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Bazemore On Free Agency, Hawks, Dwight Howard

Kent Bazemore talks free agency, expectations for 2016-17, the huge strides he’s made and new teammate Dwight Howard.

Alex Kennedy

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It wasn’t long ago that only diehard NBA fans knew the name Kent Bazemore.

When he first entered the NBA, he was known as the guy who played sparingly for the Golden State Warriors, but always rooted on his teammates with entertaining bench celebrations. In fact, these became so popular that highlight reels were made and Bazemore’s moves were even added to NBA 2K. He was a fan favorite – the undrafted kid who always had a smile on his face and seemed thrilled to be living out his dream of being in the NBA.

Then, in February of 2014, the Warriors traded Bazemore the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Steve Blake. Suddenly, the swingman had an opportunity to take on a larger role. He took full advantage, averaging 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals in 28 minutes. As entertaining as Bazemore was on the sideline with the Warriors, his stint with the Lakers made it clear that he belonged on the court.

However, Bazemore’s success with the Lakers was over the course of just 23 games, so some decision-makers around the NBA chalked up his production to a small sample size. However, the Atlanta Hawks believed in the charismatic Bazemore when he hit free agency following his time in Los Angeles, inking him to a two-year deal worth $4 million.

He continued to play at a very high level and made the Hawks look very smart. Last season, stepping in for the departed DeMarre Carroll, the 27-year-old averaged 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals. He shot 44.1 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point range (on 4.1 attempts per game). He emerged as a talented two-way player and an integral part of Atlanta’s balanced attack, filling the 3-and-D role that’s so valuable in today’s NBA.

In the playoffs, Bazemore averaged 11.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals in the Hawks’ 10 games. During the team’s first-round series against the Boston Celtics, he had two outings in which he scored at least 20 points and he also did a very good job rebounding and defending. His best statistical performance of the playoffs came in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers when he had 16 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals.

These days, he’s filling the stat sheet as opposed to just waving a towel. But don’t get it twisted: Bazemore is still the teammate whom everyone loves.

“He’s a great basketball player, but an even better person,” said Indiana Pacers point guard Jeff Teague, who played with Bazemore in Atlanta. “He’s probably my favorite teammate that I’ve played with.”

“Kent was a great teammate in Atlanta,” said Phoenix Suns guard John Jenkins, who played with Bazemore in Atlanta. “He has a very lively personality that is contagious and perfect for a locker room. He has God-given tools that allow him to be a tough defender, but now you have to respect him on the offensive end of the floor too. He has a great story for a guy that went undrafted.”

What Bazemore brings to Atlanta – both on the court and as a great locker-room presence – can’t always be quantified with traditional stats. However, a deeper look at some of his advanced numbers does give an indication of how effective he was last season. According to Basketball Reference, Bazemore ranked 13th among qualified NBA players in Defensive Rating (100) and 16th among players in Defensive Win Shares (3.8). He averaged 2.6 deflections per game in the postseason, which ranked 15th among all individuals in the playoffs. Opponents who were being guarded by Bazemore shot 41.6 percent from the field, as opposed to shooting an average of 44.5 percent on the season when guarded by someone else.

A big reason for the Hawks’ success was their defense, and Bazemore was a crucial part of that (the only Hawk with a higher Defensive Rating was forward Paul Millsap). When teams played against Atlanta, their field goal percentage would drop by an average of 1.8 percent, which ranked first in the NBA. Also, the Hawks were second in the NBA in Defensive Rating (allowing only 98.8 points per 100 possessions, which trailed only the San Antonio Spurs).

Because Bazemore had a career year and displayed his expanded game, he received a nice raise this summer. He was a highly coveted free agent on July 1. In fact, the Houston Rockets met him as soon as free agency got underway, bringing owner Les Alexander, superstar James Harden and legends like Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler to their pitch meeting as they tried to persuade him to leave Atlanta. However, even with the Rockets rolling out the red carpet, Bazemore ultimately decided to re-sign with the Hawks on a four-year deal worth $70 million. Oh, and July 1 (when he agreed to the contract terms with Atlanta) is his birthday, as if he needed any more reason to celebrate!

According to our salary cap guru Eric Pincus, Bazemore made $5,262,476 during the first four years of his NBA career combined. Next season alone he will triple that number, set to earn $15,730,338 (making him the third-highest-paid player on the Hawks’ roster). In the 2017-18 season, he’ll make $16,910,113. The following year, he’ll earn $18,089,887. He has a player option for the 2019-20 campaign, but he could make $19,269,662.

It’s safe to say that the days of Bazemore being undervalued and overlooked are in the past.

This was evident when it came time for the media to select their annual award winners. Bazemore received three All-Defensive Team votes as well as two votes in the NBA’s Most Improved Player race.

Basketball Insiders caught up with Bazemore to discuss his free agency decision, his meeting with the Rockets, the huge strides he made in recent years, his expectations for next season, the Hawks’ addition of Dwight Howard and more:

Alex Kennedy: You decided to re-sign with the Atlanta Hawks after receiving interest from several teams. What factored in to that decision?

Kent Bazemore: “I had made it clear all season that I wanted to return. Once you go through a season like this last one, a career year where you’re with the organization and coach and team for a second straight year, it’s hard to leave. My ceiling is super high here because I’m comfortable. I think being comfortable in your surroundings is important to becoming the best person and player that you can be. That weighed heavily in my decision. My fiancée loves it here too. Happy wife, happy life, right? (laughs) With other teams, there were a lot of uncertainties. For example, some were in the rebuilding stage. I didn’t want to leave a situation that I know a lot about for a situation with uncertainties. This is the place where I feel like I can grow the most, be close to home and develop my brand. I think having a brand in this league is really important because it helps catapult you in certain situations. The city of Atlanta has really embraced me. It’s been a perfect fit from the get-go.”

Kennedy: Just a few years ago, you were more known for your bench antics with the Golden State Warriors than your on-court contributions. Now, you’re one of the better two-way players in the NBA and you have an organization like the Houston Rockets bringing out owner Les Alexander, James Harden, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and others to pitch to you. Is it a bit surreal how much has changed in just a few years?

Bazemore: “It is surreal. You walk into the room and there’s Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, James Harden, the owner and the assistant GM. It was a lot. They gave me this iPad with the presentation, and it was a very strong presentation. They did it in my backyard, so I was still home, still in my element, still in Atlanta. I made up my mind that I wanted to stay here with the Hawks. They tried to persuade me otherwise by breaking through that wall and trying to change my mind. And they almost did, I have to give them credit. Their presentation was impressive, with the moves they want to make. Also, I had already played under [head coach] Mike D’Antoni, so that played a factor as well. But at the end of the day, there were a lot of uncertainties. I would’ve been leaving a solid situation to go to Houston and play with James Harden, who is a great player, but one thing I want to do more this year is play with the ball in my hands. I understand that the Rockets are James’ team, so I thought the best thing for me was to stay here, where I can blossom. Not that I couldn’t have done it there, but I just think I have a better chance to do it here.”

Kennedy: That leads to my next question. In your opinion, how much more room to you have to grow? How much untapped potential do you feel you still have?

Bazemore: “Oh man, a ton. There’s not anyone on this planet who criticizes me more than myself. I think this contract has definitely motivated me to be a lot better. There are still levels to go – be an All-Star, be a superstar, MVP talk. That may seem farfetched, but I think at this rate, anything that I say can very well happen. Looking at how far I’ve come over the last few years, I think anything is obtainable. I know a lot of guys get a pay check and then relax, but I’m not going to be that guy. I’ve just been so motivated since signing a few weeks ago. I’m ready to get back out there and play. I know what I have to do to reach my projections and be where I want to be when I leave this game.”

Kennedy: The Hawks have made some significant changes this summer. You added Dwight Howard to the roster, but also lost players like Al Horford and Jeff Teague. What are your thoughts on the offseason as a whole?

Bazemore: “I think obviously losing Al and Jeff – two All-Stars – is a blow, but from an organization standpoint, I know they were looking to head in a new direction. Jeff and I had been here the longest out of everybody on the team, but they felt it was time to make a change. They’re going with a younger point guard, Dennis Schroder, who is defensive-oriented. They brought in Dwight Howard, who is one of the most dominant centers of all-time and poised for a breakout year. He seems super hungry. I’ve chatted with him a few times and he seems like he’s ready to get after it. It’s a situation for him where, unlike in L.A. and unlike in Houston, this is going to be his team. We’ll work off of him. We understand that he’s been to the NBA Finals and played on some great teams. We’re looking for him to be a leader for us, and I think he can do it. Him coming back home and being comfortable here, I think that makes a world of a difference. Then, of course, we have Paul Millsap, who is really special and does what he does on a nightly basis. He’s so consistent. We have some rookies who I’m really excited about; Taurean Prince is a big body and DeAndre Bembry is a play-maker with some good size. Then we have guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. and, of course, Jarrett Jack, who is one of the most vocal leaders in the entire league. He’s someone who I learned a lot of my leadership skills from back when we played together in Golden State. I could go on and on about this team. We have a good team all around – a solid mix of young guys and veterans – so it’s going to be a good year.”

Kennedy: Last year, most people felt that the Eastern Conference was pretty wide open after the Cleveland Cavaliers. Do you think you guys have a shot at being one of those top teams in the East?

Bazemore: “Yeah, definitely. Cleveland is a great team and what they did last year was amazing, beating a team that many people thought would walk away with the regular season and the postseason. You have to give a ton of credit to them because they’ve done a great job putting themselves in position to win and be successful. I think we took notes from losing to them eight straight games in the postseason. There’s definitely a fire lit under us for next season and we want to come back better than ever – individually and collectively as well. We’re taking steps in the right direction, adding Dwight Howard, adding Jarrett Jack, re-signing Kris Humphries and things like that. I think we’re moving in the right direction this year and that we’re poised to do some damage this season.”

Kennedy: What aspects of your games are you working on this offseason?

Bazemore: “I’m working on my body a ton. For me, getting stronger is super important. I’m just as athletic as any player in the league, but strength is important over an 82-game season. I’ve been working on my body a lot. I’m always expanding my knowledge of the game, watching a ton of film and understanding the game of basketball better. It’s one thing to just go out there to play, but it’s another to know exactly what you’re doing. It’s a game of chess, and I’m working on setting up players, setting up plays, making sure I’m in the right position on defense and those kind of small details. I’m always fine tuning those things. I think that will make me a much more solid player, and that way I’m not out of position on defense or gambling or things like that. I think I took a step in the right direction last year in terms of being solid, but there’s always room for improvement. I’m continuing to work on my jump shot too. I made a minor change at the beginning of the summer, so I think you should see my percentages go up next season. I’m also working on some more stuff off the dribble. It’s going to be a good year for me. With Dwight rolling to rim, I think our pick-and-roll is going to be really special and I’m looking forward to that as well.”

Kennedy: You’re very active in the community and have a lot of things going on right now with your foundation. What are some of the initiatives you are working on at the moment?

Bazemore: “I have three areas that I’m targeting right now. First is back home where I grew up in Bertie County, NC. Then, I have some things in Norfolk, VA, where I went to college. And here in Atlanta, I’m starting to plant some seeds and my foundation’s home base will be here in Atlanta. It’s a very saturated area with a ton of opportunities to do things. It’ll run out of Atlanta and trickle down to everywhere else. Ultimately, I want to start an academy, so right now I’m doing things in education like working with Boys and Girls Clubs, working with foster homes, working with basketball camps and things like that. We have a lot on our plate and some really big goals for the foundation. It’s something that I want to continue to do long after I retire, so I’m going to be involved in this for a very long time. I always wanted to get into philanthropy and I think this is a great start with my foundation. I want to turn this into something that’s very special.”

Kennedy: This question was submitted on Twitter by @HollywoodHeat. Kent, you have a lot of friends around the NBA and you’re obviously a charismatic guy. It’s well documented that you played a role in Stephen Curry joining Under Armour, so you clearly have some recruiting talent. Do you envision yourself being a recruiter of free agents for Atlanta moving forward?

Bazemore: “Oh yeah, most definitely. I think next summer, I’ll be sitting in every meeting. I think it’s a strong gesture when a team brings one of their leaders to a meeting because they can weigh in and tell the player how they can fit. In my Rockets meeting, having James Harden there really meant a lot and helped a lot.

“With Kevin Durant, you had all of the top Warriors players there recruiting him and answering questions. Damian Lillard [was involved] in recruiting this summer, and I think Damian is one of the most underappreciated players in the league on and off the court. He deserves more credit for everything he does. Young players should look up to him, with the way he approaches the game, how team-oriented he is and how he is always focused on a greater cause than himself. He’s definitely a guy who I’ve been eyeing and watching what he does to learn from him.

“For some reason, certain guys have a lot of pride or a big ego so they don’t want to show up to a free-agent meeting to recruit a guy to come play with them. But that just creates animosity. As soon as we signed Dwight Howard and Jarrett Jack, I sent them a text because I wanted to talk to them and start our relationship out on the right foot. That way when we’re in training camp or see each other in the gym, we’ve already talked and it’s not our first conversation. I’ll definitely be a recruiter in the future. I think I have a natural connection with people.”

For more exclusive interviews by Alex Kennedy (with players such as Indiana’s Jeff Teague, New York’s Courtney Lee, Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo, Sacramento’ Garrett Temple, Portland’s Moe Harkless and more), click here.

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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NBA DAILY

NBA Daily: One Year Later, Yogi Ferrell Continues To Rise

One year after a turbulent start to his NBA career, Yogi Ferrell is still thriving with the Dallas Mavericks.

Ben Nadeau

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It was never going to be easy for Yogi Ferrell.

At just 6-foot-0, there were major concerns about Ferrell and his ability to effectively contribute at the professional level, so the 24-year-old was a near-lock to go undrafted despite his impressive haul of collegiate honors. In 2016, he did not hear his name called on draft night — but for a gamer like Ferrell, pushing on was always the only option.

However, on this particularly cold mid-season evening, Ferrell sits at his locker and studies film on a tablet. He looks comfortable and focused as if he knows that this moment cannot be ripped away from him once again. Today, Ferrell is the Dallas Mavericks’ backup point guard and is settled into a consistent, steady role amongst a currently crowded backcourt. For Ferrell, he now finally has the life of an everyday NBA player.

But just over one year ago, Ferrell had to take the road less traveled to reach professional basketball for good.

“It was actually about this time [last year] when [the Nets] decided to waive me and I went back to Long Island,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t know I’d be here. I’m just thankful for the opportunity the Mavericks gave me and I’m just still trying to be here in Dallas.”

To be exact, the Brooklyn Nets waived Ferrell on December 8th, 2016. 365 days (and counting) later, Ferrell has earned his guaranteed contract but he’s still playing like he has something to prove.

* * * * * *

In order to fully understand Ferrell’s winding journey, it’s necessary to go back to where his story really kicked off: Summer League. Following a solid audition in Las Vegas — 8.8 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game — Ferrell was shifted to Brooklyn’s G-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. With the offseason signings of Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez, plus the addition of rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead, there was no room for Ferrell and he was the last man cut in training camp.

Before the Nets could even blink, Vasquez re-injured his problematic ankle just three games into the campaign, an ailment that would eventually require season-ending surgery. Lin, of course, lasted just two more games before a hamstring injury derailed the key free agent acquisition until December.

Out of nowhere, it was time for Ferrell.

After waiving Vasquez, the Nets signed Ferrell on November 9th — the same day as his NBA debut, where he logged five points and three assists in a 14-point loss to the New York Knicks. But as the Nets continued to free fall without their veteran point guards, Ferrell grew more confidently into his role and was a solid fit in head coach Kenny Atkinson’s three-point heavy rotation. Over 10 contests with Brooklyn, Ferrell tallied just 5.4 points and 1.7 assists in 15 minutes per game. Nonetheless, for a suddenly talent-deficient roster, it appeared as if the point guard was poised to stick around through the winter.

In a surprise twist of fate, the Nets waived Ferrell to sign Spencer Dinwiddie to a partially guaranteed three-year deal, opting to tie their future to a different G-League point guard instead. Just like that, it was back to Long Island for Ferrell — but surprisingly, it wasn’t something that he hung his head over for too long.

“I knew my next opportunity was going to come — I didn’t know when, but I just wanted to make sure I was ready for it,” Ferrell said. “I had a great coach — coach [Ronald] Nored — and he told me to still go about my business as if I was still in the NBA. I didn’t get all the luxuries, but if you treat yourself like a pro, like you’re there now, once you get there, it’ll make it easier and you can make a splash.”

Upon returning to the G-League, Ferrell continued his hot streak and ended up averaging 18.7 points and 5.8 rebounds over a total of 18 games — both before and after his NBA call-up with the Nets. Ultimately, it wasn’t long before another franchise took notice of the enigmatic guard and the Mavericks capitalized, signing Ferrell to a 10-day contract while both Deron Williams and Devin Harris were hampered by injury. His debut with Dallas saw Ferrell tally nine points and seven assists in a win over the San Antonio Spurs and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker — but somehow, that was only the beginning

Affectionately nicknamed Yogi-Mania — a play on Linsanity, Lin’s historic stretch with the Knicks back in 2012 — Ferrell re-joined the NBA red-hot, even leading Dallas to back-to-back wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers. Quickly thereafter, Ferrell signed a multi-year deal with Dallas and then promptly torched the Portland Trail Blazers for nine three-pointers and a total of 32 points. Over his initial two-week stretch with the Mavericks, Ferrell scored 10 or more points in seven of his first nine games and made a serious claim for a permanent spot in the rotation.

Of course, the multi-year contract offered Ferrell something else he hadn’t yet experienced in the NBA: Job security. After Ferrell’s team option was picked up last June, he was happy to have a role with the Mavericks once again, no matter how big or small. Without the worry of being on borrowed time, Ferrell was able to train, learn the system and embrace of the city of Dallas during the offseason.

“The offseason was pretty good, I played summer league with some of the young guys,” Ferrell said. “It was great to work every day and get to know the coaches better, the area of Dallas better. Headed into training camp, I just wanted to work on my game and I had lot more confidence.”

One of those coaches he’s gotten to know better is Rick Carlisle, an old-school guard that has found success as both a player and coach. Under Carlisle, Ferrell has averaged 28.3 minutes per game so far as a sophomore, good for the third-highest total on the entire roster. Ferrell, who was in the G-League at this time last year, has merited more playing time than any other point guard on the team — a list that includes rookie sensation Dennis Smith Jr. (28.1), J.J. Barea (22.5), and the aforementioned Harris (18.9). For Ferrell, much of his second-year successes have come from simply putting Carlisle’s words of wisdom into action.

“He’s just always telling me to be a threat,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders of Carlisle. “First of all, be a threat to score because that’s what opens up everything else. If you’re pushing the pace and getting in the paint, attacking, especially for somebody like myself in my position. You want to just cause 2-on-1s and kicks and find whatever the defense gives us.”

While Yogi-Mania was built off of an electric career-altering hot streak, Ferrell has been a contributor this season in a more consistent, experienced way. Building off the All-NBA Rookie Second Team berth Ferrell earned in just 36 games with Dallas last season, the point guard is now often one of the first guards off the bench, a role that Barea has long excelled in. The comparisons between Ferrell and Barea are all too obvious, the latter being another 6-foot-nothing guard that has carved out a 12-year career after going undrafted in 2006.

During the Mavericks’ championship-winning playoff run in 2011, Barea averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 assists, including massive back-to-back 15-plus point outings in Dallas’ series-defining Game 5 and 6 victories. These days, Ferrell is just thankful to have teammates like Barea and Harris to learn from on and off the court.

“I always say that I like watching them, especially how they play,” Ferrell said. “I try to mimic the older guys, Devin and J.J., they’re so synced together when they play, it’s something special to watch. I just try to go out there and mimic what they do, they’ve been successful at it and been in this league for a long time, so I’m just trying to learn from guys like them.”

* * * * * *

Precisely, it’s been 370 days since Ferrell was first waived by Brooklyn and has found success at the NBA level that little believed was possible. Not one to let an obstacle get in his way, Ferrell went undrafted and still managed to earn a multi-year contract before he even hit 20 career appearances. For his dominating stretch in the G-League last season, Ferrell was named an All-Star — although he was too busy with Dallas to attend the festivities — and he still went on to earn a spot with the All-NBA Rookie Second Team as well.

Overcoming roadblocks and adversity at every turn, it’d be easy to now exhale and relax — after all, his contract is currently guaranteed and he’s got a solidified role in an NBA rotation — but Ferrell, forever hungry, isn’t ready to stop there. Staying motivated isn’t difficult for Ferrell because he knows that much of his journey is still left in front of him and he’s ready to keep climbing upward.

“I’m a winner, I came from a winning program,” Ferrell said. “My mentality is still to prove that I belong here. I just want to win, that’s it.”

For Ferrell, this isn’t the end of an underdog story — this is just the beginning of something even greater.

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NBA

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

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 Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not 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 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 not 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 http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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