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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: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On

At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.

Ben Nadeau

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At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.

Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.

“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”

Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.

But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.

“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”

Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.

Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.

Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.

“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”

But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.

“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.

But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.

“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”

Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.

Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.

Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.

“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.

“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”

For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.

“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.

From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.

* * * * * *

*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.

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NBA

Updating the Buyout Market: Who Could Still Become Available?

Shanes Rhodes examines the buyout market to see which players could soon be joining playoff contenders.

Shane Rhodes

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While it may not be as exciting as the NBA Trade Deadline, another important date is approaching for NBA teams: the Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

March 1 is the final day players can be bought out or waived and still be eligible to play in the postseason should they sign with another team. As teams continue to fine-tune their rosters, plenty of eyes will be on the waiver wire and buyout market looking for players that can make an impact.

So who could still become available?

Joakim Noah, New York Knicks

This seems almost too obvious.

The relationship between Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks hasn’t been a pleasant one. Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016, has done next to nothing this season after an underwhelming debut season in New York and has averaged just 5.7 minutes per game.

After an altercation between himself and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek at practice, Noah isn’t expected to return to the team. At this point, the best thing for both sides seems likely a clean break; there is no reason to keep that cloud over the Knicks locker room for the remainder of the season.

Noah may not help a playoff contender, but he should certainly be available come the end of the season.

Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

Arron Afflalo isn’t the player he once was. But he can still help any contender in need of some shooting.

Afflalo is averaging a career-low 12.9 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic this season. He is playing for just over $2 million so a buyout wouldn’t be hard to come by if he went asking and he can still shoot the basketball. A career 38.6 percent shooter from long distance, Afflalo can certainly get it done beyond the arc for a team looking to add some shooting or some depth on the wing. He doesn’t add the perimeter defense he could earlier in his career, but he could contribute in certain situations.

Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings

Vince Carter was signed by the Sacramento Kings last offseason to play limited minutes off the bench while providing a mentor for the Sacramento Kings up-and-coming players. And Carter may very well enjoy that role.

But, to a degree, the old man can still ball — certainly enough to help a contender.

Carter is 41-years-old, there is no getting around his age, but he can still provide some solid minutes off the bench. Playing 17.1 minutes per night across 38 games this season, Carter has averaged five points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range. Combining all of that with his playoff experience and the quality of leadership he brings to the table, Carter may be an ideal addition for a contender looking to make a deep playoff run.

Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings

Like Carter, Zach Randolph was brought in by the Kings to contribute solid minutes off the bench while also filling in as a mentor to the young roster. Unlike Carter, however, Randolph has played much of the season in a starting role — something that is likely to change as the season winds down.

Randolph has averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.6 minutes per game; quality numbers that any team would be happy to take on. But, in the midst of a rebuild, the Kings should not be taking minutes away from Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and (eventually) Harry Giles in order to keep Randolph on the floor.

As he proved last season, Randolph can excel in a sixth-man role and would likely occupy a top bench spot with a team looking to add rebounding, scoring or just a big to their rotation down the stretch.

Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks

Wesley Matthews remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He provides positional versatility on the floor and is a solid player on both sides of the ball.

So, with Mark Cuban all but saying the Mavericks will not be trying to win for the remainder of the season, Matthews is likely poised for a minutes dip and seems like an obvious buyout candidate. Matthews, who has a player option for next season, has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals this season across 34.1 minutes per game this season.

If Cuban is true to his word, both parties would be better served parting ways; the Mavericks can attempt to lose as many games as possible while Matthews can latch on to a team looking to win a title. It’s a win-win.

Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers

Isaiah Thomas’ three-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break looked much like his short tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers: up-and-down. Thomas shined in his Laker debut, putting up 25 points and six assists in just over 30 minutes.

He then followed that up with three points and two assists, and seven points along with five assists in his second and third games with the team, respectively.

Thomas needs time to get himself right before he can start playing his best basketball. Re-establishing his value is likely his top priority.

But will he be willing to come off the bench for a team that won’t be making the postseason?

With Lonzo Ball close to returning, Thomas will likely move to the Laker bench. Adamant in recent years that he is a starting guard in the NBA, Thomas may be more inclined to take on that role for a team poised to make a deep playoff run — there is no shortage of teams that would be willing to add Thomas’ potential scoring prowess while simultaneously setting himself up for a contract and, potentially, a starting role somewhere next season.

Other Names to Look Out For: Channing Frye, Shabazz Muhammed, Kosta Koufos

There are still plenty of players that can make an impact for playoff-bound teams should they reach a buyout with their current squads. And, as the Postseason Eligibility Waiver Deadline approaches, plenty of teams out of the running will move quickly in order to provide their guys an opportunity to find their way to a contender.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Eric Gordon, The Houston Rockets’ Ex-Factor

James Harden and Chris Paul are stars that have faltered in the playoffs. Eric Gordon could be their ex-factor

Lang Greene

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The 2017-18 Houston Rockets are shaping up to be one of the league’s best regular-season teams over the past decade. The squad features a fan-friendly and fun to watch style, two legitimate superstar talents and a seemingly well-rounded contingent of role players willing to do whatever it takes to help the team get to the next level.

But as strong of a force as the Rockets appear to be developing into, there are still major question marks about how this team will perform in the playoffs when the game gets tighter, bench rotations are reduced and the spotlight glares the brightest.

All-Star guard James Harden has played in 88 career playoff games over the course of his career – 45 with the Rockets where he’s averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The statistics look good in the aggregate, however, Harden has noticeably faded down the stretch during pivotal playoff moments in the team’s recent runs. The most recent example being Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs where Harden finished with just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor.

The Rockets other superstar, Chris Paul, has never reached the Western Conference Finals in a career dating back to the 2005-06 season. Paul’s most memorable playoff collapse came when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. His team surrendered a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals to the Harden’s Rockets back in 2015.

While there are undoubtedly questions at the top, their bench unit is anchored by 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, once considered one of the rising shooting guards in the league while he was a member of the Clippers.

Gordon, was traded as part of a package by Los Angeles to acquire Paul from New Orleans. Since then, a combination of injuries and reported frustration in New Orleans seemingly derailed Gordon from the once promising ascent and trajectory he was projected to achieve. But Gordon has gotten his career on track. Once injury prone, Gordon suited up for 75 games in 2017 and is on pace to play 73 games this season.

“It’s almost like it is consistent to be here now,” Gordon said during All-Star weekend. “It’s been great. When I’ve been healthy, I’ve always had that chance to do some good things.

When you’re winning things come easier. You’re scoring easier [and] it’s easier to come into work and play well every single practice and game.”

Gordon believes there’s something special about this Rockets team because of how quickly they have gained cohesion since training camp. Gordon is averaging 18.5 points in 32 minutes per contest on the season. The guard will play an integral role off the Rockets’ bench and will play heavy minutes in any playoff series involving the Western Conference elite teams – namely Golden State and San Antonio. In three games versus the Warriors this season, Gordon is averaging 20 points on 43 percent shooting from the field.

“We definitely have to figure things out but we just clicked so quickly and early in the season,” Gordon said. “We just knew we had a chance to maybe win it. I’d say at this point we know what we need to do and it’s all about being consistent enough on both sides of the ball for us to have a chance.”

Golden State, as defending champs, have to be respected as the better team until proven otherwise. Many do believe the Rockets have at the very least a puncher’s chance because of how they can score the ball in bunches. The Warriors, for all of their past defensive prowess, have slipped on that side of the floor this season with declining efficiency numbers. But is that slippage enough for the Rockets to gain ground or are the Warriors’ defensive struggles a combination of regular season boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.

In a seven-game playoff series, the cream rises to the top. Are the Rockets legit? Or are they a team best suited for the regular season as in seasons past? They currently lead the season series against the Warriors 2-1 and are 2-0 versus the Spurs to date. We have witnessed regular-season dominance from Paul and Harden in the past. Is this the year both guys put it all together and finally get over the hump? Time will tell and Eric Gordon figures to play a big role in determining the outcome.

The Rockets resume play on Friday versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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