The Kyrie Irving Quandary
By Moke Hamilton
When Kobe Bryant began playing basketball at the ripe young age of three, what do you think he dreamed of?
When, at the age of 10 years old, he began dissecting film of some of his predecessors, what do you think he imagined for himself?
Do you think Bryant hoped to merely be renowned as the Robin to Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most dominant centers the league has even seen?
Or, do you think Bryant dreamed of one day being known as the greatest player that has ever lived?
What do you think Kyrie Irving dreams of?
Which Struggling NBA Teams Should be Concerned?
By EJ Ayala
Every offseason is full of optimism and promises of improvement from everyone up at the top of NBA front offices all the way down to the players. We are now a little over a month into the regular season and are able to gauge the reality of how teams are starting to shape up. Teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves were expected by many to have a rough go of things this year due to having rosters filled with younger players, lack of superstars, coaching changes, and/or very little team continuity. Today here at Basketball Insiders we are going to take a look at some of the teams whose early season struggles were a little more unexpected and need to be looked at further. These are teams with losing records that had higher expectations that we may need to keep an eye on later for possible player movement and coaching changes later on as the season progresses.
Full 2015 NBA Mock Draft (11/16): Who Does Philly Take?
By Yannis Koutroupis
The 2014-15 NCAA season officially kicked off this week, giving us our first chance to evaluate the 2014 recruiting class and the improvements of some of the top players who passed on the 2014 NBA Draft. However, in our first full 2015 NBA Mock Draft, it’s not a college basketball player at the top, but an international prospect as Emmanuel Mudiay has not only shown some serious potential while playing professionally in China, but also fits the 76ers’ needs more than Jahlil Okafor given the presence of Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. Just like in season’s pasts, underclassmen not projected to go in the first round are not included at all and team needs are taken into account.
Is Oladipo Orlando’s Missing Piece?
By Steve Kyler
The Orlando Magic didn’t get off to the best of starts this season, but as things are starting to settle in the Magic are starting to find their way. The return of second year guard Victor Oladipo should help, as his energy and defensive presence was clearly missed as he rehabbed from a broken orbital bone he sustained in practice just as the season opened.
With Oladipo back in the lineup this week, his team’s energy level has been noicably better, especially on the defensive end.
“I just think they feed off the way I play,” Oladipo told Basketball Insiders. “When they see me flying around and playing D, helping and rebounding, I think it’s contagious. We just got to continue to build off that and continue to do that.”
Oladipo’s role as spark plug has been welcomed by his teammates, pushing Oladipo into a leadership role especially among the young guys on the team.
Copeland Steps Up for Depleted Pacers
By Joel Brigham
When Chris Copeland was first signed to play for the Indiana Pacers, the plan was for him to help fill out a rotation that many thought had the chops to make the NBA Finals. They came close last year, making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, but Copeland was barely a footnote in the journey there. He averaged a paltry three points in just under seven minutes per contest in the playoffs.
However, this year has been an entirely different story, as Copeland leads the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game. A lot of that has to do with all of the injuries the team has sustained this season, but regardless of the reason, he’s taking advantage of a really solid opportunity. He says last year’s banishment to the back of the bench has helped him appreciate the current season a whole lot more.
10 Biggest Early-Season Surprises
By Alex Kennedy
It’s been three weeks since the 2014-15 NBA season started, and there have already been a number of interesting surprises. While the sample size is still relatively small since it’s still early in the season, we wanted point out some of these shocking developments and look at the reasons behind them. Here are 10 of the biggest early-season surprises:
5 NBA Players Off to a Surprising Start
By Cody Taylor
As most NBA teams approach the 10-game mark on their season, we’re beginning to get an idea as to which teams are for real and which teams might need some more work. While it’s entirely too early to gauge a team’s season, there have been some starts that have been surprising either for good or bad reasons. Additionally, there have been some individual performances that have garnered a lot of attention thus far. Let’s take a look at some of the most surprising starts of the season:
The Education of Gerald Green
By Jessica Camerato
There are a lot of things Gerald Green would have done differently throughout his NBA career. How he started it is not one of them.
Green entered the NBA Draft in 2005 from Gulf Shores Academy in Houston, Texas, prior to the league eliminating the possibility of making the jump straight from high school. He was a teenager at the time who thought he was ready to tackle the pros. College was of little interest to him.
The high-flying dunker was quickly grounded, though, as he bounced around to four teams in as many seasons. He was out of the NBA by 2009. If Green were to start his career all over again, he wouldn’t change its beginning.
Dunc’d On: NBA Rookie Report
By Nate Duncan
A look at the rookie PER leaderboard is a stark reminder of how unprepared almost all rookies are to contribute to winning basketball. This is especially the case in the modern era, where the highest-drafted players are usually 20 or younger and the more polished older players often lack the talent to make an immediate impact. At this point, all that can be hoped for are flashes indicating what these rookies can someday be, as well as confirmation that they can compete athletically. Let’s check in on some of the more heralded rookies.
Nuggets Looking To Unload Faried?
By Lang Greene
As the 2014-15 NBA season continues to gain momentum, one date to mark on the calendar is December 15, 2014. This is the day where free agent signees become eligible to be traded and perennially kicks off the NBA’s trading cycle. So in essence we’re just a month away from when things could get very interesting around the league.
While league executives aren’t restricted from making moves before December 15, most front office’s opt to be patient during the early going in order to allow their respective rosters to gain cohesion.
With an influx of players becoming eligible in the trade market, executives can put together more robust deals involving more impactful assets. This becomes helpful in pulling the trigger for bigger name players or guys on the rise at their respective positions.
NBA Rookie Of The Year Watch: Parker Still in the Lead
By Jesse Blancarte
Three weeks of the season are in the books, and for the third week in a row Jabari Parker takes the top spot in Basketball Insiders’ Rookie of the Year Watch.
Despite being heralded as one of the most talented rookie classes of the last decade, this year’s rookie class collectively is struggling with consistency. There have been flashes of excellent play from notable players like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, but overall it has been a shaky start for the rookies. Basketball Insiders’ analyst Nate Duncan just released a thorough breakdown of some of the rookies, which you can find here.
With that said, let’s see who has made the biggest impression through three weeks of the season.
New York Knicks’ Season Is Slipping Away
By Tommy Beer
The expectations for the Knicks heading into the 2014-15 season were not high.
Considering the Knickerbockers were coming off a bitterly disappointing 2013-14 campaign in which they missed the playoffs despite playing in a sub-par Eastern Conference, the bar was set rather low.
Still, with Phil Jackson now calling the shots, and a new head coach in place, there was hope in some corners of NYC that this group might actually turn it around. Some believed the mythical triangle offense might release untapped potential.
However, the Knicks have somehow managed to disappoint even those New Yorkers who had low-to-modest expectations back on Opening Night.
NBA MVP Watch 11/22/14
By Jabari Davis
For the first time in ages, LeBron James is not currently a part of any legitimate MVP discussion. That isn’t to say he isn’t still one of – if not the – best basketball players on the planet, but James, while playing phenomenally by just about anyone else’s standards, simply hasn’t reached the level we’ve all grown accustomed to expect from him. More importantly – especially when discussing the MVP award – his Cavaliers have yet to figure out how to maximize all of the talent on that roster.
It’s still very early and while players like James, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin among others will undoubtedly receive all the praise they are due at some point, for now it is admittedly as refreshing as it is surprising to have some new names entering the conversation alongside a few familiar ones.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.