NBA Offseason 2017: Under-the-radar ramifications of this summer's big moves
A look at the effects you might not immediately think about when you look at stars changing uniforms
NBA offseason moves are winding to a close, and while drama surrounds trade situations of major chess pieces Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving, the board is largely set for the 2017-18 season. The offseason has been straight-up wild with many All-Stars changing uniforms over a two-month span.
But while we wonder how Chris Paul will impact James Harden, or how Karl-Anthony Towns will adapt to Jimmy Butler, these moves have ripple effects. Games are not won or lost solely on the back of stars (OK, maybe in Cleveland most of the time, but still) and player movement always has less-obvious ramifications.
Here are some under-the-radar consequences of the summe's big moves.
Chris Paul to Houston
The mid-range effect: There has been a fair amount of discussion about this, and it's important. The Rockets have defined themselves by valuing layups/dunks and 3-pointers, along with drawing fouls, while eschewing mid-range shots. The mid-range jumper is the game's least-efficient shot, combining the lowest conversion rate and one fewer point than shots beyond the arc.
Mike D'Antoni said CP3's mid-range shots are "the exception to the rule." But it could be awkward if Paul is the only Rocket empowered to make that decision. Going for the pull-up mid-range jumper is an instinct most players train themselves to avoid. Enable Paul to do it, and there could be adverse effects to the formula central to the Rockets' offense. Will D'Antoni bend these rules? Can the team afford to have only one guy authorized to take those shots?
Capela up? Clint Capela was a certifiable weapon last season. The attention teams paid to Harden in the pick-and-roll and the Rockets' perimeter game meant that he had all sorts of lob opportunities and put-back chances. There are two ways it goes with Capela (assuming he isn't included in a Carmelo Anthony trade).
First: Paul not only is another pick-and-roll play-maker, but also one of the best passers in the league. Big men like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan have flourished on lobs from Paul. The extra defensive attention Paul draws, plus his willingness to make plays, means Capela could get more opportunities.
Second: If Paul's usage rate takes up more opportunities and the Rockets keep bombing 3s, Capela could see fewer touches. This is part of the risk with Paul. He's a phenomenal play-maker but he's also less prone to functional, rote mechanics, meaning he could find options beyond Capela out of the pick and roll. Capela will still defend at a high level, but touches matter to players, and you want balance. Speaking of ...
Defensive upgrade: Everyone is talking about offense regarding CP3, but this also is a significant defensive bump. Patrick Beverley, one of the players dealt for Paul, is one of the league's best on-ball defenders, a ferocious, quick-swiping Tasmanian devil who gives nightmares to even the best ball handlers. But off the ball, he tends to lose focus. Beverley's defense away from the ball vs. the Spurs in the playoffs was a major issue as Tony Parker, Patty Mills and Dejounte Murray would lose him by sprinting off off-ball screens. Paul is more locked in and able to call out defensive assignments while staying attached. If his athleticism doesn't slide because of age (he's 32), this is a big bump given the kinds of guards they'll face in the playoffs.
Paul George to Oklahoma City
Screen assists a-plenty: George is one of the league's best players when it comes to scoring off screens. He was in the 68th percentile in scoring off screens last season via Synergy Sports with a rough Indiana roster, and it made up most of his possessions. Steven Adams was 16th in what are called "screen assists," but OKC was fifth from the bottom in screen assists per game. That should go up with George on board, but it will require some changes.
Roberson alleviation: Andre Roberson's poor shooting has always created a spacing drain. One of the game's best perimeter defenders, Roberson shot 24.5 percent from 3-point range last season, and opponents often leave him open to help out defensively. George is a player who demands a double-team. That won't make Roberson a better shooter, but George's ability to score when defended will give Roberson more angles to cut to the rim, where he can be effective. That will keep Roberson on the court more, a no-brainer because of his defense.
Super-switchability: Switching on defense came into vogue two years ago when the Warriors started switching everything (switching defensive assignments on screens on or off the ball). But a lot of teams have failed or struggled with the strategy because they don't have the right personnel. For example, you can't effectively switch everything with slow-footed Enes Kanter.
But the arrival of George makes it a lot easier. Victor Oladipo was smaller and less effective on bigger players. With George on the floor along with free-agent addition Patrick Patterson, the Thunder will be able to switch effectively 1-5 in most situations. Westbrook's defense remains a problem, but they'll have a lot more options at the defensive end next season.
Jimmy Butler to Minnesota
Staying home is easier: The Wolves were 28th in spot-up defense last season, via Synergy Sports. They often over-helped, trying to prevent one-on-one breakdowns which led to open looks. With Butler, that will go down. He will guard and contain his man on the ball and help appropriately off it, making everyone else's job easier.
A Bjelica resurgence: Nemanja Bjelica showed some good things his first two seasons, though the 29-year-old's shooting fell off a cliff last season (38.4 percent from 3 in 2015-16, compared to 31.6 percent last season). If he's unable to recover, he will have a hard time finding minutes. But he'll benefit as much as anyone from the spacing Butler's presence provides.
Gordon Hayward to Boston
Crowder durability: With Hayward on board, Jae Crowder is going to see more time at power forward, especially with Amir Johnson gone. That might be a fine defensive assignment for the 6-foot-6 Crowder in today's small-ball NBA, but it's also a lot of wear and tear when matched up vs. bigger opponents. Crowder can operate as a stretch four and be effective, but he has also struggled with staving off injuries.
Smart moves: Marcus Smart may start at the two with Avery Bradley moved to Detroit (or it could be Marcus Morris or Jaylen Brown). Smart will see some more opportunities with Hayward on the floor. He won't have to operate as much as a spot-up shooter, which is fortunate because Smart can't shoot (career 42.8 effective FG percentage). And in combination with Hayward in a 1-3 pick-and-roll, Smart will provide real challenges for opponents given Smart's athleticism and strength in drawing fouls.
Rozier times: Terry Rozier was going to see more minutes after a great postseason, and Bradley's departure frees up minutes. Not only that, but Hayward's ability to run the offense at point forward benefits Rozier, who's best used to make specific plays off the ball rather than as a floor general. Hayward will cover for his weaknesses while boosting his strengths, and that's before Jayson Tatum's bench role provides a pick-and-pop weapon to open more opportunities. Expect a big season for Rozier.
Paul Millsap to Denver
Wilson's volleys: Wilson Chandler is set to get a big boost from the Nuggets' offseason moves. With Danilo Gallinari off to the Clippers and Millsap in as the full-time power forward, Chandler will get more consistent minutes and more minutes at small forward, an easier assignment that makes the most of his talent. Chandler is an effective power forward, but his size (6-8, 225 pounds), athleticism and scoring ability are more conducive to playing the three. Chandler also will benefit from being the go-to ISO option late in the clock, as neither Millsap nor Nikola Jokic fill that role particularly well.
Murray challenges: Jamal Murray will get an opportunity to earn the starting point guard spot in training camp. A player who has always faced questions about whether he's a point guard may have to manage a team with two great big men. Nikola Jokic is the central point of play-making, so Murray wouldn't be the main facilitator. Between Jokic and Millsap, that also means he might not have the ball in his hands much. Is he ready for that kind of responsibility, to be a major weapon without controlling the ball?
Something has to give: Here are the players who would be at least part-timers at power forward: Millsap, Kenneth Faried, Chandler, Trey Lyles, Darrell Arthur, Juan Hernangomez (part-time) and rookie Tyler Lydon. That's six rotation-worthy power forwards.
Here's the list of their small forwards: Chandler, Hernangomez, Will Barton (part-time). That's about it. If Chandler misses any time, they're down to Hernangomez or a small-ball Barton rotation. That's trouble.
And here are their centers: Jokic, Mason Plumlee if they re-sign him, Faried (part-time)
They need to make a deal to clean up their roster clutter.
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