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.
NBA Daily: Almost Trade Time In The NBA
While the NBA has seen some major deals early in the season, the real trade chatter is just getting started. Steve Kyler takes a look at some of the names to watch.
Almost Trade Time In The NBA
While the NBA has already seen a few major deals drop, including the Jimmy Butler deal to Philadelphia and George Hill being moved off to Milwaukee, typically the NBA doesn’t see nearly this much activity this early in the season. Normally, deals start to take shape after December 15, when those players who signed free-agent deals with new teams become trade-eligible, which is this Saturday.
All week long, Basketball Insiders will be looking at who should be “buyers” and who should be “seller” in advance of the Saturday milestone.
While there will hardly be a floodgate opening on Saturday, it is the first milestone of the trade season, which means teams will start talking more intently, especially with the annual G-League Showcase getting underway in Las Vegas next week.
There have already been some notable names hitting the rumor mill such as Phoenix’s Trevor Ariza, who most expect to be moved, and J.R. Smith in Cleveland, who is also expected to be moved at some point before the February 7th NBA Trade Deadline.
While those are the most likely dominoes to drop next, there are a few more worth watching.
Kent Bazemore – Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks have been looking for a new home for forward Kent Bazemore for some time. The problem for the Hawks in moving Bazemore is the $18.08 million he is owed this year and the Player Option he is most likely picking up for next season worth $19.26 million.
There has been some interest in Bazemore; he was linked to the Houston Rockets on several occasions, mainly as a money swap for Ryan Anderson, who was moved off to the Phoenix Suns this past summer.
Compounding the problem for the Hawks is that Bazemore hasn’t exactly been blowing the doors off with his play this season. League sources still peg him as an easy player to obtain, mainly because the Hawks don’t seem to want much in return except to get out of his contract.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are believed to be open to taking on longer-term salary if they can extract youth or draft picks in the process. With J.R. Smith’s deal being very favorable with only $3.78 million guaranteed, that could be an interesting situation to watch, especially if the Hawks are open to buying Smith out after a trade and setting him free to find a new team in advance of free agency.
Robin Lopez – Chicago Bulls
With the chaos surrounding the Chicago Bulls lately, it’s not surprising to hear that one of the lone grown-ups on the roster, Robin Lopez, was trying to quell what seemed like an insurrection against new Bulls head coach Jim Boylen.
You will be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn’t think highly of Lopez, and for that reason alone it wouldn’t be entirely shocking to see the Bulls hang on to Lopez, merely to make sure things don’t get off the rails.
That said, there is a reality headed the Bulls way, and that is that Lopez can be a free agent in July, and he will likely be in demand for many of the reasons the Bulls would want to keep him around.
That same demand likely means the Bulls could get a reasonable return for Lopez and his $14.35 million contract.
Few in NBA circles believe Lopez will be in Chicago past the deadline, which makes him an interesting name to watch especially for would-be playoff teams that are looking for veteran toughness for a playoff run.
It won’t be surprising to see the Bulls cash out Lopez in the coming weeks, however, given the current state of things around the team; they would be smart to hang on to him at least until the latest mess comes to pass.
Courtney Lee – New York Knicks
The Knicks desperately want to shed contract money before the trade deadline, and the odd man out seems to be swingman Courtney Lee.
Lee is just getting back from a pretty significant neck injury that cost him almost all the season so far. Lee is expected to get some run in the G-League tonight as part of his rehab. It’s also in part to allow other teams to get an extended look at Lee for trade purposes, according to sources close to the situation.
Amusingly, Lee chose the Knicks because they offered him a fourth contract year when he signed back in 2016. Coincidentally it’s that fourth year the Knicks are now trying to shed.
There is a sense in NBA circles that Lee wouldn’t be hard to move. The question is what else the Knicks will have to include to get that money off the books before the February trade deadline?
Zach Randolph – Sacramento Kings
Zach Randolph has been out of the Sacramento Kings rotation all year as they have been moving towards playing their younger guys. Randolph chose the Kings, mainly because they offered vastly more money than any other team, but did so knowing he might not play as much in his final year, something he has said repeatedly he was OK with.
All of that said, Randolph is someone the Kings would love to trade, and its possible teams looking to shed contract dollars would view Randolph’s $11.692 million deal as attractive if only to buy him out and get out of longer team money.
The prevailing thought from NBA insiders is that the Kings will hang on to Randolph until the trade deadline. If they cannot find a deal, then it is expected he will be bought out and given a chance to latch on to a veteran team that might have a role for him.
Sources near the situation say Randolph has been great with all of this and isn’t pushing the Kings one way or the other, which buys them time to let the market play out.
While these are not remotely close to all the names to watch, but some of the bigger contract guys in play and likely candidates to be moved sooner than later.
Basketball Insiders has already dropped the first part of the Buyers and Sellers series, with Spencer Davies taking a look at the Central Division. A new division will drop every day this week, so stay tuned.
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NBA Daily: Buyers Or Sellers – Central Division
Spencer Davies kicks off Basketball Insiders’ “Buyers or Sellers” series with a detailed breakdown of the Central Division.
Trade season is fast approaching and rumors are running rampant across in the NBA. Just in the past month, we’ve had three trades executed, including two blockbuster moves that will surely make an impact on the association, regarding this year and in the future.
The chatter is about to heat up, even more, this weekend. As soon as the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. EST on Dec. 15, players that signed new contracts in the summer (prior to Sept. 15) are eligible to be traded. The date is basically the opening of the floodgates when it comes to trade season.
Basketball Insiders is starting a “Buyers or Sellers” series to take a look at teams by division to determine what side of the spectrum they should be on. Is it wise to add talent, or is it smarter to look towards the future and acquire future assets?
Let’s go case-by-case, beginning with the Central Division.
As detailed in a reaction piece last Friday, the Bucks are all-in on winning now. When they went after veteran guard George Hill in a trade where parting with a potential future lottery draft pick was necessary to do it, it proved that claim.
Looking to offload two contracts that weren’t doing the organization any good, Milwaukee acted and added two guys—Hill and Jason Smith—that have been around this league for over a decade. With the way the season is going so far, it may not even be necessary to look for more help, but there’s no doubt that the team is in buyer mode.
There’s time to talk about Khris Middleton’s expiring contract later. Right now, it’s all clicking with the Bucks.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Pat Connaughton, Ersan Ilyasova, Brook Lopez
Similar to their in-division rivals, the Pacers are absolutely in contention for the Central and the Eastern Conference. Despite the injury bug rearing its ugly head, their record stands at 16-10, which is only four games back from the top-seeded Toronto Raptors.
There’s no shortage of talent on this Indiana squad. There’s Victor Oladipo, who, when healthy, is an All-Star playmaker. Bojan Bogdanovic has been an underrated player for the majority of his career. They’ve got a dual Sixth Man of The Year-Most Improved Player candidate in Domantas Sabonis. The team’s defense is as physical and gritty as NBA defenses can be.
In no way, shape or form are the Pacers a “seller” by any means, but they could explore trading Darren Collison. Doing so would allow Tyreke Evans to play more minutes with the second unit, as well as open up some more floor time for Aaron Holiday, the team’s rookie point guard that showed his capabilities in extended run in mid-November.
A lot has been made of the dynamic between Myles Turner and Sabonis and what that future looks like, however, it’s not something to worry about at the moment considering both look extremely comfortable in their roles.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, Kyle O’Quinn
We approach the middling team of the bunch in the Central. While Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin are enjoying career seasons and Dwane Casey is doing a fine job in year one as head coach, the Pistons just can’t seem to get it going on the offensive end as a team.
Detroit’s perimeter defense, and defense, in general, has been solid to this point. Its own three-point shooting has been quite the opposite. We’ve highlighted this before multiple times. It needs to change if this group wants to have a chance to make noise in the division and in the East.
According to a report from the New York Post, the Pistons have shown interest in Knicks guard Damyean Dotson. In his sophomore season, the 24-year-old is taking over four threes per game and knocking down 38.5 percent of them. To put this in perspective, Dotson would already be Detroit’s best three-point shooter the day he walked into the building.
Detroit Free Press writer Vince Ellis confirmed that Dotson is a real option for the Pistons because of his current cheap contract and the fact that his $1.6 million salary for 2019-20 is non-guaranteed until July 15. The only snags in making this happen are Detroit’s reluctance to make a deal to go over the luxury tax and the Knicks trying to avoid added salary.
If Dotson isn’t the player the Pistons go after, they should look elsewhere for help beyond the arc because they need it. Otherwise, the season could get away really fast.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Jose Calderon, Zaza Pachulia, Glenn Robinson III
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s pretty obvious that the Cavaliers are in asset accumulation mode. They just made a trade to absorb two rather heavy contracts in John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova in order to add draft picks.
Henson has a torn ligament in his left wrist and Dellavedova—though highly appreciated in Cleveland for his NBA Finals heroics—has seemingly been injured for the majority of the last two seasons with no real rotation spot since the 2016-17 campaign.
Just one week beforehand, the Cavaliers traded Kyle Korver to the Utah Jazz for Alec Burks and future second-round draft picks. The biggest question mark coming into the season was what would happen with these veteran players leftover from the championship years, and we’re getting the answer to it right now.
Cleveland likely won’t be done there, either. J.R. Smith is away from the organization as both parties agreed to part ways until a deal is found. That could be this year, or it could be in the summertime when Smith’s contract is a desirable asset, as his 2019-20 salary is only partially guaranteed ($3.78 million) if waived before June 30. Everything depends on the offers the team receives.
What to do with Kevin Love is another good question considering the All-Star forward’s injury history and age, but the value in return likely wouldn’t be up to par with what the Cavaliers’ front office would find plausible. Plus, with the emergence of Collin Sexton, the wine and gold would like to see what that pairing looks like together after a year of experience for the rookie.
If you’re a franchise with an undesirable contract on the books, it’d be wise to call Cleveland right away. Just be prepared to give up some draft picks and/or young talent in return.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Channing Frye, David Nwaba, Rodney Hood (can veto trade due to re-signing qualifying offer)
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Jan. 24: Kevin Love
With the reported friction between Bulls players and interim head coach Jim Boylen, trades are not the talk of the town in the Windy City at the moment. Things have gone south in a hurry as the team has submerged to the bottom of the standings once more. With a 6-21 record, it looks as if another year is lost.
It’s especially disappointing since Lauri Markkanen just returned from injury and already made a game-winning shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The good vibes from that night have faded away since, as a 56-point home drubbing to the Boston Celtics occurred this past weekend and sparked debate all over social media regarding who to point the finger at.
Monday, Yahoo Sports published an article stating that Bulls players went to the National Basketball Players Association to express their frustrations with Boylen’s tactics—specifically holding a Sunday practice after a back-to-back.
So that’s where we’re at in Chicago at the moment. As far as trade talk goes, you’d have to think anything could be on the table at this point. One or two moves aren’t going to fix this situation. If anything, it’d be a temporary fix.
The organization could do some favors for its veterans, though.
Robin Lopez’s role has diminished significantly and is in his 10th year as a professional. He has an expiring $14.3 million left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent this coming summer. Justin Holiday is another candidate to be moved when you look at his salary. He’s making $4.38 million and that deal also expires at this season’s end.
The Jabari Parker homecoming has been fine, but nothing spectacular, so there might be some value in trading for him. It’s especially valuable when Parker’s contract includes a team option for $20 million next season, meaning it could basically be treated as an expiring deal—for Chicago or the team he’d hypothetically be moved to.
Whatever this franchise decides to do, some kind of change has to be made if it wants to get better and consistent.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney, Jabari Parker
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Jan. 15: Zach LaVine (can veto trade due to re-signing with Bulls after matching offer sheet. Can’t be traded to Sacramento Kings even with consent until after the 2018-19 league year)
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Jan. 21: Shaquille Harrison
This is only the Central Division. There’s still plenty of time for a makeover for all five of those teams, but just imagine elsewhere around the NBA. Be on the lookout for the rest of our “Buyers or Sellers” division-by-division breakdown series this coming week.
Starting Saturday, it’ll be off to the races. We’d better pay attention.
NBA Daily: The Trevor Ariza Sweepstakes: Part Deux
With the Trevor Ariza trade rumors heating up, Matt John speculates which teams could finish the three-way deal reportedly being discussed by the Lakers and the Suns.
Previously on Basketball Insiders…
After it was revealed last week that Trevor Ariza would soon be on the trade market following the expiration of his trade restriction on Dec. 15, much was discussed on who his next team could be. Almost one week following Marc Stein’s report, the jury is still out, but we finally got our first trade rumor centered on the veteran swingman.
Last night, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers are trying to orchestrate a three-way trade where they would acquire Ariza by shipping Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a team who could then provide Phoenix with both a young playmaker and a draft asset.
If both sides are able to find that third team to complete the deal, then holy nostalgia! First, we get Kyle Korver going back to the Jazz after eight years, and now we might potentially get Trevor Ariza’s return to the Lakers nearly a decade after he won a championship with them. All we need is for Kendrick Perkins to return to the Celtics, then we’ll party like it’s 2009!
But where will they find that third team? With what they’ve asked in return for Ariza, the Suns should not be optimistic that someone out there will meet their demands. Jimmy Butler didn’t fetch back any first-round picks, and neither did Korver, who are both in similar contract situations as Ariza. Getting a young playmaker and a draft asset for a guy who has disappointed enough to be put on the market the second he’s eligible is going to be difficult.
With what other teams have to offer on paper, it’s not undoable. The Suns may just have to lower their standards on what they hope to get back. The following teams could be the last piece the Lakers and Suns look towards to complete a Trevor Ariza deal.
The Sixers were mentioned in this writer’s piece last week among the teams that could potentially compete for Ariza’s services because they need the wing depth. The Lakers seemingly have the upper-hand in the Ariza sweepstakes, so Philly may have to settle for the next best thing: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Not to fret, though. Shortly after the Jimmy Butler trade was completed, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported that the Sixers had interest in KCP to help fill the shooting void left by Robert Covington and Dario Saric. Caldwell-Pope’s shooting percentages have gone down a little this season, as he’s shot 38 percent from the field including 34 percent from three. Maybe that would change on a team like Philly, where his role would be more clearly defined.
The point of acquiring him would be to add much-needed depth to a struggling bench. According to hoopsstats.com, the Sixers rank no. 22 in bench scoring on average, as they put up 34.3 points a game. KCP’s not a pure scorer, but he’s better than what Philly has in its second unit.
It’s also a good match because Philly has Markelle Fultz to offer as the young playmaker the Suns would want. It’d be perfect because the Suns can be patient with Fultz – which Philly can’t afford at the moment – and trading Fultz $8 million plus for Caldwell-Pope’s expiring deal saves money for the Sixers that they would use to retain Butler and Ben Simmons.
Also, trading the two of them for each other works straight up, which benefits the Sixers because they’d have to add extra contract filler to match with Ariza’s contract. If the Lakers and Suns really wanted to make this trade, then Philly would be the most ideal third team to complete it.
New York Knicks
If the Suns are truly are searching for that young playmaker to put next to Devin Booker, then the one team that has plenty to offer in that department is the New York Knicks.
This past week, Drew Maresca wrote about the influx of young point guards that the Knicks have at their disposal and that changes need to be made because they can’t properly develop all of them. Getting involved in this rumored Trevor Ariza trade could solve the problem.
Between Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay, someone has to be the odd man out. The Suns inquired about Ntilikina a short time ago, but New York rebuffed them. Since Frank is the youngest and has the most economical contract of the three, he’s the least likely of the three to be traded.
That leaves Burke and Mudiay. Both have done a half-decent job at running the point, as they have put up nearly identical averages in the same number of minutes this season.
Burke: 12 points, three assists, 2.1 rebounds on 42 percent shooting including 36 percent from three on 20.7 minutes a game.
Mudiay: 12.1 points, 2.9 assists, 2.8 rebounds on 45 percent shooting including 37 percent from three on 23.8 minutes a game.
Either one would probably satisfy Phoenix’s demands of a young playmaker since they are both in their twenties. They aren’t a long-term solution, but since either would hypothetically be traded for Trevor Ariza, that’s about as good as they can expect.
New York also has the contract filler to match for Caldwell-Pope. Lance Thomas’ deal is non-guaranteed next year, and Ron Baker is expiring. They could easily make this work.
Caldwell-Pope wouldn’t be playing for a playoff contender in New York, and he can veto any trade he doesn’t like. However, playing for a storied franchise with that much exposure could give his career a boost, especially if he gets more touches as a Knick. If not, then he can just ask for a buyout and join a better team. New York can’t offer the same high potential that Philly can, but they can reasonably meet Phoenix’s demands.
Philadelphia and New York are the two prime candidates to be the last piece in this three-team deal. That being said, there could be others.
Sacramento, who was also brought up in last week’s article, could use more defensive personnel. They could offer Frank Mason III as well as expiring contracts for Caldwell-Pope.
Utah has some expiring contracts, as well as a mysterious young playmaker in Dante Exum, but they’re not likely to offer any of that for Caldwell-Pope.
There is also the outside possibility that Ariza goes somewhere besides Laker Land. We have seen scenarios play out like that before, which is why we as the audience always tune into stories like these.
The Trevor Ariza sweepstakes are getting juicier by the day, which brings nothing but joy to NBA junkies alike. This is probably going to be an impactful transaction in a season that already has a list of them, and we haven’t even hit the two-month mark yet!
Even if Ariza is getting past his prime, and regardless of where he goes, there’s one obvious winner from all of this: the spectators.