Connect with us

NBA

2014-15 Charlotte Hornets Season Preview

Basketball Insiders continues previewing the 2014-15 NBA season with a look at the Charlotte Hornets of the Southeast Division.

Basketball Insiders

Published

on

The Charlotte Hornets essentially hit rock bottom during the 2012 and 2013 campaigns. How bad was it in the Queen City? The team combined for win just 28 games during this span and were relegated to laughingstock status around the league. However, things are different for Charlotte heading into training camp this season. The team pumped out 43 wins in 2014, en route to a playoff appearance and are poised to make another run at the postseason.

The Hornets have a steady mix of young talent, a capable coach and an All-NBA player leading the charge. The Hornets are no longer the league’s go to punchline. While they’re still quite a bit away from title contention, make no mistake, the buzz is back.

Basketball Insiders previews the 2014-2015 Charlotte Hornets.

Five Guys Think

Outside of Cleveland and Chicago, no Eastern Conference team improved themselves quite as much as the Charlotte Hornets did this past offseason. Obviously luring Lance Stephenson away from Indiana was a huge coup for them, and it definitely shores up their backcourt rotation.  Rookies P.J. Hairston and Noah Vonleh both were pretty incredible values where they were selected in the draft, and both could contribute on this roster right away. Steve Clifford has quickly become one of the better coaches in the conference, and Al Jefferson shouldn’t be any less effective than he was a year ago. Without question, this is a team on the rise, and while they’re only ranked third in the Southeast Division in these projections, they could just as easily win it their first year as the Hornets.

3rd Place – Southeast Division

-Joel Brigham

Can you feel it? The Charlotte Hornets will enter this season with more buzz than at any point in the franchise’s history. After years in the league’s cellar, the Hornets won 43 games last season and clinched a playoff berth. Even though the team was unceremoniously eliminated in the first round of the postseason, the future is bright in the Queen City. Two moves during the summer of 2013 put the team in this position. The signing of veteran center Al Jefferson was huge for the team in regards to respectability and Steve Clifford has finally put an end to the revolving door of head coaches in Charlotte. Add in emerging guard Kemba Walker’s development and you have a team who will be fully expected to make another playoff run in 2014-15.

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Lang Greene

Charlotte made huge strides last season, surprising everyone and making the playoffs for the first time in years. This year, I think they’ll continue to get better. Not only will the players be more comfortable under head coach Steve Clifford (who was a first-time NBA head coach last year), they also had a terrific offseason. They added key contributors like Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston to an already-talented core that features Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, etc. Stephenson, in particular, should really help the team on both ends, especially if he performs at the near-All-Star level that he played at for the first half of the 2013-14 season. Charlotte ended their playoff drought last year, which was an enormous step in the right direction for the team. But now it’s time to go even further and actually make some noise in the East.

2nd Place – Southeast Division

– Alex Kennedy

With the combination of Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, the Hornets turned in a respectable 43-39 season, giving the fans of Charlotte a rare treat of a winning basketball season. With Lance Stephenson added to their core which also includes newcomers Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts, the Hornets may be able to flirt with 50 wins this coming season. Doing so will be no easy task, though, as the Southeast Division will be no cakewalk. Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo are all still learning the NBA game and still have room for improvement. If even two of those four can become consistent contributors, the Hornets will soon be recapturing past glory and making routine trips to the second round out East. The biggest question is whether or not Al Jefferson sees himself as a Hornets for the long-term, especially since he may opt out of his current contract after this coming season.

2nd Place – Southeast Division

– Moke Hamilton

The Charlotte Hornets displayed the kind of self-awareness last year that we haven’t seen from them in quite some time. After coming off their second playoff appearance in franchise history, it would have been really easy to think that they’re further along in the rebuilding process than they truly were and just settle for staying relatively pat. Instead, they were one of the more aggressive teams of the offseason, signing Gordan Hayward to a max offer sheet, then signing Lance Stephenson after the Jazz matched their offer for Hayward. They were in desperate need of another explosive weapon out on the perimeter, and got Stephenson on a great, short-term deal. He’s really going to make a difference in helping push them closer towards serious contention in the Eastern Conference. With additional firepower, more depth and legitimate star power in the Stephenson, Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, the re-branded Hornets are headed towards their best season ever.

2nd Place – Southeast Division

– Yannis Koutroupis

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: In this day and age consisting of a weaker crop of centers roaming the paint, the Hornets have one of the league’s best in Al Jefferson. The 10 year veteran has always been known to put up a gaudy stat line, but last season he strapped the Hornets to his back on both sides of the floor and silenced critics who questioned his leadership. Jefferson is a 20 point and 10 rebound threat every time he laces up the high tops and was named to his first All-NBA (third) team last season. Known for his effectiveness in the low post, the next stop for Jefferson is the ever elusive All-Star selection which perennially has eluded his grasp. Charlotte also features emerging point guard Kemba Walker who is more than capable of putting up strong nights offensively. However, the overall success of the Hornets this season rests on the shoulders of Jefferson.

Top Defensive Player: The arrival of guard Lance Stephenson immediately strengthens the Hornets perimeter defense. Stephenson is an athletic force who can effectively guard multiple positions, but the Hornets’ best individual defender is none other than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The third year forward is routinely tasked with guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player, often times without weak side help. The biggest drawback for Kidd-Gilchrist at this point is the fact his offensive limitations often play a huge role in his nightly minute allocation. With Stephenson now by Kidd-Gilchrist’s side, Charlotte will be one of the most frustrating teams for opposing wings to matchup against.

Top Playmaker: The arrival of center Al Jefferson last season significantly reduced the offensive burden on point guard Kemba Walker. This allowed Walker to focus more on ball handling duties and getting his teammates involved rather than the Hornets living and dying by his offensive production. Walker is one of the fastest guards in the league with the rock and has a knack for getting into the lane and creating havoc. The addition of Lance Stephenson, who can also create and get into the lane, gives the Hornets an incredibly tough backcourt to defend.

Top Clutch Player: The go to options down the stretch in clutch situations for Charlotte is undoubtedly Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. But the nod goes to Jefferson who was more efficient on both sides of the ball with the game on the line and less than five minutes remaining. Over half of the Hornets’ games had a point differential of five points or less with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter last season. Jefferson will be counted on for producing points in these situations. It will be Walker’s primary job to properly set up his center for those buckets.

The Unheralded Player: Marvin Williams was selected by the Atlanta Hawks before Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the 2005 NBA Draft and has spent his entire career trying to live up to those expectations. While Williams will likely never reach the heights of Paul and Williams, what’s missing is the fact the forward has become a very productive player throughout his career. The stats aren’t gaudy but Williams has averaged double-digits in scoring in six of his nine years in the league. Williams has also developed three-point range, evident by his 84 makes in 2014 (36 percent).  Williams can also defend multiple positions. Williams will never be like Paul and Williams in the sense of personally carrying a team to the postseason, but title contending teams always have a guy like Williams in the fold doing the work.

Best New Addition: The Hornets let it be known they were going to be active in free agency this summer and swung for the fences trying to lure Gordon Hayward into town. While the club didn’t get Hayward, the signing of Lance Stephenson to a three-year deal is potentially the better fit. Stephenson brings a scrappy toughness to the roster and is someone Charlotte fans will rally behind.

– Lang Greene

Who We Like

1. Al Jefferson: The veteran center has always been productive but battled injuries early in his career and spent time languishing on more than a few subpar rosters. Therefore, the note on Jefferson was one of being capable of stuffing the nightly box score, but unable to significantly elevate an inferior team. Jefferson silenced a large contingent of his doubters with his performance last season in Charlotte. Jefferson became the face of the franchise, led a cellar dwelling team to the playoffs and scooped up All-NBA honors. What will the veteran big man do for an encore in 2015?

2. Steve Clifford: The first part of establishing a solid program is finding consistency on the bench. Prior to hiring Clifford as head coach, Charlotte tried Larry Brown, Paul Silas and Mike Dunlap at the helm in failed attempts to jumpstart the franchise. Clifford, a longtime assistant, almost immediately gained his troops buy-in and also ushered in a sorely needed defensive philosophy which helped the Hornets stay competitive when their shots weren’t falling. Clifford is the Hornets’ guy and his hire is one of the reasons things have turned around for the franchise in short order.

3. Lance Stephenson: His antics get the mainstream headlines, but his game says future All-Star performer. Some guys approach the game with a business-like mentality, others wear their emotions on their sleeves. Such is the case of Stephenson who is considered this year’s high risk high reward free agency signing. Stephenson can play and the Hornets’ style fits his game. We’re leaning more toward All-Star level performer and don’t foresee an implosion.

4. Kemba Walker: The dynamic guard continues to improve as a floor general and playmaker. With less demands on him offensively, Walker has been able to focus on running the team more – which is a good thing. The arrival of Stephenson via free agency gives Walker another weapon at his disposal. Walker should shoot a career high from the field and also set a new career high in assists in 2014-15.

5. Rich Cho: The veteran league executive has pulled off some crafty moves as the Hornets’ general manager in the past year. The signing of Al Jefferson, Brian Roberts, Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams have increased Charlotte’s depth. The hiring of head coach Steve Clifford has added the needed stability. Cho’s job isn’t done, but the franchise is headed in the right direction after year’s in the basement.

– Lang Greene

Strengths

The Hornets are one of the few teams in the entire league with a dominating low post presence offensively. The presence of Al Jefferson on the interior gives Charlotte an edge in the paint on most nights. Kemba Walker also has a solid knack for getting into the lane and finishing in his own right. The arrival of Lance Stephenson will put even more pressure on teams trying to keep the Hornets from camping on the interior. The Hornets also improved significantly defensively by adding Stephenson. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will eventually become one of the league’s better perimeter defenders and while Jefferson isn’t a defensive juggernaut he has played extremely well in Steve Clifford’s system.

– Lang Greene

Weaknesses

While one of the Hornets’ biggest strengths is having guys adept at finishing in the paint, one of the team’s biggest weaknesses will be knocking down three-point shots – consistently. This will give their opponents an opportunity to sag off defensively and protect the paint. The pressure will be on Gary Neal, Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson to consistently knock down these shots to make Al Jefferson’s job easy on the inside.

– Lang Greene

The Salary Cap

The Hornets dropped under the cap to make a significant offer to restricted free agent Gordon Hayward, but the Utah Jazz chose to match.  Instead, Charlotte signed unrestricted guard Lance Stephenson.  After adding Marvin Williams, Jannero Pargo and Brian Roberts, along with rookie first-rounders Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston, Charlotte has hit the cap with 14 guaranteed players.  What’s left to spend is the $2.7 million Room Exception.  The Hornets also have until Halloween to negotiate contract extensions with Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, otherwise the pair will become restricted free agents next summer.

– Eric Pincus

Dunc’d On

It feels good to welcome the Charlotte Hornets back into the NBA after a regrettable 10 seasons for the Bobcats, just as they seem poised to have their most relevant season since their reincarnation.  But it seems like the optimism accompanying the name change and the signing of Lance Stephenson may be a bit overboard.  Some have talked about this team as a potential sleeper for the top half of the East playoff bracket, but I think they are more likely to miss the playoffs entirely than reach those heights.

Almost all of the cast is back this year, with an exchange of Josh McRoberts for Marvin Williams, Stephenson, and rookie Noah Vonleh.  On a pure talent-in/talent-out basis, this is an upgrade for the Hornets.  But basketball teams to not improve or decline solely on that basis, particularly teams with the weaknesses the Hornets project to have.

The Bobcats’ (past tense, still allowed to use that name) biggest weakness a season ago was the offense, in particular a lack of floor-spacing.  McRoberts was an essential part of what little offense this 24th-ranked squad could muster, as he amassed a ton of touches handling the ball out top and spaced the floor with his adequate shooting from the three-point line.  That was crucial to give Jefferson breathing room down low and open space for drives by Walker, especially when he shared the floor with total non-shooter Kidd-Gilchrist.

Stephenson is a better player than McRoberts, but he is also a below-average three-point shooter for a shooting guard when you consider the defensive attention he draws.  Although he shoots a competent percentage, he is not enough of a threat to really deter help off him.  And while Williams is a superior shooter to McRoberts, he was also a major reason Utah ranked a distant 30th on defense a year ago.  If he gets major time at the four, it would be hard to imagine the defense repeating last year’s performance with he and Al Jefferson manning the power positions.

Another issue for Charlotte was a lack of offensive rebounds, where they pulled down a mere 21.9% of their own misses, bad for 26th in the league.  This was by design, as coach Clifford emphasized getting back in transition as a large part of his miracle-working with the defense.  Nevertheless, the lack of second chances makes the job on offense a bit tougher.

This team had the point-differential of a .500 squad last year, and benefited from good health.  They may also fall victim to Bill James’ “Plexiglass Principle,” in which teams who improve a great deal one year, such as the Hornets (especially on defense) a year ago, tend to regress the following year.  If they are to improve, it will be advances from Stephenson, Walker, and Kidd-Gilchrist that power it, along with a minimal regression from Jefferson’s career year.  In particular, the perimeter trio must improve its shooting.

Best Case

49-33

Clifford continues to draw blood from a stone with the frontcourt defense, keeping it at the same level despite a big rotation of Jefferson, Williams, Cody Zeller, and rookie Vonleh.  The latter two provide semi-competent depth up front, and all of the perimeter players improve their shooting.

Worst Case

38-44

The Hornets have one of the smaller differentials between their best and worst case scenarios, as they are not relying on anyone injury-prone and have a good distribution of talent throughout their roster.  Much of this talent is young and figures to get better.  But in the bad scenario, the defense drops off for some of the reasons stated above.  Jefferson regresses offensively from his career year, both due to age and the lack of spacing, and nobody else can pick up the slack.  The defense slips out of the top-10 while the offense remains in the doldrums.

– Nate Duncan

The Burning Question

Can the Hornets take advantage of the Eastern Conference’s transition of power and rapidly rise in the standings?

The momentum is building in Charlotte. From top to bottom the Hornets have plenty of talented pieces, a capable head coach, a front office willing to spend and a fan base ready to explode with excitement. The Eastern Conference is in a state of transition which could provide an opening for the franchise to make some noise. Miami is no longer the power with LeBron James departing to Cleveland. The Cavaliers will need time to gel before they begin their reign of dominance. Chicago is still playing the wait-and-see game with Derrick Rose. Brooklyn has plenty of questions. New York, who should be competitive, is gearing up for the future. Washington is expected to emerge but is far from a dominant team. This could be a prime opportunity for the Hornets to stealthily make a move.

– Lang Greene

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

NBA Daily: Grant Sees Breakout Coming In Year Four

Now in Orlando with a new team, Jerian Grant feels that it’s his time to shine.

Spencer Davies

Published

on

After two seasons with the Chicago Bulls, point guard Jerian Grant has moved southeast. The Orlando Magic will be the 25-year-old’s third team in four years as he seeks out a permanent home in the NBA.

He’s already loved everything about the experience with his next ball club.

“I just needed a new environment,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “I think it was good for me. I got to talk to coach [Steve Clifford] right away and went to lunch with him and we got to talk basketball. It was just a great feeling.”

The 2017-18 campaign had its fair share of ups and downs for Grant. At the beginning and middle of the year, Fred Hoiberg counted on him to fill in for an injured Kris Dunn—and he did his job during his teammate’s absence.

As a starter, Grant put up solid numbers. He knocked 37.1 percent of his threes, had a 55.9 true shooting percentage and hit 82.1 percent of his free throws.

He only got better with more floor time, too. In the 15 games he played between 30-39 minutes, Grant averaged 12.6 points, 6.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. In the lone game that he played over 40 minutes—47 to be exact—Grant scored 22 points and dished out 13 dimes to go with five rebounds and two steals.

Understanding the chance to potentially compete for a starting job with longtime veteran D.J. Augustin, the upstart Grant is banking on making this the first step to earning his spot.

“It’s very important,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “I think 80 percent of the game is confidence and opportunity—putting those two things together and doing it well.”

Over the last few months, Grant has gotten to know Orlando’s coaching staff and the players he’ll be sharing the hardwood with. He’s looking to do “a little bit of everything.”

Perhaps unlike any of his former teammates, Grant has the luxury of youth and athleticism all around to complement his skill set. Guys like Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon and hyped up rookie big man Mohamed Bamba are going to be constantly around the rim. Whether it’s a hustle play grabbing an offensive rebound or running the floor, Grant can’t wait to give one of those guys a high-handoff.

“It’s a different feeling being able to toss the ball towards the rim,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just guys [have] to go get it and put it in there.”

Speaking for himself, though, Grant is searching for that breakout season. He has been in this league long enough to have garnered real experience. He’s racked up plenty of minutes over a career that’s still just getting started. If you’re not sure about his learning curve, allow the man to provide a stern reminder of how he handles his business.

“For me, I was never a one-year guy, one-and-done or two years and done like my brother or three years and done like [Victor Oladipo],” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “I did all four years in college, so I get better every year and I feel like this is the year where it’s time to show it.

It took some time for Grant to find his identity at Notre Dame, just like it took a bit for Oladipo to discover his niche at Indiana University. The two have been close since their days at DeMatha High School in Maryland.

To many, Oladipo caught the world’s eye last season with the Pacers. It was an unforgettable season and a terrific step towards superstardom.

As he’s watched his friend grow into this great player, Grant is aiming for a similar surge with the Magic.

It’s his time to shine now.

“I’ve seen him grow as a player and get better every year,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “That’s just something that we do. We put in the work and we get better, so I’m looking forward to being able to show it during my opportunity this season.”

Continue Reading

NBA

Golden State Warriors 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Golden State Warriors have been the top team in the West for the last four years and with year five with this core group together on deck, they are showing no signs of slowing down. Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Warriors in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

Basketball Insiders

Published

on

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave all summer, you’re probably aware that DeMarcus Cousins is now a member of the Golden State Warriors. No, the Warriors didn’t trade Klay Thompson or Draymond Green to acquire Cousins. Rather, the Warriors signed him to one-year, $5 million contract as a result of the Achilles injury that sidelined him late last season and scared teams away from making significant, long-term offers for his services. Cousins will continue rehabbing for the first few months of the season. While he won’t offer any immediate help, he could be a big-time difference maker in the postseason if he is able to return to even 75 percent of his pre-injury form during the regular season.

Aside from Cousins, the Warriors re-signed Kevin Durant to a two-year $61.5 million contract with a player option on the final season. Additionally, the Warriors made some changes around the edges of the roster, while returning each of their star players. Basically, the Warriors enter the upcoming season as the overwhelming favorites to win the championship and could be more dangerous than ever with Cousins working his way back from his injury.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Adding Cousins has tremendous upside but my prediction is that he won’t have the major impact that many people expect. Even if Cousins is healthy, he doesn’t necessarily fit with the Warriors’ starting lineup. If he accepts a role as the offensive leader of the bench unit, I think he could wreak havoc against opposing second units. But it’s hard for me to imagine Cousins embracing that role if he is anywhere close to full strength. In the starting lineup, Cousins would struggle to keep up with the pace of the offense, would likely become a ball-stopper, would demand the ball in the post frequently and would take a lot of ill-advised three-pointers. I could be wrong about all of this of course. Cousins could embrace the Warriors’ pass-first mentality and make the team an unstoppable force on offense. But based on Cousins’ history, I think it’s fair to be skeptical.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

What kind of world is it to live in as a franchise when you can sign an All-Star starter from last season in free agency, and your title odds aren’t impacted whatsoever? Only the Warriors could tell us. Sure, DeMarcus Cousins is coming off a potentially devastating Achilles tear that few have ever come back the same from, but the sheer star power of this roster got even more overwhelming over the offseason. There might be rising powers in the East in Boston and Toronto, and the Rockets will try to run things back for another shot at the crown, but make no mistake: The Warriors are the runaway title favorites, and only significant injuries or other major catastrophe can change that. At this point, the offseason might be more intriguing for this franchise than the actual basketball itself.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Ben Dowsett

Need we say more about what the Warriors are capable of? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, they are the clear-cut favorites to three-peat. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson continue to be the Splash Brothers. Kevin Durant understands what he needs to do in order to win ball games on a nightly basis. Draymond Green is more than just a glue guy these days who is as suffocating of a defensive player as anybody else in the NBA. Oh, and Golden State just added a four-time All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins who is aiming for a maximum deal next offseason when he returns to the floor. Good luck to those who are trying to take down this dynasty!

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Spencer Davies

Just when you thought the league’s best team couldn’t get any more unstoppable. The Warriors come into this season as the league’s reigning champion that somehow landed a multi-time all-star to fill in their one weakness at center. There isn’t much else to say about the Warriors that hasn’t already been said. They have arguably the most talented NBA roster of all time, playing with at least two of the NBA’s most talented offensive players of all time still in the prime of their careers. This team could slack enough in the regular season to get the eighth seed and STILL be the overwhelming favorite in the loaded Western Conference. The Warriors are so good that DeMarcus Cousins could flop badly – a real possibility coming off that Achilles injury – and it wouldn’t hurt them at all. The Warriors are that just that unfathomably good.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Matt John

It was hard to envision how the Warriors could get better, and then the unimaginable happened, a dry market place collided with a major injury to a player with a spotty and checkered past – the end result is the Warriors got an All-Star Center in DeMarcus Cousins for peanuts. Yes, he’ll likely miss most of the year, but if he’s back in the post-season the Warriors may not have a peer in the NBA. The one thing that will catch the Warriors eventually is all those extra miles. Steph Curry has logged 2,596 playoffs minutes over the last four Finals runs. For perspective, Damian Lillard played 2,670 minutes in the regular season last year. All these runs to the NBA Finals will catch up at some point, and that is a real threat. On the surface, no one looks like they can seriously challenge the Warriors if healthy, the question is can they manage the workload enough to make sure they can stay that way?

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Kevin Durant

Durant is arguably the most devastating singular offensive force in the league. He’s roughly seven-feet tall, athletic, a deadly shooter from anywhere on the court, a good passer and can get his shot off in just about any situation. You can argue that Stephen Curry has a claim as the team’s top offensive player because he orchestrates the Warriors’ offense and generates easy scoring opportunities for his teammates more frequently than Durant. However, Durant gets the nod here for being the most lethal individual scorer and unstoppable offensive force in the NBA.

Top Defensive Player: Draymond Green

On a team that features impact defenders like Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant Shaun Livingston and Jordan Bell, Draymond Green still stands out as the team’s defensive ace. Green won Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, has earned NBA All-Defensive First Team three times (2015–2017), NBA All-Defensive Second Team once (2018) and led the NBA in steals in 2017.

Green is a unique defensive player. He isn’t a towering defender anchoring a team’s defender under the rim like Rudy Gobert. He isn’t a lockdown wing defender like Kawhi Leonard. Rather, Green is a barrel-chested forward who can guard a point guard beyond the three-point line, stick with players as big as LeBron James as they attack the rim, guard opposing centers in the post and block shots as a weak side shot blocker. Green can effectively defend all five positions and is the glue that keeps the Warriors’ defense together. He even plays center for periods in the Warriors’ well-known “Death Lineup,” which is a nightmare matchup for opponents on both ends of the court.

Top Playmaker: Stephen Curry

Steph Curry may not tally the most assists per game in the Association, but he is one of the NBA’s best ball-handlers, one of its best passers and one of its top overall playmakers. Durant’s presence makes the Warriors’ offense consistently imposing, but it’s Curry who can turn it into a well-orchestrated, high octane flurry of backdoor passes, open three-pointers and layups at the rim. Curry can get a little too caught up in the moment at times and start making ill-advised passes that lead to untimely turnovers. However, with Curry you are more than happy to take the good with the bad.

Top Clutch Player: Kevin Durant

The Warriors have a lot of options in this category. Klay Thompson can go off for multiple three-pointers in key moments of close games. Curry has a history of knocking down exceedingly difficult shots in clutch situations. But Durant is the guy who can pull up on a player as long and athletic as Giannis Antetokounmpo and still shoot right over him as if no one was in front of him. Durant is the guy who can’t be locked down by any individual defensive player. You can run every trick in the book to keep Durant from scoring on you in a clutch situation, but more often than not he is going to get a good look and often times bury a clutch shot over multiple defenders. I won’t argue too much if you go with Curry on this one. But with the game on the line, I am putting the ball in Durant’s hands.

The Unheralded Player: Andre Iguodala

Consider this: On a team featuring Curry, Thompson, Green, Durant and several capable backups and role players, the Warriors and their fans were fretting over the injury to Andre Iguodala that limited him in last season’s playoffs. With so much talent, it would be easy to think that Iguodala is a luxury to have but not a necessity – like icing on a cake. If you talk to the Warriors’ players, however, they would push back on that idea. Iguodala is no longer the lockdown defender he once was and is a streaky offensive player. But he executes his role on both ends of the court consistently, is a capable defender and seems to always make the right play. When it was reported that Iguodala would not be able to play in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, Steve Kerr gave his thoughts on what the team would be missing without Iguodala.

“He’s a great defender,” Kerr said of Iguodala. “He’s an organizer. He’s a guy who settles us down. He continuously makes the right play. We’ll miss all of that.” That pretty much sums up what you need to know about Iguodala and his importance to this stacked team.

Best New Addition: DeMarcus Cousins

Yes, Cousins is coming off of a devastating injury that has derailed the careers of top players in the past. For the Warriors, it doesn’t really matter. They are still adding a superstar center to a team that can thrive without him and become truly unstoppable with him if he makes a full recovery. Some are concerned that Cousins could add some toxicity to the Warriors’ locker room, but this is a team full of veteran superstars and disciplined role players. If any team can handle Boogie in the locker room, it’s the Warriors. There is just so much upside to this move that it’s hard to focus too much on the potential downsides. If Cousins has a great season and helps the Warriors win another championship, it is all but guaranteed he will get a big contract from another team and will move on after this season. That would still be ideal for the Warriors, who are happy to have his services even for just this season.

– Jesse Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Quinn Cook

After going undrafted in 2015, bouncing around the G-League and being signed and waived by several NBA teams, Cook finally found a home last season with the Golden State Warriors. Cook has shown significant improvement in every facet of his game since he left Duke and is now a very capable backup guard. He averaged 9.5 points, 2.7 assists, and 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from three-point range in 33 regular season games last season. Cook filled in whenever injuries sidelined his teammates and did an admirable job. He is not an elite passer or playmaker, but he is capable of starting when necessary to do so and is a team-first player. He also is playing on an extremely team-friendly contract.

2. Bob Myers

Bob Myers is, in large part, responsible for the Warriors’ recent run of success. He was named the team’s general manager in 2012 and has been instrumental in drafting key players, executing major transactions and instilling a culture of inclusion in the Warriors’ front office, which has altogether resulted in a historically talented roster. Myers has had a lot of help along the way, but it can’t be overstated how much of a positive impact he has made as the team’s top executive. Give Myers credit for making bold moves that have paid off in a major way – the most recent being the addition of Cousins.

3. Shaun Livingston

I have followed Livingston’s career closely since he was drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004. From his early career, to the nearly career-ending knee injury, to his journey through the G-League, to his championship runs with the Warriors – Livingston has always carried himself as a true pro (though he did have an unfortunate encounter with a referee last season). Livingston is another veteran presence for the Warriors and always does what the team asks of him.

Livingston is kind of an anomaly in the modern NBA. He isn’t a threat from three-point range and makes most of his offensive impact from mid-range. Livingston isn’t great at any single thing but, like Iguodala, always seems to make the right play at the right time.

4. Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr has quickly established himself as one of the best head coaches in the NBA. He is a strong tactician and strategist, communicates effectively with his players and has somehow managed to maintain balance on a team stacked with superstar talent and large egos. I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking issue with his, at times, confusing rotations. But any shortcoming with Kerr is largely outweighed by his abilities both as a strategist and a manager of a locker room featuring some big personalities.

– Jesse Blancarte

STRENGTHS

This team has more star talent than probably any NBA team ever assembled. Two All-Star players could be sidelined and this team would still probably have more star talent than any opponent it faces on any given night. And beyond the star talent, the Warriors feature several players who can effectively fill in and keep things moving along without any major setbacks.

– Jesse Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

The Warriors aren’t any more susceptible to injuries than any other team. But injuries have been a concern over the last few years, especially leading up to the postseason. If this were NBA 2K and injuries were taken off, this Warriors team could probably win 75 regular season games. But in the real world, injuries could cost this team anywhere from five to 10 games in any given season.

– Jesse Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

What impact will DeMarcus Cousins have this season?

I have previously mentioned my concerns regarding what kind of impact Cousins is likely to have this season. It’s clear that if healthy, Cousins could make this team nearly unstoppable. But if injuries are a lingering concern, and if Cousins doesn’t want to embrace a role more fit for a Sixth Man, things could get awkward in Golden State. I am confident that the Warriors can handle a scenario in which Cousins becomes a distraction. But this situation will be a focal point of attention until we get some clarity on what role Cousins can and will play for the Warriors this season.

– Jesse Blancarte

Continue Reading

NBA

Houston Rockets 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Houston Rockets proved a year ago that they were as formidable a challenger in the West as we’ve seen in a while. Although the roster has evolved, the question remains, did they get better? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Rockets in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

Basketball Insiders

Published

on

Last year, it was about proving the skeptics wrong for Houston. This year, it’s about proving that they can keep it up.

A few months ago, the Houston Rockets were a half-decent three-point shooting performance from one of the biggest upsets in NBA history and their first trip to the NBA Finals since 1995. Getting the number one seed while almost toppling one of the most talented teams ever assembled would usually make their season a wild success. For the Rockets,. though, that wasn’t enough.

That brings us to this season. Bringing up what the Rockets lost this summer is pretty much beating a dead horse at this point, so let’s summarize it like this: While Houston kept its star power, it lost players who brought intangibles to the table. Who they replaced said players with has brought much doubt as to whether Houston can repeat last season’s performance, much less win a championship.

No matter what setback(s) they may have faced this off-season, the Rockets’ goal remains unchanged. They want their next title. Though the roster has gone through a little shakeup, the Rockets should still be one of the league’s best teams.

But is it enough to get them over that colossal hump that is the Golden State Warriors? Well, let’s take a look at what their team looks like.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

The Houston Rockets were the biggest threat to the Golden State Warriors at the beginning of the offseason. However, I’m not sure that’s the case anymore. Last season, with a stable of versatile defenders, the Rockets were able to implement a very aggressive, switch-everything scheme against the Warriors in the playoffs. The Rockets’ defense gave the Warriors problems in the Western Conference Finals, but Houston couldn’t overcome the loss of Chris Paul to a hamstring injury. This summer, the Rockets lost Trevor Ariza to the Suns and Luc Mbah a Moute to the Clippers and added several new players, like Carmelo Anthony. I think the Rockets have the talent to push the Warriors in a seven-game series, but they won’t be able to use the same defensive schemes that made life miserable for Golden State. The Rockets had an okay offseason all things considered, but I don’t think they closed the gap on the Warriors in a meaningful way.

1st Place – Southwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

It’s hard to shake the feeling that last season might have been the Rockets’ best shot at beating the current iteration of the Warriors. The losses of guys like Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute really hurt their wing depth, an area that was already somewhat thin – and also vital to any hopes of making it past the behemoths in Golden State and out of the Western Conference. Carmelo Anthony looks like a big name to help replace them, but is he really effective at this point? The Rockets will always be among the league’s elite with James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela on the roster, but Paul isn’t getting any younger and Mike D’Antoni’s rotations were already dangerously short. It feels bad to be so negative about a group that’s unquestionably one of the league’s best, but the goal has always been a title for this team in Houston, and they look further away from it than this time last year.

1st Place – Southwest Division

– Ben Dowsett

The big news of the summer for the Rockets was the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony. They needed to fill the void left by the departure of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, so it’s on the 10-time All-Star and James Ennis to replace them. The upside of this is Houston’s main core is still intact. Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela know each other’s tendencies and how to play off one another so well. Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker are perfect for the secondary roles that they are assigned. Guys like Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss are solid additions to bolster this squad’s depth as well. Mike D’Antoni will have to experiment with rotations, but the talent is most definitely still there. We’ll see how it stacks up with the other giants in the Western Conference.

1st Place – Southwest Division

– Spencer Davies

For a moment there, Houston was in the driver’s seat to the NBA championship, but only so briefly. After all that transpired this summer, there are severe doubts surrounding the Rockets’ ability to repeat last season’s success. Their perimeter defense on paper took a hit, and Chris Paul isn’t getting any younger. Still, as long as James Harden is running things and Paul is his running mate, the Rockets will be one of the league’s best teams. Losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute hurts, but Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Knight can add some firepower that could make up for what the Rockets lost. If they don’t, then Houston will need to make some more moves. Because whether they like it or not, the clock is ticking.

1st Place – Southwest Division

– Matt John

It is easy to look at the Rockets through a negative prism… they lost Trevor Ariza, they added Carmelo Anthony, Jeff Bzdelik is retiring. There are plenty of negatives, but when you look at the end of the day roster coming to camp, the Rockets may have traded off a little defense in exchange for a whole lot more firepower. The Rockets were tremendous last season and there is no reason to believe they won’t be tremendous again this season – the question is, will they be tremendous in the post-season? That’s a huge unknown. The Rockets are a better basketball team; it’s unclear if they’ll be good enough to derail the Warriors, but they sure are equipped to try.

1st Place – Southwest Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: James Harden

It speaks volumes about you when you’re teammates with one of the best point guards of all time – who’s still reasonably in his prime – and you’re the obvious pick. James Harden has been in the MVP conversation in three of the last four years. This past season, he finally made it all the way to the top, getting named the league’s Most Valuable Player without much question.

His numbers continue to be outright ridiculous: 30.4 points, 8.8 assists, and 5.4 rebounds a game are legendary-type numbers. What makes Harden so incredible to watch is his lack of predictability. He’s an expert at getting the right shot, finding the right pass, or overall making the right decision. His style isn’t necessarily the most fun to watch – Harden is a flopper and knows how to draw fouls that slow down the game – but he knows how to orchestrate an elite offense by himself. Until Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry separate, which may or may not happen, James Harden is the league’s top offensive weapon at the top of his prime.

Top Defensive Player: Clint Capela

Houston made Capela a very rich man this summer, and for very good reason. The Swiss center has gradually become one of the league’s top rim protectors in the couple of years. Last year alone, Capela saw a gradual increase in both rebounds (10.8) and blocks (1.9). In fact, Capela’s 137 total blocks ranked second in the league behind only Anthony Davis.

What should excite Houston is that Capela is still only 24 years old who is playing in a system that suits his strengths, so his ceiling could potentially be even higher. Future star may be a stretch, but Houston could still even more improvement from Capela in the coming years. Best-case scenario: Capela winds up becoming what Houston hoped Dwight Howard was going to be.

Top Clutch Player: Chris Paul

Paul doesn’t exactly have the best resume when it comes to playing in the clutch, but he’s proven that he can step it up when his back is up against the wall. Whether it’s for the better or worse of the team, Chris Paul has never been afraid of the moment. This was best evidenced by him pretty much single-handedly beating the Warriors in an intense Game 5 during the Western Conference finals.

His statistics in the clutch are pretty solid as well. Paul only played in 21 games last season that were deemed clutch, primarily because he missed a good chunk of the season with injury and when he played, Houston’s games were rarely close. In those games, Paul has a plus-minus of +3.5, averaging three points a game and shooting 59 percent from the field, including 50 percent from three. Harden has an even shakier history in the clutch, so Houston should feel fortunate to have CP3 in crunch time.

Top Playmaker: James Harden/Chris Paul

This is is definitely one topic where everyone can agree these two are dead even. Paul and Harden are two of the league’s very best distributors, which played a huge role in Houston arguably having the best offense in the league last season.

Houston, believe it or not, ranked among the lowest in overall team assists, averaging 21.5, a game which tied for 26th overall in the league. Harden and Paul together account for 16.7 of the team’s assists, good for about 78 percent. That makes it all the more impressive that they had the league’s highest offensive rating at 114.7 points per 100 possessions. Their efforts offensively proved to be for Houston’s benefit as well. The Rockets’ offense was +8.1 when Paul was on the floor and +6.6 with Harden on the floor. As long as one of these two are on the floor at all times, Houston’s offense will be in good hands.

The Unheralded Player: Eric Gordon

Eric Gordon is evidence of the abundance of riches the Rockets have. He is perfectly capable of being the second guard on a championship team. Yet, he’s the Rockets’ third guard. Because he plays for a team whose two best players play the position as him, Gordon falls a bit under the radar, but his impact on the floor is undeniable.

Gordon gives Houston a potent offensive option off the bench who fits quite well in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and complements Harden and Paul quite well. This is evidenced by his scoring output, as his 18 points per game average last season was the best he’s had in years. Better yet, his contributions get results for Houston. Gordon’s net rating placed him first on the team among players who played at least 1,000 minutes, as the Rockets were +10.3 overall when Gordon was on the floor.

The real triumph to all of this is seeing Eric Gordon salvage his career so swiftly after all he’s been through. Hopefully, it just gets better from here on out for him.

Best New Addition: Carmelo Anthony

Even at this point in his career, who would have thought that when you call Carmelo Anthony your best new addition this summer, you have to follow that up with, “By default”?

Though not the sexy name he once was, Carmelo Anthony is still capable of putting up 15-20 points a game. Since he has experience playing with both James Harden and Chris Paul on Team USA, ‘Melo may prove to be a better fit than the skeptics give him credit for. Even if he continues to play below expectations, it’s not like Houston invested much in him. If the guy stinks, the Rockets won’t play him. If he thrives, they found another dimension to their team. It doesn’t matter what happened last season in OKC. Adding Carmelo Anthony for $2.4 million provides minimal risk.

Adding him to the Rockets isn’t really low-risk/high-reward, but rather a low-risk/high-enough-reward for the Rockets.

– Matt John

WHO WE LIKE

1. Mike D’Antoni

Even though he’s won Coach of the Year with two separate teams, D’Antoni’s best coaching of his career may have come last season. On top of having the league’s best offensive rating – surprising absolutely no one – he finally disproved the fallacy that he can’t coach defense. Houston had the league’s sixth-best defensive rating, which can be attributed to their improved personnel on the defensive end. However, having better defenders can only work so well if they are utilized properly, which was the case under D’Antoni. Offensively, the Rockets should still be top of the line, but for Houston to stay in the discussion with Golden State, D’Antoni needs to build off his success defensively despite what he lost.

2. Daryl Morey

The Rockets’ general manager never ceases to amaze. He somehow was able to find a taker for Ryan Anderson’s mammoth contract, acquired a potentially better player in Brandon Knight, and even received intriguing young talent in Marquese Chriss, whose career outlook is still up in the air. That’s masterful work for a guy who didn’t really have much to work with this summer. When people count him out, Daryl Morey always manages to have something up his sleeve. That’s why nobody should sleep on Houston. The Rockets may take a step back, but never underestimate what Morey can do.

3. Brandon Knight (or Brandon Knight’s contract)

It really is a shame to see how much has gone wrong for Knight. Because of injuries and playing on a rebuilding team, Knight hasn’t done anything relevant in the NBA since 2015. It’s important to remember that he is only 26 years old, so the potential he has on this team could be much higher than people think. If Knight returns to form, he’s going to be a fantastic addition to Houston’s high-octane offense. If he doesn’t, then he’s going to be a valuable trade asset if Houston decides to search for another wing this season.

4. PJ Tucker

So much has been made about the 3&D wings the Rockets lost. What about the one premier 3&D wing they still have? Tucker proved to be a smart investment by Houston last season, as he gave the team more needed three-point shooting and tough-as-nails defense. Tucker also gives the team a fair amount of good leadership and is a pretty good rebounder for a man of his size. Now that he’s the only proven 3&D wing they have – James Ennis could prove this notion wrong – expect Tucker to have an even bigger role.

– Matt John

STRENGTHS

The Rockets have two of the league’s best all-around guards playing under one of the league’s most brilliant offensive minds. Those three components alone make them one of the NBA’s best teams. Harden and Paul proved to be one of the league’s best backcourts, and should that lead to a title, they could be among one of the best of all-time, if they weren’t already. Also, despite all the skepticism that came from adding him, Carmelo Anthony still is another proven offensive option that could add some more pizzazz to the league’s best offense. Adding him to a team that has Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and PJ Tucker should make Houston a great all-around team no matter what.

– Matt John

WEAKNESSES

Last season may have proven that Mike D’Antoni can coach defense after all, but only if he as the personnel to do it. Houston’s defense should be fine overall, but losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute hurts their perimeter defense and more importantly, their versatility. Those two aspects weren’t the main ingredient, but they played a huge role in Houston’s improvement last season. Carmelo Anthony is expected to take Ariza’s spot in the starting lineup, but he’s hardly ever been a plus defender. In a league where teams take advantage of defensive mismatches now more than ever, Carmelo is bound to get picked on. Again, the Rockets’ defense should be fine, but if it’s not elite this time, then their season may wind up in disappointment again.

– Matt John

THE BURNING QUESTION

Is this the team Houston goes with when the playoffs come around?

As long as they have their whole team healthy in time for the playoffs, Houston should still be an elite team. However, the reason why they almost toppled the Warriors was because, along with their starpower, they had players that gave Golden State matchup problems. With Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute gone, that advantage isn’t nearly as strong as it once was. Adding Carmelo Anthony’s scoring and/or James Ennis’ defense could potentially soften the blow, but if it’s not enough, then the Rockets could be in trouble. Houston has to remember that Chris Paul is on the wrong side of the 30, so they have no time to waste.

There is a chance that Houston does just fine even with the hits they took, but the odds aren’t in their favor. If Houston does take a step back, then they better look for the best wing they can get on the trade market.

– Matt John

Continue Reading
Advertisement

NBA Team Salaries

Advertisement

Trending Now