NBA@2: Chicago Bulls’ Point Guard Search
As the Chicago Bulls approach the start of free agency, nothing is more important than their search for a fill-in for the injured Derrick Rose. Some interesting names surfaced over the weekend, including former Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich and retired guard Rafer Alston. Alston helped lead the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, played for both New Jersey and Miami in 2009-10, but has not been back on an NBA team since. According to the Chicago Tribune, Alston will attend a Bulls mini-camp before the team heads off to summer league play next week. If Alston has maintained his conditioning he could be a low-risk, high-reward option for Chicago. He certainly fit the bill in Orlando while Jameer Nelson was out of action.
A more expensive, but safer route would be to pursue Hinrich, who has reportedly expressed interest in returning to Chicago, but is looking for the best situation both financially and from a winning standpoint. Hinrich is nearing the end of his career, and will likely be looking for a multi-year deal to secure his future, something the Bulls are unlikely/unable to offer due to financial constraints.
The most likely candidate might be C.J. Watson, who started for Derrick Rose last season and led the Bulls to an 17-8 record in those starts. The Bulls have an option to pick up next season on Watson’s contract, and have until July 10th to make a decision on that option. It should be a relatively easy decision, as Watson is already familiar with the team and the system and has had success with both. Unlike Rose, Watson is not going to win and lose games for Chicago, but he will play a role as part of what is otherwise a very good collective team.
Interestingly, all of that talk over the weekend about Chicago trading Luol Deng and possibly Joakim Noah, as well, has completely evaporated, with Bulls management doing their best to wipe away any memory of such things. The story out of Chicago is back to the first offseason story, that they are keeping the core group together and looking to tweak rather than toss the team with the East’s best record.
If they can only find a placeholder for Rose, they could very easily contend once the postseason starts in 2013.
Redundancy Still Plagues Rockets
Expectations were high for the Houston Rockets on draft night, which is perhaps a great case for the argument that internal trade discussions and plans should remain internal. As the internet was abuzz with talks of Houston moving into the lottery and making a grab for Dwight Howard, the Rockets failed to accomplish either goal.
Instead, Houston drafted at 12, 16 and 18, taking two power forwards and a shooting guard.
There’s no question that Jeremy Lamb is a solid talent, and he may turn out to be better than most players historically taken at 12, where Houston snapped him up. He got the bulk of his points at UCONN this season (21%) in spot-up situations, where he ranked in the 81st percentile among the college ranks. He was also great in transition (81st percentile), coming off screens (78th) and cutting to the basket (91st). He struggled in isolation, but was otherwise a very proficient offensive player.
So far, we’re basically talking about Kevin Martin, whom the Rockets already have.
Where the difference comes in is on the defensive end, where Martin is only marginal and Lamb is pretty good. Lamb defended spot-up shooters 40% of the time last season, and ranked in the 68th percentile, allowing just .819 points per possession. He ranked in the 81st percentile in fighting through screens and 60th in isolation. Assuming Lamb can quickly and effectively adapt his defensive game to the NBA level, he’s an upgrade over Martin at a fraction of the cost.
That’s assuming, of course, that the Rockets successfully trade Martin. If they don’t, Lamb rides the bench as a third-string shooting guard behind Martin and Courtney Lee.
The 16th and 18th picks aren’t as clear, with Houston having taken power forwards Royce White and Terrence Jones, respectively. Considering the Rockets already have Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Morris at the four, though granted Morris is really a three, and three of those players need significant minutes to show what they can become in the NBA. Since White and Jones will also need minutes to develop, expect the Rockets to be active in trade talks as they look to unload some of the redundant forward talent they have accumulated.
Is Terrence Jones actually a better prospect than Chase Budinger, the player they traded to get the 18th pick?
It’s probably too early to grade Houston’s draft. What they were trying to do was certainly an excellent Plan A, but since they once again failed to get into the lottery or find the center they so badly need, what actually played out warrants a grade of “Incomplete.” We’ll revisit that once we see what the Rockets are able to accomplish through free agency and trades.
The Lottery’s Riskiest Pick?
The NBA Draft always holds plenty of surprises, and last night’s edition was no exception. The Charlotte Bobcats did the unexpected by taking Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the #2 overall pick, setting off the equally surprising drop of Thomas Robinson to the Kings at #5. That move had all kinds of repercussions down the draft board, and particularly in Houston. Still, nothing was quite as surprising as Cleveland’s move to take Syracuse guard Dion Waiters with the fourth overall pick.
The idea is that the Cavaliers will start Waiters, whom they didn’t even work out through the draft process, next to Kyrie Irving in the backcourt. Considering Waiters was not a starter at Syracuse, that’s a big leap to make, but Waiters is ready for the challenge.
“It’s great,” said Waiters after being selected. “I played as a starter all my life until I got to Syracuse and I think Syracuse helped me out a lot, as far as being a team player, just having to sacrifice. I went there, I wasn’t the starter, because, you know, the guys before, they had been there for a while, so I didn’t know how to adjust to that my freshman year. Coming out of high school, Top 15 player, given everything, and coming there, having to work for it, I didn’t know how to handle it. My second year, I knew my role coming in. I knew what I had to do. I excelled at it.”
Excel, he did, ranking in the 92nd percentile in transition offense, where he got 27% of his points. He also ranked 75th as the pick-and-roll ballhandler, 69th as a spot-up shooter and 67th in isolation. The kid can flat out score. The experience of coming off the bench also taught Waiters a valuable lesson in humility and trusting his coach, which will serve him well under Byron Scott in Cleveland.
“I just want to do whatever I have to do to help us win,” said Waiters. “Coach, he’s been here before and he’s played in the NBA, so it’s my job to pick his brain as much as I can to get better in the league and just work hard and try to get wins, and one day get a championship. Just keep taking steps, moving forward.”
It also helps that Waiters is so close to Kyrie Irving that he considers him a brother.
“I’m excited to play alongside my brother,” said Waiters. “I’ve known him for six or seven years, and we have been texting and talking forever. He was the first person that greeted me off the stage and gave me a hug and told me, welcome to Cleveland. That meant a lot to me.”
There’s no question that the biggest surprise of the 2012 NBA Draft was the Cavaliers’ decision to take Dion Waiters – a player who didn’t start in college and never worked out for the Cavs – with the fourth overall pick. What will be interesting is to see how history judges the decision. This could either go down as one of the most brilliant risks ever taken, or one of the worst #4 picks of all time. There’s not much middle ground when you’re talking about a pick that usually gives a team a foundational player for years to come.
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