Very rarely in today’s NBA does a roster move that has the potential to yield major fruit come without significant risk.
Just ask Pat Riley of the Miami HEAT or Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets—two of the league’s more respected front office architects.
Or, you could ask Bob Myers, the general manager of the Golden State Warriors.
Like his two predecessors, Myers took a calculated risk in acquiring Andre Iguodala last summer. It was a move that almost didn’t happen, and Stephen Curry remembers it quite well.
“I was in Charlotte,” Curry told Basketball Insiders when asked what he remembers of Iguodala’s surprising arrival to the Warriors. “I had talked to him the week before because we had thought the deal had gone through—the sign-and-trade with Denver. Then they pulled the plug on it. A week later, he called me right before it was announced and said that they had found a way to get it done.”
And now, with Iguodala added to their promising young core, the Warriors are hanging tough in one of the most competitive Western Conference playoff races the league has seen in recent years, and that is true despite the fact that Iguodala missed 12 games earlier this season with a strained hamstring.
His addition, though, has seemingly helped the Warriors take a step forward. Through 59 games last season, the Warriors were 33-26, as opposed to 36-23 this season, but their defensive improvement has been marked.
Last season, as a unit, the Warriors ranked 19th in the league in points allowed, giving up 100.3 points per contest. This year, their 98.7 points allowed ranks them ninth in the league.
Iguodala is not the only reason for such an improvement, but his acquisition emphasized the will of the organization to improve on the defensive end, even if it meant assuming a significant risk or upsetting the applecart of a young team that seemed to have promise on its side.
Last summer, the upstart Warriors were coming off of an impressive showing in the 2012-13 season. They had made the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years and had valiantly battled the eventual Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs before being eliminated in six games. Rookie Harrison Barnes was a major reason why.
Over the course of his rookie season, Barnes showed improvement in almost every facet of his game—appearing to adjust to the tempo of the NBA while playing with a poise and grace rarely seen by youngsters fresh out of college.
By the time the playoffs rolled around, Barnes had appeared to have found himself. His overall solid regular season—9.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game—was outdone by his playoff performance, and that is not something that is often seen in the NBA.
Barnes’ 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per playoff game came in some big moments, but it was his performances in Game 4 and Game 5 against the Spurs that really stood out seemed like a sign of what was to come.
When Barnes was recording his 26-point, 11-rebound double-double in that Game 4 victory for his Warriors—a game in which he made huge plays and shots down the stretch—he did not imagine that a demotion was in the cards for him.
Yet, that is exactly what Iguodala’s arrival meant, and therein lies Myers’ risk.
It defies conventional wisdom to bring in a player who plays the same position as a rookie that shows such promise, but believing that the Warriors were one perimeter defender away from entering the conversation of West contenders, the organization rolled the dice and brought in Iguodala, knowing that the move could stunt the development of Barnes.
Barnes, though, has taken it all in stride.
“Obviously, I know I’m a second-year player and we’re trying to win games,” Barnes said. “You have to do whatever you have to do to win and I know that my personal growth will take care of itself in time.”
As for Iguodala, Barnes has treated his arrival as an opportunity to learn from one of the more versatile swingmen the league has seen over the course of the past 10 years.
“He’s obviously a defensive specialist, just the way he’s able to get into the passing lanes helps us out so much, but also his ability to create shots for others,” Barnes said when asked what he takes from preparing with Iguodala. “He’s able to take Steph off the ball, he’s able to relieve the pressure, he’s able to get us in sets and really when plays break down, he’s a guy who can get into the lane and find guys, so he helps us out a lot.”
From outside, it is easy to overlook the humility displayed of a young player in Barnes’ predicament. Here, the conventional retort would be something along the lines of no one man being bigger than the team, but any young NBA player would feel some level of disappointment under these circumstances.
Some may cause a stink and in the past, locker room disharmony has resulted. After starting in each of the 81 games he played in as a rookie, this season Barnes has been relegated to sixth man and has made just 16 starts.
Still, to his credit, his primary concern is doing what he can to make the Warriors better and learning from Iguodala, not his next contract.
As the Warriors close in on their second consecutive playoff appearance, it appears that Myers may have made the correct call, just like Riley and Morey did once upon a time.
Back in June 2010, believing that he could sign Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James to the HEAT, Riley pulled off two risky trades engineered to clear the requisite cap space for his trio. On draft night in 2010, in a desperate attempt to surpass the $30 million in cap space that Donnie Walsh had hoarded for the New York Knicks, Riley traded Daequan Cook and a first-round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for a second-round draft pick. Weeks later, he dealt Michael Beasley away for cents on the dollar, again for the same reason.
When Morey decided to make his bold strike in July 2012, he made two controversial decisions that left many in the industry scratching their heads—he opted to allow the promising Goran Dragic to leave Houston for the Phoenix Suns and decided that his team would be best served by amnestying the still-productive Luis Scola.
In both instances, Riley and Morey proved to make the correct decisions, but each had to assume a major risk in order to fulfill their visions.
For Myers, the signing of Iguodala to a four-year, $48 million deal was viewed by some with similar trepidation. Not because Myers had to deal away Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush, but because of what it may have meant for Barnes.
Fortunately for the franchise, everyone has bought in, and though the Warriors enter play on March 1 trailing the Clippers by 3.5 games for the Pacific Division lead, with Iguodala, the team is set to compete at the highest level come April and May.
“[Iguodala] is a very versatile player,” Curry said. “Since the injury he had earlier in the year, he’s come back and given us that depth at the wing spot where he gives us a great look defensively, being able to guard different positions. He’s a playmaker when he gets the ball, he penetrates gaps and gets guy open shots and he just makes timely plays that sometimes don’t show up on the stat sheet.
“We knew that he was going to make us better, so from seeing him in the playoffs to now seeing him in our lineup, that was definitely a huge bonus for us.”
David Lee has seen Iguodala up close for a number of years. Lee and Iguodala did battle many times between 2005 and 2010. During that five-year stretch, the two were division rivals for the Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively.
“As I knew from his time playing against him in Philly so much, he’s a guy that can guard multiple positions defensively and can play multiple positions offensively,” Lee said of Iguodala. “He provides a steadying force for us. He doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet, but he’s a guy who can move the ball, can cut, he’s athletic in transition and does a lot for us in a lot of different areas.”
As a unit, the Warriors seem poised to take a step forward. With the versatile Iguodala manning the perimeter, a team unified behind its head coach and a desire to become great, they are readying for battle.
For Myers, clearly, this was a risk worth taking.
NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench
Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.
When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.
But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.
On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.
“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”
As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.
This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.
“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.
This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”
Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.
Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.
“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”
Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.
“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”
And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.
He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.
“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”
NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch
Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?
In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.
1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)
The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.
Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category. Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them.
In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season.
2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)
As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.
Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.
Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.
3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)
Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late.
In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.
Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation.
4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)
Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.
Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season.
5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)
Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.
If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.
Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)
While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP.
It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.
While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?
The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.
After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.
Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.
But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.
Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.
Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.
Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.
It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.
Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.
If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.
The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.