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NBA AM: Picking All-Star Reserves

The NBA has named the All-Star starters, but which players might be named All-Star reserves?

Joel Brigham

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Fans, players and media combined to name this year’s NBA All-Star starters for the first time, and it’s hard to argue with the results. Both the Eastern Conference squad (LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan) and Western Conference team (Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis) are constructed of players who absolutely deserved to be featured in this winter’s exhibition, but that leaves open the next part of this process, which is naming the All-Star reserves, which will be announced on Thursday January 26th.

Those are selected by the coaches, who have proven in the past that they live by a different set of rules when choosing the players included in the All-Star Game. There tend to be more legacy votes from coaches, with older, more established players occasionally topping out the more deserving youngsters in the midst of breakout campaigns.

The following is a look at what players are most likely to be considered for those remaining spots. Coaches will vote in two more guards, three more frontcourt players and two wild cards. More likely than not, the remaining All-Stars will be chosen from this pool of talent:

Eastern Conference

Guards

Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics – Easily one of this season’s biggest stars, Thomas is among the league leaders with over 28 points per game, while adding over six assists per game and several clutch shots late in games this season (including a couple of game-winners). He’s only 5-foot-9, but he’s been a monster this year and arguably deserved to be named a starter. There’s little reason to believe he won’t be named a reserve.

Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors – After a slow start, Lowry has regained his typical form and, in a lot of ways, is having his best season as a pro. It seems like we say that every year, but Lowry has been especially good this season, and the advanced stats are there to support his success. He’s every bit as deserving of a spot as DeRozan is, and considering the team’s record as one of the East’s top teams, coaches will have no problems putting a second Raptor on the squad. He, too, feels like a shoe-in.

John Wall, Washington Wizards – With Thomas, DeRozan, Lowry and Irving all likely to make the roster as the Eastern Conference’s four guards, the best opportunity for both Wall and Kemba Walker is to latch on as wild card additions. Wall, averaging right around 23 points and 10 assists per night, is having a career year in a season where Eastern Conference guard play has been insane. He’s hard to bet against as at least a wild card, but this is where the conversation starts to get interesting.

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets – Walker, too, is having a career year but faces the same problems as Wall. There just aren’t enough rooms in the inn unless coaches use both wild card spots to add guards to the group. His numbers are pretty darn close to what Irving has put up this season, and Walker is doing it as the leader of his team rather than the second fiddle, but the resume absolutely is there for a nod.

Frontcourt Players

Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks – While he’s made more headlines for being in trade rumors than for actually playing basketball, Millsap is having the same quietly great season he always does. The stats (around 19 points and eight rebounds per game) don’t jump off the page, but he’s one of the league’s best two-way players and hardest workers.

Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers – It’s never easy to put three players from a single team onto an All-Star roster, but two were voted starters and this particular team just so happens to be the runaway best squad in the East. Love hasn’t been to the All-Star Game since the trade to Cleveland, but now that he’s a 20/10 guy again and playing his best ball since going to the Cavs, he’s firmly in the discussion for a spot on this year’s team.

Paul George, Indiana Pacers – His team is struggling, but George still is having a great individual season, even if it’s not the best we’ve ever seen from him. He’s a huge name, though, and is doing what he can to steer through the muck this season—at least enough to keep the team in the playoff picture. Millsap and Love seem much more likely to make the team than George, but he may be too good a player to leave off this year.

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – Always one of the league’s best rebounders, Drummond (13.6 rebounds per game) would be an electric presence on the All-Star team working on the receiving ends of alley-oops, but coaches don’t concern themselves with what would be entertaining in the game itself. The Pistons haven’t had a great season, and there are stronger arguments for other players on this list than Drummond.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers – He’s the unquestioned Rookie of the Year and easily the game’s most entertaining presence on social media, but he’s not quite on par with some of the other guys up for a nod on this list. He’d be a riot in this game, but doesn’t seem likely to be named as a reserve. He almost certainly will be invited to participate in the Rookie/Sophomore game on All-Star Friday, however.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks – He’s close, and it’s only a matter of time, but this might not be the year for Porzingis to make his first All-Star team. He’s averaging just shy of 20 points per game this year to go along with 7.4 rebounds, but the Knicks are five games under .500 and that seems to matter with coaches. Like Embiid, he’ll be a top option for the Rookie/Sophomore game, which could be as entertaining as it’s been in years with those two guys both playing.

Best Guess?

Reserve Guards: Lowry and Thomas
Reserve Frontcourt: Millsap, Love and George
Wild Cards: Walker and Wall

Western Conference

Guards

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder – The man’s averaging a triple-double. He wasn’t voted as a starter for some reason, but he’ll be the first guy on coaches’ ballots when it comes to voting in the reserves.

Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers – Just because he’s hurt doesn’t mean he won’t be voted in. That will mean an immediate injury replacement, but so it goes. Paul has done enough in the first half of the season to justify yet another All-Star team nod, even if he can’t play in the game. The Clippers are what they are because of him, as we’re sure to see over the course of the next six-to-eight weeks.

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors – It’s rare that a team gets four All-Stars but this year’s Warriors squad seems as likely as any team in league history to do it. Thompson is averaging over 21 points per game and is essentially doing the exact same thing he’s done over the last three unforgettable seasons in Oakland. He’s shooting under 40 percent from three for the first time in his career, but that’s nit-picking. He’s still a great scorer and someone fans absolutely would be thrilled to see play in the All-Star Game.

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers – This hasn’t been an awesome year for Lillard as a leader, despite the fact that he’s averaging a career-high 26.2 points per game and shooting a career-high 44.4 percent from the field. His team has struggled despite high expectations coming into the season, and teammate C.J. McCollum actually has caught up to him in a lot of ways. Still, Lillard is in the top eight in the league in points and the top 20 in the league in assists, and he’s a name that carries some weight around the league. He’s got a shot, though more as a wild card or injury replacement than as a guard.

Frontcourt Players

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors – Once again a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, Green is still a major part of the Warriors’ success even if the arrival of Kevin Durant has pushed his offensive efficiency back a bit. There was an argument for him as a starter, so there’s a good argument for him a reserve, as well.

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings – The only thing that has changed from last year—when Cousins also found his way to the All-Star Game—is that he’s added a three-point shot and grown even more deadly as arguably the game’s best all-around big man. The Kings still are awful, but that won’t stop Cousins from finding his way onto the team, at the very least as a wild card selection.

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies – While his stats (19.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game) aren’t necessarily elite in the traditional sense, they do look pretty good coming from a center, particularly one that has done so much in helping his team overachieve. Memphis’ defense is really good, and Gasol is a major reason for that. The Grizzlies deserve an All-Star, and Gasol is a pretty easy choice as a guy who deserves that spot.

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz – This guy just keeps getting better, as do the Jazz as a team, and that gives him a reasonable shot at making this year’s All-Star team. There aren’t a lot of open spots for first-time All-Stars out West, but Gobert is the best bet, with his 12.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.

Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz – Of course, if the Jazz get only one All-Star, Hayward might be the more likely guy. His advanced stats are elite, as he’s 15th in Win Shares and 20th in PER, plus he’s the best player and top scorer on a Western Conference playoff team. If the vote comes down to him or Gobert, it could prove incredibly difficult for coaches to decide.

Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers – Griffin’s stats aren’t any different than usual, but he has missed a third of his team’s games this year. That on its own is enough to probably eliminate him from the vote, though he’s been good enough when healthy and has enough of a reputation to at least remain in consideration.

DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers – Jordan’s numbers are, more or less, what they always are. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 13.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. That last number is his lowest in four years, though, and he’s still just a tertiary talent for a team that simply is not going to get three All-Stars.

Best Guess?

Reserve Guards: Westbrook and Paul
Reserve Frontcourt: Cousins, Green and Gasol
Wild Card: Thompson and Hayward
Injury Replacement: Lillard

***

There’s still some time before the reserves are announced, but that final roster very likely will be comprised of players from the above list. It’s been an especially good year for individual talents, so making these decisions seem as if they’ll be harder than ever.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Daniel Hamilton Hopes to Stick in OKC

Oklahoma City’s Daniel Hamilton speaks to Basketball Insiders about his time at summer league and sticking in the NBA.

David Yapkowitz

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There are usually two main categories of guys who participate in the NBA’s summer league.

The players who are armed with guaranteed contracts are usually looking to expand on their game and test out new skills. Then there are the players who don’t have that kind of security, the ones who are looking for an opportunity to earn an invite to training camp in hopes of securing a coveted roster spot in the NBA.

For Daniel Hamilton, he kind of falls into both of those categories.

Hamilton just completed his rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was signed last summer to a two-way contract and he split time between the Thunder and their G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue. He joined the Thunder’s summer league team in Las Vegas, his third consecutive summer with them.

“I’m working on getting stronger, lowering my turnovers, and continue getting reps up in the gym,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “I’m getting shots up and different things like that.”

Hamilton was drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the 56th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft but was immediately traded to the Thunder. He didn’t play with the Thunder right away though. He spent the entire 2016-2017 season with the Blue.

This past year was his second in the G-League. He finished the season as the Blue’s second-leading scorer with 16.9 points per game, behind Dakari Johnson’s 23.3. While he was on a two-way contract, he only saw action in six games with the Thunder. Most of his time was spent with the Blue.

“It was good, my first year doing the two-way deal. I had a lot of good times playing up with the pros and going down to the G-League,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “The G-League was real good, being able to just go out and play and work on your game, and get wins as a team. We had a great team this past year, we finished top in our division. It was just a fun experience overall.”

This season was a bit different for Hamilton, however. It was also his first year playing a different position. Up to that point, he’d been a shooting guard. He played shooting guard as a standout at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, CA. He was a shooting guard during his two years at UConn.

But the Thunder asked him to do something a bit different when he joined the team. They asked him to play point guard. He used his second season with the Blue to test out playing a new position. He averaged 7.8 assists with the Blue, but also 4.9 turnovers as he got used to being a playmaker. He used the Las Vegas Summer League to continue that adjustment.

“It’s been pretty good. My first year of playing point guard was this past year. It’s just something that I’m trying to get used to. Just trying to stay focused on whatever happens next,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “I think it helped me expand my game, being able to do more than just one thing, to be versatile.”

In Las Vegas, Hamilton came close to averaging a near triple-double. Over the course of five games, he put up 7.8 points per game, 8.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. He’s got the skill and physical tools to be a playmaking guard at the NBA level. He’s been impressive both in the G-League and Summer League.

However, it remains to be seen what happens with him come the end of the summer. With the Thunder’s recent acquisition of both Dennis Schroder and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, it brings their roster to 15 guaranteed contracts. They’re allowed two two-way contracts, but have already used one on Deonte Burton.

They’ve got decisions to make regarding P.J Dozier, who was on a two-way last season, and rookies Hamidou Diallo and Devon Hall. Unless the Thunder can clear up a roster spot or two, it appears Hamilton will be fighting for that last two-way spot. He hopes he’s done enough to warrant strong consideration.

“The main thing is just continuing to get better and continue growing,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “That’s just the number one thing to being here at summer league.”

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NBA Daily: Georges Niang’s Big Break

After dominating the G-League for a year, Georges Niang has more than earned this big opportunity with the Utah Jazz, writes Ben Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau

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For Georges Niang, reaching professional stability was always going to be a tall order.

Even after four dominant seasons at Iowa State, the tweener forward was viewed as a draft risk. At 6-foot-8, the versatile playmaker has always scored in bunches but also struggled to find his place in the modern NBA. Despite excelling as a knockdown three-point shooter, the fundamentally sound Niang has bounced around the country looking for a long-term opportunity.

In the two seasons since he was drafted, Niang has played in 50 G-League games for three separate franchises and had his non-guaranteed contract waived twice.

As a summer league standout for the second straight offseason, Niang’s determined efforts officially paid off last week after he signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth about $5 million. Now with a fully-guaranteed contract under his belt for 2018-19, Niang has been eager to prove his worth both on and off the court — a newfound skill-set he happily attributes to Utah’s excellent system.

“In the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, they do a good job of nurturing guys and forming them into good leaders and things like that,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, it was really easy to transition to summer league, [I’m] really just trying to lead by example, not with just my words.

“And I think playing hard, being a good teammate and doing the right thing –I think those are three things that the Jazz really stand for.”

But his meandering path toward year-long job security wasn’t destined to end up this way — no, not at all.

Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft with the No. 50 overall pick, Niang was correctly projected as a hard-working, high-IQ contributor that could put up points on almost anybody. Unfortunately, following a low-impact rookie year with the Pacers — and some short stints with their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well — Niang was waived the ensuing summer. Shortly thereafter, Niang latched on with the Golden State Warriors, where he participated in training camp and four preseason games — but, again, he was waived before the season began.

With the Santa Cruz Warriors, Niang flat-out dominated the competition for months, up until he grabbed a two-way contract from Utah in January. In total, Niang played in 41 games between Santa Cruz and the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals on 45.7 percent from deep over 33.9 minutes per game.

Once attached to Utah’s affiliate franchise, Niang averaged a team-high 22 points per game and finished the campaign as the 13th-best scorer in the G-League. On top of all that, Niang was both an All-Star and honored with a spot on the All-NBA G-League First Team at season’s end.

Although he would ultimately play in just nine games for the deep Western Conference roster, Niang was simply laying important groundwork for the days ahead.

This summer, Niang averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three contests during Utah Summer League. Given the golden opening to impress his future would-be-employers, Niang kept things rolling in Sin City and posted similar numbers over five games. On the back of a 20-point, eight-rebound performance early on in Las Vegas, Niang embraced the chance to fight and compete for his team — five full days before the Jazz signed him to a guaranteed deal.

“It was a real physical game, but those are the games you want to play in during summer league,” Niang said. “You want to play in those types of environments, where every possession matters and you gotta make plays down the stretch — and I think we did a really good job doing that.”

Those scrappy aspirations have been a staple of Niang’s since his collegiate days at Iowa State, too. During an ultra-impressive senior year, Niang tallied 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the Cyclones, leading their roster to 23 wins and an eventual trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That season, Niang took home the 2016 Karl Malone Award as Division-I’s top power forward and finished with 2,228 points, the second-best mark in school history.

Any way you slice it, whether at college or in the G-League, Niang can play, the moment just needs to reveal itself — and maybe it finally has.

Of course, this new contract — one that’s only fully guaranteed in 2018-19 — doesn’t ensure Niang any playing time and he’ll have some stiff competition. Just to get on the court, he’ll need to squeeze minutes from Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles — a tough task in head coach Quin Snyder’s defense-first rotation. No matter what his role or obligations end up amounting to, Niang is ready to meet that challenge head-on.

“In the NBA, everyone has a role,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, obviously, things are gonna be peeled back and you’ll have a defined role. My role is just when I get the ball, and if I do, play-make for others or get guys open, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions on offense and knock down open shots.”

Although his past resume certainly speaks for itself, it’ll be up to Niang take his big break even further. But given his efficiency and execution at every other level, there’s little reason to doubt the forward now. Days before they signed Niang, he was asked if Utah was somewhere he could see himself for the foreseeable future — his response was precise and foreboding.

“I’d love to be here — what [the Jazz] stand for is what I’m all about. I’ve had a blast with all these guys and I’d love to keep it going.”

And now, he’ll get at least 82 more games to make his case.

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NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved

It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.

Shane Rhodes

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The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.

On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.

It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.

While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.

With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.

For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.

Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.

For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.

The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.

While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.

Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.

For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.

Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.

As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now and could positively impact all three squads both next season and beyond.

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