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NBA Saturday: Injuries Already Mounting During Preseason

The 2016-17 NBA season is less than a week away, but significant injuries are already piling up.

Jesse Blancarte

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One of the worst parts of sports at all levels is injuries. Last season, the Memphis Grizzlies had terrible luck with injuries and had to cycle through 28 players throughout the regular season, including eight different players signed to 10-day contracts. Entering their regular season finale, between 12 players, the Grizzlies had lost 291 games to injuries. Somehow, against all odds, the Grizzlies still managed to make the playoffs, though they lost in four games to the San Antonio Spurs.

While the 2016-17 NBA season is still a few days away, we are already seeing injuries that range from minor to significant.

Khris Middleton – Milwaukee Bucks

Khris Middleton was one of the most notable players to suffer a significant injury as teams started preparing for training camps to open and for the preseason to begin. On September 20, Middleton ruptured his left hamstring during a preseason workout and underwent surgery on September 28. He will reportedly be sidelined for about six months. Losing Middleton is a major blow to a Bucks team that is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2015-16 season. Middleton is a great wing-defender who has also established himself as a deadly shooter and playmaker on offense. Last season, Middleton averaged 18.2 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals, while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Reggie Jackson – Detroit Pistons

Reggie Jackson will miss six-to-eight weeks as he recovers from tendinitis in his knee as well as a thumb injury. Jackson recently received platelet-rich plasma injections to help address the injuries. Last season, Jackson averaged 18.8 points, 6.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three-point range. Jackson is the motor of the Pistons’ offense and has formed a strong one-two game with center Andre Drummond. The Pistons are looking to make some noise in the Eastern Conference this season but will need Jackson at, or near, full health to make that happen.

Patrick Beverley – Houston Rockets

Patrick Beverley will reportedly undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, sidelining him for three weeks, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Beverley is a tough defender at the point guard position and provides much-needed defense alongside James Harden in Houston’s backcourt. Harden will be playing de facto point guard under Mike D’Antoni this season, so the Rockets won’t lose much in terms of playmaking. However, it will be up to Eric Gordon to step into Beverley’s position and make a defensive impact in Houston.

Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers

Ben Simmons, the No.1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, suffered a foot injury on September 30 during a team scrimmage. The Philadelphia 76ers announced on October 4 that Simmons underwent successful surgery to repair an acute Jones fracture of the fifth metatarsal of his right foot. 76ers head coach Brett Brown suggested that Simmons could return in January, but later pulled back on that timeline.

“I was just getting excited about how soon he might be able to come back,” Brown said to Keith Pompey of Philly.com. “There are so much speculation and dates as a coach you sort of want to hear what you want to hear at a time. I did mention a January hopeful return. That is premature.

“That is a coach doing a lot more wishing than receiving instruction. So we will play this out. Everything is on track with his rehabilitation.”

Nerlens Noel – Philadelphia 76ers

On Friday night, the Philadelphia 76ers announced that center Nerlens Noel would undergo knee surgery to address an inflamed plica above his left knee. There is no timetable for Noel’s return, but this is a minor procedure that shouldn’t cause any significant issues for Noel. The 76ers have plenty of size in their frontcourt to absorb the loss of Noel, with players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric on the roster. Noel has been mentioned in trade rumors throughout the offseason and will likely continue to be considering how much overlapping talent the 76ers have at the center position.

Gordon Hayward – Utah Jazz

Gordon Hayward suffered a fractured finger on his left hand on October 7 and is expected to miss the beginning of the season. Hayward is arguably the Jazz’s most important player considering the large role he plays on offense as both a scorer and playmaker. People in and around the NBA are predicting that the Jazz will have a strong season, but they will need Hayward back in order to do any real damage in the Western Conference. Last season, Hayward averaged 19.7 points, five rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from three-point range.

Danny Green – San Antonio Spurs

On October 21, the San Antonio Spurs announced that Danny Green suffered a left quad strain and is expected to be sidelined for roughly three weeks. Green had a disappointing 2015-16 season for San Antonio, but he is still one of the better 3-and-D wings in the NBA. Whether Green’s play suffered because of nagging injuries or some other issue, the Spurs will need him to step up his production this season after the loss of Tim Duncan and the advanced age of several Spurs players.

Chandler Parsons – Memphis Grizzlies

Chandler Parsons underwent surgery on March 25 to repair a torn meniscus. Depending on the type of surgery that is performed, a player can sometimes return in a matter of weeks from this surgery. Parsons has reportedly been building the strength in his knee throughout the offseason, but there is still no clear timetable for his return. The Grizzlies, who signed Parsons to a four-year contract worth $94 million this offseason, are hopeful he will be ready to go at the beginning of the regular season.

Chris Bosh – Miami HEAT

Chris Bosh’s future in the NBA is in serious question after failing a physical in September. It seems that Bosh is still dealing with blot clot issues that make it extremely dangerous for him to play in an NBA game. Bosh first started dealing with this issue in February 2015 when a blood clot traveled to one of his lungs, which he was hospitalized for. Bosh has not given up on finding a way to make it back onto the court, but all indications are that, despite being under contract, his relationship with the HEAT is over.

Josh Richardson – Miami HEAT

Josh Richardson suffered a partially torn MCL during an offseason workout in early September. The young, promising guard was lined up to have an increased role after a strong showing last season and the departure of Dwyane Wade. Richardson should still see plenty of playing time as soon as he is healthy and able to play.

Tiago Splitter – Atlanta Hawks

Tiago Splitter is another player who will likely miss the start of the upcoming season. Splitter has been riddled with injuries since the Atlanta Hawks traded for him in 2015. On October 11, the Atlanta Hawks announced that Splitter would be sidelined for roughly four weeks after suffering a grade 2 hamstring strain. The Hawks, of course, have Dwight Howard at the starting center position, so the loss of Splitter isn’t a devastating setback for Atlanta. However, Splitter could be a nice contributor for a Hawks team that struggled with rebounding last season.

Ian Mahinmi – Washington Wizards

Ian Mahinmi underwent meniscus surgery on October 15 and is expected to be sidelined for four-to-six weeks. The Wizards signed Mahinmi to a four-year, $64 million deal this offseason to bring some defense and rebounding to their frontcourt. Mahinmi had a strong season for the Indiana Pacers in 2015-16 and established himself as a strong defensive presence for one of the best defensive teams in the league. Last season, Mahinmi averaged 9.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.5 assist and 1.1 blocks while shooting 58.9 percent from the field.

 

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

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NBA

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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