Kemba Walker is the 39th Best Player in Basketball

Kemba 50

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: Kemba Walker has been miscast as a point guard for his entire career. In the past the Bobcats/Hornets have relied on him to initiate their offense and it’s failed. The system dragged, they were forced to play slow isolation ball and Walker seemed like a good stats, bad team guy. And then everything changed when Nic Batum became his backcourt mate.

Suddenly Walker could be a scorer and only a scorer, and boy howdy did he do it well last season. His assist rate hit a career low, but his points, field goal percentage and three-point percentage were all career highs. With Batum (and to a lesser extent Jeremy Lin) on the floor he finally got a chance to learn to move without the ball because for the first time in his career, someone else on the floor was capable of having the ball in their hands. He developed a decent right corner-three that became something of an off-ball trademark (48% from that right corner).

This is the player Walker was meant to be. He’s simply not a point guard, and if he has to be the only ball-handler on an offense it’s going to fail. But if he’s paired with some quick-twitch passers that allow him to do the things that he does well, he’s suddenly a near-All Star caliber player.

Why He’s Below No. 38 (DeMar DeRozan): Because DeRozan does everything Walker does but slightly better. Walker is good at getting to the rim, DeRozan is great. Walker is good at drawing fouls, DeRozan is great. The list goes on and on. DeRozan is basically just the better Walker.

Case in point: they share a major flaw: shot selection. Walker’s is better than DeMar’s, as DeRozan barely ever shoot’s three’s, but for Kemba to shoot in the mid-30’s percentage wise on virtually every region of long-two’s is simply unacceptable considering his volume. You can’t go 33-99 from a two-point region of the court and continue taking those shots. It’s bad basketball.

And it’s not as though Walker plays defense either. At least DeRozan is long and can challenge shots, but it takes real effort to hide Kemba defensively. It’s not that he’s outright terrible, but he’s too small to guard any position besides point guard and his effort doesn’t cut it against most of them. As his athleticism starts to wane that’s going to become a real problem. Actually it already is one. Walker is a one-dimensional scorer.

Nicolas Batum is the 47th Best Player in Basketball

Batum 50

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: Nicolas Batum is the perfect role player. If you were building someone to be the fourth best player on a championship team, you’d come up with Batum.

He’s an excellent passer in both transition and the half-court, finishing in the top-five at his position for assists per game in each of the last four seasons. What’s noteworthy about his passing is how quick it is. He certainly can make the devastating cross-court passes LeBron makes, but he can also slip the ball to the corner from a close enough spot on the perimeter faster than just about any other forward in basketball, creating open three’s where one otherwise could not exist.

He’s not a stopper, but he can guard every position except center better than average. Opposing shooters shot 1.5% worse from the field against Batum despite him playing on a team without many noteworthy defenders. In a modern game obsessed with switching, Batum can do it as well as almost anyone.

And he’s at least a useful shooter. He made 36.6% of his three’s on catch-and-shoot’s last season and just under 35% overall. He’s not someone who should be pulling up, but stick him in the corner on a pick-and-roll and he’s dangerous whether he gets the ball or not.

He can be a functional point guard off of the bench, a wing in traditional lineups and even a power forward against the right matchups. There is nothing on the basketball court Batum objectively cannot do, and that’s the sort of player every team needs.

Why He’s Below No. 46 (Reggie Jackson): He may be the perfect role player, but at the end of the day Nic Batum is still a role player. He’s subject to the same limitations, he struggles just as much on the road (he shot over 5% better at home than on the road from the field last season), he’s just not a star.

These are the top 50 players in the league, to make it any higher on this list there are certain things you have to be able to do that Nic Batum just can’t. Reggie Jackson is, at least to some extent, a star player. He’s a low-end star, but he’s a star. Nic Batum may be a high-end role player, but in almost any case a role player is going to be less valuable than a star.

If Nic Batum were a star, he’d have fewer brain farts on the court. He makes at least one play per game than makes you wonder how the hell he’s even in the NBA. He goes through dangerously long stretches where he looks like he doesn’t even know how to play basketball. He racked up the second most turnovers among all shooting guards last season. That shouldn’t be possible. He doesn’t touch the ball nearly as much as Dwyane Wade, Monta Ellis and others, yet he often gets so risky with the ball that he coughs it away unnecessarily. That’s a major flaw, and one that keeps him this low on the list.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 6/25/16: Gallo to Charlotte

Gallo Hornets1

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 Danilo Gallinari Week. 

 

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Denver Nuggets Receive: 

 

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

 

 

Charlotte_Hornets_(2014).svg

 Charlotte Hornets Receive:

 Danilo Gallinari

 

 

 

Why Denver would make this trade: The Nuggets have zero perimeter defense, and Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the best defenders in basketball. They’d have to improve their spacing, but in any case MKG is a nice piece to have on your team.

Why Charlotte would make this trade: The Hornets are going to lose Nic Batum. Worthwhile teams are going to pursue him. But if they want to maintain the style of play that got them to the playoffs last year, Gallo is a close enough offensive facsimile to do so. They’d still have to bring back their other free agents, but this is their best shot at maintaining some continuity.

Alright, It’s Finally Time to Have the Stephen Curry to Charlotte Conversation

Stephen Curry Hornets

I don’t think Stephen Curry is going to sign with the Hornets next summer. Stars just don’t leave champions without extenuating circumstances. But the Warriors just lost one of the most gut-wrenching playoff series of all time. The chemistry of the team is in serious jeopardy as emotion leader Draymond Green may well have cost them a championship and the greatest team of all time title because he couldn’t stop himself from kicking someone in the nuts. And the Golden State roster is very much in flux.

The Warriors are going to be aggressive this summer. Kevin Durant is in play and so is Dirk Nowitzki, but neither seems likely to come. Al Horford probably would if they asked, but their interest in him is unknown. Nic Batum will get a look on the high end of the potential Harrison Barnes replacements; Marvin Williams, Luol Deng, Evan Turner and Solomon Hill make up the rest of the spectrum. Barnes and Festus Ezeli could both be gone and in order for the Dubs to create max cap space, both will have to be along with some combination of Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

Next year’s Golden State roster is going to look different, and for the first time in the Steve Kerr era, the front office is going to be in attack mode. This is the first time it really feels like the Warriors need something, that they can’t just waltz into the season with the same group and expect to win a championship. And that raises all sorts of questions about both their past and future.

Now that LeBron has topped the 73-win Warriors, do we have to consider some sort of asterisk for the 2015 championship version? Did the Cavs provide some sort of blueprint for the rest of the league to beat this Golden State team? Has it now been definitively proven that you can’t win a championship without paying at least some lip service to two-pointers? Did Cleveland just win the championship because the road through the Eastern Conference was so much easier?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 26: The Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate after defeating the Atlanta Hawks during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 26, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

We’ll again throw out the disclaimer that if the Warriors win the championship next season none of this matters. But if they don’t, everything in the above paragraph comes into play.

Would Curry wonder if his Golden State squad was even capable of winning a championship without help from the injury gods? Is there something they can realistically do to counter defenses that switch as relentlessly as they do knowing that nobody on their roster can take advantage of it close to the basket? Would Curry be better off on a team with a more diverse skill set? Would Curry have ever gotten hurt if he played in the East?

Tomes could be filled with answers to even one of those questions. But for the first time since the Warriors became the Warriors, they don’t feel like… well… the Warriors. They feel like just another team.

To Curry, the Hornets probably don’t feel like just another team. He was on the court when LeBron won a championship for his hometown. He has to know how special that would feel, and as he already has a ring, he wouldn’t exactly be risking his legacy to join a weaker team in making the jump.

How many players get the chance to wear their dad’s jersey? Same number, same city, same team? How many players get the chance to have their dad announce their games? How many players get a chance to do that while playing with their brother (and make no mistake, the Hornets will aggressively try to add Seth at some point before July of 2017 to try to entice Steph further)?

Golden State doesn’t have the same sentimental attachment, and as Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted on his appearance on The Lowe Post, Curry’s relationship with Joe Lacob is far from infallible. When the owner on the other line is Michael Jordan, well, that presents quite a problem. If Lacob no longer has sentiment and his team’s basketball prospects are in doubt, well, what is there to sell Curry on committing to the Warriors for the rest of his career?

This is an ongoing conversation we’ll spend the next year having. There are too many variables for any answer to present itself yet. But after what just happened in the NBA Finals coupled with his team’s uncertain future this is finally in play. Stephen Curry might actually decide to leave the Warriors for the Hornets.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 6/4/16: Monroe to Charlotte

Monroe Hornets

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 Greg Monroe Week. 

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Milwaukee Bucks Receive:                                                  Charlotte Hornets Receive:

Spencer Hawes                                                                        Greg Monroe

 

Why Charlotte would make this trade: Though retaining Marvin Williams and Nicolas Batum are likely higher priorities, Al Jefferson is a free agent and even if he’s retained he’s just not the same player he once was. Monroe could give the Hornets a reasonable facsimile of Jefferson, but with Frank Kaminsky they could still play heavy minutes as they did this season with a shooting center.

Why Milwaukee would make this trade: The Bucks need to find shooting somewhere, and if Jabari Parker is occupying a forward spot it might have to come from whoever plays center.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 5/5/16: Gasol to the Hornets

Marc Gasol Hornets PI

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 Marc Gasol Week. 

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Memphis Grizzlies Receive:                                           Charlotte Hornets Receive:

Frank Kaminsky                                                                  Marc Gasol

Cody Zeller

2016 1st Round Pick

2018 1st Round Pick

 

Why Memphis would make this trade: Two young big men and two first round picks is not a bad haul for a 31-year-old center with injury issues, especially if one of them was just the 9th pick and can shoot from long-range. Adding Kaminsky would be ironic for Memphis, a team so dedicated to old-fashioned basketball in the past, but he’s a valuable prospect who could be a centerpiece in this type of trade.

 

Why Charlotte would make this trade: Gasol is perhaps the only center in basketball who improves spacing without shooting three-pointers. He’s that talented as a passer, which makes a major difference in any offense hampered by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Pairing those two on defense would be terrifying though, and Kemba Walker should be able to coax a decent enough offense out of Gasol, Nic Batum and Marvin Williams should the core of this year’s team remain in place. It’s a deep and versatile group that could compete for a championship right away.