Friday, July 15, 2016

Pistons Offseason Grades - Did We Get Better?


The Pistons went into the NBA offseason looking to take The Next Step. After a 1st round playoff sweep at the hands of the eventual champs, the Cavs, it became clear that several areas needed to be addressed. Our bench was atrocious, and had been all year. The position most in need of improvement was backup PG. Steve Blake spent most of the year in that role, and he was the 6th worst PG in the league in Value Added. Post defense also needed a boost, presumably at the PF position, and we needed better outside shooting (especially from the bench).

The first domino to fall was the draft. Henry Ellenson was by all accounts a steal with the 18th pick. He drew a lot of comparisons to Kevin Love - tall, white (following the unwritten "must comp a player of the same race" rule), good shooter, good rebounder, terrible defender - and Stan Van Gundy was ecstatic he had slipped. The 2nd round pick, Michael Gbinije, seemed to be a wing/3rd string PG pick that could end up paying off down the road.

Stan then set up free agency by clearing cap space. Jodie Meeks (he of the 63 total appearances in the last 2 seasons) and his $6.5M salary were shipped out to Orlando for a future 2nd round pick. This cleared enough cap space to make a near-max offer to someone, presumably Al Horford. I considered this extremely unlikely, as we were still short of a full max deal (a trade of Aron Baynes was the likely accompanying move), not as near contention as some of his other suitors, and still needed to spend on a backup PG. Stan reportedly met with Horford and was turned down. So their first "big move" was to offer Ish Smith 3 yrs at $6M/yr. He accepted. I was less than thrilled.



First, let me say that I don't think Ish Smith is a terrible player. He should represent an upgrade over what we got from Blake last year. But... where to begin?
  1. He's worn 10 different uniforms in only 6 years! There's only one season there where he played for the same team all year. That's more than a little troubling.
  2. Look at those 3P%... ugh. .298 for his career, and even his career best last year, .329, is well below league average (usually around .350 or so). The 2P% is pretty low, too.
  3. At 6'0", he's on the smaller side. He does ok getting steals, but his overall defense is not good. I wouldn't mind the poor defense if he made up for it on the other end, but the offense just isn't strong enough.
  4. His best games were with Philly. He had decent counting numbers - ppg, assists, etc. - but they were largely inefficient and could've been a product of the good-stats/bad-team phenomenon.
You might presume that Smith is good at SOMETHING, and he is. We think. He's got a good assist/tov ratio, is supposed to be decent at setting teammates up, and is reasonably athletic. The fans and players in Philly seemed to like him. And Nerlens Noel once called him "the first true point-guard" he'd ever played with, although given what has lined up at PG for the 76ers the past few years, that's very much like calling Smith the coolest mathlete ever, or the most attractive garden slug

Anyway. All that is to say that I don't particularly DISLIKE Ish Smith and I'll be rooting for him to play well & everything, but... the Pistons had an opportunity to massively upgrade an important position and they didn't do it. I think we'll see Ish in Steve Blake's role next year and it'll be obvious Ish is the better player, but he isn't better by a whole lot. The Pistons had the money to go after somebody like Jordan Clarkson (re-signed w/ LAL for $12.5M/yr), Matthew Dellavedova (signed w/ MIL for $9.6M/yr), Deron Williams (re-signed for 1 yr, $10M w/ DAL), or Jeremy Lin (signed w/ NJN for $12M/yr). Even Brandon Jennings ($5M w/ the Knicks), Jerryd Bayless ($9M/yr w/ Philly), and DJ Augustin ($7.3M/yr for ORL) would've been bigger upgrades. I hope Ish out-plays all those guys, but I really wish Stan had done more here.

The next move was to sign PF Jon Leuer to a 4-yr, $10.5M/yr deal. This one I liked a lot better, although it raise a few more questions... which I'll get to in a minute. Leuer is a classic SVG style stretch 4. Career 3P% .375, rebounds well, moves well, defends... ok. Better than Harris, anyway. And that is a fair contract in this market for that skill set. At this point, I figured we were set, but the rumor was that Stan wanted to add one more big. I didn't see much point, since the Pistons already had 3.5 guys who could play C, but SVG went on and signed Boban Marjanovic from Serbia, by way of San Antonio. Boban is a BIG big, at 7'3", 290 lbs. He had good efficiency numbers last year, but he didn't get a lot of burn, and I don't see how he'll get that much more here unless we dump Baynes.

Now we have a glut at PF and C. Drummond is our starting center, no doubt. Boban and Baynes are both backups, but I'm not sure which is the better option. Jon Leuer also does a decent job at the 5 spot. Then you have PF. Tobias Harris, Leuer, and Ellenson should all get the bulk of their minutes at the 4, although Harris may split time between the 4 and the 3. Harris is the most talented player of the 3, but the Pistons might be better off if Leuer starts and Harris plays as a sort of 6th man - coming off the bench but playing more minutes. Ellenson is the odd man out at this point, but if he develops quickly, Stan will need to figure out how to juggle an overloaded frontcourt.

Not to be lost in the hustle is Andre Drummond's new contract - a max deal that averages out to about $25.4M/yr for 5 years, the 5th year being a player option. This locks him up through 2020. I'm not going to argue whether or not Andre is REALLY a max player or just a near-max player (he's a max player, that's all there is to it), we needed to lock him up. Players of that caliber don't fall into our lap very often. So good move. There's speculation as to whether or not KCP will get his extension before the October deadline. He's not a $20M player to me yet, so I have no problem in letting KCP hang out and try to earn that paycheck. A $20M deal might put us over the luxury tax too, so a better option could be to let him slide
and sign somebody who can actually shoot for a lot cheaper.

Grades
I give the draft an A. Ellenson was a steal, Gbinije was a solid pick as well.
Free Agency gets a C+. We addressed most of our problem areas, acquired mostly good players, and we didn't grossly overpay anybody. But we did the worst job addressing our biggest need, and the Boban signing was unnecessary. I'd have rather that money gone towards a better backup PG. Plus, we now have a glut at the 4 & 5 positions. The Leuer signing was good, but it made less sense after the draft.
Re-signing Drummond gets an A. It needed to happen, and it seemed to happen rather seamlessly. No feathers ruffled, Drummond seems down to business... If you can re-sign your star for what he's worth without pissing him off, that's worth an A to me.

Overall grade: B+. I didn't like the Ish Smith signing or the overall strategy Stan seemed to employ, but I think that despite that, he managed to improve the team without upsetting anything. There's always a danger of doing too much, and the Pistons are a team whose best chance of improvement is through internal development. Messing with that would be bad. Now, they still have KCP's contract situation up in the air, and I think they may trade Baynes away for something at some point between now and the deadline in February, but Stan definitely managed to improve the team.

***

I had high hopes this offseason that the NBA would pass some rule changes that would curtail the Hack-A strategy. They KIND of did. Some of the more ridiculous fouls we saw last year will now be called flagrant, and Drummond is now protected for 8 minutes a game instead of 4. Great.

If they had expanded protection from the Hack-A strategy to cover the entire 48+ minutes in a game, Drummond would still have to work on his FTs because there is no protection if he's involved in the play. But it would have significantly altered the Hack-A strategy, to the benefit of the NBA. The rule changes they passed represent the bare minimum improvement imaginable, and they still do nothing to prevent this:



Friday, June 24, 2016

Pistons get a steal in Ellenson


I never imagined Henry Ellenson would be available when the Pistons' pick came up, #18 in the first round. I'd seen him projected as early as 4th, and rarely as late as 12th. But this was a weird draft. There were four outright WEIRD picks taken in a row - Maker going #10 to Milwaukee, Sabonis (a lesser version of Ellenson, in my opinion) going to OKC via Orlando at #11, and then Taurean Prince to Atlanta via Utah with the 12th pick. Then, Phoenix, picking for Sacramento (who had traded back from #8 with a superior talent in Marquese Chriss available) took Greek center Georgios Papagiannis with the 13th pick. Yeah, I'd never heard of him either, until a couple of days ago.

Anyway, a couple of decent looking foreign players were then taken about 10 picks earlier than I expected, Valentine and Baldwin also, and that left Henry Ellenson, the #10 guy on Stan Van Gundy's board, for the Pistons to take with the 18th pick. I didn't really look at him prior to the draft because I figured he'd be long gone, so let's take a closer look now.

1st rd, 18th pick - PF Henry Ellenson, Marquette
Physical stats: 19 yrs old, 6'10.5", 242#, 7'2" wingspan, 9'0" reach
College stats: 17.0 ppg, 9.7 rebs, 1.8 asts, 1.5 blks, .446/.288/.749 shooting


Ellenson is big and offensively skilled. He's drawn a lot of Kevin Love comps, but Jalen Rose's Troy Murphy comp may have been the most spot on. His college 3P% is a little low for a prototypical stretch 4, but he hits the midrange jumper at a nice rate, and based on his shooting motion, most experts think he should be able to stretch it out to an NBA 3pt range. He's a smart offensive player, and I think he'll make an immediate impact on the Pistons next year. He also rebounds well, improves our size at the 4, and possibly could run some at the backup 5 spot as well. 



The downside is he's a pretty crappy defender. I mean BAD. He's not very athletic, which usually shows up on defense, and he doesn't know how to use his body to his advantage. This HAS to get better, or he'll never crack a starting rotation. He'll probably never be a shot-blocking threat, but he needs to learn how to push back down low and how to move his feet and flatten out on perimeter switches.

You can really see the good and the bad in Ellenson in his earlier matchup with #1 pick Ben Simmons. He hit some nice shots and rebounded well, but Ellenson couldn't hang with Simmons on the other end. Now Simmons is a top-level talent, but that's closer to what Ellenson would see on a regular basis in the NBA. Simmons is obviously good enough to start now, Ellenson isn't. But with an improved 3P% and some pushback on D, he'll get there. I like the pick.

The next pick the Pistons had was 19th in the 2nd round, 49th overall. There were several players that slipped into the 2nd round - Patrick McCaw, Deyonta Davis,  Demetrius Jackson, and Tyler Ulis - that the Pistons might've gone with if they'd still been around at 49. Kay Felder, a local kid that a lot of people liked, was available when the Pistons came up.

2nd rd, 19th pick (49 overall) - G/F Michael Gbinije, Syracuse
Physical stats: 24 yrs old, 6'7", 205#, 6'7.5" wingspan, 8'5" reach, 37.5 max vert
College stats: 17.5 ppg, 4.1 rebs, 4.3 asts, 2.8 tov, 1.9 stls, .461/.391/.663 shooting


Gbinije is supremely athletic, with superior vertical, agility, and one of the top sprint finishes in the combine. He's 6'7" and can handle the ball, run backup PG, and defend 3 positions. He's pretty old for his draft class at 24 (already older than 5 current Pistons Drummond, Harris, KCP, Hilliard, and Johnson), but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. He also shoots a pretty poor FT% for a guy who knocks down threes at a .391 clip, which is weird. Gbinije transitioned from an off-ball SF to Syracuse's primary ball handler, and was really their main guy. His nickname is "Silent G" (which could REALLY be my nickname, for other reasons), which is pretty cool and gives a clue how to pronounce his last name. He also looks a lot like The Game, which is also pretty cool.

I think a lot of the league is looking at what Golden State has done and saying, "we need passing, length, and defense at every position, and some shooting wouldn't hurt either." Gbinije, if he works out, absolutely fits that mold. He doesn't have Shaun Livingston's crazy wingspan, but he has a better 3pt shot and positional versatility, able to play and guard positions 1-3. I like this pick as well, especially in today's NBA.

Overall I give the Pistons an A for their draft. They didn't succumb to the temptation to trade up, they got a LOT lucky when Ellenson dropped to them, they addressed positional needs AND skill set needs with both picks, and I think they got players who can help them right now, as well as in the future. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

NBA Finals/Draft Preview Edition


This NBA Finals was a disappointment in a lot of ways. First and foremost, the Warriors were my adopted team. I've liked Steph Curry since his Davidson days. Despite being a Michigan fan, I've always (or almost always) liked Draymond Green. Secondly, most of the games were pretty bad. As in, hard to watch to the end. Games 1 & 2 were blowouts for GS. Game 3 was a blowout for Cleveland. Game 4 was tight until the 4th quarter, when GS ran away with it. Game 5 was missing Draymond (more on this) and Cleveland had the lead the whole 2nd half. Game 6 might've been the worst game in the series, Cleveland rarely allowing their lead to fall into the single digits. Game 7 was the only wire to wire game in the series. Thirdly, the officiating was wildly uneven.  Part of the reason Cleveland ran away with game 3 was that the officials swallowed the whistle A LOT. I counted three shots in Golden State's first several possessions that should've been shooting fouls but went uncalled. The Draymond Green suspension was retroactively awarded and HIGHLY controversial. I firmly believe that Green's swipe merited a Tech at best (with no accompanying suspension), that the league primarily called it based on LeBron complaining after the fact & things always look worse in slo-mo. Some of the fouls that caused Curry to foul out of game 6 were ridiculous, especially the last two calls. I don't think the NBA actually "rigged" the games, but they had an interest in extending the series and I think that played into how some of the games were called. It's interesting (and by "interesting" I mean "suspicious") how the way they called the series changed dramatically after the first 2 blowouts by GS, when it looked like Cleveland might get swept in embarrassing fashion.

And fourthly, I hate LeBron. I hate his contrived persona, how he effed over Cleveland so publicly in The Decision, how he arrived in Miami, how he complains (my hatred of the LeBron WHAT FOUL??? face is 2nd only to the one Tim Duncan mercifully retired several years ago), how he was catered to in Cleveland, how he was courted during The Decision, how he came back like NBD, how he AGAIN hand-picked the team (mandating the trade for Kevin Love), killed the coach & picked his replacement... There's a lot there to dislike. There was a fair bit of schadenfreude involved in watching Miami lose to Dallas and San Antonio, and again in watching Cleveland lose last year. I was really looking forward to a year full of "LeBron is a choker" articles. Alas...

I hate to admit it, but LeBron OWNED these finals as completely as it's possible for one player to own a series. He averaged 29.7 ppg, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, 2.3 blocks, and shot .494/.371/.721 from the field (despite prior reports of his jumper deserting him). He played impeccable defense, and the only real flaw in his game was a propensity to turn the ball over because he was passing too much instead of attacking. Yikes.

On the flip, Steph Curry, unanimous MVP of the regular season, was a HUGE disappointment. He shot well below his season averages from the field, and was significantly down in every single category except turnovers. Both LeBron and Curry averaged over 4 turnovers a game, but where LeBron's were largely due to passing too much, Curry's were largely due to being REALLY careless with the ball. We've now seen Curry in back-to-back NBA Finals, and we've yet to see him play like the same guy we see in the regular season. This is usual in the playoffs when buckets are harder to come by. In fact, last year his finals performance probably wasn't as bad as you think you remember. Iggy won the Finals MVP, but Curry probably would've won it if it hadn't been for the turnovers. This year though, Draymond Green was CLEARLY the best player on his team (his line for game 7 - 32pts, 15rebs, 9asts, 2 stls, shot 11-15 FGs, 6-8 3Ps, 4-4 FTs. He'd have gotten a triple-double if Ezeli could've converted an easy alley-oop), even considering the fact that he got himself suspended for game 5 and laid a couple of eggs in games 3 & 6.

This brings up the question - is Curry's MVP counterfeit? He lights it up in the regular season, lays a relative egg in the playoffs and his team loses after being up 3-1. That shouldn't happen to a league MVP, right? Well, yeah, but... what about Kobe's 2008 finals (especially the elimination game)? Curry certainly wasn't as bad as Dirk Nowitzki in 2007, losing in the first round in a #1 vs. #8 upset, during which Nowitzki couldn't buy a three. 2007 Nowitzki is the gold standard for counterfeit MVP campaigns. No, I would say the best comp for Curry's choke-job is Karl Malone in 1997. It's not a perfect comp - Curry was (rightfully) unanimous whereas Jordan was a VERY close 2nd in '97 (and mainly lost due to voter fatigue), Curry's team set the NBA record for wins while Utah finished 1st in the West but still behind Chicago - but look at finals performance vs. regular season. Malone's FG% dropped a full 11% in the Finals vs. his regular season number (Curry's dropped 10%), and his FT% dropped by 15%. In the series clinching game, Malone shot a Drummond-like 7-15 from the FT line. In HIS series clinching game, Curry only managed 17 points on 19 shots.

Again, I actually believe Curry deserved his regular season MVP award. LeBron just wasn't good enough, no one else was, and Curry's season was transcendent. It was arguably the best shooting season of all time. I'd argue that, anyway (no one has shot like that AND led the league in scoring). He also played good defense at the PG position (lead the league in steals), and nearly averaged 7 assists to boot. Even with the benefits of hindsight, this was as solid an MVP campaign as you can get (contrasting with Malone, who was in the conversation but definitely benefited from voter fatigue that negatively affected Jordan). But I think we should start viewing Curry similarly to how we now view Malone - as a really good player (Malone is 2nd all-time in points, 7th in rebounds), but ultimately struggled in the clutch. Curry SHOULD get credit for the 2015 title, but he had a TON of help.

***

Now that the Finals are over, the Draft is next and the question is WHO WILL THE PISTONS DRAFT???

With the 18th pick - and out of the lottery for the first time since 2009 (not counting the pick traded to Charlotte in 2014) - the pickings are slimmer than we're used to seeing. Initially I was hoping that MSU's Denzel Valentine might fall to the Pistons. Then it started to look like he might, as doubts about his relative upside (as one of the older players in the draft), defensive abilities, and health were raised. Then, a report came out that he suffered from a degenerative cartilage issue in both of his knees that could REALLY shorten his career. Normally that would knock him out of contention for the 18th pick, but the draft REALLY thins out right around 18.

Ideally, Furkan Korkmaz, a SG out of Turkey, would slide a couple of spots (currently projected to go around 15th). He's a solid shooting SG who can defend a little and make plays as well. Short of trading up though, it's a longshot he falls to 18th. Wade Baldwin is another guy who'll probably go earlier, but I wouldn't mind taking at 18. Other guys I like but would need to trade up for - Marquese Chriss (PF Washington) and Dragan Bender (PF Croatia). A lot of people like Henry Ellenson (PF Marquette), but he looks like a slow, no D stretch-4 who doesn't shoot the three ALL that well. I'd also say that if a guy like Brandon Ingram drops (say if the Lakers take Chriss instead or something), Boston might be open to trading their pick or something.

Short of trading up or hoping somebody falls, there are four players that I'd be looking at with the 18th pick. In reverse order:

#4 - PF Thon Maker, Athletic Institute (HS) ONTARIO
7'1", 216#, good reach, good athleticism


Wherever he goes, Maker will be a project. He looks REALLY, really raw, and he needs to add about 20-30 lbs of muscle to make it through an NBA season. He's got the physical tools, and the report is that he might be able to shoot a little. He put up KG-like HS numbers, but as a 19-year old, and in Canada instead of Chicago. I think he has a pretty high ceiling, but a low floor in the Hasheem Thabeet neighborhood.

#3 - SG/SF Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
6'6", 210#, good reach, poor athleticism
2016 stats: 19.2 ppg, 7.5 rebs, 7.8 asts, .462/.444/.853 shooting


Valentine would be at the top of this list if it weren't for the knees. His defense is bad, he's one of the least athletic wings in the draft, but I'd take him in a heartbeat if I weren't worried his knees were about to go Brandon Roy. He has one of the best shooting touches in the draft, and he gives you rebounding and passing. He could double as a backup PG in a pinch, since he basically was MSU's starting PG when healthy. But the knee thing is a concern.

#2 - PF Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga
6'10", 231#, limited reach, average to low athleticism
2016 stats: 17.5 ppg, 11.8 rebs, 1.8 asts, .606/.357/.768 shooting


Sabonis is a smart, effective, but limited player. He looks like he has his dad's head for the game, but not his legendary physical profile (Arvydas Sabonis was 7'3" and reportedly phenomenally athletic until injuries took their toll). He fits with what Stan wants to do, and I think he could be the #3 guy on a good team, best case.

#1 - SG/SF Timothe Luwawu, Mega Leks (INT'L) ABA/KLS 
6'7", 205#, good reach, good athleticism
2016 stats: 14.5 ppg, 4.6 rebs, 2.8 asts, 1.7 stls, .402/.358/.697 shooting


The shooting numbers don't blow you away, and that's a concern. But he's developing his 3pt shot, and I think you'll start to see some of these numbers get better as he operates under better coaching. I like the athleticism, which based on the tape is pretty good. He seems to have good bounce and should be able to develop into a stopper. He reminds me of KCP, only better, and with a lot more vertical ability. He looks like he can guard anybody from PG to SF, or should be able to once he gets his feet wet. He actually reminds me a lot of Kawhi Leonard coming out of college. Not that I think he'll be quite that good, but a lot of the raw tools are there.

Some people are huge Maker fans. I'm not, I think he's too big of a risk, but given what else is available, I'm ok with the Pistons taking him as long as none of my top 3 here are available. With the Pistons' needs at backup PG, PF, and 3pt shooting, I don't see a ton of options.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May the Fourth Be With You... Always



It's May, the Pistons and Red Wings are bounced out of the playoffs, the NFL Draft is over, the NBA Draft isn't for another month & a half... Time to talk Tigers!

The Tigers are 25 games into the season and stand at a healthy 14-11, after last night's abysmal performance by Verlander. The team, like Verlander, has been pretty hot & cold, and they've gotten boosts from unexpected places while getting slumps from others. Currently, the Tigers' best hitter is NOT Miguel Cabrera, JD Martinez, Victor Martinez (although he's actually 2nd best, which is also kind of a surprise) or Justin Upton, but Nick Castellanos. Nick was a pretty big prospect coming up, but he'd been a disappointment so far, both with his bat and with his glove. His batting average was in the .250s his first 2 seasons, and his HR, RBI, and other numbers were pretty mediocre. Currently he's leading the AL in hitting with a .368 BA, roughly 100 points higher than he'd ever hit before. He's got 4 HR and 19 RBI, which put him on pace for 26 HR and 123 RBI through 162 games.

It's dangerous to extrapolate such a small sample and set it as an expectation, and that's not what this is for. I'm trying to highlight his hot start, and put it in perspective with what he's done in the past. Castellanos has never had a month this hot in his career. He picked up the hitting in the last 3 months of 2016, but even then he didn't have a month where he hit .290. Based on his strong-ish finish in 2015 and REALLY strong start to 2016, I think we can expect a breakout performance from Castellanos this year. 

Victor has started well and that's a good sign. Kinsler's been really good in the leadoff spot. Saltalamacchia has filled in nicely for McCann and added some much needed pop in the bottom of the order. On the flip, Justin Upton has been striking out A TON (on pace for 252 for the season), but he's cut that down in the last 5 games and brought his average up from sub-Mendoza to .252. Cabrera's average got down to .206, but the next game he went 4 for 4 and really broke out of his slump. Since April 25th, he's on a 8-game hitting streak, during which he's popped 3 HR, 3 2B, and 6 RBI. Also, Cameron Maybin, one of the better offseason acquisitions, hasn't played yet and is due to come back soon.

As far as pitching goes... Well, the Tigers have flipped there. Historically, and last year especially, the Tigers have had pretty good starting pitching and a pretty bad bullpen. This year, Jordan Zimmerman has been excellent, but all the other starters have been mediocre to ATROCIOUS (looking at you, Mike Pelfrey). The bullpen this year has been the 8th best in baseball, according to fangraphs (the starting pitching is 19th out of 30, and without Zimmerman they'd be last). I love how good our 'pen has been, but the starting pitching is a Problem. Capital P. Verlander... ugh. He's had a couple of absolute stinkers already this year. His velocity is down, he's blaming bad pitching on his SLEEVES... I'm not optimistic. He could round up to a #2 or #3-level guy, but the Tigers either need to make a move or get a big year from one of Greene, Norris (still out with a back injury), Boyd, or Fulmer. They need a miracle.

The Tigers might be able to get by with a good offense, mediocre starting pitching, and good relieving - that formula worked for Toronto last year, although their offense was SWEET - but the offense and starting pitching has to improve or they're missing the playoffs. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Lions Draft Recap


There are a few things we can deduce about the Lions' new GM, following his first draft. He clearly values the offensive line, possibly over all other things. He's committed to creating organizational depth. And he may possibly have brought Belichick's aversion to drafting WRs with him to Detroit. As a kid who was scarred by the Millen Era's love of the position, I'm cool with that. Actually, I like all of those qualities. Whether or not Bob Quinn has a good team of scouts and knows a good player when he sees one remains to be seen.

I've already gone over what I thought about the Lions' first pick in depth, so I won't spend too much time going over well-tilled earth. The offensive line needed a shot in the arm, and Taylor Decker is a guy who can help on day one. He can start on the right side and might eventually move over to the left as he develops. The Lions could've gone with a DE like Shaq Lawson, as DE is a huge need, but I like the pick.

I'd also stated my wishes for rounds 2 & 3. If none of the players expected to go on day 1 fell to the Lions' 2nd round pick, they could fill their DE need with Emmanuel Ogbah. Well, Cleveland picked up Ogbah right off the bat (which was funny, since he's NOT a fit for their defense), but the Lions lucked out when A'Shawn Robinson, a DT from Alabama, fell to them at pick #46. Robinson had been projected to go to the Lions in a few FIRST round mocks, so getting him in round 2 was pretty big.

The Lions unfortunately passed on a HUGE opportunity to add needed depth at defensive tackle 2 years ago, when they drafted TE Eric Ebron instead of Aaron Donald. DT wasn't a HUGE need that season, as we still had Suh, Fairley, and Mosley. The problem was, all of their contracts expired at the end of the season, and keeping any of them was going to be tricky, if not impossible. We all know what happened - we couldn't afford Suh, and we didn't want to re-sign the other two, so Mayhew patched up the D-line with a trade and a couple of FA signings. It wasn't a total disaster, but Ngata is nearing the end of his career and has shown he can't play the number of snaps he used to play.




Enter Robinson. He's a big dude at 6'4", 307, but he's also pretty athletic. This is a pic of him after the title game, and he looks like he almost could have a 6-pack. Basically, he's built as a DE but has the size and power of a DT. He can stuff the run, power rush the passer, and he eats up blocks like they're slathered in BBQ sauce. Another thing I like about Robinson is he seems to be a much better leader and teammate than Suh was. Ndomukong Suh, for all his talent and ability, wasn't a natural leader. He operated more or less as an island, and that's a problem when the guy the media wants to talk to all the time isn't the guy leading in the locker room. Anyway, HUGE steal for the Lions in round 2.

I was still thinking defense in round 3. The Lions weren't picking until the end, but I was hoping a quality LB or DE might fall to them. The LB I liked, Joe Schobert was available, and a speedy edge rusher, Charles Tapper, was on the board. A safety I liked, Justin Simmons, was also available, and safety was another big need. Quinn opted to go back to offense and draft Michigan C Graham Glasgow.

I kinda wish they'd gone defense there, but I don't mind the pick. If you'll recall, there had been some rumors swirling leading up to the draft about the Lions going with C Ryan Kelly in round 1. Reportedly they were dissatisfied with the job Travis Swanson was doing, feeling that he stunk so bad that he contributed to the bad performance we got out of Laken Tomlinson and Larry Warford last season. In that light, drafting a C was probably a must. I'd have rather taken a DE with one of their top 3 picks, but Glasgow is a quality center and should be able to push Swanson for the starting spot. He can play both G & C at a high level, and he was good enough to garner a All Big Ten Honorable Mention at his position.




The Lions took a safety with their next pick, and by all accounts they got good value there.  Killebrew has a rep as a big hitter and has the size to play the run, maybe even convert to LB. He's expected to push for PT and probably starts out on ST. The Dahl pick was interesting. Again, could've gone defense or WR there, but went with a guy who can play all 5 positions on the line. Taking Rudock raise my eyebrows, since I'm not even sure he'd develop into a quality backup QB. Another former Michigan player, CB Blake Countess, might've been the better pick there. The biggest surprise was drafting a long-snapper (who drafts a long-snapper, honestly), especially with long-time Lion Don Muhlbach still hanging around. Muhlback is 34 and has to go sometime, but did we really need to draft a LS?

The other big surprises/disappointments were not taking a CB or a WR in the entire draft. Those positions were as big a need as say DE, but the Lions at least needed depth there. It looks like Quinn will be addressing that with his undrafted FA signings, however. He's reportedly signing a CB from Ohio, Ian Wells, and a WR from Baylor, Jay Lee. Wells has decent size and speed, and he finished his 2015 season with 2 picks and at least 8 passes defensed (it could be more, as they might not have kept track of that stat in all his games). Those are nice numbers, but I don't know enough about him as a player to say whether or not he could play as even a nickel corner. Jay Lee has nice size and speed as well, but his route-running and his hands leave something to be desired.

Mel Kiper gave the Lions a B- for their draft, marking them down for not taking a WR or a CB. NFL.com gave them a B overall, also questioning the fact that they didn't address WR or CB but took a long snapper. I already gave Quinn a B+ for day 1. I'll give him an A- for day 2, getting a steal in Robinson and addressing interior O-line with Glasgow (but marking down for not addressing slightly more urgent needs). Day 3 gets a C+. I think he made a couple of good picks, but he also had some head-scratchers. His UFAs get a B. Overall, Quinn gets a B+. He gets marked down a bit for not addressing certain needs earlier and made a couple of odd moves, but his worst picks were later and not so costly (like taking a TE  who can't catch or block with your 10th pick when you already have 2 TEs on the roster), and I think he got at least 2 and possibly 4 starters out of this draft.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Taylor Decker is a Beautifully Boring First Round Pick, Reset for Day 2



In the Draft, boring is good. Boring is dependable. Boring means you DIDN'T take a WR in the first round in three straight years. Historically, the Lions haven't been boring in the draft, and that's not a good thing. Excitement in the draft comes when your team trades up to get somebody, or reaches past team needs to get a perceived top pick talent who's been sliding due to some red flags. The Lions have been guilty of being too exciting in the draft, and it's come back to bite them almost every time.


First, this was a really weird draft. The top 2 picks had been traded, which almost never happens, and a whole bunch of red flags started popping up on players who had been projected to go in the top 10 picks. Going into the draft, I was hoping a chain of events would cause Jack Conklin to slide from his expected draft position at #10 to get to the Lions at #16. Failing that, I was fully ready to take the best edge rusher available or Taylor Decker. Something that screwed this up, I think, was OT Laremy Tunsil, the projected #3 pick's twitter getting hacked and a video of him hitting a bong while wearing a gas mask getting posted. Tunsil went into draft free-fall, which pushed the other OTs in the draft, Stanley and Conklin, to get taken earlier than expected.


I was legitimately considering the prospect of the Lions taking Tunsil when Miami took him off the board with the 13th pick. To tell the truth, I was relieved. Taking Tunsil would've been classic Lions, and those types of risks have NEVER panned out for us. Nick Fairley had conditioning concerns, Titus Young had character concerns, Mike Williams had talent concerns, Jahvid Best had concussion concerns... The Lions drafted them anyway and found those concerns to be well-founded.

When the Lions' pick was in, I figured Goodell would say one of three names - Taylor Decker, Shaq Lawson, or Ryan Kelly. I had begun to be concerned about Lawson's numbers being inflated and his talent overrated. It also seemed a bit early to be taking a center, but I'd talked myself into Kelly as he might've improved all three positions on the interior O-line. Still, Decker was the pick I was most comfortable with, and that's who the Lions took.





I covered him earlier in the Draft Preview, so I'll just recap in broad strokes. Taylor Decker profiles as a day one starter at right tackle, with the potential to switch to the blind side. He's solid in pass protect but known more as a road grader in the running game. He fits a need, he does it well, and he could develop into even more. Plus, I like his temperament as a lineman. He's got a mean streak, and you've got to have that. Anyway, most draft graders gave Bob Quinn a B for his first pick, but I give him a B+, because doing the safe, smart thing is SO underrated. And in Detroit, it's been SO rare.

***

Tomorrow is Day 2 of the draft, covering rounds 2 and 3. The Lions have the 15th pick in round 2 (46th overall), and a compensatory 3rd round pick for losing Suh, 32nd in the round and 95th overall. When I previewed the draft back in March, my wish list of potential Lions was based on the ESPN grades of who might be available at those picks. Keanu Neal actually went 17th, right after the Lions' FIRST round pick. Karl Joseph went two picks BEFORE. And the last player I'd identified, Kenny Clark, was scooped up before the end of the first round as well. So all my round two options went earlier than I expected, but several quality players dropped.



The top guy currently available, talent-wise, is LB Myles Jack. He's a top ten talent, he's at a position of need for the Lions, but... I don't want them taking him in round 2. Maybe round 3, if he's there. But the knee injury scares me, and he's done if he needs micro-fracture surgery. Either of the Alabama DTs would be a good pick, but I expect them both to go before the Lions pick is up. Reggie Ragland would be great too, but he's probably gone as well. Kevin Dodd, a guy some people had the Lions reaching for in the 1st round, is available as well, but like the others, I think he'll be gone when the Lions' pick rolls around. So who does that leave?


If none of the guys who slid out of round one are available when the Lions are up, Kendall Fuller is a possibility. He missed all but the first 3 games last year when he had knee surgery, so he's a bit of a risk, but not as much as Myles Jack seems to be. Fuller could play corner or switch to safety in a pinch, both areas of need.




Another option in round 2 is Emmanuel Ogbah, and to be honest, this is the guy I hope the Lions get (if no one drops to them). Ogbah is a pure pass rushing DE. He's weak against the run, which isn't ideal, but you aren't going to find a perfect DE (a premium position) outside of the first round (if even then). Ogbah recorded double-digit sacks in each of his last 2 seasons, he knocks down passes and forces fumbles. He needs to work on his effort on an every down basis, and his instincts covering the run aren't all that good, but he looks everything like a disruptive force rushing the passer. I'll take that in round 2.




For round 3, the Lions don't pick until the end, 95th overall. This might be where you take Myles Jack or Jaylon Smith, both high-quality guys with injury concerns. Other options at this level are S Justin Simmons from Boston College, OLB Joe Schobert from Wisconsin, and CB Will Redmond from Miss. State. All three would struggle to start on day 1, but I would expect they would at least be part-timers, and work into a starting role after a year or two.


I like Schobert best of that group. He's a converted safety, so he's still adding bulk, but he rushes the passer well and covers well. He walked on at Wisconsin and was eventually made a captain. He finished his senior season with 76 tackles, 20 for a loss, 9.5 sacks, 1 pick, 2 passes defensed, 2 fumble recoveries and 4 forced fumbles. He's still a work in progress, which is kind of scary, considering how good his production has been. The knocks on him are his size and lack of elite athleticism, but his size will be less of a problem playing in a 4-3 system.


So there are my day 2 wishes - if none of the big names drop to the Lions, Ogbah in round 2 and Schobert in round 3. So far, I think Quinn is off to a nice start.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NFL Draft: Lions-related Mocks and Rumors



The NFL Draft is Thursday... that is to say, round 1 of the NFL Draft is Thursday, rounds 2 & 3 are Friday, and the rest of the thing is Saturday, because you know they're about milking as much money out of this as possible. Anyway. With the draft imminent, upcoming, looming, and whatever other synonym for "approaching" you can think of, I'd like to take a fresh look at the mocks and any hot rumors regarding the Lions.


First, the mocks. NFL.com currently has 4 different mocks out, dated this week. All 4 have the Lions taking a defensive player - either DE Shaq Lawson, DT Jarran Reed, DE Kevin Dodd, or CB William Jackson III. Any of those would be a good pick, depending on whether or not you believe in Lawson. ESPN's Todd McShay put out his 5th mock last week Thursday, and he also had the Lions taking a defensive player - DT A'Shawn Robinson. Mel Kiper released his A-Grade mock last week, prior to the Eagles trading up to #2, and he had the Lions also taking Lawson.


It's interesting that no one from the two main networks covering the draft have the Lions taking an offensive player, especially considering the offensive line was such a weak point last year. And this brings us to the hot rumor concerning the Lions. A number of sources, most notably Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, have tabbed Alabama Center Ryan Kelly as the Lions' pick at #16. There's a lot there to unpack.
  • First, the Lions already have a C, Travis Swanson, who they took in round 3 a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, he was really, REALLY bad last year, to the point where he may have been mainly responsible for Larry Warford and Laken Tomlinson's bad performances last year
  • Second, the 16th pick is really high to take an interior offensive lineman. There's a bit of buzz around Kelly right now, so Quinn may be looking to just pick him at 16, he may be looking to trade back, or...
  • He might be trying to psych out the Colts, who reportedly are really interested in Ryan Kelly. If the Colts are so enamored with Kelly that they'll trade up to pick him in front of Detroit, that might push back a player that the Lions are more interested in. If that's the case, that is some Belichick-level deviousness right there
It's very possible that Bob Quinn is interested in drafting Kelly, no matter what, and relegating Swanson to the bench. If Ryan Kelly is good enough to boost the play of 3 different positions on the line, I'm all for it. Draft him at 16, trade back, whatever. This is probably the likeliest scenario, since the Lions have supposedly interviewed everyone who ever knew Kelly several times. If it IS in fact a red herring (which I doubt, since so few people are that devious in real life), Quinn COULD be pushing a guy like OT Jack Conklin (who Mike Mayock said the Lions should SPRINT to the podium to pick if available), CB Vernon Hargreaves, or DT Sheldon Rankins back to the 16th pick, where the Lions could scoop him up.

Mike Mayock's mock draft hasn't come out yet, but normally it comes out the day before the draft (which is today, soooo... what's the holdup?). He seems to be in every team's draft room and is rarely surprised by a pick. I place a lot of weight on whoever he has the Lions taking, so I'm a bit disappointed that hasn't shown up yet. To recap, I had the Lions' top 3 options for round 1 (in order) as OT Jack Conklin (less likely a possibility now, as his stock has risen), DE Shaq Lawson (at least possible, if not likely), and OT Tyler Decker (relegated to consolation prize status). Round 1 is tomorrow, and I'll be covering round 1 and previewing round 2 on Friday.