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NBA AM: Forthcoming NBA Milestones

LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dirk Nowitzki are among those due for big milestones this coming season.

Joel Brigham

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Every season, NBA players do incredible things, but few are as impressive as the long-term achievements of those active hoops legends that somehow have dominated the league over long stretches of time. While players like Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter appear on some very prestigious all-time lists despite waning abilities, others like Chris Paul and LeBron James are in the twilights of their careers and still are moving their way up all-time stat lists, perhaps with eyes on the top spots in some categories.

The following is a look at which milestones are ahead for NBA stars this season. With some all-time greats moving into the back ends of their careers (or in some cases, the way-back ends of their careers), the all-time stat lists are bound to see some big movement in 2017-2018. The following are the career milestones we can expect to see this season:

Career Points

Dirk Nowitzki is 1,159 points away from passing Wilt Chamberlin for 5th on the all-time NBA scoring list. Nowitzki would need to score 14.1 points per game for 82 games to surpass him, which doesn’t seem likely considering he only played just over 50 games last season, so while it isn’t impossible, it also doesn’t seem like Nowitzki will quite get there.

LeBron James, currently 9th all-time in total points, should easily surpass Moses Malone and Julius Erving this season, and it’s not impossible that he passes Nowitzki, too, depending on Dirk’s health. At worst, James should finish the season 7th on the all-time scoring list. At best, James could finish in 5th, ahead of Nowitzki and Chamberlin, if he scores 32 points per game for all 82 games.

Vince Carter, currently 27th on the all-time scoring list, is only 387 points away from moving into the top 25 scorers of all time. He scored 584 points last year in Memphis, so he could easily hop over Patrick Ewing and Artis Gilmore on the list this year.

While no one knows where Carmelo Anthony (30th on the all-time scoring list) will play next season, it seems likely he still will be asked to score quite a few points. Were he to score around 1,600 points in 2017-2018, a slight downtick from last season, he would jump nine spots on the scoring list to 21st, leapfrogging not only Ewing, Gilmore and Carter, but also Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Jerry West, Reggie Miller, Rick Barry and Alex English.

Career Rebounds

Dwight Howard (23rd all-time) is the active player with the most career rebounds, and he could make even more ground on those totals this year as a member of the Charlotte Hornets. In the past few seasons, Howard has hauled in somewhere between 800 and 950 rebounds, and if he repeats that in 2017-2018 it’s possible for him to finish the season as high 16th on the all-time rebounds list, passing Charles Oakley, Paul Silas, Dikembe Mutomobo, Charles Barkley, Bob Pettit, Jerry Lucas and Buck Williams. Next on the list, with 1,010 more career rebounds than Howard, is Shaquille O’Neal.

Nowtizki, meanwhile, is 31st on the all-time rebounds list. Assuming he hauls in another 300-400 boards this season, he should easily finish among the top 30 all-time, likely settling in at 29th ahead of Dan Issell and Bill Bridges.

Career Assists

Currently 10th all-time in career assists, Chris Paul looks primed to dole out a whole lot more of them this season in Houston. When healthy, Paul’s floor is usually around 600 dimes a season, while he’s only topped 900 assists in a season once in his career. Finishing the year with 750 would push him over 9,000 career dimes, which would jump him ahead of Andre Miller and Gary Payton on the all-time list. If Paul were to top 810 assists, he’d jump Isiah Thomas for 7th all-time as well, though he’d need another full elite season in 2018-2019 to have any sort of shot at Oscar Robertson, who currently is 6th all-time with 9,887 assists.

LeBron James is moving up the assists list, too. Currently 12th with 7.461, James could add another 500-600 assists this season, putting him over 8,000 for his career and likely moving him into the top ten on the all-time list by year’s end.

While Deron Williams could potentially retire, playing another season would potentially move him up a bit on the all-time assists list, too. Currently 19th with 6,819 assists, Williams is only 102 assists from moving up to 18th all-time. Another 38 and he’d be 17th all-time. This requires he not only land with a team but also be given enough minutes to tack on a few more, but Williams already has solidified himself among the top 20 all-time, regardless of what happens this season.

Career Steals

Chris Paul is currently 16th all-time in steals with 1,912. Only once has he failed to steal fewer than 115 balls in a season, and he has a couple of seasons early in his career over 200. Conservatively, Paul should be penciled in for around 150 steals this season, which would be enough to push him over 2,000 career steals and into 13th place all-time. With exactly 200 steals, Paul would finish the season tied for 10th all-time with Alvin Robertson.

LeBron James is currently 22nd all-time and usually ends up with around 100 steals per season. If he does that again, perhaps topping 115 steals this year, he could surpass Isaiah Thomas and settle in somewhere around 17th or 18th on the all-time list.

Career Blocks

Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol both are on the low end of the top 25 all-time for career blocks, and both should see some upward movement on that list this season. Howard (23rd all-time), has blocked between 90 and 130 shots when healthy over the last four seasons, and doing so again would get him to 2,000 blocks all-time and jump him a few spots on the all-time list. He could finish the season 20th all-time if he were to swat away 112 blocks this year.

Meanwhile Gasol, currently 25th on the list with 1,847 all-time blocks, only swatted away 70 last year in San Antonio after two seasons with 145+ as a member of the Chicago Bulls. Blocking another 100 would move him to 23rd all-time, into Howard’s old spot.

Career Games Played

Nowitzki and Carter are the only active players currently among the top 20 players all-time in terms of games played. Carter (14th all-time) could jump as high as 8th on the list this season, while Nowitzki (8th all-time) could tie Karl Malone for 4th all-time if he played all 82 games.

***

While watching Nowitzki and Carter this year might be as exciting as watching their athletic rookie teammates, the numbers they continue to accrue are incredible. Big milestones await for several future Hall-of-Famers this season. It’s just a matter of how much higher those numbers go.

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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.

Joel Brigham

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Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.

Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.

“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”

Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.

“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”

Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.

“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”

That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.

“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”

In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.

“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”

That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.

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