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NBA AM: 2016 Draft Class Struggling

The majority of the 2016 NBA draft class has struggled as rookies, writes Alex Kennedy.

Alex Kennedy

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As 2017 approaches, Joel Embiid is the clear-cut favorite to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award for the 2016-17 season. It’s hard to distinguish a real challenger for him at this point because there’s such a significant gap between the Philadelphia 76ers center and the rest of the class.

Embiid is leading all rookies in points (18.4), rebounds (7.4), blocks (2.4), double-doubles (six) and player efficiency rating (22.9). In every one of these stat categories, the runner-up behind Embiid is way below him. Keep in mind that the 22-year-old is doing this while starting the season on a minutes limit; he has averaged only 24.3 minutes (just the fourth-most in the class).

Part of this dominance is because Embiid has been really, really good. However, another reason Embiid feels like a lock to win Rookie of the Year is because the 2016 NBA Draft class has struggled. One could make the case that the second-best rookie this season has been Embiid’s Philly teammate, Dario Saric, who also wasn’t part of the 2016 draft. He’s ranked second in points (9.1), rebounds (5.7) and double-doubles (three).

Embiid and Saric were both drafted in 2014, but delayed the start of their NBA careers until this year (Embiid due to injuries, Saric because he was playing overseas).

If we’re looking at just the 2016 NBA Draft class, the numbers are pretty ugly.

There isn’t a single 2016 draft pick who’s averaging double figures in points per game. Denver’s Jamal Murray is the leading scorer with just 9.0 points, followed by New Orleans’ Buddy Hield at 8.1 points. They are the only 2016 draft picks averaging over eight points per game. There are only seven 2016 draft picks averaging over six points per game.

Compare this to last year, when eight rookies averaged over 10 points per game. And even in “weak” drafts of the past, there have been a handful of double-figure scorers and plenty of role players making an impact and chipping in at least six points per game.

Other stats are similarly disappointing.

Andrew Harrison is currently leading all rookies in assists with just 3.6 per game. But he was a 2015 draft pick who didn’t play his first NBA minutes until this year, putting him in the same boat as Embiid and Saric. There are only two 2016 draft picks who are averaging three assists: Malcolm Brogdon and Isaiah Whitehead. The rookie leader last year was Emmanuel Mudiay, who dished out 5.5 assists per game.

The top three rebounders were all drafted in previous years (Embiid, Saric and Willy Hernangomez). The rebounding leader among 2016 draft picks is Los Angeles’ Brandon Ingram, who’s grabbing just 4.1 rebounds per game. There are only four other 2016 picks who are averaging three rebounds: Pascal Siakam, Domantas Sabonis, Marquese Chriss and Jakob Poeltl. The rebounding leader among the 2015 draft picks was Karl-Anthony Towns (10.5 per game) and 10 rookies averaged at least five boards.

Embiid’s 2.4 blocks per game looks great atop the leaderboard and then there’s a huge drop off. Toronto’s Pascal Siakam leads the 2016 draft picks in blocks per game with just .83, with Memphis’ Deyonta Davis’ .58 average ranking second among this draft class. Last year, Kristaps Porzingis was the top shot-blocker (1.8 per game) and six rookies averaged at least one block per game.

Embiid and Saric are the only rookies with multiple double-doubles this year. In fact, the 2016 draft picks have three double-doubles combined so far (with Chriss, Cheick Diallo and Sabonis each recording one). Among the 2015 draft picks, Towns recorded the most double-doubles (55), followed by Porzingis (21) and Jahlil Okafor (11).

Hernangomez’s 57.1 percent from the field lead all rookies, but the leader among 2016 draft picks is Siakam with a 53.8 shooting percentage. Every other 2016 draft pick is shooting below 45.5 percent from the field. Last year, there were nine rookies who shot at least 50 percent from the field.

One thing that must be noted is that the top pick in this year’s draft, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, has yet to suit up due to a fractured bone in his right foot. While he’s just one player, he was expected to put up strong numbers and challenge for Rookie of the Year. Perhaps we’d view this class a bit differently if he was healthy and filling the stat sheet nightly.

Some people have pointed out that players in the 2016 class should have stayed in college longer rather than leaving school so soon. But the last several drafts have featured one-and-done players who were able to produce. And this reasoning also doesn’t explain why older, more experienced rookies in this year’s class haven’t had much success either.

Not to mention, the idea that a player needs to stay in college longer in order to further their development is questionable. In college, a player has to juggle basketball with schoolwork. In the NBA, basketball is the top priority and the players have the best resources in the world at their disposal. If a player wants to improve rapidly, the NBA is the way to go so they can experience elite coaching, state-of-the-art facilitates, top-notch weight-training, terrific nutritionists, invaluable mentoring from veteran players and much more.

Maybe this class will yield some late bloomers and we will look back on this down period as an aberration. While this year’s draft picks have struggled, a number of undrafted rookies have emerged as surprises such as Miami’s Rodney McGruder, Dallas’ Jonathan Gibson and Memphis’ Troy Williams among others.

As a whole, hopefully this is just a case of the 2016 draft class getting off to a slow start.

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 Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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