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Cheap Seats: Steal of the 2014 NBA Draft?

Who were the biggest steals of the 2014 NBA Draft? Jesse Blancarte, John Zitzler and Cody Taylor give their thoughts.

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Who was the biggest steal of the 2014 NBA Draft? Basketball Insiders’ interns Cody Taylor, John Zitzler and Jesse Blancarte give their thoughts in this week’s edition of Cheap Seats:

Cleanthony Early

The New York Knicks didn’t have a single draft pick in the weeks leading up to the 2014 NBA Draft, but Knicks president Phil Jackson executed a trade with the Dallas Mavericks just one day prior to the draft to acquire Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington and two second-round picks. Even though the Knicks didn’t have a first-rounder, it certainly seems that they landed a first-round talent in Cleanthony Early. The Wichita State product was selected at No. 34, but was projected as a first-round player for much of the pre-draft process. When the Knicks went on the clock on Thursday night, they selected the 23-year-old small forward, who may end up being this draft’s diamond in the rough.

Adding Early to the roster was perhaps one of the biggest steals of the draft due largely in part because he was projected by many mock drafts as a late first-round selection, and was even projected to go as high as No. 24 by Basketball Insiders’ own Yannis Koutroupis. Early is a player who will likely be able to step in immediately and contribute given his ability to create his own shot and score from beyond three-point range. In 35 games during his last season at Wichita State, Early averaged 16.3 points on 48.7 percent shooting from the field and 37 percent from three-point range, as well as six rebounds per game.

His ability to score could become extremely valuable should the Knicks lose Carmelo Anthony in free agency. Having Early on the team without Anthony would enable the Knicks to replace part of the 27.4 points per game Anthony averaged last season. Coming in at 6’7, Early also has the physical tools to become a star defender given his 6’10 wingspan and above-average athleticism. The fans on hand at Barclays Center in Brooklyn cheered the pick when it was made, providing perhaps the biggest sign that the Knicks hit a home run on draft night.

Maybe the most impressive part of the draft was the fact that the Knicks were able to land not just one, but two draft picks. The running joke after the Knicks acquired the picks from Dallas was that the idea of the Knicks acquiring draft picks in recent years was just unheard of. Handcuffed by the large contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler before he was traded, the Knicks managed to get younger with the trade and change the landscape of the team.

Of course, the biggest change to the team could come should Anthony leave in free agency after opting out of his contract last week. However, should Anthony return, the Knicks could already be in a much better position than last season despite just finishing the draft. The Knicks would have veterans in Anthony, Calderon, Stoudemire and J.R Smith, with younger players in Early, the Knicks’ second draft pick Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert. It is said that Shumpert has already started training for next season, practicing twice a day, learning the triangle offense and reading all of Jackson’s books to prepare for the season. It seems like the Knicks may be having one of the best offseasons already, and it just started.

– Cody Taylor

Kyle Anderson

At this point, it’s almost safe to assume that whoever the San Antonio Spurs pick will be developed into a useful player down the road. The organization has done a fantastic job evaluating talent in both free agency and the draft, finding guys that will fit into the team’s system and franchise’s culture. Credit general manager R.C. Buford and head coach Gregg Popovich, who have done a great job working together hand in hand finding players that can come in and help the team.

In 2007, the Spurs chose Tiago Splitter with 27th pick in the first round. Splitter and the Spurs were patient with his development and adjustment to the NBA after being an accomplished player in Europe, and both sides were rewarded for their patience as this year Splitter played a key role on their championship team. Then, there is Kawhi Leonard, who was acquired during the 2011 draft for George Hill and has blossomed into a star and Finals MVP. Not to mention, key guys like Tony Parker (28th pick) and Manu Ginobili (57th pick) were both selected later in the draft. The Spurs’ ability to find value outside of the lottery has been a big factor in their success. Similarly, in free agency the Spurs been able to turn castaways into contributors with regularity, with guys like Danny Green and Patty Mills, both signed to cheap free-agent deals after toiling away the on Cavaliers and Blazers respectively, becoming crucial players on this year’s championship team.

In the draft on Thursday, the Spurs had the 30th pick and selected Kyle Anderson, a versatile forward out of UCLA. Anderson, nicknamed Slow-Mo for his deliberate pace as well as his lack of quickness and agility, is one of most unique players in this year’s draft class. While he may not be the most athletic player in the world, Anderson makes up for it with a special feel for the game. He was able to keep opposing defenders off balance with a good hesitation move and used his length to finish around the rim in college. He did a little bit of everything at UCLA – a team that certainly wasn’t lacking talent and produced three first-round picks this year – averaging 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. Anderson led the Pac-12 in total assists and total rebounds. He became the focal point of Steve Alford’s attack in just his second year with the program. For a guy his size, Anderson possesses an impressive assortment of skills – he has a solid handle, excellent passing skills and impressive rebounding ability. He made strides as a shooter and was a much more efficient scorer during his sophomore season. His field goal percentage went up from 41.6 percent to 48 percent and even more impressive his three-point percentage was up from 21.1 percent to 48.3 percent from his freshman to sophomore season.

Anderson, like every player in the draft, is certainly not a finished product yet. His most glaring weakness is his lack of athleticism, which will be even more magnified at the next level. However, his versatility and ability to play multiple positions as a point forward should allow him to succeed, and having Popovich helping him maximize his potential will certainly help him. There are questions regarding his remarkable improvement as a shooter, as some wonder if he will be able to continue to knock down shots at or near the rate he did as a sophomore after struggling from the perimeter as a freshman. Also, defensively, his lack of athleticism may be a challenge so it will be important for Anderson to be fundamentally sound when matched up against players who have an edge in athleticism, as most will.

Anderson and the Spurs seem like a perfect marriage, with his skills and their system. Landing him at No. 30 may prove to be steal for a team that has shown one of the best eye’s for talent over the last decade. Anderson has already been compared Boris Diaw with their similar ability to do a variety of things. It’s not hard to picture Anderson playing a very similar role to Diaw in the Spurs’ system. His ability to pass the ball will be a great fit in an offense that relies heavily on ball movement. The Spurs have to be ecstatic that they were able land such a talented guy who should mesh with organization seamlessly. In a few years, don’t be surprised if Anderson is playing a major role as the team transitions into a new era.

– John Zitzler

T.J. Warren

With the 14th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns selected T.J. Warren from North Carolina State. Last season, Warren contributed 24.9 points (third in the nation), 7.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 52.5 percent from the field. He was the ACC Player of the Year and named a second team All-American by the Associated Press and the Sporting News.

Warren is 6’8, has a 6’10 wingspan and weighs 220 lbs. He is not a great athlete, but he knows how to effectively utilize the athleticism he does have. With his size and skill-set, Warren can play both forward positions, which can create mismatches for opponents, especially in an up-tempo offense such as the Suns’.

Warren’s best attribute right now is his ability to score the ball. He is a very fluid, smooth player who has great scoring touch around the rim (where he shot 70 percent last season). With Eric Bledsoe (if retained) and Goran Dragic alongside him, Warren should have plenty of opportunities to attack the rim in transition, which is a big part of his game.

“Their style fits my game pretty well,” Warren said after being picked by Phoenix. “Transition and fastbreak, that’s my game. I like to get up and down and run.”

In addition, Warren is good at moving without the ball, and cutting to the basket. This part of his game also works well within the Suns’ offensive system, which is based on a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls and weak-side movement.

While Warren is a tough cover from mid-range and at the rim, he is a poor shooter from three-point range (26.7 percent), which is something he will need to address moving forward. His shooting mechanics are not bad, so with proper coaching Warren should be able to develop into a solid threat from beyond-the-arc. Though Warren won’t be knocking down a ton of three-pointers in his first season with the Suns, head coach Jeff Hornacek believes he will still be able to contribute.

“He’s such a great scorer, he’s not going to have to rely on the three-point shot,” Hornacek said. “He’ll be able to move without the ball and catch it on the move. When he moves he’s very slick, and he knows when to get the ball up or take an extra dribble and take it up. He has a great feel for the game offensively.”

Warren’s best performances last season came in back-to-back games, scoring 41 points against Pittsburgh and 42 points against Boston College. These games highlighted Warren at his best, especially the game against Boston College. In that game, Warren went 14-of-23 from the field, 14-of-17 from free throw line and also grabbed 13 rebounds. He did not attempt any three pointers, and instead did his damage in transition, off backdoor cuts and with midrange floaters.

While Warren is a talented offensive player, his defensive skills need some work. He is not great at guarding opposing players in isolation, but he is a solid team defender. He also plays passing lanes well, evidenced by his 1.8 steals per game. In addition, Warren showed improved defensive skills in his workout for the Suns prior to the draft. After Warren’s workout, Hornacek said: “The question for him wasn’t the scoring part, it was the defense. I thought he did a great job defensively. Getting his hand on the ball, he was better than I anticipated from watching tape.” The ability to play the passing lanes will be especially important in Phoenix, where the team is always looking to create transition opportunities.

While some may argue that Warren was drafted in a position that is representative of where he stands in comparison to his peers, it is not unreasonable to think he could end up being one of the top players to emerge from this draft years down the line. Keep in mind that opposing defenses geared up to stop Warren, which led to him taking a lot of tough, contested shots. Warren will be on a team that could feature Bledsoe, Dragic, Gerald Green, Channing Frye, the Morris twins and other talented players. This should keep defenses from loading up on him like they did in college. Add to this the possibility that Warren could become a three-point shooter down the line, and you start to see how effective of a player he could be as a pro, especially with a team like the Suns that will utilize and maximize his talents.

Players like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid will likely be the top players to come out of this draft, yet there is room for Warren to establish himself as a steal at 14 in hindsight. Players like Nik Stauskas, Noah Vonleh, Elfrid Payton, Dario Saric and Zach LaVine have great potential, but they are not locks to be great players several years from now. Warren has that same great potential, but his ability to score is almost certain to translate to the NBA.

Warren may not be the best player to come out of this draft, but several years from now, we will wonder how he was not picked higher. Credit the Suns for recognizing what he can do, and not overly criticizing him for what he currently cannot do. Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is assembling an impressive core of young players in Phoenix, and in Warren he got the steal of the draft.

– Jesse Blancarte

 

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A Few Good Free Agents Left

David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.

David Yapkowitz

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The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.

A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.

For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.

David Lee

Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.

Deron Williams

Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.

Monta Ellis

Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.

He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.

He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.

Derrick Williams

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.

During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.

With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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NBA Opening Night Storylines

Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.

Dennis Chambers

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The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.

Rejoice, hoop heads.

Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.

With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.

As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.

Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.

And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.

The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.

But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.

While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.

By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.

Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.

Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.

Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.

And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.

Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.

This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?

Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.

Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.

While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.

Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?

After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.

“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”

It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.

That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.

Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.

With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.

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