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NBA Saturday: GMs On The Hot Seat?

With the NBA season coming to a close in just a few more weeks, several general manager chairs could open up and there are a lot of quality candidates that could fill them.

Steve Kyler

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GM Watch: Who’s Got Next?:  Last summer there were six new general manager named in the NBA, one of the largest shifts in leadership the league has seen in some time. While there will likely be some significant moves made among NBA front office this summer, the number of open jobs won’t be nearly what it was a year ago.

Here are some of the jobs that could come open, and some of the names that might fill them:

Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons): The Pistons and Joe Dumars look headed for a divorce and, according to sources close to that situation, the feeling may be mutual. Dumars is in the final year of his contract, so parting ways with Dumars won’t exactly be a firing, rather an option not to renew or give him a new deal. There has been a little friction between Dumars and Pistons ownership and it’s been brewing for some time. Since buying the team in 2011, Tom Gores has installed more checks and balances around Dumars and has sought advice outside of Dumars on an increasing basis.

Sources close to the situation say Gores has built his own relationships with his young franchise players and has been moving toward a change at the top for some time.

So for the Pistons it’s not “if” the Pistons part ways with Dumars, it seems more like “when.” To Dumars’ credit, he’s done an amazing job identifying and drafting talent, he has simply struggled to put a culture, specifically a coaching staff, on the floor to maximize it.

It seems fairly clear the Pistons will be in the market for new leadership at the top and on the bench this summer.

»In Related: The History Of The Detroit Pistons Draft

Dell Demps (New Orleans Pelicans): The New Orleans Pelicans are a tough situation to read, mainly because new ownership doesn’t see the world like most NBA owners do, and that’s because of their history and success in the NFL. They are not exactly patient with the growing pains of the NBA, where it’s much harder to go from worst to first.

Pelicans general manager Dell Demps and head coach Monty Williams were given multi-year contract extensions in 2012 that locked both into the organization through the 2015-16 season. That has not stopped the rumors of change from floating around the team, specifically as it relates to Williams’ future as the head coach.

Demps regrettably might be part of a top-down organizational change and that would be unfortunate. Demps has had some wins in his time in New Orleans, but with the team failing to meet expectations this year, and the question marks on the roster, will ownership stay the course or will they make a major change?

The Pelicans look like a team that needs one more season to come together. However with ownership somewhat impatient with the process and with fans clamoring for change, it’s unclear what the off-season will hold for Williams and in some regards Demps as well.

There is a scenario where Williams is out and Demps remains, but there are some that believe if one goes, the other won’t be far behind.

»In Related: The History Of The New Orleans Pelicans Draft

Gar Forman/John Paxson (Chicago Bulls): Take this one with a grain of salt. For as much success as the Bulls have had on the court, there have been well documented issues off the court, specifically between the front office and head coach Tom Thibodeau. There have been countless reports of Thibodeau wanting out of Chicago this summer, which would be devastating for the Bulls organization. Thibodeau is arguably the best coach the Bulls have had since Phil Jackson, so the question becomes does it evolve into a “me or them” scenario for Bulls ownership?

The tandem of Gar Forman and John Paxson have made some solid moves not only in the draft but in locking in core players early, while finding solid value contributors in free agency.

If the Bulls can’t sort through things this summer, there is a scenario in which ownership may have to choose between the front office team that’s in place and their head coach.

Despite all their successes, it’s hard to argue that the Bulls could find another coach that’s as good as Thibodeau. Since Jackson, the Bulls have swung and missed on coach after coach and given how their draft picks have blossomed under Thibodeau, changing the front office may be smarter than changing the coaching staff.

It will be an interesting summer for the Bulls. Sources close to the process contend that too much is made about a rift between the two staffs, but you have to wonder is this a ‘where there is smoke…” scenario and if it is, who is left standing when it’s all said and done?

»In Related: The History Of The Chicago Bulls Draft

David Griffin (Cleveland Cavaliers):  The Cavaliers made a mid-season change at the general manager spot, ousting Chris Grant and replacing him with assistant general manager David Griffin. The Cavaliers have gone 14-13 since the change after going 17-33 to start the season.

Under Griffin’s watch the team has been playing far better basketball and the dysfunction that had marred the club seems to have subsided.

In talking to sources close to the situation, not only has Griffin instilled some confidence in the young guys, he has actively engaged not only with Cavs star Kyrie Irving, but troublesome guard Dion Waiters. His hands-on approach has resonated well with the Cavs and there is talk that he could remain in his position beyond this season.

That does not mean the Cavaliers won’t go shopping for an uber-experienced team president type. If they can’t find that proven star executive they are looking for that could woo free agents to Cleveland, staying with Griffin seems more likely than not.

No one involved in the situation really wants to talk about the summer while the Cavs are trying to grab that final playoff spot in the East, but it does seem more likely than not that Griffin stays where he is unless a real top-tier named executive surfaces.

»In Related: The History Of The Cleveland Cavaliers Draft

Chris Wallace (Memphis Grizzlies):  Despite popular opinion, the Memphis Grizzlies did not release general manager Chris Wallace last summer as most expected. Wallace signed a multi-year extension with Memphis back in the summer of 2010, and it’s believed this is the final year of that deal. The Grizzlies have built a new leadership group around CEO and managing general partner Jason Levien, who makes all the decisions on basketball operations.

Wallace was in the hunt for the Sacramento Kings general manager job last summer and it’s believed he’ll be out in Memphis this summer. It is possible the Grizzlies look to replace Wallace, who handles the day-to-day work of running the team, but it wouldn’t be out of the question for his duties to be rolled into the existing organizational structure. The Grizzlies hired long-time sportswriter and advanced stats guru John Hollinger last season as well as adding long-time agent and former coach Stu Lash to the front office to handle pro personnel.

Lash handles most of the conversations with other teams, while Hollinger, Lash and Levien work through the talent evaluation and acquisition process together. Wallace has played a role in that over the last year, but removing him from the process wouldn’t seriously impact how the team is run or the decisions that are being made.

The Grizzlies have looked at adding new personalities to their front office staff, so it’s not out of the questions that if Wallace is indeed out after this season that he is replaced, however its more likely that’s he’s replaced with an on-the-rise junior executive rather than a veteran front-office personality.

»In Related: The History Of The Memphis Grizzlies Draft.

Steve Mills (New York Knicks): With the arrival of Phil Jackson as the new Knicks team president, current general manager Steve Mills is going to take a different role in the process. It’s believed that Jackson, in addition to hiring a new coach this summer, will look for a day-to-day general manager type to handle running the team, while he oversees things from the top. This is not an uncommon arrangement. Larry Bird does the same in Indiana with Kevin Pritchard running the day-to-day. Miami’s Pat Riley does the same with Andy Elisburg, who runs the day-to-day for the HEAT.

Unlike most of the situations mentioned above, Mills will remain with the team, just with an adjusted set of responsibilities.

There has been a lot of talk in the press about Jackson selecting a front office type that he has a relationship with, however outside of former Suns executive Steve Kerr, there are not a lot of proven front office types connected with Jackson.

It’s clear that change is coming to the Knicks this summer, and that Jackson is going to make some staff changes. That means current executives like former Nuggets general manager and current Knicks executive Mark Warkentien may be on the way out.

»In Related: The History Of The New York Knicks Draft

So, with the hot seats identified, who are some of the names that could fill them?

Bryan Colangelo  With the success that the Toronto Raptors are having this season, Colangelo may get some level of validation on the job he did in Toronto. It’s unlikely that Colangelo is tapped for any of the jobs that are likely to come open, but he is clearly a name to watch over the next year or so. Say what you want about Colangelo’s moves, the Raptors are in a pretty good position going forward.

Stu Jackson  Before becoming the Dean of Discipline (Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations) for David Stern and the NBA, Jackson was the general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies for six years. Jackson is now out from the NBA office and is something of a free agent. Jackson’s name has been kicked around in NBA circles and it’s possible he is a candidate for a team president job in the near future.

David Kahn  Don’t groan too loudly Minnesota fans. Kahn may be gone, but his name continues to surface as a possible team president for a would-be ownership group trying to buy a NBA team. It’s highly unlikely that Kahn is hired this summer, unless his group buys the team, but it does seem that Kahn is not finished in the NBA and he could be calling the shots of a team again fairly soon.

Steve Kerr  The word is that Kerr wants to coach and he may be Phil Jackson’s guy on the bench in New York. It is possible that Jackson creates a hybrid role for Kerr to fill not only his needs on the bench but also to handle some of the day-to-day leadership and guidance he is seeking in the front office. Running a team on the court and in the front office is a tough task even for the most proven of coaches, so it’s unlikely that Kerr being coach and GM makes a lot of sense, but it does seem like Kerr in New York next year is likely, especially if he wants the job.

Ed Stefanski  When Masai Ujiri took over the Toronto Raptors, Stefanski, who had handled a lot of the day-to-day for Bryan Colangelo in Toronto, was also let go. Stefanski is an able and savvy executive and would be an under-the-radar hire. Stefanski ran the Philadelphia Sixers for roughly four seasons and is a capable and knowledge candidate. Don’t be surprised to see his name kicked around, especially for a team looking for a solid day-to-day operator.

Dave Twardzik  Like Stefanski, Twardzik is a proven veteran front office guy. He last held the role of assistant general manager in Orlando under Otis Smith and is another under-the-radar kind of hire for a team looking for a proven day-to-day operator.

Mark Warkentien  It looks likely that Warkentien could be out in New York this summer. Warkentien has been doing a lot of the day-to-day work for the Knicks not only under current GM Steve Mills, but previously under Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald. Prior to joining the Knicks, Warkentien was the general manager of the Denver Nuggets. Warkentien would be an interesting hire for a team looking for a veteran leader or a strong day-to-day manager.

Larry Harris  Harris is currently a consultant and scout for the Golden State Warriors after running the Milwaukee Bucks for several years. Harris has a proven track record and truly has held almost every job you can hold in basketball. It’s more likely that Harris is tapped to be an assistant general Manager or a day-to-day operator for a team president type. Harris has been deeply involved in college scouting and the draft for the Warriors, so a young team that is looking to rebuild through the draft or is trying to find value players might look at Harris a little differently.

Jeff Weltman  Weltman recently joined Masai Ujiri in Toronto after several years with the Bucks. It’s unlikely Weltman looks at anything other than a general manager job, but when it comes to smart and savvy basketball guys, Weltman is top-tier. It seems inevitable that Weltman will be running a team and when you look at situations like the Detroit Pistons, don’t be surprised if his name surfaces as a candidate.

Brian Hagen  Hagen is another under-the-radar executive. Hagan could get some interest this summer. Hagan was with New Orleans for a number of years and has been with the Chicago Bulls as an assistant general manager since 2012. Hagan is another candidate that has held almost every role you can hold in basketball and is another possible day-to-day operator for a team looking for a solid front office type.

Troy Weaver  Weaver is one of the go-to-guys for Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. Weaver’s name was kicked around a lot last summer, and it’s very likely that he’ll get some interviews again this summer. Weaver was said to be a finalist for the Orlando Magic job two years ago, and it seems likely that he’ll be running his own team fairly soon. With the success that up-and-coming executives like Rob Hennigan and Ryan McDonough have had in rebuilding their teams quickly, Weaver becomes an interesting option.

Tommy Sheppard  The Wizards’ success this season should put Washington’s senior vice president of operations Sheppard back on the map as a general manager candidate. With more than 19 years of experience in the NBA, Sheppard is a hard working day-to-day manager type. While the trend may be to lean on younger more stat driven candidates, Sheppard is an interesting candidate especially for a team like Detroit, which needs a proven operator.

Scott Perry  While Rob Hennigan gets most of the credit for Orlando’s turn around and rebuild, a lot of the day-to-day work is being done by Perry. It seems like only a matter of time before a team scoops him out of Orlando, especially as the Magic start to turn the corner. It might not be this summer for Perry, but it does seem likely as things improve with the Magic, Perry’s stock will go up as well.

Mike Zarren  So who is the next uber-smart guy on the general manager radar? It’s likely Zarren, who is the Celtics’ assistant general manager. A few years ago, Zarren was in the running for the 76ers general manager job, so he has been on the front office radar for a while. He is absolutely an advanced analytics guru and one of the pioneers of some of the tools that teams use every day. Zarren is also the brain behind the much debated “wheel” NBA Draft system. Zarren is likely going to have his name linked to virtually every job that comes open, especially given the league’s growing tendencies towards analytics.

Six Things You Have to Read:  Every day we try to give you some other things to consider, so here are the things you need to read today:

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NBA PM: Lopez Leading On And Off The Court

Brook Lopez has been a valuable addition to the Los Angeles Lakers, both on and off the court.

Ben Nadeau

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In spite of the ongoing media circus, an inherently tougher conference and a roster that features just five players with more than three years of NBA experience, the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-10. Naturally, that won’t be good enough to reach the postseason in the West, but it’s better than most expected the young Lakers to fare. Their early season successes can be chalked up to their glut of budding talent — Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, among others — but there’s one other major driving force at hand here and his name is Brook Lopez.

Following years of will-they, won’t-they rumors, Lopez was acquired in a shocking blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets just prior to this year’s draft. The Lakers were eager to get out from under Timofey Mozgov’s lengthy, albatross-sized contract, so they packaged him with the once-troubled D’Angelo Russell, shipping the pair off for Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick. The deal was largely made with financial implications in mind, but the initial returns on Lopez have been a massive win for the Lakers as well.

Although Lopez is currently logging a career-low in minutes (24.3), he still often leads the way for Los Angeles — like the night he effortlessly dropped 34 points and 10 rebounds on 6-for-9 from three-point range against his former franchise. Through 18 games, Lopez is averaging just 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds — a scoring mark that ranks only above his rookie season with the New Jersey Nets in 2008-09 — but his statistical impact is key on this inconsistent roster nonetheless.

But beyond that, it seems as if some of Lopez’s biggest contributions this season have come off the court — just ask Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac.

“[Lopez] has taught me how to be a professional,” Kuzma told Basketball Insiders prior to their game against the Boston Celtics earlier this month. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym, one of the last ones to leave.”

Lopez, who has carried his fair share of incredibly poor teams in the past — and often with a smile — is in the final year of the contract he signed back in 2015. His expiring deal worth $22.6 million made Lopez the perfect acquisition for a Lakers team hoping to shed cap space before the upcoming free agency period — where, allegedly, LeBron James and Paul George are both targets.

For a 7-foot center that just added a three-point shot to his game and knocked down 134 of them last season alone, Lopez may be one of the greatest trade afterthoughts in recent memory. The Lakers will likely finish in the lottery rather than the postseason, but Lopez — along with veterans Andrew Bogut, Corey Brewer and Luol Deng — have been a helpful presence for the slew of young Lakers as they adjust to professional basketball.

“They’re all great — they’ve been there, done that,” Kuzma said. “They have a lot of experience in this league, so it’s good to learn from those guys because they’ve played 10, 13 years and that’s what I want to do.”

Kuzma, of course, was selected with that No. 27 overall pick that the Nets sent to Los Angeles in the trade, and he’s been red-hot ever since. Following an impressive combine, summer league and preseason, Kuzma jumped into the starting lineup after Larry Nance Jr. fractured his hand just eight games into the campaign. Although the Rookie of the Year battle has been dominated by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons so far, Kuzma — averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — has emerged as a strong runner-up candidate.

For Zubac, however, it’s been a slower start to his NBA career but with Lopez, he says, things have gotten easier.

“The whole summer, I worked on my three-point shot,” Zubac told Basketball Insiders. “But also [I worked on my] post offense too, that’s what [Lopez] is good at. I’m really focusing my game around the post, so that’s where I’m trying to learn.”

Last year, Zubac was a popular late-season member of head coach Luke Walton’s rotation and he finished his rookie year averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. Unfortunately, the new arrivals and recent emergences have limited Zubac to just 10 total minutes over four appearances in 2017-18. Still, Lopez gives Zubac a mentor worth modeling his game after, even if it’s at the expense of real experience this season.

To get Zubac on the floor, the center has spent time with the South Bay Lakers, Los Angeles’ G-League affiliate, as of late. In two games, Zubac has averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds on 73 percent shooting from the field. Despite the lack of playing time, Zubac was more than happy to praise not only Lopez but the efforts of the other aforementioned veterans too.

“I can learn a lot from them and they help me play my game,” Zubac said. “Whoever’s on the court, whoever I’m playing with, I just try to learn as much as I can from them.”

Ultimately, though, it all comes back to Lopez.

Again, Lopez has averaged a career-low in minutes, but his contributions have been crucial in the Lakers’ overall standing thus far. In the games that Lopez has played less than 21 minutes, the Lakers are 0-5; but when he plays more than 30, the team is 3-1. On top of that, the Lakers are 5-1 when Lopez hits two or more three-pointers in a game as well. That sample size is still certainly small, but it’s nice indicator of Lopez’s inherent on-court impact, even when he’s not carrying the team on his shoulders.

“[He makes life] a lot easier for me,” Kuzma said. “He’s one of the most established scorers in the league and his career average is, like, 20 [points] a game. You can always count on him to be there every single night.”

While the Lakers can plan for a dream offseason haul involving James, George and others, they’ll have a tough decision facing them in July. Whether he’s efficiently stretching the floor, finishing off assists from Ball or setting the tone in an inexperienced locker room, Lopez has been quite the addition for Los Angeles.

This summer, Lopez enters unrestricted free agency and will likely garner offers outside of the Lakers’ pay range considering their big plans. If the Lakers decide to focus elsewhere, another team will reap the rewards. Until then, the youthful core in Los Angeles will benefit from having Lopez train and educate them each day.

“[Lopez] takes care of his body, he stays low-key and is never in trouble,” Kuzma said. “He’s the type of professional I want to be.”

Whether this is just a one-year detour in his extensively underrated career or the start of a great, new partnership, Lopez’s arrival in Los Angeles has been a huge success already. But as far as role models go for both Kuzma and Zubac, there are few choices better than Brook Lopez — both on and off the court.

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The Most Disappointing Teams So Far

Shane Rhodes looks at a few teams that have disappointed so far this season.

Shane Rhodes

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Approaching the season’s quarter mark, NBA teams are finally starting to settle into their respective grooves. As more and more players become comfortable, their teams begin to demonstrate what they can really do on the court. While some teams have exceeded expectations, a number of teams have underperformed and are looking worse, in some cases much worse, than expected.

Here are six of the NBA’s most disappointing teams so far this season.

6. Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks were going to be bad this season. They just weren’t expected to be this bad.

At 3-15, the Mavericks currently hold the worst record in the NBA. They rank 27th and 22nd in offensive and defensive rating, coming in at 99.3 and 107.6, respectively. Collectively, they are shooting just 42.2 percent from the floor and 34.7 percent from three-point range, both below league average. Nerlens Noel, whom Dallas acquired at the trade deadline last season, has played sparingly.

But there is seemingly a light at the end of the tunnel. The Mavericks’ three wins have come against the Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards and the Milwaukee Bucks, three teams that made the playoffs a season ago and are expected to do so again this season. Victories against the Wizards — who are currently the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference at 10-7 — and the Bucks — who boast one of the best players in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo — are especially encouraging.

As of now, though, the team is still a mess on both sides of the ball.

5. Miami HEAT

The Miami HEAT were expected to be playoff contenders after a torrid second half last season that saw them win 30 of their final 42 games. Now, the HEAT are currently sitting at the 11th seed in the East and, with a record of 7-9, are currently boasting a worse record than the New York Knicks (9-7), Indiana Pacers (10-8) and the Los Angeles Lakers (8-10).

The offense just hasn’t arrived yet in South Beach. Miami has an offensive rating of 103.13, good for 26th in the NBA. They are shooting under league average from the field (44.5 percent) and from three (35.2 percent) and are fifth in turnovers per game with 16.6 per contest; not exactly a winning formula. The $50 million man Kelly Olynyk has contributed just 8.9 points and 5.3 rebounds in 18.9 minutes per game while the roster outside its starting unit looks flimsy at best. Dion Waiters hasn’t shot the ball as well as last season, either.

The schedule doesn’t get easier for the HEAT, with four upcoming games against the Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors in their next seven. Expect Miami to get even worse before they start to get better.

4. Milwaukee Bucks

Last season, the Milwaukee Bucks were the sixth seed in the East. They boast one of the best young cores in the league, headed by phenom Antetokounmpo and supported by the likes of Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon and, eventually, Jabari Parker.

Somehow, the Bucks find themselves at just 8-8.

In a weakened Eastern Conference, Milwaukee was expected to make a play for one of its top spots. Instead, the Bucks have gotten blown out by the Mavericks, while barely squeaking by teams like the Charlotte Hornets and Lakers. The Bucks are 23rd in the NBA in defensive rating with a mark of 106.5, worse than the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls while also sitting at 23rd in net rating at -2.2, behind the Los Angeles Clippers (-1.7) and Utah Jazz (-1.3).

Antetokounmpo has yet to improve his stroke from beyond the arc, an undesirable albeit expected deficiency in his game. But, much of the Bucks roster hasn’t shot well from three. Middleton is shooting just 32.1 percent while big-acquisition Eric Bledsoe is shooting an abysmal 16 percent from beyond the arc since arriving in Milwaukee. If they can’t improve here it will be extremely hard for the Bucks to improve their position in the standings.

With six of their next nine games coming against teams at or below .500, the Bucks have a great chance to rebound from their sluggish start. That doesn’t change the fact that, with one of the NBA’s more talented rosters, the Bucks have been a major disappointment up to this point.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

At the time of this writing, the Cleveland Cavaliers have won five straight games. Most would say that would or should exempt them from a list like this.

They would be wrong.

The collective record of the teams Cleveland has played during its five-game win streak? 35-48. It may be encouraging to the fans to see the team rattle off five straight, but the Cavaliers aren’t exactly beating the best teams in the Association. They have been careless with the ball as well, turning it over more than 15 times per game while

Their biggest problem, however, is the fact that they can defend absolutely no one. With a defensive rating of 109.4, the Cavaliers have the worst defense in the league. They have gotten away with a lackluster effort in the past, Cleveland’s current roster, outside of LeBron James, just doesn’t have enough offensive firepower to make up for it. And the offense has been good; Cleveland is currently averaging 110.9 points per game with an offensive rating of 109.4, but that leaves them with a big goose egg for their net rating.

The Cavaliers will continue to struggle to beat teams as they attempt to outpace them on the offensive end. For a team that has made three straight NBA Finals and has one of the greatest of all time on its roster, that should certainly be regarded as a disappointment.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

Another “Big-3” was formed in the NBA after Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were paired with reigning Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook in the offseason. However, the 2017-18 season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan for the Thunder

Labeled as a team to rival the Warriors for Western Conference supremacy, the Thunder have done anything but so far this season. While the individual stats counting of Westbrook, George and Anthony have looked good, the Thunder have not as a collective. The team sits at just 7-9, good for 10th in the Western Conference. They rank 19th, 23rd and 21st in the NBA in points, rebounds and assists per game, respectively while shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 35 percent from three, both good for 21st.

Westbrook’s early season shooting struggles have hurt the Thunder as well. Westbrook is shooting just 39.4 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from three. The dominance he displayed last season, especially late in games, just hasn’t appeared this season and the team is hurting because of it. If the Thunder want to move up in the standings, Westbrook will need to find a way to improve his shooting numbers; they will go as he goes much like last season, even with George and Anthony on the roster.

On a brighter note, the defense has been one of the best in the NBA. But if the Thunder can’t figure it out on offense and score well as a unit, they will continue to struggle, especially when having to face the high-octane offenses of the Warriors and Houston Rockets.

1. Los Angeles Clippers

When losing a player the caliber of Chris Paul, some regression is to be expected. Fortifying the roster with guards Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Milos Teodosic and forward Danilo Gallinari, however, the Clippers were expected to weather the storm, to an extent.

Early on the Clippers did exactly that. The team looked impressive in the early going, winning five of their first seven games and averaging 109 points per. Since then? Everything has seemingly gone downhill in Los Angeles, and fast.

The Clippers have lost nine straight by an average margin of 9.8 points per game. Thirteenth in the Western Conference with a 5-11 record, they have looked nothing like the playoff team they were expected to be and are by far the season’s biggest disappointment. They have played poorly on the defensive end, ranking 20th in the NBA with a defensive rating of 106.2. Opponents have shot 45.4 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three against them.

Things haven’t been the greatest on offense, either. In Paul’s absence, the Clippers have dropped from 15th in assists per game a year ago to 28th this season, averaging just 19.6 per game. While they are averaging 104.9 points per game, they are doing so on just 44.1 percent shooting.

Injuries have played a major role in the Clippers struggles; additions Beverly, Gallinari and Teodosic have all missed or are currently missing time with injury. But it’s discouraging to see that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are unable to elevate the Clippers outside of the Western Conference basement.

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NBA AM: Paul Millsap’s Injury Derails Denver

With Paul Millsap injured, the Nuggets hopes to become a contender take a hit.

Lang Greene

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After missing the playoffs for the past four seasons, the Denver Nuggets are a team on the rise. The team won 30 games in 2015, 33 in 2016, 40 in 2017 and are currently on pace to record 48 victories this season, which would be their most since 2013.

The squad features six players averaging more than 10 points per contest, not including two veterans in Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, both of whom are career double-digit scorers. The Nuggets also boast one of the youngest teams in the league with only three players over the age of 30 (Paul Millsap, Chandler and Richard Jefferson).

But the team was dealt a huge blow this week when it was learned that four-time All-Star forward Paul Millsap will be out the next three to four months after suffering a torn ligament in his wrist.

Millsap was extremely durable during his first 11 seasons in the league, missing 10 games just once (2017). This injury marks the first time in Millsap’s career where he will miss significant time while roaming the sideline in designer suits.

Millsap signed a three-year, $90 million deal this past summer and his acquisition was viewed as the next step in bringing the team back into the realm of the playoffs.

After an early season adjustment period, Denver (10-7) has rattled off seven victories in their last 10 games. For the team, Millsap’s injury news couldn’t have come at a worst time.  The veteran was averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds through 16 contests. The points are his lowest since 2013 and the rebounding output is his lowest since 2010, but Millsap’s presence has helped stabilize the young Nuggets on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

The Nuggets do have a plethora of power forwards on the depth chart. Veteran Kenneth Faried has started 366 contests for the franchise since being drafted in 2011. Faried’s future with the franchise has come into question in recent years as his playing time and role in the rotation has consistently diminished. The signing of Millsap likely solidified that fate, however, by not dealing Faried, the Nuggets were able to keep an insurance policy in the fold.

Third-year forward and former lottery pick Trey Lyles is another candidate for an increased workload. Lyles is currently averaging 6.8 minutes in 12 appearances but is shooting a career high from the field (52 percent) and three-point range (42 percent) in his limited court time. Another like candidate for more playing time is second-year big man Juan Hernangomez, who has currently appeared in just six contests.

Offensively, the Nuggets will be able to absorb his loss. Guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray score the ball efficiently while swingman Will Barton provides pop off the bench. The team will also likely ride the back of their franchise player Nikola Jokic a bit more as well, with the big man averaging just 11.6 shot attempts per game—third on the team.

Perhaps the biggest area the Nuggets will have to adjust is on the defensive end.

According to ESPN’s real defensive plus-minus (DPM), Millsap ranks 31st overall in the league (1.62). He ranks seventh among power forwards with at least 10 games played this season. Last season, Millsap was fifth among power forward and 14th overall in DPM.

The veteran’s track of improving a team’s prowess on the defensive end is proven and it’s exactly the type of “silent” attribute the Nuggets needed on a loaded young team still learning how to play on that side of the ball.

                              Paul Millsap – Real Defensive Plus-Minus
Season DPM League Overall Rank Power Forward Rank
2013-14 2.06                 63                   12
2014-15 2.22                 43                    8
2015-16 3.26                 12                    2
2016-17 3.35                 14                   5
2017-18 1..62                 31                  9

 

The Nuggets will be tested immediately without Millsap in the fold. The team travels to Houston (November 22) and will play nine of their next 13 games are on the road. This includes a six-game road trip from December 4 to December 13.

The team is currently 7-2 at home and just 3-5 away from the Pepsi center.

They will, for sure, be tested without Millsap.

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