At the seasons quarter mark, NBA teams have really begun to settle into their own identity. The teams, much like the players, now have a much better idea of who they are and what they can accomplish this season. While some teams have and continue to struggle this season, others have played well or even turned things around in the standings.
For Basketball Insiders’ third installment of First Quarter Grades, we’ll be taking a look Pacific Division. Let’s jump in.
Sacramento Kings 7-16
The Sacramento Kings are bad, there really is no other way to put it. As most expected, the Kings find themselves in the Western Conference cellar with one of the worst records in the NBA. There have been some surprises, such as the upset over the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, while rookies De’Aaron Fox, Frank Mason and Bogdan Bogdanovic have flashed at times. However, for the most part, the Kings haven’t had a season to remember at the quarter mark.
Bright Spot: Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and pretty much every veteran on the Kings roster not named George Hill have proved solid contributors this season. Garrett Temple, who is shooting 41.4 percent on four three-point attempts per game, could be a potential trade chip for the Kings at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, Randolph has provided a steadying presence in the starting lineup while Carter continues to hold his own at the ripe age of 40-years-old.
Biggest Area to Improve: The Kings currently rank 29th in both Offensive and Defensive Rating, not exactly a winning combo. They need to improve all over the basketball court, and they should as the rookies continue to develop and adjust.
First Quarter Grade: D-
Phoenix Suns 9-17
It has been a messy season for the Phoenix Suns. Three games into the season, they fired head coach Earl Watson. Eleven games into the season, they traded disgruntled guard Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks. Marquiss Chriss, Dragan Bender and others haven’t exactly taken the next step in their sophomore seasons. Now, Devin Booker could miss time with a potentially serious left adductor injury he suffered against the Toronto Raptors.
Bright Spot: Booker is the easy answer here, but people have known that he would be a star for quite some time. Instead, T.J. Warren is the pick here. The fourth-year forward is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists. His three-point percentage is a terrible 17.5 percent, but that number should go up as the season continues. In a league that is moving closer and closer to positionless basketball, the Suns appear to be set for the future with both Booker and Warren on the wing.
Biggest Area to Improve: Everywhere. Like the Kings, the Suns rank near the bottom of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. With Booker potentially missing time, the offensive rank could dip even further. Chriss, Bender and others will have to step up in order to fill the void left by Booker in the lineup.
First Quarter Grade: D
Los Angeles Lakers 8-15
The Los Angeles Lakers sit at 8-15, but the season has seen steady improvements across the roster from last season. The Lakers currently have the eighth-best defensive rating in the NBA thanks to the improved play of holdovers Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram coupled with the arrival of Brook Lopez, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma. They have more talent and are all around a better squad than they were last season, now it’s up to Head Coach Luke Walton and the players putting it all together.
Bright Spot: The Lakers have plenty to be happy about at the season’s quarter mark. Making the jump from dead last in defensive rating into the top ten is no small feat, while Clarkson has played great all-around basketball and Ingram has started to figure things out as a scorer. But Kuzma is the obvious choice. Kuzma has looked like the steal of the 2017 NBA Draft, shattering all expectations and proving a cornerstone for the Lakers future. Currently averaging 16.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists, Kuzma is the only rookie to lead his team in scoring
Biggest Area to Improve: The Lakers need help offensively; they rank 28th in NBA in offensive rating and are dead last in both three-point and free throw percentage. While their defense is, for the most part, keeping them in games, the offense just doesn’t have enough firepower to close things out on a regular basis. If they want to improve on the offensive end, they are going to need to get more out of Ball, who has flashed at times but is shooting just 25 percent from three and only 31.3 percent from the field on over 10 attempts per game.
First Quarter Grade: C
Los Angeles Clippers 8-14
It was a promising four-game start for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it’s all been downhill ever since. Decimated by injuries, the Clippers have lost 14 of their last 18 games, including a nine-game losing streak. They have struggled without Blake Griffin, who will miss significant time with an MCL injury, while their offseason acquisitions have done little to fill the void left by the departure of Chris Paul. With a middle of the pack offense, a bad defense and deteriorating health, the Clippers could be starring down the road of a long rebuild.
Bright Spot: The Clippers don’t have much to be happy about right now. But at least DeAndre Jordan has continued to play well in the absence of both Paul, Griffin and most of the starting lineup. On the season, Jordan has averaged 10.4 points and 13.9 rebounds per game while shooting 68.3 percent from the floor.
Biggest Area to Improve: Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic and Danilo Gallinari, four starters, have all missed or are currently missing time due to injury. Their situation has forced the Clippers to rely on rookies Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans more than any team would ever want to. If the injury situation ever improves, the team’s play should improve drastically.
First Quarter Grade: D
Golden State Warriors 19-6
The Pacific Division would likely be the worst division in the NBA if not for the Golden State Warriors. Aside from a few upsets, the regular season has been par for the course for the offensive juggernaut, who sit at the top of the Pacific Division and second in the Western Conference behind the Houston Rockets.
Bright Spot: On a team filled with superstars, rookie Jordan Bell has flashed some serious potential, albeit in a limited role. Bell is averaging just 4.2 points and 2.9 rebounds across 10.2 minutes per game, but is seventh on the team in plus-minus at +3.9. In his lone start, Bell stuffed the stat sheet, going for seven points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and six blocks in just over 26 minutes. He’s looking like an absolute steal for the Warriors, who got him from the Bulls for a measly
Biggest Area to Improve: It almost seems nitpicky to say the Warriors need to improve anywhere. They are a well-rounded basketball machine, evidenced by their 12.9 net rating. But, if they had to improve somewhere, it would be on defense. The offense will keep them in and often outright win them games, but a team with as much talent as the Warriors have should be able to post a defensive rating under 100. Currently, their defensive rating sits at 101.7, “only” seventh best in the NBA. They can be better, which should be scary for the rest of the Association.
First Quarter Grade: A-
NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue
The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.
The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.
— Buddy Grizzard (@BuddyGrizzard) June 20, 2016
The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.
“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.
“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”
There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.
Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.
“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”
Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.
“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”
While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.
In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.
The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.
With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.
What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.
For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.
“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”
On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.
“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”
With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.
Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”
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.
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.
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