What aspects of their game are the 2014 NBA Draft prospects working on? Basketball Insiders asked them.
Whose Draft Stock is On the Rise?
The 2014 NBA Draft is one week away, which means teams are starting to zero in on players and prospects are starting to climb based on their performance in the pre-draft process. Here is a look at eight prospects whose stock is on the rise:
Doug McDermott – McDermott is the biggest name on this list and even though he entered the pre-draft process ranked relatively high, his stock is still soaring and it’s very possible that he’ll be picked in the top eight on June 26.
Initially, McDermott was expected to be a mid-to-late first rounder, which wasn’t bad for him considering he’ll be 23 years old in January and there were some questions about the level of competition he dominated against at Creighton.
However, there’s a bit of a love fest going on over McDermott. This started at the NBA combine in Chicago, when McDermott came off incredibly well in interviews. One executive who interviewed McDermott in Chicago said that he and his fellow front office staffers fell in love with the forward during their face-to-face meeting, to the point that the group cheered and high-fived when McDermott correctly answered a tough math question designed to trick players. That’s how likeable this guy is. As a coach’s son, McDermott says all of the right things and carries himself very well, which is an important part of this process.
However, he has also wowed teams on the court and surprised some talent evaluators in workouts. The guy can flat out score the ball and hit shots from anywhere on the court, so it’s no surprise that he has been able to dominate in the workout environment and embarrass some of his peers. One executive recently told me that McDermott is the best shooter to come through the draft in quite awhile. The Creighton star averaged 26.7 points per game as a senior and he never shot below 52.5 percent from the field during his collegiate career. Last season, he hit 44.9 percent of his three-point shots, a number that was actually down from his campaigns as a junior (49 percent) and sophomore (48.6 percent). Not to mention, he’s also a solid rebounder and has an exceptional basketball IQ.
McDermott was able to put up these ridiculous numbers despite being Creighton’s lone NBA prospect. After McDermott, the next highest scorer for the Bluejays was Ethan Wragge, who averaged just 10.4 points. Executives believe that McDermott will be even more of a threat in the NBA since he’ll be surrounded by NBA-caliber players and defenses won’t be throwing the kitchen sink at him.
There’s no question that McDermott’s defense is a concern, but he has vowed to work hard on that end of the floor to improve. As previously mentioned, his age is also a bit scary. How much more room for improvement does he really have? And does it make sense to pick him over one-and-done prospects like Aaron Gordon or Noah Vonleh, both of whom are four years younger than McDermott?
McDermott has been mentioned as a serious option for the Sacramento Kings at No. 8, Charlotte Hornets at No. 9 and Philadelphia 76ers at No. 10. It’s hard to imagine him slipping out of the lottery at this point, and there’s also the possibility that a team will trade up to land McDermott on draft night.
Elfrid Payton – The biggest climber in recent weeks has been Payton, who is now drawing interest from several teams in the teens and even getting serious looks from lottery teams.
Entering his junior season at Louisiana-Lafayette, he was being projected as a second-rounder. After a dominant campaign in which he averaged 19.2 points, six rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals while leading ULL to the NCAA Tournament, he was being projected as a late first-round pick. Now, after dominating pre-draft workouts, it’s unlikely that he drops past the Boston Celtics at No. 17 (as a number of people around the NBA have said that this is his floor).
Payton has had the chance to work out against some of the other top point guard prospects in this draft class, including Marcus Smart and Tyler Ennis among others, and he has done a fantastic job. Entering this process, there were some questions about how he would fare against NBA-level competition, since he didn’t face the toughest opposition in college. However, his workouts have erased that concern and now the only question surrounding Payton is just how high will he go on June 26?
After seeing him destroy his peers in workouts, many teams went back to the film to see what they missed on Payton throughout the season. They were reminded that he was one of the best players in the nation last year, ranking 11th in the country in field goals (237), 11th in assists (208), ninth in steals (80) and sixth in points produced (732). His lockdown defense also earned him the Lefty Driesell Award, which is given to college basketball’s top defensive player.
His shot needs some work, but there is just so much to like about Payton. He has the size (6’4), length (6’8 wingspan) and quickness to cause problems in the NBA, and these traits have led to some comparisons to Rajon Rondo (whom Payton says he studies and models his game after). Payton can run the pick-and-roll and facilitate for teammates, and his swarming defense will make his NBA head coach fall in love with him.
Payton is also incredibly tough, which isn’t a surprise when you consider that his father, Elfrid Payton Sr., was a star defensive end in the Canadian Football League, playing from 1991 to 2004 and making seven All-Star appearances throughout his career. He was a two-time Grey Cup champion and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Several destinations for Payton include No. 8 to the Sacramento Kings (or slightly below that to the Kings if they trade down), No. 12 to the Orlando Magic, No. 16 to the Chicago Bulls or No. 17 to the aforementioned Celtics.
Rodney Hood – Entering the pre-draft process, Hood was being projected in the 20-25 range, but he has really helped in his draft stock lately. Now, it seems that Hood could go in the late lottery or mid-teens.
Hood has a lot of fans around the NBA, and it’s hard to imagine him falling past the Chicago Bulls at No. 16 given their need for scoring and three-point shooting.
The former Duke forward is automatic shooting the ball from just about anywhere on the court. He has really impressed teams in workouts with his scoring ability, and teams like that his excellent shooting ability is an obvious translatable skill that will help his transition to the league.
Even though Hood’s shooting is his biggest strength, he’s determined to show teams that he’s much more than just a shooter. He’s an efficient scorer with a high basketball IQ, and he has been working hard to improve his ballhandling and finishing at the rim so he can be a more well-rounded scorer. He has also been spending a lot of time in the weight room to bulk up and add some strength to his lanky frame. Hood also believes he’s better defensively than advertised, and throughout this process he has pointed out that he was often tasked with guarding the opponent’s best player on most nights for Duke.
Teams also love Hood’s work ethic and desire to be great. He has been very committed to the pre-draft process, doing two-a-days in the gym at IMG Academy. He has also changed his diet to follow a professional nutrition plan while doing vision training, swimming drills, weightlifting, drills on the IMG football field and more to prepare for the NBA, which proves how serious he is about getting better.
Hood will turn 22 years old in October, which is likely the only reason he isn’t being mentioned as a top-10 pick. Some teams may feel that he doesn’t have the upside of a younger prospect. However, Hood does have a lot of supporters around the NBA and he seems poised to have a long, successful career.
T.J. Warren – If you read a lot of mock drafts, you’ve probably noticed that Warren keeps climbing higher and higher with every new version that comes out.
Initially, he was being projected as a late-first round pick – an attractive prospect for a win-now team like the Houston Rockets, Miami HEAT or Oklahoma City Thunder. Now, you’re starting to see Warren projected to go just outside of the lottery, with teams like the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns being mentioned as possible landing spots for Warren.
One executive whose team is picking in the late-20s recently told me that they would select Warren in a heartbeat if he fell to them, but that there’s “no way” he’ll be available when they’re on the clock.
Warren is one of the best scorers in the draft, as last season he averaged 24.9 points and led the nation in field goals made (342). He was also one of the most efficient players in the country, finishing with a 31.3 PER that was the second-highest among the draft’s top 100 prospects (behind only Doug McDermott).
Warren scores most of his baskets on two-point jumpers, which is somewhat rare these days since most scorers knock down threes, finish at the rim or get to the foul line. But there’s no question that Warren is extremely skilled and has a great feel for the game. He’s expected to go in the middle of the first round, which is much higher than previously anticipated.
Zach LaVine – It’s easy to see why LaVine’s stock is up. The pre-draft environment is perfect for an athletic freak like LaVine, who can wow teams with his vertical leap and quickness. Teams see his athletic testing (including his 46-inch vertical leap) and wonder just how good he could become in an NBA development program.
Sure, he’s extremely raw and needs a lot of work, but he has certain things that you just can’t teach that are attractive to teams. A team can likely help LaVine improve his jump shot and ballhandling, but they can’t help a more skilled prospect become an athletic specimen who jumps out of the gym.
That’s why LaVine is getting so many looks right now; the draft is all about potential and most teams select players based on who they can become a few years down the road versus who they are now.
In college, LaVine played well in the beginning of the season at UCLA, but came down to earth in a big way late in the year. He isn’t a good shooter, which is a concern, and his assist rate leaves a lot to be desired. There are also concerns about his ability to play point guard in the NBA, since he’s more a combo guard who would need to learn the position and really improve his skills as a floor general.
He’s only 19 years old and teams are excited about his upside, since he has all of the physical tools to be a very solid player in the NBA. The question is, as a boom-or-bust prospect, how high will he go on draft night? He’s someone who makes sense in the 15-20 range, since he’s a low-risk, high-reward pick there and a team can afford to be patient with him as he develops rather than expecting results from day one.
Jarnell Stokes – If you watched this year’s NCAA Tournament, there’s a good chance you know about Stokes. He was the monster for Tennessee who looked like a man among boys and consistently racked up double-doubles. Now, he’s performing similarly well in pre-draft workouts and seems to be solidifying himself as a first-round pick.
For much of the college season, Stokes was being projected as a second-rounder because teams worried that he was a bit undersized as a power forward and they weren’t sure if his skills would translate to the NBA. However, as teams have gotten a chance to see Stokes up close in workouts, they are confident that he can continue to be an interior force at the next level.
Stokes is 6’8.5 with a 7’1.25 wingspan, but it’s his mass and strength that separates him from a lot of big men. He weighs 263 lbs. and is incredibly strong, as evidenced by his 22 bench-press reps at the combine, where the all-time record is 27 reps.
His lower-body strength is ridiculous and his legs literally look like tree trunks, allowing him to move and overpower players who are bigger than him. What’s even more impressive is that Stokes says he had never really done squats until beginning his pre-draft training, which means he should be able to get even stronger once he enters an NBA development program.
Stokes is an excellent scorer and a beast on the offensive glass. He’s also young for a junior at 20 years old. Stokes has been on the NBA radar for quite awhile, since he was one of the top high school players in the 2011 class. This season at Tennessee, he averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds while shooting 53.1 percent from the field. Several years ago, he wanted to become more of perimeter player and modeled his game after Carmelo Anthony. However, he now understands that he’s at his best down low and he started studying film of Karl Malone and David West during his junior season.
Stokes is drawing interest from a number of teams in the 25-30 range, with the Miami HEAT said to really like him at No. 26. They’ve already worked him out once and are bringing him back for a second workout, which is why you’re starting to see Stokes to Miami in many mock drafts.
In a recent ESPN article by numbers guru Kevin Pelton, Stokes was rated the 12th-best prospect in terms of wins above replacement player projection.
Also, here’s a story to give you of an idea of Stokes’ toughness and competitiveness. He was recently being driven to a workout for the Miami HEAT, when a car came out of nowhere and crashed into his vehicle. Stokes sustained a concussion, lacerations and his face was covered in blood, but he had to be talked into getting into an ambulance to go the hospital because he still wanted to make it to his draft workout. Doctors told him that he would likely need to take three-to-four weeks off, but Stokes was back working out for teams one week later after reshuffling his schedule. That’s the kind of guy that I want on my team.
Shabazz Napier – Napier’s meteoric rise obviously started during the NCAA Tournament, when he shocked the world by leading Connecticut to a championship – his second title in four years.
While his strong play during March Madness certainly helped him a lot, there were still some questions about how he would translate to the NBA given his size and age.
At 6’1 and 175 lbs. with a 6’3.25 wingspan, many talent evaluators felt that he was too small to dominate against NBA opposition like he did in college. He’s also about to turn 23 years old next month, which has teams wondering if he still has much upside, and that doesn’t look great next to teenage point guard prospects like Tyler Ennis and Zach LaVine.
However, there’s no question that Napier can play and he should be able to help an NBA team off of the bench from day one. That’s why he’s currently climbing draft boards, because the playoff teams in the 20-30 range believe he can make an immediate impact as a reserve.
Some teams like to go for the dare-to-be-great pick, selecting a project who could turn out to be a steal after a few years of development. But there are also teams that pick more conservatively and those are the teams that are showing a ton of interest in Napier.
Napier could sneak into the teens, to a team like the Chicago Bulls or Boston Celtics. If he doesn’t go that high, he’ll almost certainly get snatched up in the late first-round by a team like the Memphis Grizzlies, Miami HEAT, Charlotte Hornets (for a reunion with Kemba Walker), Los Angeles Clippers or San Antonio Spurs. Napier’s college resume is basically perfect, and some team is going to grab him in the first round.
Mitch McGary – McGary’s sophomore season at Michigan didn’t go quite as planned. After emerging as a key contributor during the Wolverines’ national championship run as a freshman, he decided to return to school and was expected to be the team’s focal point after Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. left for the NBA.
However, McGary ended up playing in just eight games as a sophomore due to a back injury and he averaged a mediocre 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds. Then, during the NCAA Tournament, McGary tested positive for marijuana, which would have led to him being suspended for all of next season, so he entered the 2014 NBA Draft despite the fact that his stock had dropped significantly.
McGary was hoping for a breakout season that propelled him into the lottery, but that obviously didn’t happen and now he’ll likely go lower than he would have had he entered the 2013 NBA Draft.
With that said, McGary’s stock has been climbing in recent weeks and a number of executives believe that the big man has a promise from a team in the 20-30 range.
McGary’s decision to skip the NBA draft combine in Chicago several weeks ago was strange, and now he is refusing to work out for a number of teams. Whenever this happens, it usually means that a player has a promise from a team in the first round, since the team will encourage the player to shut down workouts and avoid other teams to ensure that they land their guy.
A number of teams have tried very hard to get McGary in for a workout, but his camp isn’t budging, which has talent evaluators around the NBA wondering which team has made him a promise. Fringe first-round picks don’t turn down workouts unless their camp has something up their sleeve.
Executives have speculated that he could have a promise from the Los Angeles Clippers at No. 28, Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 29 or San Antonio Spurs at No. 30. These are attractive organizations (hence why McGary’s camp would agree to shut down workouts) and each of these teams could use a skilled big man who’s capable of contributing right away. These teams likely view McGary as a great value pick late in the first round, considering he was being discussed as a potential lottery pick one year ago before the injury and suspension significantly hurt his stock.
Check Out Basketball Insiders’ Latest Mock Draft
Every week until the 2014 NBA Draft, Basketball Insiders’ draft experts are putting out their “Consensus Mock Draft” as well as a draft notebook discussing their selections.
A Few Good Free Agents Left
David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.
The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.
A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.
For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.
Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.
He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.
Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.
Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.
He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.
The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.
He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.
The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.
During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.
With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.
With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.
“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”
Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.
“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”
In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.
“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.
“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”
One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.
“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”
Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.
“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”
The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.
“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”
With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.
NBA Opening Night Storylines
Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.
The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.
Rejoice, hoop heads.
Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.
With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.
As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?
Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.
Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.
And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.
The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.
But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.
While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.
By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.
Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.
Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.
Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.
And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.
Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.
This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?
Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.
Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.
While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.
Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?
After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.
“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”
It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.
That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.
Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.
With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.