Comparing college big men

The NBA Draft is a long way off but there is already plenty of buzz surrounding the top pick. More specifically, many college and professional basketball fans alike want to know who is going to be the first selection in the 2015 draft. There are a couple of talented athletes expected to hear their names called early on in the draft. The talk of number one though has been mostly eaten up by Duke center Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns. Both of these highly recruited freshmen are expected to make the jump to the NBA following the close of the college season. One of them could very well be hoisting a national championship trophy come April but that a discussion for another blog post. I want to compare these two centers and come to a conclusion of which one of them should be selected first.

With how well both Okafor and Towns have played, both look NBA ready. Each, in his own right, is full of potential. They have shown that they truly look like men among boys playing against other college players. Comparing these two via statistics can be a little tricky though due to the wide gap in average minutes played per night. However, I will calculate them per 36 minutes (roughly what an NBA starter plays every night) to level the playing field. It should be noted though, right away, that Towns plays on 20 minutes per game, while Okafor plays 31.

Both players have been incredibly efficient this season. Okafor has hit an unreal 66.5 percent of his shots this season while attempting 11 shots per game. Towns, despite taking 5 fewer shots per game, is only hitting 55.3 percent of his attempts so far this season. Those stats are unaffected by the amount of time players spend on the floor each night. On top of that, Okafor matches up with much better than Towns does. The Duke center has played against 7 ranked opponents, including 6 against the top 15. Towns has only played four games against ranked teams, but 3 of them were against top 6 programs. However, Towns is the far superior free throw shooter, knocking down 79 percent of his shots at the line, compared to Okafor’s 54 percent conversion rate.

Examining the per 36 minutes stats turned out to be an interesting comparison. Towns averages 16.5 points while Okafor tallies 21.3 points per 36 minutes of action. That is a pretty large gap in points per night translated to a theoretical NBA level. Granted, it is not exactly fair to assume that both players will produce at the NBA level; in terms of what they are capable of now as scorers, Okafor has a clear upper hand. Both kids are above average rebounders as well. Towns snags 11.4 boards per 36 minutes while Okafor reels in 11.2.

Defensively, Towns clearly has the edge. Okafor only averages 1.62 blocks per 36 minutes, which is a nice number. However, Towns swats roughly 4.26 shots per 36 minutes of play, blowing away Okafor’s numbers. Towns clearly has immense value as a defensive centerpiece, meanwhile Okafor has shown that he has a lot of work to do defending in the paint. That statement is almost funny when you consider that they are the same height but Okafor actually outweighs Towns by about 20 pounds.

So here is my assessment on both. Okafor is an elite offensive big man. He hits an absurd percentage of his shots and scores at a high level. He cleans up the boards well, using his frame to box out opponents for rebounds. He needs to improve defensively and his free throw shooting. He is not a liability by any means but his play as the man in the middle will need to step up at the NBA level. As for the free throw shooting, we’ve seen what teams have done with guys like Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan, who are notoriously poor from the line.

For Towns, there is a lot of athleticism that can be turned into offensive prowess. He has not reached the point yet where he is a top scorer. He also has proven to be a good rebounder, capable of using his size to shield the opposition from the ball. On the defensive end of the floor though, Towns is a force to be reckoned with. His skills as a rim protector make him invaluable to a lot of teams at the next level. Towns knows how to position himself to force opponents to put up difficult shots and does an excellent job of contesting them as they are released. His impressive free throw shooting also keeps him from being the same liability Okafor could be at the next level.

Who to pick? This is a tough call. Okafor is much more pro-ready. Towns is slightly more of a project, but likely has more potential. His athleticism gives him the opportunity to morph into another Kentucky product that came before him, Anthony Davis. I am not saying he will reach that level, but I do believe he has that potential. The concerns for me are the low number of minutes leaving what Towns can do in more minutes a major question mark. Okafor also has the bonus playing more games against better opponents, erasing a lot of the questions that still remain for Towns. The Duke big man has also demonstrated a type of maturity that his Kentucky counterpart has yet to unlock. Either way, I am almost certain you will be hearing one of these two names called when Adam Silver walks to the podium this June. If I had to make a pick, I am likely going with Okafor. As a GM, you cannot argue with production, and he certainly has plenty of that.

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Future in question for D-Rose and the Bulls

In the 2012 playoffs, he went down with a torn ACL in his left knee. After missing the 2012-2013 season, he returned to play the opening month of the 2013-2014 season, before tearing his meniscus in his right knee. The long road back resulted in him playing on and off through the beginning of the 2014-2015 season. He finally seemed to be hitting his stride and the injuries concerns were starting to fade. Then last night Derrick Rose had tragedy strike again, this time in the form of a torn right meniscus again.

Now four years removed from his stellar MVP campaign in 2011, Rose has suffered three devastating injuries. Each time he has rehabbed to come back and make his return, only to find that his body once again betrayed him. Rose has shown no indication that this is going to end his career, just simply derail it temporarily. As good as Rose has been for the Bulls, for his own sake, he should walk away before he suffers any more injuries.

The Chicago-native has been incapable of staying healthy. Even before his first major knee surgery, Rose only managed 40 games between the regular and postseason in 2012-2013. The following year, Rose returned for 10 appearances before blowing out his knee a second time. Before this premature ending to his season, Rose only played in 46 of the team’s 57 games. Including the playoffs, the Bulls’ point guard has missed 219 games in the past four years. That is an average of 55 games per year. If you can only count on a player being available for a third of the season, he is no long worth it for the team and it is really time for the player to walk away.

Additionally, Rose has also seen his production drastically drop. In the two seasons before his injuries started, Rose averaged about 23 points, 7 plus assists and 4 rebounds per night. In the two hobbled seasons since he tore his ACL, Rose’s production dropped to 17.1 points, 4.7 assists and 3.2 rebounds per contest. Those are still efficient numbers, but it is clear how much of a toll the injuries are taking on Rose’s ability to compete at an elite level. His number of minutes also took a dip, dropping from 37 to 31 minutes per game. He also has seen his ability to shoot effectively leave him. Rose has only hit 38.1 percent of his attempts since the beginning of 2013. For his sake, Rose needs to think about moving on.

We are seeing a player decline right before our eyes. He is taking the route of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden before him. They all have unbelievable amounts of talent but they are unable to stay on the court consistently enough to make a real impact. For the Bulls from a financial standpoint, they are losing big time. Despite only playing 41 percent of his regular season games in the past three years, Chicago has paid Rose roughly $53 million in that time span according to Spotrac. It is tough to shame the Bulls for signing D-Rose to the contract that they did but now it is clearly proven to be a bad deal for them.

The reality is thought, that if Rose does not retire, Chicago has no choice but to leave him on the roster. If the team released Rose after this year, it would count as $21 million in dead cap money. Let me make something clear, I do not want to see Derrick Rose retire as a sports fan. I want to see that budding superstar we all witnessed in 2011 return to terrorizing the league, but let’s face it, we are never going to see that again. Rose is too hindered by the state of his knees to play at an MVP caliber again. I already feel so bad for the 26-year old with everything he has had to battle through to even reach this point, but I cannot bear to watch him go through it all again. I wish there was another way to solve the problem but Rose needs to call it quits. He is never going to regain that form he once had. He has sacrificed his body enough for his team. Giving it a rest now might not be what I want as a basketball fan, but as outside observer putting my love sports aside, I want Rose to get a break. He needs it more than anyone else.

Adrian Peterson’s bold stand

Roughly six months removed from a horrific scandal, Adrian Peterson is stealing headlines again. As the NFL Combine wraps up, the chatter among the league about the exciting prospects has been quieted. Instead, fans, coaches and other players alike watch as Peterson begins a war against the Minnesota Vikings. The former MVP was suspended by the NFL this season for beating his three-year old child. Rumors surfaced that Peterson was not happy with his franchise’s response to the allegations and later the support team officials provided. Peterson decided that he no longer wishes to play for the Vikings as it was announced today that his agent had a heated discussion with Vikings’ Vice President of Football Operations that Peterson will never play for the team again.

This whole situation is getting out of hand quickly. Just a few short weeks ago, Vikings’ officials entertained the media, explaining that they were excited to get Peterson back on the field and of course, the team wanted him back. Now, it does not seem like a happy reunion is on the horizon. For the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, his time in the Twin Cities is at an end. I am reading reports that the Vikings are unwilling to trade Peterson and want him to remain with the team. Meanwhile, it appears Peterson has once again made it public that he wants to play for Jerry Jones in Dallas. Time to roll through some possible Peterson scenarios.

What probably will not happen, is the Cowboys landing AP. The Cowboys are cash-strapped and have their own free agent priorities. Peterson will count $15.4 million according to Spotrac, making him just about impossible for the Cowboys to afford. With Dallas ruled out, and we can likely cross off any chance of him going to a division rival, the question remains where else could Peterson wind up next season.

Cleveland could be a major player as this all unfolds. Cleveland has a couple of young backs who have had middling success in a running back by committee setting. Landing Peterson in the backfield could solve a lot of the Browns offensive problems. It certainly makes the job for whomever the Browns have under center, whether it is Johnny Manziel, Brian Hoyer or someone else, infinitely easier. The Browns also have the assets to land a player like Peterson, with two first round picks in this year’s draft and just short of $50 million in cap space. Not likely that Peterson is satisfied with going to a perennial basement dweller in Cleveland but the Browns went 7-9 this year with very little offense. This added boost could be all they need to make it over that playoff hump. And in a year where there are going to be a lot of big name free agents at wide receiver, the Browns could construct a solid offense to pair with their stellar defense.

Another team that has to jump to mind is Indianapolis, with their less than ideal situation at running back The Colts are in the midst of negotiating a new deal for Andrew Luck, but with almost $38 million available for Indy this season, the Colts could afford to land the star rusher. Indianapolis would have to find some assets to send over to Minnesota but judging by the Vikings’ predicament, the deal might come off a little cheaper than would be usually expected. Unfortunately, the Colts will likely want to save their picks and cap space to bolster their defense. Still would be a great fit.

Two last wildcards to land the veteran running back are San Diego and Seattle. With all of the injuries the Chargers had at running back this past season, a sturdy replacement could make sense. Giving Philip Rivers an elite rusher that he hasn’t had since Ladanian Tomlinson left the Chargers could make this offense incredibly scary. For Seattle, the only reason this is even being mentioned is because of the situation surrounding Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is apparently mulling retirement and if the Seahawks believe he is heading out of the league, they could make a splash to land another massive star in their backfield. Not overly likely, with Russell Wilson’s contract yet to be decided but still would fit a need if Lynch did in fact call it quits.

With all of this turmoil and chaos surrounding Peterson at the moment, I think it will eventually just blow over. There are few teams in the NFL willing to pay upwards of $15 million for a running back. Not to mention that after a year out of the league and Peterson not getting any younger, it might be difficult to find a buyer at his expensive price tag. In reality, I think the Vikings’ will find a way to smooth things over down the line and get their priced ball carrier back in a purple uniform. Still, with the NFL you never know, so this should be a fun situation to keep an eye on.

NFL Cornerstones: 3-4 Outside Linebacker

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I have a couple of parameters for this selection though. I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think this should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope you all agree.

The selection: Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs
Honorable mentions: Clay Matthews, Ryan Kerrigan, Connor Barwin, Jason Worilds, Aldon Smith

After looking at all of the run stoppers and pass defenders at the linebacker position, it is not time to focus on the pass-rushing specialists. It is difficult to find an elite pass rusher in the NFL, so when you find one, you better keep him. That is exactly what Kansas City should do this offseason with its budding starlet Justin Houston. Houston is coming off a year where he racked up 22 sacks and finished second in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year, only behind J.J. Watt. At the age of 26, Houston is entering his prime and showing the league why he is truly an elite player.

Plenty of players have big seasons after having no production the year before. Houston has racked up at least ten sacks in each of the last three seasons. His 22-sack performance this past year was beyond impressive, but consistency over the past three seasons is even more so. Houston has played 43 games over the past 3 years. Over the course of those 43 games, he has recorded 43 sacks. Houston did not drag down the quarterback in every game in that span but to have an average of one sack per game is pretty impressive. For some reference, Ryan Kerrigan has averaged 0.64 sacks per game over the past three seasons and Clay Matthews has averaged 0.81.

Houston’s tackling abilities are off the charts as well. In his four-year career, Houston has tallied 234 tackles. That total is nothing too impressive for an edge rusher but of the 234 tackles, Houston was assisted on only 36 of them. Again, for some reference, Connor Barwin was assisted on 59 of his 232 tackles in his career and Kerrigan was assisted on 66 of his 247 tackles. Houston’s ability to wrap up the ball carrier on his own is a huge asset as more often than not, these linebackers are responsible for making crucial open field tackles. Being able to take the ball carrier down without assistance saves coaches a lot of worrying.

Pass rushers in addition to simply bringing the quarterback down are often relied on to generate impact plays. Houston has shown some improvement in that department this year. He has forced at least one turnover in every year he has been in the NFL. This past season though, Houston knocked four fumbles loose, tied for second most in the league. If Houston continues to be a source of turnovers as an elite pass rusher, he could become one of the most valuable defensive players in the league.

Outside of his pass rushing skills, Houston’s talents as a run stopper and coverage linebacker are more than passable. Over the past four seasons, he has averaged 4.75 pass deflections and 4.5 run stuffs. Those are more solid numbers for a player who is usually sent after the quarterback rather than dropped in coverage or relies on shutting down the ground game. Houston definitely could improve as a run defender, which would mold him into a more complete player.

The injury history that Houston carries is of little concern. He has only missed five games in entire career. The only major concerns will be centered on him being able to maintain his level of production in the coming seasons. After putting together such a stellar campaign, it is difficult to turn around and put up those same kinds of numbers again. Watt just became the first player in NFL history to ever record 20 sacks in multiple seasons. Odds are we will never see Houston his the 20 sack mark again but if he is consistently piling on 15 quarterback takedowns per year, he will be one of the greatest pass rushers in recent league history.

Trends at the NBA trade deadline

This was one of the craziest trade deadlines in recent memory. I read somewhere that close to eight percent of the league’s player pool switched teams on Thursday. It was interesting to see teams who have been on the verge of being contenders drop out, or other look to bolster themselves for a playoff run. It became very clear which teams thought they had a shot and which teams were throwing in the towel this year to build for the future.

Out in the Eastern Conference we saw two teams really make a push to bolster their roster in hopes of making a playoff run. It is widely known that the East is weaker and that point was highlighted Thursday with Milwaukee and Miami landed two big name point guards. The Bucks snagged Michael Carter-Williams from the 76ers in a three-team deal. Miami acquired former Sun Goran Dragic also in a three-team trade.

For the Bucks, this is their chance to make a run at a top four spot in the East. Milwaukee currently sits just one and a half games behind Washington for the fifth spot in the conference. The Bucks could also catch Cleveland or Chicago who are only two and two and a half games ahead of Milwaukee respectively. Having home court advantage in the playoffs in the NBA can make a major difference who advances. Milwaukee’s lineup now will feature talented guards with MCW, Giannis Antetokounmpo and O.J. Mayo to carry this squad. This also bodes well for next season, as the Bucks will receive a nice boost with Jabari Parker’s return. This team now has a solid young core to build around in Parker, Antetokounmpo and Carter-Williams. The Bucks made a very solid investment as they continue to take advantage of a very weak Eastern Conference.

For Miami, the impact of their move to land Dragic is mellowed by the news breaking that Chris Bosh is likely done for the rest of the year. Bosh in many ways has carried this Heat team with Dwayne Wade nursing an injury so his loss will come as a major blow. However, Miami has to be happy to land Dragic. This allows the Heat to move Mario Chalmers to the bench. Dragic has proven to be a dynamic scorer and solid floor general in his time in Phoenix. This will be a much-needed injection to a Heat offense that will surely struggle with Wade and Bosh sidelined. Dragic can also shift to shooting guard at times to play alongside Chalmers. The Heat just landed a very versatile piece that will likely help them hold onto their seventh spot in the standings. The Heat, who only sit one game above Brooklyn Nets and half a game above the Charlotte Hornets, do not have much breathing room right now.

On the flip side of the Heat trade, out west we saw the Suns blow up their current core. Not totally but Phoenix shipped off two of its four leading scorers. They also sent three young prospects packing along with them. The Suns acquired a solid point guard in Brandon Knight, veteran depth in the form of Marcus Thorton and some expiring contract. The biggest thing for Phoenix is the acquisition of three future first round draft picks. The Suns have realized that they simply cannot compete quite yet with the rest of the Western Conference with as deep as it is. The plan right now is to stock pile picks and wait for talent to develop. The West is too stacked right now. With the number of potential big name free agents in the 2016 offseason, it looks like Phoenix is banking on a power shift opening up some room for them to compete out in the desert.

The Nuggets began their remodeling process on Thursday. Denver traded away Javelle McGee, Aaron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee, the rights to Chukwudiebere Maduabum and a top-18 protected first round pick. The Nuggets received a couple of young pieces in return and a protected first round draft pick for 2016. The reason why this is just the start for Denver is because of the rumors swirling the front office is looking to trade Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler. My guess is they did not find a deal and were smart enough not to force a subpar one. This Denver team will continue to take shape during the offseason. This Denver squad has gone through a lot of change in the least three seasons since the Carmelo Anthony trade. Right now, the team is still searching for a new identity and unfortunately for Nuggets fans, it will probably be a few years before they manage to find one.

It is interesting to me how different the dynamics in each conference are. Denver was just about out of the hunt for a spot before the trades were made anyway but Phoenix was right in the thick of the race. Rather than stay the course, the Suns are looking to rebuild. In the East, Miami is in the same position as Phoenix and instead it made a move to hang on to their playoff hopes. The Heat believe they will have a shot against any opponent in the Eastern Conference. The Suns know they have some work to do first. 2016 might change all of that but that is still a long time away.