With the season winding down and the playoffs taking shape, things are starting to get tight in the NBA. Approaching April, individual award discussions are going to pick up steam, so let’s get back in Defensive Player of the Year talk.
The field has thinned down a bit with the final stretch in tact, but there are plenty of names to pay attention to.
6) Al Horford
Despite all the injuries and whatever kind of adversity has been thrown their way this year, the Boston Celtics are still at the top of the mountain in defensive efficiency. They’re allowing 103.2 points per 100 possessions and an effective field goal percentage of 49.3 percent. Both figures are the lowest in the league, according to Cleaning The Glass.
Horford has been a leader all season long at both ends and has played with starters, bench players and reserves. He’s third among centers in contested three-pointers (229), ranks sixth on NBA Math’s Defensive Points Saved scale (135.68) and is eighth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus (3.1).
5) Kevin Durant
The reigning Finals MVP is averaging just a hair under two blocks and nearly a steal per game, but those numbers aren’t telling the real story about Durant’s defensive prowess this season. In the fourth quarter, opponents are shooting just 32.8 percent against him overall, which is the top defended field goal percentage in the league. Translation: You don’t want to see this guy in crunch time on either side of the floor.
On a wider scale, the opposition takes 12.4 shots per game against him and he’s allowing just 41.4 percent of those to be successful. That’s good for fourth-best regarding players who see the same amount of the attempts.
4) Jrue Holiday
The New Orleans Pelicans are lobbying to get their teammate some attention when it comes to DPOY, so we’re here to oblige. It’s not just because of those desires. It’s because it’s warranted. Let the individual defensive metrics support the evidence.
When Holiday is off the floor, the Pelicans allow 10.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on. Their opponent’s effective field goal percentage increases by four percent and turnover percentage decreases by 1.6 percent. Those figures put the 27-year-old guard in the 98th, 96th, and 84th percentiles respectively, as specified by Cleaning The Glass.
Holiday is quite literally the lone backcourt player in the NBA seeing at least 14 attempts per game. Among that crowd, Holiday ranks sixth in defended field goal percentage (43.3), which is a better figure than eight other big men and Tobias Harris. For that reason, it makes sense why he’s the fifth best point guard in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus.
3) Anthony Davis
It goes without saying the impact that Anthony Davis has had on the NBA this year. In the second half of the season, without DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans has taken off and is right in the thick of things getting prepared for the postseason. He won’t win it, but Davis is playing at an MVP level and could be vying for a DPOY award if the momentum keeps going.
Starting with your traditional statistics, it’s easy to make an argument for Davis. He’s the only player in the NBA who’s averaging 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. The Brow is far and away the leader in total rejections as well, recording 170 already to this point.
Remember what we previously mentioned regarding Holiday’s 14 opponent attempts per game? Davis is taking on the second-highest average amount of tries in the league (16.4) and has held the opposition to a stifling 40.7 defended field goal percentage, which is the best in the league by far.
Post All-Star break, the Pelicans superstar has turned it up even more in protecting the paint as well, limiting his matchups to 51.4 percent at the rim. It’s the lowest conversion rate in the league, as specified by Second Spectrum.
2) Joel Embiid
The Process caught an unfortunate break this week, but it’s just a small bump in the road for somebody who’s easily been the most consistent and dependable defender in the entire association this year. What Embiid has done this year on both ends is nothing short of spectacular.
The Philadelphia 76ers’ defensive rating of 104.8 is the third lowest among all teams and he’s a vital reason why that’s the case. Using CTG, the team allows only 100.6 points per 100 possessions when Embiid is playing. While he’s on the bench, that number decreases to 109.7. Both of those statistics rank him in the 97th percentile.
Defending over 14 field goal attempts per game, Embiid yields the fewest field goal makes (5.8) and lowest field goal percentage differential (-7.9) among those who see the same frequency.
His defensive impact on the interior goes without saying as well. There are 18 players in the league—some hurt, some not—who have seen at least five attempts within five feet or less. Embiid has the best defended field goal percentage (52.4) in this group and is only behind Kristaps Porzingis in the category.
1) Rudy Gobert
The Utah Jazz were on the outside looking in during mid-January. With an 18-26 record and teams in the Western Conference continuing to get better around them, it didn’t look so good for their chances to play past the regular season.
Enter Rudy Gobert, and the Jazz have been absolutely lethal. They are 24-7 since his return from injury. They have skyrocketed up the statistical ranks and into the playoff picture. Most of this has been in part to the Stifle Tower’s presence.
Utah has shot up to the second-best defensive rating in the NBA at 103.9 points per 100 possessions, per CTG. They allow the least average amount of points in the paint (41.6) and fast break points (9.7).
Their opponent’s effective field goal percentage is a lowly 48.2 percent, which is the worst in the league from January 19th on. In the same time frame, the Jazz’s defensive rating is 97.7 in that 31-game sample according to NBA.com, which is by leaps and bounds the best efficiency on that end in the league.
Individually, Gobert’s tear is well documented. On the floor, Utah allows 99.4 points per 100 possessions this year, which ranks in the 98th percentile as specified by CTG. With him off the floor, Utah’s defensive rating dips to 107.7.
As pointed out by NBA.com’s David Aldridge, the Jazz have a five-man group headed by Gobert that completely shuts teams down. Between Jae Crowder, Joe Ingles, Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio and him, they allow just 80.1 points per 100 possessions. Minimum 100 minutes of floor time together, that is easily the lowest in the whole association.
Despite the disadvantage of playing fewer minutes than his peers, Gobert’s defensive metrics are right up there with some figures at the very top of the mountain. For example, the French big man leads everybody in DRPM (5.11), ranks second in DPBM (4.5), and has saved the fifth-most points (140.26) according to NBA Math.
There’s a reason that the Jazz are back in contention. If Gobert plays out the rest of the season, he’ll end up at 56 games played, but it’s hard to argue against him as the top candidate for DPOY honors—especially if Utah makes it into the playoffs.
NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Working From The Ground Up
Because of the unusual path he’s taken to get here, Brandon Clarke has established himself as one of the more unique prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft, writes Matt John.
When the draft time comes along, teams who have the higher picks usually look for guys who have the highest ceiling. Because of this, they usually decide to take players on the younger side because they believe those who have less experience have more room to improve.
This puts Brandon Clarke at a slight disadvantage. Clarke is 22 years old – and will be 23 when training camp rolls around – and only just recently came onto the scene after an excellent performance for Gonzaga in March Madness this season.
Competing for scouts’ attention against those who are younger and/or deemed better prospects than him would be quite the challenge, but because of what he’s been through, said challenge didn’t seem to faze him one bit at the combine.
“It was a different path for me,” Clarke said. “ I’m 22 and there are some guys here that are only 18 years old. With that being said, I’m still here.”
The Canadian native has clearly had to pay his dues to get to where he is. Clarke originally played for San Jose State, a school that had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times in its program’s history – the most recent entry being 1996 – whose last alum to play in the NBA was Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Props to you if you know who that is!
Playing under a program that didn’t exactly boast the best reputation wasn’t exactly ideal for Clarke. In fact, according to him, it was disheartening at times.
“There were definitely times that I felt down,” Clarke said. “When I first went there, I was kind of freaking out because I was going to a team that had only won two or three games prior to me getting there.”
No tournament bids came from Brandon’s efforts, but the Spartans saw a spike in their win total in the two seasons he played there. The team went from two wins to nine in his freshman year, then went from nine wins to fourteen his sophomore year. Clarke’s performance definitely had a fair amount to do with San Jose State’s higher success rate, but the man praised the program for the opportunity it gave him.
“We did some really big things for that college so I’m really grateful for the stuff I could do for them,” Clarke said.
After spending two years at SJS, Clarke then transferred to Gonzaga where he redshirted for a year before getting himself back on the court. When he did, he put himself on the map.
Clarke dominated in his lone year with the Bulldogs, averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds – including 3.1 offensive boards – as well as 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The man clearly established himself as a high-energy small-ball center at 6-foot-8 ¼ inches, and it paved the way for Gonzaga to get a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and go all the way to the Elite Eight.
Brandon loved the experience with the Bulldogs, both for the opportunity they gave him and for what he was able to do for them on the court.
“It was a great year,” Clarke said. “I got to play with some of the best players in the country… It was everything that I ever dreamed of. I’m going to miss it a lot. From a personal standpoint, I was just really blessed that I was able to block shots… I felt that I was really efficient too and I really helped us on the offensive end taking smart shots.”
Both his age and the small sample size, unfortunately, go hand in hand so that it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly Brandon Clarke will be taken in the draft. The latest Consensus Mock Draft from Basketball Insiders has all four contributors disagreeing where he will be selected, ranging from being picked as high ninth overall to as low as 21st.
Where he will get selected will all depend on who trusts what could be his greatest weakness – his shotty jumper.
In a league where spacing is so very crucial to consistent success, Clarke’s inability to space the floor hurts his stock. His free throw shooting at Gonzaga saw a drastic improvement from San Jose State, as he went from 57 percent to almost 70. That’s not as much of a liability but not much of a strength either. His three-point shooting in that time took a dive in that time, going from 33 percent to almost 27, which definitely does not help.
To be a hotter commodity at the draft, Clarke had to prove he could shoot the rock from anywhere, which is what he set to do at the combine.
“That is my biggest question mark,” Clarke said. “I’ve been working really hard on it. So I’m hoping that they can see that I can actually shoot it and that I have made lots of progress on it, and that they can trust me to get better at it.”
The journey that Clarke has been on to get to where he is had made him all the wiser as a player. With him expected to enter the NBA next season, he had a simple yet profound message to aspiring young ballers everywhere.
“Trust yourself. Trust your coaches. Trust everybody around you that you love… Make the best out of the situation that you are in.”
NBA Daily: Nassir Little’s Climb Back up the Draft Boards
Nassir Little’s measurements and personality shined through at the Combine, leading many to believe he may be better suited for the NBA than he was for the NCAA, writes Drew Maresca.
From highly-touted prospect to reserve player and back, Nassir Little’s path to the pros has been an unusual one.
Little was a McDonald’s All-American and five-star prospect. And yet, he didn’t start a single game in his lone season at North Carolina.
He demonstrated the ability to take over a game at times – averaging 19.5 points per game through UNC’s first two games in the NCAA tournament. He also broke the 18-point barrier in six games this past season. But he also scored in single digits in 18 of the Tar Heels’ 36 games, resulting in him being labeled inconsistent by many professional scouts.
Luckily for Little, his skillset is highly sought after by NBA personnel. He is a 6-foot-6, 220 pound forward. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as UNC’s sixth man, demonstrating the versatility to switch between both forward positions fairly seamlessly.
And he very well may be one of the few players better suited for the modern NBA game than he was for the NCAA.
Little told reporters at the NBA combine that much of his struggles can be attributed to the hesitancy he developed in his own game through the lack of clarity provided to him by the North Carolina coaching staff.
“The coaching staff didn’t really understand what my role was, especially on offense,” said Little. “So it created a lot of hesitancy, which didn’t allow me to play like myself.”
But Little assured reporters that he’ll look more like the five-star recruit we saw when he was a senior at Orlando Christian Prep.
“Throughout the year I didn’t feel like I played like myself. The guy that people saw in high school is really who I am as a player,” Little said. “And that’s the guy that people will see at the next level.”
Not only does Little expect to be back to his old self, he sees greatness in his future.
“I feel like I am going to come in as, like, a second version of Kawhi Leonard and be that defensive guy,” Little said. “Later on in the years, add [additional] pieces to my game.”
And while a Leonard comparison represents a tall order, Little’s physical tools have fueled discussion about his defensive potential – which has resulted in his climb back up draft boards. Little measured in with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and posted an impressive 38.5-inch vertical jump (second amongst all 2019 participants), a 3.09-second shuttle run (third) and a 3.31-second ¾ court sprint (fourth) – all of which translates perfectly to the NBA.
While his physical prowess will certainly help him gain additional visibility throughout the draft process, Little claims to possess another attribute that everyone else in the draft might not necessarily have, too.
“A lot of guys talk about skill set, everyone’s in the gym working on their skillset. But me being able to bring energy day in and day out is something a lot of guys don’t do.”
To Little’s point, he projects extremely well as an energetic, defensive pest. He is an aggressive and physical defender who has drawn comparisons to guys like Marcus Smart and Gerald Wallace – both of whom are/were known for their high-energy play and dedication on the floor. While his athleticism and potential can open doors, his personality will ensure that teams fall in love with the 19-year old forward. Little came across as extremely likable and candid, which should factor into the overall process, especially when considering that other prospects with less personality project to be more challenging to work with. Moreover, the fact that he was named to the Academic All-ACC team speaks volumes to his discipline and dedication.
Little alluded to the fact that he already sat through interviews with 10 teams as of a week ago, including one with the San Antonio Spurs, which makes the Leonard comparison all the more intriguing.
“Each team has different needs,” Little said. “But they like my [ability] to score the basketball in a variety of ways and my defensive potential to guard multiple positions, they really like that. And my athleticism to be on the court and finish plays.”
If Little is lucky, he’ll be selected by the Spurs with the nineteenth pick. And if that happens, he would be wise to pay close attention to the advice given to him by Coach Gregg Popovich – and not only because he sees similarities between himself and former Popovich-favorite, Leonard. Coach Popovich has a long history of developing lesser known draft picks into borderline stars – Derrick White being the most recent example.
Considering Little’s physical tools, academic achievements and easy-going personality, he has everything one would need to have a long NBA career. Just how successful he ends up being is mostly up to him.
2019 NBA Consensus Mock Draft – Ver 4.0
Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ experts take a look at the draft class and weigh in on what they are seeing and hearing in the march up to the 2019 NBA Draft.
Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ top writers will break down the latest news and notes surrounding the 2019 NBA Draft. With every new version, you’ll see an updated mock draft that reflects how each writer sees the draft landscape based on the latest news, workouts, and information from the pre-draft process as well as a notebook, outlining each writers’ thoughts, observations and reporting on the draft.
Keep in mind; we are trying to find commonalities, which is why it is called the Consensus. The writers involved do not see each other’s selections until these are posted. It is done deliberately to make sure each writer is not influencing the others.
As this process plays out, the mocks will evolve, so look for a new Consensus each Wednesday, all the way up to draft day on June 20th.
Here is this week’s Consensus Mock:
Spencer’s Notebook: With the NBA Draft Lottery set and the 2019 NBA Combine in the books from Chicago, there are some significant changes to my mock draft.
Brandon Clarke tested out at the top of his position with a 34-inch standing vertical, a 40.5-inch max vertical and a 3.15-second three-quarter court sprint. He was already a lock to go anywhere from the lottery to the early 20s before the event, so it’s clear that this performance should vault the Gonzaga forward leaped into the top 10.
Outside of the physical portion of the Combine, the rumor mill was churning. We learned of multiple promises for players going to teams, including one about Darius Garland being rumored as the Los Angeles Lakers guy once he left the combine. However, it is the Phoenix Suns that many also believe are interested in the Vanderbilt product with the sixth pick.
Another situation to monitor is the New York Knicks and the third overall pick. Everything seems to be hinging on what happens with the Anthony Davis situation in New Orleans. The Pelicans’ new vice president of basketball operations, David Griffin, would prefer the All-Star big man to stick around once they bolster the team’s core of Jrue Holiday and himself with rookie sensation Zion Williamson.
An ultimatum will be extended to Davis—if he changes his mind about wanting out, they’ll bury the hatchet. If he sticks to his original request, Griffin will begin looking for trade partners.
The Knicks would like to choose the second scenario. Their main focus is on adding marquee free agents to usher in a new era of basketball at Madison Square Garden. If the rumors are true and Kevin Durant and/or Kyrie Irving come to town, they probably won’t want to play with a rookie in the chase for a title. Offering the third pick along with a combination of their young talents—Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier—could be a package worthwhile for New Orleans in the Davis talks.
If Davis is moved elsewhere—Boston is a destination often mentioned with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and picks or if the Pels persuade him to stick around for one more year before his free agency period hits in the summer of 2020, New York could be stuck in a predicament. RJ Barrett should be the pick at three, yet there are members of the team’s coaching staff who are enamored by another highly touted Duke prospect—Cameron Reddish.
The Cleveland Cavaliers met with Reddish last Friday, but at the same time, their front office is a big fan of Barrett’s. Should the Davis scenario not go the way the Knicks would hope, maybe the two could work out a deal to swap picks? Cleveland does have two first-round picks (five and 26) and quite a few assets to offer. New York is reportedly interested in moving Frank Ntilikina as well.
The trade idea is purely that, but it almost sets up perfect, doesn’t it?
Jesse’s Notebook: The NBA Lottery certainly shook things up last week with the New Orleans Pelicans winning the Zion Williamson sweepstakes and the Los Angeles Lakers landing the fourth overall pick. With the Lottery and Combine behind us, there is a bit more consistency in most mock draft boards.
The player I am keeping an eye on right now is Cam Reddish. Reddish didn’t have a standout freshman season at Duke, but his combination of athleticism, skill, and upside make him an intriguing prospect. I would not be surprised if a team with a top pick takes the risk that his game is well-tailored for the NBA and his lone season at Duke is not indicative of the player he will become. There is also a risk that Reddish slips a bit on draft night, but that is a less likely scenario in my opinion. For more on Reddish, take a few minutes to read this insightful article from Basketball Insiders writer Shane Rhodes:.
Drew’s Notebook: The NBA Draft combine is complete, and we’ve walked away with a few key learnings:
First of all, it appears that some promises were made to a select few prospects including Darius Garland and Rui Hachimura. This sets a floor for them and their camp. While it’s not entirely clear which teams made them promises, in some instances, it’s pretty intuitive (e.g., PG-desperate Suns probably ensured Garland’s camp that they’d nab him at six).
The guy who I’m most enamored with based on the combine is Luka Samanic. Samanic is a 6-foot-10, 227-pound forward with a 6-foot-10.5 inch wingspan. He demonstrated a nice shooting stroke last week at the combine and proved he can stay in front of quicker guards for periods via the 5-on-5 scrimmage. While he’s incredibly unlikely to break into the lottery, I see Samanic climbing into the late first-round.
Bol Bol continues to be an enigma. His wingspan is impressive, and we know he can stroke. But at 7-foot-3 and 209 pounds, will he be able to impact that gain enough from a physicality standpoint and/or stay healthy? Those are huge questions for whichever team selects him – which will likely be team with a relatively high lottery selection.
I was discouraged by Naz Reid registering a 14% body fat percentage (highest of all prospects) –especially since he was someone I pegged as a sleeper in the draft. Now his position as a first-round draft pick may be in question. However, I still feel that Reid’s ability to shoot threes mixed with his 7-foot-3 wingspan spells huge potential. This should be viewed as an opportunity to snatch up a strong prospect at a lower spot considering NBA training regimens.
Tyler Herro represents another challenge for front offices. His 6-foot-3 wingspan was a bit of a surprise, and it presents a slight problem for whoever ultimately selects him – albeit one that can worked around given the right personnel. Fortunately for Herro, it was assumed by many that his floor is a three-point shooting specialist. So while his wingspan presents a physical limitation, he wasn’t assumed to be an above average athlete/attacker/defender anyway. He’ll still probably be a top-20 pick given the perpetual need for shooters.
Finally, the big news (pun intended) out of the combine was Tacko Fall. Fall is 7-foot-7, 289 pounds with an 8-foot-2 wingspan and a 10-foot-2 standing reach. Fall is definitely on the raw side of all serious prospects, but his mobility and skill set are fairly impressive considering his size. He is not a serious consideration for any team in the first round; however, it will be interesting to see who roles the dice on Fall in the mid-to-late-second round. While Fall and Mitchell Robinson are ENTIRELY indifferent players, teams may look back at passing on Robinson and think twice before passing up another unique big man.
With the draft less than a month away, teams have already begun ramping up their workout schedules. We will learn a lot more in the next few weeks. And we’ll probably be fooled by a number of smoke screens, too. Stay tuned!
Steve’s Notebook: With NBA teams now past the Combine and well into Pro Days, there has been a tremendous amount of chatter on where some players may have early draft commitments, and how teams may really feel about some of the notable names.
It’s important to clarify the role commitments have in the draft process. There are two kinds of commitments teams will offer a prospect, one is the hard fast promise. The promise is exactly what you think it would be, a team zeros in the player they want and offers to select that player with their pick removing the pressure and uncertainty of the draft process in exchange for the player shutting down workouts and access for other teams. Players and their agents take a little risk in trusting the team will keep their word, which is why teams typically shy away from promises unless its exactly the player they covet.
The other type of commitment teams make is what’s commonly referred to as the floor – the lowest level a player will likely fall. Teams tend to make these kinds of commitments to players they like, but understand that they may go higher, but in the event the player falls, they know they have a landing spot.
Why does either side care about all this? For teams it is hard to plan around uncertainty, there are so many things that can happen around the draft and knowing they can secure a player they want, means they can move on the seeing what else can be done to improve the roster or gain assets. For players, it allows them to lighten the workout load and possibility for an injury, and start focusing on their NBA careers. It’s always possible a team can grab a player earlier than expected, but for the most part teams and agents work fairly hard to make sure promises are kept.
With all of that in mind here is what’s being talked about in NBA circles:
Word is Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland received a promise in the top ten, with most believing is was the Phoenix Suns that made the promise with their sixth overall pick. League sources said it’s possible that the Lakers still consider Garland with the fourth pick, but the prevailing thought is Garland will not workout or meet with anyone below the sixth pick.
Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura is also believed to have received a draft promise in the top 12, with the Minnesota Timberwolves believed to have been the team to make the promise with their 11th overall pick. The problem with promises outside of the top five or six picks is the domino effect of players falling out of the expected range, but at this point, it seems Hachimura is headed towards being a lottery pick.
Oregon’s Bol Bol is something of a draft enigma. According to a team drafting in the mid-teens, they do not expect he’ll be on the board when they drafted, and there was a belief that he was the first name on the board for the Atlanta Hawks with their eighth overall pick. The Hawks hold two picks in the top 10, so they have the luxury of taking a gamble on Bol. While Bol doesn’t seem to have a promise, there is a belief one of the teams with two first round picks would grab him, simply because his upside is off the charts.
Washington’s Matisse Thybulle was believed to have a promise from the Oklahoma City Thunder at 21, however, a few days after the Combine wrapped, the tone on that promise changed. The current chatter has the Celtics making that promise with their 20th overall selection. One league source said that Thybulle checked all of the advanced analytic boxes that the Thunder covet in a player, so it will be interesting to see if the Thunder try and jump in front of the Celtics to nab a player they are believed to be very high on.
There are a couple of other players to watch as the workout process continues:
Boston College’s Ky Bowman has been doing very well in individual workouts, and there is talk that he may have played his way in the solid second round situation, if not a late first. Bowman has had some solid workouts and seems to be a name to watch as the process plays out.
Duke’s Cam Reddish had his pro day in Phoenix yesterday, and while he only did one on zero work, there are many in NBA circles that believe he’ll be a Paul George-type NBA player, and that he is firmly in the hunt in the top 10.
Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter skipped the annual NBA Draft combine, but there is a belief that he is high on the board for the LA Lakers with the fourth overall pick and the Cavaliers with the fifth overall pick. Hunter seems to be a player whose draft stock is improving simply be being absent.
Things on the team front will heat up the first week of June, that’s when teams are expected to start seeing lottery level players in their gyms, and that’s when will really lock in on players.
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