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NBA AM: Pacers On The Ropes, In Serious Trouble

From a potential title contender to a possible first round elimination, the Indiana Pacers’ freefall continues… Kings GM vows to be aggressive.

Lang Greene

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No doubt about it, the Indiana Pacers are in trouble

You can always evaluate someone’s true character after they’ve come face to face with the highest level of adversity. Simply put, it is gut check time for the Indiana Pacers. Sink or swim. Now or never. Indiana will enter Saturday’s Game 4 versus the Atlanta Hawks with their season essentially on the line, down 2-1, on the ropes and in serious trouble in their first round playoff series.

It isn’t exactly a surprise Atlanta has pulled out two victories versus the Pacers in the series. Most predicted the Hawks to be very competitive in the matchup since they’ve routinely played the Pacers tough over the past few seasons.

However, not many would have imagined the Pacers being in a must-win scenario with their season at stake. The Hawks took Game 3 on Thursday night 98-85 to further position themselves for an upset. But it wasn’t just the loss itself, it was how Indiana loss which could be the most indicative sign that the team’s fate may be sealed.

All-Star center Roy Hibbert scored just four points and grabbed only two rebounds in 19 minutes of action in Game 3, continuing his forgettable second half of the 2014 campaign. The biggest sign of how Hibbert has been rendered completely ineffective in this series is his blocked shot total of zero in 73 minutes of action. But Hibbert has been equally as bad overall, averaging just 6.0 points and 4.7 rebounds  on 28 percent shooting from the floor (7-of-25).

Former All-Star forward David West isn’t ready to hit the panic button, but admits maintaining confidence in certain respects is getting tougher as the losses mount.

“We have a few guys who wear their emotions on their sleeves … guys who are their own biggest critics,” West told the media after Game 3 loss. “When guys aren’t playing well and shots aren’t going in, they show it. We’ve tried to work on that and keep guys confident. … We’re not going to panic. We came down [to Atlanta] to get one game.”

Perhaps the most chilling stat from Game 3 was All-Star forward Paul George’s disappearance act in the fourth quarter when the club had multiple opportunities to make a final run. George played every second of the fourth quarter, but scored just three points and didn’t connect on any of his four field goal attempts.

While Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard took a step easing questions on head coach Frank Vogel’s job security, the fact remains Indiana needs to win three out of their next four games in order to survive the series.

Sacramento Kings still taking aggressive stance regarding roster improvement

The Sacramento Kings haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006 and have only flirted with finishing a campaign at .500 once since then. The 2014 campaign also marked the second straight season the club has posted 54 losses.

So it’s not surprising the team has been extremely aggressive in improving overall team talent. Since the beginning of the season the Kings added Aaron Gray, Derrick Williams, Rudy Gay and Quincy Acy via trade, while dealing (or waiving) Greivis Vasquez, Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Marcus Thornton and Patrick Patterson.

Simply put, if there is a deal out there for Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro to explore chances are he already has been working on it and don’t expect him to stop working the phone lines anytime soon. But the executive says there is a certain type of player, certain attributes, the team wants to add to the fold moving forward.

“The one that stands out the most to me is unselfishness,” D’Alessandro said according to Katie Cracchiolo of Kings.com. “I think sometimes it’s one of those very gray-area qualities, but I asked some of the staff, “What does it mean to you? Where do we go with that?” We ultimately came to a consensus it’s not just assists.

“When I first came in I said we need assists, and we still do, but it’s setting a good screen. It’s giving the ball up, it’s seeing the play ahead of time, it’s coming back to the bench and seeing one of your teammates down and putting your arm around him. It’s all of those things you see the great teams have. We will watch one of these playoff games and we’ll see that. I’ve been a part of really good teams and it’s one of the things that always stood out to me: The unselfishness and the camaraderie that comes with it – to not have a gray area, but to specify what that means, and it means really caring about your fellow teammate. It means really sharing, and I think it comes in a lot of ways.”

The Kings are currently projected to pick seventh in this year’s draft, positioning the franchise in a good position to secure a prime young asset.

D’Alessandro believes drafting a player is the easier work, compared to trying to trade for a guy in a different situation.

“I’d say trading, because there are so many moving parts,” D’Alessandro said. “With the draft, we get the list from the league stating the eligible players. Then you’re ranking, you’re watching film and re-ranking, and the variable is which player the teams in front of you pick. When you’re picking in the Lottery, there’s fewer variables in the drafting process.

“When you’re doing a trade, a deal isn’t done until it’s done. I’ve had probably five other deals done this year that weren’t ever completed, but they were right there, and at least one of them that got done was done quickly and out of nowhere. So trades are really difficult in terms of trying to manage the moving parts.”

This will be a big summer for the Kings. The team has just $47 million in guaranteed salaries on the books next season but Gay could opt in to the final year of his deal worth $19.3 million.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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NBA

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.

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 not convey.

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 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 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 not 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.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland

Basketball Insiders

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The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.

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