The 2018 NBA Playoffs began with a rare lead in. As many have suggested, the NBA playoffs might be well suited to feature some version of a play-in tournament for the final spot or few spots in the postseason. A lot of the rationale behind the idea is the added excitement the tournament could potentially bring. The collegiate game features play-in games for four of the spots in the field of 64, which add to the overall excitement. However, there are several reasons why that may never occur, such as the most influential player in the game, LeBron James, saying last month that the idea is “wack.”
Regardless, fans were treated to an organically created, winner-goes-to-the-playoffs final game of the regular season between the Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves prevailed and the game served as an exciting early launch to the playoffs. The first-round of the postseason did not let up in terms of excitement.
In the Western Conference, the New Orleans Pelicans unleashed Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday on a stunned Portland Trail Blazers team and in doing so secured an unexpected sweep. Davis demonstrated an ability to create great synergy with guards Rajon Rondo and Holiday.
The Oklahoma City Thunder continued to play occasionally great basketball behind the dominance of Russell Westbrook but the team failed to overcome the disciplined and balanced approach of the Utah Jazz. Donavon Mitchell led the way for the Jazz and in doing so showed he had the poise of an experienced veteran despite his rookie status.
In the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers dominated the Miami HEAT behind the excellence of Joel Embiid and presumed rookie of the year Ben Simmons. Whether the 76ers young stars can continue to show poise in these later rounds will be at issue as they make up for their lack of experience with size, talent and the growing confidence of a dark horse with potential to make the NBA Finals. Future Hall of Famer and HEAT guard Dwayne Wade made it clear what he thought of the 76er’s overall talent.
“You can lose with effort, you [the Miami HEAT] can lose to a better team. That’s what they [the 76ers] were, that’s what they are. It was no secret about that,” Wade said. “They have more than us.”
Wade didn’t stop there as he made it clear how highly he thought of the potential that Simmons and Embiid have.
“These [two] are the future of the NBA, the NBA’s in great hands with Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid], and those kind of individuals,” Wade said about the 76ers dominant young stars.
In the first of two first-round series to be decided by a Game 7, the Boston Celtics were finally able to take down the Milwaukee Bucks at home and did so in convincing fashion. In this series, the home team won every game. The Celtics were able to win the series despite missing many of their core star players and may have to move forward without Jaylen Brown who suffered a hamstring injury in the game seven win. Thankfully, the team now has Marcus Smart back in the lineup and Terry Rozier has emerged as a difference-maker at the point guard position.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old franchise cornerstone Giannis Antetokounmpo further demonstrated why he has seemingly limitless potential despite his team’s loss to the Celtics.
“Giannis’s ceiling as we know is tremendous and he is getting better every day. I think that’s a scary thing for everything in the league to think about,” Bucks Head Coach Joe Prunty said.
The Bucks will likely have to find a head coach that can push this promising team another step forward. Prunty was promoted after the mid-season termination of former Head Coach Jason Kidd. Kidd had helped manage the emergence of Antetokounmpo but had failed to execute in other areas, including defensive strategy and execution, leading to his dismissal. Prunty’s mid-season promotion didn’t suddenly portend a dramatic shift and a new era of Bucks basketball. The Bucks might look for a more established head coach with the enticing opportunity to mentor one of the great young stars in the game.
The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, closing out what was an exciting first-round of the postseason. As was the case for Donovan Mitchell in Utah, this series was an opportunity for another young star to demonstrate his skill, growth and potential on the national stage. Against the Cavaliers, Pacers guard Victor Oladipo showed himself to be a capable franchise player and proved that the Pacers a team to be reckoned with in the future.
“[The Pacers] were tough. Tough team. They have, obviously, head of the snake in Vic [Oladipo]. Unbelievable jump from last year to this year. We all saw it,” James said in his postgame interview. “[Oladipo] proved why he’s a franchise caliber player. Everybody on down, they just got a well-rounded team. Definitely pushed us, pushed to the brink basically.”
Oladipo wasted no time after falling to the Cavaliers in Game 7. He immediately messaged his trainer to discuss getting into the gym to start offseason training and preparing for next season.
“When do we start?” Oladipo texted his trainer. “I’m ready to take it to another level.”
As big of a jump as Oladipo made from last season to this season, he is confident that he has more room for growth and plans on coming back next season even better.
“But honestly, I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface of how good I really can be. That’s just me being honest. And I feel like I’ve got a lot of work to do. And I’ve got a lot of room to improve and things I need to get better at,” Oladipo said. “This summer I’m going to go to work so I can come back even better than this year.”
From Mitchell’s fearless performance against the Thunder, to Rozier’s impressive performance against Milwaukee and the display of skill from several of the league’s other bright young stars, the first-round of the playoffs demonstrated that the NBA is in good hands moving forward.
NBA Daily: Trade Watch Central Divison
Which players could be on the move in the Central? Shane Rhodes names a list of candidates.
It has been quite the up and down start to the season for the Central Division.
On one hand, the Milwaukee Bucks have stormed out of the gates, while the Indiana Pacers have, at times, looked like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. On the other, the Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers have combined to start a dismal 13-29.
It may be early in the season but, as the Philadelphia 76ers have shown with their recent acquisition of Jimmy Butler, it is never too early to think about trades that could improve the team. If these teams make themselves out to be wheelers and dealers, what could they add or subtract? Which players could be on the move?
Milwaukee Bucks – John Henson
The play of Brook Lopez has made John Henson, and the near $10 million he is due next season, expendable. Lopez has started every game this season for the Bucks to the tune of 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.6 blocks per game. He has also played a major role in the three-point wave that washed over Milwaukee upon Mike Budenholzer’s arrival; Lopez has taken seven three-point attempts per game and is knocking them down at a 41.8 percent clip.
Henson, meanwhile, hasn’t done much off the bench.
With most of the big minutes split between Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, Henson hasn’t seen the floor much. While he has played in all 14 games, he has averaged only 13.5 minutes per to go along with 5.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He is shooting a career-high 35.5 percent on 2.2 three-point attempts per game (also a career high), but that alone isn’t enough to take minutes away from Lopez.
At this point, a trade would not only seem logical but beneficial for both parties as well. Henson could latch on with a team that would make use of his services. Meanwhile, the Bucks would clear some cap space and open up more minutes for third-year center Thon Maker.
Ideally, Milwaukee would acquire another shooter to provide Giannis Antetokounmpo with maximum spacing as well.
Indiana Pacers – Myles Turner
Myles Turner looked like he needed a change of scenery last season. Then, the Indiana Pacers gave him a four-year, $80 million extension over the offseason.
Not much has changed for Turner in 2018. While he has posted an impressive 2.4 blocks per game, Turner has averaged just 10.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in 26.7 minutes per game, down from the 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds he posted a season ago.
More importantly, Turner has continued to play ahead of Domantas Sabonis.
In his second season with the Pacers, Sabonis has averaged 14.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 24.1 minutes per game off the bench. While he isn’t the versatile defender Turner is, Sabonis has shown that he has much more to offer on the offensive end.
As was the case last season, Turner has the look of a player that could use a change of scenery. His departure would allow the Pacers to move Sabonis into the starting lineup, alleviate some spacing issues and clear the way for offseason-signee Kyle O’Quinn to see some minutes off the bench.
Detroit Pistons – Langston Galloway
In back-to-back years, the Detroit Pistons have used their top draft selection on a shooting guard: Bruce Brown in 2018 and Luke Kennard in 2017.
So, why is Langston Galloway still on the books?
Galloway would seem the odd man out in a crowded two-guard rotation in Detroit, one that includes Kennard, Brown and Reggie Bullock. Not only is he the most expensive of the bunch with a $7 million cap hit this season, but he hasn’t exactly made waves when on the court. While he has seen a major bump in playing time — 24.5 minutes per game compared to 14.9 last season — his contributions haven’t changed all that much; Galloway has averaged 9.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game this season compared to 6.2 points, 1.6 rebounds and one assist per game last season.
It doesn’t make sense to take any time away from Bullock, the starter, or stunt the potential growth of Kennard and Brown. If Detroit can flip Galloway and clear the money on his contract, or find some competent forward depth behind Blake Griffin, Stanley Johnson and Glenn Robinson III, they should jump at the chance.
Chicago Bulls – Robin Lopez
This one is simple.
The Chicago Bulls are rebuilding and Robin Lopez is, at worst, a serviceable rotation player on a potential playoff team. Outside some mentor-like responsibilities, he only serves to take minutes away from the Bulls’ youth.
His playing time has dipped this season; Lopez has averaged 15.3 minutes per game after he saw 26.4 a season ago. With Lauri Markkanen expected back in the next few weeks, it would only seem destined to dip further. The best course of action for Chicago would be to move Lopez to a team desperate for an interior presence.
While there is light at the end of the tunnel in Chicago, they should keep in mind that they are still in the midst of a rebuild. The Bulls should acquire assets whenever they can to further things along wherever they can, and this seems like a prime opportunity.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Is Anyone Not On The Table?
The Land has fallen on hard times.
With the departure of LeBron James, so too has winning basketball departed from the Cleveland Cavaliers. The team has dealt with their share of injuries, but the Cavaliers looked bad at the start of the season when they were healthy. With Kevin Love out for the foreseeable future, no one should expect things to get much better.
There are a number of players that Cleveland could look to move: Love, J.R. Smith, George Hill, Kyle Korver. The list goes on. The only player one could think to be “off limits” would be rookie point guard Collin Sexton, and even he could probably be had for the right price.
Such is the life of the NBA bottom feeder.
The Cavaliers would be wise stockpile whatever future assets they can. Expect their phones to be some of the busiest in the country between now and the February trade deadline.
As teams continue to soldier on through the season, they will look to make deals. Whether they approach the table as buyers or sellers, every team will look to improve themselves either in the now or with an eye on the future.
Basketball Insiders has already looked at some of the potential trade candidates in the Northwest and Southwest divisions. Keep an eye out for our trade candidates in the Southeast, Atlantic and Pacific divisions as well.
NBA Daily: Trade Watch: Southwest Division
Drew Maresca identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Southwest Division.
As of Thursday, 60 percent of the Southwest division was at or above .500. The Western Conference’s brutal competition will likely fix that as the season grinds on, but the number of surprises in the division thus far is shocking – be they pleasant or otherwise.
Basketball Insiders continues its Trade Watch series with an eye on the Southwest Division, examining players that might be on the move and teams that should be looking to wheel and deal.
- Houston needs Ariza (and vice versa)
The Houston Rockets need help on the defensive end of the floor; they will almost certainly look to add some wing defenders before the trade deadline in February. The Minnesota Timberwolves passed on their offer of four future first round picks, Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss for Jimmy Butler. But fortunately for the Rockets, there’s a player that should fit right in who may be available via trade – Trevor Ariza.
Yes, he would come at a price; but the Rockets see what life is like without Ariza patrolling the perimeter, and something or someone must stop the bleeding. The Rockers are 6-7 through 13 games. They need to recapture some of the magic they tapped into last season, and Ariza is part of what’s missing. They won’t be able to execute a deal until December 15 per NBA rules, which can’t come soon enough for the defenseless Rockets.
- New Orleans should be buyers at the deadline
This is the season in which the Pelicans must prove to Anthony Davis they’re serious about building a winner around him. They made nice additions this offseason in Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle, and they have a nice combo guard in Jrue Holiday.
But still, they’re only 7-7 despite Davis’ extraordinary play. They need a second star (and then some).mFortunately for New Orleans, such a player should be available – assuming he returns fully recovered from injury this season: Kevin Love. The Cavs are not interested in remaining competitive – in fact, they’re nearly openly welcoming losses at this point (Hello, Zion). The Pelicans can include Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and others in a deal, which should be a net positive for the Pelicans depending on Love’s health.
- DeAndre Jordan
Early reports out of Dallas are that DeAndre Jordan isn’t overwhelmingly popular in the Mavericks’ locker room. And that’s fine because Jordan doesn’t align with the Mavericks’ young core of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Dallas should shop Jordan to a team that’s in need of an athletic center.
The Wizards have looked better at times with Dwight Howard on the floor than they did prior to his return. So why not upgrade? After all, it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to break-up the Wall-Beal core.
In return, the Wizards would probably be willing to build a deal around Otto Porter – who, at 25, arguably aligns much better with the Mavericks’ young core. While Porter’s deal extends as long as two years beyond Jordan’s one-year contract, the fact that the Mavericks traded the rights to their 2019 first-round pick to acquire Doncic makes nabbing a young, well-rounded player like Porter all the more appealing.
- Spurs need help at point guard
The Spurs’ 2018-point guard plan broke down before the season started with Dejounte Murray’s knee injury – and the team still needs help. While they don’t seem to have the assets to return high profile point guards like Terry Rozier or Goran Dragic, there are alternate options.
The Knicks have an abundance of point guards, none of whom stands out as a huge difference-maker for them this season, but any of whom could help as a short-term solution in San Antonio. And what’s more, the Knicks probably wouldn’t require much in return – with one caveat being that they prefer to move Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr., as well. Fortunately for the Spurs, Lee can contribute nicely in Coach Gregg Popovich’s system, assuming he gets healthy sometime soon.
The Spurs should look to flip some of the players who aren’t currently in the rotation for a capable point guard. While New York isn’t sending out capable players for free, the price tag on some of these guards shouldn’t be too high.
- Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol
Both Conley and Gasol are still members of the Memphis Grizzlies, and there have been no rumors of either of them being shipped elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.
The Grizzlies hold first place in the Southwest Division at 8-5 with wins against the Jazz (twice), Nuggets, Pacers and Sixers. They’ve dropped some easy ones, too. Basically, they’re good, but the cold, hard reality of the situation is that advancing beyond the second-round out west will require more than what they currently have on their roster.
Meanwhile, Conley and Gasol are still assets, but aging ones who will return exponentially less every year they’re not moved. Conley is still playing well in his twelfth year, averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. And Gasol is averaging 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his eleventh season. It would behoove the Grizzlies to put feelers out there to any team that fancies themselves buyers in the lead up to the deadline. The time is now to embrace a rebuild around Jaren Jackson Jr. and get everything they can out of their star point guard and center.
In all likelihood, teams will only become more desperate as the season plays out. With the Philadelphia-Minnesota deal in the books, other teams are sure to follow suit. Considering the parity, every team in the Southwest Division should seriously consider making moves — after all, the division is still entirely up for grabs.
NBA Daily: Role Players Vital to Pacers’ Success
In a star-heavy league, Jordan Hicks takes a look at why role players are so vital to the Pacers’ wins this season.
In today’s NBA, you have to have star players if you want to compete. Gone are the days of having one or two All-NBA caliber players take you deep into the playoffs. Nowadays, with as much talent as there is in the league, you need three or four. And for teams located in northern California, you might even need five.
But does this apply to everyone?
The Indiana Pacers have started the season off on a quiet note. They aren’t doing anything incredibly flashy, nor do they have any overt weaknesses. But they do have eight wins compared to only six losses. Three of those wins have come against teams with above .500 records, and all of their losses have come from the Bucks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Rockets – all good teams if you don’t want to look it up.
Most would consider Victor Oladipo a star. Sure, he’s only had one All-Star nod in his young career, but he’s proven on more than one occasion that he can be elite on both ends of the floor.
But apart from him, the Pacers are nothing but a mix of role players. But the role players on the roster aren’t just “good” – they seem to know their roles and execute them to a high degree.
To the casual fan, this would seem like it should be a given. But getting grown men with egos to consistently play their part isn’t as easy as it seems, and the Pacers organization might actually have something to work with. Sure, they are still a star (or two) away from actually competing for a title, but they were one game away from knocking off the former Eastern Conference Champions in last year’s playoffs, and, with any luck, could make it even further in the playoffs this year.
After the departure of Paul George, it was easy to read the writing on the wall. Most assumed that the Pacers would be headed to the lottery for a year or two while they worked their eventual rebuild. The franchise itself has consistently been considered one of the better small market organizations. With players like Reggie Miller, Danny Granger and George – it is easy to see why. They’ve only missed the playoffs five times in the last 20 years. But losing a mega-star like George usually contributes to a negative campaign the following season.
To the shock of the entire NBA, Oladipo led the Pacers to the five seed last year after posting a 48-34 record. Oladipo obviously played a huge part in this, but it was the help of the many role players, most of whom remained on the roster for this season, that likely made the biggest contribution to their positive season.
Through the beginning of the the 2018-19 campaign, the team statistic that sticks out the most for the Pacers is their opponent points per game. They are currently second in the league, allowing only 103 points a night behind only the Grizzlies. In comparison, both teams are also in the bottom two for pace. Controlling the flow of the game seems to be an important part of their game plan, and it is currently paying off as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The list of role players making a significant contribution for the Pacers is quite long. In fact, over nine players are averaging more than 15 minutes a game. Keep in mind that eight of the nine players have a positive plus-minus, with Tyreke Evans being the sole player to fall under zero at -0.8. Let’s take a look at a few individuals and see what they may be doing to make a significant splash.
Oladipo is leading the team in scoring at 23.8 points per night, but he also leads the team in assist percentage at 24.4 percent and steal percentage at 27.8 percent. His impact on both ends of the floor is tremendous, and he is one of the few players in the NBA that leads his team in usage percentage and still maintains All-NBA level defense on the other end.
Domantas Sabonis is currently leading the team in rebound percentage at 18.3 percent. He is also second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game on a 68.8 effective field goal percentage. He’s doing all that coming off the bench.
Cory Joseph is currently posting the highest net rating on that team at 8.4. The Pacers also enjoy their lowest defensive rating, 98.7, when Joseph is on the court.
Myles Turner is starting to come into his own on the defensive end of the court. Currently posting 2.4 blocks a game, good for fourth in the league, his presence is being felt more and more at the rim. While his offensive game still needs to be polished, Turner has done a great job at amplifying his defensive position on the court.
Bojan Bogdanovic is tied for second in scoring at 14.1 points a game. He’s doing so by shooting a blistering 51.7 percent from three on over four attempts a night. He’s second on the team in minutes and eighth in usage percentage, showing just how effective he can be off the ball. He boasts the third best plus-minus and fourth best net rating.
Plenty of other players could get nods here – guys like Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott, Darren Collison and Evans. This just shows the talent night-in and night-out that the Pacers deploy.
The point of this article is not to say that the Pacers have a legitimate chance to win the East. They’ll likely finish outside the top four behind the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers and Celtics. But the Pacers definitely have one thing going for them – a roster full of talented role players that, in today’s NBA, can certainly be positive when deployed correctly.
We are still very early in the season. Another star could potentially emerge mid-season for the Pacers or they could make a bold move at the All-Star break. It is very unlikely that Indiana brings home a championship this year or even the next. However, they are still a team to watch throughout the season. They are a well-coached squad and play an incredibly selfless style of basketball.
Who knows? Maybe they can turn heads in the postseason. But in the meantime, they for sure prove one thing.
Role players are vitally important to a team’s success.