Many around the NBA questioned the moves the Orlando Magic made over the offseason. From fans to basketball writers to even some players elsewhere, the team’s decision to essentially double-down on defense seemed a bit confusing.
In a time when defense is a necessity in the NBA, the Magic followed that mold by adding a couple of key defensive-minded players over the summer. But it’s the offense that looks to have its fair share of problems and that’s where the concern is.
The team’s roster doesn’t feature a go-to scorer, which seems to be a problem for everyone except those inside the organization. It’s hard to gauge exactly how a team’s season will go based on just three preseason games, but the Magic only have two players averaging double-digits in scoring: Evan Fournier and Jeff Green.
The common thought in the NBA is to have a scorer a team can count on to carry the offensive load night in and night out. No player on the Magic’s roster immediately sticks out as a player who could possibly carry that title, but it appears as though Fournier will be the team’s best offensive option.
Through the team’s first three preseason games, Fournier is averaging 17.3 points on 59 percent shooting from the field, including 62 percent (8-of-13) from three-point range. Preseason results are meaningless, but those games give teams an opportunity to adjust lineups and see which units are the most productive.
While it looks like Fournier could become the team’s go-to player in certain situations, it’s a role that he doesn’t want to fully embrace. With so many new pieces to integrate together, the coaching staff has embraced playing as a team and going with the hot player when it’s needed. That mindset appears to have trickled down to the players.
“I’m not a fan at all of, ‘You’re going to be the guy or you’re going to be the go-to scorer,’” Fournier said. “The game dictates it. If I have the hot hand then so be it. One night it can be [Nikola Vucevic]. That’s what the term ‘team’ means. I’ll never start a game saying, ‘Okay, I got to take my 20 shots tonight.’ Not at all. [I think], ‘Take what the defense gives you and be a good teammate.’”
“When we’re out on the floor, we’re playing team basketball,” Green added. “Our motto is if the shot is there, take it. If it’s not, try to make the next player on your team better. I think we’ve been doing a great job of that and sharing the ball and being aggressive at the same time. … We got guys that can put some numbers on the board so it’s great to have everybody back.”
The main priority for the Magic at this point in the preseason is just getting their whole team on the court together in the first place. Key players like Elfrid Payton (hip), Aaron Gordon (ankle) and Serge Ibaka (knee) missed the team’s first two preseason games before returning to action last night against the San Antonio Spurs.
The results from those three players in the 95-89 loss looked at times to go about as well as expected from guys who haven’t yet played in a game setting. Payton finished with three points (on 1-of-5 shooting), Gordon recorded just six points (on 3-of-10 shooting) and 10 rebounds and Ibaka had seven points and three rebounds.
It’s important not to read too much into the results on the box score. Those three players hadn’t appeared in either of the team’s first two games and have been held out of practice for much of training camp. With so little time spent on the court so far, their slow starts shouldn’t be all that surprising. Naturally, they’ll need time to knock off the rust.
Perhaps the most important thing to accomplish for this group is to get some playing time with the rest of their teammates and get back into game speed. These players will also need to regain their wind as well, as they looked to be a bit gassed at times. Despite the team playing together for the first time, the outing was still seen as a positive by most of the players.
“They have to get the rhythm, but with that being said we still accomplished some things that we set out the last couple of days that we wanted to do in this game,” Green said. “We know their rhythm will come back and we know they will play better next game. This is their first game back and they have to get the rhythm of the game. When you come back from an injury, it’s tough.
“The first two games, it’s just guys going out there and playing. We got our guys back now and going against the Spurs, even though they didn’t have their guys, we showcased some great things. We have to just continue to work [and] continue to get better. We will be better; we will be a great team. It takes some time, but it felt good to get everybody out there on the floor healthy.”
Preseason games usually bring out some overreactions by fans and those watching. Sometimes too much can be read into one player not contributing as much as they should be or another player not playing up to expectations. It’s more about getting guys familiar with each other and on the same page.
For head coach Frank Vogel and the rest of the team, Orlando’s final four preseason games will be critical as they get prepared for the regular season opener against the Miami HEAT on October 26. Players seem confident that once the games start to count, they’ll be ready to go.
The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft
College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.