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2014-2015 Detroit Pistons Season Preview

Basketball Insiders continues previewing the 2014-2015 NBA season with a look at the Detroit Pistons of the Central Division.

Basketball Insiders

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The Detroit Pistons are a team with some newfound stability. Stan Van Gundy has taken over and is looking to lead the team back into the playoffs and eventually back into contention. They have one of the most talented young players in the game in Andre Drummond, who will look to continue to blossom this season, to build around. Thanks to some win-now roster moves in the offseason, the pieces are in place for marked improvement.

Basketball Insiders takes a look at the 2014-2015 Detroit Pistons…

Five Guys Think

Since Flip Saunders was fired back in 2008, the Detroit Pistons have gone through a staggering six head coaches, the most of any team in the league over that period of time, but the future looks pretty bright now that Stan Van Gundy is bringing some stability to both that position and that of President of Basketball Operations, mercifully vacated this offseason by the mercurial Joe Dumars. There is a lot to like in Detroit right now, but most of that optimism resides in the frontcourt, with burgeoning superstar Andre Drummond coming into his own and steady big man Greg Monroe heading into a contract year. Free agent acquisitions like Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin were perhaps more expensive than they should have been, but they all add shooting to a team that really needed it, and with the new coach and another year with a promising core, it looks like they’ll be right back in the conversation for a playoff spot this year, even if Josh Smith only shoots 20 percent from the field.

3rd Place – Central Division

– Joel Brigham

Former president of basketball operations Joe Dumars did succeed in bringing a title back to Detroit, but by the end of his tenure at the helm it was apparent a change in philosophy was needed. Enter Stan Van Gundy who is now calling the personnel shots and serving as the team’s head coach. Van Gundy was extremely active retooling the roster via free agency over the summer. While the Pistons, on paper, have one of the most talented frontcourts in the league, their supporting cast left much to be desired last season. Keep an eye on the relationship between forward Josh Smith and Van Gundy at the start of the season which could be an early  indicator of the team’s trajectory.

4th Place  – Central Division

– Lang Greene

Bringing in Stan Van Gundy was an excellent move for the Pistons, as he’s one of the best head coaches in the NBA and should be able to get the most out of their players. Detroit also has a superstar-in-the-making on their hands in Andre Drummond. In the final month of last season, Drummond averaged 18.4 points, 17.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 64.2 percent from the field. The 21-year-old should pick up right where he left off this season, and his experience with Team USA and the addition of Van Gundy should make him even better. It seems that Van Gundy will use Drummond like he used Dwight Howard in Orlando – running the offense through him and surrounding him with shooters. Detroit should make strides this season and will be one of several teams competing for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, but they’re playing in a very tough Central Division.

3rd place – Central Division

– Alex Kennedy

With Greg Monroe finally agreeing to sign the club’s one-year qualifying offer, newly installed head coach Stan Van Gundy will have at least one season to try to make sense of the Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe triumvirate. With Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin added to the team’s rotation, along with Brandon Jennings, the Pistons have a fairly talented top seven. They are clearly no match for the Cleveland Cavaliers or Chicago Bulls, but the mere presence of Van Gundy alone should help the team improve from last season’s 29-53 debacle. Playoffs may still be a long shot, but with Drummond seemingly in the team’s long-term plans, Van Gundy’s presence lends a credibility to the the franchise that immediate past president Joe Dumars seemed to have lost. This season is the first chapter in a new beginning, but the story is just beginning.

4th place – Central Division

– Moke Hamilton

Beyond all the control and money, it’s easy to see why the Pistons were able to get Stan Van Gundy to walk away from his self-imposed hiatus from coaching. This is a team with a ton of talent. They haven’t necessarily meshed together well up to this point, but Van Gundy has a lot to work with and should be able to get more out of guys immediately with his system and philosophy. People tend to forget in their criticism of the Pistons players how much instability there’s been at the head coaching position over the last couple of years. That’s now a thing of the past, and we should see Detroit climb closer to the top eight in the East as a result.

3rd place – Central Division

– Yannis Koutroupis

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: The Pistons had their fair share of struggles on the offensive end this past season, largely due to their lack of perimeter shooting. While the team may have struggled from the outside, Greg Monroe was once again very effective in the low to mid post. Although Monroe wasn’t the Pistons top scorer last season, finishing third in per game scoring with an average of 15.2 points per night behind Josh Smith (16.4) and Brandon Jennings (15.5) in that category, he certainly was the most efficient. Monroe was markedly better from the field than both Smith and Jennings shooting 49.7 percent, compared to 41.9 percent for Smith and 37.3 percent for Jennings. Monroe, who just recently officially signed the Pistons qualifying offer, will be hungry to put together another productive season and prove he is worthy of a big long-term deal.

Top Defensive Player: There is no doubt that Josh Smith fell short of expectations on the offensive end last season. Despite his inferior play offensively, he was, like he has been throughout his career, very active defensively. Smith was the team leader in blocks and finished second in steals in his first year with the club. He is big enough to go down low and battle with most fours, while still being quick enough to step out on the perimeter and match up with opposing wings. Again, while Detroit surely wasn’t pleased with what Smith provided offensively, it can’t be denied that he is still a very talented defender and will continue to be in 2014-2015.

Top Playmaker: Brandon Jennings, like Josh Smith, arrived in Detroit last summer. Both were brought in with the expectation that they would push the Pistons right into the thick of the second tier in the East, behind Indiana and Miami but give them the chance to compete with the rest of the pack. That obviously never came to fruition, but on the bright side Jennings had a career year passing the ball. He was able to make a sizable jump from his career average of 6.1 assists per game, dishing out 7.6 assists a night in 2013-2014. Jennings and Andre Drummond built a nice chemistry with each other and connected frequently this past season. Despite Jennings having a down year overall, he improved his passing and that is one thing that Pistons fans can take solace in.

Top Clutch Player: The Pistons found themselves on the wrong end of a couple buzzer beaters in 2013-2014, being victimized by both Dion Waiters and Damien Lilliard on last second game winners. That is one trend they will aim to reverse this coming season. Brandon Jennings may be the best shot creator on the roster, but the best option in the clutch remains Greg Monroe. Jennings is just too inefficient and too willing to take poor looks to be trusted in crunch time. The previous statement also, just as easily, could be made about Josh Smith. Monroe is the Pistons most consistent offensive player and is the guy who gives the team the best chance to score when the pressure is on.

Top Unheralded Player: The Pistons bench was one of their biggest weaknesses in 2013-2014. They allowed opposing benches to shoot a league high 46.7 percent from the field, while their second unit was near the bottom of the league, shooting 41.9 percent. One guy who the Pistons brought in who should help improve the team’s bench is D.J. Augustin. Augustin comes to Detroit after a terrific season with the Bulls. He will likely start the season behind Brandon Jennings, but will offer the Pistons a great option at point guard off the bench.

Best New Addition: After a very busy offseason in Detroit there are quite a few new additions to choose from. The Pistons not only made moves to their roster but to their front office as well. The biggest addition in long run may be Stan Van Gundy, he joins the team as the new head coach and will also serve as the president of basketball operations. As far as the best roster addition, that goes to Jodie Meeks. It could be argued that the price tag for Meeks, the Pistons signed him to a three-year contract worth a total of $18.81 million, may be a little steep. However, the addition of Meeks addresses a pressing need for the team, and that’s a lack of three-point shooting. The Pistons were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league last season, they shot only 32.1 percent from downtown and finished 27th in the league in total three point shots made. Meeks is coming off the best year of his career shooting the ball after shooting 40.1 percent from deep with Lakers. His shooting should prove beneficial from day one.

– John Zitzler

Who We Like

1. Andre Drummond: The future of the Pistons starts and ends with Andre Drummond. The young big man has out of this world potential and has the chance to be a truly special player. At only 21 years old, Drummond is already one of the top centers in the league. He has quickly developed into an elite rebounder; his massive frame combined with his impressive mobility allows Drummond to dominate the glass on most nights. When you consider how productive Drummond has already been in his young career and how much room he still has to grow, he is easily the Pistons most valuable asset going forward. He will be big factor next season and even bigger factor for years to come.

2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Caldwell-Pope will enter his second season as a pro this coming season after a rookie season where he showed signs that he could be a promising player down the road. In his first year of NBA action, Caldwell-Pope played just under 20 minutes a game, experience that should prove very valuable for him next year. With the Pistons making a sizeable investment in Jodie Meeks, he is the favorite to be the starting two guard, however, Caldwell-Pope certainly has the talent to challenge Meeks for that role. He will look to build off the momentum of a strong Orlando Summer League where he led the league in scoring, averaging 24 points a game.

3. Greg Monroe: Monroe has been one the most productive options for the Pistons since being drafted out of Georgetown four years ago. Over his short career, Monroe has averaged 14 points and nine rebounds a game. As well, during his four year tenure with the team Monroe has been remarkably durable, missing only three games over that span. However, his long-term future with the team is a bit cloudy, he is only under contract for one more year after signing a one-year qualifying offer from the Pistons. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Monroe he is eager for the chance to play under new coach Stan Van Gundy. “I look forward to playing for Coach Van Gundy and his staff,” said Monroe. “He has a proven track record and I’m excited about working with my teammates to get better and prepare for the season.”

4. Stan Van Gundy: Van Gundy will bring some fresh blood into an organization that, as of late, hasn’t appeared to have too much direction. His experience and success in Orlando is something he’ll be able draw from as he looks to build the Pistons into a contender. In particular, the time spent working with Dwight Howard will be especially useful in the development of Andre Drummond. Van Gundy has a career winning percentage of 64.1% and has had success in the playoffs. The Pistons aren’t going to become a contender overnight but will be in good hands going forward with Van Gundy at the helm.

– John Zitzler

Strengths

The frontcourt duo of Drummond and Monroe will once again do much of the heavy lifting for the Pistons. The two proved last year, despite some skepticism, that they can not only coexist together in the paint, but excel. The combination will again be a major concern for opponents and a major strength for the Pistons.

– John Zitzler

Weaknesses

Even with the acquisitions of Jodie Meeks, DJ Augustin and Caron Butler, all capable three point shooters, it’s hard to imagine the Pistons lighting it up from the perimeter. The problem being that two of Pistons highest usage rate players, Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, are also two of teams’ most inefficient players. Both settle for poor outside shots far too often and despite their past struggles, and so far haven’t been willing to adjust their game. If the team hopes to improve offensively, the first step will be reigning in both Smith and Jennings.

– John Zitzler

The Salary Cap

The Pistons dropped under the cap this offseason, using their space to sign free-agent veterans Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler.  Greg Monroe, formerly a restricted free agent, chose to accept Detroit’s $5.5 million qualifying offer — giving the forward/center the ability to block any trade this season.  Monroe will also be unrestricted next summer.  Meanwhile, the Pistons have $3.1 million in remaining cap space (plus the $2.7 million Room Exception, if that space is used).  The issue now is roster space; the Pistons are locked into 16 guaranteed players — one more than the regular-season maximum.  Will Bynum, who is guaranteed $2.9 million for the coming season, may be expendable with the addition of guards Augustin and Meeks.

– Eric Pincus

Dunc’d On

The last few years have been a far cry from the halcyon days of a franchise that produced some of the most memorable defenses of all-time in the late 80s and mid 2000s.  Last year I cited the Pistons and the Charlotte Bobcats as fascinating test cases for the value of new coaches for bad defenses.  The Bobcats rocketed to sixth in defense under the stewardship of Steve Clifford, while the Pistons remained rather miserable under Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer despite the infusion of defensive talent in Josh Smith.  Stan Van Gundy, a defensive guru in previous stops in Miami and Orlando, is now the coach and President of Basketball Operations.  He will provide yet another fascinating data point in how coaching can affect defense with most of the major players back from last year.

This is certainly a team with a ton of raw defensive talent.  Andre Drummond and Smith are both mobile and bouncy, and Smith has been an elite defender from the power forward spot in previous years.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is also an excellent athlete with a nose for the ball at shooting guard, assuming he plays his way into significant minutes.

Another reason to believe the Pistons may improve is the fact that they very well might have played far below their potential toward the end of last season in an endeavor to keep their draft pick, which was top-eight protected and owed to the now-Hornets.  Detroit finished with the eighth-worst record, but Cleveland leapfrogged the Pistons in the lottery, pushing the pick to ninth (and to the Hornets).  While there was no particularly overt tanking behavior, the Pistons did finish a mere 8-24 under Loyer after going 21-29 under Cheeks, leading one to believe the desire to keep the pick may have resulted in worse play.

Throw in the fact the Pistons underperformed their Pythagorean record by two games last year, and there is ample reason to believe the squad will be substantially better this year.

Best Case

47-35

The Pistons register an 18 win improvement over last year’s 29-53 abomination.  A team with this kind of potential on defense has no business ranking 25th defensively as they did last year, and Van Gundy gets them to their potential–above the league average.  Caldwell-Pope builds on a strong summer league and provides three and D on the wing as the starting shooting guard, the overpriced shooting Van Gundy signed during summer spaces the floor, and Brandon Jennings and Smith bounce back. Drummond, Smith, and Greg Monroe distribute the minutes evenly among them, allowing them to stay fresh and crash the offensive boards at a furious rate. Van Gundy employs some sort of automatic shocking device that eventually provokes a negative Pavlovian response whenever he tried to put Drummond, Smith, and Monroe in the game together, and the Pistons grab a mid-tier seed in the East.

Worst Case

35-47

An anonymous whistle-blower in the Pistons organization alerts OSHA to Van Gundy’s shocking device, preventing him from using it.  Or, more realistically, Van Gundy realizes that he has nobody to play the three aside from Smith, and trots out the three-headed monster due to a lack of other options.  Caldwell-Pope is not ready, and Jodie Meeks, Smith, and Caron Butler prevent any significant defensive improvement on the wings.  Monroe struggles defensively, and Drummond continues to exhibit a curious inability to defend shots at the rim despite his athleticism.  Smith and Jennings prove last year was no fluke offensively, and the spacing is again awful.  By January, Van Gundy the President longs to relieve Van Gundy the coach so he can spend more time with his family.

– Nate Duncan

Burning Question

Can Stan Van Gundy fix the Pistons?

The Pistons are a team with a number of burning questions that now, all that must be answered by Stan Van Gundy. Can the team trade Josh Smith? Is Brandon Jennings the point guard of the future? Should the team offer Greg Monroe a long-term deal, and if so, at what price next summer? Van Gundy certainly has some tough decisions ahead of him, but with his history there is no reason to believe that he isn’t the right guy for the job. Next season will mark the first year of the Stan Van Gundy era in Detroit, it will be very interesting to see what types of changes he has in store to help bring the Pistons back to prominence.

– John Zitzler

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NBA

The Six Things We’re Watching

With no light at the end of the tunnel in sight, Basketball Insiders has compiled three burning questions and three content-focused areas to keep you preoccupied in these strange times.

Ben Nadeau

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Basketball is back!

Well, technically – 16 NBA players will be playing basketball. Online. In a video game. Hey, that still counts, right?

Along with a few shining moments of optimism, the sporting world is slightly less of a barren hellscape than it was a week ago – even though the rest of the planet continues to burn. Sports have often been an escape for many, so sheltering-in-place – ahem, the right thing to do, by the way – is reaching absolute critical mass in terms of daytime boredom.

That said, while the internet is a bottomless pit of sadness, it’s still capable of producing golden moments of light, too – albeit far less frequently and often sandwiched between 800-1,000 tweets from users with egg profile pictures. So, while Basketball Insiders continues to grease the old writing wheels, there’s some other great stuff out there to pay attention to as well.

As it was assigned: Here’s The Six Things We’re Watching right now, alternating between serious considerations and those of a more fun variety.

1. Fun: The NBA 2K20 Tournament

Remember the content goldmine that was Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum’s Instagram Live? This week, that realm of potential entertainment another considerable step up. Presented by ESPN, a 16-player NBA 2K20 Tournament will be aired on the charter stations. Considering the competitive nature of these professional athletes – and how seriously they take the multi-console game – this event should be a sight for sore eyes all weekend. 

Kevin Durant will open the tournament against Derrick Jones Jr. later tonight, with Deandre Ayton versus Zach LaVine after that. Luckily, it also means that we could see the debut of Durant on the Brooklyn Nets – although in a slightly different context than originally thought. In other matchups, Michael Porter Jr., a guy who regularly clowned on others in 2k, will try to upset Devin Booker, somebody often found on Twitch during his free time.

Beyond that, the trash talk between Patrick Beverley and Hassan Whiteside will be worth tuning in for, assuredly; while stars like Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell and DeMarcus Cousins should spice up the proceedings too. 

And, not for nothing, but when an Esport gets a legitimate shot at an attention-starved mainstream audience, that’s beautiful news.

2. Serious: How will this long break change the salary cap?

Yet, no matter how many virtual dunks are thrown down, there’s still the very real question of how this impacts the bottom line.

Although the ultimate projected impact of the preseason debacle in China was overstated – for now, of course – but with the lost games, revenue and no end in sight, it might do untold damage to the Association. As covered on Basketball Insiders last week, the upcoming free agent crop isn’t the strongest in history but any financial blows would be significant to a sport that had been flying high in popularity as of late.

For prospective free agents, like Glenn Robinson III, that could change the offers during a modified offseason. Hell, right now, the NBA has paid out the next installment of contract agreements, those due on Apr. 1, but have made no guarantees moving forward. Needless to say, the longer this situation goes on, the bigger an impact it’ll have on all sides of the game – both on the court and in the front offices.

3. Fun: The Last Dance

Right now, we all need a good story or two to lean on and ESPN, thankfully, has moved up the release date of The Last Dance, a 10-part Michael Jordan-centered documentary, from June to mid-April. Per the mega-conglomerate itself, this is something worth watching:

“‘The Last Dance’ takes an in-depth look at the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty through the lens of the final championship season in 1997-98. The Bulls allowed an NBA Entertainment crew to follow them around for that entire season, and some of that never-before-seen footage will be in the documentary.”

And perhaps acting as the very sweet cherry atop the world’s already greatest sundae, The Ringer’s Bill Simmons thinks that the sure-fire hit is camp posturing as LeBron James builds more steam in the GOAT conversation.

If the planet is going to be stuck inside for the next three months at least, why not debate Jordan vs. LeBron for the 100,000th time – but this moment with some new fuel on the fire.

Mark your calendars, the first episode airs on Apr. 19.

4. Serious: What happens to the NBA Draft and Offseason?

Unsurprisingly, the NCAA has opted not to extend an extra year of eligibility in the wake of its big tournament getting the axe. While losing March Madness was painful enough, it means there’s no Stephen Curry-like Davidson (and subsequent lottery) rise. There will be no Carsen Edwards or Grant Williams, no Cinderella stories making a name for themselves on the grandest stage. And while that means less fun for all of us at home, it also means that the NBA Draft has been irrevocably altered – but it’s just a snowball effect from there.

If there’s no draft until the season ends, then when do workouts happen? If there are no workouts, what do these prospects do in the meantime? If there’s no Big Dance, then is the prospect pool more or less set? And if we’ve had no season, which means a delayed draft, then, certainly, there’s no offseason and free agency until then either – and that last one might cause conniptions.

After consecutive action-packed and surprise-worthy summers, this one – if it even falls remotely close to the warmer months at this point, really – is setting up to be a reset and refresh more than anything else.

In our free agent guides, there’s not an overwhelming amount of star power out there, nor will many athletes on options risk cushy salaries in a post-pandemic landscape. Will the draft be a footnote in a hectic offseason? What about summer leagues and training camps? Is there a reality where the 2020-21 season is shortened or altered too?

While we don’t know a whole lot about actually finishing this campaign, the longer this pause goes on, the tougher the questions will be about moving forward, too.

5. Fun: Podcasts Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

In lieu of a frequent content calendar, Steve Kyler, our publisher and fearless leader, has been hittin’ the ‘casts hard.

There’s this story-filled one with veteran John Henson. For another player’s take, there’s Shane Larkin, an overseas superstar. Or, if you’re looking for something fresh, try his chat with Tyler Relph, an elite trainer. 

Cody Toppert. Josh Oppenheimer. Ryan Pannone. The list goes on and on – and will continue to do so – because we are content machines and every bit helps as the globe tries to persevere.

6. Serious: Will the remainder of the season be shortened? 

Could the NBA run a shortened season from one venue with quicker postseason series? According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, “nothing is off the table.” On one hand, that’s significant news as the league seems willing to do whatever it takes to crown a champion. Ultimately, that’s grand for those running on basketball fumes these days – but it must be asked: At what cost?

No fans? No home-court advantage? No heightened drama of long, drawn-out series? The locations rumored to be in the running for such an event are Las Vegas, Orlando, Atlantic City, Hawaii, Louisville and the Bahamas. While the league appears to be unwilling to drop series down to winner-takes-all status — such as the NFL playoffs, for example — shorter options like best-of-three face-offs may be the most logical.

If this is the type of decision that needs to happen – then, sure, the show must go on. To guarantee that the rest of the basketball calendar moves along on schedule and the 2020-21 season can move ahead (mostly) on time, then this is an option that must be considered. The financial implications, too, must be deafening in order for the NBA to debate over handicapping their massively-popular product like this.

Either way, such a choice will likely not be made until we effectively flatten the curve as a collection population, so small potatoes — stay inside!

Bonus: Fun + Serious: The Rules of BenBall

When I was a child, I frequently created games for myself – honestly, we probably all did. 

This was not for a lack of nearby friendships or an unpopular status at school – but because I had an active imagination and a need to gamify everything. As a senior in college, my roommates and I spent over $50 at a CVS to invent an indoor board game. And, after all, I am the proud owner of a BFA that basically amounts to fiction writing and reading books, so, it should come as no surprise that I got my creative start by concocting solo sports activities to avoid doing math homework.

Far back as I can remember, I’ve played BenBall and now, for the first time, I’m putting the rules in writing so that you can fabricate your own competitive atmosphere during these stay-at-home quarantines. In all likelihood, pickup basketball has already been banned by your local government and, in some harsher situations, rims have even been taken down.

But the best part of BenBall is that you don’t need anybody else to play – all you need is a hoop, a ball and your very lovely self. 

Now, I must stay this first: It wasn’t always called BenBall. In fact, for a solid decade, it had no name at all. If you asked my mother what the name was, she’d likely just sigh at the memory of all the half-finished paper brackets found tucked underneath rocks or windshields to aid on those particularly blustery days in Maine. 

“I swear to God,” she used to say. “If you don’t bring in that paper before I have to scrape it off wet pavement, I will disown you.”

BenBall only became BenBall in 2016 and only after my old co-workers began to tease me for asking them to play a game that always seemed to take a dramatic turn just as I was about to lose. I never once changed the rules – and never, ever to win a game – but as the sole proprietor of the challenge, I always saw their point-of-view. Even if they were just being sore losers. 

So, without further ado, here’s how BenBall works:

  • BenBall is played to 21, with a twist rebuttal period at the end.
  • Optional: Create a bracket of your favorite teams or players – this is what 13-year-old Ben did with fervor when a friend/brother/father was not in the immediate vicinity. (*) 
  • First, find the three-point line; if your court or driveway does not have one, designate a spot.
  • You, in insolation, will be playing on behalf of both teams. This means that you must be impartial and not consciously or unconsciously miss shots to influence results. BenBall is an unbiased competition, please, treat it as such.
  • A turn begins by taking a three-pointer from anywhere behind the arc, a make is worth two points. 
    • If the first shot is converted, you will shoot another three-pointer. In fact, you will shoot three-pointers until you miss once.
  • Upon the miss, you must chase down the rebound and shoot from wherever that location is. (^)
    • If this basket is made, it’s worth one point and your turn is over. 
    • If the ball bounces back out to the three-point line, that shot would be good for two points and then your turn is over.
    • You may not get points for tipping in a rebound on your second shot. If you miss your second shot, too bad – your turn is over.
  • If the ball takes a bad skip off a rock or an ill-placed car, you may – like Monopoly – play by altered house rules. For example, at the Nadeau household, you were allowed to toss yourself a one-bounce alley-oop from anywhere during the second shot stage to salvage a point. ($)
  • Once your turn is over, tally your points and begin your foray as the opposite and opposing player. 
    • Yes, in a way, you’re playing unguarded 1-on-1 with yourself, but we’re taking what we can get here.
  • Continue until a player reaches 21 and then freeze.
  • At which point, the losing player – whether real or imaginary – gets a rebuttal opportunity by shooting three-pointers to catch up.
    • They must, within a regular BenBall possession, close the deficit to within two points.
    • If they make a three-pointer, they’re awarded two points and another shot.
    • If they miss, their possession (and thusly, the game) is over unless their rebound allows them a second three-point attempt. If that shot is good, they continue in their rebuttal phase.
  • If the losing player gets within two points of the winning player, their turn immediately ends and the game resumes normally.
  • Play until somebody is up by more than three points in the post-rebuttal phase.

*As a child, I loved putting Richard Jefferson up against Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony versus Kevin Garnett, etc. Typically, in my brackets, division battles would flow into conference-wide showdowns and the Finals, if I ever made it that far, would feature an East-West matchup. Should you feel less imaginative during the bracket-making process, just filling it in with the most recent postseason seeds is an effective time-saver.

^If that’s under the hoop for a lay-up, congrats! If it’s behind in the garden behind the hoop (sorry, mom), well, you’re out of luck. If it gets stuck under a car, you must shoot from your back in an adjacent location.

$ This was particularly helpful because launching a 40-foot bomb from behind the hoop and in the neighbor’s lawn was a fool’s errand.

Of course, this game can be played with your isolated significant others – but given the circumstances, a little mental creativity never hurts either.

In the end, we wish nothing but the best of luck out there, readers. If you’re got rule changes to BenBall, please tweet them at me, I’d love to hear them. I’ve been playing a version of this game for over a decade now but it is not a refined, untouchable contest by any means. However, this is a foolproof way to squash those ants in your pants, get a workout and maybe even earn a favorite player that much-deserved ring.

It’s still impossible to tell where this NBA season will end up – both in 2020 and beyond – but there’s plenty of content, questions and solo-sided games to keep you preoccupied. As always, keep it tuned to Basketball Insiders for more excellent content like this and, as a final reminder, stay home – although, admittedly, a short venture into the driveway for some BenBall is perfectly reasonable too.

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NBA

NBA Daily: 8 Free Agents – Southwest Division

Spencer Davies rounds out Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent series by looking at some of the better names in the NBA’s upcoming 2020 class this offseason.

Spencer Davies

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It’s time to wrap up our Free Agent series here at Basketball Insiders!

Last week, we covered five divisions and the best players that could possibly be entering this offseason’s market. We’ll finish things off with the Southwest Division, which has perhaps some of the more intriguing names on the list compared to the others.

A Tier Above The Rest

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – Restricted – $7,265,485

In a class considered “weak” by many voices around the NBA, Ingram very well could be the big fish…if it can be caught. According to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, the Pelicans are expected to match any offer sheet that is extended his way. That’s for good reason, as the fourth-year swingman has blossomed with the Pelicans at a rapid rate.

Coming off his first All-Star campaign, Ingram’s numbers have exploded across the board as New Orleans’ first option in essentially equal the amount of playing time he had with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s gotten much more comfortable with the three-ball and is thriving in head coach Alvin Gentry’s fast-paced offensive system. The points have come by easier and with great efficiency.

Executives seem to believe that a maximum contract is in Ingram’s future, but that won’t make Pelicans back off one of their most important franchise cornerstones moving forward. Barring an unexpected change of heart on the front office’s part, expect these two to continue their relationship and maintain a highly-talented young core in NOLA.

Elite Secondary Scorers

DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs – Player Option – $27,739,975

This situation is a tough one. Individually, DeRozan is having himself another impressive season. His 59.7 true shooting percentage is a career-best by far, and he is an absolute assassin in the mid-range game and aggressive drives to the bucket do the brunt of his damage. Unfortunately, however, this has not translated into consistent winning. The Spurs are creeping closer and closer to missing out on the playoffs for the first time in over two decades under Gregg Popovich.

Why does this matter? One, DeRozan is reportedly not too thrilled with how things have shaken out in San Antonio. Two, the impact of the coronavirus will likely lead to a decrease in the league’s salary cap, which could make it more difficult for him to turn down over $27 million next season. Leaving money on the table might not be the wisest of moves for a 30-year-old whose game — albeit mighty dangerous offensively — isn’t suited for the perimeter-oriented, efficient nature that the league covets. While it might not be the perfect match for either party, DeRozan and the Spurs will probably spend next year together.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks – Player Option – $20,025,127

Hardaway’s situation is similar logistically to DeRozan’s, yet the complete opposite in terms of his relationship with his current team. Per Sports Illustrated’s Dalton Trigg, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban foresees a long-term future with the 27-year-old in Dallas and the feeling is mutual. Again though, with a salary cap plummet, Hardaway may very well elect to exercise his player option for nearly $19 million and revisit a new deal the following offseason.

Looking at the production, Hardaway has done his part — and then some. For a player who some considered a salary dump in the Kristaps Porzingis trade with the New York Knicks, he has exceeded those expectations by becoming one of the top shooting threats in the entire NBA at a 40.7 percent clip. He’s an ideal teammate for Luka Doncic’s drive-and-kick style, while he can step up as the team’s go-to guy in stretches where he’s needed.

You Know What You’re Going To Get

P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets – Non-Guaranteed – $17,650,000

Would the Rockets really let go of one of their most influential locker-room voices? Though unlikely, the decision might be resting on what happens with current head coach Mike D’Antoni, whose contract expires after this season. Remember that Tucker is the team’s starting small-ball five after Houston moved Clint Capela, making him an even more integral piece of its rotation. What other “role player” logs over 34 minutes on a nightly basis?

Tucker’s prowess on the defensive end is crucial to the Rockets’ success, and he’s automatic from the short corners with the opponent collapsing on their penetrating guards. As it stands, he is guaranteed $2,569,188 until July 1. If Houston decides to keep him around as Shams Charania reported, Tucker will make the full $7,969,537 for the 2020-21 campaign.

Derrick Favors, New Orleans Pelicans – Unrestricted – $17,650,000

Believe it or not, Favors is still only 28 years old and that’s with a decade of experience under his belt. He’s still got plenty left in the tank as a dependable paint presence, whether that’s as a starter or as a leader of a second unit. Boasting a 62 percent field goal percentage, he makes his mark in the post and finishes at a high rate inside. There’s definitely mileage on the tires, but there’s plenty left in the gas tank.

Worth A Gamble?

Josh Jackson, Memphis Grizzlies – Unrestricted – $7,059,480

De’Anthony Melton, Memphis Grizzlies – Restricted – $1,416,852

Ben McLemore, Houston Rockets – Non-Guaranteed – $2,028,594

This trio here is a prime example of young talent shining with an organization that took a chance on each of them. Be it underwhelming in their previous stint or simply not being a fit elsewhere, things didn’t work out originally for any of these guys. Yet in the NBA, all it takes is an opportunity. With a second (and in McLemore’s case, third or fourth) chance to prove their worth on this stage, these players have flourished in different ways.

Jackson spent the majority of his time in the G League with the Memphis Hustle, where he was to earn his way back up to the NBA. He followed through on this plan and has since joined the Grizzlies’ rotation on a permanent basis. It’s a small sample size to justify a big-time payday — and his past behaviors off the floor might cause some teams to be hesitant — but Jackson should drive interest from teams that lack wings and have money to spend. With a strong support system and cultural structure helping him mature, rolling the dice on Jackson could pay huge dividends.

Melton came along with Jackson in a trade with the Phoenix Suns, and he turned out to be the more immediate boost to the team. It took until December for the second-year guard to become a fixture in Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins’ rotation — but when he received the opportunity, he took it and ran with it. Traditional numbers don’t particularly suggest the true difference he has made, so let’s go to the advanced ones.

According to Cleaning The Glass, the Grizzlies are 11.1 points per 100 possessions worse with Melton off the floor, putting him in the 96th percentile among his NBA peers. He is a heady defender and has a knack for making the right play on the offensive end of the floor — a true team-first guy. He’ll be a restricted free agent this summer, so we’ll see what teams go after him and if Memphis will match whatever offers are thrown his way.

The Rockets gave McLemore a shot to prove himself in the first half of the season, and he didn’t let them down. In order to play for that team, you’ve got to be able to shoot — and he answered the bell, specifically in a stretch from December to February where he knocked down 43 percent of his triples over a 40-game span. One would have to surmise that the arrival of Robert Covington has stunted his role a bit now, however. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that there clearly is something there still with the former 2013 No. 7 overall pick. He’s not a superstar by any means, but a 27-year-old scoring wing that’s rediscovered himself could prove to be a steal. Of course, that’s if Houston waives him prior to June 30.

The rest of the bunch is full of older veterans on expiring deals: Courtney Lee, E’Twaun Moore, J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Green, DeMarre Carroll, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marco Belinelli. Younger players such as Bryn Forbes and Jahlil Okafor will be out there, as well as little-used swingman Bruno Caboclo.

Kenrich Williams is absolutely worth a look, though he is restricted. Frank Jackson is in the same boat with his Pelicans teammate. There’s a threesome of guys with player options — Austin Rivers, Willie Cauley-Stein and Jakob Poeltl — that will probably generate interest.

As you can see, the crop coming out of the Southwest Division might be the best of the slim pickings the league has to offer this offseason. Let’s hope that we get this resolved soon and back to hoops so it can come sooner rather than later!

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NBA

NBA Daily: The Hot Seat – Eastern Conference

Matt John takes a look at which coaches and general managers from the Eastern Conference are on the hot seat.

Matt John

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Speculation is what makes following the NBA fun. Theorizing what’s going to happen so easy and so fun that it’s harder not to do it. It’s why everyone is hooked on the draft, why they are hooked on free agency and why they are especially hooked on the trade deadline.

Do you notice a commonality there? All of that has to do with player movement. The players make this league what it is. No question. That’s why we always keep our eyes peeled when one could potentially be on the move. Especially if it’s a star. Then, there are the coaches and general managers. Even if speculation about them is not nearly as strong as it is for players, the hot seat is something we do keep our eye on.

We usually have a pretty good grasp on whose job is on the line. When we see a team not playing up to expectations, or not making the progress that they intended to make, or just flat-out sucking the life out of everyone, usually it’s the coach and/or the general manager whose job is in the most jeopardy.

However, we’ve seen in recent weeks that the hot seat can at times be unpredictable. We knew this was supposed to be a gap year for the Brooklyn Nets. Even if they had been one of the worst teams in the league, did anyone really believe for a second that Kenny Atkinson would get the ax? Things were on the up and up for the Nets his last week as the head coach. Next thing we knew, he was out of a job.

Imagine how that conversation went.

Thanks for helping our franchise look respectable again after we put our fans through the seventh circle of hell! OKAY BYE!

But, that’s their prerogative. The point is, you never know who’s on the hot seat. You wouldn’t think that guys like Mike Budenholzer, Masai Ujiri or Brad Stevens would be in any danger of losing their jobs, but a coach as well-respected as Atkinson losing his job signals that anything is possible should they find themselves in a situation with just the right amount of wrong in it.

Basketball Insiders is looking at coaches and general managers who could be in danger of losing their job. Today, we’re looking at the Eastern Conference. Going over who may be on the hot seat requires premising why their job would be on the line. With that all in mind, let’s take a look.

“If This Blows Up In Our Face, We Need A Scapegoat”

Brett Brown/Elton Brand — Philadelphia 76ers

The best way to approach this is by starting with those who are probably on the hottest seat of them all.

When a team that has both two young superstars in their prime and championship aspirations appear to be falling way short of expectations, heads will roll. Unless they magically turn things around in the playoffs — if we have the playoffs — the 76ers appear to be going down this route. The narrative that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, as good as they are, are not a good match together has picked up a lot of steam this season.

Even so, Embiid is 26 and Simmons is 23. They still have time to figure it out. At the very least, Philly will give it another year with those two pending any unforeseen trade requests. Don’t rule anything out. The operative thinking is likely to be that the Sixers will change their surroundings first before they consider getting one of them out of town. If anyone’s taking the fall, it’s most likely going to be Brett Brown.

Brown’s name has been popping up on the hot seat since the end of last season because of Philly’s failure to make serious progress despite having one of the league’s most talented rosters. He still has not been able to find the right formula for Embiid and Simmons, he hasn’t been able to cover the holes left by Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick and he hasn’t been able to fully integrate Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, or Al Horford.

Philly’s defense remains airtight — that side of the ball has never really been an issue — but its offense has fallen below league average primarily because the lack of spacing has made it look more like a clogged toilet than it ever has in the Embiid/Simmons era. As Simmons and Embiid progressed as players, offensive progression as a whole should have come along too. That hasn’t happened, and that’s on Brown.

But the blame can’t be placed entirely on him. It wasn’t his idea to spend money that could have been used to keep Redick to pay top dollar for Al Horford. Or to give a superstar-like extension to Tobias Harris, a good-not-great player. Nope, that’s on Elton Brand.

Brand shot for the stars last season when he acquired Butler and Harris mid-season, and many Philly fans argue that the Kawhi buzzer-beater prevented the team from a Finals berth. Perhaps, but since then, the moves the Sixers have made since have not worked. Horford has flopped. Richardson has only been okay. Harris still hasn’t rediscovered the groove he once had in LA.

Brown is on a hotter seat than Brand is because he’s been there longer. Since Brand’s been on the job for less than two years, it’s more likely than not that they give him another year to fix this. If hypothetically, Brand was able to find a taker for Horford and his enormous contract, maybe that would keep his job secure, but who would be that willing to take the rapidly aging Horford on a deal like that now?

Scariest of all, this is what The Process is at its completion. There are no more assets to rely on. Cap flexibility is now out of the question. They got the young starlets they wanted, but more and more skeptics are starting to believe that the duo of Embiid and Simmons has peaked. If nothing improves by season’s end, someone’s taking a fall here. The most likely one is going to Brown, but it wouldn’t be overly shocking if Brand goes down with him.

“It’s Time For A Fresh Start”

Jim Boylen — Chicago Bulls

Does anyone know what exactly John Paxson and Michael Reinsdorf see in Jim Boylen? It might be safe to say that they are looking at him through rose-colored glasses. Sure, Chicago played somewhat-promising basketball towards the end of last season, but in the wake of Boylen’s rather odd actions on the court this season — and since the Bulls are still a subpar team in the Eastern Conference — might it be time to pull the plug, guys?

Boylen’s coaching decisions have put off a fair amount of spectators. There’s an ongoing belief of a disconnect between him and his players. Was it mentioned that the Bulls stink?

They’re 22-43. Their defense is average — allowing 109.8 points per 100 possessions is good for 14th in the league — but their offense is ghastly, putting up just 106.7 points per 100 possessions which is good for 27th. The players don’t have a good relationship with him. Other Bulls personnel don’t have a good relationship with him. Lauri Markkanen, one of the Bulls’ most promising players, has somehow regressed in Year 3.

It’s a little awkward since Chicago extended Boylen last summer, but it’s better to admit it’s not working instead of forcing it in hopes of it one day working out. That wouldn’t be a bad strategy if it looked like Boylen and his players were on the same page.

The front office clearly sees it differently. They’d rather wait this out than act now while they can. Who knows? Maybe if and when this coronavirus situation passes, maybe that’ll give them the time they need to make the right move.

When it comes to discussing Jim Boylen, this isn’t as much of a take that says “He is on the hot seat,” but rather one that says, “He should be on the hot seat.”

“If You Can’t Improve Our Bleak Situation Now, We’re Getting Someone Else”

Tommy Sheppard — Washington Wizards

Unlike the previously mentioned name above, what’s happened to the Wizards does not have much, if at all, to do with Sheppard. Basically, he inherited the mess left by Ernie Grunfeld. Washington doesn’t really have a whole lot of options at the moment. The team can either miss out on the playoffs, or they can get thrashed by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Either way, it won’t be pretty.

Their problems go much further than that. John Wall should be coming back, but he’s coming back from a slew of injuries, so who knows what kind of player we should expect to see on the court. Bradley Beal is getting increasingly fed up with the lack of success the team has mustered. You can’t really blame him since the team’s taken a nosedive from their near-conference finals run just three years ago.

What makes this even sadder is that Sheppard has done some of the little things correctly since taking over. He literally stole Davis Bertans away from San Antonio. He re-signed Thomas Bryant on good value. He did the same when he brought in Ish Smith. Drafting Rui Hachimura would also be included, but that’s not a little thing now, is it? It’s a huge thing, and it could pay dividends for Washington’s future knowing Rui’s potential. The catch-22 is that no one knows how long it will take for the future to arrive.

The situation with Wall and Beal puts a lot of pressure on Sheppard and everyone else in the front office to get the train rolling because it’s continuously sputtered since 2017. No one should blame Sheppard if he’s not able to salvage this, but that won’t stop the pressure from mounting.

Knowing how awful the New York Knicks have been, there’s a case for general manager Scott Perry to be up here too, but we all know the real problem with the Knicks lies within the very top with James Dolan. The Knicks have been through this rodeo plenty of times that it doesn’t matter who they have making the moves. If serious change is going to happen, it starts and ends with James Dolan.

That’s what the hot seat comes down to. If a coach or GM is in danger of getting fired from their job, it’s predicated from the belief that they’re not making a big enough difference to help their team move forward.

Those who have been mentioned here were put in a tough situation to begin with, but it is on them to change their team’s outlook for the better regardless. If they’re not able to do with this while on the hot seat, then there won’t be a hot seat to sit on for long.

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