With the 2016-17 NBA regular season winding down, the Dallas Mavericks find themselves in an interesting position. They started out with a 4-17 record and looked well on their way to a potentially high lottery finish. Since the New Year started, they’ve gone 19-15 and have climbed back into the Western Conference playoff race. It would be in the Mavericks’ best interest, however, to miss the playoffs and perhaps fall a bit in the standings.
The one thing the Mavericks have to get ready for is the inevitable retirement of Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki has shown flashes of his former self this season, but his averages in points (14.2), field goal percentage (43.6), and minutes (26.4) are his lowest since his rookie year. He has one year left on his contract, a team option the Mavericks most likely will pick up. But even if Nowitzki plays one more year, the Mavericks should start planning now for life without him.
That would mean missing the playoffs and taking advantage of a lottery pick. Teams always want to be competitive, especially when a franchise legend like Nowitzki is still on the roster. However, barring an unforeseen event where they land a potential marquee free agent this summer such as Stephen Curry or Blake Griffin, there is no quick fix that is going to catapult them to the top of the Western Conference. Making the playoffs as a very low seed and missing out on a top draft pick will only set the Mavericks back further once Nowitzki is gone.
Fortunately for the Mavericks, this summer’s draft is shaping up to be a deep and talented one. Even a back-end lottery pick, which they’d most likely get should they miss the playoffs, could yield a potential impact player. Should the standings not fluctuate too much between now and the end of the regular season, one such player who may be available when the Mavericks are on the clock is Arizona’s freshman forward Lauri Markkanen.
At 7 feet tall and 230 pounds, the versatile forward has a similar game to Nowitzki. In his lone season at Arizona so far, he’s averaging 15.7 points per game on 49.6 percent shooting from the field, including 42.9 percent from the three point line, while pulling down 7.1 rebounds per game. Markkanen is exactly the type of player the Mavericks can groom into a possible Dirk replacement while he learns under Nowitzki for at least one year.
Every draft, there’s always a player or two that slips and ends up being drafted later than anticipated. If one of the other projected top ten players ends up slipping, the Mavericks should definitely snatch them up, even if Markkanen is still on the board. It’s always wise to draft the best player available and figure it out later. But if that doesn’t happen, and Markkanen is the best player on the board, he should be the Mavericks’ choice.
The draft is always a risk, and there are no guarantees that any player lives up to the expectations set when they were drafted. In addition to looking at the draft to begin the rebuilding process, the Mavericks can take a look at free agency to shape their roster. Again, aside from landing a potential marquee player, most of the bigger name free agents are just stop gap additions that would do nothing but slightly prolong the Mavericks rebuilding process. What the Mavericks should look for in free agency this summer are potential bargain players — young guys who still have something to prove and could come relatively cheap. It’s what they’ve been able to do with Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell.
Help in the front court is something the Mavericks need, and there are a couple of players who fit that bill and will be available as free agents this offseason. One player that comes to mind is Cristiano Felicio of the Chicago Bulls. The second-year center played sparingly his rookie season, appearing in only 31 games while averaging 10.4 minutes per. He started off similarly this year, low minutes mixed in with some DNP’s, until finally getting consistent minutes from December until now. He’s had three double-doubles so far, three more than all of last season. He started off this month with an 11 rebound effort in a win over the Golden State Warriors. He had one of his better offensive games (ten points on 4-8 shooting) of the season on Mar. 12 in a loss to the Boston Celtics. He is a restricted free agent, but it may be possible that the Mavericks can pry him away from Chicago with a decent offer the Bulls won’t match. At 24-years-old, the reserve big man still has room to grow.
Another potential front court player the Mavericks could target is Christian Wood of the Charlotte Hornets. Also a second-year player, Wood spent much of last season shuffling between the Philadelphia 76ers and their D-League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers. This year, he appeared in only five games for the Hornets until this month. In March, he’s already seen action in six of the team’s nine games. He had his best game of the season on Mar. 10 in a win over the Orlando Magic when he scored 14 points on 5-6 shooting from the field and pulled down five rebounds. He’s spent time with the Hornets’ D-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, and it included a 45 point, 15 rebound, and eight block effort on Jan. 12 against the Long Island Nets. He is also a restricted free agent, but could possibly be had for an offer the Hornets wouldn’t match. A first-round talent who didn’t end up being drafted, Wood is only 21 years old and has quite a bit of potential.
One area the Mavericks have excelled at recently is finding and developing talent, particularly in the back court. Seth Curry was just a borderline NBA player before this season. Now he’s seemingly found a home with the Mavericks. Since being moved into the starting lineup on Jan. 12, he’s averaged 15.8 points per game on 51.3 percent shooting. Yogi Ferrell was toiling in the D-League before being called up to the Mavericks on a 10-day contract. Upon his arrival, the Mavericks won four straight games with Ferrell averaging 17.8 points and five assists, including a season- and career-high 32 points in a win on Feb. 3 over the Portland Trail Blazers. They skipped offering him any other 10-day contracts and gave him a two-year deal.
Continuing to develop talent already on the roster is the last way the Mavericks can get the rebuild underway. Assuming they re-sign Nerlens Noel in the summer, they potentially have their starting center for years to come. An interior defensive presence they’ve lacked since Tyson Chandler’s departure, and a great complement should they end up drafting someone like Markkanen. They also should use summer league to see what they have in Nicolas Brussino and A.J. Hammons. Brussino had his best game of the season this week in a win over the Washington Wizards when he scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Hammons has not played since Dec. 30, but he’s a young big man on a rookie contract. All the Mavericks need from him is someone to give Noel a breather.
Rebuilding is never easy, and sometimes teams try to do too much too fast. It’s a process, and it’s going to be rough, especially for a franchise like the Mavericks who have been a consistent playoff team for almost two decades. The Mavericks need to think long term rather than quick fix, and the potential payoff will be far greater.
NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role
The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.
The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.
On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.
Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.
“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .
Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.
Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.
“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.
In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.
Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.
“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”
If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.
Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.
“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”
After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.
Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.
Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd
The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Bucks assistant coach Joe Prunty will be installed as interim coach, league sources tell ESPN. He will coach Bucks against Phoenix tonight.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 22, 2018
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17
Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.
It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.
There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
6. Hassan Whiteside
After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.
5. Anthony Davis
Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.
4. Josh Richardson
Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.
Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.
3. Kevin Durant
This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.
In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.
2. Joel Embiid
Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.
Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.
Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.
Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.
He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.
1. Paul George
Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.
Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.
“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”
Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.
“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”
Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.
“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”
That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.
Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.