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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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Williams, Clippers Will Keep Pushing Through

The Clippers veteran guard chats with Spencer Davies in a one-on-one Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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For the second straight year, Lou Williams started his basketball season as a resident of California.

Despite being moved by the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline back in February, it wasn’t a long stay for the 31-year-old in Houston. After bolstering the Rockets’ bench in a big way during their playoff stretch, the organization dealt the veteran guard to the LA Clippers, meaning he was going right back to the City of Angels.

Which begs the question—did he even relocate from his old place?

“Yeah, I moved,” Williams told Basketball Insiders in Cleveland on Friday. “But I ended up moving back into the same neighborhood that I was in, so it was all good.”

The familiarity with the area must’ve been comforting, but playing for three different teams in such a short amount of time can’t be easy. It’s only been 15 games, but he already notices a discrepancy between the two that share the same arena.

“Obviously when you have different people running it,” Williams answered when asked to compare the Los Angeles franchises. “I think the Lakers were in a different space than the Clippers are. The Clippers are a more veteran group, so two completely different atmospheres.”

Winning four straight games to kick off the 2017-18 campaign, the year started out great for he and his new team, but it’s gone downhill in a hurry.

The Los Angeles Clippers are hurting in every way. Literally.

Only halfway through a five-city road trip, they’ve lost eight consecutive games and 10 of their last 11. Key members of their team are absent and they have been plagued by injuries out of the gate.

First, it was international sensation Milos Teodosic who went down with a foot injury in just the second NBA game of his career. Then there’s Danilo Gallinari, whose ailing hip has kept him out of action for two weeks. To top it all off, Patrick Beverley is dealing with a sore right knee that has forced him to miss over a week as well (he’ll reportedly be active on Monday night).

Without the trio, the Clippers are missing a little bit of everything, and Williams is eager for them to return to the floor because of it.

“It’s three starters,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “One guy’s our heart and soul on the defensive end. We have another guy who was leading us in assists and we have another guy who’s second in scoring.

“Three very important pieces of our team are missing. But we have other guys that’s stepping in doing the best job that they can. We’re just falling short.”

Aside from their most recent 15-point loss to the equally struggling Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center, Los Angeles has competed and been in almost every game during the long skid.

In Cleveland, they led for most of the way until midway through the fourth quarter. It was a back-and-forth affair when the Cavaliers struck back, and once the game went into overtime, the Clippers went cold and ran out of gas.

Taking out the element of overtime, the “close game, but no win” trend has been apparent as they attempt to get over the hump for a victory. Williams sees his team battling. They’re just not getting the outcomes they desire.

“Just continue to push,” Williams said of how LA can climb the wall. “We’ll have a couple of guys back this week from injuries.

“We’ve been playing extremely hard giving ourselves an opportunity to win these games and just haven’t been able to finish. Get guys back, just continue to push. We’ll break through.”

If Williams keeps on producing the way he has, especially as of late, that could be sooner rather than later. Over the last five games, the scoring assassin has put up over 30 points in two of them and 25 in another. In addition, he’s averaged over four rebounds, four assists, and more than a steal per game during the stretch.

When asked about what’s made him so comfortable, he kept it simple.

“Just playing,” Williams told Basketball Insiders.” Taking what the defense gives me and try to make shots. That’s it.”

Williams is special when it comes to how much he can impact a game in the snap of a finger. Over the course of his career, he’s one of those guys that have been able to just go off at any given moment.

“Just continue to play,” he said. “Play [as] hard as I can. I never really think about it until after the game. I just go out there, play [as] hard as I can. Put myself in position to score points and live with the results.”

You can recall Williams being an elite sixth man in this league for just about every team he’s been a part of. Whether it was with the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Lakers, Rockets or even with the Clippers now, he’s constantly been a guy to provide a powerful punch off the bench.

With the consistency and the energy he’s provided with second units throughout his career, it’s rather surprising that Williams has only won the Sixth Man of the Year award one time in his career. Having established this reputation, it should only be a matter of time before he’s rewarded again.

That being said, it’s got to be one of his aspirations, right?

“Not anymore,” Williams told Basketball Insiders, admitting he felt slighted in last year’s race. “Nah. Probably had one of the best seasons of my career and finished third, so I don’t really care no more.”

Furthermore, as one of the top sharpshooters the NBA has to offer, he told Basketball Insiders he doesn’t wouldn’t care to participate in the three-point contest, either.

Moving away from the individual side of things, Williams has enjoyed his time with the Clippers for the short time he’s been a part of the franchise.

One good reason is the opportunity to play under one of the league’s most respected head coaches in Doc Rivers, whom he credits has a unique manner of making adjustments.

“Doc is a high basketball IQ coach,” Williams said. “He knows how to break down the game on the fly, which is impressive. A lot of coaches, they make a lot of corrections at halftime or in film sessions. Doc makes them on the fly, which is great.”

Playing alongside two superstars isn’t so bad. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are a pairing that can dominate each and every time they step on the floor. In fact, having those two alone should be enough for the Clippers to get things turned back around.

When the frontcourt duo clicks on a nightly basis and the team returns to full strength, Williams believes that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

“It’s been fun,” Williams told Basketball Insiders of the experience with Griffin and Jordan. “Obviously, we would like to win some games and I think that tide is gonna turn once we get back healthy.

“But these two All-Star guys in this league that’s done an exceptional job for this organization—so it’s been a good time being with these guys.”

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NBA AM: All-Time Biggest Comeback Wins

The Warriors’ big 24-point comeback over the weekend was incredible, but where did it rank all time?

Joel Brigham

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One of the biggest NBA stories of the weekend was the Philadelphia 76ers scoring 47 points against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter Saturday night, only to blow their 24-point lead in fairly embarrassing fashion.

Kevin Durant joked about not being able to lose to Philadelphia for fear for Joel Embiid peacocking on Twitter afterward, while Embiid wrote about taking the loss in stride, adding “blowing a big lead” to their arsenal of experiences to avoid repeating in games to come.

In any event, that 24-point comeback was one of the most impressive comebacks in NBA history, though the good news for the Sixers is that there have been bigger blown leads than their own. Some of them much, much bigger. Heck, the Miami HEAT blew a 25-point lead just two weeks ago, so crazier things have happened.

The following are those crazier things. These are the biggest blown leads in NBA history:

#5 Boston Celtics vs. L.A. Lakers (2008) – By the time Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals had started, the Celtics had taken a 2-1 lead in the series, and the pivotal Game 4 was going to go down in Los Angeles. From the get-go, the Lakers looked like they were going to tie the series with little problem, jumping out to a quick 26-7 lead and finishing the first quarter up by 21 points. The lead got as large as 24 at one point, with L.A. still holding a 20-point lead with six minutes left in the third quarter.

But Boston ripped off a 21-3 run to finish the third quarter, cutting the lead to two and making it a much more exciting game than the first two-and-a-half quarters suggested. Their spirits broken, L.A. lost the game and, eventually, the series.

#4 Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers (2010) – The Jazz came into Portland for this February game back in 2010 without starting center Mehmet Okur, whose absence was felt immensely as the Jazz fell into a 25-point deficit, trailing by 23 halfway through the third quarter. After chipping away at that lead throughout the fourth quarter, Utah still faced a four-point hole with just 30 seconds to go in the game, but Deron Williams made a couple of free throws, the Jazz got a stop on the defensive end, and Carlos Boozer put-back a last-second miss to send the game into overtime, where the Jazz put the finishing touches on the remarkable comeback win.

#3 Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Dallas Mavericks (2008) – The Minnesota Timberwolves in 2008 were not good. Still rebuilding post-Garnett, they had no business jumping out to a massive lead over the much more talented Dallas Mavericks, but that’s exactly what happened. The mediocre Wolves built a seemingly insurmountable 29-point lead, but as it happens, the lead was in fact quite mountable, as the Mavericks ripped into that lead thanks in large part to 24 second-half points by Jason Terry. With a seven-point victory, the Mavericks pulled off an impressive 36-point turnaround, albeit against one of the league’s worst teams.

#2 Sacramento Kings vs. Chicago Bulls (2009) – In one of the most stunning comebacks in league history, the Sacramento Kings rallied from being down 79-44 with 8:50 remaining in the third quarter to demoralize a Bulls team that flat-out didn’t see it coming. Sacramento finished the quarter on a 19-5 run to cut the lead to 19, then got it down to 95-91 with 2:28 left in the game. Rookie Tyreke Evans outscored the entire Bulls’ team 9-3 the rest of the way, and the comeback was complete. All of this was in Chicago, and the city’s fans literally booed the Bulls off the court. Needless to say, that was Vinny Del Negro’s last season as head coach in Chicago.

#1 Denver Nuggets vs. Utah Jazz (1998) – In the midst of a seven-game winning streak, a Jazz team featuring Karl Malone and John Stockton did not enter this contest against Denver in 1998 expecting to fall into a 36-point deficit. The score was 70-36 at halftime with the lead expanding further in the third quarter, but that’s when Utah started to grind their way into the lead behind big nights from Malone (31 points) and Jeff Hornacek (29 points). Despite it being a record-breaking comeback, there was no one big remarkable moment. Rather, the Jazz just dismantled the Nuggets through attrition over the course the second half en route to a truly impressive come-from-way-behind victory.

The fact that teams have come back from deficits this huge is exactly why current NBA teams talk about never taking the foot off the gas. Almost no lead is safe, and that’s the beautiful thing about basketball. Sometimes the momentum shifts, and all that planned Twitter bragging goes right down the tubes. At least in Philadelphia’s case the team on the other end of the comeback was the defending champs.

And as this list proves, it could always be worse.

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NBA Sunday: Raptors Aren’t Extinct Just Yet

The Celtics should be a concern to the Cavaliers, but the Raptors shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

Moke Hamilton

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The Toronto Raptors aren’t extinct—not yet, anyway.

With the whirlwind of movement that dominates the headlines this past NBA offseason and the growth of several young players, we’ve spent far more time discussing the likes of the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks than the team from up North.

We’ve asked ourselves whether LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers can win the Eastern Conference for a fourth consecutive year and whether or not the Washington Wizards are finally ready to give some credible resistance. Some of us have even gone as far as to predict that, in the ultimate irony, Kyrie Irving will lead the Celtics to the conference crown this season.

And that doesn’t even begin to talk about the storylines from out West.

All the while, quietly and meticulously, Dwane Casey and his Raptors have stalked, and you peer at the standings and realize that they enter play on November 19 at 10-5, tied with the Pistons for the second-best record in the conference.

What has made the Raptors thriving especially improbable is the fact that they’ve done it despite missing a few key contributors for a game or two. To this point, they have ranked respectably both in points allowed per game (102.6) and points allowed per 100 possessions (107.8). Those metrics rank them eighth and 11th, respectively.

So, where exactly do the Raptors fit in the grand scheme of things?

It seems like a question we’ve been asking for a few years now.

* * * * * *

Having qualified for the playoffs four consecutive years, Dwane Casey’s team has won three playoff series over the course of that duration, but haven’t exactly found timely and efficient play from their two star players in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Now, as the Eastern Conference begins to feature younger players with appreciable upside—Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Ben Simmons and Jaylen Brown to name a few—it’s totally fair to wonder where the Raptors fit in. It’s also fair, believe it or not, to wonder whether they’ll be able to provide as much resistance to the Cavaliers as the Celtics.

In effect, the Raptors have become a modern day version of Joe Johnson’s Atlanta Hawks. After signing with the Hawks prior to the 2005-06 season, Johnson led the revival of the franchise. They would end up qualifying for the playoffs five consecutive years, but never advanced past the second round. A similar story can be told of Chris Paul’s Los Angeles Clippers.

The point is, however, that over the years, the Raptors have developed an identity and are a team whose hallmarks have come to be toughness and ball-sharing—two characteristics that most coaches would love to embody their team. While we’ve been paying close attention to the things that are brand new and exciting, the Raptors are the same old crew that they have been. And for a team like that, the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks will continue to be the gold standard.

The Mavericks notably rebuilt and tore down several incarnations of their team around Dirk Nowitzki until the team was finally able to surround Nowitzki with the right complement of players to score one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Whether anyone chooses to acknowledge it, the Cavaliers are vulnerable.

Entering play on November 19, LeBron James leads the league in both total minutes played (617) and minutes played per game (38.6). Of the players who will comprise James’ supporting rotation in the playoffs, the majority of them are players whose impact will be mostly felt on one side of the floor: offense. To this point, the Cavs have 10 different players averaging 20 minutes played per game—an incredibly high number. More than anything else, that’s a result of Tyron Lue playing with his rotations to figure out which units work best, while also taking into account that the team has been playing without both Tristan Thompson and Derrick Rose for long stretches.

Still, of those rotation players—James, Rose, Thompson, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver and Jeff Green—the simple truth is that it is only James who has performed like a true two-way player.

It’s a troubling trend upon which the Raptors—and other teams in the conference—could capitalize.

The best two words to describe the Cavaliers to this point in the season are “old” and “slow,” and that’s simply a fact. The club still ranks dead last in points allowed per 100 possessions and 28th in the league in points allowed per game.

In short, the Cavaliers, at least to this point, have certainly appeared to be vulnerable. It is those same Cavaliers that have ended the Raptors season each of the past two years.

You know what they say about third times—they’re often the charm.

* * * * * *

There’s obviously a long way to go, and any chance that Toronto would have to get past the Cavs rests in the ability of Lowry and DeRozan to find some consistency in the playoffs. Still, as the complementary pieces around them have slowly improved, we have spent the early goings of the season fawning over the brand news teams and storylines in the conference and have paid no attention to the old guard.

And depending on how the brackets play out, any Cavaliers foray in the conference finals might have to go through the familiar road of Toronto.

If that happens to be the case—if the Cavs do have to square off against their familiar foe—they’re ripe for the picking.

Just as they have been over the past few years, the Duane Casey’s team will be there waiting for their opportunity.

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