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NBA PM: LeBron James Flying Under Radar?

Russ Westbrook, James Harden and the Warriors are getting headlines, but don’t sleep on LeBron James.

Alex Kennedy

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James Harden ushered in 2017 by entering the record book, recording the first 53-point, 17-assist, 16-rebound performance in NBA history to beat the New York Knicks. On the season, he’s now averaging 28.4 points, 11.9 assists, 8.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals, while shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from three-point range. The Houston Rockets have been one of the pleasant surprises of this season, as they are currently 27-9 and in the Western Conference’s third seed.

Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook is making history of his own. He’s the first player to average a triple-double this late into an NBA season since Oscar Robertson finished the 1961-62 campaign averaging 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists for the Cincinnati Royals. Westbrook is currently averaging 30.9 points, 10.5 assists, 10.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals. Through 35 games, he has recorded 16 triple-doubles. The Oklahoma City Thunder are 21-14, which puts them in the seventh seed out West.

The jaw-dropping performances from Harden and Westbrook – coupled with all of the hype surrounding the Golden State Warriors, who may be the best on-paper team in NBA history – has allowed arguably the greatest player in the league to fly under the radar. While Harden or Westbrook will likely take home the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award if they keep up their spectacular pace, LeBron James is focused on adding a fourth championship ring to his collection and helping the Cleveland Cavaliers repeat.

By now, we all know that James is great. In fact, we tend to take his amazing performances for granted. At 32 years old, he’s averaging 25.6 points, 8.6 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. And James has been incredibly efficient, with a PER just under 27 and impressive shooting percentages from the field (50.8 percent) and from three-point range (37.3 percent).

InsideLeBronJamesThe advanced numbers show James’ two-way dominance as well. He ranks third in the NBA in Real Plus/Minus (7.15) – behind only Chris Paul and Giannis Antetokounmpo – which is a metric that takes individual’s plus-minus and adjusts it to account for the player’s teammates and opposition.  Also, James ranks fourth in Value Over Replacement Player (3.1) and fifth in Box Plus/Minus (8.8).

Perhaps most impressive is James’ passing. His 8.6 assists per game is a career-high. He is the best non-point-guard passer in NBA history (and a case can be made that he’s the game’s best passer period). His court vision is exceptional and the numbers show that he is an elite facilitator. This season, James ranks fifth in assist percentage (41.4 percent) and he also has the sixth-most assists among all players. In both categories, he’s trailing only All-Star point guards such as James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and John Wall.

It’s no coincidence that every team James joins becomes a perennial contender. Not only does he dominate on both ends of the floor using his freakish athleticism and skill-set, he also uses his basketball IQ to take over games. He has essentially become a coach on the floor, serving as an additional assistant on Ty Lue’s staff.

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey recently pointed this out and summed up how James can greatly impact a game simply using his extraordinarily high basketball IQ.

“You can’t surprise LeBron anymore,” Casey told Sports Illustrated. “His intellect has caught up with his athletic ability. He coaches his teammates. He calls out our plays. He’s so ahead of the game, it’s not even funny.”

Despite his gaudy numbers and enormous impact on each game, James doesn’t seem to be getting as much as attention as he deserves. That’s because this elite-level production is expected from James at this point. Every year, LeBron puts up monster numbers and his team is in the mix to the win the title. At this stage in his career, the real surprise would be if either of those things weren’t true.

Take any stat line from James’ time in the NBA and it would be a career-year worthy of praise for just about any NBA player. But because James has been doing this year after year, he is held to a higher standard and we are no longer shocked by his ridiculous statistics.

It takes an otherworldly performance for James to surprise people and turn heads. That’s what happened during the 2016 NBA Finals, when he averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks to lift the Cleveland Cavaliers out of their 3-1 deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors for the Larry O’Brien trophy. That garnered attention because he was by far the best player on the court, led all players (from both teams) in every major stat category, dominated on both ends of the court, had unforgettable plays like “The Block” and ended Cleveland’s 52-year title drought.

But when James is just playing to the level we all expect, we shrug. Some even accuse him of “coasting” through the regular season because he isn’t making our jaws drop to the floor.

This is probably why James only has four Most Valuable Player trophies. It seems strange to say only four MVP awards, but he’s likely deserving of more. Many people around the NBA believe that voters were simply tired of awarding the hardware to James year after year, which is why they mixed things up and gave the trophy to Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry in recent years. Not to take anything away from Rose, Durant and Curry – they were fantastic – but a strong case could be made for James to win the MVP trophy every year considering how important he is to his team. Looking at the numbers, James has certainly been the most dominant and most valuable player in the league more than four seasons in his NBA career.

In addition to posting terrific numbers, James has led the Cavaliers to an Eastern Conference-best record of 26-7. Cleveland has the fourth-best offense in the NBA (scoring 110.6 points per 100 possessions) as well as the 13th-best defense (allowing 104.4 points per 100 possessions). The Cavs lead the East in average point differential (+7.1) and they have a number of signature wins on the season.

Through 33 games, Cleveland has defeated fellow elite teams such as the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors (three times), Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics (two times) among others. They’ve won 13 of their last 15 games.

Kyrie Irving has obviously continued his development and Kevin Love seems much more comfortable in Cleveland’s system this year. Still, none of this would be possible without James’ dominance.

The monster numbers, the impressive wins against contenders, the expectation that he’ll lead his team in a seventh straight NBA Finals appearance… Not bad for a guy who is “coasting.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Jaylen Hands Makes Good Showing at the NBA Combine

Jaylen Hands made a good showing at the NBA Combine by displaying his offensive skills and defensive intensity.

Jesse Blancarte

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UCLA has produced a few of the NBA’s top point guards over the last decade or so, including Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday. Jrue’s younger brother, Aaron Holiday, has declared for this year’s draft and is projected by several NBA insiders to be selected with a first-round pick (likely in the 20-30 range). But Aaron Holiday isn’t the only UCLA point guard who may end up taking his talents to the NBA this offseason. Jaylen Hands, who is still just 19 years old and finished his freshman season, has also entered his name into this year’s draft.

While Hands has entered his name into the draft and participated in the NBA Combine, he has not hired an agent, which preserves his ability to return to college (Hands has until June 11 to make a final decision). Considering Hands’ young age and raw skill set, he isn’t projected by many insiders to hear his name called on draft night. But he certainly helped his cause in the Combine, showcasing his offensive talents, the muscle he has added to his slight frame since the end of his freshman season and aggressiveness on defense.

Basketball Insiders spoke with Hands at the Combine about his development, going through the pre-draft process, competing against familiar faces and more.

“It’s crazy, it’s crazy because when we were younger, they said the exact thing: ‘You guys are going to see each other forever.’” Hands said when asked about competing against many of the same players over the years and now at the Combine. “And you don’t really believe what they’re saying. But now you go through high school, you’re a senior, All-Star activities and you go to the Combine, you see the same people. It’s crazy.”

Hands has a notable skill set but is a raw prospect that many believe would be better served spending another year in college. While Hands needs to continue filling out his frame, he did register decent measurements at the Combine in relation to a top guard prospect – Trae Young of Oklahoma. Hands weighed in at 1.2 lbs heavier than Young, and outmatched Young in height (with and without shoes), standing reach and wingspan. Ironically, Hands has the smallest hands of all players that participated in the Combine. While these measurements don’t mean that he is currently a comparable prospect to Young, they could address some concerns about his current physical profile and how it may ultimately translate to the NBA.

Hands proved himself to be a confident and aggressive player in his freshman season at UCLA – something that he believes has led to misconceptions about his game.

“I’m not a point guard,” Hands said when asked about what misconceptions people have about his game.

I wouldn’t say it’s common, like it’s the main thing. But I’ve heard that I shoot first or something like that. I just feel like I attack a lot. I think I attack a lot and I’m of size to being a [two guard], so I think some people get it misconstrued. I just think I’m attack first, set my teammates up, get what I get.”

Hands is clearly aware of the common perceptions and current shortcomings in his game, which is why he is working hard to improve his overall skill set and is testing the NBA waters to get feedback from teams.

“Before I came here, just being more steady working on my shot, making good reads out of the pick and roll, finishing.” Hands said when asked about what parts of his game he was working on before coming to the Combine.

Hands was asked to clarify what he believes is his best strength at this point. Hands didn’t hesitate and pointed toward his ability to make plays off the dribble.

“My best strength is getting in the paint. So I get in the paint and make plays,” Hands said.

Hands is also clearly aware of UCLA’s history of producing quality point guards and has a chance to one day develop into a quality guard at the NBA level. However, with Holiday heading to the NBA and no major competition for the starting point guard position at UCLA next season, it may benefit Hands to hold off on turning pro for at least another year.

Whether he stays at UCLA or commits to this year’s draft, there’s no doubt that Hands is going to keep pushing to develop into a quality NBA player.

“I want to be the best player I can in the league,” Hands said. “That’s my goal.”

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NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 5/22/18

The final 2018 NBA Draft order is set and Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler offers up his latest 60-pick NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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Lots of Draft Movement

With the draft order now set for the 2018 NBA Draft, there is some sense of how the draft might play out.

The buzz coming out of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago is that a number of picks could be had in trade include all three of the top selections. Word is the initial asking price is very high and more of an indication to the San Antonio Spurs that if they do want to part with disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard, they are open for business.

It’s also worth noting that there is a growing sense that both the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawk may be far higher on some of the domestic bigs in the draft more so than euro sensation Luka Dončić. Both teams are expected to take a long look at Dončić, so their views on him could change as we get closer to the draft, but for now, Dončić may go lower.

Here is the latest 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft, reflecting the final draft order and the latest buzz, rumors, and intel from in and around the NBA:

Dates To Know:

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college. However, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

The 2018 NBA Draft is June 21.

The Pick Swaps:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

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 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. This pick will convey.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade.

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 final NBA standings.

The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would 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 was lottery protected and based on the final NBA 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 was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Shamet Comfortable With Steady Self Going Into Draft

With a natural feel for the game, Wichita State guard Landry Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.

Spencer Davies

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No matter what professional field a person wants to work in, there are multiple ways to show why they belong.

A positive attitude is everything, confidence goes a long way and honesty truly is the best policy.

Speaking with Wichita State product Landry Shamet this past week at the NBA Combine in Chicago, it’s clear that he has all three of those boxes checked off.

“It’s been great,” Shamet said of the event. “Just trying to absorb everything, soak everything up. It’s a big learning experience for sure. A lot of knowledge to be attained (at the Combine). With interviews and playing on the court, being coached by NBA guys, it’s been cool so far.”

During his three years with the Shockers, the 6-foot-4, 188-pound guard accomplished quite a few feats, but his junior season was arguably the most spectacular. Not only did Shamet lead his team in multiple ways, but he also topped out in four statistical categories in the American Athletic Conference—the school’s first year there after moving on from the Missouri Valley.

Shamet’s 166 assists (5.2 per game average) were the most in the AAC by far. In addition, his true shooting percentage (65.5) and three-point percentage (44.2) ranked number one among his peers.

From entering the program in 2015 to now, he feels that he’s grown dramatically as a player—but in what areas, specifically?

“I would say being a point guard honestly,” Shamet said. “I was recruited in as a two. But just kinda that leadership role, that accountability. Knowing that you’re gonna get a lot of scrutiny (after) a loss and you’re gonna be responsible for a win. Regardless of how the game goes, it’s your responsibility.”

Much of his development at Wichita State was courtesy of a hands-on approach with Gregg Marshall, one of the most revered head coaches in college basketball. Thanks to his guidance, Shamet feels ready, even in aspects outside of his offensive ability.

“On the defensive end, I feel comfortable with my positioning,” Shamet said. “Obviously, need to get better. You can always get better on the defensive end. That’s one thing I’ve been focusing on. Trying to get more athletic. Just be better defensively. He gave me the groundwork for sure. 100 percent.”

Shamet has kept in touch with Marshall throughout the entire pre-draft process. He was told to “smile and relax” in interviews and to be confident, which he’s certainly followed through with.

A similar message has come from Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, two former Shockers who have each made their mark at the professional level.

“Just be yourself, you know,” Shamet said of VanVleet’s pointers. “That’s really what it boils down to I think. He’s been great to have him in my corner—a guy like that who’s been through a lot of adversity on his way to the NBA, so I’m gonna listen to him 10 times out of 10.”

VanVleet’s career is already taking off with the Toronto Raptors as a part of their young and hungry bench. But with four more inches of height and a similar feel for the game, Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.

And it won’t require flash or making a daily highlight-reel to do so.

“I’d like to just say versatile,” Shamet said of his game. “Just try to stay solid. I don’t ever try to make spectacular plays all the time. Try to just do what I feel I can do—play multiple positions, both positions, on or off the ball. I’m comfortable at either spot, honestly. Whether it’s facilitating, scoring, whatever the case may be.

“I feel like I have a high IQ as well. Just a cerebral player. Not gonna ‘wow’ you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. But I feel like I’m a solid player. Pretty steady across the board.”

However, just because he rarely shows off on the court doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to do it.

“I feel like I’m a little more athletic than I might get credit for,” Shamet said. “I think I’m a better athlete than I get credit for.”

Shamet is projected to go anywhere from the middle-to-late first round of the draft in June. Whoever lands the Kansas City native will be getting a tireless worker who does things the right way and is all about the team.

But for now, he’s soaking in everything he possibly can before that night comes.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Shamet candidly said. “I’m a 21-year-old kid, man I guess. So just trying to learn as much as I can, gain some knowledge, get good feedback—because at the end of the day, I’m not a perfect player. I know that.”

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