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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 3/6

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

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Record-Breaking Warriors

By Moke Hamilton

The Golden State Warriors are going to become the second team in NBA history to win 70 games and there’s nothing you can do about it. In fact, there’s nothinganyone can do about it—not Gregg Popovich, not Doc Rivers, and yes, not even Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.

In case you spent your weekend hiding under a rock, you missed the Warriors pull off an improbable 121-118 overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night. And although we don’t typically get wrapped up in a single game, the Warriors pulling off what was such an improbable win in Oklahoma City epitomizes the spirit and resolve of the team that could crack 73 wins.

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One Player, Three Days, Three Teams

By Joel Brigham

A couple weeks ago, Portland Trail Blazers guard Brian Roberts was Charlotte Hornets guard Brian Roberts. And for fewer than 48 hours between those two stints, he was briefly Miami HEAT guard Brian Roberts. He laughs about it now, but it’s a miracle he remembers which NBA players are actually his current teammates on a day-to-day basis at this point.

Knowing how much he’s moved around this month, it’s probably a good thing that he’s chuckling because the whole process was understandably pretty confusing for him.

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Is Kyrie Irving Unhappy in Cleveland?

By Alex Kennedy

Rumors of Kyrie Irving wanting to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers were quite prevalent several years ago, although the rumblings disappeared for the most part in 2014. That’s when the Cavaliers managed to sign LeBron James and trade for Kevin Love, while also inking Irving to a five-year extension worth $90 million.

The ‘Irving-wants-out’ narrative vanished once it was clear that Cleveland was a legitimate championship contender and Irving was one of the squad’s most important players.

And just in case the lucrative extension and star-studded roster weren’t enough, the Cavaliers also parted ways with Dion Waiters, who butted heads with Irving and reportedly even had a physical confrontation with him. The Cavs’ brass was determined to get rid of any behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the team, which is also one reason why David Blatt was replaced at head coach by Ty Lue.

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The Truth About Rookie Defense

By Steve Kyler

As the NBA swings to the back part of the season and teams race to the finish line and the postseason in some cases, more and more focus will shift toward predicting the end-of-season awards. One of the more interesting races to watch will be the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is the frontrunner, as he’s having an impressive and consistent rookie campaign that couldn’t have been scripted any better. Then, there is New York Knicks sensation Kristaps Porzingis, who has exceeded everyone’s pre-draft expectations. Looming in the third chair is likely Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor.

No name in the rookie class is more polarizing these days than Okafor, whether it’s his over-hyped and overblown off-court antics, the perception that he’s the NBA’s worst defender or just a general dislike of a throwback big man who thrives in the low-post.

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On the Fortune and Future of the Grizzlies

By Ben Dowsett

The raw win-loss standings at a given point in an NBA season are quite often an incomplete cumulative representation of team quality. They don’t take schedule or health into account, or a skewed home-away distribution. They offer limited data points by which to judge a team; one focus of a movement many refer to as “analytics” is using some relatively simple arithmetic to widen the available data points, producing a more accurate and predictive way of evaluating teams and players.

By a few of the simplest such metrics available, the 2015-16 Memphis Grizzlies are among the “luckiest” teams of all-time. That term can be thrown around loosely, so a more firm definition here: The gap between what simple contextual metrics project a team like Memphis’ record to be and what their record actually is checks in as one of the largest positive gaps in recent observable league history.

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Time to Panic in Chicago?

By Cody Taylor

The thought of the Chicago Bulls being out of the playoff picture in March seemed very unlikely at the start of the season.

After all, this is a team filled with plenty of experienced veterans who have had their fair share of success in the league. The franchise is used to winning. They’ve made the playoffs in 11 out of the last 12 seasons and seemed poised for an eighth-straight trip to the postseason.

However, the last month of basketball for the Bulls has thrown a wrench into any postseason plans they might have had. The Bulls sat in third place in the Eastern Conference on January 28 at 26-19, but have gone just 4-11 since then and have now lost four games in a row.

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Damian Lillard Continues His Stellar Play

By Jesse Blancarte

We knew that some deserving star players would be snubbed from this year’s NBA All-Star game. It happens every year and is unfortunate for those deserving players that are excluded. There was perhaps no bigger All-Star snub this season than Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard.

In a league that is littered with star-caliber point guards, Lillard is considered to be one of the best. But that hasn’t kept Lillard from running into his share of snubs, like his exclusion from this year’s Western Conference All-Star team and being cut from the 2014 USA FIBA World Cup Team, in favor of players like Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose. Lillard has never been shy about voicing his displeasure when being snubbed, and now it seems that he is letting his play do all the talking for him.

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Should Durant Become a Free Agent Again in 2017?

By Tommy Beer

The 2016 NBA free agent class is a relatively weak crop, featuring few true superstars – especially when compared to the incredible class of 2017. However, there is an incredibly appealing grand prize. The cream of the free agent crop is Kevin Durant. It is rare that such an incredible talent will be up for grabs in the middle of his prime (Durant doesn’t turn 28 until September). There was some trepidation coming into this season after KD missed 55 games in 2014-15 as a result of multiple foot surgeries; however, Durant has quieted those concerns this year. He’s started 54 games this season and the foot hasn’t been an issue. Just as importantly, he’s reestablished himself as a dominant offensive force. Durant is on pace to become the first player in over 20 years to average at least 28 points, eight rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Per BasketballReference.com, only nine players in the NBA history are part of this exclusive club (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan, Bob McAdoo, Oscar Robertson and David Robinson).

 

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Beasley Is Rockets’ Latest Player Gamble

By Lang Greene

The current iteration of the Houston Rockets (30-31) are a far cry from last year’s version that won 56 games and rollicked into the Western Conference Finals. This year’s unit has been marred by inconsistency, injuries, a coaching change and failed experiments.

Heading down the stretch, the Rockets are clinging to the last and final playoff spot in the West. With title aspirations seemingly a pipe dream at the moment, the Rockets are gearing up to fend off Sacramento and Utah to remain in the playoff mix.

One of the major areas impacting the team’s success is power forward play. Forward Terrence Jones has suffered through a season plagued by injuries and illness. The team acquired veteran Josh Smith earlier in the campaign, but his performance has been erratic at times. Looking to strengthen the position, Houston recently signed former lottery pick Michael Beasley for the remainder of the season.

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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

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland

Basketball Insiders

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The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.

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