Examining and Analyzing Sports the Way They Should Be

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

He’s not the most prolific player in the league. He’s not a glamorous. He won’t make many highlight reels, but rookie Denver Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic is developing into quiet an NBA player.

The 16th overall pick in the 2014 pick was not expected to contribute much to the Nuggets this season who are known around the league for having a mediocre, yet extremely crowded frontcourt. The Nuggets opened the season with Darrell Arthur, Nurkic, Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson, Timofey Mozgov, and Javale McGee all fighting for the same minutes.

That’s part of the reason why Nurkic doesn’t play as much as many think he should. He averages only 16 minutes per game in the Nuggets log jammed frontcourt but on a per minute basis Nurkic is one of the best bigmen in the entire league.

Per 36 minutes Nurkic is averaging 14.9 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. Those are monster numbers except for when you consider that he fouls more than seven times per 36 minutes so he would theoretically foul out of every game.

Per 100 possessions with Nurkic on the court the Nugs’ are more than 10 points better than with the Bosnian bruiser off the floor.

"I like the fact that he’s kind of oblivious to everything that goes on," Shaw said in praise of his rookie center. "He’s our most physical player."

Added Shaw: "He’s fearless. He comes from a region of the world where I’m sure he’s used to, he’s prepared for whatever he has to face. He doesn’t complain about anything. He gets out there. He plays the way he knows how to play. He doesn’t back down from anyone and we need more guys like that on our team, to be honest."

Any frontcourt pair the Nuggets can think of is better with Nurkic than without Nurkic and any and every NBA fan has to love this clip from earlier in the season of Nurkic stopping Kobe from scoring twice on one possession and then taunting him.

Hopefully Nurkic makes the rising stars challenge and gets to showcase his abilities on a big stage this February, but if not expect the Bosnian center to continue improving and talking great Bosnian strides as the Nuggets continue building toward the future.

-Ben Pickman 


Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Utah Jazz have 16 wins, their frontcourt is one of the most underrated intriguing stories in the Western Conference. Full of young talent the Jazz’s frontcourt features three talented seven footers, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Rudy Gobert.

While Favors and Kanter start at the four and five, Gobert is the most intriguing player on the Jazz. In only his second year Gobert has become one of, if not the best defensive player in the entire league.

Rudy Gobert is from France and is like the Eiffel Tower of the NBA. Whenever he is on the floor, everyone in the arena knows where he is. He is impossible to miss. With a 7 foot 8 ½ inch wingspan and a 9 foot 7 inch standing reach, Gobert is one of the mammoth’s of the NBA and he uses his massive wingspan and reach to disrupt everything in sight.

Gobert is the by far the best rim defender in the league. Opponents shoot a league low 37 percent at the rim with Gobert manning the paint. Gobert holding opponents to 37 percent is remarkable compared to some of the other elite rim defenders in the league such as Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan, and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol who hold opposing players to 50 percent, 49.1 percent, and 48.6 percent shooting at the rim respectively.

Gobert averages a block more per 48 minutes than any other player, who has played in more than 25 games, in the NBA this season. And while the French center is only averaging 21.6 minutes per game that factors in his slow start to the season.

After averaging only 16 minutes per game in the month of November, Gobert averaged 22 per game in December and 29.5 per game so far in January. Not surprisingly the uptake in minutes has led to the best month of Gobert’s young career. He is currently averaging 9.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

While his defensive has been superb all season, Gobert’s increased offensive production might be the main cause of his minutes increase. After scoring only 2.3 points per game last sheet and shooting under 50 percent, Gobert has increased his shooting percentage to 63 percent on the season and in the eight games he has started is shooting 67 percent from the field.

Gobert merely needs to play the Tyson Chandler role on offense. He needs to set solid screens and become an elite roller to the basket and lob-catcher. Chandler has made his money on the defensive end of the floor patrolling the rim as well as being a good screen setter and lethal pick-and-roll player even without any post-up capabilities.

Gobert is 22 so he’s not exactly a baby, but his offensive improvement has come as a shock to many. After being drafted in 2013 by the Denver Nuggets, Gobert was traded on draft night to the Utah Jazz for Erick Green and cash. Green, a second round pick in 2013, did not immediately make the Nuggets roster instead playing for Montepaschi Seina, an Italian basketball club. This season Green has spent most of the year on the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the Nuggets D-League team. It’s safe to say the Jazz won that trade.

The French center role is only expanding and with it, he will only progress. Look for Gobert to tower over the other rising stars in the NBA during All-Star weekend when he will likely play for the International team in the Rising Stars challenge.

He doesn’t have the name cache as Tim Duncan, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, and DeMarcus Cousins, but Gobert is right their with them in defensive real plus minus and is patrolling the rim better than anyone. The man who can almost dunk the ball without dunking is truly a specimen and sooner rather than later will help the Jazz come back to NBA relevancy.

-Ben Pickman


Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

While Stephen Curry has been elevating his game from All-Star to Superstar taking the league by storm, drawing praise and cheers from any and everyone around the NBA. Another Warriors point guard has made an almost most shocking leap to NBA relevancy.

Justin Holiday was supposed to be the last guy on the bench. Holiday, 25, is the younger brother of the New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday and after leaving Washington to go to the NBA after the 2011 college season, he has bounced around the NBA circuit, signing onto team’s during the summer before eventually settling with the Idaho Stampede last season.

Holiday made the Warriors this year as their last guard and after barely getting off the bench early on, he played just more than 24 minutes combined in the Warriors first ten games this season (The four games he played in the Warriors won by at least 18,) he has salvaged a backup guard role and is starting to make an impact on a nightly basis.

Holiday has seemingly surpassed the veteran Brazilian guard Leandro Barbosa for the combo guard minutes and recently has played quality second team minutes for the Warriors.

"I love having (Barbosa) on the team; he's the first guy off the bench to cheer for his teammates," coach Steve Kerr said to reporters earlier in the week. "Right now, it's just Justin's time. I've given him the chance and he's made the most of it."

Holiday has played double digit minutes in seven of the past eight games, the outlier being last night against the Pacers where he played only 8 minutes. He scored 18 points and had three assists and three rebounds against the Sacramento Kings on December 22. The next night he had 11 points and 4 rebounds against the Lakers.

In the Warriors win over the Thunder earlier in the week, Holiday made 4-of-6 shots and finished the game with 12 points.

The former Washington guard is gaining confidence every night, “On the offensive end, I just want to stay confident. I’m always confident when I take my shot. I want to be aggressive. With Steph and Klay and Andre playing with those guys makes everything easier,” Holiday told reporters.

In 2012, when Holiday played 9 games with the Sixers he shot only 25 percent from three and 33 percent from the field. In a slightly larger sample of 19 games, Holiday has shot 41 percent from three and 43 percent from the field. He also has already surpassed his rebounding and assist totals from his last time in the NBA.

Holiday seems to have etched out his role for the Warriors playing sparing second team minutes in close games but in the second or beginning of the fourth quarter of games the Warriors have double-digit leads in, Holiday has relieved Curry and Thompson and done a good job.

The Warriors have been rumored to be interested in Ray Allen, but the improvement of Holiday have made Warriors management less eager to attract the veteran sharp-shooter.

While Allen of course is a proven commodity, allowing Holiday to continue developing might actually be a better approach as the more athletic combo guard is active and excited to just be on the floor.

Holiday accepts that he may not play every night, but is happy to just have a job and be comfortable helping the Warriors any way he can. 

-Ben Pickman


In 2012 Kyle O’Quinn was one of the Cinderella superstars of the NCAA Tournament. O’Quinn led his 15th seeded Norfolk State team to a stunning victory over second seeded Missouri Tigers. O’Quinn finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds in the Spartans huge win and even though O’Quinn and his teammates fell to Florida in the second round of the tournament, O’Quinn made a name for himself.

After being selected 49th overall by the Magic, O’Quinn carved out some playing time thanks to his energy, hustle, and drive. He emerged as a solid rebounded and a good passer. Last season O’Quinn started 19 games and averaged 17 minutes, 6 points and 5 rebounds per game, all while shooting more than 50 percent from the floor.

This season O’Quinn has continued to show his improvement. At this juncture in the season, O’Quinn is 9th in the NBA in PER (Player Efficiency Rating), a statistical to track a players per minute contribution.

While O’Quinn is only playing 19 minutes per game, two more than last season, he has increased his scoring average to 10.1 and his rebound total to 5.1 per contest. With O’Quinn off the court the Magic’s plus/minus is -5.9. Not surprisingly, the Magic are much better defensively with O’Quinn on the floor.

O’Quinn’s size and strength make him a formidable defender, think a poor-man’s Draymond Green. The Magic are better defensively from 5-9 feet, 10-14 feet, and 15-19 feet with O’Quinn on the floor.

The Magic are also better offensively with him on the floor, while they shoot similar percentages, the Magic score a much higher percentage of shots as a result of an assist which is a testament to the floor spacing that O’Quinn helps to provide the Magic with.

The Magic currently sit in the 9 seed of the Eastern Conference at 9-16 seem destined to be back in the lottery come June. But with a young core of Victor Oladipo, Elfred Peyton, Aaron Gordon, and Nikolai Vucevic coupled with the steady play of O’Quinn look for the Magic’s continuous improvement.

-Ben Pickman 


LeBron’s return to Cleveland was the number one storyline this past summer, but Steve Kerr coming from the booth to the bench replacing Mark Jackson might have come second.

After one month of the 2014, the Warriors’ success has made everyone throw out any concerns they had of Kerr — and with it, veil their allegiances to Mark Jackson. That’s not to say Jackson wasn’t important to the Warriors current success. Jackson built the Warriors into a legitimate playoff team. He took them out of the NBA dumpster and into the NBA relevancy pool. He made what seemed like an offensive heavy team actually become a defense-first squad. He revitalized Stephen Curry and didn’t bench him for turning the ball over like his predecessor Keith Smart did.

One of Kerr’s strength’s was Jackson’s downfall: trust. Both Jackson and Kerr trusted their roster, but Jackson didn’t trust his assistants while Kerr has surrounded himself with an offensive wizard Alvin Gentry and a defensive mastermind in Ron Adams and has shown complete trust in them.

Kerr and Gentry have drastically changed the Warriors offense. There is more ball movement, different lineups, and a more aggressive and dynamic Klay Thompson. All that is a result of Kerr and Gentry. On the defensive end of the floor, Kerr and Adams have improved the Warriors’ pick-and-roll defense and made little tweaks improving on the defensive groundwork Jackson laid out.

Center Andrew Bogut has been gushing praise of his new coach per Australia’s The Age:

I don’t think it’s so much a physical thing, for me it’s a big mental thing. Having a coach that has the confidence in me, even with the scorers in Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson), to say, ‘We want you to be aggressive and look for your own shot’, it does wonders for my game. […] It’s huge, I’m a huge confidence player and I think Steve Kerr’s been unbelievable so far.
They’re running me in the high post a lot more and utilizing my passing and it’s been great so far. Steve Kerr’s turned around my career and getting me back involved offensively, too, helps.
He’s adapted (multiple championship-winning coaches) Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson and taken the best of all those guys and he continues to learn,” the 30-year-old said of Kerr. […] I think guys are starting to feed off that, he’s a very fair coach, he’s not a negative guy, he’s just got a positive vibe about him to be around every day and I’ve really enjoyed working with him so far and I think it will only get better.

None of Bogut’s comments are supposed to be viewed as an insult directed at Mark Jackson, but it’s hard to not compare the two.

Due to the concept of regressing towards the mean, the Warriors are bound to slow down at some point. But the deed has already been done, and Kerr has made people forget against the Jackson era.

-Ben Pickman

See more at Bluemanhoop.com

Former NBA point guard Delonte West was released earlier in the week by the Shanghai Sharks, a basketball team owned by former NBA star Yao Ming.

West, 31, has not played in the NBA since October of 2012 and has bounced around international waters before signing with the Sharks. But after only four games, West's run in the Far East is over.  His contract was non-guarenteed and would have paid him almost $500,000 with incentives that could have made his salary almost $1,000,000. 

The former Cleveland Cavaliers point guard has a well documented history of mental illness. But this summer spent much of his time conducting interviews about how being a father had changed him and how he was excited to get back on the basketball court and only worry about basketball. 

West is not an angel in any way shape or form because of his history with gun possession and drugs, but it is sad to see a player who was excited for an opportunity only last four games on what is now an even longer road to recovery.

-Ben Pickman 


The first game of the season for the Boston Celtics was mind boggling. A team that no one thought could shoot from an empty gym seemed to quiet all those offseason critics. Game two was a completely different story. The Celtics scored 90 points, many of them in garbage time. But the bigger story was that they shot 4 percent from three. 1-of-25 for four percent. That’s not good.

While the Celtics will not shoot worse than four percent from three all season, the Celtics will continue to have shooting woes. Avery Bradley shot a mere 39 percent from three last season which to be fair was up from 32 percent in 2012-13 season. Bradley shot 74 more three’s last season than the year before as well, which is a testament to his improved confidence in his three point shot.

Look at Bradley’s shot chart compared to some other point guards in the NBA. The blue and purple means you struggled from that area, the red means you were dominant from that area. Look at all the blue and purple on Bradley’s shot chart. He was not exactly a sharp shooter from behind the arc, and the lone red spots are long two’s which are the lowest percentage shots in the NBA.

Now look at George Hill’s chart. Even an average guard like Hill still is a legitimate three point shooter. He struggles from within the arc, but because of his three point ability he is at least an offensive threat.

Just for reference look at Stephen Curry’s chart. A lot of red from behind the arc, and not a lot of blue. Keep in mind that the spots where the are blue are closer to the rim and its not surpsing that a guard scores more of his points from the perimeter than from near the rim.

But the Celtics problem is bigger than just Bradley.

Rookie guard Marcus Smart is going to play a huge role for the C’s this season. But Smart couldn’t shoot in college and likely will not be much better in the pros. He shot only 29 percent from three in his two seasons at Oklahoma State. He averaged only four assists per game as well meaning he is not a true facilitator either.

Rajon Rondo is not a good three point shooter either. Neither is Jeff Green who was only a 34.1 percent three point shooter last season.

The Celtics are allowing Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger to shoot three’s as well, but neither will be able to shoot three’s consistently. Neither Sullinger nor Olynyk were even big contributors on the offensive ends last season.

Olynyk took only 7.2 shots per game last season and average only about 9 ppg in his 20 minutes of action. Sullinger battled through multiple injuries which derailed his season.

One guy who could help the Celtics is rookie shooting guard James Young. Young was drafted 17th. Young was supposed to be a sharpshooter at KU, but struggled shooting only 35 percent from three. He did average 14 points in 32 minutes of play, but didn’t shoot the ball as well as many had hoped. But Young has already picked up a DNP and played only 6 minutes of garbage time against the Nets.

Look for the Celtics offense to struggle all season long. It won’t be four percent bad, but it won’t be much better.

-Ben Pickman 


It’s still a bit premature to think about, but there is a chance, a slim chance that the 12th pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Dario Saric plays in the NBA this season.

Saric, a Croatian star, is currently signed to a two year agreement with Anadolu Efes, an Istanbul based basketball club that competes in the Euroleague. Anadolu Efes’ season just began with Saric not dressing for either affair.

Part of that is because the first two games of Efes’ season were in the Turkish Basketball League which stipulates that only six foreign players can dress for a TBL game. The other part though is a bit more interesting.

Saric’s father, Predrag Saric talked to a Croatian newspaper earlier in the week about his sons DNP’s. “It’s not good. I’m afraid it’s time for the alarm.” He said, adding that, “if this continues, we will look for someone who can pay to breach the contract. Dario has to play, not watch the match from the stands.”

Saric’s current contract does not have a buyout built in which could present some trouble if the situation did escalate quickly. Philadelphia does have cap space, but NBA rules prohibit teams from paying more than $600k towards and buyout. Saric’s buyout would surely be more than $600k which is what his father is referring too when he says, “we will look for someone who can pay to breach the contract.”

The 76ers expect Saric to join the team next season and seem content to let him play the 2014-15 campaign in Europe. If Saric’s current situation with Anadolu Efes is not resolved look for him to play this season on another European team rather than in the NBA.

-Ben Pickman  

Damjan Rudez signed with the Pacers before the Paul George injury. He was expected to be a backup in the Pacers frontcourt. But then again the Pacers expect Paul George to play this season.

In a recent podcast with Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe  , Pacers coach Frank Vogel said that Rudez was going to play a lot of small forward this season and listed him with C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey, Chris Copeland, George Hill and C.J. Watson among other wing players.

Rudez, 28, is in the prime of his career. After being initially expected to play 10-15 minutes per game the injury of George has opened the door for Rudez to play a bigger role. Of course the Crotian forward cannot replace all of George’s production, but can he even match a portion of it?

Rudez is 6’ 10’’ tall. He’s a lean 200 pounds. Because of his size he was widely considered to be a power forward, but due to the George injury he will be playing more small forward. This immediately creates a matchup problem for opposing team’s. Picture a 6’10’’ Rudez guarding a 6’7’’ Matt Barnes or 6’8’’ Luol Deng. Rudez is a good shooter. Playing

Basket Zaragoza 2002 last season in the Spanish league, Liga ACB, Rudez was a matchup problem. He shot 44.1 percent from three and 46.5 percent from the field. But Rudez was merely a shooter.

He averaged 10.7 points per game, but only hauled in 1.6 rebound and 1.9 assists. This summer in the FIBA World Cup, Rudez came off the bench averaging a mere 5.2 points and 1.2 rebounds in 14 minutes of action. He shot an unimpressive 30 percent from the field which will not cut it in the NBA.

In other related International tournaments such as the 2013 Eurobasket and 2008 Olympics, Rudez has performed better, but only marginally.

Rudez will be able to stretch the floor well for the Pacers, but if he can’t contribute by pulling in rebounds or defending his position, then Rudez will likely not make as much of an impact as many had hoped.

-Ben Pickman 


Don’t feel bad if you don’t know much about Matt Shoemaker.

The Eastern Michigan product had recorded a total of 5.0 major league innings entering this season, but after throwing 136.0 innings of dominant baseball for the Angels this season, he has emerged as the second best starter on the best team in the American League’s staff.

But should he be starting what could easily be a pivotal game two?

I get it. 16-4 win-loss record. 3.04 ERA. But is he good enough to be apart of the Angels three man rotation?
For this article I compare the numbers of the Shoemaker with the Angels next best three starters, C.J Wilson, Jered Weaver, and Hector Santiago along with the Kansas City Royals best four starters, James Shields, Yordana Ventura, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas.

C.J. Wilson is scheduled to start game three for the Angels, with Shoemaker slated to start Games 2 and 5. Manager Mike Sciosia is making the right call though. Shoemaker has a higher O-Swing percentage, a stat that tracks how often hitters chase pitches outside the zone. Of the 8 pitchers in the sample, he throws the highest percentage of first pitch strikes and has the highest percentage of swings and misses. A lot of this is because of Shoemakers slider which he throws almost 20 percent of the time. His sinker also helps him get ahead in counts. Shoemaker is not a flame thrower on the mound by any means, but he is not afraid to challenge hitters and more importantly does not walk batters. Occasionally he leaves pitches over the plate, but if he is able to get ahead he becomes far more successful.

C.J. Wilson has the lowest O-Swing percentage but has the highest groundball ratio of the group and a stellar groundball/flyball ratio. For a pitcher throwing a playoff game on the road these are crucial statistics. Wilson does not walk a lot of hitters. He is no longer the ace that he was in Texas, but his control is still excellent even though is stuff is not as good as it once was.

Wilson’s excels at keeping the baseball down and because of his array of pitches, he has emerged as a solid groundball pitcher. Kansas showed Tuesday night that it is a volatile place to play. It felt like a football game not a baseball game. I guess 29 years of waiting will do that to someone. Wilson, a veteran who has pitched in World Series games will not be phased by the moment and his ability to keep the ball down and more importantly in the park is even more augmented.
Shoemaker is still a rookie. Even though he is in the rookie of the year conversation, being a young pitcher and going into a hostile environment is not easy. He is not a groundball pitcher and if he doesn’t get ahead his statistics show that he is far more likely to fail. That’s why Sciosia is right to start him game two. Game five on the other hand is a different story.

-Ben Pickman