Utah Jazz Could Exceed Expectations
Entering last season, the Phoenix Suns and Charlotte Bobcats were projected to finish at the bottom of the standings. Both teams were extremely young and had first-time head coaches, so expectations were understandably low. However, Phoenix and Charlotte exceeded all projections, with the Suns winning 48 games and nearly earning the eighth seed in the competitive Western Conference and the Bobcats winning 43 games and making the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history.
The NBA can be unpredictable and there are a few of these overachieving teams every season. This year, the Utah Jazz could emerge as one of those squads that seemingly comes out of nowhere to turn heads. With a young roster and first-time head coach in Quin Synder, they have a lot in common with last year’s surprise teams.
Their talented young core includes Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood. Hayward is the oldest of the bunch at 24 years old, with all of the others currently 23 or younger. They also have several veteran contributors to round out the roster such as Trevor Booker, Steve Novak and Dahntay Jones.
Through three preseason games, Utah has been very impressive, as they are undefeated with two wins over the Portland Trail Blazers and one win over the L.A. Clippers. While it’s just the preseason, it’s how the team has been winning that’s raising some eyebrows around the league. Their average margin of victory is 12 points and they’re thriving in Snyder’s up-tempo system, which is very different from what they ran under Ty Corbin in recent years. The Jazz are feeling confident entering the 2014-15 campaign and they believe their preseason success is an early indicator that they’ll be a much better team this year.
“It’s a great start for us,” Burke said after the 3-0 start. “We played two really good teams so far and we just have to keep it up. We’ll watch film, learn from mistakes and just move forward. We’re a young team, but we have a lot of talent and we can play with some of the best teams in the league.
“It’s the preseason, but at the same time these are still games and we’re competing. Guys aren’t going out there and playing 80 percent. Every time guys step out on the court, they’re giving it their all. Although it’s preseason, we just have to continue to play the way we have and allow it to carry over to the regular season when it starts.”
Utah will continue to get better as their new additions get acclimated and the players get more comfortable in Snyder’s system, which preaches ball movement and a fast pace.
“It’s definitely something new compared to last year when we were more of a half-court team,” Favors said. “This year, we’re turning into an up-tempo team, so it’s something new and something I had to get used to. As the season goes on, we’ll all have to get used to it and build a chemistry. As the season goes on, it’ll get better. … I’m most impressed with the passing that we’re doing. Everyone is touching the ball, from the guards to the bigs. We’re looking for the open man on offense, and that’s something that’s hopefully going to carry over to the season.”
“The chemistry is growing each and every day,” Burke said. “This is a new team, with the exception of six or seven players from last year, with a whole new coaching staff so we just have to continue to find our identity. I think we’re starting to [find it]. We’re playing much faster than we were in the past and I think we’re playing to our strengths. And we trust each other out there, so the chemistry should continue to grow from here on out.”
“I like the effort, guys have been trying to do what we want them to do,” Snyder said. “We’re a little bit confused at times because there’s just so many new things. We could try to prepare for the short run or we could prepare for a process and have a foundation and that’s what we’re doing. … It’s not realistic to expect too much right now to be honest with you, but I think there’s a real focus on trying to play the way we want to play.”
Favors says that the entire team is playing unselfishly and nobody is caring about touches or statistics. As a result, Utah’s attack has been balanced, with six players averaging in double figures so far in the preseason.
“It just shows how versatile everyone is,” Favors said. “Anyone on the team can score points.”
Burke seems much more comfortable in his second year, which is an excellent sign for Utah. He’s currently the team’s leading scorer, averaging 16.6 points along with 6.3 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals. More importantly, Burke’s shooting percentages are significantly better than last year: 51.4 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range in this preseason compared to 38 percent from the field and 33 percent from three last season. This is something that Burke worked hard on over the offseason and he’s seeing results early.
Favors pointed out that Burke has seemed much more confident and that he’s making better decisions and being more aggressive through these first three games, which the point guard agreed with.
“The game slowed down for me a lot,” Burke said. “I think I’m making the right decisions and getting in the paint more. I’m just trying to make plays for my teammates.”
Last season, Utah won just 25 games, which was the worst record in the West. While it’s unrealistic to expect this young team to make the playoffs in such a ridiculously competitive conference, crazier things have happened. Around this time last year, Phoenix was being accused of tanking after trading away veterans such as Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat and Caron Butler for young players and first-round picks, and Charlotte was considered a laughingstock after losing 120 of 148 games in the previous two seasons.
While the Jazz likely won’t be a playoff squad, they should make progress this season since their young players are starting to take the next step in their development and Synder seems to be getting more out of the group and playing to their strengths. Then, a few years from now when this young group is nearing its collective prime, don’t be surprised if this team makes some serious noise.
Hawks Shopped Al Horford Last Year?
The Atlanta Hawks reportedly shopped Al Horford “in stealth mode” last season prior to his injury and may put him on the block once again, according to Zach Lowe of Grantland.
Lowe reports that the Hawks had let it be known to several teams that Horford was available for the right price, including an unprotected 2014 first-round pick, and he predicts that Horford will be shopped again this season prior to February’s trade deadline.
Last season, Horford was averaging 18.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks through 29 games when he went down with a torn pectoral muscle that ended his season.
The 28-year-old is a two-time All-Star and has proven that he’s an elite player when healthy, so teams will certainly express interest if Atlanta is fielding offers for Horford.
Mike Budenholzer is currently making the personnel decisions for the Hawks while Danny Ferry is on a leave of absence following his racist comments about Luol Deng, and Lowe says that Budenholzer is “unlikely to make any trade that represents a present-day step back.”
However, if a new owner and general manager take over and start calling the shots, Lowe says that Horford and everyone else on Atlanta’s roster could be up for grabs, especially if they are once again just a middle of the pack team.
Last season, with Horford sidelined, the Hawks managed to win 38 games and take the Indiana Pacers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
NBA Experimenting With 44-Minute Game
The NBA announced today that it will play a 44-minute game during the 2014 NBA preseason when the Brooklyn Nets host the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on Oct. 19. The league is utilizing the preseason contest to examine the flow of a shorter game as compared to the standard 48-minute game.
“At our recent coaches’ meeting, we had a discussion about the length of our games, and it was suggested that we consider experimenting with a shorter format,” NBA President, Basketball Operations Rod Thorn said. “After consulting with our Competition Committee, we agreed to allow the Nets and Celtics to play a 44-minute preseason game in order to give us some preliminary data that will help us to further analyze game-time lengths.”
Application of the experimental 44-minute game will involve quarters being reduced from their typical 12 minutes each to 11 and a reduction in mandatory timeouts in the second and fourth quarters. During this 44-minute game, each quarter will feature two mandatory timeouts per quarter, with the first triggered at the first dead ball under 6:59 of the period if neither team has taken a timeout prior, and the second mandatory timeout will be triggered by the first dead ball under 2:59 if neither team has taken a timeout subsequent to the first mandatory timeout. In the NBA’s 48-minute game, the second and fourth quarters have three mandatory timeouts.
“When this idea came up at the coaches’ meeting, I thought it was a unique experiment that was worth participating in,” Nets head coach Lionel Hollins said. “I’m looking forward to gauging its impact on the flow of the game. Since there is a shorter clock, it affects playing time, so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays into substitution patterns.”
“I appreciate the NBA’s long history of forward thinking and willingness to try new ideas,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “We told the NBA that we’d be happy to participate in this trial during a preseason game. I look forward to experiencing it and continuing the dialogue after October 19.”
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”
NBA Daily: 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 3/20/18
With most of the major NBA draft prospects eliminated from March Madness, things in the mock draft world are starting to get interesting.
A Lot of Mock Movement
With the race to the bottom in full swing in the NBA and the field of 64 in college basketball whittled down to a very sweet sixteen, there has been considerable talk in NBA circles about the impending 2018 NBA Draft class. There seems to be a more consistent view of the top 15 to 20 prospects, but there still seems to be a lack of a firm pecking order. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton seems like to the prohibitive favorite to go number one overall, but its far from a lock.
It’s important to note that these weekly Mock Draft will start to take on more of a “team driven” shape as we get closer to the mid-May NBA Combine in Chicago and more importantly once the draft order gets set. Until then, we’ll continue to drop our views of the draft class each Tuesday, until we reach May when we’ll drop the weekly Consensus Mock drafts, giving you four different views of the draft all the way to the final decisions in late June.
Here is this week’s Mock Draft:
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.
The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections and based on the standings today would convey to Philadelphia.
The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick is top-five protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
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NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future
Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.
On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.
Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.
Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with the season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.
“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”
Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.
“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”
Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.
“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.
While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.
“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.
Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.
There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.
“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”
Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.
“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”
Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.
“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.
Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.
“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.
When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.