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Jahlil Okafor is the Next Great Center

Alex Kennedy

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Centers are an endangered species in today’s NBA. You can count the number of superstar centers on one hand, which is one reason why the NBA recently eliminated the center position from the All-Star ballot in exchange for an undefined frontcourt spot. With small ball and hybrid big men gaining popularity, traditional centers are extremely hard to come by these days. The big man era is quickly becoming a distant memory and the next wave of NBA stars consists primarily of guards and forwards.

That’s why Jahlil Okafor is such an intriguing player. It’s been quite awhile since the NBA could get excited about a traditional center prospect. However, Okafor has the potential to not only be one of the best centers in the NBA, but one of the league’s best players overall.

Talent evaluators have already fallen in love with the 17-year-old, praising his game and versatility. Unlike most one-dimensional young centers, Okafor is capable of dominating a game in a variety of ways. On one hand, he’s extremely athletic and powerful, as evidenced by the fact that he has broken two rims in his high school career. On the other hand, he has some of the best footwork and post moves of any prospect in recent memory. He can dunk on multiple defenders or score using fundamentals. Okafor is truly the complete package, which is why there’s so much buzz surrounding him.

Okafor is currently a junior at Whitney Young High School in Chicago. He led the Dolphins to the city title this year and was named the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year over fellow five-star prospect Jabari Parker. He is considered the top overall recruit in the class of 2014 by nearly every ranking service.

Okafor is projected to be the top pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, assuming he leaves college after one year. If Okafor realizes his full potential, he could be a franchise-changing player who has a very long and successful NBA career.

“That’s my goal,” Okafor told Basketball Insiders.”I want to be the premier big man in the league and be extremely dominant on the offensive end and on the defensive end. That’s something that I’m doing right now. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue that in college and, if I’m fortunate enough, in the NBA.”

Growing up, Okafor always towered over his peers. As a seventh grader, he was 6’5. As an eighth grader, he was 6’7. He has grown steadily over the years and currently stands at 6’11. While Okafor puts in extensive work with trainers and has a jump roping regimen to perfect his footwork and mobility, he also feels that his slow-but-steady growth has helped those aspects of his game.

“A lot of big men have one huge growth spurt and then their footwork is kind of awkward,” Okafor said. “My growth spurt has been pretty consistent. I give some credit to that. I’ve always been the tallest person in my class. No matter how old I was, I’ve always been a lot taller than everyone else. It’s been pretty consistent.”

With that said, Okafor isn’t done growing. He’ll likely grow another few inches over the next several years. When Okafor was in eighth grade, he had an x-ray to predict his adult height. Doctors examined and analyzed his bone and told him that he’ll likely grow to 7’2 or 7’3.

Okafor was born in 1995 so he didn’t have the opportunity to experience the NBA’s big man era firsthand. However, he does watch film of those legendary centers and models his game after theirs.

“The NBA players that I love to watch the most are pretty much old-school players since I’m a big man,” Okafor said. “I watch players from the big man era. I love watching Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal. Those are the three guys that are really my role models for basketball. I’m just trying to take a lot of the stuff that they did and put some of that stuff into my game.”

Okafor first realized that college and professional basketball would likely be in his future three years ago, when he was invited to participate in the Freshman All-American Camp just outside of Atlanta.

“My whole life it has always been my dream and my goal, but in eighth grade I went to the Freshman All-American Camp and I was recognized as the top big man,” Okafor said. “All of the top freshmen were there and that’s when I realized that I had a chance to be one of the best. It became more of a reality to me. I was actually convinced that I could do it.”

Since attending that camp, Okafor has continued to separate himself from his peers and solidify himself as one of the nation’s top prospects. He doesn’t remember the last time he faced man-to-man defense (“It’s been awhile,” he said with a laugh) because he’s usually facing double or triple teams. He’s the most talented player in virtually every game, to the point that he can toy with the lesser competition.

“It’s a lot of fun, especially with me being so competitive and loving the game of basketball so much,” Okafor said of being able to dominate on a nightly basis. “It always feels good when you walk off the court and feel like you were definitely the most dominant player on the floor. That’s my goal every night, to be the most dominant player on both ends of the floor.”

Even though Okafor is becoming a household name at 17, he hasn’t let it change him.

“Everything around me is the same,” Okafor said. “I still have the same core people around me. When AAU started, that’s when I started to realize the difference. I would go to these tournaments and all of these kids would want autographs or things like that. Or when I would go out of town with my high school team, I would see a lot of kids who want autographs. Other than that, everything else is pretty much the same. My family is keeping me grounded and all of that good stuff. It feels the same actually.”

Nearly every top college program has made Okafor an offer including Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina, Connecticut, Georgetown, Arizona, UCLA, Kansas, Florida, Florida State and Ohio State among others. Once his junior season ends, he’ll weigh all of his options and schedule his visits.

“I’m going to do that after my high school season,” Okafor said. “I’m going to sit down with my family, discuss it with them and trim down my list.”

While he’s not ready to narrow down his list of schools just yet, he did say that he has enjoyed the recruiting process. Coaches are reaching out to him on a daily basis to express interest and offer advice.

“It’s been pretty fun,” Okafor said of his recruitment. “I talk to a lot of colleges, almost every day. It’s a lot of fun. I talked to Coach K yesterday. I talked to Coach Izzo two or three days ago. I’ve talked to a couple of [Kentucky’s] assistant coaches. It’s a lot of fun talking to these basketball geniuses and hearing what they think of you. They’re always telling me what I can improve on and what they’d like for me to do so it’s a lot of fun.”

Before playing at the next level, Okafor wants to improve his conditioning and defense.

“This year, coming into this season, the main thing that I wanted to improve was my conditioning, which I’ve continued to work on,” Okafor said. “I also wanted to be more dominant on the defensive end, from blocking shots to being more vocal. I really wanted to help my team out more on the defensive end.

That’s something that I have improved on this year. That was something my coach wanted me to work on and he said I’ve been doing a great job. But I’m just going to continue working on those two things right now.

“It’s getting easier. I’m starting to realize what helps me. Some big things I’ve changed from when I was younger are the things that I eat and the work that I do other than skill work. I watch some of the old videos that my dad has and I just see how less athletic I was and how much slower I was. I wish I would’ve done those things sooner, but now I realize that the more conditioned I am, the easier the game is for me.”

Many people in NBA circles believe that Okafor could play in the NBA now, even though he’s only a teenager and still a work in progress. It’s not that crazy when you consider Okafor’s well-rounded game.

A player as athletic, skilled and smart as Okafor would likely be able to find a way to contribute to an NBA team, right?

“The only downside to Okafor is his age because he can’t play in the NBA right now,” one talent evaluator said.

For what it’s worth, Okafor believes he could make it as a 17-year-old pro.

“I would like to think that,” Okafor said when asked if he could play in the NBA right now. “I’ve actually had the [opportunity] to play against a professional basketball player. I played against Enes Kanter. He came to my school over the summer and I actually dominated him. Then, I found out that he had been the number three draft pick. I spoke with his trainer and he was like, ‘You dominated my kid,’ and he was telling me how he thinks I’m going to be special and stuff like that. I’ve heard from a couple college coaches that think I could be productive at the NBA level [right now], but it’s so hard for me to tell since I’ve never experienced a game at the NBA level or at NBA speed.”

If all goes as planned, Okafor will be able to experience an NBA game in the very near future. He’ll likely follow in the footsteps of his distant cousin – Emeka Okafor – and become a top draft pick. Okafor can’t wait for that moment to come, the moment when all of his hard work will have paid off. The scene has played out in his head many times. His name will be called, his family will be thrilled and his dream will be reality.

“That would be amazing,” Okafor said. “That’s been my goal since I was a kid. For me to hear the commissioner call my name, it’s going to be an amazing feeling. I always imagine putting on that hat of whatever team that I go to and seeing how happy my family will be. That’ll mean the world to me.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 3/19/19

With the field of teams set for the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament, things should get noisy over the next few weeks on the NBA Draft front. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft before all the zaniness begins.

Steve Kyler

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Let the Madness begin.

The basketball world will shift its attention to college basketball’s biggest stage over the next few weeks, especially this weekend’s opening round of 64.

While the tournament doesn’t necessarily make or break a player’s draft stock, this will be the first time some notable draft prospects will face elite talent and, more importantly, the pressure of the big stage. You can check out march madness predictions 2019 here.

Expect things in the draft world to start to percolate, not just because of the magnitude of the games, but also because a lot of NBA scouts will be in the same places, which is where the draft chatter originates.

Equally, a lot of NBA teams will watch games together in the conference rooms this week, so more group discussion on players will happen inside NBA teams’ front offices, and that could lead to new preference information flowing into the NBA Draft information bubble.

Here is this week’s 60-Pick Mock Draft, based on NBA games played through 3/18/19:

Here are the first-round picks that are owed and how those picks landed where they are.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyle Korver trade in 2017, which is top-10 protected. But based on the standings, it will not be conveyed.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the Memphis Grizzlies first-round pick as a result of the three-team Jeff Green trade in 2015; the pick is top-eight protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick as a result of the Luka Dončić – Trae Young swap on draft night in 2018. The pick is top-five protected and, based on the standings, would convey.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the more favorable of either the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers first-round picks as part of the Markelle Fultz pre-draft trade in 2017. Based on the current standings, the Kings pick is the more favorable and would convey to Boston.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the LA Clippers first-round pick as a result of the Deyonta Davis draft day trade with Memphis in 2016. The Grizzlies got the pick in their Jeff Green/Lance Stephenson deal at the deadline in 2016. The pick is lottery protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are to receive the Houston Rockets first-round pick as a result of the three-team deadline deal that sent out Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.

The Brooklyn Nets are to receive the Denver Nuggets first-round pick as a result of the Kenneth Faried – Darrell Arthur trade in July 2018. The pick is top-12 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The San Antonio Spurs are to receive the Toronto Raptors first-round pick as a result of the Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan trade in July 2018. The pick is top-20 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are to receive the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as a result of the Eric Bledsoe trade in 2017. The pick has top 3 and 17-30 protections, designed to yield a lottery-level pick to Phoenix. Based on the current standings this pick would not convey. If the debt is not settled this year, the pick in 2020 would be top-7 protected.

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, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA

NBA Daily: Fixing The Cleveland Cavaliers

Spencer Davies starts Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series with the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers.

Spencer Davies

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Can you believe that the NBA regular season is less than a month away from concluding? It’s March 18, and teams are gearing up for the final stretch run before the playoffs get here. Thus far, there have been three teams to solidify their spots—the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers—while the rest of the league looks to jockey for postseason positioning.

On the flipside, there are four organizations that have begun to look towards the future with their immediate futures already decided, and 10 more will join them in the coming weeks as they become eliminated from playoff contention.

Basketball Insiders is bringing back its annual “Fixing” series to provide a blueprint of how to get each of those teams back on the right track moving forward. We’ll get things started with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What Is Working

In the second half of the season, the Cavaliers are 5-7. Yes, that is two games under .500 and should not be something to celebrate—but it’s how they are playing that deserves praise. Aside from a couple of clunkers against the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic, they’ve been a resilient young group that has clearly matured under the direction of head coach Larry Drew.

The return of Kevin Love coinciding with Cleveland playing its best basketball all year is not a matter of happenstance, either. As detailed a couple of weeks ago, his impact on Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman has made both inexperienced players significantly better. As the team’s “go-to guy” as Drew likes to put it, everybody can play through a legitimate All-Star in a number of ways—feeding him on the block, finding him on the perimeter or even allowing him to dribble drive and create for others.

The Cavaliers are quite excited about the determination of their guys, specifically Sexton and Osman. It’d be foolish to base the projection of a rookie’s career off playing alongside multiple two-way and 10-day contract players, and some did when Sexton had his fair share of struggles. The same could be said for Osman, who’s really turned up the playmaking and shooting as of late. It takes talent and consistency to be in the NBA, which is a lesson they’re learning every night. And the optimism should go beyond just those three, too. There are a number of players who could be a part of the team’s core in the future.

Experiencing perhaps his best season as a pro, Larry Nance Jr. is becoming a vocal leader on and off the floor. Ante Zizic has taken his opportunity as a starter and run with it, averaging nearly 12 points and eight rebounds in 20 of such situations. Drew has constantly praised David Nwaba’s efforts when he’s needed a guy to step up and defend opponents’ top players, even when out of position. Jordan Clarkson thrives as the sixth man and Matthew Dellavedova is the perfect mentor and floor general off the bench.

What Needs To Change

Now comes the harsh part—Cleveland has been a horrific defensive team for a number of years. They’ve ranked among the worst in basketball for the past three years, and that includes the last two seasons they had with LeBron James. It begs the question: Is it scheme or is it personnel? In the case of the Cavaliers, the answer is probably a little bit of both.

There is often confusion with the coverage calls. Blown assignments, miscommunication and difficulty with the pick-and-roll can best describe the mess that is on the floor. There isn’t as much finger pointing as there was at the beginning stages of the season, but it’s paramount that the team drastically improves in this area. Considering the number of injuries, inexperience and lack of continuity that they’ve had this year, it should get better.

While shot selection has gotten better throughout the season, the Cavaliers have to move the basketball better on a consistent basis. Again, Sexton and Osman felt that they had to carry the load in the absence of Love as the primary scoring options—and Tristan Thompson’s injuries didn’t help—so there was a lot of hero ball going on. At least in the last month, these totals have gotten higher.

Cleveland may take the cake in scoring droughts as well, which leads to other teams taking games over. A scenario we’ve seen all too much this season: Cavaliers take the ball down the floor, pass it maybe once or twice and don’t find the open man, which leads to a rebound and numbers for the opposing team that almost capitalizes in every instance. Stagnancy is a killer for the wine and gold, which is a group that needs to play in a transition-heavy, free-flowing type of game to succeed.

Focus Area: The Draft

Currently owning the third-worst record in the association, the Cavaliers would have the same 14 percent odds to land the first overall pick in the NBA Draft as the two teams behind them, the Phoenix Suns and the New York Knicks. If the standings locked, Cleveland would be guaranteed a top-seven selection—although the percentages indicate they’d have a good chance to land in the top four and likely drop no further than sixth. They also are going to convey a draft pick in the mid-to-late 20s from the Houston Rockets via the Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss trade.

There is no singular focus area with the Cavaliers. They could use any talent they can get to add to this developing core and set the tone for the future. Obviously, the buzz surrounding Duke superstar Zion Williamson is real. If you were to pigeonhole him as just a dunker or a highlight reel, you’d be completely mistaken. Though needing to work on a reliable jump shot, the 18-year-old phenom is loaded with an incredibly versatile skill set at his age and a build that is tailor-made for the NBA. Positionless basketball is the future, and Williamson fits the bill.

If Cleveland lands another first overall pick, they’d be foolish to pass up on such a potential franchise changer. Just imagine the speedy Young Bull and bulldozing Williamson on a fastbreak opportunity with Love just waiting on the elbow. That’s quite a triple threat.

Say the Cavaliers end up second, third or fourth—this writer would jump at the opportunity to add Temetrius Morant, a man whom the basketball world knows simply as “Ja.” Set to be a top-five pick in the upcoming draft, the 19-year-old point guard is an absolute blast to watch play the game. He scores the basketball at will. He distributes at a high rate and shares the wealth with his teammates. He excels in transition. Morant lacks some size and will likely need to put on some weight, but forming a tandem with Sexton—who’s found a real groove playing off the ball—could work out famously.

Willamson’s teammates at Duke—RJ Barrett and Cameron Reddish—also have plenty of intrigue about them at those spots. If Cleveland gets put in the worst case scenario, talented wings like De’Andre Hunter and Keldon Johnson might be the way to go.

However, regarding the Rockets’ pick, there might be some diamonds in the rough. Here’s a list of names that could be attractive depending on the draft results: Bol Bol, Jontay Porter, Kevin Porter, Tre Jones, Matisse Thybulle, Luguentz Dort, Ashton Hagans.

Focus Area: Free Agency

With nearly its entire roster returning in 2019-20, Cleveland will not be much of a player in the free agency period. Nik Stauskas and Chriss have expiring contracts and Channing Frye is retiring.

General manager Koby Altman is going to be active in finding a trade partner for J.R. Smith, whose $15.68 million contract fully guarantees on June 30. If the Cavaliers can do so before that day, the team that traded for him can waive him and will only be on the hook for $3.87 million. It seems as if draft night—June 20—would be the most logical time to try this. If Altman is successful in moving Smith, the organization will have opened a roster spot.

Considering the team has been more than pleased with Nwaba’s contributions when healthy, it’s probable that he’ll be tendered a qualifying offer. If he is, then the 26-year-old guard would become a restricted free agent, meaning Cleveland could match any offer he’d receive. If Nwaba doesn’t get any bites, then it’s plausible he’d accept the $1.89 million one-year offer to stay.

Altman did yeoman’s work this year as a front office executive. He took what was a horrific financial situation loaded with unhappy veterans and turned it into something much more manageable, all while bringing in future assets and players on flexible deals. We don’t know whether those additions—Dellavedova, Knight and John Henson—are going to be a part of the future or used in potential trades down the line. The same could be said of Thompson and Clarkson, who also are going to be on the last years of their respective deals.

Other than the potential two rookies, there probably won’t be too many new faces around the Cavaliers in the summertime. It might change as we get into the 2019-20 campaign, but that’s down the road. Don’t expect a lot of change roster-wise going into the new league year.

Of course, coaching wise is a completely different story. The prevailing thought is that Cleveland is going to want a first-year head coach to grow and develop alongside their core players. Reports indicate the front office might prefer a person who has previous connections to the franchise in some capacity.

There are two assistants on other teams who have been the head coach of the Canton Charge—Denver’s Jordi Fernandez and Utah’s Alex Jensen—that could make sense. Toronto Raptors assistant and former player Adrian Griffin is a potentially appealing name as well, per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

If Larry Drew decides he doesn’t want to stick around, finding the right person to lead this Cavaliers team into the next era is going to be crucial.

The “second first” year without LeBron didn’t go as planned. Firing Tyronn Lue six games into the season didn’t make matters easy, nor did Love going down with a toe injury to miss two-thirds of the season. Yet through the bad times, this Cleveland bunch has refused to mail it in and has earned a deal of respect from its competition.

They’re embracing the role of playing spoiler as the year winds down. It’s all about meaningful minutes for these guys, and until the clock hits zero on April 9 at Quicken Loans Arena, the work on the floor won’t be done.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Is Starting That Big Of A Deal?

It’s easy to conclude that a bench player should replace a starter in the lineup if the former is outplaying the latter, but Matt John explains why that may not be the best idea.

Matt John

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Of all the topsy-turvy things that have happened to the Boston Celtics this season, Jaylen Brown’s sudden decline and subsequent comeback might just be the topsiest-turviest thing of them all.

And that’s saying something.

There may not have been a starter in the league who played as badly as he did when the season began. In his first month and a half as the starting shooting guard, Jaylen averaged 11.1 points on 39.8 percent shooting from the field and 25.3 percent from three. That was quite the drop off from his numbers the previous season, where he averaged 14.5 points on 46.5 percent shooting from the field and 39.5 percent from three.

Advanced metrics showed that Brown’s struggles were hurting the Celtics too. Boston was minus-11.9 with Brown on the floor, which was the worst on the team among players who played at least 100 minutes. By December, Brown was benched in favor of Marcus Smart, where the Celtics not so coincidentally started picking things up from there.

Since his move to the bench, Jaylen has regained his footing, averaging 14 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting and 36.3 percent from three. This most recent stretch has been really encouraging for him, as he’s put up 16.4 points a night on 49.5 percent shooting and 40.5 percent from three. Best of all, his play is benefitting the Celtics, as they are plus-6.9 with him on the floor, good for third-best among players who have played 97 or more minutes behind only Al Horford and Gordon Hayward.

His timing couldn’t be better, as the playoffs are just around the corner. Brown playing his best basketball of the season could really help the Celtics’ chances. So one question remains – why not put him back in the starting lineup?

It would make sense. The uptick in Brown’s production has coincided with the diminishment of Marcus Morris’ production.

Morris and Brown have come from opposite ends this summer. While Brown has worked his way up after falling so far down, Morris has descended quite a bit since his brilliant start.

“Mook” was playing the best basketball of his career when the season began. In fact, he was one of the few positives in a season that started as underwhelmingly mediocre as the Celtics had. Through the first two-and-a-half months, Morris was playing like a borderline all-star.

In that time, Morris averaged 15.5 points on 50.1 percent shooting and 44.1 percent from three. The Celtics were plus-5.5 with Morris on the floor, with all of the positivity coming from the offensive end, where the offense was plus-11.6 with him on the floor, second only to Kyrie Irving.

Since then, Morris’ production has tailed off. There was bound to be some regression in Marcus’ case, but since the all-star break, he’s playing what could very well be the worst basketball he’s played since becoming a Celtic.

Since the return from the All-Star break, Morris has averaged 13.1 points on 40 percent shooting from the field and 27 percent from three. The Celtics are minus-17.1 with him on the floor during that span. In other words, he’s hurting them badly on both ends.

So, subbing the slumping Morris for the thriving Brown in the starting lineup would seem like an obvious move to make. The Celtics could do it, and no one would bat an eye, but in this time of the season, it wouldn’t be smart to mess with the lineups this late into the season, or more specifically, it wouldn’t be smart to mess with what’s been working for Brown.

Though it took longer than Boston would have liked, Jaylen Brown has found his stride with the second unit this season. Even if Morris has struggled over the last month or so, taking Brown out of a situation where he’s playing at his best and putting him back into a lineup where he struggled could mess up his mojo. It’s unlikely that Brown will be coming off the bench through the duration of his career, but this season, he was meant to play in the second unit.

There are certain players who, despite having the talent to be a starter, are put in the NBA for the sole purpose of ruling over the second unit. Jamal Crawford and Jason Terry fit that certain mold, but there may not be a player that fits that description better than Lou Williams.

At the age of 32, Williams has already done enough to cement his status as one of the best microwave scorers of all time. The 13,135 points that Williams has scored in his NBA career is good for No.194 among all-time points scored. Last week, he surpassed Dell Curry for the No. 1 all-time scorer off the bench. That is impressive whether he started or not. However, if Lou had been a starter for his entire career, those numbers wouldn’t have as much meaning as they most definitely do as a sixth man.

It’s not as much about having as high scoring numbers in his case. It’s more about the purpose of what those numbers do for his team. Williams’ scoring abilities off the bench give his teams an edge that a fair amount of second units don’t have. His impact offensively is so strong that, like Brown over the past month, he usually winds up finishing games. That’s why having guys like Williams or Brown off the bench is important – They bring an advantage.

Another example would be Williams’ teammate, Montrezl Harrell. Doc Rivers, who has a very solid case for Coach of the Year, has elected to start then-Clipper Marcin Gortat and recently acquired big man Ivica Zubac over Harrell at center this season despite it being very clear that Harrell is his best player in the frontcourt.

He does this because Harrell gives LA an edge in the second unit much like Williams does with the energy he brings to the court. Harrell influences the game so much that again, like Williams, he’s usually out there finishing games as well. His skill set makes him a perfect fit in the second unit, and he could very well be Lou’s best competition for Sixth Man of the Year.

Those are examples of players who could be starters if their team wanted them to. They just play better when they come off the bench, but are there players who – despite being a starting-caliber player – are not a good fit in their starting lineup?

As it turns out, Derrick Favors is one such player. It’s been a much-debated controversy in Utah now about whether Favors should be starting in the frontcourt alongside Rudy Gobert for the Jazz. Honestly, those two aren’t bad together, but they play so much better when they pair up with a floor spacer in the frontcourt instead of each other.

In two-man lineups, Favors and Gobert are a plus-1.4 together. Defensively, the two of them are great together, giving up 98.3 points per 100 possessions. Alas, they only score 99.7 points per 100 possessions. Compare their two-man lineup to one with either Joe Ingles or Jae Crowder.

Favors and Ingles: +6.1
Favors and Crowder: +2.6
Gobert and Ingles: +4.5
Gobert and Crowder: +4.1

To be clear, Favors is good enough to be a starter. He just might not have the best frontcourt partner to be paired with.

When you take all of this in, it’s fair to say that to a certain extent, starting is overrated because it has no bearing on who plays the most minutes. What’s most important really is who finishes the game. Sometimes it’s the starters while at other times, it’s one or two bench players. It all comes down to who is the most reliable.

Because of this, in the Celtics’ case, the more accurate conclusion is that Brown should be getting more minutes than Morris rather than he should be replacing him in the starting lineup. That is, if he keeps this up.

No matter what Boston decides to do, one final question must be brought to our attention – Does anyone else think it’s an odd coincidence that Brown’s and Morris’ productions both started trending in opposite directions after the two of them got into that skirmish back in January?

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