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NBA Saturday: Brett Brown is Philadelphia’s Best Chance to Succeed

Despite four seasons of constant losing, Brett Brown still remains the right man for the job in Philadelphia.

Dennis Chambers

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For the last four seasons, Brett Brown has captained a publicly sinking ship.

Since being hired for the first time as an NBA head coach back in 2013, Brown has lost 253 games with the Philadelphia 76ers. Brown’s teams have never finished higher than 4th in the Atlantic Division, and until last season, his clubs couldn’t even crack the 20-win plateau.

However, when Brown took the Sixers job nearly four years ago, he knew this was going to happen. At the time, it was unchartered territory for Brown, a disciple of Gregg Popovich.

“You get excited to be a part of the rebuild,” Brown said back in 2013. “We all know the pain of the rebuild is real. There needs to be patience. I have not been a part of a rebuild since I was in the NBA. The rebuild has to be keeping the locker room together.”

The Sixers’ rebuild over the last four years has been one of the more documented and followed rebuilds of any sports team in recent memory. Much to their own accord, the Sixers fielded teams that probably would’ve struggled to compete in high school prep leagues, all for the chance to improve their draft position and build a championship contender organically. The bulk of that plan was spearheaded by former general manager Sam Hinkie. His game plan was simple: lose games and acquire assets.

When you look at the assets Philadelphia has now, it’s hard to question the method as to how they got them. Two straight number one overall picks, two finalists for Rookie of the Year last season, and still plenty of draft picks in the bank. Quite frankly, the Sixers are in one of the more enviable positions in the entire league.

Yet, for all of the promise on the horizon, Brown still stands to enter his fifth season as head coach while possessing just a .229 winning percentage.

And despite the gross record, Brown’s still the perfect man for the job to see the Sixers’ rebuild enter its next stage.

Gone are the days of Brown having to run out a lineup featuring the likes of Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims. Next season the former Spurs assistant will be able to tinker lineups with players like Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid, J.J. Redick and Dario Saric. The Sixers have real talent on their roster for the first time since Brown was brought into the fold. No more is Brown being asked to babysit a roster full of fringe NBA players with no real discernible league talent.

Even without being given a chance to succeed, Brown still caught criticism for the Sixers’ woes. As the team’s head coach, that’s to be expected, despite the unique situation. As recent as early last season, Brown was chastised for running ineffective inbounds plays in late-game situations.

Yes, a coach and team who couldn’t reach 20 wins in a season for the previous three seasons in a row were being scrutinized for losing close games to the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers.

While that’s the nature of the beast, it’s unrealistic to expect players with no prior experience of competing late in games to suddenly be able to land knockout blows to the league’s heavyweights.

Despite the early season bumps last year, and the echoes of “fire Brett Brown” ringing through Philadelphia sports radio, the coach delivered the city their most exciting month of basketball in over three years, effectively silencing his critics for the time being.

Last January, the Sixers were 10-5. The team didn’t have top overall pick, Ben Simmons, as he was sidelined with a foot injury. The team’s most talented player at the time, Joel Embiid, wasn’t allowed to suit up for back-to-back games. And when he was on the court, Embiid was pulled from action when he reached 28 minutes of game play.

Other than that, Brown worked with Saric, T.J. McConnell, Sergio Rodriguez, Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarrot and other unproven players to steer one of the hottest starts to the new year around the league. During that span, the Sixers outscored their opponent on average for just the second month in Brown’s entire tenure. The last time the team accomplished that feat was Brown’s first month on the job when there was still veteran talent left over from the Doug Collins regime.

Brown has shown that he’s capable of making adjustments and winning games even with just the bare minimum of talent on the court. With a roster full of budding talents and some veteran leadership sprinkled in, Brown is poised to show the city of Philadelphia, and the rest of the NBA, just exactly what he can do as a head coach.

Even Redick, fresh off four seasons contending in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Clippers shares a hopeful sentiment for what Brown brings to the table.

Despite the $23 million Redick will make next season as a part of the one-year deal he signed with the Sixers in free agency, the veteran shooting guard believes the Maine native head coach was the team’s biggest selling point.

“I think Coach Brown was really the biggest factor in me going to Philly,” Redick said.

To go from consistently competing in playoff basketball to the league’s worst team over the last handful of seasons is a huge downgrade from a player perspective, even despite the paycheck. But the faith Redick showed in Brown by signing with Philadelphia for next year, and even going as far as to say “I’m hoping this is sort of a long-term thing and I can kind of grow with these guys,” is further proof that there are veterans in this league with winning experience that trust Brown to take them into battle.

As the Sixers field their most talented team in recent memory next season, Brown finally has the opportunity to show everyone why he was hired by Philadelphia in the first place: to turn this team into a contender.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.

Joel Brigham

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Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.

Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.

“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”

Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.

“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”

Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.

“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”

That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.

“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”

In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.

“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”

That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.

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