez and Mirotic should really help the Bucks on the glass.

Mirotic’s size also gives the Bucks the option of playing him at center, maintaining the floor spacing they have with Lopez, while adding more positional flexibility and speed to chase opposing stretch fives. The Bucks have quietly been the most consistently elite team in the NBA. Adding Mirotic should only help them going down the stretch.

4. I would like to take this moment to laugh and think negative thoughts about the Los Angeles Lakers. Take your time, I’ll give you a minute…

I’m having some mad Schadenfreude here thinking about LeBron in that purple and yellow nonsense (that isn’t gold). I still think LeBron is likely to go down as the best player of all time. I still appreciate all of the joy that LeBron brought Cleveland, and respect his agency to choose his future. But, boy is it nice not to have to deal with all of that LeBron-centric noise!

The Pelicans absolutely made the correct decision in not trading Anthony Davis to the Lakers mid-season. Even if Davis suffers a severe injury, he is going to have incredible trade value over the summer. There is risk involved in letting him play, but the team must do so in order to maintain good faith throughout the league.

Potential free agents can certainly understand the Pelicans’ reticence to trade Davis to the Lakers mid-season, but they would be far less forgiving if the Pelicans were to actively shut him down for the rest of this season against his will.

I won’t get into any potential deals the Pelicans may have this summer as it has been covered ad nauseam, but I will say that I don’t quite see the point of pairing Kyrie Irving with Anthony Davis if those are the only two good players left on the roster post trade.

They are both great players, but the league has clearly shown us that multiple high level players are necessary in order to compete for a championship. I also don’t quite understand why the Pelicans have not been better than they have if Davis really has the “it” factor to accompany his immense talent. Hmm. We shall leave him for another day.

Bonus: I am very happy for Iman Shumpert and Kenneth Faried. By joining the Houston Rockets, those limited players are able to showcase the best of their talents while hiding some of the largest flaws.

Houston is essentially the only place where Faried can really thrive in the modern NBA. James Harden makes any rim running big man with energy look like a good NBA player.

The way their defense switches and swarms in its generally mediocre fashion helps to hide Faried’s limitations as an interior stopper. Similarly, Iman Shumpert has trouble with high-level defensive X and O execution. The Rockets mostly stick to a switch everything scheme with only a few rules about where to send drives, and how to execute a “help-switch”.

Shumpert should be able to get a decent grasp of that relatively quickly. He must be able to play at least as well as Gerald Green has on the defensive end of the floor. At times, Shumpert will be able to display his good one-on-one defense further promoting the myth that he is a good all-around defender.

Mike D’Antoni will allow him the chance to shoot every single three he wants as long as he never dribbles more than three times. D’Antoni will make it very clear that Shump is absolutely forbidden to take his pet mid-range jumpers off the dribble. Since everyone on the team but Paul and Harden is also forbidden, maybe Shump will finally learn. If Shump can internalize that change, he can be the best version of himself in Houston. Good luck, buddy.

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Charlie E
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Charlie E
10 days 6 hours ago

Great stuff, as always, Ben. I think Raptors have the edge this year after picking up Gasol. If they are healthy (by no means guaranteed) I think they can take it.

Jason
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Jason
10 days 6 hours ago

Test post

NOMAD
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NOMAD
10 days 8 hours ago

THANKS MIKEO—YEAH I WATCHED HIM THE OTHER NIGHT AGAINST WEST VA/ THEY BLEW THEM OUT—–HE IS NOT A TOP 5 PICK —-MAYBE NOT EVEN IN TOP 10

MikeO
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MikeO
10 days 10 hours ago

NOMAD, you were asking about Jarrett Culver a few days ago, weren’t you? The Stepien has a very detailed article about him:

Draft Notes: Being Realistic About Jarrett Culver

JMay
Editor
10 days 10 hours ago

A delight to read, as always, Ben.

John B
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John B
10 days 10 hours ago

In other news team LBJ is going to obliterate team Giannis.

NOMAD
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NOMAD
10 days 12 hours ago

YEAH SAW WHERE KLOVE MIGHT PLAY TONIGHT– ( COINCIDENCE TRADE DEADLINE IS OVER )—-EVEN THOUGH ALOT OF RUST TO DUST OFF–WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE HOW YOUNG BULL AND HIM PLAY TOGETHER —IS CEDI PLAYING ??

Nate Smith
Admin
10 days 12 hours ago

Great stuff, Ben! And guys, be sure to check out Mike’s trade day recap also from this morning. Great stuff there too! We’re content rich today!

Looking Back At The Cavaliers’ Trade Deadline

NOMAD
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NOMAD
10 days 12 hours ago

YEAH –BUT HOW DO WE KNOW FOR SURE WHAT WAS REALLY OFFERED —ALOT OF “POSTURING ” BY BOTH SIDES —–AND THINK THE PELS REALLY WANTED TO ‘STICK ‘ IT TO PAUL / LAKERS —-BARRING MAJOR INJURY BY DAVIS —THOSE OFFERS / POSSIBLY BETTER WILL BE THERE THIS SUMMER ——TEAMS WILL STILL BE COMPETING AGAINST EACH OTHER FOR DAVIS’S SERVICES

JRL
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JRL
10 days 13 hours ago

Am I the only one thinking the Pelicans completely blew it by not taking the Lakers’ deal?

I don’t see how they are going to get anything better. The amount of talent they would had received, in exchange for AD was phenomenal. I can’t see anyone offering more.

MikeO
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MikeO
10 days 12 hours ago

I wouldn’t have done the Laker deal. Those guys aren’t likely to take you anywhere, and some of them are going to be more expensive than they’re worth soon.

John B
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John B
10 days 12 hours ago

I am pretty low on Ingram and ball. Kuzma is ok, but I am not sure he has superstar potential. La gets AD and the two 1st rounders become really late first rounders. Tatum has superstar potential. Some of Boston’s possible picks have a chance to be high or mid first round. Plus Brown is probably better than Ingram.

LA still likely will want AD since they can’t outright sign two maxes. Need a trade. Not even close to 70 mil in cap space. So if they want to get AD they will still have to offer the same boatload to compete with Boston. Pels give themselves the chance for teams to bid against each other. And they will have to.

Nate Smith
Admin
10 days 12 hours ago

Disagree. AD is going to get them lots of offers, especially from teams that miss out on free agents and at the draft. I mean I could see new York giving them multiple firsts that turn into very high draft picks. That LA collection was a bad fit for NO time line wise and if AD goes to LA then the draft picks will be in the he 20s. Boston has picks from lousy teams that will give them good players and trader Danny will give them the worst of his core, but it will still be better than the pupu platter. Also, there’s still the Philly possibility if they flame out this year. They still have picks. The Nets and clips will also have picks and players.

John B
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John B
10 days 12 hours ago

Yep.

TheOtherJason
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TheOtherJason
10 days 12 hours ago

I agree, but I think it was pretty clear the Pels outgoing GM was just sticking it to Rich Paul and the Lakers and couldn’t care less about the actual potential options since his tenure is effectively over after losing AD. Cavs in 6

NOMAD
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NOMAD
10 days 13 hours ago

WILL BE FUN TO WATCH THE TOP EASTERN TEAMS BATTLE IT OUT REMAINDER OF THE SEASON / PLAYOFFS AND NOT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT AS A CAVS FAN—–IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR THE PACERS AFTER LOSING DIPO ——BELIEVE MIROTIC WITH BUD’S COACHING AND THAT BUCKS LINE UP COULD BE VERY TOUGH !!

Nate Smith
Admin
10 days 12 hours ago

Bogdanovich is playing really well and there are more points there for Turner and Evans now. They’re really well coached and play good defense. There’s an outside chance they could make the ECF if they get a favorable draw and their opponents don’t take them seriously or evans/Turner gets hot.. They also added Wes Matthews and I could see them as a good destination for Beasley if he gets bought out.

JRL
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JRL
10 days 13 hours ago

I don’t see how the Pacers can overcome the 20+ PPG deficit that Oladipo’s absence creates. Also, he was a phenomenal iso creator in the same category of Kyrie. That’s hard to duplicate.

JMay
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JMay
10 days 10 hours ago

They’ve actually played pretty well without him this season. Though, that’s certainly not playoff basketball. Word is they are looking at Matthews after his buyout.

Jason
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Jason
10 days 13 hours ago
Jason
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Jason
10 days 13 hours ago

Good piece in the Undefeated on Wilt v Bron comparison’s on their journey’s to LA.

How Wilt Chamberlain paved LeBron’s path to Los Angeles

NOMAD
Guest
NOMAD
10 days 13 hours ago

GREAT JOB BEN—YES THINK WE ALL AGREE —( LEBRON’S 4 YRS HERE BROUGHT US MUCH EXCITEMEBT / WINS / NBA TITLE —IT ALSO BROUGHT US MUCH FRUSTRATION / DAILY DRAMA / AND A VERY CHALLENGING FUTURE ———SO GOOD LUCK L.A. !!———SEE HOOD ‘S 1ST GAME FOR PORTLAND WAS A VERY EFFICIENT GAME/ FLASH BACK TO LAST YEAR 1ST FEW GAMES WITH THE CAVS AND WE WERE ALL REALLY EXCITED —WILL SEE WHAT TRANSPRES THE REMAINDER OF THE SEASON ——NOW THAT TRADE DEADLINE IS OVER THE NEXT THING TO WATCH IS ALL THE BUYOUTS AND WHERE THEY LAND ——-GO CAVS !!

Arch Stanton
Member
Arch Stanton
10 days 13 hours ago

I agree with you on Gasol. I thought it was a great pick up for the Raps.

MattC
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MattC
10 days 14 hours ago

Great article. I have to agree about the Pelicans’ underperformance with Davis and the questions it raises as to how good he really is. He’s had way more talent than LeBron generally had during the first cavs tenure. Hell, he’s had more talent than stat machine Minnesota K Love as far as I can see.

I tend to think he’s not nearly as good as his advanced stats suggest.

Jason
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Jason
10 days 14 hours ago

Great piece Ben. Agree on everything save Philly.

And there it isn’t so much the fact that it is risky, but the fact that they, correctly in my view, are all in on the now. And have been since before the Butler deal. Why?

Embiid. He is, by far, their #1 player and theur only legit franchise guy. With his injury history, how many years of prime Embiid would you count on? Five? Six? Fewer?

They are gonna make strong runs at titles for as many years as they can while Embiid is healthy. No more waiting.

Their cap sheet is in excellent condition for next year if Butler bolts. Shedding Fultz helps there. Harris is a better fit with Embiid & Simmons than Butler anyway. They got some decent wing help (Simmons, Ennis) and have 30 games to see if Smith is playoff worthy.

They do not mesh as well as Milwaukee, Toronto, or Boston. But they have a plan and Elton Brand is executing it.

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