Five NBA Questions
Sometimes it’s interesting to get different perspectives when discussing these NBA topics, so this morning we asked three Basketball Insiders writers to answer five league-related questions. Joel Brigham, Jabari Davis and Steve Kyler all weighed in and here is what they had to say.
1. Who Has Been the Biggest Surprise Player for You?
While so many players have gone nuclear this year statistically, the one player who has surprised me the most, even more than Russell Westbrook’s triple-double average, has been James Harden leading the league in assists with 11.8 per game. He’s never averaged more than 7.5 assists per game at any other point in his career and, for the most part, it’s pretty unheard of for an older dog to come up with this kind of new trick. Harden has looked like an MVP this year, and his ball distribution has been a big reason why.
– Joel Brigham
It isn’t shocking given all of the promise, but the most pleasant surprise (or development) so far has been the progress of Giannis Antetokounmpo throughout the first quarter of the NBA’s regular season. It would have been very easy to write the Bucks off given the preseason injury to Khris Middleton and the fact that the Eastern Conference at least appeared to be improving significantly around them, but Milwaukee has shown to be a resilient bunch, and Antetokounmpo has been a major part of that.
At just 22 years old, the 6’11 point forward can effectively play any position on the court depending on the matchup and still only appears to be touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to potential. He’s up to 22.4 PPG (19th), 8.6 RPG (20th) and 6.1 APG (17th) on the year and the Bucks are exceeding expectations. Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns understandably get mentioned whenever the discussion of “starting a franchise around one guy” comes up, but Antetokounmpo is a guy that should be breaking into that conversation if he’s not already there.
– Jabari Davis
Solomon Hill of the New Orleans Pelicans has surprised me, and not in a good way. Whenever a player changes teams, you expect something of a learning curve. But fresh off a four-year $48 million contract this past summer, Hill has been downright dreadful as a Pelican. In 22 games logged this season, Hill is averaging a career low 5.2 points per game. He has registered double-figure scoring just twice all season and has recorded seven games with a zero field goal percentage. You can point to many things that are not working for the Pelicans, but Hill has turned into an almost disastrous signing.
– Steve Kyler
2. What Players Has Not Lived Up to Your Expectations?
Chandler Parsons was part of Memphis’ quarter-billion investment this past summer, but he’s only played in six games this season thanks to a knee injury. And even in the games he played, he averaged only 7.7 PPG. That’s a career-low and about half of his career average, so all that vitriol Mark Cuban had about Chandler’s exit can now be targeted at something or someone more deserving. Frankly, Mark Cuban is lucky he avoided investing all that money in a player who’s been arguably the league’s most disappointing through the first 20 games of the year.
– Joel Brigham
Although he appears to be putting it together a bit more of late, Bismack Biyombo hasn’t enjoyed quite the rollover success for his new team in Orlando many would have liked to see following a successful late-season and playoff stretch with the Toronto Raptors last season. His rebounding totals (8.3 RPG) have been impressive for a reserve player, but even more consistency and production would have been anticipated given the deal he signed this past summer.
Unless the plan was to pay a backup an average of $18 million per season over the next four years, it isn’t a stretch to assume Orlando’s front office has a larger role (eventually) in mind for the 24-year-old big man from Zaire. It will be interesting to see if GM Rob Hennigan is active on the trade market at some point this season or moving forward given the roster redundancy or if they ultimately like having the ability to bring in the versatile Biyombo behind Nikola Vucevic. For perspective, Vucevic has been effective and has another two years left on a very favorable deal (about $12.5 million per through 2018-19). That means the team has technically committed about twice as much money to Biyombo moving forward.
– Jabari Davis
Stanley Johnson of the Detroit Pistons gets the nod here. Part of Johnson’s problem is he can’t get out of Stan Van Gundy’s doghouse. There has been talk of needing to be more focused at practice and needing to play harder in games, so some of that is on Stanley. Johnson is immensely talented and shows flashes of being a special talent. Maybe Johnson needs a change of scenery to blossom. This was a year in which the expectations on Johnson were higher, especially after a solid Summer League. With 19 games logged and just 3.6 points per game, Johnson has hardly lived up to the hype and his 9.85 PER rating is downright disappointing.
– Steve Kyler
3. What Team Has Not Lived Up to Your Expectations?
As someone who thought the Indiana Pacers would be one of the East’s best teams, seeing them flounder just south of .500 through the first quarter of the season has been terribly frustrating. While Paul George has dealt with some early-season injuries, Jeff Teague hasn’t been the big-time scorer they hoped he would be and the team just hasn’t come together under Nate McMillan. This group looks weird and disjointed, and they’ll be lucky just to make the playoffs this year, let alone win a series.
– Joel Brigham
A legitimate case could be made for the Indiana Pacers (10-11) and even the Atlanta Hawks (on a 1-9 stretch following a 9-2 start), but it has to be the Minnesota Timberwolves. They were just about everyone’s ‘darling’ squad coming into the season, and while a transition period was certainly anticipated given the new direction under Tom Thibodeau, let’s just say they haven’t shown quite the collective growth that might have been expected.
In retrospect, some of their early struggles should have been anticipated given the age of the core, but you still might expect a more defined defensive identity or at least signs of significant improvement on that end from their wing talent. Given Thibodeau’s penchant for the defensive end, you know being the 23rd-ranked team in terms of defensive efficiency and 28th overall in opponent’s shooting percentage is not sitting well. Perhaps some veteran depth in the locker room and huddle might be the answer?
– Jabari Davis
The Washington Wizards should be substantially better than their 6-13 record. The chemistry of the team is just off. The bench is almost dreadful, and unfortunately, it does not look like something that will right itself. The good news is the Wizards are just 3.5 games out of the playoff picture so a strong run of games could put them in the hunt. But given how good this team should have been coming into the season, the Wizards have been a big disappointment.
– Steve Kyler
4. You Can Make One Trade, What’s It Look Like?
The Philadelphia 76ers trade Nerlens Noel to the Chicago Bulls for Nikola Mirotic. Chicago’s bench has been brutal, and while Noel doesn’t help with the offense, he does bolster the frontcourt in the second unit where currently there isn’t a whole lot of talent that can contribute. Chicago wouldn’t lose much in Mirotic, who has regressed considerably this year, and the contracts are pretty comparable. Philadelphia clears up their logjam at center and brings in a 25-year-old stretch four that still could very well figure it out, while Chicago gets depth for its bench and a pretty talented defensive player itching for a fresh start.
– Joel Brigham
It wouldn’t be able to take place until after January 15th due to a recently signed deal, but a deal centered around Bradley Beal for Nikola Vucevic (+ Jodie Meeks’ expiring deal) could make sense for both teams once Beal can be moved. Washington is 6-13 and headed absolutely nowhere once again this season even with the transition to Coach Brooks’ new system. Although it is still relatively early in his tenure, John Wall is in the midst of his third consecutive frustrating season and certainly doesn’t seem eager or willing to continue struggling. The move would open things up a bit more for the Wizards from a financial standpoint over the next few years and give Wall a big man that has proven he can score and rebound at a high level. It would also balance things out for Orlando, open time up for the aforementioned Biyombo and obviously give them the type of wing scorer the organization has coveted for some time.
– Jabari Davis
If we’re making a trade, let’s make a trade. There are a few problems that need solving, so this deal attempts to do both. There is a massive logjam of similar players in Philadelphia, Orlando and Denver. The Kings also have a couple of guys that would like out, so let’s fix all of that with one deal.
So, the Philadelphia 76ers send out Nerlens Noel (to Denver) and Robert Covington (to Sacramento). The Orlando Magic send out Nikola Vucevic (to Philadelphia) and C.J. Watson (to Sacramento). The Nuggets send out Emmanuel Mudiay (to Philadelphia) and Wilson Chandler (to Sacramento) while the Kings send out Rudy Gay (to Orlando), Omri Casspi (to Orlando) and Skal Labissière (to Denver).
In the end, the 76ers come out with Vucevic and Mudiay, better fitting pieces to the roster they have and a strong option at point guard going forward. There is still some duplication at the center position, but Vucevic could play more of a stretch four role in Philly, and his deal is very team friendly.
The Magic end up with Gay and Casspi; both bring offense. Both would basically be one-year rentals but would give the Magic two true small forwards, both of whom can score the ball.
The Nuggets would thin out the point guard position and concede that Mudiay might not be the guy and let Jamal Murray run the show. They would get back Noel and Labissière and shed Chandler. The Nuggets get some defense and shot blocking, although they’d still have a logjam in the front court, the pieces might be better long-term especially if the Nuggets could extract a draft pick from every team involved for helping make this deal work. For the Kings, they get a lot of value out of two guys that want to leave and a rookie they don’t need. Chandler is playing very well as of late and is under contract. Watson gives them another option at point guard and Covington (while injured today) gives them a tremendous outside shooter.
If you are going to make a trade, why not make a big one? This deal is not ideal for the Nuggets, but what it would do is set them up for a run through the lottery and maybe a shot at a much better fitting group of guys.
– Steve Kyler
5. What Player Is Over-Hyped?
While he started the season on fire, DeMar DeRozan has come crashing back down to earth over the course of the last several games and is showing more of the inconsistency he’s exhibited over the course of his career. We all saw how he completely disappeared in the playoff games that mattered a season ago, and his $139 million contract this past summer was supposed to represent his movement into the league’s upper echelon. He can be an elite scorer, but he’s just as inconsistent as he’s ever been.
– Joel Brigham
These questions are never fun, but following the amount of buzz he received coming out of college and some of the more favorable comparisons bestowed upon him, thus far, Jahlil Okafor has been overhyped. That isn’t, necessarily, a knock against him on a personal level. The fact that he was being mentioned in the same breath as greats like Tim Duncan (offensive skill set) and there was an actual debate (by some) as to whether he should have been the top selection over Karl-Anthony Towns (although, no one will admit this now). Okafor’s inability to assert himself on a team with plenty of opportunities to shine (like the Philadelphia 76ers) is at the very least a bit of a concern.
– Jabari Davis
Without trying to bring the wrath of Laker Nation upon me and admitting he’s a 19-year-old rookie, can we pump the brakes just a touch on Brandon Ingram now? With 23 NBA games under his belt, he’s averaging eight points a game, shooting 36.4 percent from the floor and 28 percent from three. He has a PER of 7.86 and just six games with double-figure scoring. Now seriously, I get it. He’s a baby in his NBA career, but if you rewind to the draft, he was drawing a comparison to Kevin Durant, and that he’d be the instant game changer for whatever team got him. He is a very nice player, with lots of upside and potential, but the hype around Ingram was never based in reality. It was always based on this fantasy concept that because he looked like Durant, he’d play like Durant. The Lakers are taking it slow with Ingram, as they should. In time, he has the skill set to potentially be a special player, but now that there is some reality to the equation, maybe we can ease back on how great Ingram is going to be until he actually is great. Just a suggestion.
– Steve Kyler
Don’t agree? Have a different answer to the question, we’d love to hear what you think. Drop your responses in the comment section below.
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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN