A few weeks ago, I created a poll on Twitter asking which team would finish last in the Southeast Division. Out of the five teams in the division – the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami HEAT, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards – the HEAT, Magic and Wizards were possible options to choose from.
The results seemed a bit surprising at the time, as the HEAT received 56 percent of the vote. The poll was inspired by some news that was released that day since it was reported that Chris Bosh’s stint with the organization is over. Bosh said he didn’t receive a call or a text about the news.
It’s no secret by now that the HEAT didn’t have the best of offseasons. The team lost several key free agents, including Luol Deng, Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire among others. The biggest surprise came when Dwyane Wade opted to leave the HEAT organization after 13 years to sign with the Chicago Bulls, believing he was mistreated by the front office.
Since the team lost so many players in free agency, they were forced to add a number of different players. The team signed players like Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Luke Babbitt, Willie Reed and Beno Udrih. With so much turnover on the roster and questions being pointed at the front office, it’s easy to see how the team has been pretty much written off before the season has even started.
With so many teams in the Eastern Conference improving over the summer, the HEAT were seemingly the odd team out in a lot of playoff predictions from various media outlets. Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham ran his annual 50 predictions for the season and opened up some of the predictions to other writers on the site. My prediction: The Miami HEAT will finish above .500 and will make the playoffs.
While some may not be as optimistic as others when it comes to the team’s postseason chances, I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that the HEAT will miss the playoffs. If the HEAT can replicate their preseason results thus far during the regular season, it would indicate that they may surprise some people this season.
Through six games so far, the HEAT are 4-2 with two games still left to play. The team is posting improvements in several key areas and getting contributions from all over the court. Perhaps the most impressive feat during the preseason was holding the San Antonio Spurs (including Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker) to 39 percent shooting through the first three quarters last Friday.
So far, the HEAT have the fourth-best offensive rating in the league, scoring 105.7 points per 100 possessions. On the other side of the ball, they have earned the eighth-best defensive rating, giving up just 95.7 points per 100 possessions. To put that into perspective, only five teams finished last season inside the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency – and each of those teams made the playoffs.
It’s hard to talk about the HEAT’s preseason and not talk about how dominant Hassan Whiteside has been. In four games, he’s averaging 17.5 points, 12 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. His points rank 10th among all players this preseason, while he’s second in rebounds and first in blocks. He’ll be a crucial piece for the team on defense and if he can keep up that pace during the regular season, the HEAT could be in great shape.
Of course, even head coach Erik Spoelstra will tell you not to read too much into preseason results. However, it must be encouraging that his team has been able to perform well on both sides of the ball given all of the tinkering with lineups that goes on during the preseason. Teams are trying to figure out which lineups work well and which ones don’t. The HEAT have used a different starting lineup in each game so far.
One of the biggest improvements for the HEAT has come in shooting. The team has been among the worst teams in three-point percentage for quite some time now but has improved drastically this preseason. They ranked 27th in percentage last season and were 28th in total three-pointers made at 498. They’ve improved to third in the league in percentage and are fifth in three-pointers made per game. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the improved shooting is they’re doing it without arguably their best shooter in Josh Richardson. Players like Tyler Johnson, Ellington, Babbitt and Waiters are all shooting above 40 percent and figure to play a large role in the offense this season.
It also seems as though there is legitimate competition for the team’s 15th and final roster spot. There are currently 15 guaranteed contracts for next season so the team could decide between Udrih, Rodney McGruder and Briante Weber for the final spot.
The team is stacked in the backcourt, with each of those three players vying for the last roster spot all capable of playing both guard positions if necessary. With Goran Dragic, Johnson, Richardson, Ellington and Waiters all seemingly locked in for plenty of minutes this season, which of those bubble players will the team want to keep? Surely having such competition is a good thing for the team.
Another area that points to the HEAT potentially having success this season is the coaching staff. Spoelstra is among the best coaches in the league and has proven to keep his teams competitive despite having key players missing. When Bosh went down with his blood clotting issue for the first time two years ago, the team just narrowly missed the playoffs by one game. Last season, they advanced to the second round without Bosh.
Spoelstra has always proven to be great at mixing and matching his lineups based on which players he has available. In this year’s NBA general manager’s survey, Spoelstra received votes for the head coach that makes the best in-game adjustments. He’s also been able to get the most out of his players while having to rely on several individuals plucked out of the D-League.
Just as Spoelstra has told reporters already, it’s hard to take what happens in preseason seriously. Teams often experiment with different lineups and some star players play sparingly throughout the exhibition games. While it’s hard to take everything the HEAT have done and apply it to the regular season, they have shown improvements as a team and that can be something they build on.
It’s clear that the HEAT have several players on the roster that are still looking to prove themselves in the league and that should be something they can benefit from. With Spoelstra running the show, they’ll be as prepared as they can be, but it’ll be on the players to perform on the court. As they look to prove themselves in the Eastern Conference, don’t overlook this group this season.
NBA AM: Nicolas Batum Is Helping The Hornets Get Organized
Dwight Howard has predictably struggled with scoring efficiency, but Nicolas Batum’s return is already helping.
With the Charlotte Hornets below .500 and presently out of the playoff picture almost a quarter of the way into the season, it’s not too early to start looking at what has gone wrong. While Dwight Howard has, predictably, been an inefficient contributor on offense, the loss of Nicolas Batum for much of the early season was a major setback. With Batum averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 assists in his first four appearances since his return, can he be the catalyst to help Charlotte turn its season around?
Batum scored 16 with five rebounds and six assists in his first appearance of the season in a loss to the Cavaliers. Hornets coach Steve Clifford said it’s been a struggle to ease Batum back into the rotation due to his eagerness to be on the court.
“When he feels good, I just leave him out there,” said Clifford after Wednesday’s shootaround. “We just have to be careful because the first night, he gets going in the games and he wants to play more.”
Clifford added that Charlotte’s condensed schedule, featuring seven games in 11 days, has complicated efforts to bring Batum along slowly.
“He just needed to play some,” said Clifford. “I think once we get through this stretch he’ll be good. He eats up minutes anyway.”
Batum working his way back into the rotation could help the Hornets address one of the early issues, which has been the incorporation of Howard into the offense. Batum gives Charlotte another proficient pick and roll ball handler in addition to Kemba Walker, and he should help put Howard in better positions to score.
“It’s a lot different being out there with Nic,” said Walker. “He just takes so much pressure off a lot of us. It’s really good to have him back. He just makes the game easy for a lot of us.”
Three Hornets have executed over 20 pick and rolls as the roll man this season. Cody Zeller has scored 1.14 points per 100 possessions on 22 such possessions. Frank Kaminsky has scored 1.15 per 100 on 33 possessions as a roll man. This scoring efficiency for both players ranks just above the league average.
For Howard, in 24 possessions as a roll man, he’s scored .75 per 100, which ranks in the eighth percentile. In other words, Howard ranks in the bottom 10 percent of the league in pick and roll scoring efficiency. Just as Howard was unable to establish a consistent pick and roll partnership in Atlanta last season with point guard Dennis Schroder, Howard’s possessions as a roll man in Charlotte account for only nine percent of his total possessions.
By contrast, Howard has used 95 possessions this season in post isolation, which accounts for more than a third of his total possessions (35 percent). He’s scoring a ghastly .66 per 100 possessions, which ranks in the 15th percentile league-wide. Of the 17 players who have used at least 50 post-up possessions this season, Howard ranks dead last in scoring efficiency.
How Dwight Howard ranks in scoring efficiency among players with at least 70 post up possessions this season: pic.twitter.com/lVYRfkIQhP
— Buddy Grizzard (@BuddyGrizzard) November 22, 2017
Despite these struggles, Clifford said Batum’s re-integration into the lineup has already resulted in more opportunities for Howard, both from direct and indirect assists.
“Since Nic came back now he’s getting the ball a lot more,” said Clifford. “That’s how Nic plays. It’s not only directly from Nic, but Nic will see how he’s playing and touch the ball to somebody else so they can get it to him.”
Clifford sounds relieved to have Batum back in the rotation, almost as if he’s an assistant coach on the floor.
“Certainly [it helps] our efficiency and organization on both ends of the floor,” said Clifford. “It’s the very nature of how he plays.”
With the Hornets just outside the playoff picture in the East, Batum’s return should help stabilize the team in its quest for the postseason. Batum wasn’t available to help ease Howard’s integration in the early part of the season. But now that he’s back, according to Clifford, he’s already been a huge asset to the team’s cohesion.
Life After Philadelphia is Just Fine For Turner
Evan Turner goes 1-on-1 with Basketball Insiders to explain how life in Philadelphia shaped the rest of his career.
Once upon a time, Evan Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and the next man in line to save the Philadelphia 76ers.
After finishing his junior year at Ohio State University, Turner declared for the draft and eventually was taken directly after John Wall by the Sixers. Turner joined a team that won just 27 games the year before, but had more than a few promising young pieces.
Andre Iguodala, a former Sixers top-10 pick in his own right, was the oldest of the core bunch, at just 27. After him, the likes of Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes were all under the age of 24. All in all, adding a No. 2 pick to that mix looked to set up the Sixers for years to come.
For the most part, the beginning of Turner’s career was successful. After making the playoffs his rookie season and losing in the first round to the Miami HEAT four games to one, the Sixers pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2011-12 season.
Turner started 12 of those 13 playoff games during his second season, averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 points per game.
Just as Turner seemed to be coming into his own, though, the tides in Philadelphia began to turn, and turn quickly.
His third year in the league, and first year as a full-time starter, came and went for Turner. He posted decent numbers. His 13.6 points per game were second only to Holiday. He was third on the team in assists and sixth in rebounds. In the midst of his fourth season, while averaging a career-high 17.4 points, Turner was traded to the Indiana Pacers.
Newly hired president of basketball operations, Sam Hinkie, had a plan in place that didn’t include Turner. It didn’t include Holiday either, as he was shipped off during the 2013 draft for Nerlens Noel and future first-round pick.
Just as the Sixers were becoming “his” team, Turner was sent packing to a new zip code. In his mind, he never got a fair shake at trying to the be the guy he was drafted to be in Philadelphia.
“I don’t think I really ever had a chance to shoulder it, to tell you the truth,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t start my first two years, but numbers wise I thought I did well. Nobody averaged more than 13 or 14. We were a great unit. My third year, my first year starting, I thought I did pretty well for a first-year starter. We missed the playoffs, which is always tough. Within the next year, it got blown up.”
Turner reiterated that in his mind, he wasn’t allowed the leash to become a franchise guy. But it wasn’t all for naught in Philadelphia.
“Honest opinion, I don’t think I ever fully got the chance,” Turner said. “But I got the chance to do a lot of great things. Learn how to win, learn how to defend, learn how to prepare.”
Since leaving Philly, Turner’s role in the NBA has shifted from a potential franchise player to a serviceable role man on a playoff caliber team.
Last summer, Turner inked a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers after his stint with Indiana, and then two years with the Boston Celtics. Beyond the years in Philly, Turner’s life in the Association has been kind to him.
“It’s been fine,” Turner said. “On the up and up, I was fortunate to make the playoffs every year since leaving Philly. I made the playoffs two out of three, or three out of the four years that I was here. It’s cool, it’s a blessing. Healthy, stable, and living the dream.”
On Wednesday night, Turner returned to Philadelphia and the Wells Fargo Center to square off against his old team. Nowadays, this version of the Sixers is much different than the one he left behind. A process that nearly began with jettisoning Turner to the Pacers feels near completion, and the energy Turner once felt on the court in a Sixers uniform is returning in full force.
When walking around the building, this time as a visitor, Turner takes appreciation in seeing some old faces. The guys “behind the scenes” as he put it, always are welcoming. Brett Brown, Turner’s former coach, never fails to show him love, and the arena in South Philly, Turner says, is always a great reminder of where he came from.
Turner thinks the process that was kicked off with getting rid of him and his core teammates is promising, though.
“It’s turning around,” Turner said. “Just off the first eye glance, I know Coach Brown can coach his butt off. Even the fact that they’re getting up a real practice facility says a lot. Obviously on the court, the energy. You see on tv before, it’s more sold out. When you see the Sixers sometimes it would be a joke, in regards to how many games they lost, or whatever. But now it’s kind of like you’re going to see some great highlights, you’re watching a lot of energy from the crowd and things. I’m happy for them. It seems like it’s trending in the right direction.”
It wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine for Turner in Philadelphia; he would be reminded of that as he was greeted with boo’s from the crowd when he checked into the game for the first time Wednesday night. The city of brotherly love has a reputation that doesn’t necessarily precede its name.
“Much is given, much is expected,” he said. “One thing is, when you get kind of labeled as whatever, you kind of get tagged for the most critical stuff. I saw how sometimes Iguodala would get blamed for everything, and then I kind of moved into that. I went from the cute little kid, to moving into that responsibility. Then MCW (Michael Carter-Williams) went from that position. It’s just kind of, you know, part of the game.”
The harshness of the city, and Turner’s situation particularly, helped guide him through his career after Philadelphia. In Turner’s words, “The only way to go from here, in a certain sense, is up.”
Portland’s sixth man has lived a long, lucrative life in the NBA, even if it didn’t go exactly how it was initially planned to. Turner was quick to point out that any time he heard someone complain during his travels around the league, at least they weren’t facing the wrath of Philadelphia.
“Going into new situations, people are like, ‘Hey they do this or they do that,’ and I’m like are y’all serious,” Turner said with a smile. “Go to Philly and see what they’ll do to y’all.”
Maybe his time spent in Philadelphia didn’t turn out the way fans had hoped, but Turner found out quickly there was a spot for him in the league as a former second overall pick, and that his career has gone just the way it was supposed to.
“I’m a firm believer in everything is supposed to happen how it’s supposed to happen,” Turner said. “Regardless of which, it’s a blessing.”
NBA AM: The First 2018 NBA Mock Draft
With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.
The Thanksgiving 2018 NBA Mock Draft
With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.
So with that in mind here is my first Mock Draft of the 2018 Season, look for more of these are we march on (and hopefully you like the new Mock Draft table design.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this summer.
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 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 convey.
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 convey.
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 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.
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