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Five Power Forwards on the Rise in 2014-15

Basketball Insiders continues it’s on the rise series for the 2014-15 with a look at power forwards, including Kenneth Faried.

Cody Taylor

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The traditional meaning of a power forward in the NBA is a player that typically played with their back to the basket. While that meaning is still true today, there are a number of players that are changing the way the position is being played. The evolution of the power forward position has brought us to a point where some players are now referred to as stretch fours, which are players that are sized like a typical power forward, but can shoot from long distance like that of a guard. Kevin Love, Ryan Anderson, Chris Bosh, Rashard Lewis and Kevin Durant all come to mind when thinking of a stretch four.

The position is quite possibly the most underrated position on the floor. A team that can properly utilize a power forward in either the traditional way or in a stretch four type of situation can really do some damage in the league. A back-to-the-basket power forward can cause issues on both sides of the ball and become difficult to guard, while the stretch power forward can cause even more problems by being able to stretch the floor and allow room for penetration inside.

There a number of young power forwards in the league today that could make the leap into the conversation as the best in the league. Here are five power forwards poised to make a jump this season in the league.

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets – In just three seasons in the league, Faried has managed to earn the nickname the “Manimal.” While his numbers haven’t necessarily reflected overall dominance, there is no reason to doubt that he won’t one day be there. Faried averaged 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season with the Nuggets and thus far has increased his production in each season in the league. His average was helped by an outstanding second half of the season in which he averaged 18.8 points and 10.1 rebounds. It seems like after the All-Star break Faried really started to grasp new head coach Brian Shaw’s offense and his play on the court showed that. As the season progressed, Faried became more aggressive down low, which allowed him to draw more fouls and get to the free throw line more.

Perhaps the biggest thing that will lift Faried to a higher level next season is his time playing with Team USA this summer. Faried has played in and started all four games for Team USA during their exhibition games and is leading the team in field goal percentage at a blistering 72 percent (technically Mason Plumlee is leading the team, but has only six field goal attempts).  Something like that – leading a team in shooting with other premier players on the team – will certainly help his confidence when he returns to the Nuggets this upcoming season.

Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets – If Plumee’s summer is any indication about what kind of season he’ll have this season, he’s in for an immediate rise in the ranks. During his time for the Nets in the Orlando Summer League, Plumlee averaged 18 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game and often looked like the best player on the court. Plumlee dropped 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting during his first game out of the gate in Orlando. Then, following the Summer League, Plumlee was invited to be on Team USA’s Select Team and it only took one practice to be brought on board to the main roster. After practicing and playing with Team USA for about a month, Plumlee was named to the final 12-man roster that begins tournament play in Spain on Saturday.

Plumlee is the type of big man that plays great defense and has the ability to move up and down the court. Plumlee showed exactly the type of athleticism he has when he blocked what would have been LeBron James’ game-winning dunk against the Nets back in April. It also seems that Plumlee will have the benefit of playing next to Kevin Garnett next season as Garnett is reportedly going to return after contemplating retirement. Like Faried, Plumlee will have that same confidence of being named to the final-12 man roster on Team USA heading into next season for the Nets. After establishing himself through his rookie season and throughout the summer, Plumlee will find himself as a guy the Nets will count on often next season.

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers – While it looks like Thompson will be coming off of the bench with Kevin Love now on the team, the move to the bench could be a benefit for Thompson. His role off of the bench will be to anchor the second team and to do what he does best: use his athleticism to make plays, rebound and clean up shots at the rim. Thompson now won’t be burdened with any unnecessary pressure that came with starting and being on a team with LeBron James – he will now come off of the bench and give the Cavs 20-25 minutes a game. There will be times when James and Thompson will be on the court together and Thompson fits in well with how fast James runs the floor. As simple as it may sound, adding an MVP to your team will improve everyone’s game, Thompson included.

Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz – After signing a four-year, $49 million deal last October, Favors didn’t really perform to that contract’s standards. He certainly elevated his game from the previous season, jumping from 9.4 points to 13.3 points per game last season while improving from 7.1 to 8.7 rebounds per game. Favors is the guy that the Jazz need to help improve its defense and now with the departure of Marvin Williams, Favors can return to his natural position of power forward. The move back to power forward will allow Enes Kanter to start at center and form and impressive young front court. Their play together has already proven to be better defensively than their predecessors in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap as the Jazz give up fewer points to opponents with Favors and Kanter on the floor than it did with Jefferson and Millsap playing. Favors has great athleticism and immense potential, and should continue to improve in key statistical categories. The Jazz are one of the increasing amount of teams that feature a promising young core of guys and could be a team to watch in the upcoming years.

Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans – Anderson played in just 22 games last season as he suffered two herniated discs in a scary collision in Boston, but is said to be recovering well and will be ready for Pelicans training camp in October. With a healthy roster and the addition of Omer Asik, the Pelicans should be a team on the rise this season and Anderson will have a big part of that. Anderson is one of a few stretch four bigs that can both ends of the floor effectively and he proved to be effective when paired next to Anthony Davis.

Honorable Mentions

Ed Davis, Los Angeles Lakers – Davis will be entering his sixth season in the NBA with the Lakers come October and could be in a prime position to make a jump. Davis turned down an offer with the Clippers and decided to go with the Lakers where he feels he’ll have an opportunity to be productive. While Davis will be competing against Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill and Ryan Kelly, he brings experience to the table and that could help him lock into a big role with the team. On a two-year contract worth just $2 million, the Lakers got a steal in the free agency class. Davis has proven that when he sees extended minutes, he’ll produce well so he should be a guy to keep an eye on this season.

Channing Frye, Orlando Magic – Another stretch four that could have a great season is Frye in Orlando. The Magic were able to snag him up in free agency by giving him $32 million over four years. Many have said that the Magic overpaid for him, but it likely took a couple extra million to sway Frye into joining a team in a rebuild when he could have easily signed with a contender. As a team that will be searching for a leading scorer to fill the void left by Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, Frye could step into that role. The main attraction the Magic had with Frye is his ability to shoot the three-ball as the team finished in the bottom half of the league in three-point shooting. The Magic should be able to count on more than the 11.1 points per game Frye scored last season in Phoenix as he will have a large part in the team’s offense.

Who do you think is going to breakout at the power forward position next year? Leave your thoughts below!

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA

The Real Jrue Holiday Has Finally Arrived

It may have been a little later than they would have wanted, but the Jrue Holiday that New Orleans has always wanted is finally here, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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New Orleans has always earned the nickname “The Big Easy”, but ever since Jrue Holiday came to town, his time there has been anything but.

When New Orleans traded for Holiday back in 2013, they hoped that he would round out an exciting young core that included Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Ryan Anderson. At 23 years old, Holiday averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, and 4.2 rebounds the previous season and was coming off his first all-star appearance in Philadelphia, so the Pelicans had much to look forward to.

Unfortunately, recurring extensive injuries prohibited the Pelicans’ new core from ever playing together fully healthy, with Holiday getting his fair share of the bruises. In his first two seasons, Holiday played in only 74 games combined with the team due to injury, and things didn’t get much better his third season. While he played more games, Holiday was on a minutes restriction and his season ended again with injury.

Holiday avoided the injury bug his fourth season, but he nobly took a leave of absence at the start the season to tend to his ill wife, which caused him to miss the season’s first 12 games and 15 in total. Holiday’s inability to stay on the court coupled with New Orleans’ stagnated progress made him a forgotten man in the NBA. That was until last summer, when Holiday became a free agent.

Given the circumstances, Holiday did what he could for the Pelicans. He certainly proved he was above average, but he hadn’t shown any improvement since his arrival. Coupling that with both how many games he had missed in the previous four seasons and the league’s salary cap not increasing as much as teams had anticipated, and one would think to proceed with caution in regards to extending Jrue Holiday.

But the Pelicans saw it differently. New Orleans gave Holiday a five-year, $126 million extension last summer, befuddling the general masses. Besides Holiday’s inability to stay on the court, the Pelicans already had an expensive payroll, and they later added Rajon Rondo, another quality point guard, to the roster. So, with all that in mind, giving Holiday a near-max contract on a team that had made the playoffs a grand total of once in the Anthony Davis era seemed a little foolish.

This season, however, Jrue Holiday has rewarded the Pelicans’ faith in him and has proven the doubters so very wrong.

With a clean slate of health, Holiday has proven himself to be better than ever. This season, Holiday averaged career-highs in scoring (19 points a game) and field goal percentage (49 percent overall), which played a huge role in New Orleans having its best season since Chris Paul’s last hurrah with the team back in 2011.

Holiday’s impact extended beyond what the traditional numbers said. His on/off numbers from NBA.com showed that the Pelicans were much better on both sides of the ball when he was on the court compared to when he was off. Offensively, the Pelicans had an offensive rating of 108.9 points per 100 possessions when he was the on the court compared to 104.4 points per 100 possessions when he was off.

On the other side of the court, Holiday was even more integral. The Pelicans had a defensive rating of 103.3 per 100 possessions when Holiday was on the court compared to 112.3 off the court. Overall, the Pelicans were 13.6 points per 100 possessions better with Holiday on the floor. That was the highest net rating on the team, even higher than Anthony Davis.

Other statistics also support how impactful Holiday has been this season. According to ESPN’s real plus-minus page, Holiday’s 3.81 Real Plus-Minus ranked ninth among point guards – No. 16 offensively, No. 4 defensively – which beat out Kyrie Irving, John Wall, and Goran Dragic, all of whom made the All-Star team this year.

However, Holiday’s effectiveness shined through mid-way through the season, or more specifically, on Jan. 26, when Demarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles tear. While Davis certainly led the way, Holiday’s role could not have been understated when the Pelicans went 21-13 without their MVP candidate to finish the season. Offensively, Holiday’s point average went from 18.6 to 19.4 and his assist average went from 5.2 to 7.2, all while his turnover average – from 2.6 to 2.7 – stayed the same.

Defensively, Holiday had much to do with the Pelicans’ improved defense after Cousins went down. According to NBA.com, the Pelicans defensive rating went from 106.2 points allowed per 100 possessions to 103.7, and much of it can be attributed to Holiday. When Holiday was on the court, the team’s defensive rating was 101.2 points allowed per 100 possessions compared to 109.6 points allowed per 100 possessions with him off.

Holiday’s improved numbers, combined with the Pelicans steadying the boat without their star center, make a fair argument that Holiday was one of the league’s best all-around point guards this season, but Holiday’s style isn’t much of a thrill to watch. He doesn’t have Russell Westbrook’s other-worldly athleticism, he doesn’t have Stephen Curry’s lethal jumper, nor does he have Chris Paul’s floor general abilities. Holiday’s specialty is that he has every fundamental of a good point guard, which makes his impact usually fly under the radar.

That was until last week, when the Pelicans unexpectedly curb stomped the Blazers. The Jrue Holiday coming out party was in full-swing, as the 27-year-old torched Rip City, averaging 27.8 points, 6.5 assists, and 4 rebounds a game on 57 percent shooting from the field, including 35 percent from deep. He did all of that while stymieing MVP candidate Damian Lillard, as Dame averaged 18 points and 4 assists while shooting 35 percent from the field, including 30 percent from deep, and surrendered four turnovers a game.

If Holiday’s contributions weren’t on full display then, they certainly are now. The Pelicans have suddenly emerged as one of the West’s toughest and most cohesive teams in this year’s playoffs, with Holiday playing a huge role in the team’s newfound mojo and potentially glorious future.

This was the Jrue Holiday the New Orleans Pelicans had in mind when they first traded for him almost five years ago. While his impact has come a little later than they would have wanted, it’s as the old saying goes.

Better late than never.

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NBA Daily: Are Player Legacies Really On The Line?

How important is legacy in the NBA playoffs? Lang Greene takes a look.

Lang Greene

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As the NBA Playoffs continue to pick up steam, the subject of individual greatness has become the big topic of conversation. Today, we ask the question: is legacy talk just a bunch of hyperbole or are they really made or broken in the playoffs?

To be clear, legacies do matter. Reputations are built on reliability and how dependable someone is throughout the course of their respective body of work. We all have them. They are built over time and it’s seldom they change from one misstep – but they can. Some of the greatest players in NBA history never won a title; see John Stockton and Karl Malone during their Utah Jazz years. Some NBA greats never won a title until they were past their physical prime and paired with a young charge that took over the reins; see David Robinson in San Antonio. Some NBA greats never won a title as the leading man until they were traded to a title contending team; see Clyde Drexler in Houston. We also have a slew of Hall of Famers that have been inducted with minimal playoff success in their careers; see the explosive Tracy McGrady.

So what’s in a legacy? And why does it mean more for some then it does for others?

Four-time League MVP LeBron James’ legacy is always up for debate, despite battling this season to make his ninth NBA Finals appearance. James’ legacy seems to be up in the air on a nightly basis. Maybe it’s because of the rarified air he’s in as one of the league’s top 10 players all-time or maybe it’s just good for ratings.

As this year’s playoffs gain momentum, the topic of legacy has been mentioned early and often.

Out in the Western Conference, the legacy of Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook is being questioned at all angles. There’s no doubt Westbrook is one of the best players in the league today as the reigning MVP and coming off two consecutive seasons averaging a triple-double. However, Westbrook’s decision making has come into question plenty over the past couple of seasons.

The subject of whether you can truly win a championship with Westbrook as your lead guy serves as the centerpiece of the debate. It goes without saying former league MVP Kevin Durant bolted to the Golden State Warriors amid rumors that he could no longer coexist next to Westbrook in the lineup. Ever since Durant’s somewhat unexpected departure, it seems Westbrook has been hell-bent on proving his doubters wrong – even if it comes at the detriment to what his team is trying to accomplish.

The latest example was in game four of his team’s current first-round series versus the Utah Jazz.

Westbrook picked up four fouls in the first half as he was attempting to lock up point guard Ricky Rubio, who had a career night in Game 3 of the series. Westbrook infamously waved off head coach Billy Donovan after picking up his second personal foul in the first quarter. Westbrook was also in the game with three personal fouls and under two minutes left in the first half before picking up his fourth personal.

You can make an argument that this was just bad coaching by Donovan leaving him in the game in foul trouble, but it also points to Westbrook’s decision making and not being able to play within the constructs of a team dynamic. Further, what will be Westbrook’s legacy on this season’s Oklahoma City Thunder team with Carmelo Anthony and Paul George if they were to flame out in the first round with little fizzle – against a Jazz team with no star power and zero All-Stars? Is discussing Westbrook’s legacy worthless banter or is it a legitimate topic? There is no doubt on his current trajectory Westbrook is headed straight into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. As an individual player there is no greater achievement than to have your name etched in stone with the greats of yesteryear, but the court of public opinion factors in team success and this is where the topic of legacy comes into play.

Say what you will about Durant’s decision to go to Golden State, but his legacy is undoubtedly secured. Durant won the Finals MVP last season in absolute dominant fashion and showed up on the biggest of stages. All that’s left from those that question Durant’s legacy at this point are the folks on the fringe saying he couldn’t do it by himself. But that is exactly the line of thinking that’s getting Westbrook killed as well, because winning championships is all about team cohesiveness and unity.

Out in the Eastern Conference, all eyes will be on Milwaukee Bucks do everything star Giannis Antetokounmpo. After five seasons in the league, Antetokounmpo has zero playoff series victories attached to his name. Heading into the playoffs this season, the seventh-seeded Bucks were considered underdogs to the second-seeded Boston Celtics.

But the Celtics are wounded. They do not have the services of All Stars Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. The Celtics are a team full of scrappy young talent and cagey veterans. Antetokounmpo is clearly the best player in the series and teams with the best player usually fare well in a seven game series. But the Bucks are facing elimination down 3-2 versus Boston. Antetokounmpo has only been in the league half of the time Westbrook has, but the chirping about his legacy has already begun as Milwaukee attempts to win its first playoff series since 2001.

So what’s in a legacy? Are there varying degrees for which people are being evaluated?

Despite James’ success throughout his career, a first-round exit at the hands of the Indiana Pacers over the next week will damage his legacy in the minds of some. While others feel even if Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were to drop this series against the Celtics, he should be given a pass with the caveat that he still has plenty of time in his career to rectify.

As for Westbrook, there are vultures circling the head of his legacy and these folks feel that a first-round exit will damage his brand irreversibly after 10 seasons in the league

Ultimately, the topic of legacies makes for good column fodder, barbershop banter and sport debate television segments. Because when guys hang up their high tops for good, a Hall of Fame induction is typically the solidifying factor when it comes to a player’s legacy.

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: The Futures Of LeBron, PG13, Kawhi and More

Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

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