The Outlet Pass: The Draymond Green Trade Machine Edition
Also: Ben Simmons's off-ball evolution, Brook Lopez's surreal range, Tom Thibodeau finding himself in an offense-first league, Jabari Parker's surprising defense, good (?) chemistry in Washington, and more!
Photo by John G. Mabanglo/EPA-EFE
So, What is Draymond Green’s Trade Value?
In the aftermath of a verbal dispute between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green that still may turn into something more and has already yielded one suspension while puncturing Golden State’s aura of invincibility, all eyes are on Durant’s free agency. Is this the pivotable moment that will push him out the door, onward to New York City or Los Angeles or whichever city will next be blessed by his inextinguishable knack for introducing a basketball to the inside of a rim?
Speculation in this case is a tad premature, but the stakes are high enough to allow it. (A dynasty hangs in the balance!) Even though we haven’t reached Thanksgiving, it always felt like Golden State needed to have a hand in its own demise; they’re too talented to be done in by a superior opponent. There’s still time for cooler heads to prevail—Steph Curry's health-related on-court absence from the equation shouldn’t go unnoticed—but the entire situation allows another question to creep into the periphery: What is Draymond’s trade value?
This isn’t to say Golden State should or will trade the perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate just to appease the unappeasable Durant. But it’s worth wondering what they could get, or would even want, in return. And outside the Bay Area’s cushy confines, where he’s ascended alongside the two greatest shooters who ever lived, what would Draymond even look in another team’s jersey?
Green will make $17.4 million this year and $18.5 million in 2019-20 before he becomes a 30-year-old unrestricted free agent. He never was a traditional All-Star, someone who can roll out of bed every morning with 20 points in their back pocket. Green’s value is instead very real and very specific to everything that makes Golden State so free and spacious. It’s not fair to ask if the Detroit Pistons would be better with Green instead of Blake Griffin, but the answer to that question is “no,” even though most league observers probably think Draymond’s overall on-court impact is more beneficial.
Even though he’s a three-time All-Star in his prime with nearly two years left on his deal, Green couldn’t fetch what the Cleveland Cavaliers received for Kyrie Irving or the Chicago Bulls got for Jimmy Butler. A lottery pick feels out of the question. But how do you weigh a key ingredient for the greatest team ever beside the temper that may be responsible for said team’s downfall? He’s one of four players averaging at least seven points, seven assists, and seven rebounds right now (the other three are Russell Westbrook, Ben Simmons, and LeBron James), but is also shooting 24 percent from deep with the fourth-worst turnover rate in the league.
Every dynasty that intends to stay on top must eventually alter its fundamental makeup on the fly. Having signed Durant, the Warriors (and Green!) know this better than anyone else. But their decision to publicly embarrass a franchise icon the way they did could reverberate in a way they couldn’t see, despite existing light years ahead of the competition.
What if Durant, suddenly emboldened by the call to reprimand Draymond, tells Bob Myers that he doesn’t want to leave. That he’s willing to re-sign long-term so long as Green is gone. And when does Green’s next contract complicate matters to the point where the fear of losing him for nothing/locking him up on an expensive, untradeable deal becomes too much? What are some hypothetical trades that make sense? Do they exist? I’m honestly not sure. Most teams that are in the time of their life cycle to have interest in Green can’t give the Warriors what they’d want in return, or have the type of salaries on their books to make it work (i.e. the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, and Houston Rockets).
But here are a few that, while flawed (repeat: these are flawed and mostly unrealistic because Draymond’s monetary value and skill-set are not easy to trade!) are fun enough to wonder about:
Portland Trail Blazers get: Draymond Green
Golden State Warriors get: Zach Collins, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Moe Harkless
How much more enjoyable will the NBA playoffs be if this trade happens? Golden State (possibly) sustains its standing in the short-term while looking towards the future with a cost-controlled blue chipper who can pass, shoot, and protect the basket. Portland ostensibly lands the missing piece it needs to make a legitimate playoff run without breaking up its backcourt duo.
Miami Heat get: Draymond Green
Golden State Warriors get: Kelly Olynyk and Justise Winslow
There’s no logical rationale behind this trade. I just want to see Draymond mixed with Heat culture.
Sacramento Kings get: Draymond Green
Golden State Warriors get: Marvin Bagley III, Bogdan Bogdanovic
Obviously terrible for Sacramento but this organization feels due for an obviously terrible move. Bagley III may not ever be good, but it’s so rare for a team as great as the Warriors to add a prospect with that much potential. It makes them significantly worse for the rest of this season, but would it cost them the title? At the very least, Golden State could turn around and use Bagley III as a trade chip to add more immediate help.
Brooklyn Nets gets: Draymond Green
Golden State Warriors get: Spencer Dinwiddie and DeMarre Carroll
For an organization that may not want to sit around and test free agency, this is one way to spice up their relevance while selling high on a talented guard whose skill-set overlaps with D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert. LeVert’s injury stalled Brooklyn’s metamorphosis into a frisky playoff team this season, but next year, with LeVert, Green, Jarrett Allen, and a lottery pick? They wouldn’t be bad!
Utah Jazz get: Draymond Green
Golden State Warriors get: Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, and Thabo Sefolosha
A decent rookie plus a serviceable small-ball four plus a veteran who doesn’t really play anymore? That sounds like a reasonable package. Of course, sending Green to a team that has Golden State in its crosshairs probably isn’t realistic. (That goes for Portland, too.) Either way, just imagine a frontcourt that pairs the last two Defensive Players of the Year, while solving Utah’s long-standing issue that is Gobert at the five in crunchtime of a critical playoff game. The Jazz slice into their cap space and shouldn’t feel confident about retaining Green once he hits unrestricted free agency in 2020, but until then they would be the league’s most intriguing title contender. The Warriors save money and get better (?) on offense.
Tom Thibodeau: Stranger in a Strange Land
Say what you will about Jimmy Butler's behavior, multiple generations of corrosive dysfunction, and every other obstacle Tom Thibodeau has faced since he became President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves—some of which was clearly self-constructed—but the team’s putrid defense is impossible to ignore.
The Timberwolves have the worst defense in the NBA, and are surrendering about four more points per 100 possessions than they did four years ago, when...they finished with the worst defense in the NBA. Teams are brutalizing Minnesota on the offensive glass and taking total advantage of their non-existent hustle back in transition. Their only five-man unit that’s played major minutes and come close to yielding dignified results was Butler + The Bench, and that group no longer exists.
Not all the blame can rest on Thibodeau—Karl-Anthony Towns is still at his best chasing shots to block and, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski pointed out on a recent podcast, Andrew Wiggins doesn’t appear to enjoy playing basketball—but the team has yet to resemble one that knows how to defend uncomplicated NBA offense.
What exactly is Derrick Rose doing here? Does he think he should switch onto Iman Shumpert? Does he see Kosta Koufous through the corner of his eye and anticipate having to guard a high pick-and-roll? For whatever reason, Rose being this far from where he should against a speed demon like De’Aaron Fox is instant death. Plays like it aren’t uncommon.
They’re allowing 1.13 points per possession after a made shot while opponents gallop by at the third-fastest tempo in the league, per Inpredictable. They make no effort to match up and hardly ever sprint back. The play below came seconds after a Towns dunk, and they can't even use poor floor balance as an excuse! It's not new for the Thibs Timberwolves, but it’s still disturbing.
He entered this job as a revolutionary defensive tactician, someone whose militaristic instructions could squeeze water from a brick. But how does a league that’s never been more open about its desire to make life easy for offenses impact Thibodeau’s stock if/when he loses his job? Can he build a top-notch defense in today's NBA, which looks much different from what it was when he was Doc Rivers's assistant in Boston or head coach of the Chicago Bulls? Or did poor personnel decisions spell out his own doom?
Philly Helps Ben Simmons by Getting the Ball Out of His Hands
Ben Simmons is 22 years old and—according to some smart people, including his own general manager—one of the world's 20 best players. He’s already won Rookie of the Year, one playoff series, and only Russell Westbrook and LeBron James have more triple-doubles since his career debut. If he doesn’t go down as one of the 10 best passers his size (6’10”, for those unaware) who ever lived it’ll be a wild disappointment.
He'll always be a unique mismatch who terrorizes defenses caught between stopping his momentum and realizing the moment they do he’s going to fling a dart out to the three-point line, or put one of his teammates in a hot-air balloon to cram home a lob. On defense, Simmons’s height and build allow the Philadelphia 76ers to stick him on opposing centers (Al Horford, Myles Turner, etc.) when they need to hide Joel Embiid on someone who isn’t as threatening in the pick and roll. He’s very good and special and the 76ers should feel blessed to have him on their team.
But if last year was a hazily appealing honeymoon, the earliest returns on Simmons’s sophomore season have sometimes felt like the first valley in a marriage that’s yet to experience any conflict; an unsettling realization that the notable hitches in his game won’t improve anytime soon—he and Philly are officially in this through good times and bad. Regardless of how physically imposing, rare, and breathtaking Simmons can be, building a championship contender with someone who can’t shoot as a focal point is exceptionally difficult. It helped spur Saturday’s blockbuster trade for Jimmy Butler and, regardless of what the team says, has made Markelle Fultz expendable. This year, Philadelphia has the 26th best offense in the league with Simmons on the court (on par with the tanktastic New York Knicks). They play like a 36-win team with him and a 48-win team without him. (When Embiid isn’t on the court but Simmons is, the Sixers have the worst offense and worst defense in the NBA.)
Philly still likes to get Simmons going downhill, usually to his left, with a J.J. Redick ball screen near the free-throw line. It’s a tricky but increasingly predictable action that most defenses are starting to spot from a mile away, especially as they use it more and more towards the end of quarters. Here’s the best-case scenario: Malcolm Brogdon deciding Fultz is a threat in the weak-side corner.
More often than not, teams will either switch the screen and force Simmons/Redick to go one-on-one, or the floor will be too congested for him to do much of anything. Watch Michael Kidd-Gilchrist below.
It’s early, we’re months away from the trade deadline and buyout market. Someone like Kyle Korver can really help. But a smart thing Brett Brown has done to mitigate Philly's shortage of outside shooting is use Simmons more as an off-ball scorer. That sounds insane, but this is less about his gravity flying off a pin-down and more about physical duck-ins and and the most intimidating Hawk cut in the league.
The sequence seen above is similar to what the Oklahoma City Thunder ran last season as a way to involve Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook. (As covered by Ben Falk over at Cleaning the Glass.) Embiid screens for Simmons near the elbow and gifts him a free dash into the paint.
Below, the Indiana Pacers are ready for it. Bojan Bogdanovic spins under Embiid’s pick while Myles Turner drops a bit, ready to absorb Simmons’s cut. The Sixers shrug their shoulders and get a layup.
As Brown tinkers with different ways to accentuate Simmons’s nightmarish athleticism (while obscuring his setbacks) in lineups that feature Embiid and Butler, look for this more and more.
According to Synergy Sports, post-ups and cuts accounted for 18.2 percent of Simmons’s possessions last year. Right now they’re at 28.4 percent, with Brown stacking his playbook with more ways to let Simmons attack from spots on the floor where he’s comfortable. This baseline out of bounds set is a great example.
Simmons inbounds the ball and then immediately carves out post position for an entry pass. Simple, yet effective! But these actions aren’t enough to prop up Philadelphia’s offense and ultimately nullify an aesthetic that’s occasionally drowsy. Don’t let anyone ever tell you Simmons’s inability to shoot doesn’t matter, be it from the corner, elbow, or free-throw line. He's awesome and has found ways to overcome it, but defenses know he isn't willing to pull-up from 15 feet and they guard him as such. That's more wart than novelty. Shooting helps! But harnessing his physicality on the block, along with different ways to leverage his speed in a half-court setting, is wise. They should/will lean into it even more now that Butler is on board.
All the Wizards Have is John Wall and Bradley Beal’s Subtle Chemistry
The Washington Wizards have won three in a row, but don't let that distract you from the fact that they're still an indifferent collection of untenable contracts. They don’t seem to care or try, and when they do it’s laughably stubborn. (So, you don't think I can make this unnecessarily difficult pull-up two? Watch this!) Put on a Wizards game for ten minutes and your first takeaway should be that they desperately want to flex on the world but don’t have a gym membership. Steps are missing. Corners get cut. (In one recent play against the Orlando Magic, Washington surrendered a put-back dunk after Bradley Beal’s shoe came off and “prevented” him from hustling back into the frame.)
Their carelessness is underlined by bizarre lineup decisions—that include Scott Brooks’s penchant to play all-bench groups that have so far been outscored by (what follows is not a misprint) 29.3 points per 100 possessions—and a frustratingly fine point guard who’s powerful enough to take over a game while also being the number one reason it slips through his team’s fingers.
But hope lives in even the darkest corners of the NBA. And as inconsequential as it might be, flashes of chemistry between Washington’s two best players have provided a fleeting semblance of expertise commonly associated with professional athletics.
In both plays seen below, subtlety is key. Beal’s defender is primarily concerned with letting him race up off a down screen to either curl into the paint or stop cold for a jumper. Tyler Johnson sees Dwight Howard coming and all he’s thinking about is that pick, and how he can get over on it. John Wall knows this.
Terrence Ross is similarly positioning in the next example, but this one is a bit more scripted. As Wall dribbles up the floor, he points to his right, where Austin Rivers is jogging around Kelly Oubre and Jeff Green. The intention is not for Rivers to catch the ball, though. Instead, his purpose is to clear out one side of the floor, force several of Orlando’s defenders to focus on his movement, and let Beal fall into an easy layup.
Wall drops in a beauty, and Beal gets his easiest two points of the night. These reads won’t save Washington’s season, but, at the very least, they prove the Wizards (might) have a pulse.
What is Wrong With Terry Rozier?
Terry Rozier has range, athleticism, and the reflexes of a cat. He can pull up from 26 feet or knife towards the elbow and elevate over whoever’s guarding him. He loops the ball as he dribbles, yo-yo-ing it in place with enough command and elegance to make you stop and count how many players rival his authority over any given possession. He does what/gets where he wants and fluidly snakes pick and rolls with the best of them. He thrives in narrow spaces without turning it over and his toolbox has it all: filthy hesitation moves, a nasty between-the-legs crossover, the type of step-back that should/might be illegal. Before he went 0-for-5 on Wednesday against the Bulls, Rozier was making a career-best 42.6 percent of his threes.
Everything written above is true. It’s also irrelevant. Through the first month of his fourth season (the last before his next contract), Rozier’s potency has stalled. In 13 fewer minutes than he averaged throughout last year’s breathtaking postseason run, the 24-year-old's weaknesses have amplified as he familiarizes himself with a new life as Kyrie Irving’s backup, struggling to identify his own responsibilities off the bench.
His game is a laundry list of needless split-second compromises. Rozier bails out defenders with jump shots that haven't been falling, and rushes through motions that otherwise make him unguardable. He's playing on an edge nobody else can see. Instead of dribbling into the paint and lofting a high floater over shot blockers who want him to take that exact shot, as seen below, why not sprinkle some craft and misdirection into his game by pump-faking his way to the free-throw line?
Or instead of taking that shot, why not string out the play by dribbling into the corner, forcing Meyers Leonard to switch, then breaking him down from the perimeter, forcing help and creating an open look elsewhere? This play is not an unusual one for Rozier. He's either needlessly scrambling or uselessly placid, trying to fit in when the Celtics need him to stand out.
It’s common for players to let poor shooting/scoring numbers bleed into other parts of their game, but Rozier can’t afford to let that happen. He’s declined as a passer and for reasons that aren’t clear, has looked less comfortable than ever attacking the rim. His offensive rebound rate is less than half what it was last year, a crime given how dynamic he tends to be on the glass.
Rozier isn't the only Celtic struggling, but he's the most likely to get traded. And if this version of his game lingers for much longer, it's unclear why another team will be willing to surrender anything of value for the right to pay his next contract.
Brook Lopez's 3-Point Range is Madness
Look how far Brook Lopez is standing from the rim!
The furthest every NBA three-point line extends from the rim is 23.75 feet. (It's 22 feet from the corners.) Lopez has already made three shots from at least 28 feet away! This isn’t totally new—he took 16 from that distance last season—but his range is noticeably expanding in a way that’s turned him into Milwaukee’s very own/slightly taller Ryan Anderson. Even in today's era, this feels synthetic. Like, he's taken and made as many 30-footers as Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, and Chris Paul. How is any of this real life?
Jabari Parker is Playing Defense, Kinda!
It's too soon to say if this is small-sample-size theater or just one player's overnight transformation into Spider-Man, but Parker is allowing the fewest points per possession in isolation among all non bigs in the entire league, per Synergy Sports. In 28 possessions, opposing players have only made five shots with Parker as their primary defender. (Those who rank above? Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, Wendell Carter Jr., and Domas Sabonis.)
The numbers might sound like a fluke but actually watch Parker do work and his quick hands and twitchy feet make this all feel somewhat sustainable. Here he is against James Harden and Jayson Tatum, two of the most difficult one-on-one covers in basketball.
Parker is jumpy, but in a good way, beating his man to spots after he boldly gets into their body to take away their shot. He displays a lateral quickness that, frankly, looks alien in his body. (Last season, Parker ranked 228th out of 263 players who defended at least 30 iso possessions. The year before that he was 268 out of 280.)
This is a far cry from claiming Parker is or will ever be a plus defender. But he's only 23 and the Bulls have been better (but still bad) on that end when he's on the floor. This might be more than nothing.