By: J.R. Smooth

Tobias Harris is legit

The last thing long-suffering Milwaukee Bucks’ fans needed was to see one of the best players in their team’s recent history get moved in a trade deadline deal so they could win-now, as opposed to later. The only problem is they’re not winning now. And they likely won’t be later.

When Milwaukee decided to move Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, and Beno Udrih to the Orlando Magic for Gustavo Ayon, J.J. Redick, and Ish Smith, it was lauded as a major victory for the Bucks. Tobias Harris’ name was barely mentioned – seemingly a throw-in in the J.J. Redick trade. Milwaukee fans were justifiably perplexed at the move, as this 279-page(!!!) thread on the Bucks’ Real GM message board can attest (special thanks to Twitter user and longtime Bucks’ fan, @tpcourier, for passing that along).

I honestly did not watch much of Harris while he was at Tennessee, even though he was widely rumored to be a favorite of Nuggets’ management were he available at their 22nd pick. I watched bits and pieces of him from time-to-time and came away largely unimpressed. Was I ever wrong?

Rob Hennigan may have just found himself a franchise player in the vein of Carmelo Anthony. And all he had to do was give up J.J. Redick. Tobias Harris can score from the outside (shooting 33% from the 3-point line). Tobias Harris can score from mid-range (shooting an above-average percentage from 16-24 feet). And Tobias Harris can punish people with his 6-foot-8, 226 pound frame on the low-block. His post-game is admittedly still developing. But considering he’s only 20 years-old, I think we can bear with it.

He doesn’t have the first-step of Carmelo – because honestly, who does? But he can beat bigger players off-the-dribble fairly easily. And he can move without the ball to find vulnerable creases in opposing team’s defenses, as his basketball I.Q. is off-the-charts.

Apparently, one reason Harris wasn’t getting minutes in Milwaukee was because of his defense. I was aghast upon hearing this revelation. Harris has always looked like a phenomenal defender to me, and the numbers back this up: With Harris on the floor, Orlando is giving up 106 points per 100 possessions, which is bad. But with him off the floor, Orlando surrenders an astronomical 115.1 points per 100 possessions – a greater-than nine point jump. When you also consider Orlando is scoring 98.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and just 95.7 with him off, Tobias Harris is improving Orlando by twelve-points per 100 possessions this season. The sample-size is small. But the numbers are still significant. Very significant.

There isn’t enough space here to provide a player analysis anywhere near the level Tobias Harris is due. For a more in-depth look at Harris and how he may compare to Carmelo Anthony, please visit my blog, Smooth’s Hoops, where a piece including video footage, shot chart data, and other measurables should be forthcoming.

Deron Williams and the Nets

The Brooklyn Nets are going into the playoffs on a bit of roll. Mikhael Prokhorov can thank no one other than Deron Williams for that. The former Utah Jazz point guard is in the midst of his best stretch of play since being traded to the then New Jersey Nets two years ago.

Over his last sixteen-games, whereby Brooklyn has gone a solid 10-6, Williams is averaging 23.4 points on 16.5 shots, 8.6 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and only 2.3 turnovers in exactly 36 minutes per night. Not only is this his best stretch of play since being traded, it could be some of the best basketball of his career. In seven games during the month of April, he’s been even more dominant, shooting 53% from the floor, 41% from 3-point range, 88% from the free throw line, and averaging 27 points per game. Furthermore, his last seven games have seen a massive uptick in aggression, as Williams is engaging in a perilous assault on the basket. Below is D-Will’s shot chart (left) and shot distribution (right) during the month April. Just below those two are the same for his entire season.

For the month of April:


 For his entire season:

Along with his newfound ability to get to the rim, Deron is seeing his trips to the free-throw line increase exponentially, as he’s earning 7.1 free-throw attempts in April (after averaging just 4.8 over the course of the entire year).

What Deron Williams’ improved play may mean for the Nets in the playoffs remains to be seen. We do not yet know who Brooklyn’s opponent will be. However, his ability to get the free throw line and take over games scoring the basketball should help Jay-Z’s team do damage in their first playoff appearance since 2006-07.

Evan Fournier could end up being the real steal of the 2012 Draft as the Nuggets creep into the top-10 defenses in the league

I hate to talk about the Nuggets every single week, but, I would be remiss not to mention the play of rookie sensation, Evan Fournier, as we head into the final week. I have been extremely critical of their front office over the last year and it would be disingenuous of me to not laud them when I feel they deserve it. And in the case of Fournier, I believe they do.

I don’t know if I can put into words the kind of impact he’s had on Denver over the last month of the season. After losing Danilo Gallinari to a torn ACL in an April 4 game against the Mavericks, Denver has in large part relied on Fournier to take his place in terms of both production and basketball I.Q. The Frenchman has not disappointed.

In a breakout game against the struggling and injury-depleted Portland Trail Blazers Sunday night, Fournier had his best game of the season, posting 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor (3-of-5 from 3-point range and 5-of-6 from the FT-line), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in a season-high 36 minutes of action. Going back to March 29 – when Fournier received his first meaningful run of the season – Denver has gone 7-1 with the lone loss in Dallas on April 12. Evan Fournier only saw eight minutes of playing time that night.

How well has Fournier filled in for Gallinari?

This is each compared over the course of the entire season per-36 minutes:

And this is Fournier in the month of April per-36 minutes, where Gallinari has been injured:

If Denver is fortunate enough to make a deep playoff run this season, Evan Fournier’s ushering into the limelight will be a major reason why. For a player not yet able to legally purchase alcohol in the United States, that’s some pretty rarified air. Masai Ujiri deserves ample praise for not only finding Fournier, but then having the guts to choose him in the draft knowing the potential backlash he’d receive in picking such an unknown quantity.

Chris “Birdman” Andersen is the last thing Miami needed

Chris “Birdman” Andersen is flying again for Miami. If the Heat needed anything less than Chris Andersen, I cannot think of what it might be. Yet here we are entering the final leg of the 2012-13 regular season with the Heat as favorites to win back-to-back NBA Championships. Andersen is one major reason why.

“Birdman’s” impact cannot be understated. Since his signing on January 20, Miami has gone 36-4, won 26-games in a row, posted a league-best offensive (111.7) and defensive (99.5) differential (12.2), and transformed their fourth-worst rebounding rate (48%) into a better than league-average, 14th-ranked rebounding rate (50%).

Before adding Andersen, Miami had gone 26-12, posted the league’s fourth-best offensive (108.8) and defensive (101.4) differential (7.4), and been the source of much concern – especially with respect to rebounding – over their relative chances coming off a title last year.

Oh, what a difference a Bird can make. Perhaps Florida Governor Rick Scott should consider re-naming the state’s official bird in Andersen’s honor.

Chris Copeland’s emergence in New York is to be celebrated

And finally, I want to touch on former University of Colorado Men’s Basketball player and current New York Knick, Chris Copeland. If you haven’t read ‘The Reeducation of Chris Copeland’ by SB Nation’s Flinder Boyd, I would recommend you do so. It is very worth your time.

I remember watching Chris Copeland play every year he was eligible at Colorado. I always thought there was more to his game that others missed. He was often quiet, never demonstrative, and very businesslike. Among the team leaders in three-point and free-throw shooting every year, Copeland had a knack for scoring. Where Richard Roby was the team’s lone potential NBA Draft prospect, Copeland stayed behind the limelight – always doing the dirty work.

Sometimes I wonder if his understated demeanor might have worked against him in terms of gaining scouts attention. Other times I wonder if then Colorado coach Ricardo Patton’s strict direction dampened Copeland’s enthusiasm more than it already would have been otherwise. Either way, I am exceedingly happy for him now that he’s found his way into the NBA. He’s deserving of all the attention and recognition coming his way. The New York Knicks and their fans should be proud to call him their own.