Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A review of Mo Williams' season in Charlotte

It is sometimes difficult to grade or judge a player after a single season, as a multitude of factors go into a player's performance over the course of a season. It is even more difficult to grade a player after less than half of a season with a given team, but that is exactly what I tried to do for in regards to Mo Williams.

Check out the entire report cards over at QCH, as they are running one for each player on the Hornets over the course of the off-season.

Name: Mo Williams
Position: Point Guard
Team: Charlotte Hornets
2014-15 Grade: B

The move to acquire Mo Williams halfway through the 2014-15 season was one made out of necessity. The Hornets lost their starting point guard and go-to scorer, Kemba Walker, right in the midst of a tight Eastern Conference playoff push, and without a legitimate full-time fill-in on the roster things looked grim.

Enter: Mo Williams.

Williams was added near the deadline as sort of a stop-gap measure. The organization hoped that he could serve as a solid enough replacement for their prized player, and at least help to keep the team afloat in the East while Walker was on the mend. Williams and Walker play a similar style – both undersized scoring guards – so the move made some solid sense, and it worked well, at first.
The Hornets went on a five-game winning streak shortly after Williams’ arrival in the Queen City, and Williams carried a big load on the offensive end initially. But as the season wore on, inconsistency set it. Williams shifted to the bench when Walker returned, and the Hornets struggled, dropping 7 out of their last 8 games and missing out on the playoffs; something hyper-competitive owner Michael Jordan was probably not too happy about, especially on the heels of the team’s playoff appearance last season.

Williams performed much better in his first 14 games as a starter (19.8 ppg, 43% from the field), than he did in the final 13 in a reserve role (14.5 ppg, 34% from the field). The twelve-year veteran is an unrestricted free agent this summer, making his future in Charlotte uncertain to say the least.

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Strengths: Mo can score. Quite simply his biggest asset to a team is his ability to put the ball in the basket from the guard position. His ability to score is why he has been able to last so long in the league, despite being bounced around – he has played on seven different teams – and that is why he was brought to Charlotte. In that regard, he didn’t disappoint.  

In his 27 games with the Hornets, Williams averaged 17.2 points per game, good for the second highest average on the entire team, behind only Walker’s 17.3 points per. He has the ability to score in a variety of ways, as he can penetrate into the paint or pull-up from beyond the arc. His ability to hit three-point shots was a help for the Hornets, as it allowed them to stretch the floor in the absence of any other reliable long-distance options. Charlotte was 25th league-wide in three’s made per game with only 6.1, and Williams connected on 2.2 of those per game during his time with the team. This helped him to keep opposing defenses on their heels and in turn opened up opportunities for teammates.

Although he is mainly known as a scorer, Williams is also a decent distributor. He has a respectable career average of five assists per game, and he improved upon that number during his stint in Charlotte. His average of six assists per game with the Hornets led the entire team. Second was Walker with 5.1 per contest. The Hornets weren’t exactly bursting with offensive options, but Williams made the most out of it. In his 27 games with the team, Williams became their second leading scorer, and leading assist man on the season; not too bad.

Weaknesses: You know that saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’? Well, that pretty aptly applies to Mo Williams. After twelve seasons and seven franchises, you pretty much know what you’re going to get with Williams, both good and bad.

While Williams is a solid scorer, he is far from an efficient one. During his time with the Hornets last season, he shot only 39% from the field, despite taking over 15 shots per game. While he shot 33% from three-point range, he posted an effective field goal % of only 46. He is a high-volume scorer, meaning he needs the ball in his hands and needs plenty of opportunities to produce. He might put up 30 points, but it is going to take 25 shots, and while that may work on an individual game basis, overall it is not great for the flow of an offense, especially from the point guard position. His usage percentage with the Hornets was a whopping 28.8 – on par with guys like Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. In short, Williams is going to put up points, but he is going to eat up an offense doing it; think of a less dynamic and tenacious Allen Iverson.

Aside from straight ahead, where Williams likes to operate from, he didn’t shoot especially well from anywhere in the field with the Hornets, and actually shot below the league average right around the rim:

Williams was also never the best defender. When he was younger at least he had quickness, but at this point he is often a liability at that end, especially when matched up against some of the league’s elite young guards like Curry, Russell Westbrook, or Kyrie Irving. With mounting injury issues, Williams’ defensive lapses became difficult to recover from at times, and that put a lot of pressure on the Hornets defense. It is safe to say that no one interested in Mo Williams’ services at this point in his career want him for his defensive ability. 

Check out the rest of the report card, including reasons for optimism/pessimism here

Friday, April 24, 2015

Anthony Davis is a beast

Even though the Pelicans are down 3-0 in their first round series against the Warriors, the playoffs battles with one of the West's best serve as excellent experience for Anthony Davis.

Davis is blossoming at a rapid rate, and has already posted some numbers comparable to some of the game's greats: 

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Look out league. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Heading into his first playoff appearance, Michael Carter-Williams appreciative of his stint with the Sixers

Last time Michael Carter-Williams sat in front of his locker in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center and spoke to the media, the inquiries revolved around the progress of his own game, his teammates’, and the organization as a whole. Such questions had become a familiar refrain for the reigning Rookie of the Year. On Monday night however, after the Milwaukee Bucks bested the Sixers in the season’s second-to-last regular season game, the questions Carter-Williams faced were slightly different.

“It’s really exciting,” he replied when asked about his upcoming inaugural playoff appearance.

“It’s my first playoffs and a lot of these guys first playoffs,” he furthered, nodding his head toward his teammates.

Next to him, OJ Mayo and Jerryd Bayless poured over their cell phones, trying to figure out exactly which team had the upper hand in the race for the East’s final playoff spot.

“Indiana still has a shot, but they have to win out,” Mayo explained to a seemingly-perplexed Bayless.

The excitement of the approaching playoffs was nearly palpable.

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Image taken by Michael Kaskey-Blomain
“You know, from where they came from last year to be going to the playoffs now has been really unbelievable,” Carter-Williams continued. “I’m glad to be a part of it.” 

A few short months ago – any time before February 19’s trade deadline – it is safe to say that Carter-Williams, despite high expectations for the future, didn’t expect to be participating in the playoffs this season. The trade that sent him to Milwaukee came as a surprise, but Carter-Williams holds no ill will towards his first franchise or its fan base, and remains appreciative of his time in Philadelphia. The feeling is mutual, as the organization honored Carter-Williams’ tenure with the team with a short tribute video during a first quarter timeout.

“That was great,” Carter-Williams said, smiling. “I didn’t really see [the tribute video] at the time or else I would have acknowledged the crowd. But, it’s unbelievable, I’m thankful for it, and I appreciate it. As much as they appreciate me, I appreciate them.”

In a town notoriously tough on its ex-athletes, Carter-Williams seemed almost relieved by his reception.

“I had no idea [what to expect]. You know, I was only here for a year and a half, so I didn’t know what it was going to be like, but I’m happy for it.”

Carter-Williams spent several minutes prior to tip-off catching up with his old coach Brett Brown, and a few of his old teammates like Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Jerami Grant, who Carter-Williams plans to work out with over the summer. Though they are no longer united in a quest for a common goal, the respect remains. When asked if he was glad to get the at time emotionally-draining homecoming game out of the way, Carter-Williams replied:

“I was just happy to be here to see my old teammates and old coaches.”

While Carter-Williams will get the first taste of the NBA’s second season, if all goes according to plan, his old coaches and teammates won’t be too far behind.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Have we seen the last of Isaiah Canaan as a Sixer?

Everyone sitting close to the pool's edge can breathe a sigh of relief. There won't be any more Canaanballs for the Sixers this season. 

Recently-acquired guard Isaiah Canaan has been an observer during the Sixers last few games, as Coach Brett Brown revealed last week that Canaan would miss the remainder of the season with a foot sprain. 

Canaan, who was acquired on trade deadline day in the deal that sent K.J. McDaniels to Houston, appeared in 22 games for the Sixers this season, cracking the starting rotation in 12 of them. He averaged 12.6 points and 3.1 assists per game over that span, while shooting 37% from the field and playing 26 minutes per game.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Nerlens Noel is the best steal-producing big man in the NBA

Steals are a stat usually associated with guards; quick, small players who can pick the pocket of an opposing point and effortlessly pop up in passing lanes.

That is not the case for Nerlens Noel, the Sixers nearly 7'0'' rookie, who is currently ninth overall in the entire NBA in steals per game, averaging 1.77 steals per contest.

To get an idea of just how dominant he has been defensively, Noel also ranks eighth in the entire NBA in blocks per game, with an average of 1.89 per contest, and is the only player in the league to rank in the top 10 in both of those major defensive categories. He also remains the only player league-wide with over 100 total steals and 100 total blocks on the season.

In only his first season, Noel has already established himself as probably the best steal-generating big man in the game, His quick hands help to generate a lot of those steals, as he is often able to pop the ball loose from an unsuspecting big about to make a move, or interrupt a pass in the paint This hand-speed also helps him to compensate for his lack of size against some of the league's bulkier post players.

His quick foot-speed, especially for his size, also helps Noel to generate some steals, as he can seamlessly switch onto a perimeter player off of a pick-and-roll, often times surprising the opposing offense which in turn leads to steal opportunities. Noel has had multiple solo fast-breaks for slam dunks this season off of steals he has generated above the opposing key.

Take a look at the below graphic, courtesy of NBATV's The Starters:

Noel stands out as the only big man on the list, and also, of course as the only rookie.

Defensively, the freshly-minted 21-year old former Kentucky Wildcat is playing beyond his age and experience. His ability to both protect the paint and to generate steals is uncanny, and in just a single season, he has already established himself as arguably the league's best steal-producing big man.

Noel will be central to the Sixers development of a dominant defense moving forward, and if his rookie season is any indication, it appears as though he is really going to be something special on that side of the ball.

The rebuild moves forward in Sam Hinkie's second season with Sixers

Check out the original article on Philadunkia.

The Sixers will finish the 2014-15 NBA season with a record nearly identical to the one that they posted in 2013-14 – their first year under Head Coach Brett Brown and GM Sam Hinkie. The similarity in total wins and losses does not mean that there was no progress from first to second season however, it just means that the progress has not yet been reflected in record.

In actuality, the Sixers are substantially further along in their rebuilding process at the end of the second season with Hinkie at the helm than they were just eleven months ago when current Milwaukee Buck, Michael Carter-Williams was named the league’s Rookie of the Year.

Last season’s nineteen wins, which were accumulated with the help of veterans – Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, LaVoy Allen, and Thaddeus Young – who had no future with the franchise, felt empty. Wins this season on the other hand were achieved by young, developing players, brought in by Hinkie himself, eager to show that they had a place in the ‘plan’ moving forward, or at least belonged in the league at large. Thus, this season’s wins felt rewarding, even at times exciting, as they were the direct result of hard work and development from guys that could potentially help to build the team back into a contender.