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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 12/1/17

Spencer Davies lists six fresh names to pay attention to in the race for Defensive Player of the Year.

Spencer Davies



It’s the beginning of December and we’re about one quarter into the NBA’s calendar year.

Thus far here on Basketball Insiders, twice we’ve highlighted names to watch out for when it comes to Defensive Player of the Year. Injuries have still kept the big-name contenders such as Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard out of the picture, but at the same time, they’ve given other players an opportunity to receive the spotlight.

Let’s take a look at some fresh names included in our third installment of our DPOY Watch series.

6) Josh Richardson

Detailed on Basketball Insiders in an exclusive interview just a few days ago, the third-year wing is a definite bright spot for the Miami Heat as they try to combat the temporary loss of Hassan Whiteside.

Regarding individual defense, Richardson has held opponents to a lowly 36.2 percent success rate, which is the best in the NBA among those attempting at least 10 field goals per game. In addition, the Heat’s defensive rating is a -13.7 without him on the floor, a number that puts the 24-year-old in the 97th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass (all stats from here on courtesy of CTG unless otherwise specified).

5) Ben Simmons

Our last edition of the DPOY Watch mentioned one half of the Philadelphia 76ers duo Joel Embiid, so why not show some love to the other guy? It’s understood that he is a rookie and he likely won’t win the award, but the defensive intangibles we’ve seen from Simmons have been much more advanced than your average first-year player.

Ranking first in Defensive Real Plus-Minus (2.38) and Defense Box Plus-Minus (3.9) amid point guards by a wide margin, the 6-foot-10 Aussie hasn’t taken long to establish himself as a two-way threat in this league.

4) Luc Mbah a Moute

Remember this summer’s prediction about the Houston Rockets moving away from being one-dimensional? It’s becoming true. There have been quite a few blowouts, but that doesn’t take away from how great the team has been defensively. In fact, it should only support the argument.

As specified by CTG, the Rockets are the fifth best defensive team (103 DTRG) in the NBA. No, there hasn’t been a head coaching change. This is the same Mike D’Antoni-led group. They’re still almost impossible to guard. The only difference now is they’ve added pieces to fluster their competition as well. One of those players is Mbah a Moute.

Although he comes off the bench, the veteran forward has arguably been Houston’s most effective defender. When Mbah a Moute is on the court, the team allows fewer than 100 points per 100 possessions. If he’s off the floor, the Rockets DTRG balloons to 107.7.

3) Anthony Davis

The New Orleans Pelicans don’t have the best defense in the world because of their lack of wings, but they’re smack dab in the middle of the league with a 106.5 DTRG. And it would be an entirely different story if DeMarcus Cousins and Davis weren’t in the paint deterring every shot attempt in sight.

We’ve already given props to Boogie multiple times in this watch series, so let’s have a look at the impact The Brow has for this group. Firstly, the Pelicans are -14.8 points per 100 possessions worse defensively when Davis is off the floor. Their defensive rating is 102.4 in the opposite case. The discrepancy is in the 98th percentile. Furthermore, he’s one of 12 players in the NBA who is averaging at least a point and a steal per game.

The volume of shots Davis is seeing per game is telling, too. Opponents are averaging 14 shots on a nightly basis against him, but are only converting on 39.2 percent of those attempts, a number that places at the top of the league in regards to those defending the same amount of tries.

2) Eric Bledsoe

Almost a month ago, the Phoenix Suns traded the disgruntled point guard to the upstart Bucks. It took a week or so for him to get settled in with his new ball club, but—outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo—he’s already become the most important player on the team.

In 10 games with Milwaukee, the muscular 6-foot-1 guard is locking up his opposition. A perfect example of that would be Thursday’s battle with Damian Lillard. In the 27 minutes he was on the floor against the Portland Trail Blazers All-Star, Bledsoe held him to 38.5 percent from the field and forced five turnovers. If you look at the way he limited John Wall and Reggie Jackson in those matchups, you’d find similar success.

If that’s too small of a sample size, take something like this: Bledsoe has the best defensive rating on the team. Using CTG statistics, the Bucks are allowing 96.5 points per 100 possessions with him playing. When he’s sitting, that DTRG rises by 20.5. It’s a net difference that is in the 100th percentile. It’s that kind of impact that has Milwaukee ranked in the top 10 defensively over the last two weeks.

1) LeBron James

One month ago, having James on this list would have been laughable. The Cleveland Cavaliers were the second-worst defensive team in the NBA to only the lowly Phoenix Suns. It was a rocky beginning for the well-seasoned group—until they got their legs under them and began to dominate that end of the floor.

While the second unit has been responsible for the majority of the team’s success, it’s been James who has been tasked with the toughest of assignments, but he’s welcomed the challenges with open arms, especially in the clutch.

It started at Madison Square Garden against Kristaps Porzingis, whom the Cavaliers held to 31 percent with James on the floor before making a huge comeback. Then there was a matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, where Blake Griffin only made one shot out of eight attempts in the fourth quarter and was limited to 32 percent from the field overall.

What might be even more astounding is he was equally as great against guards. Refer to when Kemba Walker was having his way in Cleveland one week ago during the first half. Tyronn Lue went to James starting in the third quarter and he absolutely stifled him, holding the Charlotte Hornets dynamo to 18.2 percent from the field and zero points in the final period. You can even use Thursday night as an example, when Dennis Schroder was scorching hot for the Atlanta Hawks until LeBron became responsible for him.

He is tied for best defender in the fourth quarter among those seeing at least three attempts per game, restricting his opponents to a 32.7 field goal percentage.

He’s blocking shots. He’s contesting shots. He’s lurking in the passing lanes. He’s getting steals. If this continues throughout the season, and it makes sense to suspect it will, James should certainly be in the conversation as the league’s top defender.

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.


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A Breakout Season for Joe Harris

Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.

David Yapkowitz



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.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 3/20/18

With most of the major NBA draft prospects eliminated from March Madness, things in the mock draft world are starting to get interesting.

Steve Kyler



A Lot of Mock Movement

With the race to the bottom in full swing in the NBA and the field of 64 in college basketball whittled down to a very sweet sixteen, there has been considerable talk in NBA circles about the impending 2018 NBA Draft class. There seems to be a more consistent view of the top 15 to 20 prospects, but there still seems to be a lack of a firm pecking order. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton seems like to the prohibitive favorite to go number one overall, but its far from a lock.

It’s important to note that these weekly Mock Draft will start to take on more of a “team driven” shape as we get closer to the mid-May NBA Combine in Chicago and more importantly once the draft order gets set. Until then, we’ll continue to drop our views of the draft class each Tuesday, until we reach May when we’ll drop the weekly Consensus Mock drafts, giving you four different views of the draft all the way to the final decisions in late June.

Here is this week’s Mock Draft:

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

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

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 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections and based on the standings today would convey to Philadelphia.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four 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 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 Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick is top-five protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would 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 –

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NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future

Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.

James Blancarte



On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.

Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.

Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with the season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.

Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.

“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”

Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.

“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”

Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.

“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.

While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.

“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.

Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.

There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.

“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”

Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.

“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”

Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.

“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.

Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.

“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.

When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.

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