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Basketball Insiders: Week in Review 3/2/14

Basketball Insiders looks back at some of the articles from the past week in case you missed them the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Did Houston Need A Big Trade?

By Bill Ingram

Sometimes the best move is not to make a move.

As the last minutes ticked away before the 2014 NBA trade deadline, the Houston Rockets were sitting pretty as one of the hottest teams in the league. Winners of eight straight games after a blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers the night before, the Rockets didn’t look like a team in desperate need of a deal.

After months of speculation regarding potential trades for point guard Jeremy Lin and center Omer Asik, the Rockets essentially sat out the deadline frenzy. They did make one tweak, sending Aaron Brooks to the Denver Nuggets for Jordan Hamilton, but as for a move that would radically change the mix, Houston all but stood pat.

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Will Knicks’ Skid Impact Carmelo?

By Steve Kyler

The New York Knicks had hoped to turn the corner after the All-Star Break. There was hope that the club could pull off a trade at the trade deadline and shore up the point guard position and make a strong push into the playoffs. With two more straight losses and having dropped eight of their last 10 games, the idea of making the playoffs for New York is becoming harder and harder to visualize and for forward Carmelo Anthony this season is becoming almost too much.

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Top 5 All-Time NBA Rookies

 By Joel Brigham

When Philadelphia 76ers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams destroyed the Miami HEAT on opening night to the tune of 22 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds, and 9 steals, we all had a pretty strong sense that the kid was going to be special. The Rookie of the Year race has been rather uneventful in the several months since, as no one has really put up big numbers as consistently at Carter-Williams, and at this point in the season he’s averaging an impressive 17.3 PPG, 6.3 APG, 5.3 RPG, and 2.0 SPG.

Those are really nice rookie numbers, but incredibly, he’s not even having one of the fifteen best rookie seasons in the history of the league. There have been some unbelievably excellent rookies over the years, so as special as MCW has been, he’s just had a lot to live up to.

Here are the league’s best all-time rookie seasons:

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NBA Power Rankings: Miami HEATing Up

 By Moke Hamilton

With the trade deadline behind, the playoffs are in sight as the conference’s brackets begin to take shape. Barring a few improbable developments, the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets all seem destined to miss out on the playoffs this season, while the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns lead the charge of surprising teams who will join the postseason party.

Aside from the 16-team field beginning to take a discernible shape, the changing of addresses for Evan Turner (Indiana Pacers), Andre Miller (Washington Wizards), Steve Blake (Golden State Warriors) and Marcus Thornton (Brooklyn Nets) figure to add some drama to the final weeks of the regular season.

While the field may be shaping up out West, who will eventually emerge as conference champions, and even how the seeds stack up remain to be seen.

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Can Jimmer Fredette Save Career?

By Alex Kennedy

The Sacramento Kings are nearing a buyout with Jimmer Fredette, who was making $2,439,840 this season in the last year of his contract. If he clears waivers, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.

It wasn’t long ago that Fredette was an NCAA superstar and household name. During his senior year at BYU, Fredette’s games were must-watch TV as he averaged 28.9 points while shooting 45 percent from the field and 40 percent three-point range.

He returned BYU to relevancy and, in the process, became a star. Before long, he was being mentioned in rap tracks by Lil Wayne (“I got a chopper and a trimmer shootin’ like Jimmer”) and spawning tribute songs all about him (“Teach Me How to Jimmer” has received millions of views on YouTube). Many people purchased his college jersey and “Jimmered” entered the national lexicon, when Fredette would light up a team or when a shooter in a random park would knock down a shot in his defender’s eye.

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Turner Addition Makes Pacers East’s Frontrunner

 By Jabari Davis

The Indiana Pacers remain one of the league’s most intriguing teams, especially in an Eastern Conference nearly devoid of compelling storylines. Currently possessing the league’s best record at 43-13, their two-game lead over the Miami HEAT is far less comfortable than the four to five games that once separated the two in late-January. While this Miami team has proven that they can win an absolutely vital game on an opponent’s home court, these Pacers, immense talent aside, can’t make such a claim.

In a locker room with so much chemistry spawning from an apparent organizational unity, there were some that questioned the decision to finally move longtime Pacer Danny Granger in favor of fourth-year swingman Evan Turner. The truth is, it’s been a long time since Indiana depended upon a healthy Granger to provide the bulk of their nightly scoring punch.

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Knicks Take on Felton Distraction

By Yannis Koutroupis

The New York Knicks are in the midst of a skid in which they’ve lost eight of their last 10. They’re five and a half games out of the playoffs and soon-to-be free agent Carmelo Anthony has never seemed more down as even his most impressive scoring efforts haven’t been enough to lead his team to victory. The last thing this team needs is more distractions, but on Wednesday when the recently arrested Raymond Felton returned to practice, his legal troubles trumped everything else Knicks related.

Felton is going to play the rest of the season with pending felony firearm charges, but tried to downplay the distraction in a statement to the press, after which he did not answer questions.

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Horford Still Leading Hawks Despite Injury

 By Jessica Camerato

Al Horford’s season-ending torn right pectoral muscle was a blow to the Atlanta Hawks. Nearly two months since the big man underwent surgery, his team is beginning to feel revitalized by the increasing presence of their sidelined leader.

Horford was averaging 18.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game when he suffered the injury on December 26 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. At the time, the Hawks (26-30) were 16-13 and ranked third in the Eastern Conference. Since then they have dropped to the eighth seed, going 10-17 in his absence.

The Hawks make no secret they miss Horford. Although they will not have him back on the court this season, they are finding motivation by his continued leadership, visits and encouragement.

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Bulls Continue To Defy The Odds

By Lang Greene

What would have been your prediction for the Chicago Bulls heading into March if you were told former MVP Derrick Rose had played in only 10 games and former All-Star forward Luol Deng was dealt away prior to the trade deadline?

Surely, unless you’re an extremely optimistic hardcore fan, the prediction would have been one dreaming of the upcoming draft lottery and not that of a club in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference standings.

However, the Bulls have continued to defy the odds without Rose and Deng in the rotation, managing to hold off those itching to write the team’s eulogy in the process.

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Pressure on Knicks GM Steve Mills is Mounting

By Tommy Beer

Last summer, Steve Mills was rumored to be a frontrunner for an important NBA executive position based in New York City – but it wasn’t the Knicks GM job, which was then occupied by Glen Grunwald. Word had begun to circulate in July that Mills was in line to replace the exiled Billy Hunter as the new executive director of the NBA players union.

Instead, in an absolutely stunning turn of events, Knicks owners James Dolan “re-assigned” Grunwald (who had built the roster responsible for the Knicks most successful season in nearly two decades) and named Mills the team’s president and general manager. The startling announcement was made on September 26, just four days prior to the start of training camp.

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Caron Butler Bolsters the Thunder’s Roster

By Susan Bible

Just in the nick of time? Reports indicate that veteran forward Caron Butler has agreed to sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder. This comes on the heels of Butler’s contract being bought out by the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday. The terms of his deal with the Thunder are unknown, but the transaction should be completed this weekend, once he clears waivers.

The inner-workings of the Thunder’s front office have always been a mystery, yet many believed Sam Presti, the Thunder’s general manager and executive vice president, would pull off some type of move by the trade deadline. The deadline passed, though, with no changes. Perhaps the return of Russell Westbrook, who had missed 30 games this season, provided adequate comfort that a full roster would carry them to a successful postseason.

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Coaching Pro Athletes in The Age of Entitlement

By Travis Heath

I often joke that there are two jobs that make a person age four years for every one lived. The first: President of the United States. The second: NBA head coach. If you don’t believe me, look no further than Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw. Dude looks like he has a case of heartburn sitting on the bench that hasn’t remitted for nearly six weeks.

I love Shaw’s honesty. I love that he spoke with conviction on a local sports talk radio station in Denver and called out his team for not playing hard and generally behaving in a way that is unprofessional. I appreciate that he makes his players go back on to the team’s charter flight and clean the area where they were sitting rather than expecting a flight attendant to clean up after them. His old school approach strongly resonates with me personally.

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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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Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto

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The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

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NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

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Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies

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Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to NBA.com, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

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