Each year during the playoffs, we see players step up and elevate their game when the spotlight is brightest. With their season on the line, players will do whatever it takes to help their team achieve the ultimate goal of winning a championship.
We expect the top players in the league, like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook among others, to rise to the occasion and lead their teams. While it’s important for those players to turn the intensity up, it’s also extremely important for role players to step up as well.
For these players, the playoffs is a great time to show off their game in front of a national audience. Viewership this postseason has been at an all-time high, and we’ve seen a number of role players turn in great performances. Some of these players are about to become free agents in July in what is shaping up to be one of the craziest free agency periods in NBA history due to the $92 million salary cap. Players who performed well this postseason have helped their stock before they hit the open market.
Here are several players (in no particular order) who have helped their free agency value after a successful postseason:
Maurice Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers:
During the first few months of the season, playing time for Harkless was uneven. He averaged less than 16 minutes per game in December and January, but then seemed to break through into the lineup. His playing time spiked up to around 20 minutes per game in February and March, and then up to 28 minutes per game in April.
Harkless earned starts in the last 11 games of the regular season and showed that he can produce when given the opportunity. In 14 games as a starter in the regular season, he averaged 11.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and one block per game. Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts kept Harkless in the starting lineup for the team’s postseason run and Harkless played well in that role.
He averaged 12.7 points and 6.2 rebounds in the Blazers’ first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, and then nine points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in the second round against the Golden State Warriors. He scored in double figures in five of the six games games against the Clippers, and turned in his best playoff performance in Game 5 – recording 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Fresh off of his solid play for the Blazers this postseason, Harkless is set to hit restricted free agency once the team extends him a $4,045,894 qualifying offer. While it remains to be seen what Harkless stands to earn this summer, it’ll be significantly higher than the four-year, approximately $16 million deal he turned down from the Blazers last offseason.
Bismack Biyombo, Toronto Raptors:
Biyombo became perhaps one of the Raptors’ most important players during their second-round series against the Miami HEAT. He was placed into the starting lineup in Game 4 after an ankle injury sidelined starter Jonas Valanciunas for the remainder of the series.
Biyombo’s impact for the Raptors was felt immediately. He started the final four games of the series and averaged 11 points, 12 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and one assist per game. With the HEAT missing starting center Hassan Whiteside for much of the series, Biyombo was able to have his way against Miami’s smaller defenders. In Toronto’s Game 7 win on Sunday, Biyombo recorded a career-high 17 points and 16 rebounds.
Given his strong play thus far this postseason, it looks as though Biyombo will receive a pretty big payday. He currently holds a $2,940,630 player option for next season and it seems extremely likely that he’ll decline that option and test the free agency waters this summer. With nearly every team having ample cap space and talented big men always being highly coveted, Biyombo should receive a ton of interest.
Jeremy Lin, Charlotte Hornets:
It’s well documented that Lin will likely decline his $2,235,255 player option next season and hit the free agency market. After a couple of outstanding playoff performances in the Hornets’ first-round series against the HEAT, Lin has likely earned himself a bigger contract next season.
Lin was the biggest scoring option off of the bench for the Hornets against the HEAT and was a key piece in pushing that series to seven games. He averaged 12.4 points, 2.6 assists and 2.3 rebounds during that series and hit several big shots throughout.
His best performance of the series came in Game 4 when he scored 21 points and then followed up that outing with 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds to give the Hornets a 3-2 series lead at the time.
It’s clear that Lin has established himself as a solid backup point guard option for teams. Both Lin and the Hornets have said that they’d like to work out an agreement that keeps the 27-year-old in Charlotte, but we’ve seen before that nothing is guaranteed in the NBA. He’ll likely field offers from several teams and will have the option to pick the best situation for his career moving forward.
Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers:
One of the biggest stories of the postseason thus far was the injuries that the Clippers suffered. In Game 4 of their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, Chris Paul broke a bone in his right hand and Blake Griffin aggravated the injury to his left quad tendon. The team announced after that game that both players would miss the remainder of the playoffs.
In support of Paul, Rivers turned in a couple of solid performances and proved he could play at a high level in the playoffs. His outing in Game 6 was perhaps one of the most courageous performances we’ve seen in quite some time.
Rivers took an elbow to the face during that game and would receive 11 stitches in all. He returned to the game just one quarter later and would end up recording 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds in the game. The most remarkable thing about his performance was that his eye looked to be swollen shut following the injury. His performance left his teammates, opponents and fans watching the game impressed as it proved that he is a tough guy who will do anything to help his team.
Rivers holds a $3,344,106 player option for next season and will almost certainly decline it. The 2015-16 season was Rivers’ best of his short career and will likely allow him to earn a bigger contract this summer.
Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers:
The Clippers were forced to lean on Crawford heavily as well after the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Crawford has proven to be one of the best bench players in history after earning a record third Sixth Man of the Year Award this season.
In his 16th season in the league, Crawford averaged a postseason career-high 17.3 points, 2.2 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. His 32 points in Game 6 against the Trail Blazers were the most for any reserve in a postseason game in Clippers franchise history.
Crawford will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and will likely earn more than the $5.675 million he received this past campaign. The Clippers are in an interesting place this summer as it’s been speculated that the team could look to change things up after failing to advance to the Western Conference Finals during its current five-year postseason streak.
Crawford has previously said that he’d like to return to the Clippers next season as he and his family are comfortable living in Los Angeles, but it remains to be seen if the Clippers will elect to re-sign him or if the two sides can agree on a fair price.
Honorable Mention: Raymond Felton, Marreese Speights, Solomon Hill, Allen Crabbe, Kent Bazemore, Nicolas Batum, J.R. Smith, Marvin Williams, Harrison Barnes and Matthew Dellavedova.
While these players above stand out among those who have helped improve their free agency stock, there have been several others who have helped their case as well. In a summer where teams will have a record amount of money to spend, there will be plenty of players landing huge contracts.
Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17
Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.
It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.
Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.
Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.
By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.
Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.
Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.
His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.
While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.
4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)
While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.
Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.
Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.
Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.
Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.
The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.
Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.
While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.
It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.
Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.
So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.
NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17
Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.
A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.
Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.
The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.
A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.
The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.
This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.
There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.
As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.
So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.
The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland
The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.