Tag Archives: Klay Thompson

NBA Free Agency: Pairing Max-Contract Stars

The NBA is about to undergo a seismic shift. Current powers are set to topple while newcomers will emerge for a shot at a championship

Free agency begins in the NBA on July 1.

Players around the league will change teams, and thus, the outlooks of those teams. The right move could land you squarely into contention for a title, while the wrong signing can set your franchise back for any number of years.

It’s kind of a big deal.

With that, let’s take a look at some pairings for this crop of free agents, particularly those commanding max (or near-max) money.

None of these have been mentioned as even a remote possibility, but we won’t let that stop us. The goal is to create a duo that would be both fun to watch and have a legit chance at sustained success.

Conspicuously omitted from the festivities is one Kevin Durant. The forward would be no worse than the number two (and most likely the top) target on the market and a fun piece to pair with another star for this exercise.

That is if he weren’t set to miss most if not all of next season recovering from a ruptured Achilles.

Klay Thompson and Khris Middleton

Mirror mirror on the wall, this is a pairing of two players with similar abilities.

Both Klay Thompson and Khris Middleton are thought of more as off-ball, glue guys than true superstars in their own right. That could be beneficial against opponents defensive gameplans; who do you key on?

Conventional wisdom says that Thompson will be maxed by the Golden State Warriors and rehabs his torn ACL before returning around February. He averaged 21.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists on a .467/.402/.816 shooting line in 2018; just under his career-high in points and matching his high-mark in rebounds.

That same line of thinking would suggest that the Milwaukee Bucks do whatever it takes to max Middleton. He averaged 18.3 points, 6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and slashed .441/.378/.837.

They need to in order to keep their Eastern Conference finalist team intact and to keep a certain MVP happy and, ultimately, in town.

Klay took 80.1 percent of his shots off an assist, canned 42 percent of his catch and shoot opportunities, but also hit 44 percent of his pull-ups. Middleton had the ball more; over 57 percent of his makes came unassisted. He dropped 41.2 percent of his pull up attempts and generated nearly as many points per catch and shoot attempt (4.0) as he did per drive (4.4).

All of that and we have not even covered their defensive chops yet.

Middleton was top-20 in the NBA in defensive win shares while Thompson’s 108.5 defensive rating (and first appearance on an all-defense team) belies the defender he is. Separate they have been the ideal complementary pieces. Together they would be a coach’s dream.

Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris

What the previous pairing offers is to two-way ability, the pairing of Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris is to the offensive end. Put simply: they get buckets. They won’t provide much defensively, but they combined to average 45.6 points per game in 2018.

That would have been 11th among the top-two scorers on any team and Harris appeared on two of those teams.

Walker has been doing all the lifting for the Charlotte Hornets since 2011.

The three-time All-Star made his first All-NBA team with 25.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game on .434/.356/.844 shooting. The points and boards were both career-highs while earning All-NBA honors means he is supermax eligible.

But it is not inconceivable that the Hornets let him walk.

Harris has been a hired gun (without the hired part) his entire career.

Never scoring less than 11 points per game after his rookie campaign, he has been traded five times, including draft night. Harris split 2018 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers but still averaged a career-high 20 points to go with 7.9 boards with a .487/.397/.866 slash line, all career-highs.

Putting the two professional scorers together would not hinder either player.

Walker is ball dominant (over 71 percent of his makes were unassisted in 2018), but Harris was equally adept off as on, sporting a 49.9 to 50.1 assisted/unassisted ratio. Walker got most of his points off of drives (9.1 per game) and pull-up jumpers (10.5) and Harris (5.8 on drives, 5.0 on pull-ups, and 4.3 on catch & shoot) scores, period.

Together this max pair would give defenses all they could handle. Both of their 2018 campaigns featured numerous career-high marks, hinting that their best ball is ahead of them. Their ideal situation would be on a defensive-oriented team where they could be the primary generators of offense.

Their pick and pop would be borderline unfair.

D’Angelo Russell and DeMarcus Cousins

2018 was wonky for different reasons for this potential max pair. D’Angelo Russell broke out and led the Brooklyn Nets to their first playoff berth since 2014. DeMarcus Cousins spent most of his 2018 recovering from a torn Achilles (shout to KD), appearing in 30 regular season games with the Warriors to end the season.

Russell’s path to success was…bumpy.

Traded from the Los Angeles Lakers for off the court reasons, he put up career-highs across the board averaging 21.1/3.9/7 and shot 43.4 percent from the floor and 36.9 from deep, both personal bests. Rumors of the Nets not-so-secret pursuit of Kyrie Irving could mean Russell needs a new home.

Cousins took flak for joining the Dubs to chase a ring, but he also did it to prove he could be a team player. He did that, returning from a quad injury suffered early in the playoffs to play in all six Finals games. Those results were mixed, but he averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 boards, and 3.6 assists in 2018.

Unfortunately, two straight years with leg injuries likely suppress his value.

Russell cut down on his turnovers and posted the highest player efficiency rating of his career. Boogie’s growth as a player and teammate is a bigger development than his down stats in what is a particularly unique situation with the Warriors.

If he is able to get a long-term deal in free agency, he would be wise to consider it regardless of where it comes from.

The immediate image that thoughts of this duo conjures is a deadly scoring combo that can do so from all three levels.

Cousins did not operate as a roll man much (8.8 percent) for Golden State (Russell ran the action nearly 50 percent of the time) instead being utilized most in the post (21.9 percent) and as a spot-up shooter (24.3 percent). Still, he is an adept passer and Russell hit 39.4 percent of his catch and shoot triples.

Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving

This max pair is probably best described as an enigma wrapped in a question.

Kawhi Leonard followed up a lost 2017-18 season to lead the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA Championship, winning Finals MVP for his efforts. Most thought that the return of Kyrie Irving would carry the Boston Celtics into the Finals, but they ended up being sent home a round earlier instead.

Leonard’s exit from the San Antonio Spurs was very public but very one-sided. He let his play do most of the talking averaging 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds during the regular season and 30.5 points and 9.1 boards in the playoffs; all career-high marks.

Now he is the big fish in free agency (shout to KD) and reportedly choosing between Toronto and the Clippers.

Irving was traded to the Celtics last year and put up 24.4/3.8/5.1 and shot 49.1 percent from the floor (career-high) and 40.8 percent on (a career-high) 6.8 threes per game. This year it was 23.8/5/6.9 on .487/.401/..873 shooting.

Rather than putting the Cs over the top, though, he was often the root of the problem; butting heads with many in the organization.

Fit should be of no concern on the floor, Leonard’s Raptors were a lot different from the DeMar DeRozan-led squads; three of the five playoff starters for Toronto were in their first year in The North. Despite Irving flopping as a leader in Boston, his having played (well) with LeBron James means he is comfortable being off the ball.

Both of these guys are savants at what they do.

Leonard is the only person keeping Klay Thompson from being the best two-way player in the NBA and Irving is a shot taker and maker with a flair for the big stage. Between this shot from 2016 by Irving and this gem from this year’s playoffs by Leonard, these two paired would be the cause of a lot of heartbreak across the association.

All stats and info provided by Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

In The End: An NBA Finals Story

NBA Finals a Matchup Years in the Making

Each year 2,460 regular season games are played. This year there have already been 76 playoff games played. But in just a few more hours the entire NBA universe will be laser-focused on Scotiabank Arena as the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors square off for game one for the NBA Finals. It is a matchup two years in the making. Kawhi Leonard was forced from action by a Zaza Pachulia closeout in 2017 and the Dubs swept the San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi missed most of 2018, including the playoffs, and the Warriors took out the Spurs in five games.

 

Rap City

We haven’t really gotten to see a fully healthy Kawhi against the NBA’s latest dynasty. He had 26/8/3 in ‘17 before exiting. In his lone appearance against them this season it was 37/8/3, 58.3 percent from the floor and, 50 percent from deep. He averages 16.5/6.5/2.2 against Golden State, but that includes games before all parties reached their current peak levels. Who knows if he can keep it up, but the Klaw has been asserting his dominance all postseason.

Leonard averaged 26.6/7.3/3.3 in the regular season, one of only five players with those numbers. He also slashed 49.6/37.1/84.5, marks matched by only five others, none of whom are in the same breath as Kawhi. But in the playoffs, Leonard has been unconscious. He is averaging 31.2 points, 8.8 boards, and 3.8 assists on a 50.7/38.8/87.5 shooting line. The quiet superstar started this postseason with crazy efficiency (55.6/53.8/89.3 in the first round), and while that has waned, he has put the team on his back. Just in case you forgot, he did this.

The Western Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks was different. Pascal Siakam was the Robin to Leonard’s Batman through the first two rounds averaging 20.8 points. Perhaps still bothered by an injured calf, he only averaged 14.5 versus the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell served as the cavalry. Lowry, in particular, has been big. His floor game has been steady, but he has also upped his scoring output from 11.4 in the first round to 13.1 in round two. He goes into the Finals scoring 19.2 points on 50.7/46.5/84.4 shooting versus Milwaukee.

If Toronto is going to pull off the upset, they are going to need more from their complementary parts. Siakam and Lowry have taken turns as top wingman. But the Raptors need the Spicy P from rounds one and two and for Lowry to stay hot. One has to imagine they will also need more from Marc Gasol and Danny Green. Gasol has done yeoman’s work in the playoffs, clogging the paint and generally making smart decisions with the ball. But he faces the real risk of being unplayable in this series should Golden State decide to go small. Green joins Powell, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka as contributors who will need to have a big game here and there to finish the job.

 

Dub Nation

When Kevin Durant went down, many in the NBA world questioned if there would be a significant dropoff. At a minimum, the expectation was they would need their best player eventually, right? Well all Steph Curry has done in the five games since is average 35.8 points on 46.6 percent shooting (41.7 percent 3PT) with 7.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists. Much has been made of the Warriors success sans Durant but with Curry in the lineup. Still, those are stellar numbers. Should Durant remain out and/or Steph stays en fuego, he is a good bet to earn his first FInals MVP.

Klay Thompson has found his stroke as well. He has put up 22.6 points per game since Durant’s injury. In fact, Thompson’s scoring output has gone up each round; from 17.3 in the opening round to 19.2 in the Conference Semis to 21.5 in the sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. He will also be tasked with defending Leonard. It is a tall order indeed. But if there is anyone up to the task, it’s Thompson, perhaps the best two-way guard in the NBA. It will be two very similar players facing off. That is when Kawhi is not chasing Steph around a multitude of screens.

The elephant in the room, Durant has already been ruled out for game one. Most recently, the idea was broached that a Warriors title without him is the Easy Money Sniper’s worst nightmare. He would certainly bristle at the notion, but it should not be dismissed by the rest of us so easily. This could be used as an opportunity to diminish Durant’s standing in the league hierarchy. That will not happen here. It has already been noted that KD is so great is that the Warriors diverge from what made them great prior to his arrival.

Draymond Green is healthy and locked in this postseason. His job gets interesting this series as he will have to deal with Siakam. Green is the defensive anchor in the Bay. He roams the middle of the floor, setting the defense and playing center field. He will have to stay with Siakam, who despite seeing his numbers fall of late, is always active on both ends of the floor. He (Siakam) generates most of his offense in the paint but will likely play a bit more of a perimeter-based game to draw Green away from the basket. That is where Kevon Looney will have to keep giving solid minutes. That is, of course, unless Boogie Cousins makes his return to action.

In The End

There will have to be significant contributions by the benches, that should go without saying. But this series will undoubtedly feature a lot of 40-plus’s in the box scores for the starters of both teams. As things stand, the Warriors are still themselves, with or without KD and Boogie. But what do they do if they keep winning when those two are ready to return? Do they rush them back if they fall into an early deficit? Would either player try to force their way back into the rotation/lineup?

The Raptors are not immune to the nagging questions. This team is by and large the same group that wilted in the presence of LeBron James three straight years, including last year’s sweep. How will Lowry and Siakam perform this round? Especially if the Warriors defense shuts Leonard down. Will Gasol and Green provide stats that show up in the boxscore? Maybe more important than any of that, has Toronto done enough to secure the (sorry in advance) Klawtograph? Will they have to win it all to do so (and will that even be enough)? We are about to find out. 

2019 NBA Conference Finals Primer

We were told these playoffs would be lacking. That due to the absence of Lebron James and the foregone conclusion of a Golden State Warriors three-peat, there would be no intrigue to the 2019 NBA postseason. All that has happened is an MVP-favorite guiding his team to its first Conference Finals since 2001, two teams showed us they might be capped as currently constructed, and a host of game-winning daggers. And there was the first buzzer-beater in Conference Semifinal history. But now, with only four squads left, we can expect to not only keep seeing the awe-inspiring moments but perhaps see more of them.

 

NBA Conference Finals Primer

Battle of the Backcourts

Golden State will kick off the Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday. The two teams split their regular-season meetings at two apiece. There is postseason history here as well as the Dubs eliminated the Blazers in the Conference Semis in 2016 (five games) and swept them in the first round of the 2017 playoffs. There have also been comparisons between the two teams leading men, Damian Lillard, and Steph Curry. The nature of the series even has extra meaning for the Curry family as Steph and younger brother Seth get set to do battle, at least some of the time.

Golden State Warriors

Kevin Durant is set to miss at least the first game of the series as he recovers from a calf strain. That is no small loss as Durant is the leading per game scorer in these playoffs (34.2 PPG) and averaged 28.8 versus Portland in the regular season. They will look to Steph and, Splash Bro, Klay Thompson to pick up the slack much as they have since KD went down. Klay went for 27 points on 50 percent shooting and 7-13 from three while keeping the team afloat for three-plus quarters in the closeout game against the Houston Rockets. Steph was frigid to start that game, going scoreless for the first half only to finish with a team-high 33 points.

The Warriors also got some vintage performances from Draymond Green (13.2/10.7/8.2.) and Andre Iguodala (13.5 PPG, 48% from three) in the last round. Green should be able to keep it up after the Blazers allowed Denver’s Paul Millsap to average 17.4 points and 8.7 boards despite Portland’s bigs all being at least 6’9”. Iggy might have a tougher go of it. Will Barton, who fills a similar role for the Nuggets, averaged 10.1 PPG and shot 34.5 percent from long distance. The length of Portland could force Iguodala to do more of the other things that make him valuable.

 

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland was written off by some (*cough* me *cough*) when they lost center Jusuf Nurkic for the rest of the year to a gruesome injury at the end of March. They finished the season 7-2 without the Bosnian Beast and have gone 8-4 in the playoffs. His loss has been softened by the play of late-season acquisition Enes Kanter (averaging 12.9 PPG and 10.5 RPG in the playoffs) but could be felt if Boogie Cousins returns this series. The Blazers have to be hoping that Rodney Hood’s injury doesn’t linger; they will need the 14.7 PPG on 57 percent shooting and 50 percent from deep that he surprised with last round.

One of Maurice Harkless or Al-Farouq Aminu (or Sunday’s surprise contributor Evan Turner) will need to find whatever led to their outbursts from this postseason and do it every game. All conventional wisdom favors the Dubs so Portland will have to try to steal one, preferably the first one, to have a real chance. They allowed Jamal Murray (23.6/6/5.6) and Gary Harris (13.7/4.6/2.1) to put up numbers at or above their regular season outputs. As good as those two are, they are no Splash Bros. Dame (28.4/4.8/6) in the playoffs) and C.J. McCollum (25.6/5.8/3.4) will need to continue doing the heavy lifting even if the other Blazers contribute close to their playoff best.

 

Anomaly Meet Throwback

Our second Conference Finals matchup is anything but second fiddle. Featuring the two top teams in wins and two of the game’s top five players, Bucks-Raptors should more than live up to expectations. Milwaukee took care of the Boston Celtics in short order (five games) while Toronto needed seven games (and a Herculean effort) to advance. There is so much riding on this series and that is not considering the actual goal of winning a championship. Will the gregarious Giannis Antetokounmpo prevail? Or will the quiet, calculating Kawhi Leonard reinsert his name among the game’s best?

 

Milwaukee Bucks

The Greek Freak is the odds on favorite for MVP. And while it is a regular-season award, his performance in the playoffs has been in-line with the rest of the year. He is still leading his team in points (27.4) and rebounds (11.3) per game, and he only slightly trails Khris Middleton in assists in the playoffs. He is also averaging 12 free throws a game which would have led the league. Giannis is not flying solo, however. The Bucks have five players averaging double-digits in the playoffs, six averaged double figures last round, and seven reached the mark in the closeout game. That kind of effort will go a long way for Milwaukee; not only this round but perhaps in the NBA Finals.

The Bucks shoot a lot of threes; they came in second to the Rockets in attempts per game during the regular season and the playoffs. But their defense against the Cs should not be overlooked. They held Boston to 104.4 PPG, 41 percent shooting, and 35.8 from distance. That was down from their 112.4 PPG, 46.5 percent from the floor, and 36.5 from deep of the regular season. Now, the Celtics themselves played a large role in their own demise, but the Bucks did have the number-one defensive rating in the NBA. The return of Malcolm Brogdon could prove huge. Also in their favor is that Toronto is averaging roughly 11 points per game less in the playoffs than they did during the season (114.4 to 103.6) and shooting only 32.7 percent as a team from deep.

 

Toronto Raptors

Kawhi essentially dragged the Raptors to the finish line in game seven versus the Philadelphia 76ers. He dropped 41 points and grabbed eight boards with three assists and three steals. He shot poorly, as did most of the other Raptors. But he was also often the only one looking to score late. Leonard has drawn lofty comparisons over the last few weeks as he is averaging 31.8/8.5/3.6 and slashing 53.9/40.8/86.8 in the playoffs. Against the Sixers, it was 34.7/9.9/4 with the Klaw seemingly growing stronger as the playoffs have worn on.

There is only one way this could be going better for Toronto when it comes to Leonard and free agency. Serge Ibaka (17 points!) was the only teammate above 11 points. Kyle Lowry scored just 10 points, but he did have six dishes and six rebounds with only two turnovers. Pascal Siakam is either hurt or the moment is too big for him. He is averaging 20 points and 7 rebounds in the playoffs but was very passive on Sunday. Marc Gasol has been awful shooting the ball and his 102.7 defensive rating is the worst on the team. Danny Green hasn’t been much better as the entire team is shooting 32.7 percent from deep, well below their 36.6 from the regular season.

 

Priming the  NBA Conference Finals

There has been something for everyone in these playoffs and that should continue with the Conference Semifinals beginning Tuesday. Can Dame and CJ breakthrough? Plus, Curry versus Curry in what could be the last stanza for the Hamptons Five. The Greek Freak versus the Klaw as an MVP hopeful takes on a player reminding us of some of the all-timers. Will it take a ring to keep Leonard from running West? Can Giannis cap a potentially MVP-winning season with a shot at the Larry O? We get closer to finding all of that out Tuesday night.

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