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NBA Daily: The Return of the Big Man?

The 2018 NBA Draft may be remembered for the reemergence of the big man.

David Yapkowitz

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It’s been a couple of years since the NBA draft featured a highly touted traditional big man. The last back to the basket big man that was drafted in the lottery was Jahlil Okafor in 2015. Karl-Anthony Towns was in that draft as well, and he’s on his way to becoming a versatile center.

There was Joel Embiid in 2014. Embiid, like Towns, has also become a do it all type of player, but make no bones about it, he’s a big man.

Since the NBA game has begun moving more and more towards position-less basketball and more of a “small ball” type game, there has been much made about the demise of the traditional center. The NBA is no longer a place where the paint is patrolled by such giants as Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning.

In today’s game, there is a premium on big men who can run the floor and excel in the pick and roll. JaVale McGee fills that role perfectly for the champion Golden State Warriors. Clint Capela does the same for the Houston Rockets. Those aren’t guys that a team would feel comfortable throwing the ball to in the paint and asking them to get a bucket, though.

Taking a look at the 2018 draft, however, there appears to be a resurgence of sorts when it comes to players in the post.

The projected No. 1 overall pick, DeAndre Ayton from Arizona, fits the mold of a traditional center. He’s a 7-footer in every sense of the word. A physical specimen, in his lone season at Arizona, Ayton displayed an improving ability to score in the paint.

He’s still a little raw when it comes to post moves, but given the right situation and coaching, it’s something he can definitely develop as his NBA career takes flight. That’s not all he can do though. As the NBA game evolves, so does the big man. Not only is he great in the pick and roll, but the pick and pop as well. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine him developing a three-point shot.

The bread and butter of his game though should be his skill in the post. If Ayton is the type of superstar that many are projecting him to be, the paint is where he is going to make his living.

Another name that seems to be rapidly climbing up the draft board is Texas’ Mohamed Bamba. Another 7-footer, Bamba sort of got lost in the early discussion when talking about the top players in this draft. However, recent workout reports seem to have him turning heads.

First and foremost, his defensive ability what initially got him noticed. He has all the talent to become an elite interior defender at the NBA level. He appears to have a rapidly improving offensive game though.

In workout videos, he’s displayed a nice touch around the basket, as well as the ability to put the ball on the floor and make a move towards the rim. He can also hit the mid-range jump shot as he showed during his lone season in college.

And then we come to Marvin Bagley III. Bagley is a bit less of a traditional big man than Ayton or Bamba, but he’s a big nonetheless. He’s smaller in terms of size compared to the other two, and that’s probably something he’s going to have address in the NBA.

But he can flat out score both in the paint and outside as well. He’s a bit of a better shooter than Ayton or Bamba, and he’s fluid in the post as well. He can also put the ball on the floor and finish around the rim.

There’s also Jaren Jackson Jr. He’s another name that’s been rising a little bit and could conceivably be taken in the top-five. He’s also got a nice, soft touch around the rim and is improving in terms of being able to attack the basket when making a move off the dribble.

Jackson can also step out and shoot from the perimeter including the three-point line. His post game is still raw but that’s something that can be worked on once he’s in the NBA.

And finally, there’s a bit of a wild card big in this draft, Mitchell Robinson. Robinson was originally committed to Western Kentucky but ultimately decided against playing college basketball. He sat this past season out and did not partake in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last month.

With very little samples on which to judge him by, Robinson still remains an intriguing prospect. He’s also a 7-footer with good length and athleticism. His offensive game is raw but he has all the makings of an elite defensive anchor.

Robinson was one of the top-ranked high school players in the Class of 2017 and the top overall center prospect. If he is able to refine his offensive game, there is some team that might wind up with a draft steal.

Now, the NBA draft isn’t always an exact science. Some teams will hit the mark with their draft picks and others will miss. But this draft appears to have a wealth of talented big men—something we have not seen in quite some time. Most of these guys can become big men that teams would feel comfortable dumping the ball to in the paint and telling them to score.

There are two main reasons why it seems like big men are a dying breed in the NBA. First, not many big men react well anymore when handling swarming defenses. Second, not many big men possess the ability to switch out on to perimeter players defensively when teams go small.

The elite big men of the past such as O’Neal, Duncan and Olajuwon would carve teams up with their passing when the double came. And who can remember Olajuwon stepping out and defending John Starks on the perimeter during the NBA Finals.

Of course, those were Hall of Fame players and some of the best to ever set foot on the hardwood. But that’s what is necessary for there to be a resurgence of big men. They need to have a refined offensive game while being able to handle defensive pressure properly, as well as being able to switch between multiple positions on the defensive end.

Each of the big men listed above has the potential to do just that. They’re mobile and agile. They can score the basketball. And if most of them pan out, it might just be too early to ring the death knell for the big man.

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NBA Daily: It Still Isn’t Time To Expand The NBA

As much as we talk about expanding the NBA, has anything really changed to suggest it’s any more viable now? Basketball Insiders’ Publisher Steve Kyler digs into the barriers that have to be overcome.

Steve Kyler

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Expanding The NBA?

In what has become an annual off-season obsession, the topic of expanding the NBA beyond its current 30 teams has surfaced, again.

There is little doubt that the top-level concept of more NBA teams is fun to contemplate, mainly because there are major cities without teams. There is almost no one that wouldn’t want to see the Seattle market get their Sonics back, or Las Vegas complete their pro sports team trifecta by adding an NBA team to their exploding local sports market. Kansas City has long been talked about as an appealing basketball market, along with Louisville. There is a growing swell of renewed support in Vancouver for another run through the NBA, and Mexico City continues to host massive crowds during the now annual regular season NBA games held there.

So why not pull the trigger on one or two of them if local ownership groups can pony up the expected $1 billion or more expansion fees?

There are a number of issues with expanding the NBA. Here are a few of them:

Revenue Sharing

The biggest hurdle facing NBA expansion is revenue sharing. Currently, the biggest NBA cash markets are contributing serious dollars to the lesser markets to create a more balanced playing field for the league as a whole. While that’s evened out some things economically, there are still more than a handful of NBA teams that would be money losers if revenue sharing were backed out of the equation.

Equally, the NBA salary cap system is based on total revenue generated by the league, which does not take into account local market inequities. For example, the teams in LA have local television deals worth almost three times that of say Milwaukee or New Orleans. Those teams still have to pay out salaries and compete in a salary and expense landscape of teams sometimes generating twice their local revenue. Revenue sharing helps make that work, but adding new teams, that may or may not compete economically is a tough sell, especially to ownership groups that are already sharing dollars with other teams.

Proponents of expansion point to an easy fix, by not allowing new teams to participate in Revenue Sharing for a fixed amount of time but is that really a reasonable long-term answer? Adding a new team or teams and then immediately handicapping them economically for the first years of their existence?

Some would say that problem would simply have to be factored into an expansion agreement, and new owners would have to shoulder that risk as part of gaining entry into such an exclusive ownership club, but is that really good for competitive balance and solidarity of the business?

The TV Deal Isn’t Forever

Currently, the NBA is swimming in a record-setting media rights deal that has ballooned franchise valuations and NBA payrolls dramatically.

The problem with the current rights deal is the shifting and changing landscape of broadcasting. With traditional cable services dying out, and new “Over The Top” media players coming into the sports rights market, there is a sense that maybe the next round of rights negotiations could see the NBA eclipsing the current deal, and that would be a second windfall of dollars current NBA owners would have to share with new owners.

There is also the risk that with subscribers defecting the NBA current partners in droves, that broadcast rights could become less valuable by the end of the current agreements or far more complicated than the current two-partner model that’s in place now.

There was talk the last time around that Google and Facebook, the titans of the digital world, wanted in on NBA rights. That could be a good thing for preserving the value of rights related revenue streams, but its far from a given that NBA games will be consumed the same way they are being consumed today inside the next five years. That is a variable that has a huge impact on the appeal of expansion.

Is There Enough High-Level Talent?

The biggest on-court hurdle for expansion is the lack of star talent. Ask any NBA fan to name the top 20 NBA players, and you’ll find the talent pool flattens out pretty fast outside the top ten or 15 players.

Current NBA teams are struggling to find franchise cornerstones now. Would adding more teams really help competitive balance, especially with current stars opting to play together when they reach unrestricted free agency?

There is little doubt new expansion teams could field rosters, there are plenty of talented players that could populate a team. But the last time the NBA allowed expansion, the new teams were restricted from landing the top overall picks in the draft. How do those new teams compete?

Pay Once Eat Forever

The idea of a $1 billion expansion fee on the surface seems enticing. Especially given that the bulk of that fee would go to existing owners. Let’s assume that the NBA allowed two new teams, that’s $2 billion in expansion fees, divided by at least 30 teams (the NBA historically has taken a piece of those fees to cover operating costs), but for the sake of discussion, let’s say $2 billion paid out to 30 ownership groups, or roughly $66.66 million per owner.

Is a $66.6 million per team worth a slice of the NBA pie in perpetuity?

Let’s take the current $24 billion TV deal that breaks out to roughly $800 million per team over the life of the deal. Let’s say the next deal is $28 billion, that’s $933.3 million per team. If two more mouths are added to the table, that reduces the per team share down to $875 million, or $58 million less per team.

So, is getting paid a one-time team fee of $66.6 million now worth $58 million less in a new rights deal later?

Sure, there are caps and limitations that could be imposed on new ownership groups as part of expansion agreement, which lessens that impact on the current individual teams, but the biggest argument against expansion is that new teams don’t raise the revenue waterline enough to justify the slice of the revenue pie they get forever.

From a fan perspective, more teams sound like a great idea, especially in markets with rabid fan interest, but the reason expansion hasn’t been actively explored is because of many of the items listed above. That’s not to say those obstacles can’t be overcome, but when you hear NBA commissioner Adam Silver really downplay expansion, there are a lot of reasons for that, and most of them are simply that the current owners don’t want to see their golden goose diluted any more than necessary.

Expanding the NBA isn’t a dead issue, it’s simply not one the NBA seems overly eager to start chasing.

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NBA Daily: Memphis Poised for Comeback

After one of the franchise’s worst seasons, “Grit-and-Grind” should be back with the vengeance after the moves the Grizzlies made.

Matt John

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There are a few teams that should bounce back after their disappointing output from last season.

Washington certainly comes to mind with John Wall coming back healthy and after what they added this summer. Detroit does too, since they never really played with their current roster fully healthy after the Blake Griffin trade. However, the team with the safest bet to make the strongest comeback this season is the Memphis Grizzlies.

It’s a shame what happened to Memphis last season, and after such a promising start too.

The Grizzlies started off as hot as could be, as they won five of their first six games against some stiff competition, namely, the Warriors, the Rockets (twice), and the Pelicans. Teams are always bound to cool off after a hot streak, but shortly after the Grizzlies came back to earth, Mike Conley Jr. went down for the season with a heel injury.

It all went downhill from there.

Besides the Celtics, there wasn’t a team bitten as badly by the injury bug as the Grizzlies were in 2018. Just about everyone on the roster besides Marc Gasol missed a good chunk of time with some kind of ailment. It may have helped that the injuries led to a high lottery pick, but who enjoys watching their team lose 19 games in a row?

A season in hell usually triggers a rebuild for a team like Memphis. Conley and Gasol aren’t getting any younger, and the Western Conference remains as tough as ever. But as evidenced by the moves they made this summer, the upcoming challenge this season didn’t phase them for a second.

Hence, NBA audiences should expect Grit-and-Grind to return for the following reasons.

A Savvy Off-Season

Because of their tight salary cap situation, the Grizzlies only had so much cap room to work with this summer. Despite the cap limits, they made the most of what they had at their arsenal.

First, they made use of their expendable assets. The Grizzlies probably regret trading the 2019 Clippers pick for Deyonta Davis, but at least he was traded for something valuable. Davis, along with Ben McLemore, was traded to Sacramento for the criminally underrated Garrett Temple. Though he is a late-bloomer, Garrett Temple should give Memphis a veteran sharpshooter who can also play solid defense. In other words, think of him as the new Courtney Lee in Memphis.

Next, with the available cap room that they had, they gave Spurs alum Kyle Anderson a 4 year, $37 million contract. That may have been a slight overpay, but Anderson fits the style that Memphis loves to play. While not a floor stretcher, what Anderson brings defensively — his Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 3.2 was second among small forwards — should improve the Grizzlies’ defense, which was ranked no. 25 in defensive rating last season (111).

They also made under-the-radar acquisitions such as signing Shelvin Mack, a productive backup point guard who has played under brilliant coaches such as Quin Snyder and Brad Stevens, and Omri Casspi, who was a rotation player for the Warriors before injuries ended his season prematurely.

Though not the sexiest group of names, Temple, Anderson, Mack, and Casspi is a fantastic haul for a team that was looking for depth this summer.

Jaren Jackson Jr.

The Grizzlies picked wisely at the 2018 draft. With the fourth overall pick, they snagged the hotshot big from Michigan State, and boy, was he the talk of the town this summer.

Jackson was a perfect fit for the Grizzlies because what he brings to the table should make him NBA-ready from the start. Jackson was one of the most obvious stand-outs at the summer league, as his agility and floor spacing abilities wowed audiences everywhere. Best of all, though he already has proven to hit the three-pointer, he showed that his all-around offensive game is raw but malleable.

What makes Jackson the perfect player for Memphis is that he fits the team’s timeline no matter where Memphis goes from here on out. What he brings to the court should fit well with the Grizzlies’ hopes of going on a playoff run this season. At the same time, should they decide to rebuild, Jackson is a perfect building block to start with.

Regardless of how he fares compared to his peers in his draft, Jackson was the right choice for the Grizzlies because of what he can offer both now and later.

Their Best Players’ Health

Injuries ruined the Grizzlies last season, so it’s imperative that their guys will be ready to go once the season begins. That all starts with Mike Conley. Conley waited until mid-season to have surgery on his heel. It’s sad to see one of the game’s underrated floor generals go down like that, so it’s encouraging to see that he should be fine coming into the season.

Conley runs the Grizzlies, so having him healthy for the season opener should be very encouraging for Grind City’s fans.

Then there’s Gasol. Foot problems are not easy to deal with for bigs, especially as they approach their mid-30’s. So far, Marc Gasol has been an exception to that. Gasol has been pretty healthy over the last two seasons since his foot surgery in 2016 and was one of the few Grizzlies who stayed on the court through most of the season.

Gasol is not out of the woods yet, but Grizzlies fans should be relieved to see that their franchise player has not slowed down a bit in the face of adversity.

Conley and Gasol carry this stable, so having them at 100 percent should do wonders for the Grizzlies this season. Nothing is set in stone, but having the two faces of the franchise fully functional is always a good thing.

Other Future Moves

Since the Grizzlies fetched back decent value out of McLemore and Davis, who’s to say they can’t do the same with other dead weight on the roster? I wrote last week about how the moves the Grizzlies made this summer indicate that Chandler Parsons will probably spend the majority of his season on the bench. Since the Grizzlies’ transactions have demonstrated that they are going all in, trading Parsons may be in play.

Trading Parsons for a player on a fair contract is probably out of the question, so the Grizzlies may look to trade him for another player who is overpaid but at least more productive than him. That’s only in theory, though. If everything goes Memphis’ way this year, expect Parsons to be in some trade rumors.

At the end of the day, you have to tip your hat to Memphis. They have steadfastly refused to pull the plug on Grit-and-Grind even though they haven’t done much since pushing the Warriors to six games in the conference semifinals three years ago. With what they’ve added to their roster, it’s clear that they’re going for as much success as they can possibly attain.

A title is probably not on the horizon, but the Grizzlies should be admired for milking Grit-and-Grind to the very last drop.

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NBA Daily: Potential Bounce-Back Candidates

Basketball Insiders covers some notable players who could have a bounce-back campaign after falling short of expectations last season.

Jesse Blancarte

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Each NBA season there is a sizable amount of players who fall short of expectations. Sometimes it is because of injuries, age, a change in a player’s role or a long list of other factors. Last season, there were several notable players that fell short of expectations because of some combination of these factors. However, many of these players are primed for a potential bounce-back after seemingly rehabilitating their respective injuries, moving onto new teams and addressing other issues that might have held them back last season.

Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors

The Kawhi Leonard saga is well known by all persons who have paid any attention to the NBA over the last 10 months or so. Leonard, who has suffered from a mysterious leg injury for an extended period of time, only played in nine games last season.

In those nine games, Leonard averaged 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and one block in an average 23.3 minutes per game. Notably, Leonard’s statistics per-36 minutes were in line with his numbers from the 2016-17 season, so there is reason to believe that he could still produce at his elite level when his leg felt right. But too often, Leonard was limited to short minutes and eventually shut himself down for the season, citing his lingering leg injury.

Leonard has had months to rehab his injury and, if healthy, could have a big-time season with the Toronto Raptors after the team acquired him in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs. There are still questions about the severity of Leonard’s injury, whether he will be able to regain his elite form from previous seasons and whether he will embrace his role with Toronto on the final year of his contract. However, after playing in just nine games in a drama-filled season with San Antonio, there is plenty of reason to believe that Leonard could have a big bounce-back season.

Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers

Fultz had arguably the most confusing and mysterious rookie campaign for any notable player in recent memory. Fultz entered the NBA as the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft and had few limitations in his game.

However, during the offseason, it became apparent that Fultz was suffering from some sort of injury to his shoulder that was severely impacting his jump shot. Fultz, his representatives and the 76ers organization offered several conflicting explanations of the apparent injury and how it would be treated. Fultz ultimately missed the vast majority of his rookie season as he rehabbed this mysterious injury. He was healthy enough to participate in the postseason but only played a minor role after missing the majority of the regular season and failing to fully overcome the issues that plagued him.

There are differing accounts of what caused the issue and some believe that the problem isn’t physical but rather mental. Reports have come out this offseason that Fultz has made significant progress in fixing the issue impacting his shooting form. Renowned trainer Drew Hanlen is confident that Fultz will demonstrate this upcoming season that his shot has been fixed and that he will show why he was the consensus No. 1 pick in 2017. If Hanlen is correct, Fultz offers the 76ers a dynamic skill set that they certainly need as they move forward in their climb up the Eastern Conference ranks.

Jabari Parker, Chicago Bulls

Selected No. 2 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, Parker has yet to fulfill the lofty expectations that following him to the pro level. Parker has suffered two ACL tears in his short NBA career and is now trying to prove that he can stay healthy and consistently produce at the level many expected when he first entered the league.

Parker joins the Chicago Bulls this offseason after the Milwaukee Bucks essentially agreed to let him move on without interfering. The Bulls lacked a viable forward and took a well-reasoned gamble that Parker could be a solution for them. Parker still has a good amount of explosiveness and an intriguing offensive game. Parker has failed to develop any part of his game to the point that would make him a reliable contributor on either end of the court but at his age and with his set of skills, it’s reasonable to believe that he could continue developing and improving.

The issue with Parker at this point is the injury history, the fact that he is probably better suited to play power forward than small forward and his flimsy defense. If Parker can stay healthy and make sizable improvements defensively, he will be a valuable addition for the Bulls. Parker’s teammate, Zach LaVine, faces a similar situation this upcoming season and could be considered a bounce-back candidate in his own right.

Isaiah Thomas, Denver Nuggets

It may seem like it was a long time ago, but Thomas was a legitimate MVP candidate in the 2016-17 NBA season. Thomas averaged an eye-popping 28.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game while shooting 46.3 from the field and 37.9 from three-point range. Thomas was the engine of the Boston Celtics’ offensive attack and made such a significant impact on offense that it covered up all of his defensive shortcomings.

However, Thomas played through a significant hip injury in Boston’s playoff run, which has subsequently required two surgeries to address. Thomas was unable to overcome his injury issues last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers, which resulted in him taking a one-year veterans minimum contract with the Denver Nuggets. There is optimism that Thomas’ most recent operation and rehab will help him make a significant recovery and allow him to produce at the level he achieved with the Celtics. If Thomas is relatively healthy, he’ll have the chance to help lead a potent Denver offense that could benefit from his playmaking and isolation scoring ability.

Carmelo Anthony, Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets have taken a lot of heat for failing to retain Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah Moute and replacing them with Anthony. Anthony is coming off a rocky season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, which turned to Anthony for additional scoring and floor-spacing.

Anthony was never able to fit into the Thunder’s offense, which is largely dominated by Russell Westbrook and now Paul George as well. He couldn’t find the range on his jump shot for long stretches of the season, which is what the Thunder needed the most from him.

Anthony now joins a Rockets team that prides itself on moving the ball and manufacturing wide open looks from beyond the arc. If Anthony can find the range on his jumper and maintain at least passable defense within the team’s defensive schemes, he could be a nice boost for the Rockets. However, the likelihood at this point is that any offensive contributions Anthony brings will be outweighed by his inability to switch on defense. The Rockets nearly upset the Golden State Warriors last postseason with their collective ability to switch every matchup effectively with the help of defenders like Ariza and Mbah Moute. That sort of scheme can’t be replicated with this roster as it stands today, which means Anthony will really have to make a significant impact on the offensive end.

Danilo Gallinari, Los Angeles Clippers

Gallinari has been plagued by injuries throughout his career and last season was no exception. Gallinari only managed to play in 21 games as he suffered two glute injuries and fractured his right hand later in the season.

Gallinari was relatively effective in the time he did play last season though his shooting percentages were mostly down. Gallinari makes for an interesting fit alongside Tobias Harris in the Clippers’ frontcourt considering both are strong offensive contributors and each can play either forward position depending on the matchups. Gallinari is under contract through next season at roughly $21-22 million annually.

Gallinari having a bounce-back season could have big implications for the Clippers both on and off the court. If Gallinari can produce consistently he could help lead the Clippers to a playoff berth, which many forecast as unlikely considering how absurdly deep the Western Conference is. Additionally, if Gallinari can rehabilitate his value, it will become easier for the Clippers to move his expiring contract after this season should it be a prerequisite to bringing in two star free agents with the significant cap space the Clippers are projected to have. The Clippers have their sights set on Kawhi Leonard, who could be enticed by the promise of bringing in another max-worthy free agent.

*****

These are just some of the many players that are hoping for a bounce-back season. Keep the conversation going and let me on Twitter (@JBlancarteNBA) know who you think could be set for a bounce-back season.

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