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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?

Basketball Insiders

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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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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.

Joel Brigham

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Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.

Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.

“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”

Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.

“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”

Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.

“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”

That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.

“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”

In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.

“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”

That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.

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