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NBA Daily: The Burden Of High Expectations

As evidenced by the Boston Celtics and Markelle Fultz, having magnificent expectations from the start may not be the best thing for everyone, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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On Nov. 21, the New York Knicks faced off against the Boston Celtics in what was expected to be an easy route for the green team, but it turned out be their worst loss of the season.

The Celtics not only lost to their longtime division rivals, but were beaten with almost relative ease. New York. who sported a 4-14 record, had a double-digit lead for almost the entire game. While the Celtics may have cut the lead all the way down to three in the closing minutes, the Knicks held steady to get the win.

The Celtics should have been disappointed in their performance. They were booed by their fans, they fell down by as many as 26 points and they lost to a team that was well below .500. The hardest pill to swallow was that the Knicks reminded Brad Stevens and company where they came from.

As it stands, the Knicks currently are not a good team, as they sit at 7-14 and don’t expect franchise unicorn Kristaps Porzingis back for quite some time. But what separates them from the league’s worst teams is their farm system of gritty young players that sets an edge.

Excluding their pool of rookies and sophomores such as Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Allonzo Trier, the Knicks have a tenacious and somewhat youthful movement in Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh. None of those four are future stars, but with their NBA careers hanging by a thread, they give it their all every night.

When you factor in solid veterans like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter, you’ll see that the Knicks have formed a winning culture even with their limited ceiling. They may not boast the most talent, but they make you earn the victory against them.

Does that sound familiar? It should because that’s what the Celtics once prided themselves on over the past five years under Brad Stevens.

Stevens has built his reputation as one of the league’s best coaches on his teams’ abilities to exceed expectations due to their excellent chemistry outweighing their average pool of talent. So it only made sense that the Celtics would be wrecking the league after coming within one win of going to The Finals and getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back.

To almost everyone’s astonishment, the Celtics have been puzzlingly mediocre, as they currently place sixth in the Eastern Conference at 10-10.

Their lackluster start hasn’t come primarily from their inconsistency. It’s mostly because of their habit of falling behind big. Time and time again, the Celtics have found themselves down by double-digits. Sometimes they have worked their way back from them, but most of the time it’s been too big to overcome.

Even the best teams fall badly behind every once in a while, but the Celtics have repeatedly done it in only 20 games this season. In all fairness, they have some valid excuses.

Working Hayward back was going to take a while given the severity of his injury last season. Juggling the overabundance of talent was going to be quite the riddle to solve. Their biggest problem among everything else so far has been their identity crisis.

The Celtics have thrived in the past because the little expectation put on them fueled them to prove the doubters wrong. Now that the bar set for them is at potentially going to The Finals or even winning the championship, they no longer play with the same edge. As evidenced by the team finding itself down by a fair amount on multiple occasions, Boston is guilty of complacency.

Because of that, even their guys are aware the competition doesn’t take them as seriously.

The experts haven’t been wrong about the Celtics’ weaponry. Even at 10-10, they have some impressive wins on the record. They’ve hung with their top competitors in the East. They’ve beaten Toronto, Milwaukee, Philadelphia albeit pre-Jimmy Butler, Detroit (twice) and were a Victor Oladipo buzzer beater from defeating Indiana. All of these teams are currently ahead of Boston.

The Celtics definitely have what it takes. They just have yet to find their stride, which makes them the NBA’s most disappointing team. They have some competition for that label, but their case is the strongest.

Utah’s slow start can be attributed to them having the toughest schedule in the league so far. Houston’s can be attributed to losing both player and coaching personnel who played a big role in last season’s success. Washington was already a sinking ship, only things have gotten worse this season. In Boston’s case, their struggles are the least expected of the four.

Alas, the Celtics are more than familiar with early season struggles. With the exception of last year’s blazing start, the Celtics under Stevens have always come out of the gate a little flat because he likes to mix and match.

Because of that, it’s definitely not too late for the Celtics, just like it’s not too late for the NBA’s most disappointing player: Markelle Fultz.

This won’t be about Fultz’s injury issues, because that’s gone into enough detail already that it’s virtually impossible to say anything new. Instead, let’s focus on the latest story on the former No. 1 pick.

In the latest and what looks to be the final chapter of Fultz’s time as a 76er, he has yet again been deemed out with a shoulder injury along with a newly-reported wrist injury. This latest report appears to be the nail in the coffin for him in Philly, as it now appears that Fultz wants a fresh start, and Philly is ready to move on from him.

When and if he gets traded, it’s fair to say that Fultz, while definitely not being the first, is the biggest failure to come from “The Process.” The Sixers traded a potential superstar in Jayson Tatum and a possible lottery pick from the Kings to get Fultz. The returns they’ve gotten since acquiring his draft rights have been nothing short of disastrous.

In 33 games as a Sixer, Fultz has averaged 7.7 points, 3.4 assists and has shot 41.4 percent from the field including 26.7 percent from distance. According to NBA.com, the Sixers’ offensive rating has been -8.5 with Fultz on the court this season. That’s pretty bad for someone who had superstar expectations coming out of the draft just a year-and-a-half ago.

That’s not to say the Sixers haven’t tried to fit him in. They started Fultz for the first 15 games hoping he could get going with the other starters, but he couldn’t. Once the team traded for Butler, it was clear that they had run out of patience with Fultz.

In his defense, Fultz was thrown into a situation that may have never been meant for him coming into the NBA. He was expected to be the last piece for a team that had thrown away the last four seasons in hopes of accumulating young talent to start up a new dynasty. Also, the team planned to flip the switch immediately after drafting him.

It was also going to be hard for Markelle to thrive since he was a point guard playing with another point guard, Ben Simmons, who is the most effective with the ball in his hands. Making that work is difficult especially with Fultz’s shooting woes. Though nobody blames Philadelphia for going all in on Fultz, this may have been a doomed experiment from the start.

Most first overall picks are put on bad teams that slowly rebuild over time. Fultz, by contrast, was added to a team in hopes of making serious noise the second he stepped on the floor. The Sixers were ready for the big time. Fultz was not.

Perhaps what Fultz needs is to re-start his career with a team that has minimal expectations. The best thing for his progress may be time, which he certainly doesn’t have with the Sixers in the place that they are in. He may still be the prospect everybody believed he was. That just may not happen while he’s in Philadelphia.

That’s not to say that all that has happened is Philadelphia’s fault, or Fultz’s for that matter. Neither side saw this panning out as badly as it did. It all came down to incompatibility. That doesn’t excuse Fultz from being a colossal disappointment though.

As evidenced by both the Celtics and Fultz, having such high expectations can prove to be trouble. It can get to both teams and players alike. At the end of the day, we have to remember that everyone in the NBA is still human.

Those ginormous expectations can be fulfilled.

It just may not be as quick as or in the way that we hope they will.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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NBA Daily: Bought Out Players Faring Well With New Teams

The deadline for teams to send their unwanted players to the buyout market was March 1. Jordan Hicks takes a look at some of the key acquisitions since the deadline and how they are helping postseason pushes.

Jordan Hicks

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The buyout market seems to be gaining more and more popularity with each season. While rebuilding teams tend to forego more seasoned players in order to give their younger guys some run, veteran players often find themselves bought out or waived prior to the deadline.

Teams competing for a spot in the playoffs – so it seems – have increasingly taken advantage of this situation by signing guys that can definitely help them get enough wins. While you definitely will not find All-Stars in the pool of available players, oftentimes solid role players find themselves there due to a myriad of reasons.

It could be that their previous teams wanted to give more playing time to guys more in-line with their future plans. It could also be because their previous team was simply wanting to lose games in order to increase their draft position, which is also known as tanking. By waiving better players on your roster and keeping less talented ones, teams can essentially give themselves a better chance to lose games without totally making it look like they’re doing it on purpose.

This year had one of the stronger pools of players on the buyout/waived market as of March 1st in recent memory, so let’s take a look at some of the top players and how they’ve fared since joining their new team.

Wesley Matthews

Matthews was part of the marquee trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks. He ended up with the Knicks, but after two short games, they realized they didn’t want his talent interfering with their draft position. They waived him prior to the deadline and he was picked up by the Indiana Pacers.

This has turned out to be an incredibly important acquisition for the Pacers – primarily due to the fact that they lost All-Star Victor Oladipo for the season.

Matthews brings grittiness on the defensive end and a diverse set of skills offensively. He is an above average shooter from the three-point line, averaging 38.8 percent on 6.1 attempts per game since joining Indiana. He has added much-needed scoring to the offense as well – currently at 12.5 points and 2.4 assists each night.

He’s very clearly a step below Oladipo, especially when considering what Vic brought to both ends of the floor, but the fact that the Pacers added him without having to give up any assets is pretty remarkable.

While he has yet to add any considerable value on defense, Matthews has ranked fifth on the team in offensive rating since joining them on February 7. If Oladipo was still on the roster, you could argue that they wouldn’t necessarily need Matthews. But in light of recent events, being able to add Matthews as easily as they did was certainly a win for the franchise.

Enes Kanter

Another player the Knicks decided to unload was Enes Kanter. He was sent to the player pool via buyout, and it is safe to assume that New York had to spend handsomely to send him there.

Kanter is an interesting player. He has always been able to get buckets around the rim, as well as grab rebounds, but he has always struggled defensively. This was not why the Knicks wanted to let him go, however. Tension had been growing between Kanter, the front office, and the coaching staff, as they wanted to limit his minutes in lieu of the younger players on the roster.

Enes just wanted to play, and, by being bought out and signing with the Portland Trail Blazers, he’s been able to do just that.

Since joining Portland, the team as gone 9-3. While he continues to have his struggles on defense, he is posting 10 points and 6.7 rebounds on only 18.2 minutes per night.

Since the acquisition, Meyers Leonard has seen a decreased role. Kanter has turned into the de-facto backup to starting center Jusuf Nurkic. While Kanter is a poor defender himself, Portland has enough solid defensive players in the frontcourt that they haven’t had too much of a problem hiding him on that end of the floor.

Jeremy Lin

Lin headed to the market after being bought out by the Atlanta Hawks. He was picked up by the Toronto Raptors, who have struggled to field consistent backcourt players off the bench due to injuries – which was made more difficult after dealing Delon Wright to the Grizzlies as part of the Marc Gasol trade.

In 13 games with the Raptors, Lin is averaging 8.4 points and 2.5 assists in 20.8 minutes per game. He has struggled to find any consistency with his shot, as he’s averaging just 39 percent from the field and a morbid 18.4 percent from three.

That shooting has every opportunity to increase. Lin is a 34.3 percent shooter from downtown over the course of his career.

The Raptors will need Lin to pull his shooting together as the season wraps up for a strong playoff campaign. The bench unit was a major part of their success last season and it is proving to be another key part this year. In order for Toronto to finally reach their goal of winning the Eastern Conference, they’ll need Lin to be at his best. He isn’t the only key to their success, but he’ll have a major impact on how the Raptors finish out the season.

There are still plenty of solid players on the market. Carmelo Anthony, Ben McLemore and Nick Young could provide instant offense off the bench. Greg Monroe, Marcin Gortat and Zach Randolph could help improve the frontcourt of any team in need. Whether or not teams decide they need their services, only time will tell.

While the season plays out, it will be interesting to see just what impact these players discussed – as well as those not mentioned – will have for their franchise in the postseason.

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NBA Daily: Justin Bibbs Gets First NBA Opportunity In L.A.

Justin Bibbs spoke to Basketball Insiders about joining an NBA team after going undrafted, playing in the G League, his developing skill set and more.

David Yapkowitz

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One of the best moments in the life of an aspiring pro basketball player is to receive the news that an NBA team wants to sign them.

For Justin Bibbs, that dream became a reality of his when the Los Angeles Clippers called him up to the team on a 10-day contract last week. The former Virginia Tech guard went undrafted last summer and was spending his first professional season in the G League with Maine Red Claws, the affiliate of the Boston Celtics.

This past Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets was actually his first day being around the team as they had immediately assigned him to the Agua Caliente Clippers after signing him.

“To be honest, I still don’t have words for it. It’s kind of indescribable,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I always wanted to be on this level, but now that I’m here I just trying to take in every second of it, just relax and let God do his thing.”

Bibbs had a decent showing with the Celtics in summer league, leading to him being added to their training camp roster. He was ultimately cut and joined the Maine Red Claws as an affiliate player. Each NBA team is allowed to assign up to four players to their G League affiliate, players who were in training camp and are guaranteed a G League roster spot.

Affiliate players, however, are still considered ‘free agents’ in that they can sign with any NBA team. Bibbs played in 44 games with the Red Claws and averaged 11.8 points per game, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

At Virginia Tech, he was a knockdown outside shooter (42.4 percent) and a strong defender. He has good size for a guard at 6-foot-5 and 225-pounds. It’s those qualities that he’s hoping to bring to the Clippers should he get the chance on the court.

“I always bring energy defensively and I just play my game. On offense, I bring shooting,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s whatever the coach tells me to do and basically just playing the right way.”

Although Bibbs has reached his goal of the NBA, he’s in a different situation than the rest of his Clippers teammates. They’re all secured with guaranteed contracts. Bibbs has ten days to prove himself to team brass, ten days to show he’s worth keeping around a bit longer.

“I’m happy that my play has been rewarded, that the organization believed in me enough to give me a 10-day. Its motivation for me to keep going,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I was called down from the G League team, and I’m just trying to get all the sets and plays and stuff, trying to make that adjustment. But it’s definitely a blessing.”

He’s played in three games for the Agua Caliente Clippers so far, logging 27.1 minutes per game off the bench. He’s put up 9.7 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting from the field, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists during that stretch.

He’s yet to log any minutes for the Clippers, but he’s just thrilled to be a part of an NBA organization. Despite being undrafted, he always knew that he’d get to this level at some point.

“Yeah I did, for sure I did. I didn’t know when or how, but I always thought I would be here,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I had no idea what team, but being out in LA, I’ll take that as a blessing. But yeah I thought I would be here for sure.”

For players like Bibbs who are on 10-day contracts, nothing is guaranteed. But he’s soaking up the entire experience as long as he can. Whether the Clippers decide to retain him a little bit longer, or he moves on to another opportunity, he just wants to be able to play his game.

“My overall goal is just to actually play my game my way and not be restricted,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “Kind of just play freely and right now that’s what I’ve shown, that’s what got me here. I’m just taking in the whole process, just taking it all in and getting the experience and knowledge.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 3/19/19

With the field of teams set for the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament, things should get noisy over the next few weeks on the NBA Draft front. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft before all the zaniness begins.

Steve Kyler

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Let the Madness begin.

The basketball world will shift its attention to college basketball’s biggest stage over the next few weeks, especially this weekend’s opening round of 64.

While the tournament doesn’t necessarily make or break a player’s draft stock, this will be the first time some notable draft prospects will face elite talent and, more importantly, the pressure of the big stage. You can check out march madness predictions 2019 here.

Expect things in the draft world to start to percolate, not just because of the magnitude of the games, but also because a lot of NBA scouts will be in the same places, which is where the draft chatter originates.

Equally, a lot of NBA teams will watch games together in the conference rooms this week, so more group discussion on players will happen inside NBA teams’ front offices, and that could lead to new preference information flowing into the NBA Draft information bubble.

Here is this week’s 60-Pick Mock Draft, based on NBA games played through 3/18/19:

Here are the first-round picks that are owed and how those picks landed where they are.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyle Korver trade in 2017, which is top-10 protected. But based on the standings, it will not be conveyed.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the Memphis Grizzlies first-round pick as a result of the three-team Jeff Green trade in 2015; the pick is top-eight protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick as a result of the Luka Dončić – Trae Young swap on draft night in 2018. The pick is top-five protected and, based on the standings, would convey.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the more favorable of either the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers first-round picks as part of the Markelle Fultz pre-draft trade in 2017. Based on the current standings, the Kings pick is the more favorable and would convey to Boston.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the LA Clippers first-round pick as a result of the Deyonta Davis draft day trade with Memphis in 2016. The Grizzlies got the pick in their Jeff Green/Lance Stephenson deal at the deadline in 2016. The pick is lottery protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are to receive the Houston Rockets first-round pick as a result of the three-team deadline deal that sent out Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.

The Brooklyn Nets are to receive the Denver Nuggets first-round pick as a result of the Kenneth Faried – Darrell Arthur trade in July 2018. The pick is top-12 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The San Antonio Spurs are to receive the Toronto Raptors first-round pick as a result of the Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan trade in July 2018. The pick is top-20 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are to receive the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as a result of the Eric Bledsoe trade in 2017. The pick has top 3 and 17-30 protections, designed to yield a lottery-level pick to Phoenix. Based on the current standings this pick would not convey. If the debt is not settled this year, the pick in 2020 would be top-7 protected.

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