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NBA Daily: The End of 2017 NBA Awards

With the new year upon us, Steve Kyler takes a look back at 2017 and who should get a 2017 award.

Steve Kyler

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The End of 2017 Awards

Given that the new calendar year is upon us, its only seems fitting to do something campy and end of the year themed, so lets spend a few minutes and hand out some end of 2017 awards.

Keep in mind, we’ve already seen the 2016-17 award winners, so those are done, but who are some of the notables so far into the 2017-18 season as we end 2017?

Executive of The Year

There are a few names to mention in this discussion, some that pulled off incredible roster moves, some that stole value in the draft and some that have simply put together dominating rosters.

You can make a case basically every year for Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. This summer he convinced basically the entire team to come back and keep the championship train rolling, and when you look at the Warriors league-leading 29-8 record, it hard to argue against the results.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey deserves a nod here, despite their recent struggles, the Rockets have been impressive all year. When you consider Morey turned roster parts into Chris Paul and the Rockets are still one of the elite teams in the NBA; Morey deserves a lot of credit.

New Cavalier GM Koby Altman deserves a nod as well. The Cavaliers have assembled arguably the most complimentary roster to surround and amplify LeBron James as any they have had in modern history. Not only are the Cavs and James surging, but their second unit has found some defense that was sorely lacking for the past couple of seasons.

While there are several deserving candidates, it’s hard to argue that Celtics president Danny Ainge doesn’t deserve the award this far. Not only did he flip roster parts into guard Kyrie Irving in trade, but he also lured in free agent Gordon Hayward, drafted rookie of the year candidate Jason Tatum, and has seen recent draft wildcards blossom into bona fide NBA stars like Jaylen Brown and reserve point guard Terry Rozier.

The Celtics stand at 29-10 on the season and are as good as anyone in basketball on both ends of the floor.

Most Improved Player

This award is always tough, because of how subjective the nature of measuring Most Improved.

There are a few players to mention in this discussion.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown is a deserving candidate. If you look at his progression as a player and his role on the team with Gordon Hayward going out to injury, he has seen his numbers jump up but more importantly his efficiency as a player on both ends of the floor has improved dramatically.

Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie deserves a nod as well. Dinwiddie was a castoff just a season ago and with the injury to Jeremy Lin he has found himself not only starting games for the Nets but really leading the team as a floor general. Dinwiddie’s production is up all over the board, and his efficiency is impressive as well.

There are a number of qualified candidate for the award all over the NBA from Chicago’s Kris Dunn to Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb to Houston’s Clint Capella, but its hard to argue the biggest leap so far has to be Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.

Not only has Oladipo emerged as Indiana’s go-to guy, he posting career bests from the field and the three-point line while averaging almost 25 points a game. Oladipo is making a solid case for All-Star consideration, and that’s a huge jump for after-thought player in Oklahoma City a season ago.

Sixth Man of the Year

Again, there are some notable names to put into this crowded and always contentious discussion.

There are the mainstays of this conversation like Minnesota’s Jamal Crawford, and Clippers reserve turned starter Lou Williams. Both are having solid seasons. However there are a few new names in the field that seems to be getting better as the season moves on.

Memphis’ Tyreke Evans has seen a resurgence in his career in Memphis. Evans is posting his second-best scoring season as a pro for the Grizzlies while posting career highs from both the field and the three-point line. The problem for Evans is he has played so well he’s been in the starting line-up and may start his way out of qualifying.

Denver’s Will Barton has been in this discussion for the past two seasons, but this might be his most convincing season. He is averaging a career high in points and field goal percentage and his second best from the three-point line. Barton has become a force for the Nuggets and has started just eight games on the season.

Brooklyn’s Caris LaVert is also posting a pretty impressive case for the sixth man, although his numbers are not nearly as impressive as some others in the discussion.

The name that continues to be interesting in this discussion is Cleveland’s Dwyane Wade, mainly because the Cavs were a dumpster fire before Wade moved to the reserve role and anchored the second unit. Wade has started just three games for the Cavs and is posting 11.2 points per game on 44.5 percent field goal shooting and 36.5 percent three-point shooting. His raw numbers are not nearly as impressive as say Evans or even Barton, but its hard to argue with the results in Cleveland. That combined with the fact that Wade has the clout as a future Hall of Famer to force his way into the starting lineup if he really wanted to, makes him the award winner at this point in the season.

Coach of The Year

This one is also tough because there are three or four coaching jobs this season worth talking about in this context.

Indiana’s Nate McMillian is doing a tremendous job this season and it hard to argue with the results considering most expected this to be a rebuilding season.

Chicago’s Fred Hoiberg has found a groove in Chicago despite Bulls fans wishing for losses. Hoiberg’s system has allowed Kris Dunn to flourish, along with rookie Lauri Markkanen.

Neither are really the coaching award-winning kind of storyline but absolutely worth acknowledging.

You can toss Warriors coach Steve Kerr into this discussion virtually every year, but this year more so because of the injuries and slow start. What the Warriors have done so far is impressive but easy to dismiss because of the quality of the roster. But it’s not easy to keep that many star players happy and focused, and Kerr does not get nearly enough credit for how seamless he makes it look.

Houston’s Mike D’Antoni won this award last year and is posting an equally impressive campaign to be a “back to back” winner. The Rockets, despite their recent struggles, have been lights out offensively and have steadily improved defensively (which no one gives him credit for).

Toronto’s Dwane Casey is justified in this discussion as well. The Raptors have gone 13-1 at home which is tops in the NBA. They are third in the NBA in point differential. Fourth in the NBA in points per game and they have a 24-10 record. He may not win the award, but he should be mentioned in the discussion.

While there are several worthy and justified candidates is there really anyone who’s done a better coaching job than Boston’s Brad Stevens? He was a legit candidate for the award last year, and given all that played out in Boston, the job he has done is remarkable.

Not only are the Celtics 29-10 on the season, but they are also allowing the second-fewest points in the NBA while leaning on a roster loaded with players on rookie scale contracts. When you factor in losing Gordon Hayward 5 minutes into the season and the way the team has rallied, it might be one of the best coaching jobs of the decade, and as such gets the award at this point in the season.

Defensive Player of The Year

Normally there isn’t a lot of star power on the defensive side of the ball, or at least they don’t get a lot of credit for it. Normally any defensive player list is filled with specialists or centers that block a lot of shots or carry the title “rim protector.” This season might be the first time in a while that several of the NBA’s brightest stars could be in serious consideration for Defensive Player honors.

Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid is making a pretty good case to be in this discussion in a serious way. The big challenge for Embiid is the minute restrictions and the games the team seems to be forcing him to miss. His defensive production is incredible when he is in games, however, if others play more, it’s going to be hard to justify giving him the award, but he is absolutely in the discussion.

Lost in the struggles to find their way offensively is the pretty impressive season Oklahoma City Thunder swingman Paul George is posting defensively. George has been a monster in the deflections per game category leading the NBA with 4.9 per game. He also among the league leaders in loose balls recovered at 1.9 per game. The Thunder have one of the best defenses in basketball and George is a big reason why.

The Warriors could have two players in the running for Defensive Player this year with last year’s winner Draymond Green again making a case for DYOP honors, but the winner at this point in the season has to be Kevin Durant. Not only has Durant held things down in the Bay Area while Steph Curry recovered from an ankle injury, but he is also posting some of his best stats defensively.

Durant on the season has become one the more effective isolation defenders, as well as putting up some impressive defensive field goal percentages. There is a strong case for a number of players in this category, but what Durant has done this far earns the nod.

Rookie Of The Year

This award is 76ers guard Ben Simmons to lose, so there may not be much to debate on this one.

That said there are a couple of other rookies posting crazy seasons worth mentioning, even though Simmons seems to be the far and away winner.

Utah’s Donavan Mitchell continues to bring it at an incredible clip, leading all rookies in points per game. Mitchell has quickly become the Jazz’s go-to guy on a lot of fronts, and he delivers night after night. Not only is Mitchell breathtaking to watch at the basket, but he’s also becoming an interesting defender as well. We’re not putting him in the DYOP discussion, but for a player drafted 13th overall, he’s been extremely impressive.

Lakers swingman Kyle Kuzma has also been explosively impressive in his 33 games as a Laker. He is the second leading scorer in the rookie class and has been posting pretty insane numbers for a player drafted 27th overall. Kuzma on the season has posted 17.7 points per game on 47.9 percent field goal shooting and an impressive 38.4 percent three-point average on better than five threes a game.

Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen is also making a compelling case for the Rookie of The Year race. He is the fourth leading scorer in the rookie class at 14.7 per game. Among the rookie class leaders, Markkanen is posting the lowest field goal percentages and three-point percentages, but he is still a name to mention when talking ROY.

While the award has to go to Simmons, there is a real case for Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum too. Tatum has emerged not only as being highly productive; he’s doing it on a winning team. Its one thing to post crazy stats on a team going nowhere that is building around you for the future, it’s another thing to be posting 14.2 points per game on a team that’s leading a conference.

Tatum is also producing the highest field goal percentage and three-point percent of any of the players in this discussion while having played the most games in the rookie class.

This race needs to be a lot closer than it seems at this point in the season.

The Must Watch Player of 2017

There are a few players that have become must-watch on a nightly basis. While this isn’t a traditional postseason award it is a designation worth talking about in this regard; there are a lot of NBA games in the regular season and to stop and watch all of them for any one team or player takes something special.

Its hard to argue that Boston’s Kyrie Irving hasn’t lived up to everything said about him this summer when news of him asking for a trade out of Cleveland broke. He has been breathtaking with the ball, incredible offensively and for all of those people who said he wasn’t a quality defender he’s on the team with the second-best defense in basketball.

Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid has become one of “must watch” players too. Unfortunately, he misses a lot of games, but when he does play he not only posts incredible numbers, he has become sensational at making each matchup a personal score to settle. His Twitter and Instagram handles have become epic, and he backs it up on the court.

The season LeBron James is having in Cleveland is unbelievable for a player that just turned 33. The notion that this might be his best season as a professional isn’t too far off when you consider he is posting 37.8 points per night which is 3rd best in the NBA and fourth most in his career. James has become the poster child for poise, power, and control all in one player and his sheer dominance this season is breathtaking.

But the winner for must-watch has to be Golden State’s Steph Curry. Maybe its because he missed so many games, but watching a healthy Curry drop 38 points in a single game while making it seem so effortless, it is impressive. The Curry show isn’t anything new, but the way he can create offensively is uncanny. While you can easily throw James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo in this list for the same reasons, there may not be a better show in basketball than Curry.

The Most Valuable Player

This award is always highly contested, and in recent years the quality of play at the top of the NBA has made picking just one player increasingly more difficult. This year is no exception.

It’s easy to talk about the front-runners. Houston’s James Harden was arguably the leader last season and again has posted a season that is so MVP worthy it’s hard not to see him gaining a lot of votes when the end of the season award ballots is cast. The Rockets and Harden’s recent struggles may put something of a dent in his campaign this season, but its hard to imagine that Harden isn’t going to find his groove again and remain towards the top of the list.

Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is posting an incredible season for the Bucks too, and his 29.1 points per game put him second in the NBA behind Harden’s 32.1. He is also posting a scorching 54.7 percent field goal percentage and leads the NBA in minutes per game at 38.1. Antetokounmpo may get lost in the hype on this award when its all said and done, but he is deserving of mention.

Golden State’s Kevin Durant should also be in the discussion, not just because of his 25.9 points per game or his 39.5 percent three-point average, but because his team is at the top of the standings again and he’s lead the way with Steph Curry being sidelined without missing a beat. Durant’s defensive prowess has put him in the discussion as one of the game’s best two-way players. Durant will forever be dinged in the MVP talk because of the strength and depth of his team, but the truth of the matter is he’s posting as MVP worthy a season as anyone.

As for the winner at this point in the season, can you really argue that it’s not LeBron James? Maybe it’s the drama of him turning 33. Maybe it’s the romance some want to place on the situation, but the numbers paint a very real picture. Among the top ten scorers in the NBA, James ranks third in points, second in field goal percentage and second in minutes played among the top scorers. His team is 24-12 on the season.

You may not agree, but for my money, James has been the MVP so far, this season. We’ll see what the balance of the season brings, but that’s who gets the vote.

From all of us here at Basketball Insiders we thank you for spending your time with us. We know there are dozens of places to get NBA news and insight and the fact you give us your time and attention is never lost on us.

We hope that 2018 brings you and your family prosperity and joy and we look forward to sharing the NBA season with you in 2018.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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

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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, (check out march madness predictions 2019)

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.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Fixing The Cleveland Cavaliers

Spencer Davies starts Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series with the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers.

Spencer Davies

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Can you believe that the NBA regular season is less than a month away from concluding? It’s March 18, and teams are gearing up for the final stretch run before the playoffs get here. Thus far, there have been three teams to solidify their spots—the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers—while the rest of the league looks to jockey for postseason positioning.

On the flipside, there are four organizations that have begun to look towards the future with their immediate futures already decided, and 10 more will join them in the coming weeks as they become eliminated from playoff contention.

Basketball Insiders is bringing back its annual “Fixing” series to provide a blueprint of how to get each of those teams back on the right track moving forward. We’ll get things started with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What Is Working

In the second half of the season, the Cavaliers are 5-7. Yes, that is two games under .500 and should not be something to celebrate—but it’s how they are playing that deserves praise. Aside from a couple of clunkers against the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic, they’ve been a resilient young group that has clearly matured under the direction of head coach Larry Drew.

The return of Kevin Love coinciding with Cleveland playing its best basketball all year is not a matter of happenstance, either. As detailed a couple of weeks ago, his impact on Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman has made both inexperienced players significantly better. As the team’s “go-to guy” as Drew likes to put it, everybody can play through a legitimate All-Star in a number of ways—feeding him on the block, finding him on the perimeter or even allowing him to dribble drive and create for others.

The Cavaliers are quite excited about the determination of their guys, specifically Sexton and Osman. It’d be foolish to base the projection of a rookie’s career off playing alongside multiple two-way and 10-day contract players, and some did when Sexton had his fair share of struggles. The same could be said for Osman, who’s really turned up the playmaking and shooting as of late. It takes talent and consistency to be in the NBA, which is a lesson they’re learning every night. And the optimism should go beyond just those three, too. There are a number of players who could be a part of the team’s core in the future.

Experiencing perhaps his best season as a pro, Larry Nance Jr. is becoming a vocal leader on and off the floor. Ante Zizic has taken his opportunity as a starter and run with it, averaging nearly 12 points and eight rebounds in 20 of such situations. Drew has constantly praised David Nwaba’s efforts when he’s needed a guy to step up and defend opponents’ top players, even when out of position. Jordan Clarkson thrives as the sixth man and Matthew Dellavedova is the perfect mentor and floor general off the bench.

What Needs To Change

Now comes the harsh part—Cleveland has been a horrific defensive team for a number of years. They’ve ranked among the worst in basketball for the past three years, and that includes the last two seasons they had with LeBron James. It begs the question: Is it scheme or is it personnel? In the case of the Cavaliers, the answer is probably a little bit of both.

There is often confusion with the coverage calls. Blown assignments, miscommunication and difficulty with the pick-and-roll can best describe the mess that is on the floor. There isn’t as much finger pointing as there was at the beginning stages of the season, but it’s paramount that the team drastically improves in this area. Considering the number of injuries, inexperience and lack of continuity that they’ve had this year, it should get better.

While shot selection has gotten better throughout the season, the Cavaliers have to move the basketball better on a consistent basis. Again, Sexton and Osman felt that they had to carry the load in the absence of Love as the primary scoring options—and Tristan Thompson’s injuries didn’t help—so there was a lot of hero ball going on. At least in the last month, these totals have gotten higher.

Cleveland may take the cake in scoring droughts as well, which leads to other teams taking games over. A scenario we’ve seen all too much this season: Cavaliers take the ball down the floor, pass it maybe once or twice and don’t find the open man, which leads to a rebound and numbers for the opposing team that almost capitalizes in every instance. Stagnancy is a killer for the wine and gold, which is a group that needs to play in a transition-heavy, free-flowing type of game to succeed.

Focus Area: The Draft

Currently owning the third-worst record in the association, the Cavaliers would have the same 14 percent odds to land the first overall pick in the NBA Draft as the two teams behind them, the Phoenix Suns and the New York Knicks. If the standings locked, Cleveland would be guaranteed a top-seven selection—although the percentages indicate they’d have a good chance to land in the top four and likely drop no further than sixth. They also are going to convey a draft pick in the mid-to-late 20s from the Houston Rockets via the Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss trade.

There is no singular focus area with the Cavaliers. They could use any talent they can get to add to this developing core and set the tone for the future. Obviously, the buzz surrounding Duke superstar Zion Williamson is real. If you were to pigeonhole him as just a dunker or a highlight reel, you’d be completely mistaken. Though needing to work on a reliable jump shot, the 18-year-old phenom is loaded with an incredibly versatile skill set at his age and a build that is tailor-made for the NBA. Positionless basketball is the future, and Williamson fits the bill.

If Cleveland lands another first overall pick, they’d be foolish to pass up on such a potential franchise changer. Just imagine the speedy Young Bull and bulldozing Williamson on a fastbreak opportunity with Love just waiting on the elbow. That’s quite a triple threat.

Say the Cavaliers end up second, third or fourth—this writer would jump at the opportunity to add Temetrius Morant, a man whom the basketball world knows simply as “Ja.” Set to be a top-five pick in the upcoming draft, the 19-year-old point guard is an absolute blast to watch play the game. He scores the basketball at will. He distributes at a high rate and shares the wealth with his teammates. He excels in transition. Morant lacks some size and will likely need to put on some weight, but forming a tandem with Sexton—who’s found a real groove playing off the ball—could work out famously.

Willamson’s teammates at Duke—RJ Barrett and Cameron Reddish—also have plenty of intrigue about them at those spots. If Cleveland gets put in the worst case scenario, talented wings like De’Andre Hunter and Keldon Johnson might be the way to go.

However, regarding the Rockets’ pick, there might be some diamonds in the rough. Here’s a list of names that could be attractive depending on the draft results: Bol Bol, Jontay Porter, Kevin Porter, Tre Jones, Matisse Thybulle, Luguentz Dort, Ashton Hagans.

Focus Area: Free Agency

With nearly its entire roster returning in 2019-20, Cleveland will not be much of a player in the free agency period. Nik Stauskas and Chriss have expiring contracts and Channing Frye is retiring.

General manager Koby Altman is going to be active in finding a trade partner for J.R. Smith, whose $15.68 million contract fully guarantees on June 30. If the Cavaliers can do so before that day, the team that traded for him can waive him and will only be on the hook for $3.87 million. It seems as if draft night—June 20—would be the most logical time to try this. If Altman is successful in moving Smith, the organization will have opened a roster spot.

Considering the team has been more than pleased with Nwaba’s contributions when healthy, it’s probable that he’ll be tendered a qualifying offer. If he is, then the 26-year-old guard would become a restricted free agent, meaning Cleveland could match any offer he’d receive. If Nwaba doesn’t get any bites, then it’s plausible he’d accept the $1.89 million one-year offer to stay.

Altman did yeoman’s work this year as a front office executive. He took what was a horrific financial situation loaded with unhappy veterans and turned it into something much more manageable, all while bringing in future assets and players on flexible deals. We don’t know whether those additions—Dellavedova, Knight and John Henson—are going to be a part of the future or used in potential trades down the line. The same could be said of Thompson and Clarkson, who also are going to be on the last years of their respective deals.

Other than the potential two rookies, there probably won’t be too many new faces around the Cavaliers in the summertime. It might change as we get into the 2019-20 campaign, but that’s down the road. Don’t expect a lot of change roster-wise going into the new league year.

Of course, coaching wise is a completely different story. The prevailing thought is that Cleveland is going to want a first-year head coach to grow and develop alongside their core players. Reports indicate the front office might prefer a person who has previous connections to the franchise in some capacity.

There are two assistants on other teams who have been the head coach of the Canton Charge—Denver’s Jordi Fernandez and Utah’s Alex Jensen—that could make sense. Toronto Raptors assistant and former player Adrian Griffin is a potentially appealing name as well, per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

If Larry Drew decides he doesn’t want to stick around, finding the right person to lead this Cavaliers team into the next era is going to be crucial.

The “second first” year without LeBron didn’t go as planned. Firing Tyronn Lue six games into the season didn’t make matters easy, nor did Love going down with a toe injury to miss two-thirds of the season. Yet through the bad times, this Cleveland bunch has refused to mail it in and has earned a deal of respect from its competition.

They’re embracing the role of playing spoiler as the year winds down. It’s all about meaningful minutes for these guys, and until the clock hits zero on April 9 at Quicken Loans Arena, the work on the floor won’t be done.

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NBA Daily: Is Starting That Big Of A Deal?

It’s easy to conclude that a bench player should replace a starter in the lineup if the former is outplaying the latter, but Matt John explains why that may not be the best idea.

Matt John

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Of all the topsy-turvy things that have happened to the Boston Celtics this season, Jaylen Brown’s sudden decline and subsequent comeback might just be the topsiest-turviest thing of them all.

And that’s saying something.

There may not have been a starter in the league who played as badly as he did when the season began. In his first month and a half as the starting shooting guard, Jaylen averaged 11.1 points on 39.8 percent shooting from the field and 25.3 percent from three. That was quite the drop off from his numbers the previous season, where he averaged 14.5 points on 46.5 percent shooting from the field and 39.5 percent from three.

Advanced metrics showed that Brown’s struggles were hurting the Celtics too. Boston was minus-11.9 with Brown on the floor, which was the worst on the team among players who played at least 100 minutes. By December, Brown was benched in favor of Marcus Smart, where the Celtics not so coincidentally started picking things up from there.

Since his move to the bench, Jaylen has regained his footing, averaging 14 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting and 36.3 percent from three. This most recent stretch has been really encouraging for him, as he’s put up 16.4 points a night on 49.5 percent shooting and 40.5 percent from three. Best of all, his play is benefitting the Celtics, as they are plus-6.9 with him on the floor, good for third-best among players who have played 97 or more minutes behind only Al Horford and Gordon Hayward.

His timing couldn’t be better, as the playoffs are just around the corner. Brown playing his best basketball of the season could really help the Celtics’ chances. So one question remains – why not put him back in the starting lineup?

It would make sense. The uptick in Brown’s production has coincided with the diminishment of Marcus Morris’ production.

Morris and Brown have come from opposite ends this summer. While Brown has worked his way up after falling so far down, Morris has descended quite a bit since his brilliant start.

“Mook” was playing the best basketball of his career when the season began. In fact, he was one of the few positives in a season that started as underwhelmingly mediocre as the Celtics had. Through the first two-and-a-half months, Morris was playing like a borderline all-star.

In that time, Morris averaged 15.5 points on 50.1 percent shooting and 44.1 percent from three. The Celtics were plus-5.5 with Morris on the floor, with all of the positivity coming from the offensive end, where the offense was plus-11.6 with him on the floor, second only to Kyrie Irving.

Since then, Morris’ production has tailed off. There was bound to be some regression in Marcus’ case, but since the all-star break, he’s playing what could very well be the worst basketball he’s played since becoming a Celtic.

Since the return from the All-Star break, Morris has averaged 13.1 points on 40 percent shooting from the field and 27 percent from three. The Celtics are minus-17.1 with him on the floor during that span. In other words, he’s hurting them badly on both ends.

So, subbing the slumping Morris for the thriving Brown in the starting lineup would seem like an obvious move to make. The Celtics could do it, and no one would bat an eye, but in this time of the season, it wouldn’t be smart to mess with the lineups this late into the season, or more specifically, it wouldn’t be smart to mess with what’s been working for Brown.

Though it took longer than Boston would have liked, Jaylen Brown has found his stride with the second unit this season. Even if Morris has struggled over the last month or so, taking Brown out of a situation where he’s playing at his best and putting him back into a lineup where he struggled could mess up his mojo. It’s unlikely that Brown will be coming off the bench through the duration of his career, but this season, he was meant to play in the second unit.

There are certain players who, despite having the talent to be a starter, are put in the NBA for the sole purpose of ruling over the second unit. Jamal Crawford and Jason Terry fit that certain mold, but there may not be a player that fits that description better than Lou Williams.

At the age of 32, Williams has already done enough to cement his status as one of the best microwave scorers of all time. The 13,135 points that Williams has scored in his NBA career is good for No.194 among all-time points scored. Last week, he surpassed Dell Curry for the No. 1 all-time scorer off the bench. That is impressive whether he started or not. However, if Lou had been a starter for his entire career, those numbers wouldn’t have as much meaning as they most definitely do as a sixth man.

It’s not as much about having as high scoring numbers in his case. It’s more about the purpose of what those numbers do for his team. Williams’ scoring abilities off the bench give his teams an edge that a fair amount of second units don’t have. His impact offensively is so strong that, like Brown over the past month, he usually winds up finishing games. That’s why having guys like Williams or Brown off the bench is important – They bring an advantage.

Another example would be Williams’ teammate, Montrezl Harrell. Doc Rivers, who has a very solid case for Coach of the Year, has elected to start then-Clipper Marcin Gortat and recently acquired big man Ivica Zubac over Harrell at center this season despite it being very clear that Harrell is his best player in the frontcourt.

He does this because Harrell gives LA an edge in the second unit much like Williams does with the energy he brings to the court. Harrell influences the game so much that again, like Williams, he’s usually out there finishing games as well. His skill set makes him a perfect fit in the second unit, and he could very well be Lou’s best competition for Sixth Man of the Year.

Those are examples of players who could be starters if their team wanted them to. They just play better when they come off the bench, but are there players who – despite being a starting-caliber player – are not a good fit in their starting lineup?

As it turns out, Derrick Favors is one such player. It’s been a much-debated controversy in Utah now about whether Favors should be starting in the frontcourt alongside Rudy Gobert for the Jazz. Honestly, those two aren’t bad together, but they play so much better when they pair up with a floor spacer in the frontcourt instead of each other.

In two-man lineups, Favors and Gobert are a plus-1.4 together. Defensively, the two of them are great together, giving up 98.3 points per 100 possessions. Alas, they only score 99.7 points per 100 possessions. Compare their two-man lineup to one with either Joe Ingles or Jae Crowder.

Favors and Ingles: +6.1
Favors and Crowder: +2.6
Gobert and Ingles: +4.5
Gobert and Crowder: +4.1

To be clear, Favors is good enough to be a starter. He just might not have the best frontcourt partner to be paired with.

When you take all of this in, it’s fair to say that to a certain extent, starting is overrated because it has no bearing on who plays the most minutes. What’s most important really is who finishes the game. Sometimes it’s the starters while at other times, it’s one or two bench players. It all comes down to who is the most reliable.

Because of this, in the Celtics’ case, the more accurate conclusion is that Brown should be getting more minutes than Morris rather than he should be replacing him in the starting lineup. That is, if he keeps this up.

No matter what Boston decides to do, one final question must be brought to our attention – Does anyone else think it’s an odd coincidence that Brown’s and Morris’ productions both started trending in opposite directions after the two of them got into that skirmish back in January?

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