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2017 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: Will De’Aaron Fox ever shoot well enough to be a star?

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Early in John Wall‘s career as the point guard of the Washington Wizards, there was serious doubt about whether or not he would ever become the kind of player that was deserving of being the No. 1 pick in a draft. That is typically reserved for the kind of franchise changing talent that Wall has, but the problem was, simply, that he could not shoot.

As a freshman at Kentucky, he shot just 32.5 percent from beyond the arc. He made three fewer threes as a rookie in the NBA than he did as a rookie in the SEC, and he made a total of 15 threes in his second and third seasons in the NBA which included a spectacular 3-for-42 performance for an entire season.

But Wall got better. In two of the last four years, he’s shot better than 35 percent from beyond the arc and has at least become enough of a threat that a defense has to be conscious of the fact that he can hit a three, and it’s not a coincidence that has come at the same time that Wall has emerged as one of the four or five best point guards in the NBA.

De'Aaron Fox, who was Kentucky’s engine on both ends of the floor this past season, is, more or less, a John Wall clone. He’s not quite as tall and he’s not quite as long as his sprinter’s-speed is not quite superhuman, but looking at this from a big picture perspective, they’re mostly the same: A defensive menace and a nightmare in transition that may never be able to effectively run an NBA offense if he cannot find a way to fix his jump shot.

Height: 6’3″
Weight: 170 pounds
Wingspan: 6’6″
2016-17 Stats: 16.7 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 boards, 1.5 steals, 24.6% 3PT

De’Aaron Fox (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

STRENGTHS: The intrigue with Fox as a player starts with the physical tools. He has elite size (6-foot-3), length (6-foot-6 wingspan), athleticism (his vertical is nearly 40 inches) and speed for a point guard. He has game-changing ability in transition, whether it’s leading the break or running away from the defense in a lane. More than 31 percent of his offense came in transition this past season, nearly six points per game.

Transition isn’t the only place where his speed made him dangerous. He was nearly impossible to keep out of the lane when he wanted to get there; not only is Fox an explosive leaper — he threw down a number of highlight worthy dunks this season — but he has terrific burst and a quick first step off the dribble and off the standstill. When he gets into the paint, he showed off really impressive touch on his floaters, shooting nearly 60 percent in the lane, a very respectable number for a guy that still needs to add weight and strength to his frame to handle getting bumped off his angle.

Fox’s ability to get into the paint is even more impressive when you consider just how far defenses played off of him; defenders would often slough off as far as the foul line when Fox had the ball beyond the arc. He puts pressure on a defense in a way that cannot be taught.

A good passer that doesn’t turn the ball over, Fox was good enough to make plays at the college level — he was excellent throwing lobs and finding bigs at the rim in Kentucky’s offense — but he could stand to develop the rest of his pick-and-roll game.

Defensively, Fox has the tools to be an above average defender in the NBA. He’s big, he’s long, he’s laterally quick, he has terrific anticipation and he has quick hands. When he’s engaged, he can be a nightmare when applying ball pressure. He wasn’t always engaged, however, and his lack of strength means that he would die on screens too often and struggled defending bigger, more physical players, but that will come with time.

De’Aaron Fox (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

WEAKNESSES: His jump shot.

That’s not the only area of the game that he struggles, mind you. He weighs all of 170 pounds, which is far too light for a player that is 6-foot-3. He’s heavily reliant on his left-hand, both when he’s attacking the rim and when he’s finishing around the bucket. His ability in the pick-and-roll needs to be expanded. He needs to continue to develop as a playmaker, particularly in the half court, as he has a habit of deciding what he wants to do before the play instead of reading a defense, and he can be somewhat inconsistent as a defender.

But that jumper, man.

That is what’s going to determine his future. We’ll get into that, but first, some numbers: Fox shot 24 percent from three this season. He was just 9-for-45 on catch-and-shoot opportunities this season and averaged 0.65 points-per-possession on pull-up jumpers, shooting 31 percent on the season.

Simply put, that’s not going to be good enough at the next level.

NBA COMPARISON: The obvious comparison here is John Wall, as I mentioned earlier. Another comparison that I’ve seen is Mike Conley, who isn’t quite as explosive as Fox but who has similar question marks about his jumper; Conley now has the largest contract in the NBA. That’s Fox’s ceiling. That’s why he has the chance to be a top three pick in this draft. That’s why there are people that would legitimately pick him over Lonzo Ball.

They’re doing that based on the idea that they’ll be able to teach Fox how to shoot. But what happens if they can’t? What happens if Fox, four years into his NBA career, is still shooting in the low-20s from three? Well, he’ll likely find himself following the career path of someone like Elfrid Payton, Kris Dunn or Michael Carter-Williams, lottery picks that were supposed to be two-way stars at the point in the NBA if they only learned how to shoot the ball.

OUTLOOK: There are two questions that we need to ask about Fox in the longterm.

The first is whether or not a point guard that is not a great shooter can be a starter, let alone a star, on a team with playoff aspirations, and the answer is probably not. Four playoff teams had starting point guards that shot under 35 percent from three this past season. One of them was Russell Westbrook, and he shot 34.3 percent from three and is disqualified from this discussion for not being human. One of them was Tony Parker, who, against, is disqualified because the Spurs are the Spurs. Wall was a third and the fourth was Dennis Schroder of Atlanta, who still made 34.0 percent from beyond the arc, a number that is vastly more impressive than the 24.6 percent that Fox shot from the college three point line.

Which leads us to the obvious second question: Is Fox’s jump shot beyond repair?

De’Aaron Fox (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

That question is trickier to answer. Let’s start here: Fox shot 73.6 percent from the free throw line this season, attempting nearly six per game. That’s typically a good sign. Free throws isolate form, and if Fox is hitting those, the thinking is, there’s a foundation to work with. And, frankly, most NBA people will tell you that Fox’s stroke isn’t quite as bad as the numbers will make you believe. In March, when Fox was at his healthiest, he made 55 percent of his pull-up jumpers and 36 percent of his spot-up jumpers in a half-court setting. He also shot 9-for-17 from three in the final month of the season. It’s a small sample size, yes, but it’s still an improvement.

Most people believe that all it takes is time and effort to improve player’s jump shot, and to a point that is true. Shooting is always going to be the easiest skill to develop — it’s hard to teach someone to see the floor, and you cannot make a player grow or get a longer wingspan no matter how hard you try — but if that player is shooting with a stroke that is broken, often times it won’t matter how many jumpers he takes in the offseason. For every Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry there is a Ricky Rubio or a Rajon Rondo.

So which is Fox?

Well, his stroke isn’t awful, but there is a lot of movement; he has a slingshot action in there where he releases the ball from the side of his head at times. Some scouts will tell you that the biggest issue with Fox is his confidence, that he missed a few early, it got in his head and, since no one could keep him out of the lane, he just drove as often as possible. Others will tell you that his shot is all arms and that he’ll be better when he gets into an NBA strength and conditioning program. Still others believe he’s just never going to be a good shooter.

Me?

I think he’ll be a capable three-point shooter in the NBA, somewhere in that 32-35% range, which will be enough to make him a starter on a playoff team but not enough for him to get into the conversation as one of the best point guards in the league.

Russell Westbrook set to learn if his historic season was an MVP one

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A year ago, uncertainty surrounded Russell Westbrook.

Kevin Durant stunned the league by leaving Oklahoma City for rival Golden State in free agency. The four-time scoring champion and former MVP had been the central piece in making the Thunder one of the league’s elite teams since the franchise’s move to Oklahoma City in 2008.

Westbrook had played his entire NBA career alongside Durant, so questions about how Westbrook would respond immediately cropped up.

He defiantly answered them with memorable performances.

Westbrook became the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62 to average a triple-double for a season and won his second scoring title. He broke Robertson’s single-season record with 42 triple-doubles and led the Thunder to the playoffs. Now, he will join Houston’s James Harden and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard as finalists for the league’s MVP award. The winner will be announced Monday at the inaugural NBA Awards show.

Westbrook gained satisfaction from the team’s success, which largely was fueled by his personal dominance.

“With everything happening last summer, people counted us out,” he said the day after Oklahoma City’s season ended. “They weren’t sure how many games we were going to win or how far we were going to go or whatever, but I think the group of guys, we never let that sink in our building. We stuck together, and that’s the thing I’m most proud about.”

Westbrook wasn’t just stat stuffing, either. The Thunder went 33-9 when he had a triple-double and 14-26 when he didn’t. He seemingly gained energy as the season progressed and was statistically better after the All-Star break than before. As for those late-game situations, he led the league with 10 points per game in the fourth quarter and was one of the most dynamic closers in the league.

Westbrook topped Robertson’s single-season, triple-double record on April 9 in Denver. His 36-foot game-winning dagger put the final touch on a 50-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist performance that eliminated the Nuggets from playoff contention.

Robertson himself showed up to the Thunder’s regular-season finale and endorsed Westbrook for the MVP award.

“What he has done has been historic in nature,” Robertson told the crowd that night. “He’s played with passion and pride and ability. It’s just outstanding what he has done and the way he did it.”

Durant might be the least surprised player in the league. Westbrook was dominant while Durant was out with a foot injury during the 2014-15 season and claimed his first scoring title, but it wasn’t clear if he could do it all – score, dominate the boards, consistently feed his teammates and come through in big moments – for an entire season.

Turns out, he could.

In the second game of the season, he had 51 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a victory over Phoenix, the first 50-point triple-double since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it in 1975. On March 27, he had 13 points in a 3-minute barrage to rally the Thunder past Dallas. Two days later in Orlando, he scored 57 points and posted the most points ever in a triple-double. He hit a deep 3-pointer to force overtime, and eventually helped the Thunder win. In one of his most memorable games, he scored 47 points in a loss to Durant’s Warriors.

Harden and Leonard also had MVP-caliber seasons:

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JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON

As stunning as Westbrook’s triple-double binge was this season, Harden’s was impressive, too.

He posted 22 triple-doubles and helped the Rockets finish with the league’s third-best record. Harden, known primarily as a scorer throughout his career, shifted from shooting guard to point guard and was nearly unstoppable in coach Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense.

Harden led the league with 11.2 assists per game and finished second with 29.1 points per contest. In perhaps his best performance, he had 53 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists against the New York Knicks on New Year’s Eve.

KAWHI LEONARD, SAN ANTONIO

Leonard is the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s up for the honor again.

Yet, it was the 6-foot-7 forward’s offensive improvement that put him in the mix for the MVP award. He averaged 25.5 points this season after averaging 21.2 the previous year.

Leonard helped the Spurs finish with the league’s second-best record. He seemed to play as the stage got bigger.

He opened the season with a career-high 35 points in a blowout win over the Warriors. Leonard upped that career high with 41 points in a win over Cleveland on Jan. 21, and he dropped 39 points in a victory over Houston on March 6.

 

New Jordan brand ad asks: Could Kawhi score on Kawhi?

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Kawhi Leonard is the NBA’s best perimeter defender right now.

Kawhi Leonard is the cornerstone of the seventh best offense in the NBA last season, averaging 25.5 points per game.

He’s a dominant force on both ends, which leads to the question from this fantastic new ad from the Jordan brand:

Could Kawhi score on Kawhi?

Report: Minnesota “intent” on trading Ricky Rubio to get more shooting

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It’s easy to look at the trio of Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota now and think “that team will make the playoffs next season and be a contender in a few years.” They have set themselves up for that potential run.

But with those three on the floor, Minnesota needs shooters at the other two spots to provide spacing. Butler may have hit 36.7 percent of his threes last season, but he is far more dangerous as a slasher getting to the rim. Same with Wiggins (who shot 35 percent from three). Obviously, Towns operates around the basket. The defensive strategy against the Timberwolves is not hard to envision: Pack the paint and make them shoot over the top of you. Take away the inside.

Minnesota needs shooters. To get that they are dangling Ricky Rubio, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rubio should have value, and he makes a reasonable $14.3 million next season and $15 million the one after (a fair price for a point guard of his quality). He remains one of the best passers in the league, a guy with amazing court vision. He’s also one of the better defensive point guards in the NBA. He shot the ball well after the All-Star break last season (35.3 percent from three) and was more aggressive getting his shot, but Tom Thibodeau is clearly not sold that’s a permanent change.

Minnesota has some cap space and could chase a player like Patty Mills at the point or Kyle Korver as a free agent to give them shooting, plus try to trade Rubio. They have options, although they don’t have the money to chase the J.J. Redicks of the world.

If you hear of a shooter being available, know that Thibodeau is lurking, trying to land him.

Report: Cavaliers, Nuggets, Pacers three-way trade involving Paul George “very unlikely”

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We knew back on the night of the draft that as the Cavaliers desperately looked for a way to pry Paul George out of Indiana, they started involving third teams in the talks (because Indy had no interest in Kevin Love for Paul George straight up, not should they). Phoenix was involved, but that fizzled. So did talks involving Denver.

But those latter ones didn’t die the night of the draft, according to reports that came out over the weekend. Denver, Cleveland, and Indiana were still talking about a three-team deal that would land Love in Denver and George in Cleveland. The challenge for Cleveland was finding the combination of young players and draft picks that Indiana wants in a deal — Indy is rumored to want a lottery pick (preferably high lottery) and a young player or players.

Now that Denver three-team is “very unlikely” to happen, according to Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

As first reported by ESPN, the Cavs engaged the Nuggets as a possible third team to facilitate a trade for the All-Star George on draft night, but a source said the discussion was “nothing serious” and “very unlikely” to happen now…

The Nuggets had the No. 13 pick in Thursday’s draft and traded it to Utah for Trey Lyles — obviously giving up on getting Love, at least for the time being.

Indiana would have wanted the No. 13 pick, because future Dever picks are likely to be outside of the lottery as this is a team poised to make a leap into the playoffs, with Nikola Jokic leading them. As for players, Denver had shot down all requests for Jamal Murray. Indiana likely asked for Gary Harris, but if Murray was off-limits then Harris likely was as well. Emmanuel Mudiay was available but that wasn’t going to get the job done.

Denver likes its roster and what it’s building. While Love could have been an upgrade over Danilo Gallinari‘s role, it wasn’t enough to get them to break up the team to make it happen. And that ultimately has been Cleveland’s challenge in getting a deal done — Love isn’t commanding as much as they hoped on the trade market.

In the same article, Varden has an update on Cleveland’s discussions with Chauncey Billups about becoming the president of basketball operations.

The Cavs are still in discussions with Chauncey Billups to lead Cleveland’s front office after the departure of David Griffin. They’re also remaining active in the trade market, with a host of remaining front-office personnel, including Koby Altman, an assistant GM under Griffin, working the phones.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, speaking on the Lowe Post podcast with Zach Lowe, said Billups is weighing a lot of things, on and off the court, in making a complex decision. He likes living in Denver (his hometown) as does his family, and with his television schedule, he can be home a lot. On the other hand, he knows the importance and need for more African-American executives in the NBA had how important it could be for him to be in that role. There’s no easy answer for Billups.

The lesson here should be one for Dan Gilbert (and other owners): If you are going to fire a GM right before the draft and the start of free agency, you must have a replacement ready to go. Plan B has to be set. To fire a guy not having that plan, then go searching right before a critical off-season for your team, is how long-struggling teams operate.