Dewayne Dedmon Making Most of Opportunity
One of the most surprising stories of this young 2015-16 season has been the success of the Orlando Magic. Through the team’s first seven games, the group has earned a 3-4 record. Although they have already lost four games, the team might be better than their record indicates.
They’ve been alive in the final minutes of each game against teams that finished above .500 last season. In fact, the Magic have lost by a combined 14 points in those four losses. They went toe to toe with the Oklahoma City Thunder before falling in double-overtime, and lost by five points two nights later in overtime against the Chicago Bulls. Had a couple of plays gone in their favor, the Magic could be flirting with an undefeated record.
But that could be the byproduct of having 10 key players on the team who are 26 years old or younger. There will surely be growing pains involved as the young group learns how to close out games against the elite teams in the league. Following that game against the Thunder, Kevin Durant recalled when his team was in the same boat and when there were times the Thunder fell just short against some of the best teams in the league. A game-winning shot by Carmelo Anthony in 2009 still haunts Durant to this day. As Durant looks at this Orlando team, he sees a squad that “can be a playoff team this year if they keep grinding.”
To help bring along the Magic’s young core, the team hired Scott Skiles as head coach. Skiles’ imprint on the team is already evident. He’s already shown that any player on the team can benched for a variety of reasons. On Friday night against the Toronto Raptors, Elfrid Payton played in just 15 minutes after starting off the game by missing his first four shots.
That move to the bench might have resonated with Payton, as he bounced back the following night in Philadelphia to score 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field. Skiles has also benched other players for missing defensive assignments (and hasn’t been afraid to call players out in press conferences). The structure and discipline Skiles is known to bring is what the Magic wanted in their coach.
His impact has also been felt on the defensive end. The team finished 25th in defensive efficiency last season, but they have already jumped up to 11th in the league this season. They are holding teams to 41 percent shooting from the field, which is fourth-best in the league. Also, they are limiting teams to the fifth-lowest three-point percentage at 29 percent.
A big part of the team’s success on the defensive end can be attributed to third-year big man Dewayne Dedmon. He was highlighted in Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Magic as one of the team’s most underrated players and has lived up to expectations.
Dedmon joined the Magic at the end of 2013-14 season on a pair of 10-day contracts before the team ultimately decided to sign him for the rest of that season. His playing time last season in his first full year in Orlando was sporadic, but Dedmon flashed potential and displayed the different dimension he brings to the team. He was still a raw talent, but no other big man on the Magic roster could match his athleticism and shot-blocking ability. He appeared in 59 games last season, averaging 9.2 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes.
Dedmon’s role under Skiles seems to be more defined than it had been under the previous coaching staff. In six games this season, he’s posting career-highs in minutes (21), points (6.3), rebounds (6.0) and blocks (2.2). He’s earned two straight starts for the Magic in place of the injured Nikola Vucevic, and is looking at a third-straight start tonight against Indiana with Vucevic already being ruled out with a knee injury.
He has fully taken advantage of his time as a starter, as he’s averaging 11 points, 6.5 rebounds and three blocks in those two starts, and is coming off of a career-high 12 points on Saturday night against the Sixers.
“It’s definitely a big opportunity for me to showcase [what I can do],” Dedmon told Basketball Insiders. “Nobody wants the big fella to go down with an injury, but it’s definitely an opportunity for me to step my game up and show the team what I can do. I definitely got to embrace [starting]. Anytime my name is called upon, I just try to come in and provide a lot of energy.
“It definitely brings confidence to show that I have the capability of starting in this league – just to be able to come out here and bring the same energy that I did when I was starting or coming off of the bench.”
While his stats have been impressive, he makes a lot of contributions that don’t show up on the stat sheet too. He already has 13 total blocks this season, but his presence in the paint has altered many other shots. He’s holding opponents to 51.5 percent shooting within six feet of the rim, which is better than players like Hassan Whiteside, Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan. Orlando is posting a 94.6 defensive rating when Dedmon is on the court, compared to a 100.3 rating when he is off of the court. His teammates have taken notice of his impact on the floor.
“He was amped tonight,” Jason Smith said following Dedmon’s first start of the season on Friday. “He was ready to go. I think he kind of set that precedence down low of really protecting that basket. You saw balls going [into] the first row, second row, in the stands here or in the stands there. He did a great job for us and that’s what he’s out there to do is really give us a lot of energy. He can set great screens and [dive] to the basket. He provides that energy and that juice that we need to start games and I think he did a phenomenal job.”
“Dewayne is an underrated defender,” Evan Fournier added. “He’s a very good shot-blocker. He plays with a lot of energy every night. I’m glad he could get a start.”
The injury to Vucevic doesn’t appear to be serious, as the bruise to his right knee could have been much more serious. Concerns were raised following Vucevic’s injury on how his production would be replaced, but Dedmon has risen to the occasion. He has improved by leaps and bounds from when he first arrived in Orlando, but still remains a work in progress.
Foul trouble has been a concern for him as he’s averaging 6.9 fouls per 36 minutes this season. Once he can avoid fouling as often, he could see even more playing time and become even better. In addition to foul trouble, free throw shooting has been a concern in the past as well, but it seems as though he’ll be a much better free throw shooter this season. He shot just 53 percent (34-of-64) from the line last season, but has already improved that number to 85 percent this season (12-of-14).
It’s clear that Dedmon has been a huge spark for the Magic this season. Coaches love players who show an ability to hustle up and down the court and fight for loose balls and make the small plays that don’t show up on the box score. He’s earned the trust of his coaching staff and his teammates, and could solidify his place in the NBA with a solid 2015-16 campaign.
Farewell Tour for Kobe Bryant?
Much of the discussion this offseason was centered around whether this season could be Kobe Bryant’s last in the NBA. Bryant hasn’t offered up much thought one way or the other, but his head coach hinted over the weekend that this could be Bryant’s final season.
“We’ve talked about it a few days ago,” Lakers head coach Byron Scott said. “[We] talked about it again and his feeling was, ‘Coach, this might be my last year. So if possible I would like to try to play every game.’”
Bryant’s slow start to this season has only fueled the rumors that this could be his last year. Through six games, Bryant is averaging 16.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. His shooting numbers have been among the worst he’s posted; his 32 percent from the field is a career-low and his 21 percent from three-point range is the second-lowest of his career.
The Lakers are currently on a five-game road trip, and have played Brooklyn and New York so far, with stops in Miami, Orlando and Dallas ahead. Many were speculating whether or not Sunday’s trip to Madison Square Garden would be the last of his career.
“My message has been consistent all the time,” Bryant said. “If I change my mind, I’ll come back and play. If I don’t, I won’t. I’ve been pretty consistent with that, so I don’t know how much, what else can I say?”
The Lakers have begun this season with a 1-5 record, and currently have the league’s second-worst defensive efficiency at 108.4 points allowed per 100 possessions.
NBA Daily: Is Stephen Curry the MVP?
Given the prolific season Stephen Curry is having, despite the Golden State Warriors being ninth in the Western Conference, does his impact make him the Most Valuable Player in the NBA this season?
In the aftermath of Klay Thompson suffering an Achilles tear that ended his season before it began, no one would have blamed Stephen Curry for prioritizing his preservation through the 2020-21 campaign.
Instead, despite the Golden State Warriors lacking the necessary talent to become a title contender, Curry’s doing everything in his power to get them into the playoffs.
The two-time league MVP is on pace to win the scoring title for the second time in his career. In a recent road loss against the Boston Celtics, Curry put up 47 points, becoming the second player in Warriors history to score 30 or more points in 10-straight games, joining Wilt Chamberlain.
In his last 11 contests, Curry’s averaging 40 points on shooting splits that aren’t supposed to be possible at the game’s highest level. Even though he’s hoisting 14.3 attempts from beyond the arc per game, he’s making them at a 49.7 percent clip. He’s taking 23.4 shots from the field but still seeing the ball go through the hoop 54.1 percent of the time.
The context of how Curry’s producing those prodigious numbers makes them even more impressive. He is the only scoring threat on Golden State who defenses need to concern themselves with — stop Curry, win the game; it’s that simple, at least in theory it is.
Another layer of what makes Curry’s prolific scoring so impressive is the energy he’s exerting to do so. According to NBA.com’s tracking data, Curry’s running 1.43 miles per game on offense, which is the sixth-most league-wide. And what that figure doesn’t fully capture is that while Curry has a lightning-quick release and is masterful at creating the sliver of daylight he needs to get his shot off, it takes a significant amount of energy to do that once, let alone throughout a game.
Even though Curry’s already the greatest shooter of all time, he’s taken the most lethal part of his game to new heights. From 2015 when the Warriors won their first NBA championship to 2019, a stretch in which they reached the finals every year, step-back threes accounted for just eight percent of Curry’s shooting profile from beyond the arc. But this season, Curry knew it would be more challenging to create shots for himself, which is why he’s doubled that figure to 16 percent and he’s knocking down 51.5 percent of his step-back threes, per NBA.com.
Curry’s also putting more pressure on opponents from further away from the hoop than he has in years past. According to NBA.com, from 2015 through 2019, five percent of his threes came from 30 to 40 feet. This season, shots from that distance account for 10 percent of his three-point attempts. Just like when defenses double team him out of a pick-and-roll, Curry forcing teams to defend him from further out is another way for him to create 4-3 opportunities for his teammates.
After that loss against the Celtics, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Curry’s “at the peak of his powers.” Though he’s not just putting his talents towards individual production, he is the primary reason Golden State’s firmly in the play-in tournament. The Warriors currently reside ninth in the Western Conference. They’re one game behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and two back of the seventh-ranked Dallas Mavericks.
As impressive an individual season as Curry’s having and as vital as he’s been to his team’s success this season, the reality is the Warriors haven’t won at a high enough level for him to win Most Valuable Player honors for the third time in his career. Currently, Nikola Jokic is the leading MVP candidate. While it’s fair to point out the Denver Nuggets aren’t even in the top three in the Western Conference, Jokic ranks first in player efficiency rating, win shares, box plus/minus and value over replacement player. He’s averaging 26.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
If Jokic misses enough of Denver’s remaining games, someone could usurp him for the right to win MVP. In that scenario, Curry would have a chance to become the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for a third time, but he’d have to sway voters from giving it to Joel Embiid. Embiid’s in the midst of a career season, ranking second in player efficiency rating, eighth in win shares and fourth in box plus/minus. He’s averaging 29.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while leading the Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Curry ranks sixth in player efficiency rating, seventh in win shares and is second in both box plus/minus and value over replacement player. He has a case for MVP, but Jokic and Embiid are capping off career seasons while leading their respective teams to a higher level of success. Yes, their teams are more talented and there probably isn’t enough weight put on how valuable an individual is to his team, but the reality is the MVP typically goes to the best player on a top team. Furthermore, that argument also applies to Jokic, who’s the lone All-Star on a team with a better record.
Not naming Curry this season’s Most Valuable Player doesn’t mean his prolific production isn’t appreciated. Nor should it get taken as a sign elevating his team, somehow finding ways to become a more dangerous shooter and investing as much energy as he has into a season that won’t end with a championship isn’t garnering respect from the NBA community. That includes fans whose favorite team doesn’t reside in the Bay Area.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Path Back to the NBA Finals
In the wake of Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Bobby Krivitsky examines the Los Angeles Lakers’ path back to the NBA Finals.
It’s been 15 games since a high ankle sprain sidelined LeBron James.
With the Western Conference standings congested and Anthony Davis already out due to a right calf strain and a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendinosis, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the threat of a fall that would require their participation in the play-in tournament.
However, the Lakers have fought admirably in the absence of their two stars, going seven and eight. As a result, their fall in the standings has been painless, going from third at the time of James’ injury to now occupying fifth place in the West.
The primary reason the Lakers have been able to tread water without their two stars is they’ve remained stingy on defense. Since James’ injury, they have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. That’s despite facing four teams who rank in the top five in offensive rating and six of the categories’ top-10 members.
Right now, the Lakers are 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, with a 4.5-game cushion between them and the Dallas Mavericks, who are seventh in the conference. That should be a large enough gap to keep Los Angeles out of the play-in tournament, but the two teams are going to converge for a two-game series starting Thursday. For the Lakers, getting swept would re-open the possibility of having to compete in the play-in tournament.
Fortunately for them, even splitting that series would make it unlikely the Mavericks finish ahead of the Lakers in the standings. And help might be on the way for the Lakers: Davis may soon rejoin the lineup, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning there’s a distinct possibility he’s active for at least one of those two matchups. As for James, he’s on track to return in three weeks.
While Los Angeles’ stars are getting closer to making their returns, the Denver Nuggets got dealt a more severe blow when Jamal Murray tore his ACL in a recent game against the Golden State Warriors. Denver is 10-2 since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline and looked the part of a legitimate title contender prior to Murray’s injury.
Denver is fourth in the West, 1.5 games ahead of Los Angeles. But even if the Nuggets have home-court advantage, they’re the preferable opening-round opponent, not just for Los Angeles, but any team with a legitimate chance at the fourth or fifth seed.
Fortunately for the Lakers, that’s the place in the Western Conference pecking order where they’re most likely to finish this season. So long as the Nuggets don’t freefall in Murray’s absence, Los Angeles will likely start the playoffs against an opponent that’s gone from having the potential to present the greatest challenge to the defending champions’ quest to get back to the Finals to becoming a desirable first-round matchup.
After that, the Lakers may have to get past the Utah Jazz and or the Los Angeles Clippers to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. The former has the best record in the league this season, but locking horns with the defending champions in a best of seven series is a far more challenging and potentially rewarding proving ground.
The Jazz have a deep, reliable rotation, they have the best net rating in the NBA, they’re in the top five in points for and against per 100 possessions, and they’re attempting the most threes per game, but also rank in the top five in three-point shooting percentage. However, the Lakers would have the two best players in a series against Utah. Usually, an opponent doesn’t overcome that disadvantage.
As for the Clippers, Rajon Rondo has quickly proven to be an impactful acquisition. Los Angeles is seven and one with him in the lineup, generating the highest net rating in the league during that span. Last season, the Lakers saw first-hand how impactful playoff Rondo can be. Now, the Clippers are hoping he can bring structure to their offense, something they sorely lacked last postseason and was at the forefront of them blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Doing so would go a long way towards maximizing the production of a team that has the talent to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
If this is the year the battle of LA takes place in the postseason, it figures to be a slugfest. Still, the Clippers have their doubters after last year’s meltdown in the playoffs. There’s also a large contingency who are skeptical about how far the Jazz can go in the postseason, given their lack of a top-tier superstar. Despite the validity of those concerns, both teams can beat the Lakers in a best of seven series. That no longer appears to be the case for the Nuggets, which is a shame for them and people who want to see the best possible matchups in the playoffs. But Murray’s injury, as unfortunate an occurrence as it is, makes it easier for the Lakers to get through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference and have a chance to claim an 18th championship, which would break their tie with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.
NBA AM: The Play-In Game – West
With the season winding down, Ariel Pacheco takes a look at how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Western Conference.
With the regular season’s end in sight, teams are making their last push to make the playoffs in what has been a condensed season. But the new play-in tournament is providing more teams than ever a chance at a coveted playoff spot.
Here is what the new play-in tournament will look like: Teams that finish with the Nos 7 and 8 seeds will face off against each other. The winner of this game will be No. 7. The Nos. 9 and 10 seeds will also play and the winner will play the loser of the first game. The winner of this game will be the No. 8 seed.
The play-in tournament provides intrigue and adds pressure on teams in both conferences to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in altogether. The Western Conference, in particular, is shaping up to have a rather exciting finish. There are a number of teams who could find themselves fighting for their playoff lives in this year’s tournament – all below in tiers.
Teams Likely To Avoid Play-In
Portland Trail Blazers (32-24)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 11
The Trail Blazers are currently the sixth seed in the West meaning, for now, they are safe from the play-in tournament. However, they are just two games above the Mavericks from possibly dropping down a place. They’re the team most likely to secure that sixth seed because they have more talent than the teams below them – hello, Dame – and they also have an elite offense. However, the defensive concerns are very real and if they were to slip, it would likely be because of their struggles on that side of the ball.
Likely Play-In Teams
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 5
Games Against West: 8
On paper, the Mavs have a really easy schedule as the season winds down. They have just five games against teams over .500 and two against the Los Angeles Lakers, who may be without their two stars for those games. However, they are just 10-12 this season against sub .500 teams and are coming off a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings. There’s still a pretty good chance they get the sixth seed and avoid the play-in, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them in it as well.
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 7
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 12
The Grizzlies are often overlooked, but they are about as well-coached as any other team in the NBA. It is likely they will be in the play-in game, but don’t be surprised if they are able to sneak into the sixth seed. They lost last year’s play-in game in the Bubble to the Blazers, so they do have experience in this type of setting. They may be getting Jaren Jackson Jr. back soon which should help.
Golden State Warriors
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 6
Games Against West: 13
The Warriors are getting just other-worldly performances from Stephen Curry on an almost nightly basis at this point. However, they continue to struggle to win games, in large part due to the struggles when he sits on the bench. Their schedule is pretty light to close the season, which bolsters their chances. The talent on this team isn’t great, but Curry’s play should be enough to get them in the play-in tournament.
San Antonio Spurs
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 7
The Spurs have struggled of late, especially after the All-Star break. Their defense has dropped off badly, but if there’s any reason to be positive, it’s that they are still coached by Gregg Popovich and their young guys continue to show improvement. They have been really good on the road this season and a majority of their games are on the road. It won’t be easy, but the Spurs should find themselves in the play-in tournament.
Outside Looking In
New Orleans Pelicans
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 9
Games Against West: 11
The Pelicans have been hit with the injury bug of late, but their inconsistent play this season continues to be a huge problem. Their defense continues to bleed three-pointers and while point Zion Williamson has worked, there just isn’t enough shooting to maximize him just yet. It seems unlikely the Pelicans make a late-season run to the play-in game.
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 14
The Kings are the least likely team to make the play-in tournament. Their defense is still problematic and they just recently ended their 9-game losing streak. It’ll take a huge late-season push and the Kings just haven’t shown that they are capable of putting it all together for a long enough stretch.
The play-in tournament adds a new layer of competition that will bring excitement at the end of the season. Be sure to check out how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Eastern Conference.
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