All of a sudden, things are looking up for Ryan Arcidiacono, the Chicago Bulls’ scrappy two-way point guard.
After spending most of the season with Chicago’s G-League affiliate, the Windy City Bulls, Arcidiacono is in the midst of his longest extended run over his two-year professional career. With the Bulls well out of the postseason picture, young assets like Arcidiacono have been afforded the opportunity to finally play consistent minutes.
For players like Cristiano Felicio, who signed a four-year deal worth $32 million last summer, these end-of-the-season changes ultimately come with very little on the line. But in Arcidiacono’s case, he might be playing for his next contract — in Chicago or elsewhere. To his credit, the 24-year-old floor-runner has impressed head coach Fred Hoiberg since he joined the Bulls for good in mid-March.
“When you look at Ryan, what he’s doing for us,” Hoiberg recently said. “He’s making big plays, most of it with his toughness. Defensively, I thought he really got us going the other night with his hands, got deflections, gets into bodies, takes charges.”
Those type of non-box score observations may not impress the casual onlooker — but for a team trying to rebuild a losing roster, the little things can speak loudly. Standing at 6-foot-3, Arcidiacono is the first to admit that he’s not the NBA’s most athletic specimen. Still, he knows that his hard-working, team-first attitude has the potential to keep him on the map.
“I mean, I’ll go anywhere,” Arcidiacono told Basketball Insiders. “Hopefully [the Bulls] see the value over time — I’m not going to wow you with athleticism, but I think I can wow you with my work ethic every single day in practice.
“When I’m on the floor, I’m not gonna mess up. I’m just gonna be a solid guy on the court that’ll keep everybody together and playing hard.”
His whatever-it-takes mindset has fueled him through both collegiate successes and professional speed bumps — but all the same to him, Arcidiacono just keeps pushing.
Arcidiacono earned the honor of Most Outstanding Player during Villanova’s 2016 tournament-winning run, but he still went undrafted nonetheless. Following a year with the Austin Spurs, Arcidiacono was ready to make the jump overseas. But when JuveCaserta were denied entry into Italy’s top league, Serie A, the former collegiate standout looked local once more.
Arcidiacono was then scooped up by the Bulls for Summer League and turned enough heads to earn one of the much sought-after two-way contracts.
“Luckily, I played Summer League last year with the Bulls and played well enough to get a two-way contract,” Arcidiacono said. “I think that’s a step in the right direction, hopefully, for my NBA career. I think that’ll happen if I just keep working hard and keep putting my best foot forward, and I think I did that this year. This is just another step in hopefully a long career playing basketball.”
Two-way players are given a maximum of 45 days with their parent NBA franchises. Once the 45-day threshold has been met, teams must decide between converting their two-way contract into a standard deal or sending them back to the G-League. In Arcidiacono’s case, he’ll fall short of that mark this season — but he’s appreciated his chance to develop at both levels. Over two seasons in the G-League, Arcidiacono says he’s learned a whole lot about what it takes to be an NBA-worthy point guard.
“Just going through one year in Austin, learning how to play at the NBA level, within the systems and where to read plays,” Arcidiacono told Basketball Insiders. “I think our head coach, Charlie Henry, for the G-League this year, did a great job helping me develop with Jannero Pargo. So on a daily basis, kinda talking me through the reads on offense and what we’re truly looking for — he put the ball in my hands and let me make some plays.”
That’s putting it lightly, however, as Arcidiacono absolutely tore up the G-League this season.
In 37 appearances with Windy City, Arcidiacono averaged 13.8 points, 8.6 assists and five rebounds on 45.1 percent from three-point range. On top of that, Arcidiacono led the G-League in minutes per game (39.5) and his three-point percentage and assist tally ranked second and third-best overall, respectively. Any way you slice it, Arcidiacono has exceeded expectations in the G-League, a nice resume booster at the very least.
As far as he’s concerned, Arcidiacono doesn’t know if he’ll be back with Chicago next season — but he knows that these late-season minutes are a crucial opportunity to impress every franchise.
“It’s not just the Bulls that are watching, it’s every other team in the NBA,” Arcidiacono said. “You have to go out there and play hard, show them I can compete at this level, that I can defend at this level and that I can make some open shots when I take them.”
Naturally, Arcidiacono was present at the Final Four earlier this month, more than happy to cheer his former teammates through a tough gauntlet against both Kansas and Michigan. And although he says it was a little strange to be on the other side of the curtain for once, he enjoyed it all the same.
“It was cool [being in the stands] — it was my first time going to a Nova game since I graduated, so it was definitely weird,” Arcidiacono said. “But I loved every second of it and I’m just so happy they won. I know they came through Boston, so it’s cool to be here for my first time in this arena, they just won here recently and then won a national championship.”
Rather quickly, Villanova could have some serious representation at the professional level for the indefinite future. Of course, that list begins with four-time All-Star Kyle Lowry and stretch forward Dante Cunningham, but that’s not all. Darrun Hilliard, who graduated in 2015, is currently a two-way player within the Spurs’ organization and just led Austin to a G-League championship this week. Daniel Ochefu went undrafted with Arcidiacono in 2016 and currently plays for the Reno Bighorns, but he played 19 games for the Wizards last year.
This season, Arcidiacono was joined by promising rookie Josh Hart — whom the Lakers scooped up with the No. 30 overall pick in 2017 — and they’re set to add even more in two months. But this two-way standout is excited to potentially compete against his friends and former teammates, no matter where they end up.
“Mikal [Bridges] should be a Top-10, Top-15 pick. Donte [DiVincenzo] had a great last few weeks of the season and really put himself in a good position, whether it’s this year or next year,” Arcidiacono told Basketball Insiders. “And I think Jalen [Brunson] is going to be an NBA player for a long time — so they’re all headed in the right direction.”
But after two long, demanding seasons, Arcidiacono is certainly headed in the right direction himself — and if all else goes to plan, even if it’s not in Chicago, he’ll be sticking around as well.
NBA Daily: Is Now the Time for the Houston Rockets?
Houston pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink last year. Shane Rhodes analyzes whether the Rockets are now ready to advance to the NBA Finals.
In what may be the best eventual series of the postseason, the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are expected to go head-to-head in the second round.
Both teams are almost certainly looking forward to their postseason rematch — to show which team is truly dominant over the other. Both the Rockets and Warriors, for the most part, have made easy work of their first-round adversaries; while the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively, may play hard, neither have the personnel to contend with the NBA’s most talented teams. Meanwhile, both Houston and Golden State have subjected the NBA to a season-long offensive clinic, and their postseason performance thus far has shown that neither team has lost much, if any steam.
But, over the last few seasons, the Rockets have had one goal (beyond the obvious Larry O’Brien Trophy), one obsession: unseating the Warriors dynasty.
“It’s the only thing we think about,” General Manager Daryl Morey said last season. They were meticulously built to defeat the beast that Golden State has become in recent years.
And now, Houston may have its best chance to topple a giant.
While some may argue otherwise, the Rockets are a better team than they were a season ago. Not only are they healthy — Chris Paul was lost to injury in the midst of their Conference Finals series last season — but their defense is better. Even James Harden, voted Most Valuable Player a season ago and in line for another this season, has significantly improved, both as an offensive weapon and as a defender.
Houston went through multiple regular season stretches that were rife with injuries. Paul missed 17 straight games midseason, while Clint Capela missed 15 of his own around the same time. But now, there are no major injuries, and the Rockets are actively trying to avoid them: P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon, amid two blowouts, have seen their time on the court dip from a season ago, while Paul is on pace to finish with a career low in postseason minutes player per game (30).
A dose of early season adversity seems to have hardened the Rockets mindset quite a bit as well; while they were somewhat carried by Harden’s historic offensive effort, it put the roster in a position where they needed to grind out some ugly wins on the defensive end and it has made them better in the long run. Tucker, an already versatile defensive weapon, has proved even more capable this season while Capela and Paul are their usual stout selves.
As for Harden, who has looked to be in the best shape of his career, he has become even more valuable for the Rockets than he was a season ago. He has proven a stout defender, both on the perimeter and in the post, en route to career-high two steals per game (good for second in the NBA this season).
Offensively, his shot volume has increased dramatically, but he has remained surprisingly efficient, shooting 36.8% and 44.2% from three and the field, respectively, on 13.2 threes (a career high) and 24.5 shots per game (also a career high). But he has developed more than his three-point stroke. While Harden has made art of the stepback three, he has improved on his ability to draw fouls; Harden was the first since Allen Iverson in the 2005-06 regular season to average at least nine free throws made and 11 free throw attempts per game (again, both career highs for Harden). While he is often criticized for his style of play, he has used it to put the Rockets in a position to win big games time and time again.
What may be the best news for Houston, however, is that, through two games, Harden has averaged his lowest postseason minutes played since he was in Oklahoma City. Harden, as have the Rockets in recent years, has tended to run out of gas come postseason time — an entire season playing as physical as he does would leave anyone drained. So, the quicker the Jazz are dealt with, and the more rest the Rockets are afforded, the better.
It could certainly prove a fool’s errand to predict the Warriors demise, but there are causes for concern this postseason.
DeMarcus Cousins, who played a major role with the team upon his return this season, is likely out for the postseason after he tore a quad muscle. Not only does his absence remove one of the Warriors’ biggest chess pieces, but it gives other teams a matchup they can exploit. Even hobbled, Cousins would have been a superior option to Andrew Bogut, Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell.
The team recently sustained a historically bad loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, who overcame a 31-point deficit to steal a game at Oracle Arena, as well. While Golden State punched back — and punched back hard — in the next game, it goes to show that any team, even the Warriors, are prone to take their foot off the gas when they feel comfortable.
And, perhaps the biggest distraction this Warriors group has faced, the future of Kevin Durant has hung like a dark cloud over the team for much of the season.
Now don’t take this the wrong way — short of Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green calling it quits after the Clippers series, the Warriors will be far from a pushover. But, they appear to be vulnerable, for the first time in a long time.
The Rockets already had them on the ropes last season. If they can take advantage now, Houston may very well find themselves in the NBA Finals come June.
NBA Daily: The Spurs’ Reign is Alive and Well
The promise from some of the Spurs’ young talent has shown that the rumors of San Antonio’s death were greatly exaggerated, writes Matt John.
It’s time for what is called a mea culpa.
Around this time last year, this writer wrote an article detailing why it appeared the Spurs’ dynasty was approaching its demise. Manu Ginobili was on his way to retirement, Tony Parker was not the player he once was, and Kawhi Leonard appeared on his way out. After being predictably defeated in five games by Golden State in the first round and losing the aforementioned players the following offseason, it seemed like the end of a glorious era.
But it wasn’t. The Spurs’ dynasty is far from dead. San Antonio may not have the same household name on the roster like a Duncan or Leonard or a Robinson as of now. What they do have presently is a promising foundation of talent that should keep the team in the conversation for the next 5-10 years.
That much is clear when you see the All-Star caliber players that they have in their arsenal. LaMarcus Aldridge put up yet another fantastic stat line for the Spurs, averaging a near 20/10 on 52 percent shooting despite having fewer touches than last season. Even at 33, Aldridge continues to prove that he’s still one of the most offensively polished bigs in the game.
Then there’s DeMar DeRozan. The Spurs have embraced DeMar’s natural mid-range game while also helping him succeed more in other areas than he ever has before. DeRozan put up his most efficient field goal percentage – 48.1 – since his rookie season, and averaged career-highs in both rebounds (6) and assists (6.2) per game. He may not have made the all-star team, but this season was DeRozan’s best as an all-around player.
There is also the Spurs’ well-oiled rotation full of players who know their roles. Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes and Jakob Poeltl all do their thing. Who would have guessed that Rudy Gay – a player who had a reputation for putting up empty stats – has been an effective backup wing for San Antonio? Yet another example in a long line of evidence that Gregg Popovich can make do with anyone in the NBA.
But this isn’t about the star veterans or the role players that the Spurs have molded. This is about the young talent who should be able to keep the Spurs in contender status. First, there’s Derrick White.
If you hadn’t heard of Derrick White leading up to the playoffs, you’ve probably heard of him by now.
White has exploded on the national stage since the playoffs began, averaging 23 points on 68 percent shooting from the field despite shooting only 23 percent from three, with his most recent scoring outburst against Denver being the standout, putting up 36 points on 71.4 percent shooting from the field. His performance has easily made him this postseasons breakout star.
Then again, if you’ve been paying attention to the Spurs all season then you’ve probably known about White all along.
After losing Tony Parker to free agency and Dejounte Murray to injury, many wondered where the Spurs were going to turn to run the point. Sure they had Patty Mills but he fit snugly in the second unit. White didn’t get the call immediately, but when he did, the Spurs threw him to the wolves.
White was thrust into the starting lineup when they inserted him into the rotation. White wasn’t awful when he got those minutes, but he wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire. His first two months into the season, White averaged 6.3 points on 43/30/80 splits. But then January came.
White tore it up in January, putting up 15.3 points on 60/47/75 splits while putting up 4.2 rebounds and nearly four assists per game. By doing this, it appeared Derrick was more than just a player to use in case of emergency. Both the Spurs and White were on the right track before a heel injury knocked him out for a few weeks. While he came back sooner than expected, Derrick was never able to replicate his play from January.
Now, it appears White has his mojo back, and at the absolute perfect time too.
And it’s not just about his contributions on offense. Defensively, White has proven to be pretty pesky. Derrick ranks behind only Chris Paul in Defensive Real Plus-Minus at 1.59. The Spurs defense is also a minus-3.8 defensively when White is on the floor, third among active rotational players behind only Poeltl and Gay.
Nobody’s saying that White is a franchise player, but the 24-year-old has excelled in his expanded role for San Antonio. If he’s to keep the franchise relevant as they transition away from the Kawhi Leonard era, he’ll need as much help from other young starlets as he can.
Enter Dejounte Murray
Murray was originally believed to be the Spurs’ prized young prospect when the season began. Murray was a jack-of-all-trades point guard for San Antonio. At 6-foot-6, he was a tenacious defender – he made the All-NBA Defensive 2nd Team last year in just his second year – and was aggressive on the boards, corralling 5.7 rebounds per game.
Dejounte was believed to be pretty raw offensively given his youth, but with a bigger role on the team, many believed there was more for him to build off of. That was until he tore his ACL during a pre-season game. After losing Kawhi, Danny Green, and Kyle Anderson, the Spurs’ defense could not afford to lose its expected best player on the defensive end.
The Spurs clearly managed to do fine without him, but their defensive rating dropped all the way down to 111.2, which ranked 19th in the league. Had Murray been able to play, that rating probably would have gone up as well as where the Spurs were seeded.
With his body type and the Spurs’ love for versatility, Murray should be a welcome addition to the team next year when he comes back healthy. After the expectations that were placed on him, Dejounte should be extra motivated to show the world that he is part of the Spurs’ next generation of young talent.
Now that he has another young piece to play off of, both he and White should give San Antonio a strong two-way backcourt that the team hasn’t seen in all its years of glory. These two may very well bring the Spurs back to the promised land. Just not in the way that previous Spurs have done so.
Many believed that the Spurs were finished after they traded one of its all-time players in Kawhi. We should have known better knowing what Pop can do.
Should Murray and White pan out, the Spurs’ expiration may not be brought up again until the 2030’s.
Underdog Teams With a Shot at the Second Round
Underdogs rarely pull-off upsets in the NBA Playoffs. Yet four underdogs stole a game on their respective opponent’s home floor. Which, if any, can succeed in advancing beyond the first round?
The first round of the NBA Playoffs provides infrequent upsets – especially since 2003 when the first round was extended to a best-of-seven series (from a best-of-five).
Per the usual, this year has its share of favorites in the driver’s seat. For example, it’s a fair assumption that the Celtics, Rockets, Trailblazers and Bucks will advance after winning their first two home games.
All of the aforementioned teams were the higher seed in their respective series and – with the exception of the Trail Blazers vs. Thunder – none were seriously expected to end in upset. And while being down 2-0 isn’t a kiss of death, it is difficult winning four out of five with two of the remaining games on an opponent’s floor; in the 282 seven-game playoff series throughout NBA history, only 20 teams have come back to win from a 2-0 hole, which examines all rounds of the playoffs.
So then let’s focus instead on the underdogs of the 2019 NBA Playoffs who stole a game on their opponent’s floor: the Magic, Clippers, Spurs and Nets, all of whom are tied in their respective series at a game a piece.
For context, according to Westgate Las Vegas Superbook via an article written by Kaelen Jones for Sports Illustrated, the Warriors were -50,000 against the Clippers entering the series; the Raptors were -1,400 against the Magic; the 76ers were -800 against the Nets and the Nuggets were -200 against the Spurs.
Put plainly, Vegas had no faith in the Clippers and Magic advancing. It felt strongly about the 76ers’ chances to advance past the Nets. And it was marginally confident that the Nuggets would eliminate the Spurs.
And while none of the aforementioned odds conclusively indicate that a team will advance, it speaks to the outlook of experts as of the start of the playoffs.
But experts can be wrong. And while we know all four series should still not be viewed evenly, stealing one of the first two games is the first step to upsetting a favorite. So which of the four underdogs who stole one of the first two playoff games are most likely to advance (if any)?
From an analytics standpoint, the Spurs have played their first-round opponent the best of the four teams we’re examining. In the aggregate, the Spurs are -4 against their first-round opponent through two games, whereas the Nets and Clippers are both -13 and the Magic are -26.
After splitting the first two games, the Spurs are given a 36.6% chance to advance to the second round of the playoffs by Basketball-Reference.com, which is not the best odds of the four teams. The best odds go the Nets, who are given a 39.1% chance of success. Next up is the Clippers, who are receive a 23.1% chance of advancing. And finally, the Magic have only a 21.1% chance of advancing. Those odds are determined by 1,000 simulations of the remainder of the playoffs after two games.
But we all know that analytics and simulations aren’t 100% accurate – after all, the Warriors’ odds for success on Monday was as high as 99.9% when up 31 points against the Clippers. Players and teams get hot at unexpected times and coaching and strategy plays a bigger factor in the playoffs more than it does in the regular season.
So what else might affect the outcomes? Let’s examine three factors that could swing the results in favor of the underdogs.
Brooklyn Nets: Jared Dudley
His initial allure to the Nets was his veteran leadership. And that was valuable enough to justify his spot on the roster.
But his impact on Game 1 was profound. However, he was sorely missed in Game 2 as he was recovering from a tight right calf.
In Game 1, Dudley guarded Ben Simmons on 22 possessions, Joel Embiid on three possession, Boban Marjanovic on seven possessions and Mike Scott on 11, in which time they scored a combined two points (Simmons). Drilling down to the All-Stars (Simmons and Embiid), that’s two points on 25 possessions. Not bad for a veteran leader.
And after examining game film from the first game, his value is even more clear. His defensive instincts are incredibly sound. Dudley makes the right choices far more often than not, as evidenced by his discipline in transition when picking up Simmons. He regularly correctly sagged off of Simmons, resisted the urge to bite on fakes and forced Simmons to take less-than-ideal shots or pass the ball.
And Dudley is a willing passer and screener, too, rarely shooting the ball unless open. He provides the Nets with energy, focus and wisdom. If the Nets are to advance, they will need everything they can get from Dudley, who is listed as probable for Thursday night’s game in Brooklyn.
Orland Magic: Point guard play and three-point shooting
The Magic have a few kinks to iron out that could sway their fortunes.
The first of the two comes from D.J. Augustin. They’ll need Augustin to play like the capable floor general he proved he can be in Game 1 when he dropped 25 points and six assists on the Raptors and shot 80% from three-point range, including a game-winning shot with 3.5 seconds remaining.
On the contrary, when he plays like he did in Game 2 – 9 points, 0 assists and 0-1 from three-point range – the Magic will struggle.
Augustin has the ability to be his team’s best three-point shooter and most capable playmaker with the ball in his hands. He must summon his best play if they are to stand a chance against the Raptors.
But Augustin’s strong play and improved shooting won’t do it alone. The Magic must must shoot better as a team, notably on three-point field goals. In Game 1, the Magic seized that opportunity, shooting a scorching 48% from deep on 29 attempts – that adds up to 42 points on three-pointers. Compare that to Game 2, in which they shot only 26.5% from three-point territory, which resulted in only 27 points.
Hitting the three-ball has residual benefits that are arguably as important as the points. It opens up driving lanes and forces the defense to either close-out aggressively on shooters or deny them the basketball – either way, the result is a better-spaced floor. While it will be a dog fight for the Magic, they’ll have a shot if they can shoot the three at an above average clip and get elite level play from their point guard and floor general.
San Antonio: Home court advantage
San Antonio isn’t typically mentioned among the elite home crowds by the mainstream media. We hear about Denver and Golden State regularly, and rightfully so. Madison Square Garden gets props despite not playing host to a competitive team in some years. Philly has a reputation for being aggressive, too. But the Spurs home record hints that its home court should get more props than it does.
The Spurs were tied for the third-best home record during the regular season (32-9). Add in the fact that the Nuggets had a sub-.500 winning percentage on the road in 2018-19 and we have a recipe for an upset. Interestingly, the inverse is also true – the Spurs were a sub-par road team and the Nuggets a superb home team – so it’s far from guaranteed that the Spurs win the next two. But if they can, the Spurs will go back to Denver up 3-1 with three opportunities to close out the series.
The NBA Playoffs is less about early-round upsets than it is about seeing giants go head-to-head in the conference semifinals and beyond. The first round and its victors is mostly an afterthought. But maybe not this year. There is potential for more than one underdog to advance, which would shake-up the playoff landscape moving forward. The next step in that journey begins tonight, as the Nets, Spurs and Clippers all look to defend their respective home courts.