Category Archives: Dream Teams

Dream Team #3 within the salary cap, Part 2–Bench

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This is part 2 of my dream team series and now my most pointless off-season post. That is, until the next post is published, and then the one after that, and…(for part 1, click here)

It’s a two-part series dedicated to the bi-annual construction of a team that doesn’t even exist (you can view past ridiculous squads here and here). I try to mix talent with cap-friendliness since I can’t go over the salary cap for any reason. This year, that limit is $63.065 million. All contracts are fair game, save for rookie deals. From there, I try to make the best roster to my limited abilities. This post covers the reserves. Below is a quick look at the starters I selected. You can find more regarding them in part 1:

The starters combined for $49,397,823 which left $13,667,177 for the last seven players. That’s an average cap hit of $1,952,453 for each slot. Not great, not terrible. We can still splurge on a player who’s on a good, $5-9 million contract, and fill the rest of the bench with minimum deals.

So let’s get started. As a reminder, all cap hits are according to Spotrac.com. Shot charts are from Nylon Calculus.

#6: Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns

  • Cap hit: $7,500,000

dragic 2014

I was lost on who to select. It felt mandatory to take Greg Monroe because of his qualifying offer, but I’m not sure a small ball center was best. Kyle Korver was another tempting player and I love his game, but he felt redundant with Dirk and Curry, Channing Frye would’ve made for some fun combos as a stretch-5, Wesley Matthews would’ve started but the extra few million impacted the options for this slot, and a few others were intriguing. For the sixth man I felt like I mashed buttons, clicked and prayed.

I settled with Goran Dragic. Mike Conley was another guard considered but, well, I don’t know.

Two words to describe Dragic, though, are electrifying and fearless, challenging behemoths at the rim even LeBron would shy from. Check out a couple of these moves against the Pacers:

Imagine the pick-and-roll with either Nowitzki or LeBron after being so good with Channing Frye. Dragic is also one of the best shooters in both pull-up and catch-and-shoot situations. Just look at his shot chart overall. It’s so nice and balanced. He finished 2014 with a true shooting percentage over 60%, a rarity for a 20+ points per game guard with above-average usage.

Is that all coming back in 2015? The threes concern me the most. In 2012 and 2013, Dragic shot a combined 32.6% off 478 three-point attempts, and the spike in 2014 was aided by a higher dose of attempts from the corners. Only 18 guards, 6’4″ or smaller, have finished two seasons shooting 40% from 3 with a usage rate over 20%, so that doesn’t help, but plenty of great point guards have cleared those arbitrary benchmarks only once. It’s not terrible to decline to, like, 37%.

As you can see, though, I’m still talking myself out of this selection, and it’s weird that Dragic is coming off the freakin’ bench. It’s possible he’d in crunch time lineups. In part 1, I projected how many points the starters would score per 100 possessions, but let’s see what could happen if we plug in Dragic.

dragic lineups1dragic lineups2

As explained in part 1, a study by Eli Witus years ago showed that a lineups’ offensive rating increases by .25 points/100 possessions when it has to decrease it’s usage 1%, and vice versa. Depending on the 5-man unit featuring Dragic, it made for projected ratings of 126.5 and 124.6. Both ratings are higher than the 122.9 points/100 possessions for the starting lineup.

Using Neil Paine’s model that combines not just Witus’ but Dean Oliver‘s work, let’s see how these lineups perform when adjusting for all the high-usage players (again, for further explanation, check out part 1). Here’s what they look like when shifting usage proportionally:

projected1 projected2

And now optimizing for the best projected points per 100 possessions:

optimized1 optimized2

Not quite the results expected from Witus’ study alone, but still 120+ points per 100, so, that’s okay. Danny Green’s offensive rating means he disappears when fiddling with usage, and hurts the bottom line of these units. I didn’t project numbers for any other 5-man combos.

Player #7: Shawn Marion, Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Cap hit: $915,243

marion 2014

I may or may not be depressed Marion is 36 years old. It makes this something of a gamble even on a minimum contract. I’m using a roster spot on him, after all.

Al-Farouq Aminu was available and offers rebounding, but on my imaginary team I’d rather take the guy proven to also make a corner 3 and fit in right away. Maybe that’s why Cleveland went with Marion too. Should his defense slide, that’s an issue, but this roster doesn’t need him to turn back the clock.

Player #8: Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets

  • Cap hit: $915,243

bevs 2014

A bit weird to select both Dragic and Beverley, but I’m not too confident Beverley can hound point guards for 31 minutes like last season, so he’s going to be turbo-charged for like 20, or something. He’ll be a pest off the bench during the season, playoffs, and even the pre-season. Remember this?

Like Green and LeBron, he’s a one-man wrecking crew versus fast breaks.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Houston Rockets, but Beverley alone makes them watchable. Below are two places, either games or eras, where I wish we’d see him play:

  • The ‘90s. Beverley may not be the tallest, strongest, or greatest point guard, but can you imagine him playing defense with the freedom defenders once had?
  • All-star games. If voted in, I could see Beverley sucking the the fun out of next year’s festivities.

Offensively, Beverley is all right. Low-usage, high-efficiency, league-average 3PT%, and below-average finishing but the mid-50% around the rim isn’t terrible. His defense certainly propels him into a rotation.

Player #9: Troy Daniels, Houston Rockets

  • Cap hit: $816,482

daniels 2014

Like Beverley, Daniels is a role player who should make the Rockets entertaining. I look forward to seeing what kind of looks Harden gives him with two seconds left on the shot clock.

Undrafted with only five NBA games (shot chart is from the D-League), Daniels is still a solid candidate to become one of the best shooters. In the D-League, he attempted 12.5 threes PER GAME and made 40% of them. Even the ‘meh’ areas in his chart look good. When he and Curry are on the floor, either on my fake team or against each other in real life, threes will be hoisted and fire will be made.

My backcourt is crowded. Finding minutes for Daniels will be tricky. Now to forwards and rim protectors:

Player #10: Cole Aldrich, New York Knicks

  • Cap hit: $915,243

Cole  Aldrich 2014

I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’ll admit Aldrich wasn’t so terrible as a backup for the Knicks.

When looking at per-36 numbers, Aldrich cracks the top 20 in Seth Partnow’s rim protection stats. He also grabs defensive rebounds like crazy, snatching 33.8% of all missed field goals while on the floor, and he blocked 4.8 shots per 100 possessions all while not looking like the hack he was in previous seasons with Oklahoma City, Houston, and Sacramento. He finished 2014 with a PER of 19.1.

The problem is that he’s rarely played, only logging 1,033 minutes over four seasons. In 2014, a good load of it was in garbage time versus fringe-rotation players. 60% of his 330 total minutes came in the fourth quarter and 70% while up or behind by double-digits, per NBA.com. Hopefully the Knicks take a closer look at what they might have in Aldrich, but if he wants to converse with Jose Calderon about human ham, that’s fine too. I selected another potential rim protector in case that happens.

Player #11: Ed Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

  • Cap hit: $981,084

ed davis 2014

The Lakers and their pull when it comes to minimum deals continues, as Davis is a nice third big deserving of a larger check. Hopefully he doesn’t get buried behind Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, and Julius Randle. The Lakers’ frontline is quite crowded.

Like Aldrich, Davis was a lottery pick in the 2010 Draft and probably expected to be a larger contributor by now, but let’s not confuse the two. He has a career sample size 5x as large and just barely missed 1,000 minutes with an OREB% and DREB% of 10 and 20, respectively. He’s long and rangy, an active defender, though with more important minutes under his belt he doesn’t hold up well in the same rim protection stats as Aldrich. His build also means he gets pushed around, but it also helps him move well for someone in that 6’10”-6’11″ish range.

Playing Davis with LeBron, Beverley, and either Lopez or Marion would be interesting defensively.

Player #12: Jon Leuer-Durant-Chamberlain-Jordan***, Memphis Grizzlies

Cap hit: $967,500

Leuer 2014

Saving the best for last, Leuer is the greatest player I’ve ever seen. He’s Memphis’ Kevin Durant, only better. Unfortunately, Leuer took only 49 threes last season, and defensively he doesn’t look too hot in a few all-in-one metrics. Hopefully he’ll be more consistent next year. Up to this point he’s played just 123 games and 1,384 minutes. Leuer needs to stop screwing around and take over the league already.

***This was a lame attempt to get Jon Leuer a nickname on Basketball-Reference.

So there’s my 12-man squad. Below is a similar stat summary as in part 1, but with all the players. Click to enlarge because holy hell that looks blurry.

team overlay

Among other things, this is an efficient scoring bunch. Those that take more than a few mid-range shots (Curry, Nowitzki, LeBron) are either good to great at them. Also, look at Daniels’ secondary percentage. It’s from the D-League, sure, but that would flirt with the best marks in NBA history.

As for defensive metrics, they don’t look too bad for this team. It’s kind of embarrassing where Leuer ranks among the league, though, and all of my backup bigs are hacky. Walking fouls, literally.

Below is a breakdown of player salaries and how close I came to the cap:

team salary

The total salary of my roster left me with over $650,000. I spent $100,000 on a lifetime supply of waffles and used the rest to sign a 13th man. Like Leuer, the player I chose is a legend in the making:

Player #13: Sim Bhullar, Sacramento Kings

  • Cap hit: $507,336
embiid chart

Projected shot chart

This team would rule planet earth.

Honorable mentions:

Center: Pau Gasol, Omer Asik, and Channing Frye.

Power Forward: Nick Collison, Amir Johnson, Ryan Anderson, Greg Monroe, and Jeff Adrien.

Small Forward: Richard Jefferson, Paul Pierce, Kyle Korver, and Vince Carter. 

Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo, Leandro Barbosa, Francisco Garcia, Alan Anderson, Wes Matthews, and Jamal Crawford.

Point Guard: Jose Calderon, C.J. Watson, Pablo Prigioni, Mike Conley, Jameer Nelson, and Qualifying Offer Eric Bledsoe

And any others who flew over my head.

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Dream Team #3 within the salary cap, Part 1–Starters

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Let there be no cap or CBA (CDA?) on your dreams.

The deadest part of the off-season is here, but soon there will be #MuscleWatch, training camp hype, hopefully the disappearance of rankings, and eventually buzz around pre-season performances. We’re almost to the 2014-15 season, and good lord it can’t come fast enough.

There’s still enough time to write posts that are pointless like this one, about a team that doesn’t even exist: My dream team within the salary cap. It’s a series I started last pre-season with a revised squad over the all-star break. This year I’m not patient, posting a month earlier than last year, but all major contracts are signed save for Eric Bledsoe’s. His would actually alter the roster if he took a $3.7 million qualifying offer. It’s disappointing that, despite writing at a slothful pace, there’s little chance any Bledsoe news will explode before part 1 of this series is published. (Edit: I was sort of wrong.)

But yes, there are not one but two posts for this team. Part 1 covers the starters, part 2 the reserves. The guidelines for selecting this team are fairly simple. Make a 12-man squad without exceeding the 2014-15 salary cap of $63.065 million. Rookie deals are off-limits, but I don’t feel the same about minimum deals or exceptions since I can’t go over the cap in any way.

Some notes before I rattle off my starters. I’ll expand on these later:

  • I don’t think this is the best roster I could put together, mostly because of my math skills and overall intelligence of the players in my made-up, cap-friendly player pool. I give the team a B+.
  • Only one of LeBron James and Kevin Durant made the team. I WILL TRY TO EXPLAIN THIS.
  • Cap hits were via Spotrac.com. Many of their contracts match Basketball-Reference’s, though they are up to date with recent signings across the league. Don’t worry, B/Ref. I still love you.
  • I’ve never went back and forth with so many players. A few slots were chosen at the last second.

On to naming the starters, each with a Nylon Calculus shot chart. Austin Clemens for off-season MVP!

Center: Robin Lopez, Portland Trail Blazers

  • Cap hit: $6,124,728

Lopex 2014

Timofey Mozgov was the center for the longest time, even in some projected lineup stats until I caved with Robin Lopez. Mozgov was $1.5 million cheaper, cracked the top 35 in Seth Partnow’s rim protection stats, and held up in a few all-in-one metrics. He was also productive as last season came to a close, averaging 14 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes over the final 16 games. There were also flashes of becoming a stretch 5. Well, sort of. Regardless, Mozgov should be the Nuggets’ starting center rather than JaVale McGee or the out-of-position J.J. Hickson.

But I went with Lopez, on the team a second straight time. Here’s a video of him kicking some ass:

He doesn’t have the silky smooth 3-pointer Mozgov possesses, but he’s one of the very best rim protectors and holds up better in the same all-in-one metrics. He also used only 14% of possessions last season while on the floor, often with one of the most potent starting lineups in the league. Sure, Lopez will make an awkward hook shot, maybe swish a mid-range jumper or make teams pay for fouling him with a free throw percentage surpassing 80, but for the most part he’ll bang with opponents, protect the rim, and get boards. He actually led the league in contested rebound% and would be a terror on the offensive glass if his defender sags off him and helps against any of the high-usage players I chose.

Lopez can also log more playing time than Mozgov, finishing last season just over 30 minutes per, and he’s durable, missing only two games the last three years. Mozgov has yet play the same major minutes over a full season, but 2014-15 could be a year when he clears those benchmarks.

Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

  • Cap hit: $7,974,482

Nowitzki 2014

In 2014, Nowitzki recorded a career-high in eFG% and a 3-point rate not seen since teaming with Steve Nash. With a pay cut that will last through possibly 2017, he might be in this series for a while.

The higher 3-point rate makes sense when Nowitzki is 36 years old, and combined with a declining free throw rate he’s a glorified role player on this squad. He can still create and his assisted field goal rate on made two-pointers (50%) resembled what we saw during his prime. The shot chart is fire overall and Nowitzki’s mid-range game generated about the same efficiency as a league-average three-pointer:

ian2

Maybe Nowitzki would be like 2011-14 Chris Bosh, but the holes he can drill in a defense just off the ball would open a ton of room for younger, springier players I selected.

Defensively, it’s possible Nowitzki could be hidden thanks to another forward I chose, one with height and strength to play the ‘4’ in doses, but this squad was made to outscore than lock down. It looks like both Lopez and Nowitzki would hang back in pick and roll coverage.

Small Forward/Utility – LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Cap hit: $20,644,400

leBron 2014

I still can’t believe I can type LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers.

If I had to, I’d fit both James and Durant on this team, but together they take up $40/63 million in available cap space and, while it’s tempting to go top-heavy with this roster, a LeBron-Durant-Nowitzki/Curry trio with nine minimum contracts isn’t as fun a roster to write about as one with depth. We don’t yet know who the injury bug will bite anyway. In the all star break-related post, I might go with a huge 3, but this off-season brought nice, still-healthy bargains.

This wasn’t an easy choice. Durant was about $1.5 million cheaper, and that million or two saved for each slot adds up. He has more range, should be a better defender next season, and can carry a higher scoring load with less long-term effects. He might also improve on his assist rate, and, who knows, he may play more power forward and add a clever post move. Durant may very well repeat as MVP.

I wondered if he was the best fit with all the other shooting I plucked. To get the juiciest looks at the basket, somebody needs to consistently bend the defense and LeBron can do just that, able to get to any spot. Durant isn’t at that level partly thanks to a slimmer build. Pesky defenders take advantage of that. It looks like LeBron will be bit slimmer this season, though, so we’ll see how that impacts him.

LeBron is as positionless as it gets, and if not for the slip in defense is as perfect a player as could be, but his defense has slipped. We’re probably at the slight downturn of his career, and if this team was made for five years versus one, I’d flip-flop my choice for small forward. Regardless, this is LeBron’s third straight appearance here, and if it’s in his diet he should celebrate with a ham sandwich.

Shooting Guard – Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

  • Cap hit: $4,025,000

Danny  Green 2014

Green is third to repeat here, on the first team before replaced by the ~$900K salary of P.J. Tucker.

He is by some metrics the best 3-and-D shooting guard in the league. Here is one via Tom Haberstroh:

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3-and-D players are an essential piece to any winning team, but especially one with three high-usage players who aren’t elite defenders for long periods of time. Green would take on the toughest defensive assignments, though it wouldn’t exactly be ideal to have him chasing point guards.

With both Green and LeBron, that’s a fantastic fast break defense with the chase-down block for LeBron and Green consistently anticipating angles below the rim to bottle up the strongest of players. Even his flybys tend to happen at the perfect moment. Below is a video showing some of this:

Some on/off fast break stats for Green are pretty interesting. Opponents scored 1.1 less points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor and two less points after all turnovers, per NBA.com. The difference in the former stat would’ve bumped the Spurs from 11th in the league to the top five while the latter would take them from eighth to behind only the Hornets who were in a league of their own.

It’s also worth noting Green has never fouled out in his short career, and the five-foulers are nearly as rare. Some of this is helped by minute totals, but the Spurs organization should also get credit.

Now to Green’s offense. According to Basketball-Reference, 75% of his shots came within three feet or beyond the arc where he shot 69.8% and 41.5%, respectively. He’s a limited scorer, though, an adventure when dribbling despite a solid pull-up shooter, and only shot 35.8% from the corners. That corner 3P% might be an outlier when the past two seasons were 45.1% and 43.3%, respectively, and ~36% is fine anyway. Sometimes that and ~55% around the rim is criticized too harshly.

Despite Green’s limits offensively, he has a history of explosive performances in high-pressure games. Hopefully someday my point guard gets a really deep postseason run so we can say the same for him.

Point Guard – Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

  • Cap hit: $10,629,213

stephen curry 2014

Many of the best shooters need a teammate to bend the defense before being fed an attempt, and what better teammate to do that for Curry than LeBron? But Curry can do it by himself, something similar to what Ian Levy wrote about recently. Curry not only demands attention off the ball, but defenses shift to his movements on the dribble as well. He can get shots off anywhere with the smallest of spaces to work with, either with some crazy dribble combinations or off the catch.

Curry’s flamethrowing makes him a one-man offense for stretches, his heat waves sometimes more like…tsunamis? He’s somehow taken over 1,200 threes the last two seasons and made 44%. For this team, he could carry bench units, playing off the ball when alongside LeBron, but it would be something of a waste to not unlock his on-ball shooting in stretchy, starter-heavy lineups.

How good could Curry be alongside, say, Nowitzki? We could look at his shooting alongside a stretchy forward like Draymond Green instead of David Lee. With Green on the floor, Curry shot 50% from three compared to 38.6% with Lee, according to nbawowy.com, and hoisted 11.9 threes per 100 possessions with Green compared to 9.5 with Lee. Overall, his usage increased from 26.2 to 31.4. This isn’t meant to blame Lee’s limitations for Curry’s drop in those stats, but stretch and space matters for all positions.

With all the scoring in this lineup, Curry would still take a backseat some of the time. Not the worst thing in the world since he, like Durant, is on the slimmer side with some of the same problems with pesky defenders, and he can be turnover prone. In particular, he sticks out quite badly in this passing chart I made a while back. Regardless, he’s only 26, and it’s not at all bold to claim he’s the best shooter alive. Soon he might also be the best point guard in the league.

Some Stats

So this is how the starters stack up in a variety of numbers (click to enlarge):

starters overlay

Every player played for very successful offenses last season, minus Curry. There’s a mix in usage, some are slashers and others high in assisted shot %, and most hold up well in all-in-one metrics. It also looks like my starters will never commit a foul.

Obviously most stats would change, for better or for worse, if these players were together. Most obvious might be Basketball-Reference’s usage rates since, together, this unit would have to top out at 100%. That would actually help the projected offensive efficiency. Right now, without tinkering with the usage, the points per 100 possessions balance out to a whopping 118.6, 6.5 more than the 1st-place Clippers last season. That number would only improve as the lineup is forced to use less possessions, according to a couple notable people.

Some time ago, Eli Witus found the following related to lineups and usage, among other super interesting things in his study: “In general, for every 1% that a lineup has to increase its usage, it’s efficiency decreases by 0.25 points per 100 possessions, and vice versa.” It’s a bit harder and probably pointless to project a lineup of five guys who weren’t teammates last year, but under Witus’ study this lineup go from scoring 118.6 points/100 possessions to 122.9. We can tack on an extra point or two with amount of three-point shooting provided from four of the five players.

A couple years later, Neil Paine created a simple lineup efficiency model that combined Eli’s and Dean Oliver’s findings, the latter super intelligent guy making a distinction between low-usage, mid-usage, and high-usage players. Adjusting Paine’s model to 2014’s league-average offense, we get the following tradeoffs in offensive rating for increasing or decreasing each of my starters’ usage rates by 1%:

usage type

 

 

 

 

So I tinkered with the players to find their offensive ratings if their usage rates were anywhere from 10 to 40%. As usual, click to enlarge:

graph22112

With the low-usage, Lopez and Green dive harder than the big 3, but Lopez’ offensive rating gives him a head start. Nowitzki and Curry are neck and neck while James, as expected, is in good shape.

So we can use that info while tinkering with the lineup’s usage rate to see if we can reach the projected 122.9 points/100 possessions. The first adjustment is what would happen if we proportionally shifted every player’s percentages to a total of 100%:

proportioned starters

 

 

 

 

 

Not bad, and somewhat close to the previous projection of 122.9, but keep in mind the usage rates of Lopez and Green. What if each player was at 20%?

20 everyoen

 

 

 

 

 

The offense still improves from the 118.6 we started with. You can tinker quite a bit until the offense falls off the rails:

more rologreen rologreen

The best scoring projection involved Danny Green getting the shaft, thanks to his lower offensive rating last season, and Lopez’ usage actually increasing from 2014’s total:

optimized

That comes pretty close to what Witus’ study would suggest this lineup would score, but I can’t see those usage rates actually happening for a bunch of reasons. It would involve Green passing up what’s probably a few juicy looks from the arc, specifically from the corners since he’s the least versatile shooter, and those shots need to be taken. Who knows, though. Maybe he just never commits a turnover. As for the other players, it’s probably not ideal for LeBron to use over 27% of possessions and Dirk about 25% for an entire season.

So those projections might’ve been iffy, but the starters are a decent blend of players. Lopez and Green are already two of the best low-usage complimentary players out there, both providing some nice defense in the process. As for the trio, Curry and Nowitzki’s skill sets allow for a seamless transition into second and third options while LeBron, despite in his 12th season already, should be just fine.

The rest of the roster will be explained in part 2.

Honorable mentions (some players made the reserves, most didn’t):

Centers: Timofey Mozgov, Channing Frye, Omer Asik, Serge Ibaka, Al Horford, Tim Duncan, not Andrea Bargnani, Pau Gasol, and Boris Diaw.

Power Forwards: Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, not Amar’e Stoudemire, Greg Monroe, Kevin Garnett, Amir Johnson, Ryan Anderson, Paul Millsap, and Boris Diaw.

Small Forwards: Kevin Durant, not Gerald Wallace, Paul Pierce, Kyle Korver, and Boris Diaw.

Shooting Guards: Wesley Matthews, not Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Arron Afflalo, and Boris Diaw.

Point Guards: Goran Dragic, not Deron Williams, Mike Conley, the unsigned Eric Bledsoe, and Boris Diaw.

And all other players that are cap-friendly (or not) who flew over my head.

My dream team within the salary cap (all-star weekend edition)

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Dream big, but dream within the imaginative salary cap and bargain agreement.

Before the season started, I made my dream team within the salary cap, set at $58,679,000. The only other rule was to not use rookie contracts since allowing them would turn it into an 12-man under-25 roster. It’s just too easy to make a loaded team when choosing from at least (rough guess) 25 more players outplaying their contracts.

After those rules, though, it was a free for all. Looking back on the players I chose in October, I would’ve hit some huge snags along the way, ones I could’ve gotten away with if this team were in the Eastern Conference, but still.

Here was my roster going into the season:

Starters

Bench

  • SG: Ray Allen ($3,229,050)
  • PF: Al Harrington ($1,399,507)
  • PF: Dante Cunningham ($2,000,000)
  • PG: Devin Harris ($1,272,279)
  • PG: Beno Udrih ($1,272,279)
  • SF: Ronnie Brewer ($1,186,459)
  • PF/C: Andray Blatche ($1,375,604)

Lineup: $46,262,108

Bench: $11,637,078

Total salary: $57,899,186

Amount under the cap: $779,814

Killing time on a Friday night constructing a fake NBA team: Priceless (and possibly hopeless).

Green and Kirilenko each had injury woes, which were huge losses to this team. Not having Harrington also meant the loss of the stretch four. Meanwhile, Brewer’s logging what looks like mostly garbage time with the Houston Rockets.

Basically, the defense of this team took a huge hit along with some shooting. There’s still hope, obviously, with the Curry-James-Duncan trio going strong, but the pieces around them don’t quite fit anymore. (Also, a couple salaries were off by like $100,000 since I was looking at how much they made versus how big their cap hit is. Only the latter impacts the salary cap, which makes Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin‘s situations so unique.)

Four months later, only Curry and James remain from the first edition. 10 new players will hopefully make the dream team a contender to go undefeated from now until the end of time. Below are the starters before going into depth about the reserves:

Starters

  • PG: Stephen Curry ($9,887,642)
  • SG: P.J. Tucker ($884.293)
  • SF/PF: Kevin Durant ($17,832,627)
  • Utility: LeBron James ($19,067,500)
  • C: Robin Lopez ($5,904,261)

Curry at point guard was actually a tough choice. His salary is super-friendly, but so is Goran Dragic’s ($7.5 million) and Kyle Lowry’s ($6.2 million). Going super cheap with someone like Patty Mills was also an idea running through my head.

I couldn’t pass up taking the greatest shooter alive, though, and I don’t think it’s crazy to say he is. Curry’s able to provide the best possible spacing off the ball, allowing the rest of the team to basically play 4-on-4. That’s just not fair when James has the ball in his hands with Durant also providing maximum spacing. All three can carry mediocre second units, which is nice so one could be subbed out earlier than normal to play with the reserves.

Also, if Curry slips on defense I put together some players that allow him to hide, though there have been a few writers who’ve brought up that he might be less effective defending off the ball. Whatever the case, P.J. Tucker’s one of those defenders, an incredibly cheap 3-and-D guy to start at shooting guard and beating out the one I chose before the season in Danny Green. He also excels at shooting from the left corner, the preferable one since LeBron shoots well from just about anywhere on that side of the court.

The trio of Curry, Durant, and James took up 80 percent of available cap space which, at first, made quality rim protection an issue. Durant wasn’t on the first team mostly because of the $17+ million he’s owed, but he’s been way too good to leave off twice in a row. With that in mind, I could’ve danced around rim protection by constructing a strong second unit with cheap, productive players like Andrei Kirilenko, Patty Mills, and Andray Blatche while hoping a hyper-aggressive defense by the starters make up for not having someone to deter shots at the rim without fouling.

Robin Lopez’ cap hit this year was just low enough, though, to where a coherent second unit could be built with one of Curry, Durant, or LeBron leading them. Chris Andersen was a cheaper option as a starting center, but one that would be too taxing to play more than 25 minutes a night. Somewhere between him and Joakim Noah is RoLo’s salary, and he’s easily outplayed it this season.

Also, the bench doesn’t need to be incredible when Durant, James, or Curry could lead it. It still took a while to form, though, since I had to find seven players combining for nearly the mid-level exception, or $4 million less than Kendrick Perkins’ salary. Here they are:

Patrick Beverley ($788,872)

An irritating point guard with an outside shooting touch, Beverley could be a fun compliment to Curry or lineups that want to be as chaotic on defense as possible.

Like most Rockets, his mid-range game looks non-existent as he’s shooting just 9-for-29 from that area. Take that however you’d like. He also rarely turns the ball over, one of the lowest turnover percentages among all guards, minimum 1,000 minutes. It’s a nice improvement from last year, turning the ball over nearly seven percent less this time around. (There are also some surprises on that list I linked to such as Nick Young, Avery Bradley, and Kevin Martin.)

Jon Leuer ($900,000)

Part of the All High-PER-Off-The-Bench Team with one that’s 18.1, Leuer’s another nice complimentary piece while on a great contract. He rebounds well in limited time, grabbing nine per-36 minutes and is one of the better defensive rebounders, ranking in the top-50 among forwards who’ve logged over 500 minutes.

What could make him most fun to play alongside Durant or James, though is his three-point shooting. He’s not a sniper from the corners as he’s only taken three attempts from there so far, but he’s a combined 17-for-26 from the middle and left sections above the break. Leuer’s also a good finisher in both the paint and restricted area whether it’s in the post or off the dribble with a floater. His defense is worrisome, allowing 1.18 points per possession in post-ups, according to Synergy, but his shooting should be a decent tradeoff.

Alexis Ajinca ($635,880)

I’m not sure if it’s cheating to grab a player who signed a minimum contract during the season, so I only grabbed one in Alexis Ajinca. Before grabbing Lopez, he was also an option for starting center, though his foul rate of 6.8 per-36-minutes made him an underdog to stay on the court for a good chunk of time. He also turns the ball over a ton, 28.6 times per 100 plays, according to Basketball-Reference. He’s a solid rebounder and a big body, though, which for this current team is fine as a backup.

Ajinca also has a mid-range game that looks both good and bad, 15-for-31 from that area and for better or for worse is not afraid of taking contested ones. Maybe this is something he builds on in the future? Either way, I like him paired with Anthony Davis in real life and on my team as a backup big.

Wesley Johnson ($884,293)

Johnson was taken purely for the financial reasons. It says a lot about him that he’s currently recording his highest PER ever of 11.1, but to look on the bright side he could be a fun to play alongside James and Durant thanks to his freak athleticism.

Johnson’s offense is worrisome, though. He could be entertaining as a guy cutting to the rim, capitalizing off attention drawn from others, but everything else seems questionable. He’s an average shooter from the corners and his current hot spot from three, the right side of the break, was a weak spot coming into the season (45-for-150 from 2011 to 2013).

Still, it’s not like he’d log a ton of playing time with Curry, Durant, and James already logging nearly 40 minutes each and Tucker and Beverley taking up another good chunk of playing time.

That’s my nine-player rotation, though Johnson’s minutes would be squeezed. Here are the rest who will ride the pine, though be capable safety nets if it came down to them having to play.

Kenyon Martin ($884,293)

If only Shawn Marion were affordable. Both he and Martin need to be on the same team and beat opponents with their flick-like jump shots.

Gal Mekel ($490,180)

Nick Calathes (490,180)

If not for these tiny cap hits, Jon Leuer’s off this squad in exchange for a player roughly $100,000 cheaper.

In particular, Calathes hasn’t been half-bad since Mike Conley sprained his right ankle against Minnesota, averaging 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 2.6 steals in his last seven games. He still doesn’t get to the line but the uptick in true shooting (.452 to .582), effective field goal shooting (.434 to .571), and turnovers (eight less per 100 plays) are all easy on the eyes for Grizzlies fans. Hopefully. All of those stats are according to Basketball-Reference.

But there you have it. As for the head coach I’m taking Gregg Popovich. Assistants are so hard to choose, but I like some combo of Erik Spoelstra, Tom Thibodeau, Brad Stevens, Mike D’Antoni, and Jeff Hornacek. I also prefer Hubie Brown and Marv Albert holding down the local broadcasting booth with the possibility of Grant Hill chiming in too. My sideline reporter is Craig Sager.

A look at the roster again before some added thoughts on lineups and minute allocation:

Starters

  • PG: Stephen Curry ($9,887,642)
  • SG: P.J. Tucker ($884.293)
  • SF/PF: Kevin Durant ($17,832,627)
  • Utility: LeBron James ($19,067,500)
  • C: Robin Lopez ($5,904,261)

Bench

  • PG: Patrick Beverley ($788,872)
  • PF: Jon Leuer ($900,000)
  • C: Alexis Ajinca ($635,880)
  • SF/SG: Wesley Johnson ($884,293)
  • C: Kenyon Martin ($884,293)
  • PG: Gal Mekel ($490,180
  • PG: Nick Calathes ($490,180)

Starting lineup salary: $53,576,323

Bench salary: $5,073,698

Total salary: $58,650,021

Amount under the cap: $28,979

Time spent doing this while jamming out to the music performers at the All-Star Game: Priceless (and the performances were amazing).

Crunch time lineup: James-Curry-Tucker-Durant-Lopez

My crunch time lineup is the same as the starters, though LeBron plays point guard and everyone else but Lopez moves up one position. Lots of shooting with potential for freaky defense.

Bench lineup: Beverley-Johnson-Durant-Leuer-Ajinca

The second unit was tough to form, simply because playing Johnson isn’t desirable. At the same time, he’s the only one off the bench who can play shooting guard and small forward. Sure, I could play both Durant and James 44 minutes in a Game 7 and squeeze Johnson’s minutes, but if he can make a corner three then everything’s fine.

Any one of Curry, James, and Durant could lead the bench lineup but I went with Durant. James and Leuer would be a fun pairing, but I wouldn’t want to tax LeBron since he plays point guard and power forward in other situations. Meanwhile, Curry playing point guard would put Beverley and him in awkward spots on defense.

Overall, not much of that lineup matters in a Game 7. Johnson becomes irrelevant and possibly Ajinca too.

Smallball lineup: Beverley-Tucker-Johnson-Durant-James

Chaos on defense while also having five guys who can make a three, though Tucker would have to sit in the left corner even if Durant could conceivably shoot 90 percent from there.

Curry and Johnson are interchangeable in this lineup.

Bigball lineup: James-Durant-Leuer-Ajinca-Lopez

I’m putting faith in Ajinca’s mid-range jumper here, otherwise the spacing gets thrown off. Leuer would also have to be a solid shooter from the corners, something I believe he has the potential to do but hasn’t shown it this season.

Threeball lineup: Curry-Tucker-Durant-Leuer-James

Every smallball-ish lineup featuring James and Durant just doesn’t feel like “small” because of the former being built like a train and Durant being closer to 7’0 than 6’9. With that said, this might be both a smallball and crunch time lineup along with a three-point heavy one.

Free throw lineup: Beverley-Curry-Durant-Leuer-Lopez

Curry and Durant are the main guys to have at the line. Leuer’s shooting nearly 85 percent this season, though his numbers in other years are sketchy. Meanwhile, Lopez and Beverley are 80 percent for the season. This team isn’t blowing a lead with 30 seconds left, hopefully.

I also dove into how I would allocate minutes: 38 for the trio, 30 each for Tucker and Lopez, and between 14-20 for each of the four cogs off the bench.

Hopefully this team is a little more difficult to exploit than the first. James and Durant rarely being in foul trouble makes it less risky to have only one wing off the bench, the trio should work fine off one another especially if James is driving and kicking, and Lopez-Ajinca-Martin should be enough for consistently decent rim protection.

But could this team beat one composed of aliens within the confines of another galaxy’s salary cap? That’s the real question.

Overall this was good, degenerate, maybe even idiotic fun during all-star festivities. I’d like to hope I’m not the only one who would kill a few hours by putting a salary-adjusted team together, but oh well.

Any thoughts on my roster (or even yours!) are welcome.

My 2014 Dream Team — after a couple restrictions

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Some dreams are more realistic and (somewhat) thoughtful than others. Introducing, my dream team within the confines of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement! Yeah, take that, everyone else who dreams of becoming an owner like Mikhail Prokhorov!

The NBA’s salary cap, for the most part, has become an invisible GM as far as determining which players to keep, sign, and trade every year. Only Mikhail Prokhorov and a few other owners could absorb the luxury tax of a dream team-ish lineup like Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson though I doubt anyone dreams of having the last player mentioned.

For everyone else, a roster of their favorite players just isn’t possible without sweating profusely over the financial ramifications from going over the luxury tax level, which is at about $71 million. The salary cap itself is set at $58,679,000. It’s a soft one but for the sake of this post I won’t go over it, making it near-impossible to let Kobe Bryant soak up half my cap space and field a contender at the same time.

I also removed the option to throw darts at players still on rookie contracts. For the most part, they’re more cap-friendly compared to veterans with similar playing styles. That’s great, but it’s unrealistic to group a bunch of them together to form a star-studded under-25 squad.

And besides, why would I choose roster spots with darts when I’m so inaccurate I’d land 12 Bismack Biyombos? Maybe that’s how the Bobcats decide who they draft each year, but that’s a blog post for another time. This post involves a 12-man squad that may not be possible to assemble in real life, but it’s cap-friendly enough to build via a fantasy draft in NBA 2k14. Hopefully.

Let’s begin. All salaries are from Basketball-Reference:

Utility Player

LeBron James ($19,067,500)

If there wasn’t a salary cap, getting everything LeBron does for $19 million would be a steal. Well, except for the paranoia he triggers whenever he nears free agency.

I know I’m getting his excellent production from four positions though, maybe even five depending on how taxing it would be to play him at center. It would certainly be easier to hide LeBron on someone like Byron Mullens versus sticking him on Nikola Pekovic. I’ll start him at power forward but his versatility allows me to tinker with the rest of the starting lineup.

Small Forward

Andrei Kirilenko ($3,183,000)

Even in his low 30s, Kirilenko can still sometimes carry the burden of guarding the opposing team’s best wing. He’s also a master at doing things not seen in box scores: Perfectly timed cuts, having a personality that also makes him one of the friendliest for the media to talk to and possessing a Kermit voice that, if I ever played pickup ball against him, would take me out of my zone and send me into a world of confusion. It’s the opposite voice of a stereotypical Russian’s, like Mikhail Prokhorov’sWe need a video of Kirilenko and Prokhorov having a conversation together just to see how different each of their voices really are, though I can’t find one through a YouTube search. Both are great in their own ways.

If not for Kirilenko’s friendly contract, I would’ve went with Paul Millsap, whose contract at $19 million for two years is baffling when DeAndre Jordan and Al Jefferson make one to four million more than him. Both Millsap and Kirilenko have the potential to make for some interesting small ball and big lineups, but the $3 million contract makes Kirilenko a no-brainer. He allows me to pick a player or two on the rest of the roster who might otherwise be too pricey for a team I need to keep under the cap.

Starting Backcourt  

Stephen Curry ($9,887,642)

Stephen Curry’s molded himself into a point guard over the years, but he could do his fair share of spot shooting if LeBron were to handle point guard duties. Like Ray Allen, for example, Curry also forces the defense to attach to him without the ball, which often makes for 4-on-4 basketball. The less defenders to clutter the paint against LeBron, the better.

It should also be mentioned that Curry can single-handedly carry a team’s offense on his own, going on absurd streaks of scoring:

That can buy LeBron a few extra minutes on the bench, something that he would benefit from in the long run and especially through the postseason.

Also, that contract. What a bargain if Curry plays 70 games and every one in the playoffs.

Honorable mention: Mike Conley Jr. ($8,200,001—and that ‘1’ isn’t a typo), who has a better right hand—his off-hand—than half the NBA. Probably.

Danny Green ($3,762,500)

A cheap “3-and-D” guy, Danny Green could take the burden of guarding the team’s best guard and give Curry, LeBron, and/or Kirilenko extra rest on the defensive end. He’s also another player who will provide a ton of spacing for LeBron on offense, except he’s limited to spot-up threes. 95.7 percent of Green’s threes were assisted, but that’s fine since he knows his limitations. Green’s benefited from a second go-around with the Spurs and it would be interesting to see just how good of a role player he would be with LeBron as a teammate.

Center

Tim Duncan ($10,361,466)

There were a lot of players to pick and choose from at the center position. Joakim Noah ($11,100,000) was the toughest to leave off because he can log absurd minutes, brings a tenacity to every single game and continues to improve on the offensive end. Also receiving consideration was Al Horford ($12,000,000).

Tim Duncan’s at least $1 million cheaper and also happens to have mastered the game for some time now. That made is so unbelievable when he missed two bunnies that clinched the title for the Miami Heat. Everything else about the Finals felt like vintage Duncan. He performed like he did for the last 16 years.

You can also guarantee Duncan averages 20 points and 10 rebounds per-36 minutes, though he’d really only play 25-30 minutes every game. Who cares though. It’s my dream team and I want LeBron and Duncan on the same squad (as long it doesn’t involve the Olympics embarrassment of 2004).

Starting lineup payroll: $46,262,108

Bench

Ray Allen ($3,229,050)

At this stage of his career, there’s not much use for Allen outside of splendid three-point shooting—preferably in the corners where he shot 45 percent—and icing games with free throws. The damage he does on that end of the court makes him worthwhile, even if saying he’s a liability on defense is an understatement.

Al Harrington ($1,399,507)

Harrington supposedly lost 27 pounds this summer, but didn’t do a lot of running. Hmm.

But at 33 years old, he’s the cheap stretch-four the team needs around a guy like LeBron. He’s also a solid defensive rebounder, ranking in the top-40 in defensive rebounding percentage in 2012, his last healthy season. At 34th in the league in that ranking, he’s sandwiched between the likes of David Lee and Kevin Durant. Not bad.

If Harrington can put in a healthy 16th season at his veteran’s minimum salary, that’s great. If not, there’s an ‘energy’ player off the bench in…

Dante Cunningham ($2,000,000)

Cunningham put up the highest usage rate of his career last season, mostly thanks to the injury barrage that plagued the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 2013 season and saw his production drop as a result. There just isn’t much a difference when he logs minutes in the 30s each game and in the 20s.

Regardless, he showed an improved mid-range jumper after his lackluster 2012 outing where he made only about a third of his attempts from ten feet to the arc. That number jumped to 40 percent last season and it would be expected to take another spike while playing with the likes of LeBron and Duncan. Hopefully his mid-range game forces my backup center to plant his ass on the block and stay there.

Defensively, Cunningham’s pretty versatile. He’s athletic enough to guard a few wings, but his height may plague him in the post. Still, I’d take him over LeBron’s real-life aging power forward off the bench in Udonis Haslem.

Devin Harris ($1,272,279)

Devin Harris had an unusual summer as he initially agreed to a $9 million, three-year contract for Dallas. But then he suffered a toe injury, followed by resigning with the Mavs again for $1.3 million. Rarely will a single toe be worth that much.

What Harris should give Dallas though is about as much as I’d want him to give my team: a viable backup point guard who can just, you know, run an offense. Hopefully. I’m not so confident about that. Good thing I can pick up another guy to run an offense from time to time in…

Kwame Brown ($2,945,901)

Just kidding.

Beno Udrih ($1,272,279)

Udrih’s another point guard who’s signed for the minimum (he’s a Knick now). He had a successful stint with Orlando, at least statistically, with 13.4 points and eight assists per-36-minutes. His assist percentage was in the top 25 in the league last season, ranking just ahead of Andre Miller and behind Steve Nash.

That didn’t necessarily net him a big payday, but the Knicks couldn’t offer much more than the minimum salary. Unfortunately, neither can I. In my dream team, though, he’s my second or third string point guard (depending on the mood I’m in while dreaming).

Ronnie Brewer ($1,186,459)

What happened to Brewer anyway? He seemed like a useful player heading into last season even though he had arthroscopic knee surgery last September. Then he was traded from New York halfway through the season and only played in 14 games for OKC. Now, he’s in Houston and only $100k of his contract is guaranteed.

Did I mention he’s only 28?

But he can’t shoot and if he can’t defend either then he’s useless. It wouldn’t kill my team if Brewer was ineffective. Green, James, Kirilenko, and at times Cunningham can be solid defenders on the perimeter, but Brewer’s absence might tax Green, my starting shooting guard, which could trickle down to the bigs defending the paint. Those bigs are Tim Duncan and…

Andray Blatche ($1,375,604)

!!!!!!

Blatche is still a mystery on what he really is as a player (he’s kind of a weirdo in general). He showed signs of life last season with Brooklyn, posting a PER of 21.9 but is on a super friendly contract thanks to his resentment towards the Wizards front office. He also gets an unusual amount of steals (two per-36-minutes), though that doesn’t mean we can assign him to lock up the opposition’s best perimeter player just yet or ever.

Blatche is the only center coming off the bench though, so he’ll have a lot of pressure to anchor the defense when Duncan is off the floor. It’s scary giving him that much responsibility. Hopefully the risk pays off in NBA 2K14.

Lineup: $46,262,108

Bench: $11,637,078

Total payroll: $57,899,186

Amount under the cap: $779,814

Killing time on a Friday night constructing a fake NBA team: Priceless (and possibly hopeless)

We’ll see if this roster changes by All-Star Weekend.

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