Tag: Evan Fournier

Ty Lawson

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 season preview: Denver Nuggets


Last season: Be warned, you could get injured just reading this paragraph. Coming off a 57-win season hopes were high but Danilo Gallinari never played a game, instead needing a second knee surgery to clean up the first one. JaVale McGee played in just five games after a stress fracture to his tibia. Wilson Chandler, Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson each missed at least 20 games due to injury. Those injuries meant fluctuating rotations, which on top of a new coach and new system under Brian Shaw created issues, particularly defensively. The result is a 36 win team that misses the playoffs.

Signature highlight from last season: In some ways this sums up the Nuggets halfcourt offense last season: Down two to the Clippers with time for one last shot the Nuggets don’t really have a go-to guy so they run a play — which more teams should do, but this play lacks urgency and execution, and so it falls to Randy Foye to take a deep three over Blake Griffin. Of course, in this case he drains it.

Key player changes: Frankly, the biggest change will just be getting Gallinari and McGee back in the lineup. Denver made one really nice free agent addition this summer, trading for Arron Afflalo who had an All-Star level year in Orlando (and giving up on the potential of Evan Fournier in the deal). Also added to the roster is a rookie showing a lot of potential in Gary Harris, plus Alonzo Gee, Erick Green, and another rookie in Jusuf Nurkic.

Gone from the roster besides Fournier are Aaron Brooks, Anthony Randolph, and Jan Vesely.

Keys to the Nuggets’ season:

The defense must get better. Last season, despite all the injuries, the Nuggets had a solid offense (middle of the NBA pack) but their bottom-10 defense was the big issue. With the return of Gallinari and the addition of Afflalo the Nuggets offense should be better than average, more than that it should be good. Maybe very good. But all of that doesn’t matter if they can’t get stops. The return of JaVale McGee to protect the paint is potentially a big step forward. However it’s going to take more than that — the Nuggets pick-and-roll defense last season was a weakness and it’s got to improve. It’s going to take Shaw putting in a consistent system, getting full buy in from the players, someone stepping up to be a good perimeter stopper, and guys like Kenneth Faried improving on the defensive end in a way he hasn’t before. The Nuggets fancy themselves a playoff team in the West, but if it’s going to happen it has to happen on this end of the floor.

Improvement in the halfcourt offense. What the Nuggets are built to do is run — Lawson is a fantastic scorer and creator in transition, Afflalo and Gallinari can space the floor and knock down shots, while bigs like Faried, McGee and J.J. Hickson are amazing rim runners. When the tempo is up the Nuggets are hard to beat. When the tempo slows… not so much. If the Nuggets want to make the playoffs they are going to need to score in the halfcourt more consistently. Again, Afflalo and Gallinari should help here, but Shaw has to put in a system and guys need to execute it, because good teams are going to try to slow the ball down vs. Denver. And the West is loaded with good teams.

A breakout season for Kenneth Faried. We saw the best of what Faried can do during the World Cup — energy is a skill (to quote David Thorpe, among others) and Faried brings that more than any other player in the league. That energy and effort can be a glue. Faried brings a ferociousness on the boards, and when the team gets out and runs he can bring points in transition. Faried was a glue for a Team USA roster that was already loaded with scorers and didn’t need his points (so defenses almost ignored him at first, allowing him to get points). The Nuggets have plenty of guys who can score but Faried is not going to be ignored in the same way, yet he needs to bring a new bounce to his step from that Spanish experience this summer and push this team to another level. Faried is not your first (or second) offensive option in a halfcourt set, he’s not a lockdown defender, but what he brings can lift the rest of the Nuggets up to a new level. He has to bring that every night for them to make the playoffs.

Why you should watch the Nuggets: They played at the third fastest pace in the NBA last season and Brian Shaw wants his team to run more — and when they run there are few teams more fun to watch. Ty Lawson is underrated both as a point guard and on the entertainment scale. Plus, they will have one of the best bench units in the league.

Prediction: 44-38, which will be about the 10 seed in the West and just outside the playoffs. This is going to be a bounce back year for the Nuggets in a lot of ways, they are going to be much better than last season just by being healthy again. Whether or not they make the playoffs really comes down to how well they defend, they will be better than the bad defensive team they were a year ago but I’m not sold it will change enough to make the playoffs in the loaded West. That said, if some of those good teams in the West suffer injuries or slip up more than expected, the Nuggets will be there ready to pounce and grab one of those playoff spots. It’s possible (especially with their depth and second unit) and should be their goal, I just can’t see them getting all the way there this year.

Magic guard Victor Oladipo sprains MCL

Victor Oladipo

What are the Magic doing to their MCLs?

Orlando’s top offseason acquisition, Channing Frye, sprained his.

And so has the Magic’s top returner, Victor Oladipo.

As discovered when researching Frye’s injury, four to six weeks is a rough guess for how much time Oladipo will miss. That would obviously carry into the regular season and could mean bigger roles for Evan Fournier and Ben Gordon.

The Magic can afford injuries this season. They’re almost assuredly headed near the top of the lottery again, regardless.

But hopefully this won’t adversely affect Oladipo’s athleticism long-term. He could be one of the NBA’s most exciting players, though that requires him running and jumping at his previously high levels.

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 preview: Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic Media Day

Last season: The goal was to play the young guys a lot, and by that measure there was some success. Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic each played more than 31 minutes a game, Tobias Harris more than 30 (all when healthy, of course). However, if you judge success by wins, well, it was a rough year as the Magic had just 23 of those with a -5.5 points per 100 possessions net rating (6th worst in the league). The real issue was the offense which put up just 99.3 points per 100 possessions, second worst in the NBA. But since last season was about development, at least there was some of that.

Signature highlight from last season: We could have gone with the Tobias Harris dunk to beat OKC, but if you’re into hope for the future in Orlando, it has to be Victor Oladipo shutting down Damian Lillard on the break (one of a lot of great blocks he had last season).

Offseason moves: The Magic shook up the roster. Gone are veterans Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo (as well as E’Twaun Moore, Doran Lamb and Jason Maxiell), who were the heart of what was the Magic’s offense last season.

Drafted: Aaron Gordon with the No. 4 pick, then they traded with Philadelphia to get point guard Elfrid Payton, the No. 10 pick (they gave Philadelphia No. 12 pick Dario Saric in the deal).

Free agent signings: Two surprises on this front, Channing Frye chose Orlando over other options and Ben Gordon signed for $9 million over two years. Both of those guys are as much trade bait as anything else (especially Gordon at that price). Orlando also added Luke Ridnour as the backup point guard and Evan Fournier can play the two off the bench.

Keys to the Magic season:

Victor Oladipo developing at the two guard. Hopefully the drafting of Payton means the “Oladipo as point guard” experiment is over. It may have been worth a shot (and he can handle a little at the two) but not every experiment works out. This didn’t, so the Magic drafted a pure point guard in Payton (don’t be shocked if Ridnour is the starting point guard opening night but Payton takes the job mid-season). Now Oladipo is at the two and needs to show he can work off the ball, shoot better than 32 percent from three (his number last season), and generally become more of a scorer. As a point guard he seemed to think and hesitate, hopefully a move to his natural position and a year of experience changes that and he just attacks. The question remains what kind of player he can develop into, and I’m on board with the Tony Allen comparisons — a lock down defender who can knock down a three and get you some points. Oladipo could be more than that on offense, but he has work to do on that end to get there.

Where do the points come from? Arron Afflalo isn’t really cut out to be a No. 1 option in the league (he’s a much better fit in the Denver team concept) but he still provided an efficient 18.2 points a night. Jameer Nelson, for all his flaws, knows how to run a team and create scoring opportunities off the pick-and-roll. They’re both gone. The Magic don’t have a go-to scoring option on this roster, and it’s safe to say they are not going to have Spurs-like ball movement to create looks. Ridnour and hopefully Payton can create some looks, Oladipo will be asked to step up, Frye and Fournier can knock down some threes. But once again this team is going to struggle to score.

Defensive improvement must continue. This is the side of the ball that kept Orlando in games last season, it’s clearly a priority in their choosing of players — they can’t let things slide back on the defensive end of the floor. The Magic were already a middle of the pack defensive team last season (18th in points allowed per possession) but by drafting Payton and Gordon they clearly made defense the priority (Gordon in particular has a raw offensive game). While the offense will struggle if the Magic can continue to improve in the defensive end they will be making progress.

Can Jacque Vaughn coach these guys up, can he develop them? When the Magic hired Vaughn as coach it was with the understanding that he was going to lose a lot of games the first few years and there was nothing he could really do about it. This is a player development job, similar to what Brett Brown has in Philadelphia. The question is: Are the players making enough development? We’ll get some good tests this year as we see how Oladipo progresses, plus how Vucevic and Harris do in the year before they become restricted free agents. We’re not going to see a lot of wins in Orlando, but we should really start to see some of the development that the franchise has banked on.

Why you should watch the Magic: This is one very athletic team and they will make some entertaining plays. With Frye and Maurice Harkless and Fournier out there knocking down threes it should open up driving lanes for Harris and Oladipo. Gordon is going to throw down some dunks. Plus the Magic have played hard for Vaughn and that should continue.

Prediction: 29-53 and in the lottery again. Which is kind of the plan, the Magic are on the slow rebuild process and while they do have some real nice young talent on the roster nobody expects it to fully blossom this season. That said there are big questions that need to be answered this season, specifically with Vucevic and Harris as they will be restricted free agents next summer (unless an unlikely extension deal is reached before Halloween) and there’s the question of how much to pay them. Vucevic is going to draw interest from other teams, Orlando has to figure out what he’s worth to them. His play this season impacts his future payday.

This season will be rough in Orlando, the Southeast Division has gotten pretty tough with Washington, Charlotte, Miami and Atlanta all likely playoff teams. The Magic are going to finish last in the division again.

Serbia holds off furious French comeback, wins to advance to gold medal game vs. USA

Milos Teodosic, Rudy Gobert

Nobody was expecting Serbia to be here.

They had to beat Italy in the seventh place game at EuroBasket last summer to even qualify for this summer’s World Cup. When they got to Spain this summer in pool play where they were a pedestrian 2-3 and not looking like a team to fear.

Now they are in the gold medal game. Sometimes what matters is getting hot at the right time.

Friday in the other World Cup semi-final Serbia raced out to a huge lead behind guard Milos Teodosic, who finished with 24 points and was a game high +25, then held off a Nicolas Batum-led French charge (the Trail Blazer had 35 points).

Serbia hit their free throws down the stretch and picked up a 90-85 win to advance to the gold medal game Sunday against Team USA (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Serbia will be overmatched and a huge underdog against the USA in that game, but they do a couple of things that could give the Americans trouble.

That all starts with Teodosic on the pick-and-roll (he’s good and long resisted NBA overtures). He is a crafty, smart point guard who can read how the team plays the high pick — Serbia has the big roll hard to the rim and spreads the court with three shooters — then he can pull up and knock down the shot or make the smart pass.

France didn’t know how to handle him. Against Spain in their previous game France’s pick-and-roll coverage was spot on, with bigs showing and recovering with precision. That defense held Spain to 52 points —Teodosic and Serbia were scoring at will early.

Serbia went on a 10-0 first quarter run to go up 20-10 early and from their they kept stretching the lead out. Serbia’s guards were making plays and shots, plus they as a team were getting out and running. Serbia was up 14 at the half and held a double digit lead through the third, seeming to coast in for the win.

Then France got hot on offense.

The French offense had been pedestrian most of this World Cup — they miss Tony Parker — but behind Batum hitting every ridiculous shot you can think of, they closed the gap slowly but surely. He got help from the Spurs’ Boris Diaw (13 points) and the Magic’s Evan Fournier (10).

Still, it felt like Serbia’s big man Miroslav Raduljica (last season of the Bucks) fumbled a post entry pass right up into the basket.

The French would not quit and were down 3 and had the ball with 17.7 seconds left — and Serbia fouled to prevent the three. In the NBA there is a debate about fouling late up three, in Europe they do it early and often. It worked, the French guard missed his second free throw, then it became a free throw game that Serbia won.

It’s an amazing result for Serbia, it’s been a great run. They should be proud of the silver medal they will go home with.

Which NBA team has best under-23 players?

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams

The Bucks finished an NBA-worst 15-67 last season.

Being bad stinks, but it’s a lot worse when you’re trying to be good. That’s why Milwaukee’s season was much more problematic than that of the 76ers, who went a similar 19-63.

But the Bucks realized the hole they’re in, so now they’re truly rebuilding. And owner Marc Lasry thinks they’re doing a good job.

Is Lasry right? Do the Bucks really have the best collection of players under age 23?

Here’s how I rate the NBA’s top dozen teams by the collective value of their under-23 players:

12. Thunder

  • Jeremy Lamb
  • Steven Adams
  • Perry Jones
  • Andre Roberson
  • Mitch McGary
  • Josh Huestis
  • Grant Jerrett
  • Semaj Christon

This is a deep group of players who could become long-term NBA starters, but Adams is the only one I think gets there. Still, there’s a lot of talent between McGary, Lamb and even Jones. And maybe Roberson, who has a knack for doing the little things, ends up better than all three.

11. Raptors

  • Jonas Valanciunas
  • Lucas Nogueira
  • Bruno Caboclo
  • DeAndre Daniels

Valanciunas is on track to become an All-Star, but there’s no guarantee he gets there and he’s the only under-23 Raptor of significant value. It’s not ideal to put all your eggs in one basket.

10. Hornets

  • Bismack Biyombo
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • Cody Zeller
  • Noah Vonleh
  • P.J. Hairston

This list includes multiple players – Vonleh, Kidd-Gilchrist and Biyombo – I know I’m higher on than most. So, I struggled to rank Charlotte, and I’m not sure whether I overcompensated or undercompensated for my personal preferences. Zeller really looked more comfortable late last season, and between him and Vonleh, I think the Bobcats have a strong future at power forward.

9. Jazz

  • Enes Kanter
  • Trey Burke
  • Rudy Gobert
  • Dante Exum
  • Rodney Hood

Burke and Exum could each become one of the NBA’s better guards, though it’s unclear whether they can reach that level together. Kanter hasn’t panned out as hoped, though it’s soon to close the book on him. Gobert, as Zach Lowe of Grantland detailed, has intriguing upside, though he didn’t play much last season. Essentially, it’s easy to find reasons for optimism, but just as easy to find reasons for pessimism.

8. Wizards

  • Bradley Beal
  • Otto Porter

It might not be long until Beal is the NBA’s best shooting guard, and though I don’t think he ever hits that level, he’s still very good. Porter had a rough rookie year, but I’m not giving up him yet.

7. Magic

  • Tobias Harris
  • Maurice Harkless
  • Victor Oladipo
  • Evan Fournier
  • Aaron Gordon
  • Elfrid Payton
  • Roy Devyn Marble

Outside of Oladipo, I’m not that high on any of these players – and I’m not even totally, absolutely, 100 percent sold on Oladipo. But it’s a deep collection of young talent, and I bet at least one other player emerges as quality.

6. Timberwolves

  • Shabazz Muhammad
  • Anthony Bennett
  • Andrew Wiggins
  • Zach LaVine
  • Glenn Robinson III

Wiggins has incredible potential. He went No. 1 in a loaded draft, after all. LaVine has tremendous upside, but he’s extremely raw. Maybe Bennett, who was awful last season, capitalizes on his impressive summer and turns around his career.

5. Bucks

  • Brandon Knight
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Jabari Parker
  • Damien Inglis
  • Johnny O’Bryant III

Lasry’s Bucks didn’t quite make it to the top spot. There’s a major disconnect between Antetokounmpo current production (not great) and potential (great), and I want to see more from him before I’m convinced he’ll bridge that gap. I would have taken Parker No. 1 in the draft, though I essentially viewed him and Wiggins as a tossup. Knight made major strides next year, and I’m interested to see whether he continues progressing as he settles into a larger role.

4. Pistons

  • Andre Drummond
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  • Tony Mitchell
  • Spencer Dinwiddie

Drummond is a singular force individually lifting Detroit so high on this list. Underrated for what he already does, Drummond has potential to become the NBA’s top center – and it’s not a far climb. Caldwell-Pope, who could be a nice 3&D threat next to Drummond, boosts the Pistons, too.

3. Cavaliers

  • Kyrie Irving
  • Dion Waiters
  • Joe Harris
  • Alex Kirk

Irving is already a two-time All-Star, a true offensive game-changer. I think his defense could come around to at least competent now that Cleveland is ready to win. I’m not big on Waiters, but he has talent, and the Cavaliers are here due to Irving anyway.

2. 76ers

  • Michael Carter-Williams
  • Tony Wroten
  • Nerlens Noel
  • Joel Embiid
  • Dario Saric
  • K.J. McDaniels
  • Jerami Grant
  • Pierre Jackson
  • Adonis Thomas

Carter-Williams just won Rookie of the Year, and he’s a good athlete with great size for his position. Noel, for my money, was the best prospect in the 2013 draft ignoring his injury. We’ll soon see how much that affected him long-term. Embiid would have gone No. 1 in this draft if healthy. And Saric has impressed in the World Cup. The 76ers might be years away, but I like where they’re going.

1. Pelicans

  • Anthony Davis
  • Austin Rivers
  • Patric Young

Davis is just that good. He could be the NBA’s third-best player as soon as this season, so if you can get him, you do. Worry about depth or hedging bets later. Davis is the real deal.