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NBA PM: Undrafted Players Earning Final Roster Spots

Cody Taylor looks at some of the undrafted players who fought their way onto an Opening Night roster.

Cody Taylor

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By now, NBA teams have made the necessary roster cuts to bring their respective rosters to the maximum 15 spots. Teams had until 5 p.m. EST today to get their rosters finalized for Opening Night, which is tomorrow. While teams were required to have no more than 15 players on their team, some teams opted to head into the season with 14 players.

The past several weeks were very crucial for players on non-guaranteed contracts trying to earn their way onto rosters. They had to battle through practices and preseason games hoping to catch the eye of the coaching staff. Many of these players on non-guaranteed deals were guaranteed virtually nothing to come into camp, while some did earn partially-guaranteed contracts.

As roster battles began to heat up over the past few weeks, some players that ultimately earned a spot on final rosters previously went undrafted. We’ve seen in recent years the number of undrafted players that catch on with teams increase due to other opportunities to first develop in the D-League or even overseas.

With so many undrafted players beginning to catch on, we decided to take a look at some notable names who earned rosters spots that previously went undrafted. Some of these players went undrafted in June’s draft, while others went undrafted in previous drafts. These players highlighted are coming into this season set to make their NBA debuts.

Rodney McGruder, Miami HEAT:

McGruder’s journey to make the final roster for the HEAT really just goes to show how hard he’s worked to get to this point. The former Kansas State guard went undrafted in 2013 and has since played in the D-League and overseas. He spent this past season with the HEAT’s D-League team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

McGruder was signed to a non-guaranteed contract over the summer. He averaged 7.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists in eight preseason games. The offense became a priority for the HEAT and they opted to keep McGruder since he shot 35 percent from three-point range. In order to make room for McGruder, the HEAT waived veteran Beno Udrih, who was on a guaranteed deal.

Troy Williams, Memphis Grizzlies:

It was reported over the weekend that former Indiana forward Troy Williams will make the Grizzlies’ final roster. Williams made a name for himself this preseason as he proved to be one of the best players on the team so far. In six games, Williams averaged 13.2 points, four rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. His 13.2 points led all rookies in scoring.

Perhaps one of the best areas of his game Williams put on display was his shooting. He shot 52.1 percent from the field, including 42.1 percent from three-point range. In addition, he recorded the best plus/minus on the team at 9.7. New Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale is known for his work developing players, and Williams could be his latest project.

Bryn Forbes, San Antonio Spurs:

Playing in limited minutes this preseason, Forbes was able to make an impression on the Spurs to lock down the final roster spot. In six games, he averaged 9.5 points in 15.2 minutes per game, while shooting 58.8 percent (10-of-17) from three-point range. His 9.5 points per game ranked 10th among all rookies in the preseason.

Forbes recorded his best game in the Spurs’ preseason finale against the Houston Rockets, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. Forbes has made a name for himself during his career as a knock-down shooter. He was a 43.5 percent three-point shooter in four seasons in college, including 48.1 percent his senior year at Michigan State.

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors:

While he may not see a lot of minutes once the regular season starts for the Raptors, VanVleet will serve as the team’s third point guard option behind Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph. Though he may not play a lot, his time being around veterans like Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas will be beneficial for him.

In seven games during the preseason, VanVleet averaged 8.3 points, 2.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. His best game of the preseason happened against the Argentinian basketball club San Lorenz, when he recorded 31 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Tim Quarterman, Portland Trail Blazers:

While Quarterman’s preseason stats don’t necessarily jump off of the page, the coaching staff saw enough of him in practice to keep him on the final roster. In just three games, he averaged two points and one assist per game. He appeared in the Orlando Summer League with the Charlotte Hornets and averaged 5.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.

Quarterman showed during his time at LSU that he can be an effective point guard who can get his teammates involved. He brings great length to the position and can drive to the basket and shoot from deep. His role moving forward remains to be seen with Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Shabazz Napier all capable of handling point guard duties and ahead of him on the depth chart.

Dorian Finney-Smith, Dallas Mavericks:

For Finney-Smith, it was his length and athleticism that ultimately helped him earn a spot with the Mavericks. It also doesn’t hurt that his head coach compared him to Al-Farouq Aminu in terms of his size and ability on defense.

The former Florida Gators forward didn’t put up big numbers during the preseason, but showed at times that he can be a solid defender in certain situations. With so many other scoring options ahead of him on the roster, he’ll be a player the team can count on to make hustle plays and defend for 10-15 minutes a night.

Honorable Mention:

Ron Baker, New York Knicks:

Baker joins VanVleet as a former undrafted player out of Wichita State that will earn an NBA roster spot. He’s shown flashes during the preseason that makes the Knicks keeping him around seem like a good decision. It seems likely he could see time throughout the season with the Knicks’ D-League affiliate, the Westchester Knicks. In addition to Baker, the Knicks will keep undrafted players Marshall Plumlee and Maurice Ndour as well.

Sheldon McClellan, Washington Wizards:

The former University of Miami product was projected to be a late-second-round pick, but ultimately didn’t hear his name called on draft night. During the preseason, McClellan proved to be a solid option off of the bench for the Wizards and turned in his best outing after he dropped 20 points, four assists and three rebounds in his second game. The Wizards are also keeping undrafted players Danuel House and Daniel Ochefu.

Kyle Wiltjer, Houston Rockets:

It appears as though Wiltjer has locked up one of the Rockets’ roster spots heading into Opening Night. The former Gonzaga power forward grabbed the last roster spot as it was reported Monday that the Rockets waived Pablo Prigioni, Gary Payton II, P.J. Hairston and LeBryan Nash. Wiltjer averaged 8.3 points in six preseason outings for the Rockets, while also shooting 41.7 percent from three-point range.

*****

While these players worked hard to get to this point, most of them will probably say the hardest part of the process will be staying on the roster. For the time being, these players can take pride in the fact that they transformed themselves as undrafted players to guys that will officially be on an NBA roster.

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Updating the Buyout Market: Who Could Still Become Available?

Shanes Rhodes examines the buyout market to see which players could soon be joining playoff contenders.

Shane Rhodes

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While it may not be as exciting as the NBA Trade Deadline, another important date is approaching for NBA teams: the Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

March 1 is the final day players can be bought out or waived and still be eligible to play in the postseason should they sign with another team. As teams continue to fine-tune their rosters, plenty of eyes will be on the waiver wire and buyout market looking for players that can make an impact.

So who could still become available?

Joakim Noah, New York Knicks

This seems almost too obvious.

The relationship between Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks hasn’t been a pleasant one. Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016, has done next to nothing this season after an underwhelming debut season in New York and has averaged just 5.7 minutes per game.

After an altercation between himself and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek at practice, Noah isn’t expected to return to the team. At this point, the best thing for both sides seems likely a clean break; there is no reason to keep that cloud over the Knicks locker room for the remainder of the season.

Noah may not help a playoff contender, but he should certainly be available come the end of the season.

Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

Arron Afflalo isn’t the player he once was. But he can still help any contender in need of some shooting.

Afflalo is averaging a career-low 12.9 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic this season. He is playing for just over $2 million so a buyout wouldn’t be hard to come by if he went asking and he can still shoot the basketball. A career 38.6 percent shooter from long distance, Afflalo can certainly get it done beyond the arc for a team looking to add some shooting or some depth on the wing. He doesn’t add the perimeter defense he could earlier in his career, but he could contribute in certain situations.

Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings

Vince Carter was signed by the Sacramento Kings last offseason to play limited minutes off the bench while providing a mentor for the Sacramento Kings up-and-coming players. And Carter may very well enjoy that role.

But, to a degree, the old man can still ball — certainly enough to help a contender.

Carter is 41-years-old, there is no getting around his age, but he can still provide some solid minutes off the bench. Playing 17.1 minutes per night across 38 games this season, Carter has averaged five points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range. Combining all of that with his playoff experience and the quality of leadership he brings to the table, Carter may be an ideal addition for a contender looking to make a deep playoff run.

Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings

Like Carter, Zach Randolph was brought in by the Kings to contribute solid minutes off the bench while also filling in as a mentor to the young roster. Unlike Carter, however, Randolph has played much of the season in a starting role — something that is likely to change as the season winds down.

Randolph has averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.6 minutes per game; quality numbers that any team would be happy to take on. But, in the midst of a rebuild, the Kings should not be taking minutes away from Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and (eventually) Harry Giles in order to keep Randolph on the floor.

As he proved last season, Randolph can excel in a sixth-man role and would likely occupy a top bench spot with a team looking to add rebounding, scoring or just a big to their rotation down the stretch.

Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks

Wesley Matthews remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He provides positional versatility on the floor and is a solid player on both sides of the ball.

So, with Mark Cuban all but saying the Mavericks will not be trying to win for the remainder of the season, Matthews is likely poised for a minutes dip and seems like an obvious buyout candidate. Matthews, who has a player option for next season, has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals this season across 34.1 minutes per game this season.

If Cuban is true to his word, both parties would be better served parting ways; the Mavericks can attempt to lose as many games as possible while Matthews can latch on to a team looking to win a title. It’s a win-win.

Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers

Isaiah Thomas’ three-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break looked much like his short tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers: up-and-down. Thomas shined in his Laker debut, putting up 25 points and six assists in just over 30 minutes.

He then followed that up with three points and two assists, and seven points along with five assists in his second and third games with the team, respectively.

Thomas needs time to get himself right before he can start playing his best basketball. Re-establishing his value is likely his top priority.

But will he be willing to come off the bench for a team that won’t be making the postseason?

With Lonzo Ball close to returning, Thomas will likely move to the Laker bench. Adamant in recent years that he is a starting guard in the NBA, Thomas may be more inclined to take on that role for a team poised to make a deep playoff run — there is no shortage of teams that would be willing to add Thomas’ potential scoring prowess while simultaneously setting himself up for a contract and, potentially, a starting role somewhere next season.

Other Names to Look Out For: Channing Frye, Shabazz Muhammed, Kosta Koufos

There are still plenty of players that can make an impact for playoff-bound teams should they reach a buyout with their current squads. And, as the Postseason Eligibility Waiver Deadline approaches, plenty of teams out of the running will move quickly in order to provide their guys an opportunity to find their way to a contender.

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NBA Daily: Eric Gordon, The Houston Rockets’ Ex-Factor

James Harden and Chris Paul are stars that have faltered in the playoffs. Eric Gordon could be their ex-factor

Lang Greene

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The 2017-18 Houston Rockets are shaping up to be one of the league’s best regular-season teams over the past decade. The squad features a fan-friendly and fun to watch style, two legitimate superstar talents and a seemingly well-rounded contingent of role players willing to do whatever it takes to help the team get to the next level.

But as strong of a force as the Rockets appear to be developing into, there are still major question marks about how this team will perform in the playoffs when the game gets tighter, bench rotations are reduced and the spotlight glares the brightest.

All-Star guard James Harden has played in 88 career playoff games over the course of his career – 45 with the Rockets where he’s averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The statistics look good in the aggregate, however, Harden has noticeably faded down the stretch during pivotal playoff moments in the team’s recent runs. The most recent example being Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs where Harden finished with just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor.

The Rockets other superstar, Chris Paul, has never reached the Western Conference Finals in a career dating back to the 2005-06 season. Paul’s most memorable playoff collapse came when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. His team surrendered a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals to the Harden’s Rockets back in 2015.

While there are undoubtedly questions at the top, their bench unit is anchored by 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, once considered one of the rising shooting guards in the league while he was a member of the Clippers.

Gordon, was traded as part of a package by Los Angeles to acquire Paul from New Orleans. Since then, a combination of injuries and reported frustration in New Orleans seemingly derailed Gordon from the once promising ascent and trajectory he was projected to achieve. But Gordon has gotten his career on track. Once injury prone, Gordon suited up for 75 games in 2017 and is on pace to play 73 games this season.

“It’s almost like it is consistent to be here now,” Gordon said during All-Star weekend. “It’s been great. When I’ve been healthy, I’ve always had that chance to do some good things.

When you’re winning things come easier. You’re scoring easier [and] it’s easier to come into work and play well every single practice and game.”

Gordon believes there’s something special about this Rockets team because of how quickly they have gained cohesion since training camp. Gordon is averaging 18.5 points in 32 minutes per contest on the season. The guard will play an integral role off the Rockets’ bench and will play heavy minutes in any playoff series involving the Western Conference elite teams – namely Golden State and San Antonio. In three games versus the Warriors this season, Gordon is averaging 20 points on 43 percent shooting from the field.

“We definitely have to figure things out but we just clicked so quickly and early in the season,” Gordon said. “We just knew we had a chance to maybe win it. I’d say at this point we know what we need to do and it’s all about being consistent enough on both sides of the ball for us to have a chance.”

Golden State, as defending champs, have to be respected as the better team until proven otherwise. Many do believe the Rockets have at the very least a puncher’s chance because of how they can score the ball in bunches. The Warriors, for all of their past defensive prowess, have slipped on that side of the floor this season with declining efficiency numbers. But is that slippage enough for the Rockets to gain ground or are the Warriors’ defensive struggles a combination of regular season boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.

In a seven-game playoff series, the cream rises to the top. Are the Rockets legit? Or are they a team best suited for the regular season as in seasons past? They currently lead the season series against the Warriors 2-1 and are 2-0 versus the Spurs to date. We have witnessed regular-season dominance from Paul and Harden in the past. Is this the year both guys put it all together and finally get over the hump? Time will tell and Eric Gordon figures to play a big role in determining the outcome.

The Rockets resume play on Friday versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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NBA Daily: Rich Cho Out As Charlotte Hornets GM

The Charlotte Hornets opted to not move forward with GM Rich Cho and are expected to pursue former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.

Buddy Grizzard

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The fateful moment for Rich Cho came days after he was hired as GM of the Charlotte Hornets in June of 2011. With the NBA Draft coming just nine days later, Cho started work on a three-team trade that would land Charlotte a second top-10 pick to pair with its own ninth pick, which was used to draft franchise cornerstone Kemba Walker.

In that draft, Klay Thompson went 11th to the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard 15th to the Pacers. Of the 17 players selected after Bismack Biyombo, who went to the Hornets with the seventh pick, 12 are regular contributors on current NBA rosters. The Orlando Magic are currently outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions with Biyombo on court, a rotation-worst.

Today, Hornets owner Michael Jordan announced that Cho is out as Charlotte’s GM.

“Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization,” said Jordan in a press release. “We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”

While the failure to obtain Thompson, Leonard or any of the numerous impact players in the 2011 draft will always mar Cho’s record, falling to the second pick in the 2012 NBA Draft will continue to haunt Charlotte. Despite a brutal 7-59 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, which set the record for lowest win percentage in an NBA season (.110), the New Orleans Pelicans won the right to the first overall pick and selected Anthony Davis.

The Hornets selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second pick. Although the 2012 Draft wasn’t nearly as deep as 2011’s, the Hornets still left players like Bradley Beal (third) and Andre Drummond (ninth) on the board. Either would have been an outstanding compliment to Walker, who remains with the team despite rumors of his availability leading up the the trade deadline.

“I feel like I’m going to be in Charlotte,” said Walker at his All-Star media availability. “So that’s where I’m at, that’s where I’m playing. So I never really sat and thought about any other teams.”

Walker made his second All-Star appearance after Kristaps Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

“I wish K.P. hadn’t gotten hurt,” said Walker. “Everybody hates to see guys go down, especially great players like him. But when I was able to get the call to replace him, it was a really good feeling.”

Another fateful moment in Cho’s tenure came during the 2015 NBA Draft. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Boston Celtics offered the 15th and 16th picks, a future protected first rounder from the Brooklyn Nets and a future first from either the Grizzlies or Timberwolves in exchange for the ninth pick, which Cho used to draft Frank Kaminsky.

“If it was such a no-brainer for us, why would another team want to do it,” Cho asked rhetorically in defense of the Kaminsky selection, according to Lowe.

Years later, it’s evident that the Celtics dodged a bullet when both Charlotte and the Miami HEAT rebuffed its attempts to move up and draft Justise Winslow. The latter has not panned out while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the players Boston subsequently obtained with Brooklyn’s picks, have developed into starters.

Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports reported in the first week of February that Charlotte may target former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for a high-ranking role in the organization. Kupchak, like Jordan, is a former UNC star. Kupchak would join Jordan’s UNC teammate and Charlotte assistant GM Buzz Peterson.

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