The Toronto Maple Leafs' Defense Dilemma and Winger Trade Options - Part 1 - Maple Leafs Hot Stove - Canada News Media
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The Toronto Maple Leafs' Defense Dilemma and Winger Trade Options – Part 1 – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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The need for help on the Toronto Maple Leafs blue line has been discussed all season — usually prompted by the uneven defensive play of Morgan Rielly, Cody Ceci, and Tyson Barrie.

Now injuries to Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly have blown up the top four of the Leafs‘ defense. Possible trading partners are undoubtedly looking at the ‘second tier’ of Leafs wingers as potentially available for trade.

Defense Situation

hockeyviz

The Defender Network chart on the left shows the ice time and pair combinations this season.

The Leafs have used five players extensively in the top four and tested two others (Martin Marincin and Travis Dermott).

The good news is that Justin Holl has filled in well on the right-side second pair. The bad news is that the others have either been injured or haven’t had their best seasons (even Muzzin).

Travis Dermott may help patch things on the second pair, but there has to be a lot of uncertainty surrounding how well he can manage the bigger role over the rest of the season. Once we get past Rielly, Muzzin, and Dermott, there is 19-year-old Rasmus Sandin complicating and deepening the picture on the left side.

hockeyviz

As the chart on the right side shows, all of this results in a defense that has allowed a 3% higher threat level than the league average. Although Keefe’s arrival has certainly helped steady the situation, overall there have been too many chances from the slot this season (that dark red area between the face-off dots).

I try to take a long view on the situation — or at least a medium view — but you can’t help but be struck by how much the Leafs have cratered defensively of late. Allowing 22 goals in the past five games has to set off a few alarm bells for both the defense and the goaltending.

A quick GameShots analysis shows that only 12.2 of these goals were expected given the shot danger the goalies faced. My view is that this recent dive is mostly due to a goaltending slump, even if expected goal models are imperfect. However, watching their play, there is no doubt as well that teams are taking advantage of the Leafs‘ depleted defense roster.

Muzzin may be ready soon after the break, but the team is not out of the woods with Morgan Rielly’s fractured foot and a tightening playoff race.

Available Trade Assets

The Leafs enter the All-Star break actively searching for a way to bolster the defense before the season gets away from them. What Darren Dreger reported recently is painfully obvious:

“I am sure that Kyle Dubas has had conversations with clubs about [defensemen] we haven’t identified yet.”

Looking back, the last two trades for a top-four defenseman came at a cost:

  • Jake Muzzin cost Dubas winger prospect Carl Grundstrom, the rights to defense prospect Sean Durzi, and a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
  • Tyson Barrie (at a reduced cap hit of $2.75 million and packaged with Alex Kerfoot and a sixth-round pick) cost the Leafs a key center in Nazem Kadri, prospect Calle Rosen, and a 2020 third-round pick.

The Muzzin acquisition happened a year ago next week, so we are already in trade season as far as Kyle Dubas is concerned.  Since Jake Muzzin was under contract an extra year, both he and Barrie are unrestricted free agents in July. It’s a simple reality that the Leafs are very unlikely to sign both given their cap situation as it stands.

To compound matters, their 2020 first-round draft pick was traded away to move Patrick Marleau, and at some point, the Leafs are going to need another first-rounder to replenish their minor league system. Trading a first-round pick three years in a row seems very unlikely to me.

Trade ideas have circulated and some have tossed in players such as Trevor Moore,  Dmytro Timashov, Adam Brooks, and Jeremy Bracco. My personal opinion is that the trade value of these players is much less than the fan base believes.

In my mind, Timashov and Brooks are marginal NHL players, while Bracco’s NHL value has fallen off amidst an unimpressive Marlies season. Of the group, Trevor Moore is a bonafide fourth-liner and is probably even a third-liner on some teams when healthy. However, the trade value for a bottom-six winger is not that high, either. He might help acquire a depth #6 defenseman, but I’m not convinced that’s what the Leafs need to weather the season and playoffs.

I also believe that trading a young defense prospect like Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren would just worsen matters down the road. That basically leaves a second or third-round pick, or a second-tier winger as trade bait.

There are four ‘second-tier’ wingers who could be in play for the right deal. Understanding their performance and value should be the first step for the Leafs, trade partners, and any fan. A lot is at stake.

Incumbents Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen will be covered here in part one. In part two, we’ll cover off some more possibilities.

Andreas Johnsson – LW – 25 – $3.4M – 5’10, 194 lbs

Trade Value: Medium
Trade Likelihood:
Low

Andreas Johnsson, who started the season on the Matthews-Nylander line, suffered a leg injury on December 4th against Colorado.

He recorded six goals and 10 assists in his first 30 games, but he hasn’t had a point since returning. Last year, he put up 43 points in 73 games and was among the top-five rookies in the Calder conversation.

Here we can see his quickness and smarts on offense.

Both Johnsson and Kapanen have seen their SKATR profiles drop off this season after signing new contracts in June. (I will cover Kapanen next.)

SKATR, its glossary and Guide can all be found in the MLHS Advanced Statistics page.

Johnsson’s five-on-five profile has softened in areas like goal and point rates, with a shooting percentage at the ninth percentile. Most thought he was due for inevitable regression after his hot streak last season, where he ranked at the 93rd percentile.

The truth likely dwells somewhere in the middle. He is probably due a few more goals once the hockey gods turn the shooting-luck switch back on.

Given his high percentiles for expected goals (73) and estimated shot assists (96), he has a lot of upside on the score sheet once he returns to full health. Looking at the “relative to teammates” on-ice results, Johnsson’s two-way play-driving has looked solid this season.

The isolated heat maps below show how his results have softened over the past three years. However, we need to keep in mind that most of his 2019-20 season was played under Mike Babcock, when the whole team was struggling.

For 2019-20, Johnsson provided a +4.4% threat above league average on offense (top chart) while helping to reduce the threat against the Leafs by -1.6%. These are good numbers for a second-tier winger, although they are down from  +6.6% and -5% from last season.

Isolated heat map history, Andreas Johnsson, hockeyviz

On the power-play, Andreas Johnston received the fifth-most ice time among forwards and recorded four goals and an assist in 77 minutes. He usually played the bumper position, where quick hands are needed.

Summary

Given all of the above and despite some lower offensive 5-on-5 results this season, I would rank Andreas Johnsson as a quality offensive second-line winger who is still young at 25 years old and has the clear potential to slot in on the first line as a 45+ point player if needed (which is what he has been doing pretty well). He is on a reasonably-attractive four-year contract, brings power-play skills, and also shows better than average two-way play-driving ability.

In my opinion, he would be an attractive catch for many teams given his speed, puck-handling, and quickness around the net. I think the Leafs would be very reluctant to part with Andreas Johnsson.

Several reasons come to mind: his growth last season, a reasonable new four-year contract, the uncertainty around Ilya Mikheyev’s serious wrist injury, the inability of Kapanen to fill in on the left side when tested, and especially the general lack of high-end offensive skill depth on the left wing.

Kasperi Kapanen – LW – 23 – $3.2M – 6’1″, 194 lbs

Trade Value: Medium
Trade Likelihood:
Medium-High

The winger who has probably received the most focus on the trade front is Kasperi Kapanen.

Like Johnsson, his results are a little off this season after signing a new three-year contract at $3.2 million for three years. Part of the weaker results may be due to his unsuccessful attempt to fill in on the left side when Zach Hyman was injured to start the year.

Watching Kasperi early in the season, there were nights where I thought he was largely invisible, something we seldom saw last season. It’s hard to be invisible when you are one of the fastest players in the league.

That said, Kapanen has also shown evidence of better pass-making decisions once he crosses the blue line. When Kapanen is fully charged, like he was against New Jersey, you see his next gear checking and skating. This is vintage Kapanen coming off the wing:

The latest MLHS “Maple Leafs Report” shows where Kapanen sits in total points per 60 – minutes. At 2.1 points per 60, he’s just below Zach Hyman and just above Timashov, but he’s still on pace for 47 points over an 82-game schedule — pretty much identical to the 44 points he logged last season in 78 games.

The SKATR chart below gives an in-depth look at his five-on-five play over both seasons. There are a few things that stand out:

  • He hasn’t been driving to scoring chance areas nearly as much. Kapanen’s expected goals per 60 percentile has dropped from the 87th to the 28th percentile year over year.
  • His shot-taking and estimated pass rates for shots are down — especially his shot rate, which was at the 93rd percentile last year. That could be acceptable if it was replaced with better shot assist and primary assist rates, but that hasn’t happened.
  • The drop off in Kapanen’s two-way play has been dramatic as well. All six “relative to teammate” on-ice indicators are down — some significantly. Maybe the most telling: His expected goal share now sits at the 17th percentile after he was at the 54th last year. Most of the decline appears to be on the offensive side, where he has fallen to the 24th percentile in “Expected Goals For” per 60 relative to teammates.

Kasperi Kapanen’s failure to adapt to a left-wing role has to be part of this, but the drop-off is stark, as confirmed by the heat maps below. Since reducing threats show as a negative in the bottom defensive-zone heat maps, we can say that his total offensive + defensive threat was 18.2% (9.4% + 8.8%) in 2018-19. It now sits much lower at 6.5% (+1.5 + 5%), and that change is mostly driven by the drop in offensive threat, just like SKATR pointed out.

Isolated heat map history, Kasperi Kapanen, hockeyviz.com

Look at the upper right heat map. Notice the blue areas in front of the net and the high slot — these areas are seeing fewer threats from Kapanen compared to league average, whereas the 2018-19 heat map shows two significant dark red areas in between the dots. Not taking shots from these areas has seriously reduced Kapanen’s expected goal threat this season.

This goal is from the area that has seen reduced chances this season.

The thing about Kasperi Kapanen: I love watching the guy play hockey when he is on his game. What defender is going to stand up at the blue line with him jetting through the neutral zone?  That’s why he makes zone entries look so effortless.

It adds an extra threat when he is on the ice. This chart is for the previous three years covering 43 games; there is no public data for this season. His entries into the offensive zone per 60 minutes are at the 90th percentile.

There is a lot about his game to love — and we shouldn’t forget that — but at the same time, there has to be some concern about his play this half-season compared to last year.

On special teams, Kapanen has experience, breakout speed, and adds skill on the penalty kill. His 5.14 xGA/60 places him in the middle of the pack among Leafs penalty-killing forwards and his 79 PK minutes are second-most. He has also picked up three assists in 64 minutes of power-play time.

Summary

There have been some significant drop-offs in Kasperi Kapanen’s on-ice results — especially his ability to drive expected goal chances, although he has maintained his point production. Kapanen’s chance to play left wing in the top six did not pan out, and he now appears locked into the third-line right wing slot.

Kapanen is undoubtedly an above-average third-line winger with speed to burn, good point production, and special teams abilities. Despite some softening in his results this half-season,  I think he would be attractive to teams looking to add speed and skill on their second or third line.

Closing Thoughts

After reviewing these two players with a focus on their play this season, I think Kyle Dubas will have second thoughts about trading either one of them. This is despite some weakening in their year-over-year performance. It would take a compelling offer to let one of them go. If I was forced to choose, Kapanen would be the most likely trade piece.

Perhaps the Leafs will realize at some point that they need to hold onto such assets and will only consider using a draft pick and/or prospects to add a depth piece to tide them over in Morgan Rielly’s absence.

At some point, Kyle Dubas has to ask himself: How many assets can we afford to lose to patch up a rocky season if the trade return doesn’t fundamentally fix the problem longer-term?

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Kobe Bryant, Lakers great and basketball icon, dies in crash – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Greg Beacham, The Associated Press


Published Sunday, January 26, 2020 2:47PM EST


Last Updated Sunday, January 26, 2020 11:14PM EST

LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant inspired a generation of basketball players worldwide with sublime skills and an unquenchable competitive fire.

He earned Los Angeles’ eternal adoration during his two decades as the fierce soul of the beloved Lakers, and he was respected by basketball fans from every place with a hoop and a dream, including his native Philadelphia and in Italy, his other childhood home.

Less than four years into his retirement, Bryant was seizing new challenges and working to inspire his daughters’ generation through sports and storytelling when his next chapter ended shockingly early.

Bryant, the 18-time All-Star who won five NBA championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career all with the Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. He was 41.

The crash occurred in the foggy hills above Calabasas, California, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Bryant was killed, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press, and a different person familiar with the case confirmed Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna also died.

Both of the AP’s unnamed sources spoke on condition of anonymity because few details of the crash had been released publicly.

Authorities said nine people were on the helicopter, and all were presumed dead. No names were released.

Bryant lived south of Los Angeles in coastal Orange County, and he often used helicopters to save time and avoid Southern California’s notorious traffic. He travelled to practices and games by helicopter before his playing career ended in 2016. He continued to use them after retirement as he attended to his new ventures, which included a burgeoning entertainment company that recently produced an Academy Award-winning animated short film.

The basketball world and Los Angeles reacted with an outpouring of pain and disbelief. Bryant is all but certain to be elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year, when he is eligible for the first time.

“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary … but he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”

The crash occurred about 20 miles from Mamba Sports Academy, Bryant’s basketball training complex in Newbury Park, California. A youth basketball tournament – the Mamba Cup – was scheduled for a second day of competition Sunday at the facility, and Bryant had attended the opening day Saturday with Gianna.

Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, had four daughters. He had been a vocal booster of women’s sports since his retirement, coaching and mentoring basketball players around the world while also backing women’s soccer and other endeavours.

Bryant retired as the third-leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points, all scored in Lakers purple and gold. The self-nicknamed Black Mamba was a prolific, gifted shooter with a sublime all-around game and a relentless, hard-edged work ethic that thrilled his fans and almost everyone else, even those who reviled him.

Taking cues from Michael Jordan, one of his idols, Bryant played with a swagger that compelled him to talk trash, to guard the toughest opponents, to play through pain and to demand the ball at the biggest moments of games.

He didn’t always hit them, but Bryant never stopped trying.

“He had zero flaws offensively,” LeBron James said Saturday night. “Zero. You backed off of him, he could shoot the 3. You body him up a little bit, he could go around you. He could shoot from mid-range. He could post. He could make free throws. … He was just immortal offensively because of his skill set and his work ethic.”

Bryant held the No. 3 spot in the league scoring ranks until the day before his death, when James passed him during the Lakers’ game in Philadelphia.

On Saturday night, James said he was “happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball player to ever play. One of the all-time greatest Lakers.”

Bryant always reacted graciously to the achievements of James, his former on-court rival who joined the Lakers in 2018.

“Continuing to move the game forward ↕KingJames,” Bryant wrote in his last tweet. “Much respect my brother.”

Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs great who also retired in 2016, is also expected to be part of the Hall of Fame class that will be announced at the NBA’s All-Star weekend next month. Duncan, now a Spurs assistant, was visibly emotional on the bench during their game against Toronto on Sunday.

Bryant had been spending more time with his daughters since leaving the league. The Bryants’ first daughter, Natalia, turned 17 a week ago. Bianka Bella Bryant is 3 years old, and Capri Kobe Bryant was born last June.

Gianna, better known as Gigi, had a promising youth career and a competitive pugnaciousness that reminded everybody of her dad. Bryant sat with her courtside at a Brooklyn Nets game late last year, clearly passing along his wisdom to his daughter.

Bryant told Jimmy Kimmel in 2018 that Gianna wanted to play in the WNBA and recalled how fans would often approach him saying “you gotta have a boy, you gotta someone to carry on the tradition, the legacy.”

Gianna took exception: “She’s like, ‘Oy, I got this,”’ Bryant recalled.

News of Bryant’s death inspired an outpouring of grief around the sports world and beyond, but it was felt particularly painfully in Los Angeles, where Bryant was unquestionably the sprawling city’s most popular athlete and one of its most beloved people. Buildings from downtown to Los Angeles International Airport were illuminated in Lakers purple and gold.

The Lakers’ next game is Tuesday night against the crosstown rival Clippers, but hundreds of fans – many in Bryant jerseys and Lakers gear – spontaneously gathered at Staples Center and in the surrounding LA Live entertainment complex on Sunday, weeping and staring at video boards with Bryant’s image before the Grammy awards ceremony.

“I thought he was going to live forever,” Lakers great Magic Johnson told KCBS-TV. “I thought he was invincible. … There was nobody who took more pride in putting on that Laker uniform than Kobe. Nobody. He was just special. We will miss him and we’ll remember him for his greatness, but let’s not forget how he impacted the world, too.”

Bryant retired as the Lakers’ franchise leader in points, games played, 3-pointers and steals – no small feats on a franchise that has employed many of the greatest players in basketball history.

The NBA kept its games on as scheduled when the news broke. The Spurs and Raptors both took voluntary 24-second shot clock violations at the start of their game in honour of Bryant, who wore No. 24 for the second half of his career.

Several other teams followed up by deliberately taking delays of 24 and 8 seconds, honouring both of his jersey numbers. Many players were seen crying before their games, and James looked emotional on the tarmac when he got off the Lakers’ team plane from Philadelphia.

Bryant’s future appeared to be limitless in retirement, whether in sports or entertainment. He opened a production company shortly after leaving the Lakers, saying he was just as passionate about storytelling as he had been about his sport. He won an Oscar in 2018 for his contributions to “Dear Basketball, ” an animated short about his relationship to the game. He also produced content for ESPN.

In 2003, Bryant was charged with attacking a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He had said the two had consensual sex, and the charge was eventually dropped when the women declined to testify in a trial. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.

Bryant went on to become one of the NBA’s most popular players and the face of the Lakers. Winning a record four NBA All-Star Game MVP awards, he was the overall league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, but he also earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.

He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.

A two-time Olympic gold medallist with the dominant U.S. team, Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game. In December 2017, the Lakers hung banners retiring his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys in the Staples Center rafters in an unprecedented double honour.

Bryant looms large over the current generation of NBA players, most of whom grew up either idolizing Bryant or absorbing his work ethic and competitive spirit in the same way Bryant’s generation learned from Jordan. Bryant exemplified and passed on that mentality to James, Stephen Curry and the NBA’s current wave of high-scoring superstars.

After James passed Bryant on Saturday, he remembered listening in awe to Bryant when the superstar came to speak at a childhood basketball camp.

“I remember one thing he said: If you want to be great at it, or want to be one of the greats, you’ve got to put the work in,” said James, who later teamed up with Bryant on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.

Bryant was a basketball superstar for his entire adult life, and he grew up from a teenager to a respected veteran in the unforgiving Hollywood spotlight.

He entered the NBA draft straight out of suburban Philly’s Lower Merion High School in 1996 after a childhood spent partly in Italy, where his father, former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, played professionally. Bryant was occasionally estranged from his now-65-year-old father, but reconciled.

Bryant spoke four languages and played a major role in the NBA’s international growth over his two decades in the league, travelling the world and connecting with athletes in other sports and celebrities.

The Lakers acquired the 17-year-old Bryant in a trade shortly after Charlotte drafted him, and he immediately became one of the most exciting and intriguing players in the sport alongside O’Neal, who had signed with the Lakers as a free agent. Bryant won the Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie, and the Lakers gradually grew into a team that won three consecutive championships.

Bryant and Gasol, the Spanish star, formed the nucleus of another championship team in 2008, reaching three straight NBA Finals and winning two more titles.

Between those title runs and before the quiet final years of his career, Bryant accomplished innumerable feats including an 81-point game against Toronto in January 2006. Bryant’s final NBA seasons were dogged by injuries, but he still went into retirement with that jaw-dropping 60-point performance against Utah.

AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.

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Basketball star Kobe Bryant, four others dead in helicopter crash – National Post

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Kobe Bryant, the basketball superstar who won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, was killed in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday morning, officials said. He was 41.

Four other people died in the crash in a remote field around 10 a.m. local time (1800 GMT) about 40 miles (65 km) northwest of central Los Angeles, the city of Calabasas said on Twitter. There were no survivors.

The identity of the other victims was not released.

“This is a moment that leaves us struggling to find words that express the magnitude of shock and sorrow we are all feeling right now, and I am keeping Kobe’s entire family in my prayers at this time of unimaginable grief,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.

First responders put out the flames of the crash site, Los Angeles County Sheriff said, posting a picture of a fire truck and smoke emerging from the brush in a ravine.

Bryant was known to use a helicopter for travel dating to his days as a star player for the Los Angeles Lakers, when he commuted to games in a Sikorsky S-76 chopper, the celebrity news website TMZ said.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration identified the crashed helicopter as a Sikorsky S-76, saying in a statement that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board would investigate.

Bryant won five NBA championships with the Lakers and was named an NBA all-star 18-times in his 20-year career with the team. He was third leading scorer in league history with 33,643 points until LeBron James passed him on Saturday.

Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, have four daughters: Gianna, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, who was born in June 2019.

Bryant’s star power translated into the entertainment world as he mingled with show business stars in Los Angeles.

In 2018 he won an Oscar for his animated short film “Dear Basketball.”

But he was also accused of sexual assault in 2003 by an employee at a Colorado hotel, tarnishing his reputation and leading to a media storm to cover his trial.

Bryant denied the claims and charges eventually were dropped after the woman refused to testify.

Bryant and his wife Vanessa filed for divorce in 2011 after 10 years of marriage but in 2013 the couple said they had reconciled their differences.

(Reporting by Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru, Daniel Trotta, Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina and Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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LeBron James On Passing Kobe Bryant In All-Time Scoring: 'The Universe Just Puts Things In Your Life' – RealGM.com

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LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant for No. 3 on the NBA all-time scoring list during the Los Angeles Lakers’ 108-91 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

James now has 33,655 points in his career. Karl Malone is in second place with 36,928 points, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar topping the list at 38,387 points.

“It doesn’t make sense. Just to make a long story short, now I’m here in a Lakers uniform, in Philadelphia, where he’s from. The first time I ever met him, gave me his shoes on All-Star Weekend. It’s surreal. It doesn’t make no sense, but the universe just puts things in your life. And I guess when you live in the right way, when you just give it everything to whatever you’re doing, things happen organically,” said James after the game. 

James added that Bryant had zero flaws in his offensive game.

“He had zero flaws offensively. Zero. You backed off of him, he could shoot the 3. You body him up a little bit, he can go around you. He shoots from midrange. He can post. He can make free throws. He has zero flaws offensively,” said James. 

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