Five Centers on the Rise in 2014-15
By John Zitzler
As the game has evolved over the last decade and the stretch four has become increasingly popular, more and more teams are relying solely on their center to protect the rim. The days of having two bigs with the ability to bang down low and control the paint seem to be rapidly fading away. This puts a premium on having a center that can, at the very minimum, change shots around the rim and ideally send some of those shots back. Additionally, with teams emphasizing floor spacing, more pressure is on the center to secure the rebound and keep second chance opportunities to a minimum. If you can find a guy who has the ability to do all that while also having a strong post game and passing ability on the offensive end, he can be the type of player who can transform a franchise.
Why the Clippers Traded Jared Dudley
By Jesse Blancarte
On Friday, the Los Angeles Clippers waived Carlos Delfino and Miroslav Raduljica, whom they acquired (along with their own 2015 second-round pick) in exchange for small forward Jared Dudley and a protected first-round pick in 2017.
The trade was originally considered a questionable move by the Clippers, despite the fact that Jared Dudley had a down season in his one and only year with the Clippers. On paper, the Clippers only had Matt Barnes, Dudley, and second-year player Reggie Bullock, who played sparingly last season, at small forward. The depth at small forward was already a glaring issue for the Clippers, and Delfino hardly seemed like the answer moving forward as he missed all of last season with a significant foot injury.
Talking The Shoe Game
By Steve Kyler
In the sports world there is the expression – “Go Big Or Go Home…” Under Armour, a fledging player in the basketball shoe space did exactly that in their offseason offer to Thunder star Kevin Durant.
When news broke that Under Armour was winning out on the bidding process with Durant, there were reports that the deal would clock in north of $325 million. As is usually the case in these kinds of things, shoe figures are often massively exaggerated and focus in on what’s possible if all incentives are met. What’s real is what’s guaranteed and possible to earn and that’s where the numbers came down to earth a little bit. In the end Under Armour’s offer was said to be worth $265 million, with achievable incentives and inducements that could have gotten the deal to $285 million over the next ten years.
Nike, who has had Durant since he entered the NBA had the right to match the offer, and over the weekend they informed Durant and his agent that they would matching the deal. It’s believed that Nike is offering a different structure to their deal, but that’s the dollar figures will come close enough to get Durant to agree to the terms.
Top 5 Worst Defending Champions
By Joel Brigham
Not enough was made this offseason about what an admirable job the San Antonio Spurs did in keeping together the championship roster that was mighty enough to break up the LeBron James Dynasty in Miami. With loads of great contracts and plenty of role players willing to take less to remain part of something so special, there’s no question that the reigning champs keeping themselves intact was the least talked about major story of the summer.
Of course, not all defending champs are so lucky. Sometimes a dynasty just runs its course, and after that final title most of the major players (and sometimes even the coaches) all go their separate ways. Today’s list looks at the most egregious of those title defenses:
Dunc’d On: Not Time For USA to Panic
By Nate Duncan
The Team USA critics are out in force again after what is apparently the most disastrous 21-point win in basketball history, a 98-77 victory over Turkey. Nevertheless, I will admit to feeling that little ball of ice grow in my stomach as Turkey took a five-point lead into halftime and Team USA looked rather discombobulated. They scored a mere 35 points on 40 possessions in the first half, while Turkey managed a point per possession. The US malaise continued as Turkey made three straight threes to lead 51-45 midway through the third quarter. But the US took over from there to lead by 20 midway through the fourth quarter. Overall, they scored 63 points on 44 possessions in the second half, holding Turkey to 37 points on the same number of tries.
Nevertheless, the story was that Team USA had been exposed by Turkey’s first half strategy, which was derided as little more than using a basic 2-3 zone and slowing the game down. The implication was that this game proved the US had major problems, but a rewatch of the game proved this simply is not the case–at least based on this game.
The NBA’s Most Underrated Point Guards
By Cody Taylor
As it goes with just about everything in life, someone or something doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often as they should and are often viewed as underrated or under looked. In the music scene, for example, certain artists or bands are viewed as more talented than maybe their record sales show or which awards they lose out on at the Grammy’s.
In the NBA, there are plenty of capable players at each position and more often than not there are only a certain number of players being talked about. When it comes to the point guard position, it seems like Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are among the names that are mentioned most often. While those players have earned the right to dominate those conversations, there are a number of other point guards that should be receiving more praise than they are.
Here are five point guards (in no particular order) that are often overlooked and deserve to be talked about more:
Kenneth Faried’s Payday is Coming
By Yannis Koutroupis
So far in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Team USA is 3-0 with a 35.6 point average margin of victory. They did have a little bit of a scare against Turkey recently and their toughest challenges are ahead with teams out of their group like Australia, Greece and Spain in particular really looking formidable. However, there’s no doubting now that despite the absence of some of the NBA’s biggest stars, a team capable of winning the gold has still been put together.
The depth of Team USA’s talent pool has been on full display. Anthony Davis and James Harden have taken over the leadership roles in place of Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, who opted not to play after originally considering it. This comes as no surprise. Davis is a former No. 1 overall pick who is coming off of his best year as a professional and was already on the fast track to stardom prior to the start of the tournament. Harden has been one of the best shooting guards in the league since being traded to the Houston Rockets two years ago and he came into the tournament highly motivated after an early exit from the 2014 NBA playoffs and wide-ranging criticism about his defense.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, is the fact that up to this point Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has been the third best player on a Team USA squad that also features Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry among other more proven NBA players.
Storylines Headed Into Training Camp
By Lang Greene
Casual fans will undoubtedly be watching the trajectories of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami HEAT this season since LeBron James’ decision to head back home via free agency sent shockwaves through the league. While Miami did a solid job, considering the circumstances, of retooling their roster after James’ departure, the Cavaliers will enter the season as the favorites in the Eastern Conference – if not the league as a whole.
But the Cavaliers-HEAT storyline isn’t the only worth paying attention as we prepare to head into training camp. There are plenty of instances of drama worth keeping an eye on this season.
Let’s take a look at a few:
Bounce-Back Year for Josh Smith?
By Alex Kennedy
It wasn’t long ago that Josh Smith was viewed as a borderline All-Star, someone who filled the stat sheet but seemed to be snubbed every year when the East and West teams were assembled. He was the face of the franchise for the Atlanta Hawks, making his presence felt on both ends of the floor and filling a highlight reel with ease.
Now, Smith is viewed much differently around the NBA. League insiders have characterized him as inefficient and selfish, and his tendency to settle for long-range jumpers drives coaches and fans crazy. He has also been labeled as overpaid, since the Detroit Pistons signed him to a four-year, $56 million deal last summer that made him the team’s highest-paid player. The Pistons went 29-53 last year and Smith received plenty of blame for the team’s disappointing season. Critics have said that his style of play isn’t conducive to winning, which is never how a player wants to be perceived in the NBA.
The NBA’s Most Underrated Small Forwards
By Jabari Davis
While players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony deservedly headline most discussions about the top swingmen in the game, we’re going to take a moment to discuss five of the league’s most underrated small forwards as we head into 2014-15. This list won’t include the likes of Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward or anyone else that recently signed max deals as a result of no longer being able to be considered “underrated” by any stretch.
Is Anthony Davis the Heir to King James’ Crown?
By Tommy Beer
Last month, Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden boldly proclaimed himself “the best all-around player in the NBA.”
The headline led to some raised eyebrows, and a few chuckles, because although Harden is an undeniably talented scorer, he has frequently shown little to no interest in defense. As a result, we can safely eliminate him from the “best all-around player” conversation.
In fact, there is no real debate. If we are going to attempt to answer the question: “Who is the best all-around player in the NBA?” – we can do so with one word. LeBron.
This is no direct knock Harden, as most top-tier athletes in each and every sport believe they are the best at what they do. It’s part of the reason for their success. However, it’s almost impossible to argue that anyone other than LeBron James is the best all-around basketball player on the planet. There is almost nothing James can’t do. He’s an elite scorer and the best playmaker on every team he’s ever played on. Furthermore, he can guard all five positions on the floor. When focused, he’s one of the league’s best defenders.
However, the argument over who is the “best all-around player not named LeBron James” is a conversation worth having.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.
NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue
The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.
The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.
— Buddy Grizzard (@BuddyGrizzard) June 20, 2016
The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.
“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.
“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”
There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.
Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.
“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”
Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.
“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”
While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.
In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.
The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.
With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.
What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.
For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.
“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”
On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.
“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”
With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.
Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”