Friday, July 6, 2012

LAKER NEEDS

So in the advent of getting Steve Nash, the Lakers get an excellent three point shooter and arguably the best playmaker in the league, qualities that should stop opposing teams from packing the paint and daring the Lakers to shoot. However, despite his greatness and competitiveness, Nash exacerbates some of the Lakers' problems, namely their youth and an athleticism deficit. Also, the Lakers still need to replenish their bench--so they need proven bench production--and more three point shooting, preferably a specialist on the offensive end, to help space the floor. Also, the Lakers don't gain anything in steals by adding Nash--a team that has near the end in steals last year, they sorely need to address that. Preferably, a youngish, athletic, productive player who can shoot the ball really well from deep and steal the ball is ideal. That sounds awfully like Paul George. Obviously, he's unattainable. The Lakers probably cannot find a player through free agency who can knock down all four holes--but, even if they knock down three or even two simultaneously it would help a lot. With that in mind, here's some reasonable players I'm looking at in free agency:

(Let's get guys out of the price range first: OJ Mayo, Randy Foye, Louis Williams)
(I'm also assuming we won't be resigning Matt Barnes, or getting Shannon Brown back; also, Rudy Fernandez has left for Spain, otherwise he'd be on this list)

SHOULD BE ON THE LAKERS' LIST

1A) Brandon Rush (Age: 27/RFA)
Rush just finished out his rookie contract in Golden State and although he's a RFA, it's questionable whether Golden State would want to keep him with Harrison Barnes, Richard Jefferson and Klay Thompson all being minutes soppers at the swing positions. If the Warriors have to keep Dorell Wright as well (he's subject to trade rumors--and actually further down this list as a Laker option), then the odds are they'd let Rush walk.

On a production basis, Rush should earn more $ than the roughly $3mil he made this year. However, this is a  deep pool for free agent swingmen, so he might be left in the dust. The Lakers would be smart to swoop in--Rush is very underrated. There are people who say that he didn't live up to expectations as a lottery pick--but so what? He's made himself useful as a very good roleplayer. Rush is a career 41% three point shooter and hit 45% of his threes last year, so he's a certifiable zone buster in this league. He also finishes well around the basket in his rare ventures there. Also, while people may be disappointed that he never used his athleticism too much offensively, that sort of athleticism allows him to play very good man-defense at both swing spots, and he plays SGs very well. His team defense grows a little more questionable. He also has an excellent build for a swingman. He doesn't help the Lakers with steals, but he's an excellent weakside shotblocker for his size, and he also doesn't foul the ball, so he appears to be smart on this end. He's also young-ish for the Lakers, and given his niche game can easily sustain his three-D type of production for many more years without fear of dropoff.

At the end of the day, playing for mediocre/poor teams, perhaps he just needs more exposure. I also get the feeling that he has been branded as an underachiever--he put up single digit PERs or near single digits for the past three years, and even though he found an offensive niche this year in a mini-explosion, he's approaching fluke rule status (he's 27; this applies for guys 28 or older). Nonetheless, the Lakers merely need him to be the roleplayer he was last year. For the Lakers, he's a snug fit, he has the former Rush connection (Kareem Rush was a former Laker), and Golden State likely doesn't want him. Try giving him a multiyear deal for the mini-mid-level (roughly $3.1mil) and see if GS bites. The stars seem to be aligning for him to be a possible Laker, now it's up to the Lakers to take the initiative.

1B) Jodie Meeks (Age: 24/UFA)
As a productive 2nd round pick who has started 114 of his last 140 NBA games, Meeks has been woefully underpaid--he's made less than a million the past three years. It's hard to say where Philly stands on him, but they just signed Nick Young but let Lou Williams go, and they seem to be in need for shooting, so it might be in their best interests to keep him. However, Philly also has Andre Iguodala (who they might trade), Evan Turner, and possibly Jrue Holiday who can play the position, and all those guys are minutes soppers. Philly's excess of guys with swing size (they also have Moe Harkless and Thaddeus Young) might cause them to relinquish Meeks. Also, as a UFA, if the Lakers really register their interest for him (and they should, as explained below), then there's a chance he could bolt for a better shot at a championship and a defined role which the Lakers sorely need. They might have to pay him the mini mid-level though, or something at least in the $2mil range. As mentioned, it's a deep swingmen draft class, and Meeks is a bit under the radar, so there's a chance we could snag him on the cheap.

Meeks' career three point percentages aren't as good as Rush's (he's a career 37% three point shooter), and in addition, he's undersized as a SG and can't play SF (whereas Rush can), but I'd argue Meeks is tougher offensively. He's more willing to fire spot-up shots from deep than Rush is, and actually does an excellent job of drawing fouls for such a high volume jumpshooter. I also wonder if he's really a better shooter than Rush is overall--Rush has had seasons shooting below 70% from the line, and Meeks' last two seasons saw 89.4% and 90.6% from the line, and he actually gets there. So there's that. His offense is really underrated. Meeks is essentially mistake free on offense, routinely having one of the lowest turnover rates for his possession. He knows how to score, and score efficiently.

And here's the other thing: Meeks' defense looks vastly underrated from my perspective. He plays under Doug Collins' hard-nosed defensive system and he was excellent at playing man-to-man defense against SGs, and quite decent at team defense as well. Past seasons showed him to be equally as tough on man-defense. Sure, he doesn't make any defensive plays at all, but he's able to play contain defense very well without fouling, possibly even better than Brandon Rush does.

Ultimately, Meeks can easily serve a role for the Lakers as a very willing three point shooter/very good defensive player. He comes with side benefits of being able to draw fouls as well, and while he isn't known as an athlete, he's very young (24). That's why I placed him as 1(b), sure he isn't as tall as Rush, but he's younger, a better defensive player and brings a few more elements to his game. He's very unheralded, so we might get him cheap as well. Good fit for this team.

2) Carlos Delfino (Age: 29/UFA)

I'm actually surprised no one has actually thought of this guy as an option, but he's also another excellent fit here. He hasn't made a ton of $ over the course of his career and is coming off a contract where he made $3.5mil the past three years. He's also seen a fair share of injuries and hasn't been super productive over the past couple of years, so it's questionable whether he can get more $. I'd even wonder if we can get him for $2mil, rather than the full mini-mid-level, based on his career arc. With Milwaukee having Mike Dunleavy, Tobias Harris, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute under contract, it might be in their best interests to let him go as well, so he likely could be had.

On a career basis, Delfino shoots 36.2% from three, which is slightly above average but nothing extraordinary, but he does make over a three a game. Nowadays, he takes about half of his shots from distance, so he will definitely know his role if he joins the Lakers. He's had horrible shot efficiency numbers the past several years, though, so that has to give the Lakers pause. Also, he's had a defensive reputation in the past and can guard both swings, but this year he had awful team defensive numbers and couldn't guard small forwards (his primary position) to save his life--this is a bit surprising, because he plays for Scott Skiles, who had his team play excellent defense this season, so he must have stood out like a sore thumb (possibly due to lingering injuries). In past years he was decent against small forwards, so this could be a fluke.

The true value in his game is possibly in his versatility: at 6'6", 230 lbs, he passes the ball very well and unlike the first two guys in this list, gets steals, and does that without fouling. He's also a true veteran--he's won in the Olympics with the Argentinian national team, and while his NBA career hasn't been super spectacular, maybe he just needs the right fit instead of playing with very mediocre teams like Milwaukee. He certainly has the threes-steals-passing game to be a very versatile player for a contending team, and at age 29 should have some more juice to his game.

Delfino by far has more dimensions than Rush or Meeks does, and even though he's not as good a shooter, he brings more of a established veteran presence and could fill in the blanks better. He'll help the Lakers with steals as well, and should improve their threes. His defense might be questionable and his shot selection awful, but I'm thinking there's a definite net gain with him, and he might be had relatively easily.

3) Courtney Lee (Age: 26/UFA)

Lee's had a bit of an adventurous career, just finishing up his rookie contract where he made $2.2mil last year; the adventure is that he's been traded two times within that contract. Having played 30 minutes per game twice just four years into his career, he probably thinks he's due for a bigger contract, but the reality is, he's probably peaked--he's at the age where players generally peak, and his past three PERs were in the 12 range. That might nullify a part of his value, but he has many suitors so he could potentially drive the asking price out of the Lakers' range. Still, I'm putting him in this list because anything above the mini mid-level IMO is overpaying him.

Lee has that 3's/D rep that could make him useful for a Laker--he largely only defends shooting guards, and is a decent to pretty good man-to-man defender, even though his team defense is nondescript and doesn't make too many defensive plays, even if he doesn't pick up fouls. Still, that sort of contain defense is useful. As a shooter he's a career 38.6% three point shooter and has shot over 40% from three in 3 of his 4 seasons--however, he's not terribly efficient in scoring because he doesn't take enough threes and is largely a jumpshooter. He fashions himself more of a scorer than as a shooter, and that might need to change after he leaves the mediocre teams he's played for. He's had NBA finals experience playing heavy minutes as a rookie for Orlando, so that might be points in his favor as well (incidentally, he missed a critical layup in the finals against the Lakers).

I'm still not super sold on him--he's above Hinrich due to youth, and the Lakers definitely need that. However, he's unable to guard small forwards at 6'5" 200 lbs, his overall defense isn't all that, and he's more scorer than shooter, and doesn't have any side qualities to offset that. I'd rather the Lakers didn't pick him up because of that.


4) Grant Hill (Age: 39/UFA)

Hill's a popular choice to join the Lakers for the veteran minimum ever since Steve Nash opted to join the Lakers, and at age 39, he's surprisingly one of more durable players in the league, thanks to Phoenix's legendary training staff: he played around 30 minutes a game for the past five seasons, and before this season's lockout, only missed three games the three seasons prior. Having made over $140mil in the league and coming off getting paid $6.5mil, he probably wants that ring, and with Nash here makes it quite conceivable he'll take the vet minimum.

Hill like Nash largely played for Phoenix teams that didn't emphasize defense, but still Hill stood out at that end through his build (6'8" 225 lbs), smarts and general intangibles. His man-defense against SFs was good, and his team defense is also decent. He's actually quite underrated defensively, and another aspect I forgot to mention is how the Lakers don't really draw charges--Hill will sacrifice his body on this end, and he's also a decent shotblocker. Hill doesn't suffer from the same lack of footspeed Metta World Peace has, and is also zany-antics free, so that helps.

Besides the advanced age and whether or not he can hold up with the Lakers' training staff (which is still good, but Phoenix's is legendary), there's also the questions about Hill's lack of range. He's a super infrequent three point shooter, an area the Lakers need, but last season also showed him to be much much more of a mid-range shooter than in seasons past. He's quite good at that, but that makes him woefully inefficient, and the Lakers need floor spacers.

I like the value of Hill's intangibles and overall defense, though, but if they sign him they need to address floor spacing through another player, and cut through a lot of the toxic contract types in the roster to make space. His lack of floor spacing is why I even put him below Courtney Lee in this list.


5) Kirk Hinrich (Age: 31/UFA)

Hinrich's stole so much money over the course of his career, having $58mil in his wallet already, and earning $8.1mil last year alone. His past two years have procured single-digit PERs, so clearly he was a toxic contract. With Atlanta having Jeff Teague and John Jenkins, and Hinrich not being a ball-dominant or pure PG, it's likely they go in another direction. With the dissonance between his production and his money earned, it's very likely he'll accept the veteran minimum now.

Hinrich's main asset in the past was his defensive rep, and I still think he's decent, but slipping. At 6'4" 190 lbs he struggled to guard PGs last year and had nondescript team defensive markers, but this year he recovered decently. Offensively Hinrich pretty much stays out of the limelight and is essentially a jumpshooter, which he's actually pretty good at  (career 37.8% three point shooter). His efficiency is diminished because he takes too many mid-range shots and he's not good enough a jumpshooter to offset the  easy points one accrues from slashing and drawing fouls, though.

At the end of the day he's a decent option for the veteran minimum--he's a good enough shooter and a good enough defender at this stage in his career, but not excellent at both, and he's a safe bet to draw the veteran minimum anyway. He isn't too different from Steve Blake, though, trading perhaps a slightly worse shot, worse passing with better defense, so I'm not sure how much the Lakers could gain from him.

6) Cartier Martin (Age: 27/UFA)

Who? Well, that's an appropriate question. But considering that he has no name recognition, has barely played half a season most of the time, and is bouncing around from one bad team to another, it's easy to say that we can get him for the minimum. At 6'7" 220 lbs, he has some 3's/D attributes, and if we really want to look for a sleeper, he could possibly be it.

Martin's clearly trying to fashion himself as a three point shooter--over half of his attempts have come from distance over his last 70 games. I have hope for him too--he's a career 37.1% shooter from there.

On defense he's willing to risk up his body to draw charges, and he actually stood out as a positive defender for Washington the past 70 games (particularly against SFs), with good team defense. Yes, Washington was horrendous at defense overall, but Martin at least stood out in a positive way. There might be something here.

He's relatively young and as a 3's/D type could be a sleeper. Might just need a good team, instead of horrible teams to teach him the wrong techniques.

THE EHHH...TOO FLAWED LIST:

7) Marco Belinelli (Age: 26/UFA)
--He's young for this free agent list and is a career 39.3% three point shooter. He just finished his rookie contract and might command some $, especially since he's started 124 out of his last 146 games which might give himself some inflated worth. But, for a jumpshooter, he needs to shave off more long twos for threes. He's played for Monty Williams' hard working defensive New Orleans teams, and he does appear to be a decent defender man-to-man (even against PGs), but his team defense is absolutely atrocious. He doesn't play with much emotion and with the lack of athleticism would not help to shield Nash for us. That's why he's down here, not to mention that he's probably more scorer than shooter (a problem that Sasha Vujacic had with us).

8) Leandro Barbosa (Age: 29/UFA)
--Barbosa's more scorer than shooter, but it's hard to ignore he's a career 39.1% three point shooter, although that comes with huge question marks--much of that was due to the front half of his career. However, that front half was helped by guess who?--yep. Steve Nash. With Nash back in the fold, Barbosa could hopefully regain his shooting touch (awkward motion included) by rejoining his former teammate. I'm still not sold on whether he'd completely identify with a spot-up role, as he also seems inclined to slash and his shot selection is pretty awful in general. Despite the very long arms he's never made many defensive plays at all and has played for horrible defensive teams, so he's never been reared properly at that end. His team defense is pretty terrible. He's always had the tools, but has a laissez-faire attitude at this end. He's made a ton of money and was a toxic contract for the past several years, so it's easy to see that he could take the veteran minimum. Still, the Nash reunion is somewhat appealing, and there is some 3's potential and hopefully Mike Brown can instill the D--he has the tools.

9) Jerryd Bayless (Age: 23/UFA)
--I'm not sold on his shooting, as career trends point him to be an infrequent three point shooter at 6'3" 208 lbs and he only shoots 35.0% on them for his career. But, he shot 42.3% this season for Toronto, even though he's more of a scorer than a shooter, and we'll see if that shooting can hold up. He just completed his rookie contract, made $3mil this past season, and had a breakout season, so someone might break the bank for him and make him a toxic contract. Still, the depth of the class and the uncertainty of his game in past years might relegate him to a mini-mid-level type, which is why he's in this list. Bayless's defense is definitely in question in both man-to-man and team situations, but he does draw charges at least. Still, he's a scorer with side-passing ability, and with questionable sustainable long range shooting and defense not sure if he's the best fit here.

10) Terrence Williams (Age: 25/RFA)
--He's not a shooter (infrequent three point attempts/career 31.5% from distance) but at 6'6" 220 lbs he has proven able to guard both swing positions decently and put up decent team defensive numbers in the past. He's set back by immaturity, but he's a youthful talent that can help the Lakers defensively, and he has been a triple double threat with New Jersey in his rookie year, even if the Lakers don't need that. Again, he's not needed and he's a RFA, and the Kings might keep him. Just throwing him out here.

11) Michael Redd (Age: 32/UFA)
--Redd's made over $100mil for his career and made $18.3mil just last year, so he'd be more than happy to take the veteran minimum to rejoin Steve Nash with the Lakers. But with his injury history, always questionable defense and generally overrated shooting (he hasn't shot above 31.8% from deep in his last 79 games, and fashions himself more of a scorer than shooter for his career), it's hard to see the Lakers looking at him. He seems like an old 32 as well, something the Lakers don't need.

12) C.J. Miles (Age: 25/UFA)
--May or may not be out of our price range, but being reared by Jerry Sloan's teams, he treats defense as hacking guys, more or less, and doesn't make defensive plays. Still, he can guard both swing positions, and his defense is quite defense in both man-to-man and team defense, and with his youth that could fit the Lakers. Where he doesn't fit the Lakers is that he's a career 32.9% three point shooter and takes a lot of mid-range shots instead of drawing fouls to offset that. He doesn't rebound or pass either. Too scoring minded to fit the Lakers' plans, and not a good enough three point shooter to be reared either, despite the defense.

13) Donte Greene (Age: 24/UFA)
--Okay, he's 6'11" 226 lbs, but defensively he might be a hidden gem--his individual stats aren't good, but teamwise defense he's quite good, and he gets a few blocks and makes quite a few defensive plays. I know he isn't the three point shooter we need though.


14) Dominic McGuire (Age: 26/UFA)
Very useful defensive player at 6'9" 235 lbs--got a ton of steals and blocks this year, and has had good rebound rates in the past. Positive team defender, although Golden State's horrible defensive schemes prevented him from making an impact in man-to-man. Zero range, negates him as a Lakers choice.


15) Bobby Simmons (Age: 32/UFA)
--Was out of the league in 2011. Single digit PERs in 2010 and 2012. He's a career 39.6% three point shooter and at 6'6" 235 lbs carries a defensive rep, but he never made any defensive plays for his career and has been losing it. He hasn't been relevant since 2009.

16) Gilbert Arenas (Age: 30/UFA)
--Just kidding.



GUYS WHO THE LAKERS MIGHT AFFORD, BUT ARE ALREADY EMBEDDED INTO DEEP PLAYOFF TEAMS AND LIKELY WON'T LEAVE: 

1) Daniel Green (Age: 25/RFA)

Green made $2.7mil this year but late round playoff games aside, had an excellent season and burst into the scene as a ready made role player for a deep playoff team. Like Pietrus below, I have doubts that the Lakers can poach him, because he was undervalued last year, and likely because he's in a deep playoff team he'll stay with the Spurs anyway, given that they can match any offers and likely will. Green seems better as a team defender than as a man defender, but he can guard both swing positions, SF more effectively at 6'6" 210 lbs. He's also a 41.8% career three point shooter. He's also long and a good shotblocker, racks up steals and doesn't foul too much. At age 25, that's a ready-made role player with many good years to come. That's why the Spurs will match, even if the Lakers offer their full mini-midlevel.


2) Delonte West (Age: 28/UFA)

West is an underrated defender--he can defend both guard positions, and can even hold down PGs in man-to-man situations, and has for the most part always yielded positive team defensive results. He also has super quick hands and will almost certainly help the Lakers in the steals department, and is an above average shotblocker particularly at 6'3" 180 lbs. He does an excellent job of avoiding fouls as well. That's certainly all the Lakers need to cover up Steve Nash.

West doesn't feel compelled to jack up many threes at all, but it's of note that he shoots them at a career 37.2% pace. His obligations are combo guard--he has very good court vision so that he can play PG at a pinch, and the benefit is that he can do this at both offense and defense, unlike some players. He's particularly excellent at pulling up for mid-range jumpers. But for the Lakers, we don't need extra passing and we need more side shooting. In fact, his game might be a little too rich for the Lakers' tastes as currently constructed.

Still, it's better to have more talented players than niche players when the going gets tough, and that's why I put West above Pietrus below, who's less talented but provides more of what the Lakers needed. West might be looking for more pay--he's never made more than $4.2mil in a contract, only made $1.1mil this year, and his game certainly warrants more $. He's bipolar and that might be scaring teams off, but with Dallas's roster in flux I'd say it's an easy shoo-in for him to resign with the Mavericks anyway.

3) Mickael Pietrus (Age: 30/UFA)

I doubt this would come to fruition, with Boston needing a backup SF for Paul Pierce, and Pietrus did play well in the playoffs, showing toughness on defense against LeBron James and coming back from that scary neck fall. But, I just put him in this list because he's also another 3's/D player. He's not as good a three point shooter as we'd like to believe (35.6%), but considering he's taking nearly two-thirds of his shots as threes he's probably coming out ahead in the bargain. He's proven in the past to be a plus defender against both swings and in team defense, as well, although there are seasonal variations where he's more decent than good. But he wears his heart on his sleeve and goes all out, and that sort of moxie could be what the Lakers need.

He's made mid-level $ during his time in Phoenix and has had total earnings in excess of 33million, but having made the minimum with Boston last year and made an impact, he might want something in the 2-3mil range. In the end, I think sentiment wins and he returns to the Celts. But a good fit if he somehow leaves there.

4) Steve Novak (Age: 29/UFA)

The reason Novak's this low, considering his breakout season this year, is because I think it's a greater priority for the Lakers to have better perimeter defenders to supplement Nash as opposed to better shooters in general. Don't get me wrong, the Lakers sorely need shooting, but Novak's D has been precisely the attribute that has held him down in the past. He's forced to play power forwards by default, but often is hidden in defensive schemes into weaker links, and he doesn't make defensive plays. This season he actually fit into NYK's schemes on defense in both man and team defense, but we have to wonder if that was a fluke.  He's also never played more than 20 minutes a game before, and has spent most of his six seasons prior bouncing from team to team with little purpose than garbage time sopper. That's why he's always been in contracts of less than one million, but he might be trying to get some team to give him a toxic contract. With his season, he's a definite candidate for one.

If he played even just average defense, cumulatively, I'd say the Lakers would've jumped on Novak. But he's approaching 30 and that's the age where the footspeed starts to get worse. The reason for the jump is that Novak knows his role--he's a career 43.6% three point shooter, and he takes almost three-quarters of his shots from that distance. The end result is that he always has insane TS% for his career, and could make especially valuable with all the various double teams the Lakers draw and the playmaking Steve Nash possesses. It doesn't matter if he does everything else horribly--Eddie House has made a living doing the same thing. Not saying Novak's like House, but that's the general idea.

Also, the Knicks need shooters to take advantage of Melo and Amare's possible doubles, and they have the personnel (Kidd, likely Lin) to make those passes. It's likely the Knicks would want to pay Novak and also JR Smith for that reason, so I can't see him leaving.

5) Gerald Green (Age: 26/UFA)

I expect New Jersey to hold on to Green (they refused to trade him to Atlanta in the flotsam deal). He also had a good end to the season this year, caught some of what made him special in the first place (finally), and ironically, after the Lakers let him go from their summer league. He's not quite the 3's/D player we need, because he's more score-first than spot up shooter, and his defense wavers very frequently and is quite lackluster (although it has potential). Sort of like a younger, poor man's T-Mac in terms of his shooting stroke and athleticism. He's still acute for the Lakers in terms of skill set. But, just a footnote.


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