Earlier this week, the NBA released its most recent All-Star voting numbers. Coming in at the top was Kobe Bryant who, as of Thursday, registered 1,262,118 votes. Kobe is in the final season of his historic 20-year career and so it comes as no surprise that fans are flooding the voting channels with his name despite the fact that, at age 37, he is putting together arguably the worst season in his illustrious career.
While Kobe is a lock to take one of the starting guard slots for the Western Conference, Dwyane Wade of the Miami HEAT currently holds a strong lead in the voting for one of the guard slots in the Eastern Conference. The difference is that Wade, who will turn 34 on January 17, isn’t earning votes because this is final season in the NBA. Rather, Wade is earning his votes on the back of his resurgent 2015-16 season, where he has turned back the clock and shown flashes of his younger self.
Through 35 games this season, Wade is averaging 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists and one steal while shooting 46.6 percent from the field. While these numbers are very solid for a 33-year-old shooting guard, they aren’t earth-shatteringly good. In fact, Wade’s numbers this season are either right in line, or outpaced, by his per game statistics from last season. But don’t let that fact fool you into believing that Wade isn’t enjoying a resurgent season.
Wade has struggled with injuries stemming back to his college days at Marquette. After tearing the meniscus in his left knee in 2002, Wade chose to have it removed, a decision he said has led to ongoing issues throughout his NBA career. Indeed, Wade has never played a full 82-game season, topping out at 79 games played in 2008-09 (which also happened to be arguably his best individual season). He has missed 61 games over the last three seasons to various injuries and strategic rest days to keep him fresh throughout the season.
If you only watched Wade this season, however, you wouldn’t be able to tell that the veteran guard has struggled with injuries throughout his career. He is attacking the rim aggressively, hitting tough fall-away jumpers, taking opponents off the dribble and keeping defenses off balance with a fluidity in his movement that we have not seen in recent seasons. This was on full display in Miami’s recent win against the Phoenix Suns, where Wade contributed 27 points, two rebounds, two assists, one steal, two blocks and a couple of highlight dunks.
Wade is crediting his improved athleticism and health to Dave Alexander, who trained Wade this last offseason. Wade switched to Alexander last offseason after training with highly-regarded trainer Tim Grover for the last 13 years. With Alexander, Wade lost 10 pounds and entered training camp in shape and free of injury.
“It was very tough,” Wade told Michael Wallace of ESPN on parting with Grover. “But at the end of the day, I have to make a lot of tough decisions because it’s my life, right? Tim is great. Obviously, he wanted to continue to work with me, but he also saw I wanted to go in this direction. It wasn’t easy to have that conversation because he’s been in my life since my rookie year. But this is what I needed to do. I needed something a little different. Coming off the last couple of years, my body needed a different focus.”
So far this season, that new focus is paying off for Wade. Wade has only missed one game this season and that was to be with his youngest son who was in the hospital.
“It’s always a question,” Wade said regarding perceptions about his health. “But no one wants it more than me, at the end of the day. I told Pat [Riley] the same thing. I love playing the game, and I love being healthy playing the game. Last year, I was disappointed I had two hamstring injuries that kind of took me out of a portion of the 20 games I missed because I thought I was making the strides. But this year, I switched a few things up and I’m more about my body and it feels great.”
With a clean bill of health, Wade is helping the HEAT keep pace in the East. Miami is currently 22-14 and just two games back in the loss column to the second-place Chicago Bulls. The HEAT’s defense is its main strength, holding opponents to just 98.9 points per 100 possessions, which is good for the sixth best rating in the league. However, Miami is no slouch on offense either, scoring 103.2 points per 100 possessions, which places them just outside of the top-10 offenses in the league.
The offensive end of the court is where Wade generates most of his value these days. He has a 31.7 usage percentage this season, the sixth highest usage percentage in the entire league. He handles the ball often as a quasi-point guard and often initiates the HEAT’s offense. He is a threat to attack the rim off the dribble, pull up for a midrange jumper, find a teammate for an easy basket in the pick-and-roll, make timely cuts to the rim off the ball and throw down put-back dunks off of missed shots. These are the ways in which Wade is able to bend opposing defenses, unlike younger shooting guards who are modeling their respective games to fit the pace-and-space style of play that is permeating throughout the league.
Wade is a throwback two-guard in that he makes his contributions through sheer volume rather than elite efficiency. Like Michael Jordan and Kobe before him, Wade uses a ton of possessions on offense and generates a ton of defensive attention because of his ability to score in such a diverse amount of ways.
He is not an advanced analytics darling like Khris Middleton, a 3-and-D wing who makes a major impact for his team by knocking down three-pointers, spreading the court, moving the ball and locking down opposing wings. He is not an elite shooter like J.J. Redick or Klay Thompson, players who are among the league’s elite in terms of spot-up shooting and efficiency coming off of multiple screens. One of the only categories that Wade comes close to leading in terms of offensive efficiency is in the post. Wade is fourth among all guards in points per possession out of the post (limited to players who have posted up 60 times or more), trailing only Andrew Wiggins, DeMar DeRozan and Russell Westbrook, according to Synergy.
Speaking of DeRozan, there is perhaps no better example of a young shooting guard in the NBA today whose game represents that of the past generation that Wade is a part of. DeRozan, like Wade, can’t knock down three-pointers consistently and doesn’t impact the game in the same ways that modern 3-and-D wings do, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an effective player.
As Ian Levy recently wrote for The Cauldron, DeRozan’s inability to space the court with three-point shooting is a weakness that he overcomes by being effective in other nuanced ways.
“DeRozan is important because of what an enormous outlier he is: a shooting guard just coming into his prime that is thriving without a 3-point shot,” wrote Levy. “He’s a statistical unicorn.
“If this DeRozan recipe sounds familiar, it’s because it is a relic from another era. This is a rough facsimile of how Michael Jordan played. And Kobe Bryant. And, more recently, Dwyane Wade. DeRozan isn’t turning back the clock or opening any fissures on the prevailing wisdom of modern basketball. He’s just really, really good. This template doesn’t work anymore unless you can do all of these things well and excel in a few specific ones.”
Wade’s inability to knock down three-pointers consistently (28.8 percent from beyond the arc for his career) should limit his ability to impact games in a major way, especially in today’s NBA. However, his ability to handle the ball like a point guard, find teammates for easy scoring opportunities, make difficult shots that other players can’t and score out of the post allow him to make a unique offensive impact for his team, which offsets this particular weakness in his game.
Wade has always been able to do these things throughout his career. That is not unique to this season. What is different this season is that Wade is able to do these things fluidly, consistently and doesn’t have to miss games to recover strategically to stay fresh and recover.
“It is a lot better mentally to be able to play that way,” Wade recently told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “It’s very taxing mentally when you have to play through pain, when every movement is painful. It’s very, very taxing. But when it’s not, you can just play basketball and it’s the joys of the game.”
As we saw against the Suns, Wade is moving well and genuinely looks like he is enjoying the game more than he has in recent seasons. Again, he hasn’t remodeled his game to fit the current style of play in the NBA or added some new fancy skill-set that will extend his career. Rather, Wade has simply managed to overcome his recent injury issues with a new training regimen and is now able to more consistently show flashes of the physically dominant guard he once was.
“It’s good to see those athletic plays from Dwyane again,” Chris Bosh said recently. “We know what he’s capable of.”
Wade is offering a good reminder of what he is capable of with his play this season and it seems the voters have taken notice.
NBA Daily: Jayson Tatum: Boston’s X-Factor
Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum speaks to Michael Scotto about his early adjustments and success.
When All-Star Gordon Hayward dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia five minutes into the season, the outlook changed drastically for the Boston Celtics this season.
“I think our group, going into the season, there were a lot of expectations with Gordon [Hayward] and then the injury happens, and a lot of our younger guys had to grow up a lot quicker,” Celtics center Al Horford told Basketball Insiders on January 6 before facing the Brooklyn Nets. “It has given our team an opportunity to develop, to embrace the challenge that we have in front of us, and it’s opened up a lot of playing time for guys.
“I feel like we’re taking advantage of it. We’re growing as a group and, really, I feel like there’s no ceiling for our group. As long as we keep defending and keep doing the things that we need to do on the defensive end, I think it’s going to put us in a position to be successful.”
Those expectations included challenging the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference crown and potentially a championship.
In Hayward’s absence, the youngest player had to grow up the quickest: third overall pick Jayson Tatum.
“It just gave me more of an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had,” Tatum told Basketball Insiders in a video interview. “It’s definitely unfortunate that it had to come the way it did with one of our best players getting hurt, but we’ve all just had to contribute more, step up more losing him on the first night. We had 81 more games left, so we couldn’t make excuses for that.”
The 19-year-old forward has made the most of his opportunity as a full-time starter in his rookie campaign. Tatum is averaging 13.9 points while shooting 50 percent from the field, a league-leading 46 percent from beyond the arc, and 82 percent from the foul line as of January 16.
The 6-foot-8 forward has shown a penchant for coming through in the clutch halfway through the season. According to Basketball-Reference, Tatum has shot 60 percent from the field and 54 percent from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter.
The Eastern Conference December Rookie of the Month has taken some notes in the clutch from four-time All-Star Kyrie Irving.
“I grew up in high school and college seeing him on TV and now seeing it live on your own team,” Tatum told Basketball Insiders. “He’s one of the best players in the world, and he puts on a show each and every night.”
Tatum and Irving, both Duke alumni, played for coach Mike Krzyzewski and are in their first season under Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
Tatum notices differences between the two coaches who have molded the talented teenager.
“They’re both great terrific coaches,” Tatum told Basketball Insiders. “Coach K has been coaching for a long time, but they definitely both know a lot. Brad is a lot more chill, Coach (K) is a lot more fired up, slapping the floor and yelling at guys. I definitely respect them both, and it’s an honor to play for both of them.”
Stevens’ defensive system has helped Tatum realize the defensive potential that drew comparisons to Paul George from scouts and executives before the draft. According to Basketball-Reference, the rookie is tied for third in defensive win shares with George (2.5) and ranks eighth in defensive rating (101.5).
On offense, Tatum has put in time with trainer Drew Hanlen of Pure Sweat Basketball to work on his isolation moves and improve his 3-point shooting. Tatum shot a pedestrian 34 percent from 3-point range at Duke, but now leads the NBA shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc.
Thus far, Tatum has shown encouraging flashes of becoming the player he ultimately wants to be on both sides of the court.
“Just being in the All-Star game as many times as possible, win MVP, win a championship,” Tatum told Basketball Insiders. “Everyone wants to win a championship. Just play as long as possible. Hopefully, I can do that.”
If Tatum continues to be near the top of the Rookie of the Year conversation, rise to the occasion in the fourth quarter and remain a lockdown defender and 3-point shooter, maybe he and the Celtics can realize those heightened expectations after all.
Is that a lot to ask of a 19-year-old?
However, as the NBA has learned, Tatum is no average teenager and the x-factor towards how far Boston can go this season.
NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity
The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?
The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.
“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.
Tyler Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday's game against the Bucks, still with no plans for an MRI on his sprained left ankle sustained Monday in Chicago. He remains with the team, which did not practice Tuesday.
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) January 16, 2018
Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.
“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”
Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.
“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”
Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.
“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”
Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.
“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”
The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.
NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?
Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?
Is It Time To Sell?
Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.
Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!
The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.
Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.
That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.
While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.
The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.
The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.
The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.
The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.
For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.
The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).
That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.
If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.
The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.
It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.
League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.
The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?
It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?
Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.
It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.
At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.
If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.
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