Afflalo Opens Up About Breakout Season
By Alex Kennedy
It’s no surprise to Arron Afflalo’s Orlando Magic teammates that he’s having the best season of his seven-year NBA career at 28 years old. Over the offseason, Magic players were predicting that Afflalo would have a breakout season.
If you asked Magic players which player was most impressive during their voluntary summer workouts, they all had the same answer: Afflalo. They would talk about how he was unstoppable during pick-up games – scoring on everyone and looking like a different player. They would talk about how he’d lecture young players when they weren’t putting the team first or working their hardest. They would talk about how he was ready to make the jump to elite status.
San Antonio Spurs Cruising to Finals?
By Bill Ingram
Ask the average NBA fan what they think about the San Antonio Spurs and you are far too likely to hear that person talk about the age of the team and how boring they are to watch. After all, those have been the talking points regarding the Spurs for the past four or five seasons despite the fact that San Antonio has consistently been at or near the top of the Western Conference, age and all. This season has been no different, and for those who don’t watch the Spurs on a regular basis, there are some reasons to start preparing yourselves for another title shot by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the boys in black.
First of all, the Spurs currently hold the West’s top record despite the fact that those “older” players are hardly breaking a sweat. Better than anyone in the league, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich knows how to pace his players and spare their aging bodies by giving them plenty of rest. If resting someone means the team is more likely to lose a game, so be it. The Spurs are not concerned about regular season records, division titles or individual awards. The only thing that matters is being healthy come playoff time and competing for another championship.
Fantasy Focus: Waiver Wire Watch
By Susan Bible
It’s close to the halfway mark in a long 82-game NBA season; so barring injuries or unexpected trades – maybe a few other variables – fantasy basketball owners know what kind of team they have by now. Devoted owners are always looking ahead to the playoff rounds and wondering if their team is good enough to carry them all the way. If that answer is unclear, it’s probably time to carefully analyze the waiver wire for gems.
Basketball Insiders is here to help you out in your waiver wire endeavors. We’ve compiled a list of players who are showing signs of real improvement and just may be available in your league. We suggest you find out sooner rather than later.
Six Things to Know About the Blazers
By Kyle Cape-Lindelin
As the NBA season nears the halfway mark it’s time to look at the six things you should know about the Portland Trail Blazers as they begin the second half of the season.
After a three-season playoff drought and being a lottery team last season, the Blazers have exploded onto the national scene and are proving to be one of the surprise stories in the NBA. At 29-9, the Blazers currently own the third-best record in the NBA and sit just a game and half behind the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs for best record in the West.
Big Decision Looms for Raptors’ Masai Ujiri
By Lang Greene
Quiet as kept, the Toronto Raptors (19-18) are one of the hottest teams in the league posting a 10-4 record since December 20.
Toronto currently sits atop the Atlantic Division standings and if the playoffs were to begin today, the team would be the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference – marking their first postseason appearance since 2008. But despite the team’s recent success, the franchise remains at a pivotal crossroads as we peek into the future direction of the organization.
The fate of the franchise is now in the hands of newly crowned president and general manager Masai Ujiri.
Kobe Vows to Play For Lakers Again This Season
By Jessica Camerato
The Los Angeles Lakers record is just a number for Kobe Bryant.
Regardless of how many losses overshadow those in the win column, Bryant is determined to return this season from a fractured left knee injury. Sitting out the remainder of the year is not a consideration for him.
“The only thing I can consider, the only thing I can afford to consider, is getting better and getting strong,” he said prior to the Los Angeles Lakers game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. “I can’t allow myself to think any other way. I can only think about the next day. To do anything else becomes distracting. You give yourself wiggle room to not push yourself as hard as you possibly can. If I think that I’m going to sit out or this that and the other, then the motivation is gone. I refuse to have that happen.”
Warriors’ #Fullsquad Only Works With Bogut
By Nate Duncan
After a 10-game win streak that spawned the #fullsquad meme, the Golden State Warriors have now lost three of four. Their previously excellent defense has fallen on hard times, giving up points at a rate of 112.9 points per 100 possessions, and the squad as a whole has been outscored by 6.7 points/100 during that time frame. That decline has coincided with a very worrying tendency: Mark Jackson has played Andrew Bogut much less. Even worse Bogut has not played down the stretch of the last three games. In all of these games, the Warriors faltered in the fourth quarter without their best rim protector on the floor.
Is It Time For Minnesota To Trade Kevin Love?
By Steve Kyler
In January of 2012, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love inked a four-year, $62 million contract extension to remain in Minnesota. The deal did not include the Wolves one time franchise designation and gave Love a player option for free agency in July of 2015.
At the time the belief was the Wolves would need that one time roster designation for incoming guard Ricky Rubio and that extending Love down the road would be the way to keep the Wolves’ budding core together. The problem for the Wolves is as much as the plan seemed to make some sense on the surface, in practice the Wolves now find themselves in a tough spot.
NBA Power Rankings: Pacers Regain Top Spot
By Moke Hamilton
Few things feel better than making a long-awaited return. As Basketball Insiders brings you its first Weekly Power Rankings, we understand that quite well. But it is Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics who is the catalyst behind that declaration. Though it was far from an auspicious 2013-14 season debut, Rondo returned to the lineup for the Celtics on Friday night, almost a full year after tearing the ACL in his right knee back on January 27, 2013.
And therein lies one of the major story lines of the New Year: Returns.
Down in Memphis, Marc Gasol is helping the Grizzlies reaffirm their status as one of the conference’s tougher teams. After missing 23 games, Gasol returned to the lineup for the Grizzlies on Tuesday and helped his team take down the Oklahoma City Thunder—who have been playing tough, even with Russell Westbrook.
But the biggest return of them all? That distinction goes to New York’s other team—the Brooklyn Nets.
10 Players Who Shouldn’t Have Stayed in School
By Joel Brigham
If it seems like there are more NBA fans this year rooting for their teams to lose than there are NBA fans rooting for their teams to win, the 2014 NBA Draft class is probably to blame. With so many potentially franchise-altering players up for grabs, teams view this season as the one to blow in favor of young talent in the draft, but a couple of recent reports indicate that the pool of talent may get a little shallower.
According to Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com, University of Kansas star Joel Embiid, considered by many to be the most likely No. 1 overall selection in this summer’s draft, could return to the Jayhawks for at least another year, while Sam Smith of Bulls.com believes that many NBA executives are getting the impression that Duke’s Jabari Parker—another top-three hopeful—also will not declare for the 2014 draft.
Both guys have their reasons. Embiid, for one, is extremely raw and can’t even drive a car yet. Parker, meanwhile, is not a typical blue-chipper in that he sincerely values education more than many realize.
Whatever the case may be, these are two guys who could opt out of heading into the draft despite a near-guarantee that they’d be top-three picks. Chances are, they’d be top-three picks again next year, but history has proven that this isn’t always the case. Here is a look at a handful of players that lost money and slipped down draft boards because of where they were selected.
Six Things to Know About the Los Angeles Lakers
By Jabari Davis
The Los Angeles Lakers continue to fluctuate somewhere between a state of the ‘walking wounded’ and the ‘Walking Dead’ as we inch closer the February 20th trade deadline. After a surprising 10-9 start, the injury bug simply hasn’t stopped biting them at every opportunity. The players should absolutely be commended for maintaining to fight in most contests, but the front office has some work to do in the coming months.
End of an Era? Time for NY to Move Carmelo
By Tommy Beer
Smart, successful organizations are fully, wholly committed to one of two goals: Finishing first or finishing last. The teams that know they have a legitimate shot to capture the crown can, without regret, dedicate their resources to acquiring assets that pay immediate dividends, placing ultimate importance on short-term success. On the other hand, organizations that recognize they don’t yet have the pieces in place to win it all as currently constructed will think long-term and focus on the future.
If an organization hasn’t set up camp at either oasis (potential title contender or lottery loser) they find themselves sinking in the deadly quicksand that is the middle-ground of the NBA’s vast desert.
The Strength of Team USA
By Yannis Koutroupis
After faltering for a short period of time, the United States has re-established its global dominance in the game of basketball. Jerry Colangelo became the head of the USA National Team Program in 2005 and since then the senior national team has compiled a 62-1 record with first place finishes at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2010 FIBA world Championships and 2012 London Olympics.
Becoming content and feeling like they could beat any other country with little preparation was the downfall of USA Basketball in the 2004 Athens Olympics. As preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2014 World Cup of Basketball in Spain begin, it’s clear that Colangelo and company is intent on not letting history repeat itself. A 28-player pool was released Wednesday and according to Colangelo it’s the best pool they’ve ever assembled.
NBA Daily: Fixing The Houston Rockets
Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series by taking a look at the newly-minted Houston Rockets, a team that now has given itself plenty of options.
In the most well-timed edition of Fixing ever, we’re taking a look at the very recently-revamped Houston Rockets. We all knew that one trade was coming one way or the other and now the time has arrived. For how well-designed this beautiful era of basketball was for the Rockets, it surely didn’t deserve the anti-climactic ending it got. Yet here we are. For the first time since Yao Ming’s retirement, Houston is starting from scratch.
Is all hope lost in H-Town? Well, losing Mike D’Antoni, Daryl Morey and Harden is basically like the Justice League losing Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in one swift motion. It would be a major setback for anyone. In situations like this, it’s not about what you lost. It’s about how you respond to what you lost. To their credit, Houston had time to prepare for the disintegration of the Harden-D’Antoni-Morey era, and they haven’t taken their departures lying down.
They’ve wiped the slate mostly clean and, even if there’s definitely room for improvement, the new-look Rockets are a little more exciting than what meets the eye.
It is a shame that Harden never gave this group a chance. Houston had a better offseason than they were given credit for because the high-profile personnel that they lost (or were about to lose) overshadowed what they brought in. Compared to past teams that faced similar circumstances, Houston could have done a lot worse. Let’s start with the best-kept secret that gets more and more exposed by the hour: Christian Wood.
NBA nerds hyped up Wood throughout the offseason for how great he looked during the brief time he was the full-time center in Detroit – averaging nearly 23/10 on 56/40/76 splits. When you take the sample size (13 games) and how Detroit fared in that stretch (they lost all but one game) into account, it’s understandable why it was hard to buy stock in Wood’s potential during the mini off-season.
That’s why Houston got him at the value they did and he’s already one of the league’s better bargains. Those numbers he put up as a Piston have carried on with the Rockets; while his 53/34/66 splits with almost two blocks per game have put him on the map. Wood’s ascension hasn’t led to much team success yet, but he’s the last player to blame for that.
Then there’s Houston’s more well-repped new addition, John Wall. Wall’s probably never going to live up to the $40+ million deal that Houston is paying him, but they didn’t acquire him for that reason. They acquired him in the hopes of him giving them more bang for their buck than Russell Westbrook did. The results have been a mixed bag, but that’s to be expected after what he’s been through. It’s been encouraging to see that on a good day, he still has most of his form.
There are plenty of games left for him to find consistency. We also have to keep in mind that Wall’s just getting his feet wet following two awful injuries. Even if he’s not the same Wall from his prime, this has worked out a lot better for Houston than Westbrook has in Washington. Having the better player as well as an additional first-round pick should be counted as an absolute win for the Rockets.
There are other stand-out players: It looks like the Rockets found another keeper in rookie Jae’Sean Tate who, along with David Nwaba, have infused the Rockets with badly needed energy.
Jae'Sean Tate's defense is absurd. pic.twitter.com/mgMv3lZjp1
— Jackson Gatlin (@JTGatlin) January 15, 2021
Things were obviously better last year when Harden and co. were content, but the Rockets are far from a disaster.
What’s Not Working?
Well, James Harden. Plain and simple. When a superstar wants out, it wears the team down internally. That elephant is too big for the room to ignore, clear that both sides were done with each other by the end. Houston deserves props for willing to get “uncomfortable” just as they promised, but a superstar wanting out brings down the team’s morale no matter what.
It’s why Houston started 3-6 with the league’s ninth-lowest net rating at minus-1.8. There were other factors at play here with all the shuffling parts, but there’s no need for fluff. Harden’s trade demand loomed too large for it not to affect the Rockets. It’s hard for everyone when the best player on the team isn’t buying in. His teammates were complaining about him publicly.
The upshot is that it’s over now. Losing James Harden the player certainly isn’t addition by subtraction – in Houston’s case, that’s Westbrook – but losing James Harden the distraction could certainly be for this season.
Now that the dust has settled, the Rockets can finally take a deep breath and sort out both their present and their future. Presently, there’s going to be even more shuffling now than there was before. At the very least, the roster is going to have players who should be on the same page.
Houston may still have some loose ends from its previous era. From the looks of things, PJ Tucker could be the next one to go. Houston’s prospects are on the come up, but a player with Tucker’s abilities should be on a contender. That’s something that the Rockets, as of now, are not. The same goes for Eric Gordon, but it’s tough to see any of the elite teams willing to put up enough salaries to trade for his contract.
Then there’s the newly-acquired Victor Oladipo.
Oladipo has been a good soldier in spite of the trade rumors that have buzzed around him over the last several months. Indiana trading him to Houston signified that he wasn’t re-signing with them. Houston provides a unique opportunity for Oladipo to further re-establish his value as a star. It’s hard to foresee if he’s in their long-term plans or if he’s another asset to move in their rebuild.
With all that said, new head coach Stephen Silas seems to have won over the players. After beating the San Antonio Spurs last night without Harden or Wall, the Rockets, despite not being in the tier of elite teams anymore, should be excited for what the season holds.
As for what the future will bring, their outlook is a lot brighter than it was back in September. Even if they’ll face the repercussions of giving up most of their own first-round picks for Westbrook and Robert Covington last year, they just hauled in a massive load of first-round picks and four pick swaps combined for Westbrook, Covington and Harden since then.
The development of players should put Houston in a good light, which could pay huge dividends for their chances in free agency. We’ve seen teams establish a great team culture while building up a promising future – ahem, the very same Brooklyn Nets that just cashed in for Harden proved that.
The Rockets might be next in line.
The days of Houston being a contender are gone for now. But, thankfully, the days of the Rockets becoming one of the NBA’s premier League Pass favorites may have only begun.
NBA Daily: Payton Pritchard — Boston’s Bench Band-Aid
Basketball Insiders’ Shane Rhodes breaks down the fortuitous start to Payton Pritchard’s rookie season and what it’s meant to the Boston Celtics.
For the Boston Celtics, Payton Pritchard has been exactly what the doctor ordered.
Boston sported, arguably, the NBA’s worst bench unit a season ago. Despite a fearsome-foursome of Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, their lack of depth hurt them all season long. It stood in direct contrast to their Eastern Conference Finals opponent, the Miami HEAT, and, ultimately, sank the Celtics’ shot at the NBA Finals.
Now, with Hayward gone to the Charlotte Hornets and Walker on the mend, it was only logical to expect that dearth to once again be their Achilles heel. But, on the contrary, the bench has been rejuvenated — or, at the very least, much improved — to start the 2020-21 season.
And, albeit unexpectedly, Boston has the rookie out of Oregon to thank for that.
Pritchard, the 26th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, faced some serious questions about his game in the lead up to the season. He left the NCAA as the recipient of both the Bob Cousy and Lute Olson awards, given to the nation’s top point guard and non-freshman player, respectively, and served as a leader for the Ducks throughout his four years with the team.
However, in the NBA, a league that’s far bigger, faster and stronger than any competition he’s ever faced, plenty were concerned as to how Pritchard’s game might translate. He’ll never be the most athletic player on the court and, when combined with his 6-foot-2 frame, that raised some serious concerns about his defensive viability at the game’s highest level.
On top of that, Pritchard was far from the only addition the Celtics made this offseason; fellow rookie Aaron Nesmith was thought by some to be the best shooter in the draft, while Jeff Teague and Tristan Thompson are battle-tested veterans that would demand a rotation spot from the jump.
Despite those stacked odds, however, Pritchard immediately took a rotation spot for his own, ahead of the higher drafted Nesmith and alongside the veteran Teague in Boston’s pecking order. In doing so, he’s brought a major spark to a bench that desperately needed one.
Save for a 23 point, 8 assist performance against the Toronto Raptors, he hasn’t jumped out of the boxscore. But Pritchard’s played with a veteran’s confidence and has contributed in nearly every game so far this season.
In fact, he’s played with a tenacity that even some of the more hard-nosed veterans lack, while his knack for the timely play has put Boston in the position to win on almost every possession. Pritchard is a +45 in his 10 games played, good for second among rookies and third among Celtics.
Like on this steal and drawn foul with the clock winding down against the Washington Wizards. Or his tip-in game-winner against the HEAT. Pritchard, at all times, is aware of where he needs to be on the court and, more importantly, when he needs to be there to put the team in the best position to succeed. Likewise, he’s moved with or without the ball and put himself in the position to help his teammates make the easy play as often as possible.
That presence of mind is something you just can’t teach — and Pritchard has it in spades.
Beyond the court, Pritchard has easily endeared himself to his Celtics teammates. Brown referred to him as “the GOAT” after just his fourth game, a win over the Pacers in which Pritchard finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in just over 27 minutes and was clutch down the stretch. Marcus Smart, known for his tenacious style of play, has said “the sky’s the limit” for Pritchard and has noted many similarities between himself and the rookie as far back as the preseason.
A bit more reserved, head coach Brad Stevens said “[Pritchard]’s had more good nights, for sure, than not,” after the rookie flashed against the Raptors.
Still, it’s clear Stevens, like the others, has quickly taken a liking to Pritchard and, further, has expected a lot of the late-first rounder. Pritchard, on multiple occasions and despite his lack of NBA experience, has served as part of Boston’s closing lineup, an ultimate show of respect from a coach like Stevens that values defensive execution above most else on the court.
“We’re going to ask him to do a lot right now. And, fair or unfair to him, he’s going to have to be consistent for us, for us to have a chance to be a good team.”
And Stevens is right; to be the best version of themselves, Pritchard must continue to improve his own game and help push the bench even further.
Of course, that kind of pressure is nothing new to Pritchard who, over his four seasons with the Ducks, carried the team on his shoulders and constantly stepped up when they needed him most. And, while he’s been lauded with praise, the rookie has continued to stay humble.
“Coming in, I’m just trying to do my part,” Pritchard said after the team’s aforementioned win over the Pacers. “It’s my fourth game, everything’s coming at me fast and I’m still figuring things out.”
“I just want to win and I want to help as much as I can to get a win.”
As the Celtics forge their path ahead and continue to outfit the roster, players that not only contribute right away but can elevate the play of Boston’s star duo, Tatum and Brown, will be the priority.
And, if any of them are as rock-solid as Pritchard has been so far, the Celtics will be well on their way to an NBA title.
NBA Daily: Nic Batum Fitting in with the Clippers
David Yapkowitz breaks down Nic Batum’s early season and the impact he’s had on the Los Angeles Clippers.
After the Los Angeles Clippers flamed out in the 2020 NBA playoffs, as they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets, it was clear that some roster changes needed to be made. They addressed some of those needs, specifically interior defense, rebounding, perimeter shooting and playmaking as they inked free agent Serge Ibaka to a deal and made a trade with the Detroit Pistons for Luke Kennard.
And, in the early season goings, both Ibaka and Kennard have lived up to expectations. But, arguably, the most impactful addition for Los Angeles has been the more low-key signing of Nicolas Batum.
Batum’s signing didn’t garner major headlines, probably because nobody really knew what to expect. He battled injuries his last season with the Charlotte Hornets and suited up in only 22 games — his last game played was Jan. 24, 2020. But, even before last season, he wasn’t nearly as impactful in his years with the Hornets as he had been in his early years with the Portland Trail Blazers.
In the 2020-21 season, however, he’s become an invaluable member of the Clippers rotation, having started all 11 games thus far. He’s healthy and looking like his pre-injury days, reminding people of the versatile player he was and can still be.
“I don’t think it’s fair to judge me off 18 months when I’ve played 15 years as a pro if I count my years in France,” Batum said after a recent Clippers win. “I’ve had a good career. I’m not a Hall of Famer, but I think I’ve had a respectable career.”
“What happened in the last 18 months, it didn’t work out. The first years in Charlotte was great… we made a change in the coach and it didn’t work out, it happens sometimes. But I’m in a great situation right now.”
It’s been his versatility that’s paid dividends for Los Angeles thus far. A wing for most of his career, he’s been the team’s starting power forward and has done a little bit of everything. An additional playmaker in head coach Tyronn Lue’s offense, Batum has helped to keep the ball moving when the Clippers’ stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, are either out of the game or without the ball themselves. Likewise, he’s been a dependable three-point shooter, as he’s hit on 43.5 percent of his shots from deep, and an efficient scorer overall, shooting 50.7 percent from the field.
While his overall numbers this year — 10.3 points per game, 5.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists — are right in line with his career averages, Lue has played Batum to his strengths and he’s looked rejuvenated.
“Nic’s been really good, his passing ability, he’s just very versatile on offense and defense,” Lue said after a recent Clippers win. “He’s very important to what we’re trying to do. He’s just going to get more and more comfortable. He was a great addition for us.”
Batum’s versatility isn’t limited to his offensive contributions, he’s been particularly effective on the defensive end as well. His combination of length, size and strength has enabled him to guard multiple positions. He can stick with guards and wings on the perimeter and he can drop down and body up someone in the paint.
In the Clippers win over the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 3, Batum saw time guarding all three of Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Batum has always been a versatile defensive player, something he recalls from his Portland days when he used to find himself being asked to guard Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd in the same game.
“It reminds me of my first couple of years with the Blazers when I was coached by Nate McMillan. I was kind of used the same way,” Batum said. “I was used that way my first two to three years, now I’m back to that role. I’m not 21 anymore, I’m 32 now so I have more experience, I got more stuff behind me, it’s just better for me.”
Batum has also become trusted by the rest of the team late in games. He’s shown a willingness to take big shots and the consistency to knock them down. He knows his role on the team and has played it to perfection.
When the defense inevitably collapses on Leonard, George and Lou Williams, the Clippers main crunch time options, Batum knows he’s going to be relied on to make some big plays. He’s looked at the way Boris Diaw was used on the San Antonio Spurs, or Andre Iguodala with the Golden State Warriors, and he’s tried his best to fill a similar role with the Clippers.
“Those are the players I try to use to inspire myself this year. I have to be ready. Even if Kawhi [Leonard], PG [Paul George] and Lou [Williams] are great, they can’t rely on themselves 100 percent of the time,” Batum said. “In ten situations, nine are going to be for them but the tenth one, you have to be ready because it might come your way. Just to be on the court with those guys in those situations, you have to be ready.”
And to this point, he’s enjoyed his early days in Los Angeles. He’s loved what he’s seen from the team and loves the chemistry and rapport they have with each other on the court.
“I love it. I wasn’t there last year so I don’t really know what happened and I don’t really care. All that matters for me is this team, this year,” Batum said. “The group is great, chemistry is amazing. We got great leaders… we got guys that just want to be together and love to be with each other.”