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Miami HEAT 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Miami HEAT’s 2016-17 season.

Basketball Insiders

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After failing to qualify for the playoffs two seasons ago, the Miami HEAT returned to the postseason last year. The HEAT finished as the Eastern Conference’s third seed and would eventually advance to the second round.

However, as we set to begin the 2016-17 campaign, a lot has changed in Miami. Gone are Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson. The team added several players through free agency in an attempt to replace the outgoing veterans and move on to life without Wade. But what can we expect from the HEAT this season?

Basketball Insiders previews the Miami HEAT’s 2016-17 campaign.

FIVE GUYS THINK

Back in 2010 when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to join forces, who would’ve thought that Bosh would end up being the final piece remaining from the trio? Yes, things appear to have fallen apart quite quickly in Miami. And even if Bosh is able to play, he will likely make the difference between the HEAT battling for a late playoff spot or tanking their spring away. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Each season, there are surprises and if Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow can find some sort of synergy with Goran Dragic, Miami might be in business. While I like Hassan Whiteside’s story, I am not sure that he is ready to lead a team the way that the HEAT would likely require in the wake of Wade’s departure. The conference is getting tougher around them, so I’m not too keen on the HEAT. It could be a long season in South Beach.

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Moke Hamilton

Heading into the 2016-17 campaign, the HEAT are one of the toughest teams to peg. On one hand, the team’s identity is built on being mentally tough and defensively focused year in and year out – regardless of the constructed roster. On the other hand, the team has plenty of wildcard questions that almost makes it impossible to predict where Miami will finish in the standings. How will the squad adjust to life without future Hall of Fame guard Dwyane Wade? How will center Hassan Whiteside, who has never made over $1 million in a season up until this point, respond to making nearly $25 million annually? Can second-year forward Justise Winslow make a significant jump after the team lost veteran wings Luol Deng and Joe Johnson in free agency? Will All-Star Chris Bosh be able to return to action after a series of medical setbacks? Buckle up HEAT fans, the ride along this route could be filled with plenty of turbulence.

2nd Place – Southeast Division

– Lang Greene

Well, that got ugly really quickly, didn’t it? Miami lost two of their most important veterans in Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng for nothing, and there may come a time in the not-too-distant future when Chris Bosh also exits stage left – perhaps calling it a career because of his blood clot issues. Hassan Whiteside and all of his questionable advanced metrics now serve as the franchise cornerstone, which doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence in this team as a title contender. Even in a summer of big contracts, Tyler Johnson’s $50 million feels exorbitant, but he, Josh Richardson (minus the knee injury) and Justise Winslow are where hope in the future lie. For the sake of Pat Riley’s coronary health, let’s hope they (and Whiteside) live up to expectations.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Joel Brigham

Get ready for the Hassan Whiteside show. Last year, there were plenty of times when the big man put up monster numbers even when his minutes and role were relatively limited. Miami typically didn’t run plays for Whiteside, so he had to produce based on hustling and making the most of his limited opportunities. Now, with so many changes in Miami, head coach Erik Spoelstra will need the 27-year-old to play his best basketball on both ends of the floor and show that he’s capable of being a franchise cornerstone. But even if Whiteside produces, who knows if Chris Bosh will play this season? Will Goran Dragic continue to show signs of decline? Are Miami’s young players like Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson ready to take on increased roles too? Will the fact that Miami has so many players in contract years become a distraction since each player – especially those who haven’t gotten a significant pay day yet – may be looking out for themselves first and foremost? It feels strange to do this, but I have the HEAT ranked last in the division simply because there are a lot of questions that need to be resolved before I buy in on this squad.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Alex Kennedy

It’s tough to get a good read on the Miami HEAT. Losing Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng leaves them awfully thin on the wing and now Miami will need more production from young players like Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and, most importantly, Hassan Whiteside. Between Whiteside, Gordan Gragic and Chris Bosh, this team does have notable talent to work off of. However, Bosh’s status is uncertain and if he can’t suit up for a majority of Miami’s games this season, the HEAT could take a big dip in the standings. While there are obvious concerns with this team, I believe Erik Spoelstra is an adaptive coach who can rework his systems based on the talent available to him.

3rd Place – Southeast Division

– Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Chris Bosh

While it looks like Bosh is the top offensive player on the HEAT, it could ultimately be Goran Dragic who has to take over go-to scorer duties if Bosh isn’t quite ready to return to action. When healthy, Bosh has proven to be a great scorer and leader for this HEAT team. Last season, Bosh averaged 19.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 53 games. His 19.1 points per game led all players on the HEAT last season, just edging out Dwyane Wade’s 19 points per game. Lately, Bosh resumed basketball activities and posted videos of his offseason workouts, which is a good sign. He said recently that he’s ready to play and that he’s done everything he needs to do to return. It’s unclear at this time when a return could happen, but his recent comments are a step in the right direction for Bosh and the team.

Top Defensive Player: Hassan Whiteside

After leading the league in blocks last season, it should be no surprise to see Whiteside as the team’s best defensive player. He averaged a career-high 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game last season. He was recognized for his defensive efforts by finishing third in Defensive Player of the Year voting and being named to the All-Defensive Second Team. With his ability to block and alter attempts, he has demonstrated that he will be a force in the paint for a long time. He held opponents to 54 percent shooting less than five feet from the rim, which places him among the best centers in the league. Whiteside led the league in contested two-point shots (13.5 per game) last year, while also ranking first in defensive rating (94.5), first in block percentage (9.7) and fifth in defensive win shares (5.3). Whiteside recorded three point-rebound-block triple-doubles last season, including his 19-point, 17-rebound, 11-block performance against the Denver Nuggets in January. With Whiteside and backup center Willie Reed, post defense shouldn’t be an issue for Miami.

Top Playmaker: Goran Dragic

Even with Wade on the roster last season, an argument could’ve been made that Dragic was the team’s top playmaker. As the point guard on the floor, it’s Dragic’s job to run the offense and set up his teammates. Last season, he averaged 14.1 points, 5.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds. He isn’t going to be a guy who averages double-digit assists every night, but he’s still great at initiating the offense and getting others involved. He ranked inside the top 15 in the league with 9.4 drives per game and second with 4.6 passes off of those drives. When Dragic didn’t play at a high level last season, the team generally didn’t perform well, which was evident while watching the HEAT in the playoffs. It’s obvious that the HEAT will need Dragic to continue to produce in order to be successful. Dragic will have the ball in his hands more this season, so we’ll see what he does with the increased responsibilities.

Top Clutch Player: Goran Dragic

With Wade now on the Chicago Bulls, Miami will be searching for a new go-to player. Wade established himself as one of the best clutch players in the league and there was never any doubt about who would get the ball in past late-game situations for Miami. Now, it appears Dragic could be next in line to take over clutch duties. Miami’s top scorers in the last five minutes of five-point games were Wade, Deng (who is now a Laker), Whiteside, Bosh and Dragic. Dragic scored 38 points in those situations and shot 42.9 percent from three-point range. It’ll be interesting to see if Dragic will be able to capitalize more in those situations now that Wade is gone. He’s a guy who can create his own shot and get to the rim. He’s also one of the better shooters on the team and can be counted on to hit big shots. Head coach Erik Spoelstra could also opt to go with a committee approach that utilizes Dragic, Bosh, Whiteside and others based on who has the hot hand and best match-up.

The Unheralded Player: Josh Richardson

Richardson is another example of a HEAT player who put in work and became a meaningful role player. He is a former second-round draft pick out of Tennessee who made the most of his opportunity when given increased minutes. He essentially stepped into Tyler Johnson’s role when he went down with a shoulder injury. Even Richardson was surprised when his number was called; he told Basketball Insiders over Summer League that he was expecting to be in a developmental role for most of the season. In 23 games before the All-Star break, Richardson averaged 1.9 points in 11.5 minutes per game. In 29 games after the All-Star break, he bumped up his production to 10.2 points in 29.1 minutes per game. Richardson has proven to be the team’s best three-point shooter, knocking down 46 percent of his attempts from long distance last year. Richardson showed that he can be a meaningful contributor on this team and he should continue to take on a bigger role moving forward.

Top New Addition: Dion Waiters

Throughout Miami’s busy office, Pat Riley and his staff added six new players to the roster. The biggest story of the summer was obviously the departure of Wade, but the HEAT were able to add some quality players through free agency too. The team signed Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Willie Reed, Beno Udrih, Dion Waiters and Derrick Williams. Considering they’ll pay Waiters just $2,898,000 this season (with a player option for next year), it looks as though he’s the best new addition of that group. Not only was he a bargain, he has been productive at times throughout his young career. He averaged 9.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and two assists per game last season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Adding Waiters seems like a great move because the team won’t need him to play a huge role in their offense. Waiters has shown that he can thrive as a supporting piece whose job is to just check in and play his style of basketball. It’s also worth noting that Waiters has every reason to be on his best behavior and deliver a breakout campaign, since he can hit unrestricted free agent again next summer if all goes well. It remains to be seen if he’ll be starting, but he should give Spoelstra an added scoring punch either as a starter or as a reserve.

– Cody Taylor

WHO WE LIKE

  1. Erik Spoelstra

Spoelstra has already solidified himself as one of the best head coaches in the league. The HEAT have seemingly always been in contention under Spoelstra’s watch. Even when Miami has battled through some unfortunate injuries and Bosh’s health scare over the past two years, the team has still managed to compete at a high level. It seems as though the team keeps finding these diamond-in-the-rough players like Whiteside, Johnson and Richardson among others. While Riley deserves credit adding these individuals, Spoelstra is one who has developed them into significant contributors, gotten them to buy in and put them in positions to succeed. The fact that the team was able to stick around in the playoff race and advance to the second round without Bosh last season was very impressive. While Bosh’s health comes first, it really makes you wonder how good the team could have been had he stayed healthy and this group had been at full strength.

  1. Justise Winslow

Winslow falling to the HEAT at No. 10 in last year’s draft was, at the time, viewed as a steal. Fast forward one season later, and it still seems as though the HEAT lucked out in that draft. Winslow’s numbers from his rookie season don’t necessarily jump off of the page, but he proved that he can impact games in a number of different ways. He’s a good rebounder at his position and his defense has been pretty solid thus far. It seems reasonable to think that he’ll have more opportunities to produce this season with Bosh’s status still in question and Wade leaving. One of the biggest differences with Winslow this season is that he looks noticeably bigger compared to last year. He played in three games during Summer League and did well, averaging 16 points per game. Don’t be surprised if Winslow makes the most of his larger role and delivers a strong sophomore campaign.

  1. Tyler Johnson

Whether you agree with Miami’s decision to give Johnson a four-year, $50 million contract, the work ethic that he has displayed to get to this point can’t be ignored. Johnson went undrafted out of Fresno State two years ago and grinded his way through the HEAT organization to earn a significant role in the offense. Johnson was having a career-year last season prior to undergoing shoulder surgery in February. He averaged 8.7 points, three rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Spoelstra experimented with him running the point at times, which gave the team some additional versatility. Johnson comes into this season completely healthy and ready to go. He figures to compete with Richardson and Waiters for the starting shooting guard spot. Regardless of where and when he plays, he’s shown that he can be effective.

  1. Willie Reed

The HEAT have liked Reed for a while now and nearly signed him last offseason after he played for their Summer League team. After his first full season in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets, Reed joins a Miami team that figures to give him a great chance to showcase what he can do. His playing time with the Nets last season was sporadic, but he did play really well when he was on the court. His per-48 stats were incredible: 20.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks. Reed can be counted on to do the dirty work whenever he’s on the floor. He’s going to be one of the most active players on the court and is a bit similar to Whiteside when it comes to his ability to defend the paint and score at the rim. Reed has been waiting patiently for a chance to prove that he can be a difference maker in the NBA, and this season could be a breakout year for him.

– Cody Taylor

SALARY CAP 101

The HEAT had an interesting summer, rushing through a number of free agent signings before deciding to match Tyler Johnson’s $50 million, poison-pill offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets. With Dwyane Wade off to the Chicago Bulls, Miami went under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to acquire players like Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, James Johnson and Luke Babbitt. The team also used their cap space to re-sign Hassan Whiteside to a four-year, $98.4 million contract. Their $2.9 million Room Exception was used to ink Dion Waiters.

Now over the cap, Miami has 15 guaranteed players, which doesn’t bode well for players like Briante Weber, Rodney McGruder, Stefan Jankovic and Okaro White.  Assuming the team picks up the rookie-scale option on Justise Winslow before November, Miami could have roughly $22 million in cap space next summer, under a $102 million projection. Should Chris Bosh prove unable to return due to his health issues, his $75.9 million salary would come off of Miami’s books on Feb. 9. That presumes Bosh does not play in 10 games this season, and that the NBA signs off on a forced medical retirement. Currently, Bosh is preparing for the season like he’s completely healthy, but this situation remains up in the air.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

The HEAT seemingly always have talent waiting in the wings within the organization. As previously mentioned above, they have found rotation players like Whiteside, Johnson, Richardson and now even Briante Weber. The team’s D-League affiliate won a record number of games last season, which just shows how strong of an organization they really have. Despite the loss of Wade, the backcourt is deep heading into this season. They have Dragic and Udrih at point guard and Waiters, Richardson, Johnson and Ellington at shooting guard. Of course, the coaching staff is a strength as well. Spoelstra is very good, and his staff is expected get a big addition back as Dan Craig will return as an assistant after coaching the Sioux Falls Skyforce last season. Spoelstra also has Juwan Howard and Keith Smart on his staff as well.

– Cody Taylor

WEAKNESSES

One of the biggest areas of concern for the HEAT has been their three-point shooting. Miami finished 27th in the league in both three-point percentage and three-pointers made per game last year. Richardson led the team in three-point shooting last year, converting 46 percent of his shots, but the next-best HEAT player was Tyler Johnson at 38 percent. In today’s NBA, with three-point shooting and spacing being so important, the HEAT desperately need to improve in this area.

– Cody Taylor

THE BURNING QUESTION

How will the HEAT fare without Dwyane Wade?

One of the most surprising storylines of the summer was Wade opting to sign with the Bulls. Wade had spent all 13 seasons of his NBA career with the HEAT and is one of the best players to ever play for the organization. Things reportedly went south between Wade and the front office, causing him to sign back home. Much was made about Wade’s health and how many games he would play last season, but he proved everyone wrong by suiting up in 74 contests and averaging 19 points a night. With Wade now gone, how will the HEAT do without him? They must replace his production and leadership, which is much easier said than done. Don’t be surprised if the HEAT fail to improve on last season’s 48-win mark.

– Cody Taylor

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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 deep into the season.

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 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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