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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 12/28

Basketball Insiders looks at some of the articles from last week in case you missed any the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Playoff Sleepers In The Western Conference

By Susan Bible

As expected, the playoff race in the NBA’s Western Conference is extremely tight yet again with the rankings changing nightly.

The Golden State Warriors were strong out of the gate, and their present 22-3 record puts them atop the conference. The Memphis Grizzlies (21-5) and Portland Trail Blazers (22-6) claiming the number two and three spots, respectively, follow dangerously close behind. The fourth-place Houston Rockets (19-7) and fifth-place Dallas Mavericks (20-8) aim to take over those higher spots with recent acquisitions. In a move the Mavs hope puts them in title contention this year, they traded for point guard Rajon Rondo, who leads the league in assists at 10.7 per game. In addition, reports indicate the Mavs are frontrunners to acquire Jermaine O’Neal. The Mavs topped the San Antonio Spurs 99-93 in Rondo’s first outing with Dallas. He logged six points, nine assists and seven rebounds in 34 minutes of play. The Rockets added wing Corey Brewer for some much-needed perimeter defense off the bench and also landed combo guard Alexey Shved.

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Everyone Wins In Rondo Trade

By Moke Hamilton

Rick Carlisle donned his navy blue Mavericks hooded sweatshirt. He both looked and sounded quite casual sitting next to Mark Cuban, whose demeanor was somewhere between proud and giddy.

“Obvioulsy, having him here is a huge step forward for us,” Cuban said about what it meant for his franchise to land Rajon Rondo. “He’s a winner and he’s a competitor.”

Rondo is a few other things too: another superstar in Dallas and a beaming light that illuminates championship hopes.

And now, he is, best of all, a Maverick.

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76ers Win And Want To Win More

By Steve Kyler

The Philadelphia 76ers did the unexpected last night, coming into Orlando and handing the Magic a body blow of a defeat on their home floor. The win wasn’t the result of a stellar performance or some amazing hot streak from the field. It was a grind-it-out win that ended up in Philly’s favor.

Winning hasn’t happened much for the 76ers; in fact, last night marked their third win in 26 games.

The national narrative on the 76ers is that they are tanking and that the team doesn’t want to win. Ten minutes in the 76ers’ locker room will tell you that’s simply not how the players view what is going on. They want to win and want to win badly.

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Four NBA Trades That Should Happen

By Joel Brigham

Any media member who works NBA games knows that of all the trade rumors that cross the wire in a given year, maybe five percent actually get consummated. Despite that fact, there are few things more fun for basketball fans than dreaming up ideal ways to improve their favorite teams, and in-season trades absolutely are the best options for organizations in need of an immediate shot in the arm.

The following are four hypothetical swaps that make more than enough sense to happen, but just because they should, however, doesn’t mean they will. Still, it’s fun to dream, and these blockbusters would definitely change the fate of all eight teams involved:

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Where Will Josh Smith Land?

By Lang Greene

Citing the need for an adjustment, the Detroit Pistons used the stretch provision on Josh Smith early Monday. Smith signed a four-year, $54 million deal with Detroit in free agency back in 2013, but the forward never made the impact the franchise desired and some would argue that he negatively impacted the Pistons’ young frontcourt of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

But even though Smith’s tenure in Detroit proved to be disappointing, the 29-year-old forward still posted 15.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 105 games with the team. Those stats are hard to ignore, especially for teams around the league looking for frontcourt production.

Smith was owed $27 million the next two seasons. His remaining salary for this year will be paid as scheduled, and the remainder will be spread out in $5.4 million annual payments over the next five years. So, the prospect of signing a high dollar deal likely won’t be at the top of Smith’s priority list.

Smith is talented and can help teams, but where would be a good fit? Here are some options around the league:

 

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The Pistons’ Motivation to Cut Smith

By Yannis Koutroupis

One of the worst kept secrets in the league was that the Detroit Pistons were unhappy with Josh Smith and eager to trade him. Smith, signed by former general manager Joe Dumars to a four-year contract worth $54 million in 2013, went from being known as an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year snub to overpaid and inefficient seemingly instantly after putting his name on the dotted line that summer. Because of that, though, the trade market was extremely bare for him. Only the Sacramento Kings showed any real interest, and they were only offering veterans with multiple years left on their deals in return.

So, in one of the more shocking moves of the season so far, the Pistons exercised their right to stretch Smith’s contract and waive him from the roster. He’s going to be paid the rest of the $13.5 million he was owed this year as scheduled, and then the remaining $27 million will be paid to him in annual payments of $5.4 million over the next five years. After clearing waivers in 48 hours, a mere formality, Smith will be an unrestricted free agent – free to sign with any team of his choosing. The Los Angeles Clippers, Miami HEAT, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and aforementioned Kings have all expressed interest in him, with the Rockets reportedly the most serious suitor. Smith’s childhood friends Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo will serve as lead recruiters for their respective teams. For a more detailed look at Smith’s next destination, make sure to check out Lang Green’s breakdown.

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Irving On Family, Loss and Keeping Life in Perspective

By Jessica Cameratio

Walk a mile in his shoes to understand Kyrie Irving. On second thought, just take a few steps in them to get the picture.

When Nike debuted Irving’s first signature shoe, the Kyrie 1, this month, it revealed small glimpses into his personal world — the acronym for his motto “Just Be You,” a pattern inspired by his native country of Australia and, most telling, his late mother’s name with her dates of birth and death scrolled on the sole.

Irving is known for his job of leading the Cleveland Cavaliers on the court. The point guard has another team he also plays for in those sneakers.

Kyrie’s mother, Elizabeth, passed away from organ failure when he was four years old. His father, Drederick, was suddenly a single parent of two. Kyrie’s sister, Asia, is 14 months his senior.

 

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Knight’s Big Season Comes at Perfect Time

By John Zitzler

The Milwaukee Bucks’ surprising start can be attributed to a number of different factors. You could point to Jason Kidd, who has done a terrific job in his first year as the team’s head coach. Jabari Parker, who prior to suffering a season-ending knee injury looked like a favorite to win Rookie of the Year, deserves credit as well. The healthy return of Larry Sanders and the massive impact he has made on the defensive end has been big, as well as the continued growth of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has made tremendous strides in his sophomore season.  They all have played a significant role and have the Bucks unexpectedly thinking about the playoffs. However, with that said, you could also argue that no player has been more important to Milwaukee than point guard Brandon Knight.

Knight has been the engine that has driven the Bucks early on this season. He is the only player who has started in every one of the team’s 28 games. He is averaging 17.5 points, 5.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game, leading the team in all three categories. Knight has the team’s highest PER at 18 and the highest win shares on the team at 2.1.

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K.J. McDaniels’ Hard Work is Paying Off

By Alex Kennedy

K.J. McDaniels had just spent several hours working out and doing drills in a gym full of NBA executives and coaches at the 2014 NBA Draft Combine, but he didn’t feel satisfied with the work he had put in. He wanted to go through the drills again and put up some shots. So while other draft prospects were exploring downtown Chicago with friends or lounging at the NBA hotel, McDaniels purchased a basketball from a nearby sporting goods store and asked his trainer, Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball, to meet him at a local gym late that night.

That evening, McDaniels spent two hours going through an NBA-level workout and shooting from the areas where he felt he struggled during the combine drills. He went through his workout on one end of the floor, while a pair of high school kids were shooting on the other (oblivious that they were sharing the court with an NBA prospect). The forward from Clemson worked out until the gym’s employees told him that they were closing. McDaniels seemed disappointed to leave, but he finished up his final drill, grabbed his ball, wiped off his sweat-covered face and trekked back to the hotel. He was finally ready to call it a day.

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Draymond Green Making Strong Case for Most Improved

By Cody Taylor

Oftentimes the key for winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award is an increase in playing time, a trade or an injury to the player ahead of them on the depth chart. Countless hours in the gym over the offseason is the one common necessity among winners. The short list for this season’s most improved candidates includes  Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, Evan Fournier, Klay Thompson and Iman Shumpert to name a few, but one candidate that is beginning to cement his place in the discussion is Thompson’s teammate, Draymond Green.

The Warriors finished last season by going 51-31 and earning a first-round playoff matchup with the Clippers. The Warriors would go on to lose that series in seven games, signaling the end of the Mark Jackson era in Oakland. The Warriors wasted no time in firing Jackson, opting to let him go just days after the team was eliminated by the Clippers. Shortly after Jackson was let go, the Warriors brought in Steve Kerr to take over the team. The Warriors recognized that little change was needed and opted to keep much of the team’s core players as they brought in only Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday and Brandon Rush over the summer to fill out the roster.

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NBA Rookie Of The Year Watch: Wiggins On Top After Parker Injury

By Jesse Blancarte

Before this season started, many NBA analysts and fans believed this year’s class of rookies was one of the most talented in the last decade. Unfortunately, many of the most heralded rookies have been sidelined for extended periods of the season, while others have suffered season-ending injuries.The most recent rookie to suffer a significant injury is Jabari Parker, who tore his ACL on December 15 in a game against the Phoenix Suns.

Parker has been at the top of these rankings all season, and was showing gradual improvement in his game until the injury. Parker is the second top rookie to suffer a season-ending injury. Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a broken leg in his NBA debut against the Houston Rockets back in October.

With Parker out for the season, Andrew Wiggins takes over the top spot by default. There are no clear challengers to Wiggins at this point, but there are some new faces in this week’s ranking, including Wiggins’ teammate Zach LaVine.

Now let’s take a look at who else made the top 10 this week:

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Josh Selby Nearly Retired, Now Attempting NBA Comeback

By David Pick

Josh Selby was sitting in the upper deck of a small high-school gym with one-side seating when he challenged a bench-warming teammate to hit a three-pointer from the bleachers. The stakes weren’t high, in the neighborhood of $130 per shot, make-or-miss.

The kid missed. Twice. Selby was up $300, but he never had any intension of collecting the cash. It was his way of making sure his team doesn’t fold under pressure.

It wasn’t long ago that Selby, once the No. 1 NCAA recruit in the nation and former NBA draft pick, hit rock bottom.

Selby, once the highest ranked high-school baller in the United States, led a class that featured some of the NBA’s current-and-future stars. In a sense, he went from hero-to-zero. Selby bounced around the NBA and the respected D-League before heading overseas for stints in China, Croatia and now Israel. At one point, the 23-year-old Baltimore native began to mull over retirement.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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NBA Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe

Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.

Drew Maresca

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Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.

No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.

And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.

“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”

While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.

Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).

He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).

It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”

Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.

And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.

A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.

“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”

Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.

And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.

The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.

“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”

Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.

“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”

Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”

So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.

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NBA Daily: Danuel House Optimistic About Future

David Yapkowitz speaks to Danuel House about life as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets & what he hopes comes out of his time in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

David Yapkowitz

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Opportunity is everything in the NBA. Last season’s implementation of two-way contracts gave a lot more players potential opportunities in the league that may not have been previously available.

One player who has used two-way contracts to showcase himself and really prove that he belongs in the NBA is Danuel House Jr.

House actually began his career two years ago as an undrafted rookie with the Washington Wizards. However, he suffered a wrist injury only about a month into the 2016-17 season.

He was subsequently cut by the Wizards and used the summer to heal up before joining the Houston Rockets for training camp prior to the start of last season. He ended up being one of the final cuts in camp, and he joined the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

His strong play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns after only two months of G League play. This year, he rejoined the Vipers, only to earn another two-way contract with the Rockets. Having had some experience now with a two-way, it’s something that House sees as being beneficial.

“It’s got its good perks and its bad perks. But then the NBA is just trying to open more doors for more guys to be seen and have an opportunity,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s a good idea, it’s gonna work the kinks out so it can be more beneficial to the players. It’s still new and it’s still trending and working itself through the NBA.”

This season has been a bit of a whirlwind for House. He initially joined the Golden State Warriors for training camp, only to have them cut him before the start of the season. After spending about a month with the Vipers, the Rockets called him up, only to cut him and then eventually re-sign him to a two-way deal.

Due to injuries in the Rockets lineup, House saw meaningful minutes right away, even being placed in Houston’s starting lineup. He had some solid performances down the stretch of last season with the Suns, but this season he really looked the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player.

When a player signs a two-way deal, they are allotted a maximum of 45 days of NBA service, meaning that the rest of the time they must remain in the G League. If a player exceeds the 45-day limit, they must be sent back down to the G League unless they’re able to reach an agreement on a standard contract with the NBA team.

Because of the Rockets’ necessity of House in the rotation, he used up his NBA days last month. He and the Rockets were unable to agree on a contract, so he returned to the G League with the Vipers. While there haven’t been many updates as of late, he’s still hopeful that something can work out with the Rockets.

“Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title. There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys,” House told Basketball Insiders. “And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.”

Initially, House wasn’t playing with the Vipers upon returning to the team. But he made his return to the court a few weeks ago on Feb 8. In that game, House shook off some initial rust and ended up having a solid performance including hitting the game-winning free-throws.

In the past, the G League was often times seen as a punishment for NBA players. The league didn’t have that great of a reputation, but over the past few years that image has started to change. The competition has gotten a lot stronger, and according to House, there are plenty of guys who are that close to making it to the NBA.

“The competition here is real. There’s a lot of dudes out here that got a lot of talent that they can showcase. They just want their one opportunity, their one chance that I was so fortunate and blessed with,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I know not to come out here and take it for granted, that’s why I’m playing hard and of course still trying to be a student of the game and learn.”

Recently, during a media availability session, Rockets star and perennial MVP candidate James Harden expressed hope that the Rockets and House could work something out. Harden told reporters that they all know how good House is and what he brings to the team.

In 25 games for the Rockets this season – including 12 starts – House put up nine points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s in the mold of a three-and-D type player, but he also moves well without the ball on cuts to the rim and can attack the basket as well.

“My role was to play defense and make the right read,” House told Basketball Insiders. “Shoot when I’m open, drive, attack the rack, and run the floor. Of course, defend and rebound and make good reads. It was easy.”

As it stands, the Rockets have 12 players on their roster, and a pair of two-way deals for House and Vincent Edwards. House is not eligible to rejoin the Rockets until the G League season concludes. Even then, he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs as per two-way deal restrictions.

The Rockets will need to add at least two players to get up to the league-mandated 14 players on the roster. House would appear to be a good candidate for one of those spots, but that remains to be seen. But regardless of whether or not it works out in Houston, House is confident that he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the NBA.

“It gave me the utmost confidence, but my hard work, my passion, and my faith in the man upstairs gave me the ability. I asked him to guide me through the journey and he’s been taking care of me,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so grateful that the opportunities and I used my ability to perform and do something I love to take care of my family.”

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PODCAST: Checking In On Clippers & Lakers, East Arms Race, Warriors’ Challengers

Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

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