3 NBA Things: 3 things that stick out with the dust settled.
In 2019, it’s not a stretch to say that NBA free agency is possibly more exciting than the regular season. Maybe that’s further proof of the fact that the NBA needs to lop off 15 games or so, but regardless – this week has been wild. Multiple stars changed teams. Multiple teams jumped into contender status. Folks around the country are slacking off at work so they can refresh Woj’s twitter feed every 60 seconds. This is the NBA in 2019, folks; even when the season ends, the craziness only intensifies.
While the landscape of the league could still dramatically change depending on where Kawhi Leonard goes, let’s take a look back at three things that stick out from the start of free agency.
1. What are the New Orleans Pelicans?
The Pelicans went out and grabbed JJ Redick, who is a massive addition. It’s no surprise that Philadelphia’s big three (Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons) were +14.9 per 100 possessions with Redick on the court and -18.4 with him off. He’s like Steph Curry light – he’s always in motion, and defenses can’t afford to lose him for a second because his trigger is so quick. That 42.4 percent shooting on catch-and-shoot threes is made even more impressive when you consider that so many of those looks are of the contested, off-balance, quick-release variety that gets lesser players sent to the bench. He’s also a veteran pro whose presence will matter in the locker room.
Then they grabbed Derrick Favors, a complete center who will likely start in the frontcourt alongside Zion Williamson. Favors is a skilled rim protector with mobility, instincts and length, as evidenced by his league-leading 50.1 DFG%. He’s capable of defending on the perimeter – a necessary skill for centers in today’s NBA – and he grabs offensive rebounds at a high rate. With him no longer buried behind Rudy Gobert in Utah, expect Favors to shine. He’s a borderline All-Star level center in hiding.
They also plucked Nicolo Melli out of Europe. By all accounts, he sounds like a frontcourt guy with solid feel for the game (are there European prospects we don’t say this about?), decent mobility, and good shooting from deep. He might be a nice depth option, especially considering shooting is still the biggest thing this team could use more of.
More and more, this team is feeling less like the rebuilding project we expected and more like a team that can legitimately be in the playoffs, even in the loaded Western Conference. Jrue Holiday is still a star-level guard, and he and Lonzo Ball could form the best defensive backcourt in the league. Brandon Ingram could break out this year, and is a solid starting wing even if he doesn’t. Favors and Redick offer stability. We all know what Zion can do.
On paper, this squad is talented, cohesive, and flexible. They’re loaded with youngsters and will have growing pains, but their ceiling is very high this season.
2. How does Al Horford fit in Philadelphia?
Al Horford is a phenomenal basketball player. Matt Moore once compared him to a software upgrade – when he’s on your team, everything runs better. On offense, he’s an intelligent screen setter (Isaiah Thomas remarked in a recent interview that Horford asked Thomas how he likes his screens set – a little thing that made a big difference). He can facilitate the offense from the elbow, attack closeouts, and shoot comfortably enough out to three-point land. On defense, he’s consistently Defensive-Player-of-the-Year-worthy. He’s hyper-intelligent, strong enough to stifle anybody in the post, and quick enough to stick with almost anybody on the perimeter. There are no holes to exploit – he’s a nearly perfect center. And having him as a teammate instead of an opponent will be good for Embiid’s blood pressure.
Some are worried about the fit in Philadelphia. Embiid and Simmons are extremely talented, but both make their money in the paint. That fit was already a little shaky (hence the urgent call for Ben Simmons to develop a jump-shot). You’re adding into that mix Al Horford, who is very multi-dimensional but is a center at the end of the day. Both Embiid and Horford can shoot from deep, but neither is going to kill you with their shooting. Defenses urged both to shoot threes in the playoffs.
There are plenty of ways this can work on offense. You’ll probably see a lot of Horford initiating out of the short roll, distributing to Embiid for quick paint shots or to Harris or Richardson for threes. You’ll see Horford screening for Embiid, helping him get position then dashing out to three-point range to space. You’ll probably even see Horford handling point guard duties from time to time. It’ll take time for them to figure out this unconventional offense, but Horford’s versatility leaves Brett Brown with plenty of options.
The defense should be easier. Embiid is a terrific omni-defender with top-3 rim protection capability. Horford has no holes, and ups the defensive IQ of the team tremendously. Simmons, Harris and Richardson are all big-bodied, agile, and versatile. It might not even matter if they figure out the offense, because nobody will be able to score on them if they can reach their defensive ceiling.
3. Somebody needs to sign DeMarcus Cousins
Let’s keep this quick: Woj reported this week that there is no market for DeMarcus Cousins. It’s looking like he’ll need to settle for a veteran minimum deal, maybe with the Lakers (who currently employ 4-5 NBA-caliber humans).
This is ridiculous and must stop immediately. Boogie Cousins looked bad for Golden State in the playoffs in limited time, and at this point it’s unlikely he ever returns to being the star-caliber player he was before the injury, but good grief, people! This is the same player who averaged 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists in 2017. His defense was never good, but his offense was absolutely overwhelming last time we saw him healthy. He could bulldoze his way to the hoop, destroy you on the boards, even facilitate the offense; you’re telling me nobody is willing to take a flyer on him? Nobody is willing to bet that his poor showing for Golden State was a matter of rust? (Cue the Billy Joel track – that won’t happen to us, dun duh duh, cause it’s always been a matter of rust)
If he’s 70 percent of pre-injury Boogie, he can help a team win. If you’re a team like the Washington Wizards and you’re basically just a fountain of sadness waiting for contracts to expire, why not make an offer to Cousins and see if he can help you? How about if you’re the San Antonio Spurs, sort of stuck and without a clear path back to the top of the conference – why not just see if Cousins can be an explosive bench scorer for you? The Boston Celtics made a ton of sense, then they went and signed Enes Kanter and French center Vincent Poirier instead.
Maybe once Kawhi Leonard – the last big domino – falls, a couple teams will throw offers Boogie’s way. In any case, it’s absurd that he’s lasted this long. Somebody give that man a contract.