Hoosiers In The NBA: Gordon’s Fit In Houston And All Other Free Agent Deals That Affect Former Hoosiers

Welcome to offseason coverage of Hoosiers In The NBA! Today I will be recapping how the first weekend of free agency affected almost every former Hoosier, including how well Eric Gordon will fit on the Houston Rockets. Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:


The first weekend of free agency is in the books and already a lot of important moves were made. Even though only one former Hoosier moved teams this weekend, almost all of them were affected by their teams either signing or not signing certain free agents. So for this edition of Hoosiers In The NBA, I will look at every former Hoosier and discuss how they were affected by the last 96 hours.


How Gordon Fits In Houston

Initially I thought Eric Gordon’s poor overall shooting percentage (41.8%) and two finger injuries (37 games missed) last year would limit him to only getting a one-year deal in free agency for around $5 to 8 million, but it seems I underestimated the salary cap increase.

Instead, Gordon has signed a four-year contract with the Houston Rockets worth $53 million.  That deal is almost identical to his last contract (four years, $58 million back in 2012) despite the fact Gordon has missed 116 games since he signed his last deal.

However, when Gordon has been healthy he has proven to be one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, shooting 39.5% (411 of 1040) from long-range during the past four seasons. That’s why Gordon was a no-brainer for Houston, especially now that Mike D’Antoni is the head coach.

Famed coach of the mid-2000s Phoenix Suns “Seven Seconds Or Less” Offense, D’Antoni looks to replicate that in Houston with James Harden as the focal point. Here is a link to an explanation of how D’Antoni’s fast break offense operates, but basically Gordon would be an ideal corner shooter for Harden to drive-and-kick to. The Rockets also signed Ryan Anderson to fill the role of stretch-four.

If Gordon can stay healthy, he could play a vital role in helping the Rockets get back to the playoffs. If he doesn’t start, I could see him play the role of sixth man, where he can relieve Harden for stretches and play with him during crunch time.


Oladipo’s Success In OKC Now A Mystery

Unfortunately the idea of seeing Victor Oladipo play on a title-contender was short-lived after Kevin Durant decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors. Now his new team is one big decision away from potentially being in the same position his old team was in during his whole career.

The Oklahoma City Thunder need to try and get Russell Westbrook to sign a contract extension or else they may have to trade him so they don’t lose him for nothing like they did with Durant. If Westbrook stays, the Thunder should still make the playoffs and Oladipo could become the second-best player on the team. If Westbrook is traded, Oladipo will be in the same situation he was in during his three seasons with Orlando. This will definitely be a something that will require monitoring over the coming days and weeks.


Charlotte Chooses To Build Around Zeller

Last season Cody Zeller proved that not only could he be a good NBA center, but also proved that he was the exact type of center the Charlotte Hornets needed to run their offense effectively.

Those beliefs were backed up this past weekend when the Hornets let Al Jefferson leave for the Indiana Pacers. For most of his time in Charlotte, Jefferson was the starting center and the best offensive player on the Hornets. Yet when the offense started to click with Zeller filling in for an injured Jefferson, there looked like there might be a changing of the guard but nothing was for sure. With Jefferson now out of the picture, Zeller is now the unquestionable choice at center.

For anyone wondering, the signing of Roy Hibbert will not affect Zeller at all. Hibbert was signed only for depth purposes as Zeller was the only center on the Hornets’ roster.


Vonleh Still In Portland’s Plans For Now

Technically the Portland Trail Blazers haven’t made a free agent move that directly affects Noah Vonleh. Yet the fact they haven’t made such a move does affect Vonleh when you consider the circumstances.

After making a surprising run to the playoffs, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Trail Blazers try to sign a veteran power forward to help sustain the team’s success. They tried and failed with Pau Gasol, but other than that the Trail Blazers haven’t been looking for someone who would prevent Vonleh from competing for the starting power forward position next season. There’s still a chance that kind of player could still get signed in the days to come, but for now it looks like that, despite a shaky season, Portland still believes in Vonleh.


Ferrell’s Path To Make The Nets’ NBA Roster Just Got Harder

One look at the Phoenix Suns’ roster and you can tell Troy Williams will have an uphill battle to make the team’s NBA roster with players like P.J. Tucker, Brandon Knight, and Devin Booker headlining a loaded logjam at wing.

Yet there was hope for Yogi Ferrell when he signed with the Brooklyn Nets for summer league. With the team’s giant hole at the point guard position, it became plausible that Ferrell could end up being the Nets’ backup point guard.

Now all of that looks unlikely after the signing of Jeremy Lin and the probable signing of Tyler Johnson (unless the Miami Heat match Brooklyn’s offer sheet). There’s still a chance Ferrell could make the NBA roster as a third point guard (Johnson is technically a combo guard so it’s possible) but the chances have greatly diminished since the beginning of free agency.

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Hoosiers In The NBA: Hornets’ Free Agent Decisions That Will Affect Zeller’s Role Next Year

Welcome to offseason coverage of Hoosiers In The NBA! Today I am looking at Cody Zeller’s Charlotte Hornets, who have some very crucial free agent decisions that will dictate the franchise’s future.  Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:


The Charlotte Hornets are coming off their most successful season since the franchise was reborn back in 2004 (and were called the Charlotte Bobcats). While key players such as Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and IU’s own Cody Zeller are under contract for next season, the Hornets actually enter the offseason with more than half of last year’s team currently scheduled to  be free agents.

After such a successful year, it would only make sense to bring back as many players as possible but management knows it probably can’t bring everyone back. So for this edition of Hoosiers In The NBA, I’m going to look at the five biggest free agents and how the decision of either keeping or parting with them will affect Cody Zeller’s role on the Hornets next season.


Nicolas Batum

While he’s always been a good player, Nic Batum really flourished in his lone season with the Hornets. Posting career-high averages in points (14.9) and assists (5.8), his passing took some of the pressure off of Walker (letting him focus a little more on scoring) while his defense helped compensate for the loss of Kidd-Gilchrist for most of the season.

If He Returns: Batum’s overall play has earned him a chance to land a max contract this offseason, and all indications are that both he and the Hornets are very interested in making that happen. While the size of the contract won’t likely affect Zeller when he has to re-sign next offseason, it will affect how Charlotte will handle the rest of this offseason as Batum’s new contract will limit how much the team will spend with the rest of its free agents. Chances are that if Batum returns with a max contract, at least one or maybe two of the five players on this list won’t be returning unless they take a considerable pay cut.

If He Doesn’t Return: While the Hornets could just hold on to the remaining cap space after re-signing everyone else, the pressure to remain competitive may force management to spend it which could lead to the Hornets trying to go after some big-name free agents. While that doesn’t sound that bad, it should be mentioned that all of the big free agent names who would be interested in coming to Charlotte are big men like Dwight Howard, Al Horford, and Hassan Whiteside, all of which would greatly hamper Zeller’s role on the team and will likely lead to him signing elsewhere after this upcoming season.


Al Jefferson

The cornerstone of the franchise since he was signed in 2013, Jefferson earned a spot on the All-NBA third team for helping Charlotte make the 2014 playoffs. Since then, Jefferson’s numbers have decreased dramatically (from 21.8ppg and 10.8rpg in 2013-2014 to 12.0ppg and 6.4rpg this past season). Some of the decline may be in part to the many injuries he has suffered the last two seasons, but the more likely cause is that Jefferson will be entering into his 13th NBA season next year and his body is breaking down. No decision this offseason directly affects Zeller more than the decision to re-sign Jefferson.

If He Returns: Keeping Jefferson could mean one of two things for Zeller. It could mean that the Hornets want to move forward with Zeller as their center but they still don’t think he’s a big offensive threat yet and need a backup that can score when needed. Unfortunately it could also mean that the Hornets are not yet convinced Zeller is their future center and both will likely compete for the starting job with the loser likely to be gone by the 2017-2018 season.

If He Doesn’t Return: By combining this with re-signing Batum, Charlotte’s management would be showing complete confidence in Zeller’s abilities. Of course, it’s very possible that even if Jefferson doesn’t return that the Hornets may still sign a veteran big man, but Zeller will have a huge advantage over most players the team could possibly sign to the veteran minimum because Zeller would be much more familiar with Head Coach Steve Clifford’s system.


Courtney Lee

Brought in during the middle of the season to add shooting and fill-in for the injured Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward, Lee is probably the most expendable of Charlotte’s five key free agents. With a healthy MKG and the likely re-signing of Batum, Lee would likely play a sixth man role next year. For a guy who can start for a number of NBA teams, coming off the bench for the Hornets probably isn’t his preferred choice.

If He Returns: While Zeller still has a ways to go offensively, having a great three-point shooter such as Lee gives Zeller the much needed space to operate in the post. He also gives the Hornets another solid defender, which could help solidify Zeller’s role as starting center. The Hornets have talked about signing a rim protector in free agency, but if the team has more solid defenders that don’t let their man get past them to the rim, the need for a rim protector becomes less important.

If He Doesn’t Return: Losing Lee’s shooting and defense will be tough to replace with one player but could be easily replaced by two. Kidd-Gilchrist, if he stays healthy, should take over defensively for Lee while getting a shooter should be rather easy. There are always good three-point shooters available in free agnecy, including former Hoosier Eric Gordon. Also the Hornets could use their first round draft pick to select a shooter, with wings such as Malik Beasley (FSU), Patrick McCraw (UNLV) and Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall) all likely options when Charlotte picks at 22.


Jeremy Lin

Although it seemed his 15 minutes of fame had vanished after “Linsanity” left the New York Knicks after the 2011-2012 season, Lin has seemingly found a home in Charlotte as Walker’s backup and the Hornets’ sixth man. While his numbers don’t look that impressive (11.7ppg, 3.2rpg, 3.0apg), Lin always seemed to have big games when the Hornets needed him the most. He also formed a pretty formidable pick-and-roll tandem with Zeller.

If He Returns: While Lin’s situation has some similarities to Lee’s situation, the biggest difference is that Lin has already proven that he can be successful and is willing to come off the bench for the Hornets. Lin and Zeller form a great pick-and-roll team so Lin’s return could help Zeller try to increase his scoring for the fourth consecutive season. Lin’s shooting also helps provide the spacing Zeller needs to work in the post. He’s not as good of a defender as Lee but the return of MKG should offset that.

If He Doesn’t Return: As much as Lin could help Zeller score more, he isn’t mandatory for Zeller’s points to increase. Zeller also has good pick-and-roll chemistry with Walker and if he improves it along with his chemistry with Batum than Zeller should have plenty of opportunities to score more this upcoming season.


Marvin Williams

Once Zeller’s main competition for playing time, Williams has now turned into the player Zeller needs most to succeed with the Hornets. Thanks to the Hornets switching to a more up-tempo and spaced-out offense, Williams has turned into an excellent stretch power forward without sacrificing his rebounding. He also provides a perfect mentor for Frank Kaminsky.

If He Returns: It can’t be stated enough how much Zeller benefitted from Williams playing power forward alongside Zeller. Williams shot 40.2% from deep while also grabbing a team-high 6.4 rebounds per game. This compliments Zeller perfectly as it gives Zeller the space he needs to score in the post on offense and also helps cover one of Zeller’s weak spots on defense (rebounding). He also provides a veteran leadership that would be gone if the Hornets part with Jefferson.

If He Doesn’t Return: While Zeller could still succeed with the Hornets next year without Williams, he would need Kaminsky to take his place and provide the same shooting and rebounding. While I do believe that Zeller and Kaminsky are primed to be Charlotte’s frontcourt of the future, I think Kaminsky is still a year away from being a full-time starter. If this scenario plays out, Zeller will need “Frank the Tank” to adapt quickly or both could be playing for different teams in the future.

Hoosiers In The NBA: Final Report Cards For 2015-2016 Season

NOTE: Hello everyone and welcome to a new edition of Hoosiers In The NBA on its new site! Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy this latest edition and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:


With no more former Indiana Hoosiers left in the NBA playoffs, it’s time to transition to offseason coverage. Tomorrow I will kick things off by taking a look at Victor Oladipo’s Orlando Magic and their coaching vacancy.

For now let’s put a bow on this past season by grading the four former Hoosiers on how they performed during the 2015-2016 season. I’ll take a look at what each player accomplished and also what parts of their game they fell short on this season. The final grades are not measuring the overall quality of the player but are instead based on how the player did in relation to expectations. Without further ado, here are the end of the season report cards:

 


Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

Season stats:

15.2ppg, 2.2rpg, 2.7apg, 0.96spg, 0.31bpg, 1.6tpg, 2.2fpg, 41.8% FG, 38.4% 3FG, 88.8% FT, 32.9mpg. (45 games)

What He Accomplished:

Coming off a season where he posted a career-low 13.4 points per game, it seemed that Eric Gordon was transitioning from being a lead player to role player. While team injuries may have forced it, Gordon proved this season that he can still be the team’s lead scorer if necessary. Despite playing 16 fewer games, he had the same number of 20+ points games (13) as he did last season. He also had the highest free throw percentage and the fewest turnovers of his career.

What Needs Improvement:

After shooting over 40% from three-point range for the first time in his career last season, Gordon failed to shot above 40% this year, making last season seem more like an aberration. While 38.4% is still very good, it isn’t the elite-level shooting that could have garnered him some good money in free agency despite his injury history. Speaking of which,  Gordon suffered a double whammy by missing nearly half the season due to injury, marking the fourth time in his eight-year NBA career he failed to play 60 games.

Conclusion:

It’s hard to properly judge Gordon or any member of the New Orleans Pelicans after all the bad injury luck (combined 531 games missed to injury). Gordon played well this past year and showed he still has something left in the tank, but his bad luck with injuries hit again and forced questions about his durability to resurface after a relatively healthy 2014-2015 season. In the end, I think they end up canceling each other out.

Season Grade: C

 


Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

Season stats:

16.0ppg, 4.8rpg, 3.9apg, 1.61spg, 0.75bpg, 2.1tpg, 2.4fpg, 43.8% FG, 34.8% 3FG, 83.0% FT, 33.0mpg. (72 games)

What He Accomplished:

Having exceeded expectations offensively, it was the defensive side of the ball that Victor Oladipo needed to improve upon going into his third season. Under the direction of now former Head Coach Scott Skiles, Oladipo finally started showing why scouts thought he could become one of the premier defenders in the NBA. He also showed his versatility when he successfully filled the role of sixth man  for the Orland Magic during the early parts of the season.

What Needs Improvement:

Unfortunately Oladipo’s focus on improving his defense slightly diminished his offense output (he averaged 17.9 points per game in 2014-2015). The good news is that he did find a good balance toward the end of the season, especially during his 45-point performance against Cleveland. Yet the fact that his shooting numbers stayed the same (he shot 43.6% overall and 33.9% from deep last season) is a little concerning and will be the main focus for next season.

Conclusion:

Despite a dip in statistics, this was actually a very successful year for Oladipo. It cannot be overstated how much he has improved as an NBA defender and he should only get better. However, the biggest question going into this season is still unanswered, as we still don’t know whether Oladipo is an All-Star or just a really good role player. We’ll have to wait until next season to answer that question but the future still looks bright.

Season Grade: B+

 


Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:

Season stats:

3.6ppg, 3.9rpg, 0.4apg, 0.35spg, 0.33bpg, 0.6tpg, 1.9fpg, 42.1% FG, 23.9% 3FG, 74.5% FT, 15.1mpg. (78 games)

What He Accomplished:

Despite still being very raw, Noah Vonleh was able to earn a decent amount of playing time and start 56 games for a Portland Trail Blazers team that finished with the fifth-best record in the Western Conference. He also got quite a bit more comfortable taking NBA three-pointers, attempting 46 after only trying 13 during his rookie season.

What Needs Improvement:

Did I mention he is still very raw? Despite playing almost five more minutes per game, his season averages barely improved. His performance remained mostly stagnant throughout the whole season despite being given many opportunities to improve.

Conclusion:

While Vonleh probably fell way below expectations, it’s important to note that the kid still isn’t even 21 years old. After getting shipped from Charlotte to Portland, you could argue that Vonleh had to go through another rookie season. However, it’s not a good sign that instead of adjusting as the season moved along he just maintained his level of play. Right or not, the expectations for next year will be high and the leniency will be low.

Season Grade: D+

 


Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

Season stats:

8.7ppg, 6.2rpg, 1.0apg, 0.78spg, 0.86bpg, 0.9tpg, 2.8fpg, 52.9% FG, 10.0% 3FG, 75.4% FT, 24.3mpg. (73 games)

What He Accomplished:

Cody Zeller’s standing with the Charlotte Hornets is so much better now than it was at the end of last season. Zeller needed to find a role to avoid being the odd man out and he definitely did. Thanks to a stylistic shift to a more up-tempo offense, Zeller’s speed, athleticism, and basketball I.Q. lend himself to being the perfect center for the Hornets. He also finally made over 50% of his shots for the first time in his NBA career.

What Needs Improvement:

Zeller saw a huge jump in the number of fouls he committed this season. While he’s still a very good defender, he’s not a rim protector and has accumulated the majority of his fouls because of this. There was also a decrease in the number of assists and while the number of rebounds did improve it could still be a little better.

Conclusion:

Unlike Oladipo, Zeller discovered his identity during his third NBA season and now can build towards perfecting his role. While the statistics may say he’s only contributing a little to the offense, the fact is that his screens and pick-and-roll play make this offense run perfectly. He still has a few things that he needs to work on but he definitely exceeded expectations by turning from a backup center fighting for a roster spot to a key part of the Hornets for years to come.

Season Grade: A-

 

Hoosiers In The NBA: Reviewing The Script To The Charlotte-Miami Series

I hope you all enjoy the game-by-game coverage of these playoffs and for more follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBAPlayoffs.

For today’s edition of Hoosiers In The NBA, I’m going to recap the “script” to the Charlotte-Miami series and map out how the series actually mirrored a five act theatrical play. Plus I’ll also review how Cody Zeller did in comparison to my projected stats.

As for the Portland-Golden State series, it should be an interesting one regardless of whether or not Noah Vonleh plays, but for the purposes of not rehashing this same topic (how does Vonleh find a way to play in this series) over and over again, this will probably be my last playoff update unless Vonleh’s role increases.

 


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: (6) Charlotte Hornets vs (3) Miami Heat (Miami Wins 4-3)

Game 1: Miami 123, Charlotte 91

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 9 points (3-4 FG)(3-4 FT), 7 rebounds, assist, personal foul, 20 minutes.

Game 2: Miami 115, Charlotte 103

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-6 FG)(2-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 personal fouls, 14 minutes.

Game 3: Charlotte 96, Miami 80

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 12 points (4-8 FG)(4-4 FT), 8 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 26 minutes.

Game 4: Charlotte 89, Miami 85

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 4 rebounds, turnover, 4 personal fouls, 21 minutes.

Game 5: Charlotte 90, Miami 88

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 4 points (1-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, assist, steal, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 21 minutes.

Game 6: Miami 97, Charlotte 90

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 12 points (4-5 FG)(4-6 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, turnover, personal foul, 18 minutes.

Game 7: Miami 106, Charlotte 73

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 6 points (3-7 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 turnovers 2 personal fouls, 17 minutes.

The Charlotte Hornets and the Miami Heat generated some compelling theatre during their series as the amount of twists and turns transformed a playoff series that had more blowouts than close games into one of the most interesting first round series in recent NBA history. So why not recap the series like it was a five act play? Here is the script:

ACT 1: The Heat On Fire – Game 1 & 2

  • The first act is primarily for creating exposition, but its other function is to introduce the conflict.
  • The exposition is straightforward and present before the series begins (it’s the playoffs and Miami has home-court advantage), but the conflict arises as a result of the Hornets getting run off the court during the first two games. The Heat combined to hit 93 of their 161 field attempts (57.8%), including 18 of 34 (52.9%) from deep in the first two games. The Hornets were now in the process of getting swept and, to add insult to injury, were now just one loss away from tying the record more most consecutive playoff games lost (13 by the New York Knicks).

ACT 2: Clifford Counters – Game 3 & 4

  • This act is called the rising action as the events of this act build up tension and draw the plot towards the climax.
  • Tension definitely began to rise for the Heat as what once looked like a possible sweep saw the series tied after four games. Charlotte Head Coach Steve Clifford made a great lineup change as he moved Cody Zeller to the bench to enhance the second unit, placing Al Jefferson in the starting lineup, and also started Frank Kaminsky at power forward, moving Marvin Williams to small forward. Both Zeller and Kaminsky had their best playoff games during game three as Zeller scored 12 and Kaminsky scored 15. Then in game four, Kemba Walker took over as his 34 points helped the Hornets even the series.

ACT 3: Courtney Lee’s Offensive Rebound – Game 5

  • The climax occurs in the third act as every building up to this point reaches a boiling point.
  • The climax (at least for the Hornets) happened when Courtney Lee grabbed a huge offensive rebound off of Walker’s missed 16-footer and hit the game-winning three-pointer with 25 seconds left. You could also argue that the climax was when Dwyane Wade rebounded a blocked Goran Dragic three-pointer and was unable to draw a foul as a 50-50 call went Charlotte’s way when the referees didn’t whistle Zeller for a personal foul.

ACT 4: Wade Refuses To Die – Game 6

  • The falling action follows the climax and details what happens after the climax and starts to wrap up the narrative.
  • I had to cheat a little bit here as game six could be considered either the climax or the falling action depending on which team’s point of view you are taking.
  • It’s a climax for Miami as the franchise’s greatest player refused to let his team lose by imposing his will on the game when it mattered most. Wade scored 10 of his team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, but more impressively he made two three-pointers in the period after not making a single one in the last four months.
  • For Charlotte this game is the falling action due to the realization after the loss that the Hornets had just blown their chance to win the playoffs series. Sure they had just won in Miami during game five, but now the Heat had all the momentum after finally solving the new Charlotte lineup.

ACT 5: Dragic, Defense Dominate – Game 7

  • The last act is called the denouement, which basically is just a conclusion or resolution to the story.
  • With the final outcome never in doubt after halftime, a lot of people considered game seven to be anti-climatic. While not the exact opposite of the climax, the denouement is more focused on wrapping up the story and getting to the final point. So Dragic’s 25 points and the Heat’s overall defensive brilliance helped make sure that the conclusion of this series was as clear as possible.

It was a valiant effort for the Hornets as they look to be a team on the rise as long as they retain their key free agents (especially Nic Batum) this summer. One of the reasons this team will continue to get better is because of Cody Zeller, as he actually surpassed my expectations by a little bit during the Miami series:

  • Cody Zeller’s Predicted Stats: 6.5ppg, 6.1rpg, 0.83spg, 1.50 bpg, 47.0% FG, 28.3mpg
  • Cody Zeller’s Actual Stats: 8.4ppg, 5.3rpg, 0.43bpg, 55.3% FG, 81.0% FT, 19.6mpg

While the numbers are a little off, for the most part I was right about the role Zeller would have in this series. He provided some excellent defense and was able to help the offense function with his ability to set perfect screens. However there were two things that surprised me:

  1. Zeller actually was involved in the scoring more than I anticipated. I figured he’d get a few passes in the paint off of pick-and-rolls, but Zeller actually attempted about a half dozen mid-range jumpers and ended up making most of them. This was usually the result of him getting the ball wide-open at the top of the key after the passer was double-teamed. He was also very confident at the foul line as he actually shot better in the playoffs (81.0%) than he did during the regular season (75.4%).
  2. The other thing that surprised me was that Zeller didn’t play anywhere near as much as I thought he would. Granted I didn’t predict that Zeller would end up giving his starting spot to Al Jefferson, but Zeller ended up ranking eighth on the team in terms of minutes played with only 120 minutes logged. In comparison, rookie Frank Kaminsky played 190 minutes and Nic Batum (who only played five of the seven games, two of which he came off the bench) played 144 minutes. I understand why they ended up playing more (Kaminsky can play both power forward and center and Batum in Charlotte’s second best player) but the minutes gap still feels a little strange.

 


Western Conference Quarterfinals: (5) Portland Trail Blazers vs (1) Golden State Warriors (Golden State leads 1-0)

Game 1: Golden State 118, Portland 106

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-0 FG), rebound, 1 minute.

I predicted in my series preview that either Noah Vonleh would take Chris Kaman’s spot in the nine-man rotation or Portland Head Coach Terry Stotts would shorten it to an eight-man rotation. For game one at least, he seems to have chosen the latter.

Yet that doesn’t mean it still can’t happen. The Portland Trail Blazers need to make some kind of adjustment as the Golden State Warriors (even without Stephen Curry) were the better team by a sizeable (both in skill and length) margin.

Vonleh could potentially start in the same role he had for most of the season (start both halves and determine playing time from his performance) and thus give Portland a legit power forward instead of playing two small forwards. I admit Coach Stotts could also go with Ed Davis in this situation but the starters do have experience playing with Vonleh which would bring some familiarity.

 

Hoosiers In The NBA: The Correlation Between Charlotte Wins And Zeller’s Plus/Minus

I hope you all enjoy the game-by-game coverage of these playoffs and for more follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBAPlayoffs.

The Portland Trail Blazers took care of business on Friday night as they finished off the Los Angeles Clippers to win their first round series in six games. Now they advance to face the top-seeded Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Semifinals, which starts on Sunday at 3:30pm EST.

Also happening on Sunday is game seven of the Charlotte Hornets and the Miami Heat. The Hornets were unable to closeout the series at home and now must again win in Miami if they want to continue playing this season.

So for today’s edition of Hoosiers In The NBA, I’m going to focus on the first round matchups (mostly Charlotte-Miami) and tomorrow I’ll make a separate article previewing the Trail Blazers’ second round matchup with the Warriors.


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: (6) Charlotte Hornets vs (3) Miami Heat (Series Tied 3-3)

Game 1: Miami 123, Charlotte 91

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 9 points (3-4 FG)(3-4 FT), 7 rebounds, assist, personal foul, 20 minutes.

Game 2: Miami 115, Charlotte 103

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-6 FG)(2-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 personal fouls, 14 minutes.

Game 3: Charlotte 96, Miami 80

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 12 points (4-8 FG)(4-4 FT), 8 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 26 minutes.

Game 4: Charlotte 89, Miami 85

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 4 rebounds, turnover, 4 personal fouls, 21 minutes.

Game 5: Charlotte 90, Miami 88

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 4 points (1-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, assist, steal, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 21 minutes.

Game 6: Miami 97, Charlotte 90

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 12 points (4-5 FG)(4-6 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, turnover, personal foul, 18 minutes.

With the series tied and heading for a winner-take-all game seven, I wanted to go over one of the most interesting trends in this series: player plus/minus.

The chart below shows every Hornet player who has played at least 50 minutes in this series and also shows the combined plus/minus during Charlotte wins and Charlotte losses:

CHA Wins CHA Losses Total
Player (+/-) Minutes (+/-) Minutes (+/-) Minutes
Jeremy Lin (+40) 95 (-26) 75 (+14) 170
Cody Zeller (+42) 68 (-30) 52 (+12) 120
Courtney Lee (+27) 114 (-24) 115 (+3) 229
Frank Kaminsky (-4) 87 (+5) 73 (+1) 160
Al Jefferson (-21) 69 (-22) 80 (-43) 149
Kemba Walker (-1) 112 (-44) 113 (-45) 225
Marvin Williams (+11) 103 (-48) 92 (-37) 195
Spencer Hawes (+24) 42 (+1) 11 (2 games) (+25) 53
Nic Batum (+2) 25 ( 1 game) (-62) 89 (-60) 114

Here are the things that stand out to me:

  • It’s very interesting that Charlotte’s two stars (Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson) both have a negative plus/minus regardless of the game being a win or loss for the Hornets. I’ll give a pass to Walker because the difference in his plus/minus is still huge, however nothing seems to change for Jefferson on a game-by-game basis.
  • Spencer Hawes technically makes the biggest positive impact for the Hornets as he has had a positive plus/minus in four of the five games he has played ( he was -1 when he played four minutes of garbage time during game one). However, I think that has more to do with the fact that he always plays while the top two players on this list are also on the court.
  • Frank Kaminsky wins the award for most confusing results as he has a negative plus/minus during wins and a positive plus/minus during losses. The reason for this is that he has had both his best and worst plus/minus games during wins, thus canceling each other out.
  • Many experts on TV name Marvin Williams the x-factor for Charlotte and these stats do back it up. However, if we go game-by-game, we’ll see that he’s had four no-show games (during all three losses and one win). While he is a key player, the Hornets have won a game with him going scoreless on five shot attempts so he isn’t pivotal.

That leaves us with the two players who I believe are the most important when it comes to deciding Charlotte’s outcome: Jeremy Lin and Cody Zeller. Here is a game-by-game breakdown of both of their plus/minus:

  • Game 1 (L by 32): Lin -12, Zeller -20
  • Game 2 (L by 12): Lin +3, Zeller +0
  • Game 3 (W by 16): Lin +17, Zeller +18
  • Game 4 (W by 4): Lin +17, Zeller +20
  • Game 5 (W by 2): Lin +6, Zeller +4
  • Game 6 (L by 7): Lin -17, Zeller -10

So why is it that plus/minus favors these two? It has to due with the specific roles each have and whether or not they fill them exceptionally well during a specific game.

Lin’s role is to be the primary ball-handler for the second team and secondary ball-handler for the starters during crunch time, taking some defensive pressure away from Walker. Zeller’s role is to play pick-and-roll with the ball-handler on offense and anchor the paint on defense.

Because of the nature of their roles, Lin ends up with flashier stats than Zeller, but the Hornets need both of them playing at their best in order to succeed. So when you are watching Game seven on Sunday at 1pm EST, pay attention to those two players. How Charlotte plays with them on the court will determine whether or not the Hornets will be winning their first playoff series since 2002.


Western Conference Quarterfinals: (5) Portland Trail Blazers vs (4) Los Angeles Clippers (Portland wins 4-2)

Game 1: Los Angeles 115 123, Portland 95

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-2 FG), 2 rebounds, assist, steal, personal foul, 7 minutes.

Game 2: Los Angeles 102, Portland 81

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-1 FG), 1 minute.

Game 3: Portland 96, Los Angeles 88

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

Game 4: Portland 98, Los Angeles 84

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-0 FG), assist, steal, 1 minute.

Game 5: Portland 108, Los Angeles 98

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-0 FG), rebound, 1 minute.

Game 6: Portland 106, Los Angeles 103

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

Let’s take a look back at my predicted stats for Vonleh and what his final stats were for the Clippers series:

  • Predicted Stats: 1.5ppg, 2.4rpg, 0.33bpg, 37.5% FG, 5.7mpg.
  • Actual Stats: 0.0ppg, 0.8rpg, 0.5apg, 0.50spg, 0.0% FG, 2.5mpg.

A deer-in-the-headlights performance during game one seemingly doomed Noah Vonleh to only play garbage time minutes in the playoffs. Yet with a new series and a new set of matchups just around the corner, maybe there is still hope for Vonleh to play more meaningful playoff minutes. We’ll go more in-depth tomorrow.

 

Hoosiers In The NBA: Recapping Zeller’s Impact At The End Of Game 5

I hope you all enjoy the game-by-game coverage of these playoffs and for more follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBAPlayoffs.

In honor of a monumental game five victory for Cody Zeller and the Charlotte Hornets, this whole edition of Hoosiers In The NBA will be all about the final six minutes of the fourth quarter and how Zeller made a huge impact numerous times during that period:


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: (6) Charlotte Hornets vs (3) Miami Heat (Charlotte leads 3-2)

Game 1: Miami 123, Charlotte 91

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 9 points (3-4 FG)(3-4 FT), 7 rebounds, assist, personal foul, 20 minutes. (-20 plus/minus)

Game 2: Miami 115, Charlotte 103

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-6 FG)(2-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 personal fouls, 14 minutes. (0 plus/minus)

Game 3: Charlotte 96, Miami 80

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 12 points (4-8 FG)(4-4 FT), 8 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 26 minutes. (+18 plus/minus)

Game 4: Charlotte 89, Miami 85

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 4 rebounds, turnover, 4 personal fouls, 21 minutes. (+20 plus/minus)

Game 5: Charlotte 90, Miami 88

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 4 points (1-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, assist, steal, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 21 minutes.

It was a really weird game for Cody Zeller.

Due to foul trouble and a minor injury, Zeller only played a total of six minutes for the first three and a half quarters. But the former IU big man made up for it by playing the final 15 minutes and proved to be the Charlotte Hornets’ unsung hero, especially during the final six minutes.

Every major play for the Hornets during that final half of the fourth quarter had Zeller’s fingerprints all over it. Whether it was a critical screen, or a 50-50 no call at the end, Zeller’s presence altered each outcome in Charlotte’s favor.

In fact, Zeller assisted on the Hornets’ four biggest shots of the fourth quarter without recording a single assist on any of them. Don’t believe me? Well here’s the rundown:

  1. 5:18 left in 4th quarter – Nic Batum had finally made his first bucket of the game just two minutes prior and was starting to feel confident. However, Justise Winslow was draped all over him and wouldn’t allow separation. Zeller’s screen held up Winslow just long enough to let Batum run around the screen and fire off a confident jumper that gave the Hornets their first lead of the fourth quarter at 80-78.
  2. 3:06 left in 4th quarter – A Luol Deng three-pointer gave the Heat the 84-82 advantage but on the next possession the lead went right back to the Hornets thanks to multiple screens by Zeller. Kemba Walker went right on a Zeller screen at the top of the key but Josh Richardson recovered very quickly. Instead of trying to get a shot off before Richardson could contest it, Walker threw it back to the top of the key to a wide open Marvin Williams, who got open after using Zeller’s next screen to get free of Deng.
  3. 2:05 left in 4th quarter – Back-to-back Dwyane Wade jumpers not only extended the Heat’s lead to 88-85, but they also got the home crowd rocking as momentum seemed to be fully on Miami’s side. That’s why Jeremy Lin’s long two-pointer (he barely stepped on the line) was so huge as he used yet another Zeller screen at the top of the key to get the Hornets within one point.
  4. 0:25.2 left in 4th quarter – All the credit in the world to Courtney Lee for grabbing the offensive rebound and then hitting the game-winning three. But do you know how Lee was able to get that offensive rebound? Well the answer is that Wade, who was guarding Lee, abandoned him to prevent Zeller from getting a potential tip-in after Zeller completely boxed out Richardson right under the basket.

Zeller also proved pivotal twice in the five seconds as he prevented Wade from tying the game and caught the in-bound pass to make time expire.

As for whether or not Zeller fouled Wade is up to interpretation. Sure Zeller didn’t go perfectly vertical on his jump, but Wade forced the contact on purpose to try and draw a foul and even embellished getting hit in the face (which he didn’t). At the end of the day it was 50-50 call that went against the Heat.

 


Western Conference Quarterfinals: (5) Portland Trail Blazers vs (4) Los Angeles Clippers (Portland leads 3-2)

Game 1: Los Angeles 115 123, Portland 95

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-2 FG), 2 rebounds, assist, steal, personal foul, 7 minutes.

Game 2: Los Angeles 102, Portland 81

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-1 FG), 1 minute.

Game 3: Portland 96, Los Angeles 88

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

Game 4: Portland 98, Los Angeles 84

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

Game 5: Portland 108, Los Angeles 98

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-0 FG), rebound, 1 minute.

 

Hoosiers In The NBA: Hornets Tie Playoff Series And Zeller’s Improvement From Two Years Ago

I hope you all enjoy the game-by-game coverage of these playoffs and for more follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBAPlayoffs.

Monday saw both the Charlotte Hornets and the Portland Trail Blazers even up their playoff series and also saw momentum swing in their favor. Let’s see how both series are progressing after four games:

 


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: (6) Charlotte Hornets vs (3) Miami Heat (Series Tied 2-2)

Game 1: Miami 123, Charlotte 91

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 9 points (3-4 FG)(3-4 FT), 7 rebounds, assist, personal foul, 20 minutes. (-20 plus/minus)

Game 2: Miami 115, Charlotte 103

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-6 FG)(2-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 personal fouls, 14 minutes. (0 plus/minus)

Game 3: Charlotte 96, Miami 80

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 12 points (4-8 FG)(4-4 FT), 8 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 26 minutes. (+18 plus/minus)

Game 4: Charlotte 89, Miami 85

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 4 rebounds, turnover, 4 personal fouls, 21 minutes. (+20 plus/minus)

It was just four days ago that many thought the Miami Heat were well on their way to sweeping the Charlotte Hornets. After all, the Heat had won the first two games by breaking multiple team playoff records and the Hornets were a defensive mess who now had to play without their do-it-all wing Nic Batum.

Now the Heat return to Miami, but instead of preparing for their second round matchup they are frantically searching for a solution to the Hornets’ new rotation.

Charlotte Head Coach Steve Clifford matched Miami’s size by rotating Marvin Williams over to small forward (in place of Batum) and starting Frank Kaminsky at power forward. In addition, Clifford had Al Jefferson replace Cody Zeller as the starting center so Jefferson could add some offense to the first unit and Zeller could add some defense to the second unit.

Every move has worked as not only have the Hornets tied the series but their defense has also returned to form, holding a Heat team that averaged 119 points in the first two games to just 82.5 points per game over the last two.

Maybe the biggest surprise is how well Zeller has played despite losing his spot in the starting lineup. Just take a look at his stats through four playoff games and compare it to his averages during his first playoff series (which was also against the Heat) where his team was swept in four games:

  • Cody Zeller’s 2014 Playoff Averages (4 games): 2.0ppg, 2.3rpg, 0.5apg, 0.75bpg, 0.5tpg, 0.8fpg, 33.3% FG, 50.0% FT, 13.3mpg.
  • Cody Zeller’s 2016 Playoff Averages (4 games): 9.3ppg, 6.0rpg, 0.3apg, 0.25bpg, 0.8tpg, 3.5fpg, 59.1% FG, 84.6% FT, 20.3mpg.

They might not be the flashiest stats, but they are a monumental improvement from what he contributed just two years ago. But it’s not just the boxscore stats that make him an irreplaceable presence for the Hornets. It’s the impact he has on the game, as the Hornets have outscored the Heat by a combined 38 points over the last two games when he’s been on the court.

Offensively he’s been the equivalent of a fullback or an offensive lineman. He has been able to set perfectly placed screens to get guards Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee, and Kemba Walker the space they need to either drive to the basket or get an uncontested three-point attempt. He has also improved on rolling to the basket on pick-and-roll plays and as a result has scored the majority of his baskets on these plays.

Defensively, Zeller has always been an asset but he has really proved his worth in this series. While he’s at a weight disadvantage when guarding other centers, his quickness, athleticism, and length allow him recover very quickly. So if an opposing big man backs Zeller down, the former All-American at IU is able eliminate any separation almost immediately. Zeller has used these three traits to stop slashers like Dwyane Wade and Goran Dagic in their tracks, and recently in game four he used them to contest more than a few three-point attempts that would have been wide open.

It’s because of all of these factors that Clifford still has Zeller and not Jefferson playing center during crunch time. As a result, Zeller is actually earning more minutes coming off the bench than he was when he was starting.

Game five may decide the series as a Hornets’ win would give them the opportunity to win the series at home. Just know that when Wednesday’s game is on the line, Zeller will be on the court and his play will be one of the major keys that will determine the outcome.

 


Western Conference Quarterfinals: (5) Portland Trail Blazers vs (4) Los Angeles Clippers (Series Tied 2-2)

Game 1: Los Angeles 115 123, Portland 95

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-2 FG), 2 rebounds, assist, steal, personal foul, 7 minutes.

Game 2: Los Angeles 102, Portland 81

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-1 FG), 1 minute.

Game 3: Portland 96, Los Angeles 88

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

Game 4: Portland 98, Los Angeles 84

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

Even though Noah Vonleh didn’t leave the bench again, things are looking great for his him and his Portland Trail Blazers.

While it is unfortunate that Vonleh is only able to see the floor during blowouts, the likelihood of blowouts has greatly increased after Chris Paul left game four with a broken hand. Add in that Blake Griffin is banged up and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if the Los Angeles Clippers end up losing the next two games.

Whether or not Vonleh has a better chance at playing meaningful minutes in a potential second round matchup with the Golden State Warriors is yet to be seen, but it’s always good to have more opportunities.