DeMar DeRozan is the 38th Best Player in Basketball

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Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s Great: DeMar DeRozan does two things very well: he gets to the basket, and he draws fouls. He does them better than just about anyone. he makes 63% of his shots within three feet of the basket. Only centers do that. James Harden is the only other guard in that class. Speaking of Harden, only he and DeMarcus Cousins shot more free throws last year. If you want someone to do those two specific things, you’d be hard pressed to find someone better than DeRozan.

But give DeMar credit, he’s trying to expand his game. He took almost two three-pointers per game last season and made almost 34% of them. That’s not good, but we’re talking about someone who takes more long-two’s than just about anyone in basketball. Any time he takes a step back and tries for the extra point is a good thing, and he’s finally hitting them at least at a league-average rate. That threat is largely responsible for his career high in points per game last year.

And hey, at least he tries on defense now! With his length he can almost always affect shooters, but he’s tall enough to switch onto most modern forwards. He’s a versatile C- defender which makes him a C+ or so overall. Teams can live with that considering what he provides on offense.

Why He’s Below No. 37 (C.J McCollum): C.J. may not be as big as DeMar, but he tries way harder on defense and is getting a lot better at just staying in front of guys and being helpful. That counts for something considering McCollum’s shooting makes him a more valuable offensive player. If a tiebreaker were necessary, it would go to C.J. for his passing as well.

DeRozan’s skill set is just so specific, you need to build around it and that’s a tough ask for someone who can’t shoot three’s or pass. That’s why the Raptors were so much better without him on the floor, their net rating jumped from +3.0 with him to +7.6 without him. Part of what made the Toronto bench so good was how freely they were able to move the ball without worrying about DeRozan’s isolations.

Take this stat, lineups with Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph averaged 22.7 assists per 100 possessions. That’s more than any team averaged over the entire season and it’s not close. But the Raptors as a whole, including DeRozan’s minutes, were 28th in the league in assists per 100. That’s the DeRozan effect. It’s manageable with the right players around him, but if his team isn’t careful it’s just so easy to devolve into strict isolation basketball.

Why Hassan Whiteside Will Sign With the Portland Trail Blazers

Hassn Whiteside Blazers 1

I’m not quite sure how Portland went from “lost four starters in one summer” to “one star away from legitimate contention,” but here we are.

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the foundation of an offense that’s ready to win the championship right now. They finished seventh in the NBA in points per possession and should only get better as that duo gains more chemistry together. Put any three dunderheads with them and Portland will score well enough.

Defense is the problem. Lillard and McCollum might as well be a pair of eager leprechauns on that end of the floor. They’re too small to do much of anything, and while there’s quite a philosophical argument to be had about whether it’s even possible to win a championship with that sort of backcourt, for now we know Portland plans to move forward with it so we just have to assume that every other move they make will be built to support it.

Few defensive players can make enough of an impact to offset the losses of that backcourt. Hassan Whiteside might be one of them. He’s rough around the edges. He misses rotations to chase blocks far too often for anyone’s tastes, but his background suggests he has plenty of room to grow. He played college ball at Marshall and then only 19 NBA games before joining the Heat. Those 19 NBA games were for the Kings, so they don’t even count. He’s really only had two years of coaching. He’s going to get even better.

Even if he doesn’t, he already blocks four shots per game. No other player in basketball comes close. The amount of surplus value that adds in shots altered and overall fear among opposing players to attack the basket is priceless. He might be the one center in basketball, besides offensively-illiterate Rudy Gobert, who makes Portland’s backcourt viable. Who cares if Klay Thompson wants to post up McCollum, he’s not getting easy layups with Whiteside looming.

Portland is going to chase Whiteside, that’s a given, but whether or not he comes is going to largely depend on the recruiting process. If Miami offers him the max from Day 1, he’s probably staying. It’s more money and it’s free of state income taxes.

But if they feel the need to chase Kevin Durant, which I suspect they will, Whiteside will look elsewhere. How is he going to feel when Portland recruits him heavily while Miami spends its time elsewhere? He went to Marshall and was a second round pick, he’s going to be so flattered by the love Portland gives him that he’ll sign on the spot.

Besides, we heard enough leaks during the regular season about Whiteside not fitting into the Miami culture that losing him probably wouldn’t bother them much anyway. Portland’s culture seems like a better fit. Damian Lillard has drawn rave reviews as a leader, but the Blazers don’t come with the same dogmatic discipline and conditioning rules Miami does. It’s a more relaxing atmosphere, better for younger players who want to enjoy NBA life.

Miami should just re-sign Whiteside and be done with it, but they won’t. Pat Riley’s eyes are bigger than his stomach. Once they start throwing their money around elsewhere, Portland is going to come in and steal him away.

Likely Contract: Four Years, Max

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 5/13/16: Jimmy Butler to the Thunder

Jimmy Butler Thunder

Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper. During the 2016 NBA Playoffs, each week will feature seven fake trades of one star player. This is Jimmy Butler Week. 

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Chicago Bulls Receive:                        Oklahoma City Thunder Receive:             Brooklyn Nets Receive:

Russell Westbrook                                Jimmy Butler                                                    Derrick Rose

Brook Lopez

 

Why Chicago would make this trade: It’s a one-year, all in chance to try to convince Russell Westbrook to spend the rest of his career in Chicago. It’s a big market with a history of winning, plus they’d be able to offer him a bigger contract, so if they manage the team correctly it’s not a bad gamble. Pairing him with Lopez is a fine foundation.

 

Why Oklahoma City would make this trade: They’d only do it if Kevin Durant leaves, but if he does, trading Westbrook is the logical follow up. He becomes a free agent next summer, but Butler is locked in for four more years. That kind of security would give Oklahoma City a real chance to build around him and hopefully fix the mistakes they made during the Durant era.

 

Why Brooklyn would make this trade: What do they have to lose? It’s a chance to get a former MVP still in his 20’s. Those draft picks are a sunk cost, potentially getting worse is meaningless to Brooklyn. But the upside of Rose? That could turn the entire franchise around if everything breaks right.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 5/12/16: Jimmy Butler the Blazers

Jimmy Butler Blazers

Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper. During the 2016 NBA Playoffs, each week will feature seven fake trades of one star player. This is Jimmy Butler Week. 

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Chicago Bulls Receive:                                                  Portland Trailblazers Receive:

C.J. McCollum                                                                  Jimmy Butler

 

Why Chicago would make this trade: McCollum has similar value to Butler, but his shooting is a much better offensive fit with Rose. Plus, his rookie contract extends for one more season, giving the Bulls a brief window with additional cap space to spend.

 

Why Los Angeles would make this trade: It ends the “can Lillard and McCollum defend well enough to win a championship” debate by replacing C.J. with an all-world defender in Butler. Lillard’s shooting is a perfect fit next to him, and the overall shot-creation between the two of them would be extremely difficult to defend.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 2/5/16: McCollum for Jabari

McCollum Bucks

Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper.

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Milwaukee Bucks Receive:                     Portland Trailblazers Receive:

C.J. McCollum                                             Jabari Parker

                                                                       Top-10 Protected 2016 Milwaukee First Round Pick

                                                                       O.J. Mayo

 

Why Milwaukee Would Make this Trade: The Bucks need a point guard who can space the floor and create offense on his own, but aren’t particularly well-positioned to find one. They will have meaningful cap space this summer, when few are available, but will likely have far less in 2017 when more hit the market thanks to potential extensions for Giannis Antetokuonmpo and Michael Carter-Williams. If they want to find one, they’ll likely have to part with a significant trade chip or two. Luckily, trading Jabari makes sense as his fit next to the three-point averse Giannis seems less viable by the day. Biting the bullet on that first rounder is tough, but this trade has the added benefit of opening up the power forward spot for John Henson, helping Milwaukee shift back towards the defensive system they had so much success with last season.

 

Why Portland Would Make This Trade: It’s exceedingly difficult to build a functioning defense around two 6’3” guards (especially if you plan on keeping Meyers Leonard). While Jabari Parker is by no means a stopper himself, his size represents at least the hope of a passable defensive forward, whereas McCollum would likely spend his career getting destroyed by bigger guards if he stays in Portland. He hasn’t shown as much as McCollum as a scorer, but playing next to arguably the second best shooter in the game in Damian Lillard would open the floor up for him significantly, and the Blazers have far fewer mouths to feed offensively anyway. That first-round pick is a valuable asset for a rebuilding team, and O.J. Mayo helps save them real-life cash by getting them closer to salary floor via his cap number but only costing them the money it takes to pay him for the rest of the year.