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NBA Power Rankings – 12/23/16

Even without Blake Griffin, the Clippers are surging while the Wizards appear to be finding their way.

Moke Hamilton

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We have officially arrived at the first flagpole of the NBA season – Christmas!

Based on how things have shaken out thus far, you can bet your bottom dollar that a few of your favorite NBA superstars are wishing for a few things from jolly old Saint Nicholas.

The Golden State Warriors, it would seem, are wishing for someone to challenge them and their team’s amazing efficiency and selfless basketball. Aside from turning JaVale McGee back into an NBA player, the ball sharing we have seen from the club has been beautiful.

On the other hand, the Brooklyn Nets are probably hoping that Santa brings them back their 2017 first round draft pick. That pick is heading to the Boston Celtics in a pick exchange that dates back to the trade that saw Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce get sent to Brooklyn back in 2013. And the Nets have been terrible.

The New York Knicks are wishing for Derrick Rose to stay on the court (the team is 15-9 with him in the lineup), while the Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers are hoping to rediscover the mojo that they had closer to the beginning of the season.

And us? We’re simply wishing you and your families a happy and healthy holiday season. Enjoy the Christmas Day hoops!

 



stockdown4530. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 8-21, Last Week: 26)

By virtue of the tiebreaker, the Suns have overtaken the Mavs as the worst team in the Western Conference, so congratulations are in order. The most juicy tidbit related to the Suns? Of their eight wins, only one of them came against a team that currently has a winning record, and that would be the Knicks. We do remain certain, however, that the Sun will rise in Phoenix. Just not today.


stockdown4529. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 7-21, Last Week: 27)

Now seems a fine time to remind fans of the Nets that the Boston Celtics own the right to swap first round picks with the Nets in the 2017 draft. Some scouts are calling the draft the best one over the past 10 years. So yeah.


stockup4528. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 7-21, Last Week: 29)

Sunday’s 108-107 win at the Nets gave the Sixers just their second road win of the season. Even better? Joel Embiid hung 33 points and 10 rebounds on Brook Lopez’s head. As the franchise sifts through their options as they relate to Nerlens Noel, Sixers fans can rest easy knowing that the franchise (Embiid) has arrived.


stockup4527. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 8-21, Last Week: 30)

Winners of two of their last three, the Mavs get a (temporary?) reprieve from bringing up the rear in our power rankings. The club will spend Christmas Eve in New Orleans, and we’re not sure what they’ve done to deserve such good fortune. If you live in Dallas, look at the bright side… At least the Cowboys have got a shot this season.


stockup4526. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 9-19, Last Week: 28)

Believe it or not, this past week’s wins over the Suns (Dec. 19) and Hawks (Dec. 21) marked the first time the entire season that the T-Wolves won back-to-back games. They lost a narrow decision to the Rockets back on Dec. 17, though, which means they were awfully close to carrying a four-game win streak into Christmas weekend. Perhaps Tom Thibodeau’s troops are figuring some things out.


stockdown4525. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 11-21, Last Week: 23)

It seems like so long ago the Lakers were 7-5. Amazingly, they’re just 4-16 since! They’ve lost five of the first six games on their seven-game road trip and their only win for the entire month of December came at the Sixers. The bright side? Their draft pick this season is protected for the top three picks, otherwise it goes to Philly. Can you say “conspiracy”?


stockup4524. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 10-21, Last Week: 25)

The question of the day is whether someone who is the best player on such a terrible team can be an MVP candidate. We think the answer is no, despite Anthony Davis’ 29.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.7 blocks per game. At 11 games under .500, it’s almost time to throw in the towel on this season, and maybe Alvin Gentry’s tenure in the Big Easy as well.


stockup4523. Miami Heat (Overall: 10-20, Last Week: 24)

With Pat Riley’s team entering a rebuilding phase, it came as no surprise to hear that Goran Dragic and the HEAT have decided to at least explore trade scenarios. Dragic is 30 years old and is in the prime of his career and as great as Hassan Whiteside is, he’s no Shaquille O’Neal (whose number 32 jersey was retired by the club in Thursday night’s win over the Lakers).


stockdown4522. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 12-17, Last Week: 21)

The Nuggets ruined Carmelo Anthony’s homecoming on Dec. 17, as all five starters and seven players scored double figures. Amazingly, despite being five games under .500, the Nuggets enter play on Dec. 23 in a three-way tie (with the Blazers and Kings) for eighth out West.


stockdown4521. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 13-18, Last Week: 18)

Losers of eight of their last nine, it’s fair to say that the Blazers are in the midst of a free fall. Bad went to worse with Wednesday’s 121-126 loss to the lowly Mavericks. Like the Atlanta Hawks, what began as a promising season seems to have gone up in smoke. Who would have thought they’d be battling the Kings and Nuggets for the eighth seed?


stockup4520. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 12-17, Last Week: 22)

Only the Kings could beat the Grizzlies, Blazers and Jazz but lose to the Mavericks. Winners of three of their past four (and beating some stellar competition in that stretch) is a sight for sore eyes, but unfortunately, these guys enter play on Dec. 23 still five games below .500. Somehow, with the struggles of the lower half of the conference, they remain in the playoff hunt, though.


stockdown4519. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 14-17, Last Week: 11)

Wednesday began a stretch for the Pistons that has the team playing six of eight games at home before embarking on a five-game road trip out West. The bad news? They began with the Grizzlies on Wednesday (a loss) and will see the Warriors, Cavs and Bucks. Anything less than 5-3 over the eight-game span spells trouble, as Stan’s team may very well find themselves five or six games under .500 by MLK Weekend.


stockup4518. Orlando Magic (Overall: 13-18, Last Week: 20)

Tuesday’s 136-130 double-overtime win at the HEAT saw four different players score at least 20 points and two others in double figures. They followed it up with a listless loss at the Knicks on Thursday, though. We questioned the wisdom of bringing the likes of Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton and even Jeff Green off the bench, but we should point out that the team is 7-8 with Payton as a reserve, so maybe coach Frank Vogel deserves the benefit of the doubt.


stockdown4517. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 13-14, Last Week: 13)

After suffering back-to-back losses at the hands of the champs, the Bucks are suddenly 3-6 over their last nine and begin Week 8 one game under .500. The bright side is that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are proving capable of flourishing together. The duo is combining for 45 points per game over their last 10 (and shooting better than 50 percent).


stocknochanges4516. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 14-15, Last Week: 16)

Since beginning the season at 9-2, the Hawks are just 5-13. Safe to say all that Dwight Howard wants for Christmas is an opportunity to test free agency again this summer. Okay, maybe it’s a tad soon for such a declaration, but we’ve run out of answers for these Hawks.


stockup4515. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 15-16, Last Week: 17)

Truth is, we’re almost out of words for the Pacers, too. Along with the Wizards, they are probably the most disappointing team in the Eastern Conference. The only pro is that over the past 10 games, Jeff Teague’s production has been trending upward: 17.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists. The con? They’re just 5-5. But we’ll try to stay positive. At least 5-5 is an improvement on their full season win percentage.


stocknochanges4514. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 14-14, Last Week: 14)

The Bulls have lost four of five, with the latest loss occurring at the hands of the Wizards on Dec. 21. We thought they’d be better than a .500 team, and of the team’s rotation players only Dwyane Wade’s production is trending upward over the past 10 games. In the words of George Karl, these guys are a bit of a conundrum.


stockup4513. Washington Wizards (Overall: 13-15, Last Week: 19)

Don’t look now, but all of a sudden, the Wiz kids are 7-3 over their last 10 games. Bradley Beal has scored 24.1 points per game over that stretch while the pass-first John Wall is scoring 26 (while dropping 9.6 assists). Everything these guys hope to be is on them, so perhaps Scotty Brooks is figuring things out in the nation’s capital.


stockdown4512. Utah Jazz (Overall: 18-12, Last Week: 8)

If the playoffs began today, the Jazz would be sixth in the conference and would be hosted by the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. Even better? We can’t say for certainty that they wouldn’t be able to push Team CP3. Utah is still first in the league in points allowed (94.9) and fourth in defensive efficiency.


stockup4511. Boston Celtics (Overall: 17-12, Last Week: 15)

Winners of four in a row, the Celts remain ahead of the Knicks out in the Atlantic, but barely. Among those wins was the Dec. 20 victory over the Grizzlies. Isaiah Thomas’ 44 points were quite impressive, but not more than his 17-for-17 shooting from the free-throw line. Despite being undersized, the little guy (on his way to another All-Star berth) isn’t afraid to mix it up. Respect due.


stockup4510. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 16-13, Last Week: 12)

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that Kemba Walker (who’s averaging a career-high 22.9 points per game) is a good player, or that Steve Clifford is a pretty good coach. The Hornets are where we expected them to be, meaning that the major question we have about these guys is whether it’s all enough to finally get Walker the All-Star nod that has eluded him.


stockup459. New York Knicks (Overall: 16-13, Last Week: 10)

Derrick Rose returned to the lineup in the Dec. 20 matchup against the Pacers and the Knicks responded with back-to-back wins. Porzingis has been great, but the team is 15-9 when Rose plays and 1-4 when he hasn’t. He’s also shooting 50 percent from the field over his last 10. Also, quick shout to Kyle O’Quinn and his 16-point, 18-rebound double-double in Thursday’s win over the Magic.


stockup458. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 17-12, Last Week: 9)

In case you’re wondering, yes, Russell Westbrook is STILL averaging a triple-double, but we would argue that none were as impressive as the Dec. 17 line against the Suns: 26 points, 22 assists and 11 rebounds. It was the first time in 18 years that a player turned in a 20-20 triple-double. Monday’s 110-108 home loss to the Hawks is one that might hurt later, but they remain in the thick of things for now.


stocknochanges457. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 19-12, Last Week: 7)

After beating the Cavs to improve to a season-high nine games over .500, the Grizzlies lost all three games in a home stand to the lowly Kings, Jazz and Celtics. Interestingly enough, Mike Conley returned before that Kings game – a full three weeks earlier than projected. The team will be better off in the long run with Conley, but for now, they are obviously experiencing growing pains. By the way, Marc Gasol is a baller.


stocknochanges456. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 20-8, Last Week: 6)

Beginning on Dec. 23, the Raptors will embark on a six-game road trip that spans Christmas and New Year’s. They’ll spend Christmas night in Portland and New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles before eventually ending the trip in San Antonio. They have a comfy lead over the Celts and Knicks in the Atlantic but need a good showing to keep pace with the Cavs.


stockdown455. Houston Rockets (Overall: 22-8, Last Week: 4)

The Rockets are 12-2 over their last 14 games with the only losses coming to the Jazz and Spurs. In that stretch, they’ve beaten the Warriors, Celtics and Thunder and did knock off the Spurs earlier this season. They’re destroying every three-point record in the books and may not NEED to be better than 16th in the league in defensive efficiency to enter the title chase. The best stat for the Rockets, though, is this: ZERO. That’s the amount of TOTAL games missed by James Harden, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.


stockdown454. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 21-6, Last Week: 3)

That three-game losing streak seems like a distant memory now, huh? The Cavs won eight of nine since then, but will have to make due with a limited Kevin Love and without J.R. Smith (for a while). So long as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson are available, though, no other team out East can touch the Cavs. Our only regret is that the club won’t be 100 percent healthy for the Christmas Day battle with the Dubs. But we’ll still be watching.


stockdown453. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 23-6, Last Week: 2)

The Spurs couldn’t get to 16-1 on the road. Thursday night’s 106-101 loss as the Clippers ended the club’s five-game win streak and also gave them their second road loss of the season. It’s amazing that they own the second-best record in the league despite playing 17 of their 29 games on the road.


stockup452. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 22-8, Last Week: 5)

At a certain point, one has to begin to wonder whether Blake Griffin will ever be able stay healthy for an entire season. The Clips have won six of seven, with the last win catapulting them back in second, considering they beat the Spurs without Blake. Still, they’ll never be better than third best without him. He’s missed 47 games last year and 15 games the year prior, so we’re watching closely. Fortunately, the Clips have a deep enough team to hold the fort until his return in three to six weeks.


stocknochanges451. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 26-4, Last Week: 1)

It took a whole half of lazy basketball for the Warriors to decide to actually try against the Nets on Thursday night. Despite trailing by 16 at the half, the Dubs won the second half 68-36 and won by 16. They’re on pace to win 71 games and quietly are seeing magnificent shot distribution. Durant (16.9) is averaging the fewest shot attempts of he, Klay Thompsn (17.4) and Stephen Curry (17.0), but is averaging the most points (25.7). Not even General Petraeus could stop these guys.

 



As we head in 2017 and into the All-Star break, it will be interesting to see whether your favorite team can improve their stock of continue their dominance. Check back next week for the final power rankings of 2016.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Justin Bibbs Gets First NBA Opportunity In L.A.

Justin Bibbs spoke to Basketball Insiders about joining an NBA team after going undrafted, playing in the G League, his developing skill set and more.

David Yapkowitz

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One of the best moments in the life of an aspiring pro basketball player is to receive the news that an NBA team wants to sign them.

For Justin Bibbs, that dream became a reality of his when the Los Angeles Clippers called him up to the team on a 10-day contract last week. The former Virginia Tech guard went undrafted last summer and was spending his first professional season in the G League with Maine Red Claws, the affiliate of the Boston Celtics.

This past Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets was actually his first day being around the team as they had immediately assigned him to the Agua Caliente Clippers after signing him.

“To be honest, I still don’t have words for it. It’s kind of indescribable,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I always wanted to be on this level, but now that I’m here I just trying to take in every second of it, just relax and let God do his thing.”

Bibbs had a decent showing with the Celtics in summer league, leading to him being added to their training camp roster. He was ultimately cut and joined the Maine Red Claws as an affiliate player. Each NBA team is allowed to assign up to four players to their G League affiliate, players who were in training camp and are guaranteed a G League roster spot.

Affiliate players, however, are still considered ‘free agents’ in that they can sign with any NBA team. Bibbs played in 44 games with the Red Claws and averaged 11.8 points per game, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

At Virginia Tech, he was a knockdown outside shooter (42.4 percent) and a strong defender. He has good size for a guard at 6-foot-5 and 225-pounds. It’s those qualities that he’s hoping to bring to the Clippers should he get the chance on the court.

“I always bring energy defensively and I just play my game. On offense, I bring shooting,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s whatever the coach tells me to do and basically just playing the right way.”

Although Bibbs has reached his goal of the NBA, he’s in a different situation than the rest of his Clippers teammates. They’re all secured with guaranteed contracts. Bibbs has ten days to prove himself to team brass, ten days to show he’s worth keeping around a bit longer.

“I’m happy that my play has been rewarded, that the organization believed in me enough to give me a 10-day. Its motivation for me to keep going,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I was called down from the G League team, and I’m just trying to get all the sets and plays and stuff, trying to make that adjustment. But it’s definitely a blessing.”

He’s played in three games for the Agua Caliente Clippers so far, logging 27.1 minutes per game off the bench. He’s put up 9.7 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting from the field, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists during that stretch.

He’s yet to log any minutes for the Clippers, but he’s just thrilled to be a part of an NBA organization. Despite being undrafted, he always knew that he’d get to this level at some point.

“Yeah I did, for sure I did. I didn’t know when or how, but I always thought I would be here,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I had no idea what team, but being out in LA, I’ll take that as a blessing. But yeah I thought I would be here for sure.”

For players like Bibbs who are on 10-day contracts, nothing is guaranteed. But he’s soaking up the entire experience as long as he can. Whether the Clippers decide to retain him a little bit longer, or he moves on to another opportunity, he just wants to be able to play his game.

“My overall goal is just to actually play my game my way and not be restricted,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “Kind of just play freely and right now that’s what I’ve shown, that’s what got me here. I’m just taking in the whole process, just taking it all in and getting the experience and knowledge.”

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NBA Daily: 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 3/19/19

With the field of teams set for the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament, things should get noisy over the next few weeks on the NBA Draft front. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft before all the zaniness begins.

Steve Kyler

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Let the Madness begin.

The basketball world will shift its attention to college basketball’s biggest stage over the next few weeks, especially this weekend’s opening round of 64.

While the tournament doesn’t necessarily make or break a player’s draft stock, this will be the first time some notable draft prospects will face elite talent and, more importantly, the pressure of the big stage. You can check out march madness predictions 2019 here.

Expect things in the draft world to start to percolate, not just because of the magnitude of the games, but also because a lot of NBA scouts will be in the same places, which is where the draft chatter originates.

Equally, a lot of NBA teams will watch games together in the conference rooms this week, so more group discussion on players will happen inside NBA teams’ front offices, and that could lead to new preference information flowing into the NBA Draft information bubble.

Here is this week’s 60-Pick Mock Draft, based on NBA games played through 3/18/19:

Here are the first-round picks that are owed and how those picks landed where they are.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyle Korver trade in 2017, which is top-10 protected. But based on the standings, it will not be conveyed.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the Memphis Grizzlies first-round pick as a result of the three-team Jeff Green trade in 2015; the pick is top-eight protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick as a result of the Luka Dončić – Trae Young swap on draft night in 2018. The pick is top-five protected and, based on the standings, would convey.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the more favorable of either the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers first-round picks as part of the Markelle Fultz pre-draft trade in 2017. Based on the current standings, the Kings pick is the more favorable and would convey to Boston.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the LA Clippers first-round pick as a result of the Deyonta Davis draft day trade with Memphis in 2016. The Grizzlies got the pick in their Jeff Green/Lance Stephenson deal at the deadline in 2016. The pick is lottery protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are to receive the Houston Rockets first-round pick as a result of the three-team deadline deal that sent out Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.

The Brooklyn Nets are to receive the Denver Nuggets first-round pick as a result of the Kenneth Faried – Darrell Arthur trade in July 2018. The pick is top-12 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The San Antonio Spurs are to receive the Toronto Raptors first-round pick as a result of the Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan trade in July 2018. The pick is top-20 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are to receive the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as a result of the Eric Bledsoe trade in 2017. The pick has top 3 and 17-30 protections, designed to yield a lottery-level pick to Phoenix. Based on the current standings this pick would not convey. If the debt is not settled this year, the pick in 2020 would be top-7 protected.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Fixing The Cleveland Cavaliers

Spencer Davies starts Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series with the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers.

Spencer Davies

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Can you believe that the NBA regular season is less than a month away from concluding? It’s March 18, and teams are gearing up for the final stretch run before the playoffs get here. Thus far, there have been three teams to solidify their spots—the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers—while the rest of the league looks to jockey for postseason positioning.

On the flipside, there are four organizations that have begun to look towards the future with their immediate futures already decided, and 10 more will join them in the coming weeks as they become eliminated from playoff contention.

Basketball Insiders is bringing back its annual “Fixing” series to provide a blueprint of how to get each of those teams back on the right track moving forward. We’ll get things started with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What Is Working

In the second half of the season, the Cavaliers are 5-7. Yes, that is two games under .500 and should not be something to celebrate—but it’s how they are playing that deserves praise. Aside from a couple of clunkers against the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic, they’ve been a resilient young group that has clearly matured under the direction of head coach Larry Drew.

The return of Kevin Love coinciding with Cleveland playing its best basketball all year is not a matter of happenstance, either. As detailed a couple of weeks ago, his impact on Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman has made both inexperienced players significantly better. As the team’s “go-to guy” as Drew likes to put it, everybody can play through a legitimate All-Star in a number of ways—feeding him on the block, finding him on the perimeter or even allowing him to dribble drive and create for others.

The Cavaliers are quite excited about the determination of their guys, specifically Sexton and Osman. It’d be foolish to base the projection of a rookie’s career off playing alongside multiple two-way and 10-day contract players, and some did when Sexton had his fair share of struggles. The same could be said for Osman, who’s really turned up the playmaking and shooting as of late. It takes talent and consistency to be in the NBA, which is a lesson they’re learning every night. And the optimism should go beyond just those three, too. There are a number of players who could be a part of the team’s core in the future.

Experiencing perhaps his best season as a pro, Larry Nance Jr. is becoming a vocal leader on and off the floor. Ante Zizic has taken his opportunity as a starter and run with it, averaging nearly 12 points and eight rebounds in 20 of such situations. Drew has constantly praised David Nwaba’s efforts when he’s needed a guy to step up and defend opponents’ top players, even when out of position. Jordan Clarkson thrives as the sixth man and Matthew Dellavedova is the perfect mentor and floor general off the bench.

What Needs To Change

Now comes the harsh part—Cleveland has been a horrific defensive team for a number of years. They’ve ranked among the worst in basketball for the past three years, and that includes the last two seasons they had with LeBron James. It begs the question: Is it scheme or is it personnel? In the case of the Cavaliers, the answer is probably a little bit of both.

There is often confusion with the coverage calls. Blown assignments, miscommunication and difficulty with the pick-and-roll can best describe the mess that is on the floor. There isn’t as much finger pointing as there was at the beginning stages of the season, but it’s paramount that the team drastically improves in this area. Considering the number of injuries, inexperience and lack of continuity that they’ve had this year, it should get better.

While shot selection has gotten better throughout the season, the Cavaliers have to move the basketball better on a consistent basis. Again, Sexton and Osman felt that they had to carry the load in the absence of Love as the primary scoring options—and Tristan Thompson’s injuries didn’t help—so there was a lot of hero ball going on. At least in the last month, these totals have gotten higher.

Cleveland may take the cake in scoring droughts as well, which leads to other teams taking games over. A scenario we’ve seen all too much this season: Cavaliers take the ball down the floor, pass it maybe once or twice and don’t find the open man, which leads to a rebound and numbers for the opposing team that almost capitalizes in every instance. Stagnancy is a killer for the wine and gold, which is a group that needs to play in a transition-heavy, free-flowing type of game to succeed.

Focus Area: The Draft

Currently owning the third-worst record in the association, the Cavaliers would have the same 14 percent odds to land the first overall pick in the NBA Draft as the two teams behind them, the Phoenix Suns and the New York Knicks. If the standings locked, Cleveland would be guaranteed a top-seven selection—although the percentages indicate they’d have a good chance to land in the top four and likely drop no further than sixth. They also are going to convey a draft pick in the mid-to-late 20s from the Houston Rockets via the Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss trade.

There is no singular focus area with the Cavaliers. They could use any talent they can get to add to this developing core and set the tone for the future. Obviously, the buzz surrounding Duke superstar Zion Williamson is real. If you were to pigeonhole him as just a dunker or a highlight reel, you’d be completely mistaken. Though needing to work on a reliable jump shot, the 18-year-old phenom is loaded with an incredibly versatile skill set at his age and a build that is tailor-made for the NBA. Positionless basketball is the future, and Williamson fits the bill.

If Cleveland lands another first overall pick, they’d be foolish to pass up on such a potential franchise changer. Just imagine the speedy Young Bull and bulldozing Williamson on a fastbreak opportunity with Love just waiting on the elbow. That’s quite a triple threat.

Say the Cavaliers end up second, third or fourth—this writer would jump at the opportunity to add Temetrius Morant, a man whom the basketball world knows simply as “Ja.” Set to be a top-five pick in the upcoming draft, the 19-year-old point guard is an absolute blast to watch play the game. He scores the basketball at will. He distributes at a high rate and shares the wealth with his teammates. He excels in transition. Morant lacks some size and will likely need to put on some weight, but forming a tandem with Sexton—who’s found a real groove playing off the ball—could work out famously.

Willamson’s teammates at Duke—RJ Barrett and Cameron Reddish—also have plenty of intrigue about them at those spots. If Cleveland gets put in the worst case scenario, talented wings like De’Andre Hunter and Keldon Johnson might be the way to go.

However, regarding the Rockets’ pick, there might be some diamonds in the rough. Here’s a list of names that could be attractive depending on the draft results: Bol Bol, Jontay Porter, Kevin Porter, Tre Jones, Matisse Thybulle, Luguentz Dort, Ashton Hagans.

Focus Area: Free Agency

With nearly its entire roster returning in 2019-20, Cleveland will not be much of a player in the free agency period. Nik Stauskas and Chriss have expiring contracts and Channing Frye is retiring.

General manager Koby Altman is going to be active in finding a trade partner for J.R. Smith, whose $15.68 million contract fully guarantees on June 30. If the Cavaliers can do so before that day, the team that traded for him can waive him and will only be on the hook for $3.87 million. It seems as if draft night—June 20—would be the most logical time to try this. If Altman is successful in moving Smith, the organization will have opened a roster spot.

Considering the team has been more than pleased with Nwaba’s contributions when healthy, it’s probable that he’ll be tendered a qualifying offer. If he is, then the 26-year-old guard would become a restricted free agent, meaning Cleveland could match any offer he’d receive. If Nwaba doesn’t get any bites, then it’s plausible he’d accept the $1.89 million one-year offer to stay.

Altman did yeoman’s work this year as a front office executive. He took what was a horrific financial situation loaded with unhappy veterans and turned it into something much more manageable, all while bringing in future assets and players on flexible deals. We don’t know whether those additions—Dellavedova, Knight and John Henson—are going to be a part of the future or used in potential trades down the line. The same could be said of Thompson and Clarkson, who also are going to be on the last years of their respective deals.

Other than the potential two rookies, there probably won’t be too many new faces around the Cavaliers in the summertime. It might change as we get into the 2019-20 campaign, but that’s down the road. Don’t expect a lot of change roster-wise going into the new league year.

Of course, coaching wise is a completely different story. The prevailing thought is that Cleveland is going to want a first-year head coach to grow and develop alongside their core players. Reports indicate the front office might prefer a person who has previous connections to the franchise in some capacity.

There are two assistants on other teams who have been the head coach of the Canton Charge—Denver’s Jordi Fernandez and Utah’s Alex Jensen—that could make sense. Toronto Raptors assistant and former player Adrian Griffin is a potentially appealing name as well, per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

If Larry Drew decides he doesn’t want to stick around, finding the right person to lead this Cavaliers team into the next era is going to be crucial.

The “second first” year without LeBron didn’t go as planned. Firing Tyronn Lue six games into the season didn’t make matters easy, nor did Love going down with a toe injury to miss two-thirds of the season. Yet through the bad times, this Cleveland bunch has refused to mail it in and has earned a deal of respect from its competition.

They’re embracing the role of playing spoiler as the year winds down. It’s all about meaningful minutes for these guys, and until the clock hits zero on April 9 at Quicken Loans Arena, the work on the floor won’t be done.

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