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Most Improved Player Watch – 3/31/18

David Yapkowitz checks in on the Most Improved Player race.

David Yapkowitz

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With the NBA regular season winding down and playoffs right around the corner, many of the NBA award races are getting pretty close to be decided. The frontrunners have established themselves, but there are other candidates who could make things a bit interesting.

We actually have yet to take a look at the candidates for the Most Improved Player award here at Basketball Insiders. There are about two weeks remaining before the postseason begins and here are the top deserving candidates for the Most Improved Player award.

6. E’Twaun Moore – New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans have been one of the surprise teams of the season. They were playing great basketball before DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the rest of the year, but Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday have kept them afloat. However, E’Twaun Moore has been one of their best players all season long and is a big reason for their success.

Prior to this season, Moore was a reserve who bounced around the league (Boston, Orlando, Chicago) before finding long-term financial stability with the Pelicans. He’s rewarded the Pelicans with the best basketball of his career. He’s become a full-time starter in New Orleans. He’s never averaged double-figures in points before, but this season he’s up to 12.3. He’s shooting career-highs from the field (50.1 percent) and from the three-point line (41.5 percent).

5. Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers

Now in his third full year with the Los Angeles Lakers, Julius Randle has become arguably their best player. Randle started off the year unsure of where he would fit in the Lakers’ future plans. It’s been no secret that the team is trying to sign one or two max-level free agents this upcoming summer. Randle, on the verge of entering restricted free agency, was someone whose name came up in trade rumors in order for the Lakers to clear salary space.

He’s responded with the best season of his career so far. He’s actually playing fewer minutes than in previous seasons (26.7 this year compared to 28.8 and 28.2 the past two years). His 16.2 points per game are tied with Brandon Ingram for first on the team. He’s shooting a career-high 56.6 percent from the field. If it was questionable if he was in the Lakers future plans, he’s definitely got their attention now.

4. Steven Adams – Oklahoma City Thunder

Steven Adams has improved every year he’s been in the NBA, but this season is his best one yet. In an offseason that saw the Thunder add stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Adams might just be their second-most important player behind Russell Westbrook. He’s arguably the team’s best defensive player, and he’s strikingly good on the offensive end as well.

Adams’ 14.1 points per game are a career-high, as is his 63.1 percent shooting from the field and 9.1 rebounds. He’s emerged as one of the best pick and roll big men in the league. The Thunder are the number one team in the league in second-chance points (15 per game) and that’s largely due to Adams, who has become one of the best offensive rebounders in the NBA.

3. Jaylen Brown – Boston Celtics

Jaylen Brown played in 78 games for the Boston Celtics last year as a rookie, but that was mostly off the bench. This season has seen Brown emerge as a full-time starter and he’s definitely delivered for Boston. Sure you might expect a decent sized leap from rookie year to the next when a player was a top three pick like Brown, but he’s should warrant consideration for the Most Improved award.

He’s more than doubled his points per game from last season (14.2 from 6.6). He’s doubled his shot attempts as well (11.3 from 5.4) while improving his shooting to 46.1 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from the three-point line. More importantly, he’s played a key role in keeping the Celtics afloat as they’ve been hit by the injury bug as of late.

2. Spencer Dinwiddie – Brooklyn Nets

Spencer Dinwiddie has had one of the biggest leaps out of any player this season. He went from being a guy who could never get off the bench in Detroit to a capable starter and floor general. He was on the verge of being out of the league prior to landing with the Brooklyn Nets. A strong stint in the G-League caught the Nets attention and early season injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell really opened the door for him.

This season, he’s playing a career-best 28.9 minutes per game for the Nets and he’s started 57 games for them. He may not be shooting particularly well stat-wise (38.7 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from the three-point line) but there’s no question he is critical to the Nets offense. He’s leading the team in assists with 6.5. He would probably be the overall favorite or the Most Improved Player award if not for the guy who is first on this list.

1. Victor Oladipo – Indiana Pacers

Similar to how James Harden is essentially running away with the MVP award, Victor Oladipo should be the overwhelming favorite for the Most Improved Player award. From his time in Orlando and Oklahoma City, Oladipo has always been a solid starter. But it’s been this season with the Indiana Pacers when he’s truly come into his own.

A first-time and very deserving All-Star, Oladipo is putting up career-highs across the board. Prior to the start of the season, the Pacers were a team that on paper looked like they were headed for a lottery finish. Not only are they right in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, they’re fighting for home court in the first round thanks in part to Oladipo. He’s putting up 23.2 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting, 36.4 percent from downtown, 5.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.3 steals.

It’s possible that the Most Improved Player award might get slightly more interesting as the season winds down. There are some very deserving candidates. But at this point, the award is Victor Oladipo’s to lose.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

Despite the Hawks trading Luka Doncic, the Hawk drafted players that can help and contribute right away, plus Quavo from the Migos got his wish of Trae Young being selected.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and they took Omari Spellman from Villanova with their third pick in the first round. The Hawks are starting to build themselves like the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with the Golden State Warriors before taking the job with the Hawks.

They have the core for their future and I am really excited to see what Young can do in the NBA.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in Robert Williams from Texas A&M. They get another athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. I am pretty surprised he fell this far.

He is another rim protector the Celtics can use. He averaged 2.5 blocks per game in college. He will also provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams averaged 3.0 offensive rebounds per game in college. He is just a monster on the defensive end of the floor and on the boards.

He would have been a lottery pick in last years draft, but he decided to stay in school another year, and I am sure the Celtics are happy about that.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Mavericks have the best young backcourt duo in the NBA now in Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. They also drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ younger brother, in the second round. I love the Mavs’ backcourt a lot.

It is going to be very scary in a couple of years. It will take time and patience to develop them, but it will be worth it. This is going to be a dynamic duo for years to come for the Mavs. The Mavs have set themselves up not only for the future, but also to compete and to try to get into the playoffs. It also depends if they can bring in a max player in free agency, but I love the core the Mavs are building.

The Mavs should be a better defensive team next season, and will be a better offensive team next season with the weapons they have added to the team.

The Mavs are the clear cut winners of the 2018 NBA Draft.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Draft Night Trades

David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.

1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks

The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.

Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.

For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.

2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers

The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.

For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.

The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.

The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.

3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns

The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.

Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.

For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.

The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.

4. Second-Round moves

There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.

For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.

The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.

The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.

The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.

In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors

Jesse Blancarte

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With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.

Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.

Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.

Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.

The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.

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