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NBA Rookie Of The Year Watch: Wiggins On Top After Parker Injury

With Jabari Parker out, there’s a new No. 1 in the rookie rankings.

Jesse Blancarte



Before this season started, many NBA analysts and fans believed this year’s class of rookies was one of the most talented in the last decade. Unfortunately, many of the most heralded rookies have been sidelined for extended periods of the season, while others have suffered season-ending injuries.The most recent rookie to suffer a significant injury is Jabari Parker, who tore his ACL on December 15 in a game against the Phoenix Suns.

Parker has been at the top of these rankings all season, and was showing gradual improvement in his game until the injury. Parker is the second top rookie to suffer a season-ending injury. Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a broken leg in his NBA debut against the Houston Rockets back in October.

With Parker out for the season, Andrew Wiggins takes over the top spot by default. There are no clear challengers to Wiggins at this point, but there are some new faces in this week’s ranking, including Wiggins’ teammate Zach LaVine.

Now let’s take a look at who else made the top 10 this week:

10.  Dante Exum, Utah Jazz:

Exum continues to receive limited playing time (17.5 minutes per game in December), which stifles his nightly impact. However, through 12 games played in December, Exum has shot 47.8 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from beyond-the-arc, which are significant improvements over his season averages.

Exum’s ability to knock down shots from deep is encouraging, especially considering the concerns surrounding his shooting mechanics entering this season. And though he doesn’t average many assists per game, Exum has proven to be a skilled and willing passer that is always looking to setup his teammates.

Exum also gets credit for staying within his role and not forcing the issue. He plays within the Jazz’ offense and rarely tries to do too much. However, we would like to see him be more aggressive as a scorer and play-maker at some point.

Unfortunately Exum’s limited playing time, among a few other things, keep him at the end of the top 10 for now.

9.  Kostas Papanikolaou, Houston Rockets:

Kostas Papanikolaou recently missed a few games with a knee injury, but is now healthy and has played in the Rockets’ last three games. However, Papanikolaou is playing less minutes per game than he did earlier in the season, which has caused him to slip in the rankings.

Papanikolaou’s shooting has been shaky all season, but his ability to impact games in other ways, including with his passing and rebounding, is what has kept him in the Rookie of the Year race. But over his last three games, Papanikolaou has failed to impress, scoring eight points, and grabbing just five rebounds collectively.

Papanikolaou will quickly fall out of the top 10 completely if he is unable to offset his poor shooting with his passing and rebounding like he did earlier in the season.

8.  Jusuf Nurkic, Denver Nuggets:

Jusuf Nurkic jumps into the top 10 for the first time this season after receiving an increase in playing time in December.

In his last eight games, Nurkic is still averaging 15 minutes of playing time. But in those 15 minutes, Nurkic is grabbing 5.4 rebounds. That is good for a 20.2 rebound percentage, which is ninth best in the league (among players that have played 15 games or more this season).

With a huge frame, surprising mobility and an ability to grab rebounds at a high rate, Nurkic has the potential to shoot up the rankings. However, that’s assuming his minutes continue to increase moving forward.

7.  Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves:

With Ricky Rubio sidelined with a severe ankle injury, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders has turned to Zach LaVine to fill in at point guard.

This month, LaVine is averaging 10.4 points, 4.5 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals, but is shooting just 38.2 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from beyond-the-arc. LaVine is only 19 years old and is more of a combo guard than a pure point guard, so we expected this sort of inefficiency and inconsistency. In his last four games, LaVine has failed to hit double-digits in scoring, but has tallied a decent number of assists.

LaVine’s shot selection is questionable at best, but he has the skill to catch fire every so often. His last breakout performance was against the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month, where he scored 22 points and logged 10 assists.

LaVine has the talent to be a really good NBA player, and his ability to run the point guard position at such a young age, and with just one year of college experience is encouraging.

6.  Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic:

Elfrid Payton’s offensive game is still a work in progress (to say the least), but he has put together some decent offensive performances recently. Over his last four games, Payton has shot over 50 percent from the field three times, but missed all seven of his field goal attempts against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.

Payton may not be an offensive weapon at this point, but his defensive intensity continues to impress and his ability to set up teammates for shots is encouraging. In December, Payton is averaging 5.4 assists and just 2.1 turnovers per game. These aren’t Chris Paul numbers, but his turnover rate has declined each month.

5.  Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets:

Bojan Bogdanovic has seen a reduction in his minutes recently (just 12 minutes per game over his last four), which has limited his ability to impact games. The reduction in playing time is understandable, however, considering how streaky Bogdanovic’s shooting has been this season.

When he isn’t connecting on his three-point attempts, Bogdanovic adds little value to the Nets. He doesn’t grab many rebounds (2.6), dish out many assists (0.7) and isn’t a lockdown defender (though he is serviceable).

Bogdanovic’s last four outings are representative of his rookie season so far. Against the Miami HEAT and Toronto Raptors collectively, Bogdanovic scored three points and made just one of his four three-point attempts. Then on Sunday, against the Detroit Pistons, Bogdanovic hit three of his four three-point attempts and contributed 14 points in just 14 minutes. But then he followed up that performance with just five points against the Nuggets and shot just one of four from beyond-the-arc.

Bogdanovic is capable of having a big offensive performance every so often, but he often follows those nights up with duds.

4.  Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers:

In the month of December, Noel is averaging 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.

In his last four games, Noel has scored in double-figures twice, though he scored just one point against the Miami HEAT on Tuesday. Noel’s best recent performance came against the Boston Celtics last Monday, where Noel scored 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds, tallied four assists, three steals and blocked two shots in 29 minutes of action. Unfortunately, these types of performances only occur sporadically for Noel, who has been streaky in his rookie season.

So far this season, Noel has been active on the defensive side of the ball, as was expected of him. He is first among all rookies in steals per game (1.6) and second in blocks (1.5). Also, Noel is holding opponents to a respectable 47.1 percent shooting at the rim (on 8.2 opponent shots at the rim per game), which matches up favorably to noted rim protectors like Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol. However, Noel’s offensive game lacks polish and he is struggling to finish at the rim (55.2 percent within five feet on the season).

Noel isn’t a two-way player yet, but has plenty of room to improve moving forward. For now, he holds onto fourth place with his mobility and impact the defensive side of the ball.

3.  Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls:

Nikola Mirotic has played in 28 games so far, but is only averaging 18.5 minutes per game this season. However, Mirotic is having an impact in his limited playing time, averaging 10.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists while hitting 41.7 percent from beyond-the-arc in December.

Mirotic has had some impressive performances recently, scoring in double-digits in three of his last four outings. His best performance came last Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies, where Mirotic scored 27 points, grabbed eight rebounds and hit all six of his three-point attempts.

Mirotic’s biggest contribution to the Bulls comes from his shooting, which has been on recently. Over his last four games, Mirotic has hit ten of his last 16 three-point attempts, and shot less than 50 percent from the field just once (40 percent against the Wizards on Tuesday). Mirotic may not put up highlight plays like Andrew Wiggins, but he is arguably having the most significant impact of any rookie on a playoff team this season.

2.  K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers:

K.J. McDaniels has had a standout rookie season so far, which is a result of his outstanding work ethic and determination to be a great player. However, he has struggled shooting the ball in the month of December (33.8 percent from the field, 17.9 percent from beyond-the-arc), and he recently admitted that he may have hit the rookie wall.

McDaniels has only scored in double figures once over his last five games, and has made just two of his last ten three-point attempts. McDaniels wasn’t a great shooter in college, so it’s not surprising that his percentages have dipped recently, but we give McDaniels credit for contributing in other ways. In December, McDaniels is averaging 4.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 2.1 blocks per game. He is currently eleventh in the league in blocks per game (1.6) and is currently ahead of players like Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, Larry Sanders, and Al Horford, which is pretty remarkable considering he plays shooting guard and small forward.

Still, McDaniels needs to find his jump shot before he can challenge Andrew Wiggns for the top spot. But considering his work ethic, it would not be surprising to see his shooting stabilize soon.

1.  Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves:

With the season ending injury to Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins now stands alone at the top of the rookie rankings. Wiggins leads all rookies in scoring (12.6 points per game), and continues to impress with his three-point shooting (41.7 percent on the season).

Wiggins hit a rough patch recently, failing to score in double-digits in three straight games. However, Wiggins exploded for 27 points, and connected on all three of his shots from beyond-the-arc against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night. Wiggins didn’t contribute much aside from scoring against the team that drafted him first overall and subsequently traded him for Kevin Love, but it was an impressive offensive performance nonetheless.

Wiggins is in control of the top spot for now with no other rookie currently challenging him for the top spot.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”

Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.

Dennis Chambers



The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.

Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.

With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.

One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.

“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”

Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.

“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”

In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.

“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”

Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.

While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.

Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.

“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”

The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.

Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.

“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”

Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.

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NBA Daily: The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

Michael Porter Jr. is an elite prospect, but questions surrounding his back will determine his landing spot in the NBA.

Steve Kyler



The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

While some of the highly thought of college players have made their intentions on declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft known, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr still hasn’t made his proclamation. Most people in NBA circles believe he’ll be in the 2018 NBA Draft class—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think he’s in.

Back in November, the Missouri staff was somewhat vague and guarded about Porter’s condition until it was announced that he’d have back surgery on a couple of problematic discs in the lumbar area of his spine. The procedure is called a microdiscectomy and by all accounts was a success.

Porter missed virtually all of his college season but opted to play in the post-season for Missouri, who got eliminated fairly quickly.

There were certainly a lot of ugly things about Porter’s game. He looked out of shape, and certainly wasn’t the overwhelming dominating force he’d been in high school. Some executives applauded his decision to play, even though he wasn’t at a 100 percent. Some pointed to that fact that too many college players play it safe and that’s not always viewed positively. Almost no one Basketball Insiders spoke with was holding the less than stellar outing against him. In fact, most had far more positive things to say than negative. There was one resounding theme from the NBA executives who spoke about this situation—none of it matters until they see his medical.

Assuming Porter does as expected and hires an agent and enters the draft, the next challenge he’ll face is how open he wants to be to teams looking at drafting him.

In recent years, NBA teams have not shied away from using high draft picks on injured or recently injured players. Once a team can get a sense of how the player is recovering, they can make a value judgment.

Agents often use this information and access to the player to help steer their client to the situation they deem most favorable. While fans and outsiders often get caught up in the pick number a player ultimately lands at, more and more agents are concerned with fit, especially for a player that may need time to get back to 100 percent.

Most agents would want to steer their client to a team with favorable medical staff, a team with a proven track record of patience or more importantly, a team with the best chance at a long and fruitful career.

This won’t be good news for some team that could end up in the top 10, as it’s more likely that Porter isn’t made available to everyone. NBA executives will tell you, they can certainly draft him if they wanted to, but most teams won’t draft a player if their medical staff doesn’t sign off, and without information and access how can they do that?

There is a significant financial difference in going third in the draft ($5.47 million) and 10th ($2.964 million) – but several agents commented that the short-term money shouldn’t drive the long-term decision, especially if the player isn’t 100 percent. The fit and situation typically trump everything in these situations.

Another concept to consider is while Porter did play, there are questions about whether he’ll host a pro-day, take part in private team workouts or simply let his body of work drive his draft value.

Almost no one who spoke about this situation believed Porter would take part in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, as he’d have to subject himself to the medical testing that’s part of that event.

The common perception on Porter is he’s a top-five talent, although it seems more likely that his camp is going to try and work the process to ensure he lands in a favorable situation. That could mean he falls out of top-five selections, simply because he and his agents choose to.

There is still a lot that needs to play out for Porter, including his announcement that he will enter the draft. But given where things stand with him, it’s more likely than not he’s coming into the draft, and it’s more likely than not he’ll have a lot of questions NBA teams will want to understand before his real draft position is clear.

The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago this year and is scheduled for May 15th. The annual Draft Combine, also in Chicago, gets underway on May 16th.

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