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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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NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench

Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.

David Yapkowitz

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When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.

But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.

On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.

“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”

As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.

This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.

“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.

This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”

Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.

Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.

“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”

Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.

“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”

And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.

He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.

“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”

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NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch

Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?

Dylan Thayer

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In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.

1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)

The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.

Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category.  Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them. 

In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season. 

2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)

As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.

Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.

Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.

3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)

Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late. 

In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.

Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation. 

4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)

Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.

Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season. 

5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)

Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.

If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.

Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)

While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP. 

It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.

While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?

The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.

Dylan Thayer

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After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.

Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.

But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.

Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.

Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.

It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.

Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.

If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.

The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.

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