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NBA Sunday: Steve Kerr is Coach of the Year

Despite missing 43 games, Steve Kerr is the obvious choice for Coach of the Year, writes Moke Hamilton.

Moke Hamilton

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He may have missed the first 43 games of the 2015-16 NBA season but, make no mistake about it, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr should still be the NBA’s 2015-16 Coach of the Year.

Earlier this week, the National Basketball Association confirmed to Basketball Insiders that Kerr is eligible to receive the award this season, despite the fact that he has missed more than half of it.

Traditionally, the Coach of the Year Award has been one of the more difficult to handicap. Just like All-Star berths, there is always a resulting controversy due to the abundance of candidates who can rightfully argue for votes.

For example, this year, Terry Stotts and his Portland Trail Blazers have shocked and awed anyone that even takes a cursory glance at the NBA standings. The Charlotte Hornets, on the other hand, enter play on April 3 as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Who in the world saw that coming?

Meanwhile, Dwane Casey has just done his best Stephen Curry impression by leading his Toronto Raptors to a franchise-best 50-win season. It is the third consecutive season that Casey has broken the single-season wins record.

After seamlessly incorporating LaMarcus Aldridge and a few other pieces, the San Antonio Spurs still amazingly have a shot at winning 70 regular season games. Although that’s an endeavor that Popovich isn’t too concerned about, it does underscore the magnificent job that he has done in San Antonio this season.

But still, don’t all of these coaches pale in comparison to the job that Kerr and his staff have done this season?

Absolutely.

* * * * * *

As a basketball culture, aside from doing a great job of becoming impatient, we have mastered the art of the double-standard. Head coaches are faulted when things go wrong on their team, in their locker room or with the culture that they help to create. Head coaches are the fall guy when anything goes wrong, but are not often credited enough when things go right.

Do you honestly think that while Luke Walton was leading the Warriors to a 39-4 start to their season that he wasn’t consulting with Coach Kerr about the challenges that he encountered along the way? Do you think that the Warriors somehow became a different team that were marked by principles and procedures other than what Kerr instilled in them?

How much success has Luke Walton has as a head coach without Steve Kerr? Had it been Ron Adams or Alvin Gentry leading the Warriors to their record-breaking start, a better argument could be made for taking credit away from Kerr as the coach that made it all happen.

Walton’s amazing beginning, however, is more of a positive reflection on Kerr’s coaching brilliance than it is an indictment, and if you sincerely believe that Walton helped that team achieve the heights that they have all on his own, you need to wake up.

Entering play on April 3, Kerr has led the Warriors to a 29-4 record. It pales in comparison to the 39-4 that they amassed in his absence, but with a more difficult strength of schedule, the crushing pressure that these Warriors have faced as they have pursued 73 wins and the progressive fatigue that the team has experienced makes the 29-4 record quite impressive.

What’s even more impressive is the fact that since the NBA began giving out the award after the 1962-63 season, we have seldom found ourselves asking these types of questions. Should we consider what a coach accomplishes in the playoffs when considering whether or not to anoint him the coach of the year? Think about it: the Warriors were 67-15 last season, but Kerr ultimately lost the award to another very deserving candidate, head coach Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks. Thereafter, the Warriors went 16-5 over their 21 playoff games and captured the 2015 NBA Championship.

After finding themselves trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers 2-1 in the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors responded by winning the final three games of the series, meaning that since last June, including the playoffs, they have put together a 71-8 record. They have done that while playing “small-ball,” which many basketball purists doubted could lead to a championship.

And now, that very team, playing with those very same principles, is on the cusp of overthrowing Michael Jordan and his 72-win Chicago Bulls as the single-season record holder for wins.

We do not typically consider what transpires in the playoffs the year prior when making determinations as to whether someone deserves a regular season award, but we have also never really found ourselves in the situation that we are in with respect to whether Kerr “deserves” the Coach of the Year Award or not.

Depending on who you ask, though, some will tell you that Kobe Bryant’s 2008 Most Valuable Player Award and more than a few recent All-Star designations given to other players have been tantamount to “lifetime achievement awards.” In other words, members of the media, when asked, will admit to you that their votes are sometimes swayed by things that have transpired prior to the current season in which they are voting. That’s a fact, and any opponents of Kerr not winning the award simply because of his missing 43 games should take that into consideration.

* * * * * *

Make no mistake about it, with all due respect to Mark Jackson, these Warriors are Steve Kerr’s team. Their thriving in his absence is a testament to their toughness and dedication and if anything, that isn’t an indictment to Kerr’s greatness as a head coach. It’s evidence.

With all due respect to Luke Walton and the other members of the coaching staff out in Oakland, there is reason to anoint Kerr as the coach of the decade. He has accomplished things that no rookie head coach in history ever has. He has taken an undersized jump-shooting team to heights that Mike D’Antoni couldn’t. And now, above all, with six games remaining in the 2015-16 NBA season, he has his team on the cusp of history.

If the Warriors end up falling short and clocking in at 70 or even 71 regular season wins, then one could make an argument that Stotts may be the more deserving candidate. But if these Warriors so much as tie the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls with 72 regular season wins, arguing that Kerr isn’t the Coach of the Year would be as silly as arguing that Stephen Curry’s isn’t the league’s Most Valuable Player.

From where I sit, neither argument would hold any weight.

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NBA

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland

Basketball Insiders

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The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.

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