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NBA Saturday: Simmons and Fultz Hurt One Another For Rookie of the Year

Despite two dynamic freshmen, the Sixers may again fail to bring home the Rookie of the Year award.

Dennis Chambers

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When Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown proclaimed last season that the Rookie of the Year award would have to come through Philly, he assumed that either Joel Embiid or Dario Saric put on a good enough showing for the voters to award the Sixers their second such award in four seasons.

Despite having two of the three finalists for the award, Philadelphia received no such luck in one of the more boring freshman races in recent memory, as Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks walked home with the crown.

With a stacked rookie class ready to hit the hardwood this fall, the Sixers sport the league’s last two top overall picks in Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Once again, it looks like Philadelphia should be the odds-on-favorite to bring home the Rookie of the Year hardware.

But, not so fast.

Chances are, barring a magical season that sees Philadelphia finish as a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference, the award will land outside of the Sixers organization once again.

On the court, Simmons and Fultz should theoretically bring skill sets and production enough to warrant a victory in this race most other seasons. But the fact that they will essentially be taking votes away from each other will hurt both players in the long run.

Following last season’s race for Rookie of the Year that saw the first ever second round pick win the award and had the first overall pick sidelined by injury, this upcoming season’s race expects to be much more entertaining and hotly contested. Along with Philadelphia’s tandem, Lonzo Ball of the Los Angeles Lakers, Dennis Smith, Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks, and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics all have potential to be the best rookie in the NBA.

All of these players should make a significant impact for their respective team over the course of the season. Ball is being handed the offense in L.A., where his flashy passes should equate to high assist totals throughout the year. Smith looked to be every bit of the explosive athlete in Summer League he was advertised as being coming out of college. Tatum should provide a sweet scoring punch from the wing for a Celtics team that will be battling for a trip to the Finals. Each player will have their own legitimate claim to the rookie throne as the season kicks off, even the two Sixers players.

Simmons, after missing all of the last season with a foot injury, is hoping to return to form as the Sixers’ primary ball-handler and playmaker. The 6-foot-10 point forward should display his unique passing ability for a player his size, and with his combination of height and athleticism, he should have little trouble getting into the paint to score. Fultz, on the other hand, was drafted by Philadelphia to play as a complement to Simmons. At 6-foot-5, Fultz can be an off-the-ball guard pairing for Simmons to dish kick-outs to and run pick-and-pops with. Possessing a sweet shooting stroke from three-point range, Fultz should have no trouble next season filling up his stat sheets with impressive point totals.

As a result of how competitive the upcoming race looks to be, even Las Vegas is indecisive on who they think will win.

William Hill’s Nevada sportsbook, Westgate SuperBook, and Bovada all have different odds and winners for next season’s Rookie of the Year. William Hill Nevada and Bovada both project Ball as their winner, with 9/5 and 5/2 odds, respectively. Westgate projects Simmons as the favorite at 5/2 odds. In each case, Ball and Simmons are given the second best odds to win with the sportsbook that doesn’t project them as the favorite.

Last season, a large contributing factor to Brogdon winning the award was his impact on a team making that was making the playoffs. Westgate assistant manager, Jeff Sherman, believes that’s the reason Simmons will edge out Ball next season.

“We expect Philadelphia to exceed the Lakers in wins and make the playoffs in the East, with Simmons having better stats [than Ball],” Sherman told ESPN. “Had Simmons come out in this loaded class, he still would have been the No 1 pick in the draft.”

However, even with Philadelphia’s higher chance at a playoff appearance than Los Angeles’, the Sixers players next season are going to face the same difficulties winning the award that their teammates faced last season.

Brogdon received 466 total points in last year’s voting, with Saric tallying 266 for second place and Embiid finishing third with 177. Along with the most overall points, Brogdon finished with the highest number of first place votes with 60. Embiid, despite finishing third, actually received the second highest amount of first place votes, with 23. Saric mainly tallied second and third place nods, garnering 59 and 24 votes in each category.

When push came to shove for voters last season, handing their vote to one Sixers player over the other essentially became a point in Brogdon’s favor. For the voters, trying to discern who from the Sixers was the better player and who was more valuable to their team ultimately became a negative against both Saric and Embiid when the final votes were cast.

In order for Philadelphia to have their most success next season, both Simmons and Fultz will need to live up to, and maybe even exceed, expectations. That will entail high scoring numbers from Fultz and all-around stat stuffed sheets from Simmons. When it comes to voting for which player is the best rookie again next season, voters may struggle to differentiate the Sixers player who has the biggest impact, and if playing with each other inflated the numbers each of them produced.

If Ball, Smith, Tatum and the other players a part of this freshman class also live up to the hype, many could have the argument that they were able to perform and put up impressive rookie numbers even without other star rookies around them.

Essentially, what it boils down to, is that Simmons and Fultz playing alongside each other next season doesn’t actually increase either player’s chance at winning Rookie of the Year.

So, for all of the Philadelphia 76ers fans that felt Saric and Embiid were snubbed for last season’s highest rookie honor, don’t expect Simmons or Fultz to get redemption, regardless of how well they play.

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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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, currently 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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