Friday, August 8, 2008

GRADING THE OFFSEASON - PART 4

Continued from: GRADING THE OFFSEASON - PART 3


Matching Kelenna Azubuike

This wasn't a 'no-brainer' decision to match Azubuike's offer sheet from the Clippers. There were many pros and cons to examine. The Warriors needed to consider their financial situation in the future as well as the possibilities of finding a suitable replacement at a low price. But after weighing the options (one of which included bringing in Maurice Evans), it was the right move to match.

Azubuike is a versatile wing man that does many things well and has the potential to become a lockdown perimeter defensive player. When he's healthy, he could nearly match Jason Richardson's production on many fronts: scoring, rebounding, perimeter shooting, and clutch play. He provides better defense and great timing to block shots. Azubuike also as a knack for crashing the boards for timely offensive put-backs. He is very strong going to the rim and there have even been reports that he has focused on improving his shooting this offseason and the results are promising. Azubuike is a very good player with a high basketball I.Q. - a player that plays with poise and rarely makes mistakes.


Pre-Draft Scouting Report from Draft Express:
April 9, 2005

Strengths
Azubuike averaged over 40 points a game in high school, so his scoring prowess is well-established. He's an athletic marvel, chiseled and lean, and owns a 38-40+ inch vertical leap.

Possessing a smooth jump shot and a superior slashing game, Azubuike is probably better-suited to the pro court than the college court. Many of his travelling calls in college would not be called in the NBA, possibly opening up more room for him to maneuver on strong moves to the basket.

The gifted scorer is also a strong free-throw shooter, hitting a cool 75% for his collegiate career, and rarely missing key free throws in tight games. He also managed a 49% mark from the field overall, despite shooting 37% from three-point range, a testament to his excellent mid-range and slashing game.

On his best days, Azubuike finishes like Jason Richardson and shoots like Tracy McGrady. But those days certainly aren't every day.

The junior's defensive skills improved mightily over the course of his UK career, and like many former Tubby Smith players, he projects as an above-average on the ball defender at the next level, something that should help him tremendously as he moves forward.

Most of all, Azubuike's a first-team All-Potential squad member, somewhat of a raw commodity, much as he was upon arriving in Lexington for college.

Weaknesses
Despite often being the most athletically gifted player on the court for either team, Azubuike rarely dominated a game while at Kentucky. He could score in bunches, but too often deferred to his teammates and let the game move without him.

Perhaps Tubby Smith put it best when, while trying to goad Azubuike to play with more presence, the coach noted, "He looks like Tarzan and plays like Jane."

If he is to someday make the NBA, he'll have to become a much better shooter from outside. Kentucky was sorely lacking a player who could hit the open 3 to compliment Rajon Rondo's ability to drive and dish, and Kelenna was not able to do that in many games for Kentucky this year, failing to hit more than one three pointer in 20 of Kentucky's 34 games. This is hardly the type of shooting ability you would expect from an NCAA junior who is confident enough in his offensive skills to forfeit his final year of NCAA eligibility.

Still, Azubuike's junior campaign saw much improvement, especially with the Wildcat's ball-handling skills. But those skills are far from polished and he'll need to work on his dribble to stay in the League. His first step is fairly average, which makes you wonder if he'll be able to slash to the hoop as effectively in the league.

Azubuike is not an overpowering rebounder, though it's hard to tell if that is due to lack of interest rather than lack of ability. As is often the case when Azubuike is discussed, focus and mental toughness are his foibles, not ability or potential.

Put simply, Azubuike is a work in progress, but it remains to be seen if he'll ever reach his immense potential. At some point, you have to stop being a prospect.

ESPN Scouting Report:

Scouting report: An athletic 6-5 guard, Azubuike is a good leaper who can make some spectacular dunks and blocks. In spite of his leaping, he doesn't seem to be a good finisher -- he cashed a little more than half his close-in shot attempts and missed several easy bunnies. Azubuike can shoot from long-range, too, and has the size and athleticism to get to the line.

What's missing right now is all the subtle stuff. He's not a good ball handler or an elusive dribbler, so it's tough for him to get shots at times; he also needs to learn the defensive side of the game better and take advantage of his athleticism on that end. He's only 23 so there's time to learn, but the absence of those skills cost him a rotation spot when Golden State made its playoff run.

Career Statistics

2007-2008 Game Log

(click to enlarge image)


Kelenna Azubuike's contract is a very reasonable 3 year / $9.3M deal with a 3rd year player option. His upside and growth curve should make him an easily tradeable asset if the Warriors want to package him to help move a less friendly contract like Maggette's. The Warriors didn't let a valuable player walk away for nothing and at the same time, Azubuike can serve as a capable backup to Jackson and Maggette.

Grade: B+


Kelenna Azubuike '07-'08 Highlight Reel
From: BBJ




Re-signing Monta Ellis

The re-signing of Monta Ellis was a must, particularly after the Warriors lost their best player in Baron Davis, but is he worth 6 year / $66M?

He becomes the best player on the Warriors, but there is significant 'flaw' that is currently preventing him from being considered a legitimate franchise player that a team can confidently build around - he is essentially an undersized SG until proven otherwise. Don Nelson recognizes that if Ellis wants to be considered among the elites of the NBA, he needs to do it as a PG. We have seen flashes of PG skills the three years he's been around, but one does not get a sense that Ellis is blessed with PG instincts. He hasn't been thrust into that role full-time but this upcoming season, Ellis will be thrown into the fire to see if he has what it takes. Allen Iverson, a supremely gifted scorer, led his team to the Finals but lost. Ellis has to match Iverson's offensive output, but must also strive to be a multi-faceted player if he is to achieve personal and team greatness. Hopefully, he follows the successful path of a late-bloomer like Chauncy Billups or at least develops enough PG skills to run an offense like Tony Parker.

How will Ellis respond to being the #1 option with no Baron Davis to draw the attention of the defense? Opposing teams will be game-planning for him now that he's 'the man.' If last year's home game vs. the Celtics (#1 defense) was any indication of how he will react, he should fair well on many nights. In a game where Doc Rivers ordered defensive efforts to be focused on stopping Ellis, he was able to take what the defense gave him for the first three quarters, racked up 9 assists, and exploded for 12 points in the 4th quarter to help get the Warriors a come-from-behind victory.

Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins BOS @ GSW 2008.02.20
From: ymydy4



Ellis' pay is approaching that of a franchise player, so the former Most Improved Player has to continue to step up his game in order to live up the lofty expectations placed on his young shoulders. He is no longer just a scoring machine. He is now a playmaker, a leader, and will be asked to evolve into a good defensive player. Ellis certainly possesses the speed, quickness, and anticipation skills to do it, but he will have to take on that mindset of a great defender. It's a mindset that is achieved through hard work, dedication, pride, and desire. He can no longer allow his man to get past him consistently and hope for weakside help. Ellis has to fight through screens, move his feet, and use his world-class quickness to stay in front of him. He needs to show responsibility and accountability - without those two, as a leader, he has no right to demand the same from his teammates on the defensive end.

If Monta Ellis can build off of his terrific season and the Warriors are a .500 team, there is a great possibility that he could make the All-Star team as a reserve. He should be able to increase his scoring and assist averages, giving him enough stats worthy of consideration. Ellis is the fastest player in the NBA, is unstoppable 1-on-1 in transition, and is among the best finishers in the league. The Warriors are a better rebounding team with the additions of Turiaf, Hendrix, and Randolph, along with more playing time from Wright. Their defensive rebounds will lead to more fastbreak opportunities and more transition buckets for Ellis.

Career Statistics

2007-2008 Game Log


(click to enlarge image)

Scouting Report from Draft Express:

Overview: An undersized shooting guard (6-3 in shoes) who has become a very talented combo only two years after leaving Lanier High School for the NBA Draft. Has incredible quickness and leaping ability. Runs the floor as fast as anyone in the game. Isn’t very strong, but has put on some weight since entering the League. Has fully transitioned his offensive game to the NBA, and is one of the most efficient guards you’ll find. Won the NBA Most Improved Player Award after coming into his own in his second year pro. Still needs to develop his point guard skills, but the former second-round pick has already vastly outplayed his draft slot. Has the potential to be a great player due to his age and rapid development.

Offense: Gets almost a third of his offense in transition, a testament to his speed. Another third comes from pick and rolls, with the final third coming from spot ups and isolations. Has become a very dynamic scorer early in his career. Can spark fast breaks by himself. Still trying to find his range. Has improved his shooting stroke, but isn’t always consistent. Could try and hammer out his footwork to avoid rehashing his mechanics. Gets to the rim more often than he pulls the trigger from the outside. Only 4% of his field goal attempts came from beyond the arc in 07/08. Quick first step and impressive crossover allow him to get into the lane without a lot of trouble. Goes to the line at a good rate and shoots a respectable percentage. Capable of driving and finishing with either hand, although he’s better with his right. Gets creative when finishing at the rim and displays great leaping ability. Good pull up jump shooter from mid-range. Needs to learn to keep the same rhythm on his set shots that he does on those off the dribble. Will turn the corner on pick and rolls with little trouble. Good offensive rebounder for his height. Could stand to work on his point guard skills, although he’s not turnover prone at all. Will need to show he can handle more minutes running the offense, something that he did infrequently up until 2009.

Defense: A mediocre defender, as he lacks both size and length at the shooting guard position and isn’t aided in the least bit his poor fundamentals. Plays too many minutes, which likely hampers his effectiveness. He tends to bite on every pump fake and only occasionally will get into an aggressive stance. He does have excellent lateral quickness and is highly adept at getting into the passing lanes, making him fairly effective when asked to play pressure defense. He is also a fairly solid rebounder considering his size.


Mullin made it known early on in the process that he would match any offer sheet for Ellis and Biedrins, two cornerstones of the Warriors franchise. But rather than letting the market dictate their price, Mullin decided to lock them up early, perhaps to send a message to the rest of the league that they aren't cheap and that the Warriors take care of their best players. His contract pays him $11M each year with a possible player option in the 6th year - quite a long and high contract for an undersized SG that yet to prove he can handle full-time PG duties. Mullin may have overpaid somewhat, but if Monta Ellis can develop into a franchise player that makes his teammates better, he will be well worth his contract of 6 years / $66 million. That's a huge load for a 22 year old to bear, but I believe he's up to the task.

Grade: B+

Monta Ellis
From: dontsleepond




Monta Ellis '07-'08 Highlight Reel
From: BBJ




Monta Ellis Warriors.com Interview
From: GoldenStateWarriors




Signing Anthony Morrow

Anthony Morrow was one of the biggest revelations of the summer league circuit having done extremely well in Orlando, then slowly making a name for himself in Las Vegas, and finishing it up by winning the MVP in Salt Lake City. Morrow was among the best 3 point shooters in the NCAA and the Warriors could always use another sharp-shooter coming off the bench. He has very good size for the SG position, and can play SF in Nelson's system as a result. In summer league, he showed that he could be more than just a 3-point shooter by rebounding, blocking shots, and doing a decent job on the defensive end. Morrow hit an incredible percentage from down town and help the Warriors to a 8-2 record resulting in 2 first place finishes.

Mullin was right in offering Morrow a minimum contract, and he needs to continue to impress the Warriors if he is to stick with the team past training camp. If he does well, Belinelli will have to pick up his game to avoid being passed up in the depth chart by this specialist that hits outside shots at a higher rate, is bigger, and has better rebounding and defensive abilities. Who knows, Morrow could end up being another one of Mullin's diamonds in the rough.

Birthday: 9/27/1985
NBA Position: Shooting Guard / Small Forward
Ht: 6-5
Wt: 205
College Team: Georgia Tech
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
High School: Charlotte Latin


Official Georgia Tech Profile

Georgia Tech Statistics

From Draft Express:

July 9, 2008

Anthony Morrow gets the nod for our “undrafted sleeper of the day” award, as he was able to drop 19 points in just 23 minutes of action, on a scintillating 5 of 7 from beyond the arc. Morrow was one of the best shooters in college basketball this season, hitting 45% of his shots beyond the arc playing in the ACC, so its not like this is exactly startling news. It is interesting to see how quickly he has been able to expand his range to the NBA line, and just how intelligently he moved off the ball finding open spaces for which to get his shot off. He kept things nice and simple all day long, sticking to what he does best, while also mixing in a little one dribble pull-up jumper from mid-range for good measure. He creates separation nicely and has a gorgeous text-book release. Some of the scouts around us mentioned that they think he’s too one-dimensional to play in the NBA (as he’s not a great ball-handler, athlete or defender), but to his credit, he was competing hard and not looking bad out there. Morrow surprisingly already signed a contract to play all the way out in the Ukraine, leading many disappointed high-level European teams here wondering what exactly his rush was to sign in a league like that.


From nbadraft.net:

NBA Comparison: N/A

Strengths: One of the better shooters in the nation with range out to college three ... Best utilized as a catch and shoot guy ... Shows a willingness to take big shots and makes them ... A tremendous free throw shooter, rarely misses from the line. A fluid athlete with long arms and a good feel for the game ... Has developed into a dangerous scorer who can score equally well from midrange as outside ... Rarely forces shots and finds success with a disciplined shot selection ... Unselfish, usually scores his points in the flow of the offense ... A mature, cerebral player who is seldom rattled ... Solid skill level. A decent passer and decision maker, nothing above the ordinary but rarely turns the ball over or makes crucual mental errors ... His quality outside shot gives him a real chance to make an NBA team ...

Weaknesses: A below average athlete by NBA standards. Doesn't jump especially well and lacks great explosiveness and a quick first step. Suffered through much of his junior season with a back injury, limiting his athleticism to an extent ... One on one skills are poor, lacking a great ability to beat his man off the dribble or create shots for himself ... Has worked hard at adding body strength but remains on the thin side. Can be overpowered by stronger and more athletic opponents. An average defender. Despite his superb length, he lacks great foot speed, and the overall quickness to be a great defender and create steals ... Will need to prove that he can step his range back to the NBA three point line ... His lack of strength/athleticism makes it difficult for him to finish at the rim as well as create FT shooting opportunities.This is an area of his game that could really use some improvement, however it's questionable hom much more strength and explosiveness he can add.

Aran Smith - 12/3/2007


Click here to see Morrow in Summer League action and find links to interviews.

Grade: A-


Next: Andris Biedrins and Summary

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