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Head to Head: The Playoff MVP So Far

Susan Bible, Eric Pincus and Moke Hamilton discuss who has been the MVP of the NBA playoffs so far.

Basketball Insiders



The Conference Finals are here, and NBA fans have been treated to two excellent rounds of playoff action. In this week’s head to head, we asked Susan Bible, Eric Pincus and Moke Hamilton: Which player has been the playoff MVP so far? Here is what they had to say:

Russell Westbrook

Without a doubt, the Oklahoma City Thunder are beyond fortunate to have Kevin Durant, the league’s 2013-14 Most Valuable Player, on their roster, but the MVP of these playoffs so far is his teammate, the much-maligned Russell Westbrook.

Yes, he’s an unconventional point guard who attempts an abundance of shots. He is equal parts frustrating and inspiring in his decision-making, sometimes in the same play. The basketball world is slowly, but surely, coming to the realization that the best course of action – the winning course even – is to let Westbrook be Westbrook. Thunder coach Scott Brooks and Westbrook’s teammates have known this all along. They’ve shown him considerable trust and support in the face of critics. It’s paying off in spades as the Thunder are now headed to the Western Conference Finals for the third time in four years.

In the postseason thus far, Westbrook’s elevated play and sheer will to make winning plays have earned him the postseason MVP title. The numbers speak for themselves. In 13 playoff games, Westbrook is averaging 26.6 points, 8.4 assists and 8.0 rebounds. Compare that to the regular season: 21.8 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds. During the playoffs, he’s logged three triple-doubles in a five-game span. Three. Don’t forget that the Thunder have won, arguably, the toughest two series of any team (a seven-game battle against the Memphis Grizzlies featuring four overtime situations, and a wild back-and-forth six-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers).

What Westbrook lacks in efficient scoring, especially in three-pointers, he more than makes up in other facets of the game. In reviewing all the postseason stats, he leads his position in rebounds, and it’s not even close (Damian Lillard is second at 5.1 rebounds per game), and he’s third among all players in offensive rebounds. His growing ability to find the open man is remarkable; he’s second only to Chris Paul in assists. At just 25 years old, Westbrook is demonstrating a well-rounded set of skills that are on full display in this postseason.

Westbrook is reaching Durant-levels in clutch play. In the pivotal Game 5 of the Thunder-Clippers series, Westbrook sealed the win with a critical late steal, managing to get fouled on a three-point attempt, then making all three free throws with 6.4 seconds left on the clock. Durant remains brilliant, of course, but it’s noteworthy that Westbrook’s 24.5 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and .869 free-throw percentage top Durant’s at 23.5 and .825, respectively.

There’s no danger of Westbrook losing his confident and emotionally-charged style of play. His freakish athleticism and fearless nature in the paint leave us only able to shake our heads in amazement. Simply put, he is who he is, and it’s working out beautifully. The Thunder would not be in this position to make another title run without his contributions on the court.

– Susan Bible

Tony Parker

Why is it that one of the NBA’s best, most successful point guards is often overlooked as just that?

Tony Parker, of the San Antonio Spurs, won the NBA Finals MVP in 2007.  The Spurs won 62 games this season, best in the league.If the Spurs are often considered “too old,” or not flashy enough, Parker continues to lead his team to victory.

Through 12 postseason games, Parker is the Spurs’ top scorer at 19.3 points a game, along with 4.9 assists.

San Antonio easily got past the Portland Trail Blazers.  The Dallas Mavericks proved to be a difficult first-round opponent, but in Game 7, Parker scored 33 points with nine assists to help the Spurs to an easy series-clinching win.

Troubling for San Antonio, Parker is dealing with a mild hamstring strain.

The Spurs will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, and while Serge Ibaka will sit out for the Thunder with a calf injury, Oklahoma City can be a daunting challenge.  Russell Westbrook is averaging 26.6 points and 8.4 assists a game for the Thunder.

This won’t be an easy matchup for Parker.  If he can match Westbrook’s output, the Spurs still have to deal with Kevin Durant – but then the Thunder face a deep, powerful San Antonio squad.

Perhaps it’s the Spurs’ considerable depth that keeps Parker slightly under the radar, despite his resume. As long as Parker’s hamstring isn’t a problem, he should be able to help get his team past the Thunder to a second-straight NBA Finals.

Other players may put up bigger numbers than Parker, but he could a month away from his second NBA Finals MVP.

– Eric Pincus

LeBron James

One could make the case for Russell Westbrook and for sure, Tony Parker merits special consideration, but we would be remiss to not unequivocally anoint LeBron James as the Most Valuable Player of the NBA playoffs thus far.

Now in his ninth playoffs, James has long ago spoiled us with his outstanding talent. We watch him, mostly in awe, but often with the expectation of greatness, and now, during one of his finest runs, we overlook him, almost entirely.

With his Miami HEAT mostly running on fumes and with a cast that is probably not as good, experienced or polished as last year’s, James’ HEAT arrived at the Eastern Conference Finals with an 8-1 record. They made short work of the Brooklyn Nets in a series where James average 30 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 57 percent from the field and a whopping 82 percent from the free-throw line.

In Game 4 of that series, on the road in Brooklyn, James put on a one-man show by scoring 49 points on just 24 shots from the field. In Game 5, he came up with two critical stops on Joe Johnson that sealed the game and eliminated the Nets from the playoffs. There, he was the major catalyst in the HEAT erasing an eight-point deficit and holding the Nets to just three points in the final five minutes of the game.

In short, when the going has gotten tough, the already tough James has gotten tougher.

That he has done so and led his team throughout Dwyane Wade’s decline is something that is worth supreme reverence. While Wade is averaging more points this postseason than last (17.9 to 15.9), his minutes, rebounds, assists and steals are all down as he is clearly pitch-counting himself in hopes of being fully rested and prepared for the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

As someone who has watched James quite closely and has personally observed his ascension to basketball royalty en route to winning two NBA championships, it is easy to see that he is playing the best basketball of his career at this moment. Quite simply, he makes the correct decisions with the basketball and has quietly forged a reputation for being the game’s ultimate closer, despite once being thought of as a mere court-jester in the clutch.

Now in their fourth consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, James’ Game 4 performance against the Nets will go down with his 48-point performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons back in 2007 and his 45-point, 15-rebound Game 6 performance against the Boston Celtics back in 2012.

With the game on the line and championship hopes hanging in the balance, there is no other player I would rather have on my team and with the ball in his hands than James. And if I am the opposing coach in that situation, there is no other player that strikes fear into my heart as much as James does.

As the HEAT trod toward their dynastic destiny, hoping to complete a three-peat, they do so with James—the greatest player of his generation.

Behind his 30 points, 7.1 rebounds and four assists and 8-1 record, the HEAT are following the lead of King James.

To perhaps a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, they are clearly following the league’s playoff MVP.

– Moke Hamilton


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A Breakout Season for Joe Harris

Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.

David Yapkowitz



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.”

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Mock Drafts

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.

Steve Kyler



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.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects –

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future

Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.

James Blancarte



On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.

Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.

Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with the season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.

Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.

“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”

Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.

“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”

Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.

“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.

While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.

“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.

Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.

There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.

“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”

Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.

“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”

Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.

“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.

Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.

“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.

When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.

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