League Pass Lust
This post is one half of a home-and-home series I did with Brian Geltzeiler of HoopsCritic. We each picked five players we’re really excited to watch on League Pass this season. His list is below, mine is posted at his site. You can find Brian on Twitter, @hoopscritic.
Every year during the tail end of October, right around Halloween, I become a kid in a candy store all over again. It’s the dawn of a new NBA season and I give my thumb an Olympic quality work out for the next 6 months. Those 6 months, NBA League Pass becomes a daily staple in my life (except for some Thursdays). Last year, during Super Storm Sandy, I found myself fine without necessities like power and running water, but if my hot spot malfunctioned or my IPad wasn’t charged so I could watch games, I would have a panic attack that would make a Tony Soprano panic attack seem mild.
Like anyone else, I have my favorite players to watch play. I can never say that I love guys. It’s more like lust. The feelings can be strong, but they can also be fleeting. Here are the five guys I’m really looking forward to watching play as we get closer to the 2013-2014 season.
John Wall – Washington Wizards
Wall came into the NBA as a one-and-done college player, so his erratic, undisciplined play in his early years was to be expected. However, we’ve now arrived at the point where it’s time for the rubber to meet the road. The Wizards chose to sign him to a max contract extension and build their franchise around him for the next 5 years. Incidentally, this is a decision that I totally agree with. Wall has shown them enough and they’re at a point in their development where they have to take a shot with him.
Wall is a dazzlingly fun player to watch with his speed and his frenetic style. Of course, many aspects of that style lend itself to poor efficiency. He still has a turnover issue, even though it improved last season. Wall is a poor 3 point shooter, but has had the discipline to keep those attempts to a minimum. For Wall to be the lead dog on a playoff team, both of those have to change. He needs to work on his shooting behind the arc so he can confidently take more shots from there.
If his abbreviated 3rd year (last season) serves as an indication, Wall is on his way. He decreased his turnover % and increased his assist rate with an appreciably higher usage rate. He also seemed to start to grasp the concept of being a high effort, disruptive defensive player. Wall is a heck of a good young player and a blast to watch, but the compelling theater is whether he can maintain the steady upward course of his current learning curve.
Even though Davis missed a bunch of time with an injury, he certainly made a decent case for Rookie of the Year (which ultimately went to Damian Lillard). Davis had a high efficiency season offensively with an above average usage rate. Although he wasn’t the rebounder he was in college, he was certainly respectable. He also had a good year defensively, yet was not the dominant shot blocker he was in college or was expected to be in the NBA.
That last point is what makes Davis such an intriguing player to watch for this season. Davis has the ability to be an elite rim protector in the Larry Sanders (hey now) mold. He can also use his freakishly long arms to be disruptive on the perimeter in smaller match ups and pick-and-roll coverage. With the changes the Pelicans have made in the off season, they are relying on Davis to be a dominant defensive presence. Their best 5 players are Davis, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Jrue Holiday. For the exception of Holiday, I wouldn’t let any of the three others besides Davis guard my spot on line at the bank. The high level that the Pelicans are going to demand out of Davis may make him must-see TV.
Ricky Rubio – Minnesota Timberwolves
Rubio was one of my League Pass crushes in his rookie year, 2011-2012. Regardless of how well or poorly Rubio played, it was almost a guarantee that he’d do something visually spectacular on a fast break or more likely through a high degree of difficulty pass. Then Rubio blew out his knee and the show was temporarily over.
Rubio returned last year and it took some time for him to get his legs back underneath him. Furthermore, the team around him was decimated by injuries. Rubio wasn’t as exciting to watch yet he was still able to make his game moderately more efficient. However, the underlying flaw in Rubio’s game remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
Rubio’s shooting continues to be substandard. He’s now over one year removed from knee surgery and is expected to quarterback a playoff quality team. The Timberwolves spent a lot of money to shore up their wing spots with the signings of Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, and Corey Brewer. They’ve been building towards this for a while. Highlight-level passing and dribbling is not going to be enough. Even his above-average defense isn’t going to do it. He’s going to need to cut down on his turnovers. And he’s going to need to improve his shooting. A true shooting percentage under 50% and an effective field goal percentage under 40% is not going to cut it. It will no doubt be fun to watch Rubio pass and dribble. However, what will renew our love affair will be a few big ticks up in Rubio’s shooting percentages because that will be a big factor in Minnesota realizing their very tangible playoff dreams.
In Golden State’s very fun playoff run of this past season, the name that rolled off everyone’s tongue was that of emerging star point guard Stephen Curry. Don’t get me wrong. Curry was terrific. However, the playoff experience may have accelerated the learning curve a lot more for Curry’s backcourt mate, 6’7” wing player, Klay Thompson.
During the playoffs, Golden State head coach Mark Jackson referred to Curry and Thompson as the best shooting backcourt in NBA history, which is like saying that the fat kid from Two and a Half Men is the best television actor in history, but I digress. Thompson is a great shooter making over 40% of his three-point tries in both the regular season and the playoffs. He’s also starting to emerge as a disruptive defensive player; a long lean athlete who uses his arms well and has good instincts in passing lanes. He is a good player right now, but he can be so much more.
It’s going to be interesting to watch Thompson and see if he plugs up the holes in his game and becomes a more complete player. He needs to move his feet better playing defense on-the-ball and he has a big turnover problem. He averaged 1.8 turnovers per game in the regular season and increased that number to 2.0 per game in the playoffs. Plus, for an athlete like Thompson, he needs to go the basket more and convert better in the paint. He is eminently guardable at this stage of his career because he’s not as strong as he should be in putting the ball on the floor and going to the basket. It’s also going to be interesting to see if the addition of Andre Iguodala to play wing opposite him is going to help Thompson or hurt him. My suspicion is that it will help Thompson not to have the most difficult wing matchup defensively on a regular basis, but there will certainly be adjustments on the offensive end, namely the ability for defenses to play off Igoudala because if he threw a bag of garbage off a pier, he couldn’t hit the water. If Thompson can make some of these changes, he has a chance to elevate himself to being a star. At the young age of 23, there’s so much upside.
Butler is a hard player for me not to love. First of all, his story is touching and inspiring. His work ethic is second to none and his workmanlike style of play is the kind of thing that makes me salivate like Pavlov’s dog. Butler embodies everything that I admire in a basketball player. Sure, he has talent, but there are others with plenty more. However, Butler gets every ounce out of his talent.
With the Bulls decimated with injuries in last year’s playoffs, their head coach Tom Thibodeau called on Butler to carry a huge load as his lead wing defender. He responded like a champ. Butler had a stretch of games between the Brooklyn series and the Miami series where he went the full 48 minutes in 5 of 7 games. Plus, he did as good a job defending Lebron James as you will ever see anyone do. All this is great reason to not only watch Butler, but to root for him. Yet, I think there can be so much more.
Butler has the potential and with his work ethic, the likelihood of being one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league, another entry in the class of Tony Allen and Paul George. Plus, Butler has improved his shooting a lot and there’s no reason to believe that Butler can’t be a 40% three point shooter after elevating that number to 38% last year and hitting 40% in the playoffs. If Butler can develop a more creative offensive repertoire off the bounce, with his shooting, he can also be a lethal offensive player.
As good as Butler was in last year’s playoffs, his ceiling could be one of the best kept secrets going into this NBA season.