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NBA PM: The Best Third Year Player In The NBA

In this week’s group feature, we asked some of our guys who is the best third year player in the NBA?

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The Best Third Year Player In The NBA

In what is a weekly Thursday feature, we asked three of our Basketball Insiders to weigh in on a common question. This week we asked “Who’s The Best Third Year Player In The NBA?”

Karl-Anthony Towns

By selecting him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves entrusted big-man Karl-Anthony Towns with the future of the franchise. For those who haven’t been paying attention, he hasn’t disappointed.

The seven-foot, 244-pound behemoth has made the transfer from the NCAA to NBA look seamless, which almost never happens with one-and-done players. After averaging 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game during his lone season at the University of Kentucky, Towns stormed onto the NBA scene in 2015, finishing his rookie season with a stat-line of 18.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game with a true shooting percentage of 59 percent. Towns was just the fourth rookie since the 1946-47 season to hold those averages, joining the ranks of David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning.

His second season was even better. While his defensive numbers remained relatively the same, Towns’ offensive game showed major improvement on what were already solid numbers; he averaged 25.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game with a true shooting percentage of 61.8 percent and totaled 9.9 offensive win shares. He shot at a 36.7 clip on 3.4 three-point attempts per game as well, a respectable rate for a man of Towns’ size. Towns’ Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) also ranked in at 5.3, good for 11th in the Association and ahead of guys like Chris Paul and Kevin Durant.

Towns will hope to take another leap next season, his third in the league and second under head coach Tom Thibodeau. His natural physical development alongside fellow youngster Andrew Wiggins and their continuity within Thibodeau’s system will certainly prove beneficial to both Towns’ overall game and the Timberwolves’ win-loss record next season, as will an improved roster that saw Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague come into the fold during the offseason. Butler and Teague should open things up for Towns on the offensive end — although he was fully capable of getting his own offense last season — while Butler’s defensive presence, along with another year under the tutelage of Thibodeau, should help Towns hone his defensive craft. Towns has flashed potential defensive dominance, totaling 241 blocks and 114 steals across 164 career games and, if he is able to consistently make an impact, he could become one of the best all-around players in the NBA.

After adding Butler and Teague, along with other solid veterans like Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson, the pressure will be on Minnesota to win next season. In the tough Western Conference, the Timberwolves will be hard pressed to be a top seed, but a winning record and their first playoff appearance in 14 seasons certainly aren’t out of the question. If Minnesota puts together a successful season, expect Towns to play a major role in it.

– Shane Rhodes

Myles Turner

For me, this is a close call between New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis and Indiana Pacers center/forward Myles Turner.

Both teams will continue relying on their young big men. This is even more certain for the Pacers with the departure of star Paul George. Likewise, the Knicks will likely lean even more heavily on Porzingis, depending on the team’s ability to find an acceptable trade scenario that would allow the team to comfortably jettison Carmelo Anthony. Until a potential trade occurs, there is a ceiling on how much the team can build around Porzingis and maximize his abilities.

Accounting for that variable and current production leads me to select Turner as one of, if not the top 3rd Year Player. George’s departure leaves a gaping hole for the Pacers. His minutes per game (35.9) and usage percentage (28.9) needs to be reallocated. As a low post player, Turner doesn’t slot in as a one-to-one replacement for George but is in the best position based on talent, youth and overall abilities to step up and fill the void left by George.

While playing alongside George, Turner put up 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 blocks per game and sported a 51.1 shooting percentage in 31.4 minutes last season. Turner accomplished the above while maintaining a usage rating (19.5) that decreased from the year before (20.9). Despite the lower usage rate, his PER (18.5), which indicates offensive efficiency, went up from the year prior (15.4) and his win shares (8.0) also went up significantly from year prior (3.1). For comparison, Turner had a much higher win share, higher PER last year with a much lower usage rate than Porzingis.

The pressure will be on Turner. He won’t have the luxury of a star player two-way player next to him. Turner will need to step up his game as the quality of his team lowers and opponents shift their focus to him. While his production and usage will most likely increase it is not reasonable to expect him to continue his upward gains in efficiency as well.

A few additional skills help make Turner a special player. In both his one year in college and rookie season, Turner shot three-pointers at a below a 30 percent clip — poor shooting even for a big man. However, Turner shot a respectable percentage (34.8) per game last season. Although his three-point shooting attempts (1.4) per game only accounted for a fraction of his overall attempts (10.7), this skill will allow him to keep spacing on offense and will give more room to for his team to operate. With the above pressure on offense, Turner will need to show that he can maintain and improve upon his already solid defense, which includes his 2.1 blocks per game. With time, he should earn the respect of opponents attempting to score at the rim.

Room for improvement? Passing. Turner’s assists per game (1.3) last season leave something to be desired. If the offense is going to run though him, the ball needs to keep moving when appropriate.

This will be big year for the young big man and it’s fair to expect him to excel.

– James Blancarte

Nikola Jokic

While it’s hard to argue with Karl-Anthony Towns as the best third-year player for the upcoming NBA season, there’s one player who is unique enough to make a case: Nikola Jokic. The hardest and most difficult thing to find in the NBA is a superstar, and the Denver Nuggets — if Jokic continues to trend up — may have pulled off the ultra-rare feat of finding one in the second round.

By now you’ve probably read that Denver’s offense became the most efficient in the NBA after Jokic was permanently moved into the starting lineup. Tom West of Denver Stiffs has provided some excellent deep dive analysis of how the combination of shooting, creativity and efficiency near the basket and from midrange make Jokic such a dynamic player.

And as Daniel C. Lewis, also of Denver Stiffs, pointed out, Jokic became only the third player in the three-point era to average at least 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists on 60.5 percent effective field goal shooting, joining Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Charles Barkley. If you’ll forgive the wordplay, the Joker is no joke as an NBA talent. But it was a third Denver Stiffs contributor, Adam Mares, who put Jokic’s talent into its proper perspective by joining forces with Pete Zayas of the Laker Film Room podcast to compare his talents to Lonzo Ball.

There are certain players — from Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to Jason Kidd and LeBron James — who see the game on a different mental level even than other star players. Call it “basketball IQ” or “feel for the game” or whatever you like. These are players who approach the game like a chess grandmaster, always thinking many moves ahead and analyzing the game in real time in a way their peers can’t match. Jokic and Ball are the two most recent players to enter the league with the potential to join that elite company.

But sometimes a player has those advanced mental attributes but lacks the physical qualities to parlay them into a Hall of Fame career. Kenny Anderson might be an example of this, as he was never fast or strong enough to match his cerebral attributes. And this is where Jokic falls short of Towns. He simply lacks the explosiveness to match Towns as either a rim attacker or protector. That doesn’t mean he can’t join that elite company, as he remains supremely-efficient around the basket thanks to his overwhelming skill. But Denver was the second-worst defensive team in the league with Jokic as a centerpiece. That will have to change if the Nuggets are ever to become contenders while building around this extraordinary talent.

– Buddy Grizzard

Every Thursday we’ll ask three of our guys to chime in on a common subject. If there is something you would like to see us address, drop it to us on Twitter at @BBallInsiders using the hashtag #ConversationThursday.

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

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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