NBA basketball is only 26 days away. Get ready everybody!
Well, I’m cheating a little bit. This timeline counts the epic Golden State Warriors versus Toronto Raptors preseason contest as the first NBA basketball we will witness in October, but you get the idea. The football finals haven’t even started and I’m already dreaming about how the upcoming NBA season will play out.
And truth be told, it’s a pleasant distraction. While we are left stewing over a difficult end to the Boomers Olympic campaign (I’ll go with difficult and leave it at that), it’s time to move forward. The NBA season is quickly approaching and the new campaign will be the biggest in the history of Australian basketball.
I know we say this every year, but it carries extra weight this time around. Not just because of the influx of new talent, but due to the collective strength of our proven talent pool. Yes, new phenoms are about to enter the Association, but more importantly, our returning cohort of ballers are central to many NBA storylines. Matthew Dellavedova just got PAID, but how can he earn his new contract in Milwaukee? Can Andrew Bogut’s playmaking form from Rio be sustained in Dallas? Joe Ingles now looks berried on the Utah bench, how can he maintain NBA minutes?
As we look forward to the dawn of a new year, I have put together an Australian wish list for the 2016-17 NBA season. To be more specific, the list contains two things I would like to see with every Australian returning to the NBA.
My list is confined to the current situation of each player, and I have tried to keep things realistic within the confines of the role each serves. Yes, I would love to see Patty Mills get 35 minutes per game, lead the San Antonio Spurs in usage and score 25 points per game, but that is never going to happen. What would realistic improvements look like? These are the things we are looking for.
Over the coming days we will be looking at how each Australian with NBA experience can advance their game during the 2016-17 season. We will not be looking Ben Simmons and Thon Maker within this exercise. They are rookies, which naturally means there is no baseline to measure improvement. Plus, we have already given you enough awesome content on these guys during the off-season.
If you want more about why Ben Simmons is new pivot point in Australian basketball, check this out. Here's something about why he's well-qualified to be an NBA point guard. If you want to read about why Thon Maker is the modern day remix of a fallen superstar, we have you covered. But for now, let’s discuss those who have history in the NBA, starting with the newest member of the Dallas Mavericks.
2016-17 wish list: (i) 1,680 minutes played, and (ii) fulfil Rick Carlisle’s prophesy
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Any goodwill towards Andrew Bogut needs to incorporate an element of good health. It’s the gigantic elephant in the room. The Australian has seen his minutes steadily decrease since 2013, averaging a career low 20.7 minutes per game last season.
While this reduction had plenty to do with the star power around him in San Francisco, it seems that every time the big Victorian was healthy and able, the injury gods had other plans. The recently completed NBA Finals being the latest example.
But in a funny way, Bogut validated his worth as a valuable NBA center by missing the final two games of the NBA Finals. The difference between Golden State’s interior defence in Game 2, where Bogut enjoyed a block party, and Game 6, where LeBron James dominated, was striking.
His performance in the Boomers opening Olympic battle against France was another reminder of what Australia’s longest serving NBA player remains capable of. Winston did a wonderful job of explaining why Rio serves as a preview of Bogut’s first season in Dallas last week.
While Bogut isn't able to dominate every night anymore, he can still bring plenty to the table in a reduced role, which leads nicely into our first wish.
Where did I get 1,680 minutes from? That’s 24 minutes a game for 70 games – the exact number of games Bogut played for the Dubs last season. Why 24 minutes per game? Bogut has averaged 23.5 minutes per game since 2013.
Anything less would likely be attributable to significant injuries, while anything more is just unnecessary. Is there scope to increase this if needed? Sure, but unless we are talking about a season defining contest, then what is the point? 24 minutes per game will be enough for Bogut to make an impact, without suffering unnecessary wear and tear through the dog days of a long season. Remember, the goal is to be healthy for a potential play-off run, something the Mavericks no doubt expect.
As for our second wish, let’s set the scene by looking at how Mavericks head coach, Rick Carlisle, described Bogut back in July.
"He's a top-five center as a defender without question," Carlisle said. "He's a premier rim protector, he's one of the best centers at taking charges, and he really understands the game."
So is Carlisle right? Are his comments indicative of a clairvoyant predicting the performance of his new starting center?
Complimenting Bogut is an understandable sentiment, and probably expected praise, from a head coach towards his new player. Yet there are some undeniable truths in Carlisle’s opinion, and the numbers tend to agree.
Bogut led all NBA centers in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus last season, as a long held reputation for being an elite rim protector was maintained. He ranked 9th in defensive field goal percentage while defending the rim (minimum 1,000 minutes played). Extrapolating any statistics from Bogut’s last 24 months in Golden State is a dangerous exercise, but the numbers sure do reflect kindly on Andrew.
A reduced supporting cast means Bogut’s statistical profile will likely decline in Dallas. This doesn’t mean his impact will necessarily decline in the same manner, as the Mavericks defensive scheme will be more reliant on his rim protection.
2016-17 wish list: (i) offensive assertiveness, and (ii) shoot 35.4% from the three point line
Like anyone coming an ACL tear, the first few months of the upcoming season will be about Dante Exum regaining his footing and feeing confident with his body. Once Exum regains such confidence, look for him to improve his output on the offensive end of the floor.
I wrote last week about the prospects of Exum heading into year three and what we should expect from the Jazz point guard. I recommend you check that for my full thoughts regarding Exum. Before you do, a few comments on each of our wish list items.
Last week I compared Exum's offensive impact to Harry Potter’s invisible cloak, and the comparison is growing on me. Too many possessions ended with Exum standing in the corner, waiting for things to happen around him. It would be great to see Dante step into a reliable playmaking role as the season advances.
And then there is shooting, another thing we explored in greater detail last week. While Exum’s shooting splits swung drastically from month to month, his overall performance needs improvement. Exum shot a measly 26.4% on open threes (4 to 6 away from the nearest defender), representing the fourth worst percentage of players taking 100 such shots.
This isn’t a big problem for Exum, well not yet anyway. He is the youngest player on that list by at least two years, and has plenty of time to improve. But for the time being, NBA defences do not value his jump shot. I mean, the disrespect shown below by Joe Johnson has me dreaming about Stephen A. Smith rants.
If Exum can elevate his three point shooting to 35.4%, a figure which was league average last season, it will simultaneously represent a massive jump over his rookie season, plus unlock improved spacing for the Utah Jazz.
That wraps up part one of our Australian wish list for the 2016-17 NBA season. Check back in on Wednesday for expectations on Aron Baynes in Detroit this season.