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NBA AM: Too Much Pressure In Golden State?

Are the Golden State Warriors dysfunctions a result of being too eager to win?… Big guys should declare now because the 2015 Draft class looks scary good up front.

Steve Kyler

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Mark Jackson And The Warriors:  A few days ago Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports chronicled some of the dysfunction brewing inside the Golden State Warriors that culminated this week in the re-assignment of assistant coach Brian Scalabrine to the team’s D-League affiliate. As Woj explains, there has been a lot of inside turmoil around the team over the last few years, especially between head coach Mark Jackson and his assistant coaches.

Since the report, former Warriors assistant coach and current Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone downplayed the rifts as reported between he and Jackson, however players that were on that roster last year when told about the situation simply smiled at the notion that the two men had a great relationship.

Before we get too far down the road on this, there is an important concept to keep in mind: Warriors’ ownership isn’t overly patient. They promised fans a winner and they want it yesterday. Internally the management team is facing a lot of pressure for success and that might not necessarily create the best conditions for a coaching staff. Add in a layer of inexperience from Jackson and you are bound to get some level of dysfunction.

»In Related: Jabari Davis Takes A Look At Fixing The Sacramento Kings.

Sources close to the process say that it is not at all uncommon for ownership to push for roster change when things don’t seem to be going where they expect it. During March’s MIT Sloan Analytics conference, Warriors General Manager Bob Myers sat on a panel with Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey and told the crowd the story of how the team obtained Andre Iguodala during free agency. The story was filled with comments about his owner wanting it to get done, despite how massively difficult it was to actually accomplish. The way the story played out it seemed ownership wanted it to happen and Myers had to spend hours upon hours figuring out how to do it.

Around the trade deadline, there was talk that the Warriors would have traded forward Harrison Barnes. Again, sources say that was driven more by ownership wanting to cash in some youth in exchange for a veteran big to bolster a championship run today.

In Woj’s report, there was mention of the fact that Jackson and the team had not talked about a contract extension despite there only being one more season on his deal with the club. The report suggested there was more doubt about Jackson’s future with the team than security. This is true. Ownership wants to win and while the team has had some success, they have not achieved what they set out to achieve and everyone is on notice.

»In Related: More Golden State Warriors News.

So when you look in on the Warriors understand that while Jackson may very well be part of the problem, there is a sense of urgency that’s driving a lot of the pressure. The Warriors want to win and they want to win big. Ownership seems committed to doing whatever it takes to get there, and that could be fostering a culture that’s creating the problems.

Jackson’s future with the team is very much connected to the results he produces in the win-loss column and more importantly in the postseason. The Warriors took the leap of faith that Jackson could lead them to the Promised Land at a time when the franchise wasn’t winning. They gambled that Jackson could be the out-of-the-box hire that brings the roster and the team together. With the Warriors having tasted a little success, they obviously want more and if Jackson cannot deliver, he’ll be replaced. That’s how it’s going to be for the Warriors. That’s why there hasn’t been a lot of talk of extensions and that’s why there is uncertainty regarding his future.

So when you scratch your head and wonder why things are a little dysfunctional in Golden State, it’s because they are a team that desperately wants to win and seem willing to do whatever it takes to get there, even if that means replacing one of the franchise’s more successful coaches in the modern era.

Being in the playoffs is not enough and maybe that’s not such a bad goal to have as a franchise – it certainly puts everyone on the hot seat and could create rifts when there are problems, but winners thrive under pressure right?

If You Are Big, You Better Declare:  Reports are surfacing that Kansas big man Joel Embiid is indeed leaving Kansas and is in the process of selecting an agent in advance of the 2014 NBA Draft. International big man Mouhammadou Jaiteh has also indicated he’ll enter the 2014 NBA Draft after pulling out of the 2013 draft last year. Indiana big man Noah Vonleh has also declared that he’ll enter the 2014 NBA Draft and he is expected to be joined by Kentucky big man Willie Cauley-Stein.

»In Related: NBA PM: Another Look At The 2014 NBA Draft

Top Big Men Prospects In 2015

Jahlil Okafor  C  18 yrs; 6’10"
Myles Turner  C  18 yrs; 6’10"
Cliff Alexander  PF/C  18 yrs; 6’9"
Karl Towns  PF/C  18 yrs; 7’0"
*Ilimane Diop  C  18 yrs; 6’11
Dakari Johnson  C  18 yrs; 6’11
Kaleb Tarczewski  C  21 yrs; 7’0
Nikola Milutinov  C  19 yrs; 6’11
Frank Kaminsky  C  20 yrs; 7’0"
Przemek Karnowski  C  20 yrs; 7’1"
Guillermo Hernangomez  C  19 yrs; 6’11

*Could enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

There had been talk that maybe some of these guys would stay in school for another year, however looking at what’s on the NBA radar for the 2015 NBA Draft class, all of these guys were smart in opting for the draft this year, even if they might go four to six spots lower than they’d like.

A quick glance at the possible stars of the 2015 NBA Draft class (assuming they declare) shows there are more than 11 significant center prospects that could be on the board in 2015, and there are at least three that could go in the top eight selections, if not the top three overall.

The two stars of the 2015 Draft class look to be Duke commit Jahil Okafor and Myles Turner from Trinity High School.

Okafor is arguably the most skilled low-post prospect the NBA as seen in some time, with scouts comparing his skills on the block to Charlotte big man Al Jefferson. Okafor isn’t a dominating physical specimen like a Dwight Howard or Shaquille O’Neal, but his ability to score the ball down low is uncanny for a high school player. Assuming he progresses at Duke, he could be the top overall pick in 2015.

Turner has yet to select a college, narrowing his list down to what appears to be Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Texas. His game is mesmerizing, mainly because he is long, super athletic and aggressive around the rim. Not nearly the polished low post player of an Okafor, he does possess a great frame, a relentless motor and a lot of potential at the next level. Add in his ability to shoot the ball from the outside, and Turner is a compelling prospect in the mold of maybe a poor man’s Kevin Garnett.

While Okafor and Turner may go number one and number two overall, Chicago big man and Kansas commit Cliff Alexander, who projects to be more of a power forward at the next level, could see time as a center for the Jayhawks. Like Okafor and Turner, he is a mesmerizing big man with all kind of power and bounce. Scouts love his toughness around the basket and his size and physical presence might be among the best in the class.

With so many big guys on the radar for 2015, it’s no wonder the bigs that are eligible for the 2014 NBA Draft are coming out now. If they stayed for another year they might get lost in the shuffle, especially with NBA teams placing such a premium on potential upside.

As much as players like Embiid or Vonleh might have benefited from another year of development, both would find themselves significantly lower on the 2015 Draft board than they would in this year’s draft where there are not nearly as many elite level bigs.

»In Related: The Top 100 2014 NBA Draft Prospects

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers

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This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

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Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

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Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?

Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.

Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.

The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.

What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.

Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.

Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.

Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.

We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.

Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.

As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.

Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.

Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.

Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.

Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.

Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.

If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?

It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.

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