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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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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

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

David Yapkowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

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

Shane Rhodes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs

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

Joel Brigham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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