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NBA PM: The Importance of Draymond Green

Draymond Green has surprisingly emerged as one of the Warriors’ most important players this season.

Alex Kennedy

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The Importance of Draymond Green

The Golden State Warriors’ well-rounded roster is full of key contributors who helped this squad win 67 games in the regular season (with a +10.1 net rating) and become one of the best NBA teams in recent memory.

Stephen Curry is the superstar MVP candidate who has become one of the most talented (and most popular) players in the NBA.

Klay Thompson is the All-Star sidekick who is one of the NBA’s elite two-guards and was deemed untouchable last summer, even when Kevin Love was available.

Andrew Bogut is the former No. 1 overall pick who helped the team become elite on the defensive end by being their anchor down low.

Andre Iguodala is the former All-Star and All-Defensive First Team player who was the team’s big free agent acquisition before the 2013-14 season.

Harrison Barnes is the phenom who was rated the top high school recruit in the country and got drafted No. 7 overall in 2012.

Steve Kerr is the first-year head coach who was one of the NBA’s hottest coaching prospects last summer and finished second in Coach of the Year voting.

Then, there’s Draymond Green. He has surprisingly emerged as one of Golden State’s top contributors even though he wasn’t a top pick, phenom or star. He has exceeded all expectations in the NBA and his development has been incredible to watch.

Rivals.com rated Green a three-star recruit out of high school. After four years at Michigan State, he entered the NBA as a second-round pick (35th overall) in 2012. There were low expectations for him because he was one of the older players in the draft and many people around the NBA felt he didn’t have much upside. In the draft, teams often try to swing for the fences and go with young, boom-or-bust prospects, which can cause seniors like Green to slip on draft night. Also hurting his stock was the fact that he was viewed as a tweener, who was too short to be a power forward yet too doughy to be a small forward.

DraymondGreenInside1Now, the 25-year-old Green has silenced all of his doubters. In his first full season as a starter, Green has been outstanding on both ends of the floor and become one of the Warriors’ most important players.

“It’s hard to put into words what Draymond means to the team,” Kerr said. “He does everything; he’s a jack of all trades. On top of that, he’s one of our leaders and the guy who talks the most trash to the other team, to the refs, to his teammates, to me. He’s kind of our life line. It’s great. … Draymond is always the guy who has the passion and the intensity that sort of lifts us up when we need it, and he’s also a great playmaker at both ends of the floor.”

As Kerr said, Green has become a great two-way threat for the Warriors.

He’s a dominant defender, who has the versatility to guard every position on the floor. He averaged 8.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks during the regular season. Despite being measured at just 6’7.5 with shoes on, he has shown he can guard centers very well, giving them fits in the post. He’s a big reason why the Warriors had the NBA’s top ranked defense this season (allowing only 98.2 points per 100 possessions). Green finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting behind only San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, and he received more first-place votes (45) than any other player – including Leonard (37).

On offense, he has averaged career-highs across the board, including 11.7 points on 44.3 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from three-point range as well as 3.7 assists. He’s an efficient playmaker who always seems to make the right basketball play. He makes his teammates significantly better with his unselfishness and ball movement, and he has really developed into a well-rounded weapon for Golden State.

This versatility and ability to impact the game in a variety of ways was on full display during the Warriors’ first-round sweep over the New Orleans Pelicans. Green filled the stat sheet, averaging 15.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks while shooting 47.9 percent from the field in the first round.

Green spent much of the series guarding Anthony Davis, making things difficult for the budding superstar and showing his ability to guard even the most talented big men in the NBA. He forced the Pelicans’ star to take tough shots and was a big reason why Davis averaged 3.3 turnovers during the four-game series (after averaging just 1.4 turnovers during the regular season). Green’s second-place DPOY finish was announced during the series and he certainly looked like an elite defender in the first round, while also contributing on offense and getting the crowd pumped up with his screaming, flexing, trash talking and hustling.

“He’s a gamer,” Curry said of Green. “He finds different ways to impact the game. Obviously we know he’s going to defend at a high level, whoever his match‑up is, and make some plays that won’t show up on the stat sheet that kind of get the crowd into it and just bring some life into us out on the floor. He just always finds a way to be in the mix. There is no teaching that. He just has a knack for it. He’s shown that since his rookie year, and obviously in big games, that’s huge that you can rely on him to be ever present on the court.”

Green averaged 41.5 minutes per game (just shy of Davis’ 43 minutes per game) during the series because Kerr knew the team was better off when he was on the court, even if he was tired. When asked about how he manages Green’s minutes and decides when to keep him on the floor, Kerr smiled.

“I ask Draymond if he’s tired, and if he says no, I leave him in. If he says yes, I leave him in,” Kerr said. “It’s a very scientific approach.”

Green knows that the Warriors have a target on their back after winning so many games and entering the postseason as the favorite to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, he’s not worried about how that will affect Golden State since they already expect so much out of themselves.

“The last two years you’re the hunters; now you’re the hunted,” Green said of the Warriors. “You have to go out there with that mindset that they’re coming. They’re going to give you their best shot. The world expects you to win, so I guess there is a little more pressure. But at the end of the day, with what we expect out of ourselves, nobody’s expectations are going to be higher than ours for us. I think as long as we keep that mindset, we’ll be just fine.”

Some people have questioned if Golden State has what it takes to win it all, labeling the Warriors as a “jump shooting team” and wondering if they can still win games when their shots aren’t falling. However, this ignores the fact that Golden State had the league’s best defense and one of the NBA’s most efficient offenses. They’re just the third team in the last 38 years to finish top two in the NBA in offense and defense (joining the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and 2009-10 Orlando Magic). This is a dominant team that can beat you on both ends of the court, which Green stressed when asked about those skeptics who question if their success is sustainable.

“That’s just stigma – there is this expectation and belief that we can’t win if we’re not making threes, yet we’re the number one defensive team in the league,” Green said. “But that’s never really talked about. We know if we continue to get stops, no matter how we’re shooting the basketball, we can find a way to win the game.

“We know that we’re more than what some people may say we are: ‘just a three‑point shooting team.’ We don’t worry about it. We just go out there and play our game, and we know we can do other things.”

That defense has been led by Bogut and Green, who finished No. 1 and No. 2 in Defensive Real Plus-Minus during the 2014-15 NBA season. Having two elite defenders surrounding their offensively gifted All-Star guards makes Golden State very scary.

“We’re just working together like we’ve done all year,” Green said of he and Bogut. “I think we’ve done a great job working together as a tandem on the defensive end. If he gets beat, I’m there to cover for him. If I get beat, he’s there to cover for me.”

While the Warriors have looked absolutely unstoppable at times throughout this campaign, Green believes they haven’t even played their best basketball yet.

“Absolutely, there is definitely another level [that the team hasn’t reached yet],” Green said.  “We’re going to keep continuing to work to get to that level. Obviously every game matters now.

“In order to win a championship, which is our ultimate goal, you have to get better each and every time you step on the floor in the playoffs because other teams are.  There is another level that this team could reach, and we look forward to reaching it.”

In order for the Warriors to reach that next level, they will need Green to continue making plays all over the court like he did in round one. That shouldn’t be a problem; that’s what he does. These playoffs are Green’s coming out party – right before he hits restricted free agency this July, when he’s expected to get a max contract offer. Expect to see plenty of big plays from Green throughout the rest of the postseason followed by screaming, flexing and, likely, winning.

Tim Duncan Winning Fight Against Father Time

The San Antonio Spurs are damn good and they could win it all (once again) this season.

I know… this isn’t exactly breaking news. We’ve been saying this for years, since the Spurs have made the playoffs in 18 straight seasons and won five championships in that span. Their winning percentage has been 61 percent or higher (at least 50 wins, except in a lockout-shortened season) in each of those 18 seasons. That means there are high school and college students across the country right now who can’t remember a time when the Spurs finished below 50 wins in a season.

And once again Tim Duncan has been a huge reason for their success. Duncan is one of the greatest players of all-time, with five championships, two Most Valuable Player awards, 15 All-Star appearances and 14 selections to the All-NBA teams. Now, even though he’s 39 years old and has played 54,915 minutes (counting the regular season and postseason) throughout his 17-year NBA career, he continues to make a significant impact on the court for San Antonio.

Duncan is averaging 17.2 points (on 55.4 percent shooting from the field), 10.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 steals through five games in the Spurs’ first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers. It seemed like this match-up against the Clippers’ frontcourt would be hard for Duncan since Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are two of the most athletic big men in the NBA. However, he has played well and continues to battle off Father Time.

“I’m just getting to spots,” Duncan said. “I didn’t change anything. I didn’t do anything different. I just kind of worked myself into the spots I know that we need. I get shots sometimes, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes they go, sometimes they don’t.”

While Duncan hasn’t changed what he’s doing on the floor, he has tried to change the way he approaches each game. He knows that his NBA career will be over very soon, so he’s trying to appreciate each game and take in everything.

“I’m trying to enjoy myself,” Duncan said. “I’m trying to enjoy myself, whatever that means. I know it’s coming to an end… whenever that time is, so I’m enjoying myself. I’m enjoying the time out here and the crowd, the energy, the situation, and if that translates into something different, that’s something different then.”

Duncan admits that it has been frustrating at times to make sacrifices and accept a diminished role as he gets older, but he knows that it’s for the best of the team, especially with players like Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard carrying the team for spurts. When asked if there’s still “a lot left” in terms of what he can do on the court, Duncan was realistic.

“I think ‘a lot’ is a stretch, but I still feel right now I can be effective in my role,” Duncan said. “And that’s all I’m doing is just playing a role on this team.

“I’m a competitor. I want to be playing the best I can, and there have been times where I feel I’m just kind of running around for my health, but sometimes that’s my role. Sometimes it’s with the ball movement, with the guys that we have, with the shooters that we have, with Tony and Kawhi controlling the ball. That’s kind of my role in that position sometimes. But I’m here to do whatever I have to do and be a part of whatever I have to be a part of. I get to my spots, and [things] will change, whether it’s from game to game or from series to series, whatever it is, you have to find your spots and be as effective as you can in it. It is [hard mentally] at some points, but it’s a gradual process. It’s over an entire season or two or three seasons [of adjusting to the new role], not just overnight.”

Still, Duncan understands why he doesn’t get the same amount of touches that he used to, as he’s the first person to point out that one of the Spurs’ biggest strengths is their depth.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen on any given night, but we’re willing to go 10 deep and figure out what happens from there,” Duncan said. “We [rely] on a bunch of different guys to step up.”

Over the last two games, Duncan has contributed 43 points, 25 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and four blocks, while shooting 61.5 percent from the field. When asked about Duncan’s excellent production recently, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said what everyone was thinking.

“I thought Duncan was terrific… He’s Tim Duncan,” Rivers said.

We have come to expect these monster stat lines and impressive playoff victories from Duncan, even at 39 years old, because he has been consistently great for nearly two decades now. And somehow, even with so many NBA miles on his body, he shows no signs of slowing down.

Father Time is undefeated, but Duncan is giving him a hell of a fight.

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 Daily: Five Storylines to Watch Down the Stretch

Shane Rhodes breaks down five storylines to keep an eye on as we approach the postseason.

Shane Rhodes

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The NBA was as active as ever prior to All-Star Break. Multiple trades (some of the blockbuster variety) were made as Anthony Davis rumors swirled, players butted heads with the media, and buyouts were made. There was news abound.

And there should be even more to come with teams prepped for the stretch run.

The last push toward the postseason has always been a tense one, for teams in and teams out alike. But what could be the biggest stories as we head into the last weeks of the regular season?

The Eastern Conference Arms Race

The battle for Eastern Conference supremacy has shown to be a hard fought one.

With LeBron James gone, there has been power-vacuum in the East, with multiple teams vying for the spot of best in the Conference. The Milwaukee Bucks have had the upper hand for much of the season – and should be considered the favorite to end the regular season in the top spot – but just 7.5 games separate them from the fifth-seed Boston Celtics, with the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers sandwiched in between.

While the NBA as a whole may seem cut and dry – the Golden State Warriors and everyone else – the East is not so simple. The Bucks, Celtics, Pacers, Raptors and 76ers all have talented rosters, but there is, effectively a deadlock between them. No one roster in this group is significantly more talented than another and no one team has shown that they can get the better of the other four on a consistent basis; every game between them has been competitive, and that should only reach another level as they square off against for the right to go to the NBA Finals.

Aside from the postseason positioning, the stretch-run for these individual teams could prove crucial to their offseason. Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are all expected to hit the market and, if their respective teams fade, the chances of retaining their services may fade as well.

The Competitive Postseason Bubble

There are a number of teams, both Eastern and Western Conference, that have found themselves on the post-break postseason bubble.

In the East, just five games separate the sixth-seed Brooklyn Nets and the 11-seed Washington Wizards. While it may not be the cream of the crop going at it every night, these last few games will almost certainly be more competitive as players watch the standings and teams look to make up ground and push their seasons onward through April.

Out West, it’s more of the same.

Just four games separate the fifth-seed Houston Rockets and the 10-seed Los Angeles Lakers. Likewise, an uptick in competitive energy should be expected. However, there may be a bit more fireworks out West, as the Sacramento Kings, who have surprised everyone this season, look for their first postseason-berth since 2006. Meanwhile, the Lakers, in their first season with James, may miss the postseason altogether after they were pegged as a near-lock before the season.

The Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers all present their own interesting scenarios as well.

Regardless of the final outcome in either Conference, expect an exciting, if not frantic, end to the regular season.

The Three-Man Race for the MVP

Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Paul George have each put forth superhuman effort this season. In a neck-and-neck race for the Most Valuable Player award, these three have proven to be invaluable to their respective teams and shown on a nightly basis that they belong among the NBA elite.

But, only one of them can win the award. So, who will take home the hardware?

Each player has made a compelling case so far; what Antetokounmpo does for the Bucks — and what he does to the box score (27.2 points, 12.7 rebounds, six assists per game) — on a nightly basis is self-explanatory; James Harden has willed the Houston Rockets into the postseason picture with some historic scoring numbers; and Paul George has shown that he is one of the best two-way players in the NBA and shouldered the load in Oklahoma City as Russell Westbrook has struggled.

As teams inch closer to the postseason, most will take the opportunity to rest their stars. If anyone of these players fades down the stretch — whether it be because of rest, fatigue or otherwise — the others could almost certainly use it to their advantage. If none of them slow down, however, the race between Antetokounmpo, Harden and George could prove one of the tightest we’ve ever seen.

The Anthony Davis Situation

The New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis are caught between a rock and a hard place.

Anthony Davis doesn’t want to continue his career in New Orleans, but he does want to continue playing this season. However, the Pelicans have the right to protect themselves from a potential Davis injury, one that could irreparably damage his trade value and New Orleans’ future. Meanwhile, the NBA will almost certainly not want Davis, a premier player, languishing on the bench.

So, where do things go from here? Well, they get pretty awkward.

The Pelicans, Davis and the NBA need to come together in agreement on the best path forward for all parties involved and, with a handful of games remaining, they don’t have long to do so. At the very least, expect Davis to play far fewer minutes than he is accustomed to as the Pelicans look to minimize any and all injury risks.

The Battle for Zion

Not every team has the chance to make the postseason. But, with a generational talent like Zion Williamson on the line, not every team wants to make the postseason this year.

The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have wallowed near the bottom of the NBA barrel for the entire season, all with their eyes fixed on Tuesday, May 14: the NBA Draft Lottery. While the NBA instituted a new lottery system to discourage tanking — the bottom three teams share the best chance at the top pick — it hasn’t stopped these teams from losing as many games as possible in a bid to make Williamson the first player off the board in the 2019 NBA Draft.

In a weird, backward way, it could be fun to watch these five teams “compete” for the bottom three spots and, eventually, the rights to Williamson.

As we inch closer to the postseason, don’t expect the NBA to wind down. While it may not seem as eventful trade season, these last few weeks of the regular season have a chance to be some of the most eventful of the entire year.

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NBA Daily: Examining the Eastern Conference Contenders

Matt John takes a look at the four titans who will be fighting for the Eastern Conference crown this May.

Matt John

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The day after the trade deadline passed, LeBron James had some interesting things to say about the arms race that was going down between the Eastern Conference titans.

“They know they ain’t gotta go through Cleveland anymore,” James said. “Everybody in the East thinks they can get to the Finals because they ain’t gotta go through me.”

It’s notable that the Lakers are currently toeing the line between making the playoffs and playing the lottery odds. That does, however, beg the question: What if LeBron stayed in Cleveland?

Now if that had happened, then a lot of things would probably be different for the Cavaliers right now. There’s no telling if they would have kept the pick the Nets owed them, or if they would be playing Kyle Korver, George Hill, and J.R. Smith right now.

It would have added another intriguing wrinkle to what has been the tightest formerly-five-currently-four-man race going on at the top of the Eastern Conference in quite some time. Whether you agree that Cleveland would still be the frontrunner in the East with James, there doesn’t really appear to be a clear-cut favorite to represent the East anymore. Plenty of fans and analysts would give their takes on who stands out among the pack, but there’s no consensus pick.

In a sense, LeBron’s kind of right. He was a tyrant – or a “King” if you will – that set the bar year-in and year-out for the past decade. It gave his rivals motivation to play at one hundred percent, though it made the East a little predictable. With LeBron gone, the suspense as to who will take his throne makes it all the more fun.

The season is now coming down the home stretch. With less than 25 games left, Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston will fight tooth and nail to get home court advantage over each other. Who has the edge? Well, let’s take a look.

Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 44-14
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .465 (27th overall)
Record against competitors: 5-2

They finally did it. After years of looking as incredible as they were inconsistent, the Bucks have hit a breakthrough. It turns out all they needed was to put the right personnel around the Greek Freak (i.e. floor spacers and impact defenders). Oh, and a coach who could bring all of the notable talent together. The pieces are now fitting into place for the Bucks. Giannis is now going full-throttle with a supporting cast who only make Milwaukee all the harder to stop. Their league-leading point differential (9.6) tops the league by a fair margin, which indicates that this may not only be a fluke but the first sign of the glorious future we all believed the Bucks had.

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo – If it weren’t for James Harden putting up legendary numbers, Giannis would be the frontrunner for MVP. So much has been said about him that there’s not much to be added, so let’s leave it at this. Many have said if he starts hitting threes, he’ll be unstoppable. When you see his dominance in the paint – he’s shooting 77.3 percent in the paint – it makes you wonder if he really has to.
X-Factor: Eric Bledsoe – He’s had a nice bounce-back after a rocky half-season in Milwaukee. The record still stands that he was outplayed by Terry Rozier in his first playoff action as a starter. If the Bucks are to maintain their success in the postseason, Bledsoe must avoid a repeat performance from last postseason.
Unsung Hero: Malcolm Brogdon – People can scoff all they want at Brogdon’s Rookie of the Year Award. The fact is, the Bucks absolutely need him. They are +7.1 with him on the court, good for second behind, well, who do you think?
Pivotal Question: Will the supporting cast (including Coach Bud) keep it up in the playoffs?

Toronto Raptors
Record: 43-16
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .450 (30th overall)
Record against competitors: 6-5

Do you know what’s odd about the Raptors? Going by net rating, they’ve actually taken a step back this season. Last season, the Raptors had the second best offensive rating (113.8) and the fifth best defensive rating (105.9). This season, they have the seventh-best offensive rating (113) and the eighth best defensive rating (107.4). Yet somehow, the genuine belief is that this is the best team they’ve ever assembled. With Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin added to the team, the Raptors have made it clear that they’re not messing around.

MVP: Kawhi Leonard – Remember when Kevin Durant implied that Kawhi was a system player for the Spurs? Maybe that’s why Kawhi wanted out because he’s proven that notion wrong. He hasn’t skipped a beat in Canada and has even averaged career-highs both in scoring and rebounding average. He’d be an MVP candidate if he hadn’t missed 16 games.
X-Factor: Kyle Lowry – If Leonard is going to be the alpha dog of this team, he needs a second-in-command. Lowry’s numbers have dipped, but he’s got the experience. He’s folded in the playoffs before. Perhaps with less pressure, he can step up his game.
Unsung Hero: Serge Ibaka – With everything else that’s gone right for Toronto, Ibaka’s full acclimation to the center position has given him new life offensively. He’s putting up some of the best scoring, rebounding, and assist averages he’s had either ever or in years.
Pivotal Question: Will Nick Nurse get the team finally past its long-lived playoff demons?

Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 38-21
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .486 (21st Overall)
Record against competitors: 1-7

We have seen three iterations of the Sixers this season. One with Dario Saric and Robert Covington, one that added Jimmy Butler, then one that added primarily Tobias Harris among others. That’s a lot of talent to integrate in such a short time. Lucky for them, by adding Butler and Harris, the Sixers have the most talented starting five in the East. The Process is now at 100 percent capacity. They may have holes, but their Warriors-esque talent level may make it so that it won’t be a problem.

MVP: Joel Embiid – At age 24, Embiid has now taken his first steps into superstardom. 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists along with 1.9 blocks is sure to Joel among the ranks of the league’s top centers. Perhaps what’s most encouraging is that, before this recent knee ailment, Embiid has only missed five games.
X-Factor: The Bench – The Sixers also loaded up the second unit by adding Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, Jonathon Simmons and James Ennis III. By doing so, they really are committing to positionless basketball. It honestly could work if they use it to the best advantage they could.
Unsung Hero: Jimmy Butler – Butler’s fit with the Sixers hasn’t been smooth, but, even with the decreased scoring numbers, Butler is quietly putting up some of the most efficient percentages he’s ever had this season, both from three and the field itself.
Pivotal Question: Will they be able to stop any elite point guards?

Boston Celtics
Record: 37-22
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .516 (10th Overall)
Record against competitors: 6-3

The Celtics are somehow a team that’s played badly enough that they’re a disappointment yet played well enough that people shouldn’t give up on them. After a mediocre start, most of the results that have come from the Celtics have been positive. That’s come with some frustrating losses, but the team has been resilient after every bad stretch they’ve had. A common characteristic of Brad Stevens teams is that they play at their best as the season approaches its end. With their guys finally getting past their injury issues, we may see more of the same in the best way yet.

MVP: Kyrie Irving – Kyrie’s chaotic free agency plans have gotten in the way of what’s been a great season for him. He’s put up his usual scoring numbers, but his passing, rebounding and defense have been the best they’ve ever been. The Celtics have proven their fine without him. They’re still better off having him on the court.
X-Factor: Gordon Hayward – It’s been reported to death by now that Hayward’s made some encouraging process in recent weeks. Let’s leave it at this – if he is 100 percent by the playoffs, that makes the Celtics so much scarier. People forget just how good Gordon Hayward was merely two years ago.
Unsung Hero: Al Horford – After the last Celtics-Sixers game, many believe Horford is going to be a matchup problem for Embiid. Correction: Horford’s skillset and IQ make him a matchup problem for everyone.
Pivotal Question: Will they find a consistent rhythm by the season’s end?

Some of you are probably going to be outraged that Indiana is not included on this list, and for good reason. They still are the third-seeded team in the East, they’ve just recently had a six-game winning streak snapped, and they have one of the league’s best defenses.

With all due respect, it’s pretty simple. No Victor Oladipo, no contest. The Pacers are still one of the most well-liked and well-rounded teams in the league. It doesn’t change the fact that in the playoffs, having star power gives a huge advantage. Without Oladipo, Indiana is completely deprived of it.

If it’s any comfort, with a fully healthy Oladipo next season, they are more than worthy of being put with this group.

Here’s to hoping that by next year, this group will stay the same when he does.

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NBA Daily: Are The Kings Destined For The Playoffs?

As the season starts up again after the All-Star Break, Jordan Hicks looks into the Sacramento Kings and what it will take for them to end their playoff drought.

Jordan Hicks

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Sacramento Kings fans should be incredibly happy regardless of how this season ends.

For the first time in what seems like forever they have a promising young team that is not only winning games, but maintaining a certain form of consistency doing so. With the foundation of youthful stars like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III, how can Kings faithful not be hyper-optimistic?

The Kings are geared for success over the course of the next few years, but could their time come sooner than that? Do they actually have a shot at making the playoffs this season? The trade deadline acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, two vets that can make an instant impact, make it seem like they believe their time is now.

Breaking things down, the question becomes – what actually needs to happen for the Kings to make the playoffs this season? The simple answer is to win games.

What have they been doing thus far to put more ticks in the W column? Shooting the three efficiently jumps out. They are currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent. While this number is oddly similar to last season’s percentage, they are shooting about seven more threes per game.

Sacramento is also playing incredibly quick basketball. They are second in the league in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes). Some could argue that this doesn’t always translate into a positive outcome, but for Sacramento it does. They are leading the NBA in fastbreak points at 21.7 points per game and are sixth in the league at points in the paint. Their defense is translating into offense as well, as they are second in the league at points off turnovers.

While their strengths are definitely elite, they clearly have weaknesses, too. They sit in 18th for both offensive and defensive rating, good for a -1.2 net rating. They are an abysmal 28th in free throw shooting.

Apart from Willie Cauley-Stein – who likely isn’t a major part of their future – they lack an elite rim protector. This leaves their defense prone to giving up more points in the paint. They are currently 26th in the league at opponent points in the paint. The lack of rim protection clearly correlates with their inability to grab defensive boards. They are tied for last in the league at opponent second-chance points.

One would assume that if the Kings simply tighten up their defensive focus that they would be able to close out strong and make the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West, only one-and-a-half games behind the Clippers who just traded away their best player in Tobias Harris and two-and-a-half games behind the Spurs, who are somehow putting together a strong season despite losing Kawhi Leonard via trade and Dejounte Murray to injury.

As the season gets deeper, however, the Kings won’t be the only team tightening things up for a final playoff push. Every other team will likely be doing the same thing. While the Kings are just a small shot from the playoffs, both the Lakers and Timberwolves are nipping at their heels as well.

The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder have done enough to separate themselves from the pack, to a degree at least. So that essentially leaves eight teams fighting for the remaining five slots. You can likely write off the Clippers, as they traded away their star player for future assets, and quite possibly the Timberwolves, as they may not have enough depth on their roster. This leaves the Kings and Lakers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron James likes to play in the postseason.

Sacramento has 24 games left to play this season. Their next two are at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. If they can somehow manage to squeak out one win in that stretch that will keep them above .500 and still fighting for a spot. After that stretch, 11 of their final 22 games are against teams projected to make the playoffs. Apart from two games against the Knicks, one against the Suns, and one against the Cavaliers, none of the remaining 11 games not against playoff teams will be “gimmes.”

Their final three are away against Utah, home against New Orleans and away against Portland. For sure they will be battling with two (and potentially three) of those teams for playoff positioning.

As far as the Lakers – who after their head-to-head win Thursday are a game behind Sacramento and two games out of the playoffs – their schedule isn’t much easier. 15 of their final 24 games are against projected playoff teams. That victory over Sacramento at Staples could actually end up being incredibly important for who makes the playoffs and who loses out.

Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs is anyone’s guess. If Fox and Hield play elite ball to close out the season, that will definitely increase their chances. Strong play from deadline acquisitions Burks and Barnes will also play a huge role in the Kings’ final push.

Like previously mentioned, Kings’ fans should be happy either way. This is the brightest the team’s future has been in well over a decade.

But the Kings likely won’t settle for “promising” or “up-and-coming.” They want success now, and making the playoffs will give them the reward that they’ve been working so hard for.

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