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NBA Trade Watch: The Northwest

Dennis Chambers breaks down the Northwest division and how each team fairs heading into the trade deadline.

Dennis Chambers

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Continuing down the road towards the trade deadline, here at Basketball Insiders we’ll continue to give you a division-by-division breakdown of how teams are equipped to head into the NBA’s last month of trades.

After already covering the Atlantic and Southwest divisions, we now turn our attention to one of the most competitive divisions in basketball, the Northwest.

With four teams boasting a record above .500 at the midway point of the season, it will be curious to see how if these teams decide to add to their current arsenal or stay put for the playoff push.

Minnesota Timberwolves (27-16)

After making their big moves this past offseason to bring in Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson — three of their five starters — to pair with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves are reaping the benefits of those big money decisions.

Currently leading their division, and hitting their stride as the second half of the season approaches, the Wolves are in a position to flex their star power muscles for a deep playoff run. Considering their moves in the offseason, along with inking Wiggins to a max contract and preparing to do the same for Towns, the books in Minnesota are a bit tight at the moment.

With that being said, at this point for the Timberwolves, staying put with the core that’s led them to a record 11 games over .500 so far is their most likely scenario heading into the trade deadline.

Notable Ending Contracts:

None.

Names Worth Talking About:

Like most high-level contending teams in the NBA, the Timberwolves are a bit stuck with their current core. With no real cap room to play with and no notable expiring contracts that can be used as trade chips, Minnesota doesn’t expect to be one of the more active players at the deadline. Barring an incredibly surprising move where the Wolves ship off one of their star players, don’t expect this lineup to look much, if any, different after the first week of February.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Despite having a roster loaded with star-caliber names, there are still some serious areas of weakness for the Timberwolves. Namely three-point shooting, where Minnesota ranks 27th in the league in attempts, and 24th in percentage. As noted, it’s not like the Wolves have much wiggle room to address that need at this point; they are who they are, but if there was a situation where they could add a piece for cheap it would behoove them to take a look at some deep ball shooters.

Portland Trail Blazers (22-19)

With one of the most prolific backcourts in the entire league, the Trail Blazers are once again pushing their way to a playoff berth. Having a ton of money tied up in both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum doesn’t help Portland all that much in terms of being able to bring any new bodies on board, but with a few expiring deals that are attached to recognizable names, the Blazers could potentially find themselves in a position to make a move should they choose to do so.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Ed Davis — $6,352,531

Noah Vonleh — $3,505,233

Jusuf Nurkic — $2,947,305

Pat Connaughton — $1,471,382

Names Worth Talking About:

The Trail Blazers’ biggest cause for concern should be preparing to sign Jusuf Nurkic to an extension. Nurkic is the perfect thunder to the team’s backcourt lightening. Leading the Blazers in rebounding and blocked shots while also chipping in 14.6 points per game, Nurkic gives Portland an inside presence that can become a matchup problem for some of the finesse teams in the Western Conference.

Alongside Lillard and McCollum, Nurkic is the perfect low-post complement to even out the team’s identity. Portland should be focusing on making sure they can lock up their Bosnian big man before adding new names to the fold.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Even though money is tight out in Portland, the team could absolutely benefit from picking up a bench distributor. With two ball-dominant guards in their starting lineup, the Trail Blazers rank last in the NBA in assists per game. Up until this point, facilitation problems have still allowed the team to win more games than they’re losing, but as the season continues on into the playoffs, ball movement is crucial to sustained success.

Their current financial position is the biggest question mark over the next month. But finding an option to come in and kick up ball movement for the team’s various lineups could go a long way in terms of success.

Oklahoma City Thunder (22-20)

Halfway through the Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony experiment, results are mixed at best.

Despite All-Star names and All-Star paychecks, the Thunder’s trio has shown serious problems in terms of meshing their talents together for a more efficient collective result. With George and Anthony set to be free agents, the Thunder are an increasingly interesting team to watch as the deadline approaches. On record, Westbrook has said that the best free agent pitch to keep George in OKC would be winning a championship. That alone suggests Paul isn’t going anywhere this month. But again, the NBA is a wild ride, and Westbrook isn’t the general manager.

Should everyone stay put, the Thunder have the second half of the season to figure out how they can mesh three ball-dominant players well enough together to make noise during the playoffs. Regardless of what happens, all eyes will most certainly be on Oklahoma City.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Carmelo Anthony — $26,243,760

Paul George — $19,508,958

Jerami Grant — $1,524,305

Nick Collison — $1,471,382

Josh Huestis — $1,471,382

Raymond Felton — $1,471,382

Names Worth Talking About:

The most intriguing names related to the Thunder at this point in time are two players already on their roster: Anthony and George.

With the Los Angeles Lakers scenario looming over George as an evergreen possibility, the Thunder could be in a position to lose another star player for nothing if he decides to walk away from the team this summer. Considering his pairing with Westbrook hasn’t been the wild success the team was hoping for, seeing what Sam Presti could get for George on the trade market is at least a scenario worth exploring.

As for Anthony, his early termination option makes him a flight risk as well. If George bounces for Hollywood this summer, there isn’t much to suggest that Anthony would stick around in Oklahoma City as well.

It’s impossible to tell the future for the Thunder in terms of how many games they’ll win or if they can make a deep run in the playoffs, so making a move at the deadline at this point would be abandoning their experiment without giving it a full season to run its course. That was always the risk in dealing for George and Anthony, though.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

The biggest need the Thunder have to focus on as the deadline approaches is something that can’t be bought or traded for on the open market, and that’s chemistry.

With the third-highest payroll in the league, the Thunder are as strapped for cash as they come. Pulling off a blockbuster trade would require breaking up the current three-man band. Bringing on complementary pieces at this point may just not be feasible financially. Oklahoma City is married to its team at this point in time, and the best case scenario to start seeing more wins is an uptick in chemistry between the star players. Unfortunately, there’s no “chemistry exception” in the current CBA. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how this one pans out.

Denver Nuggets (21-20)

After swinging for the fences this summer and signing Paul Millsap to a three-year $90 million deal, the Denver Nuggets got a hard dose of reality when Millsap tore a ligament in his left wrist after just 16 games.

Managing to stay afloat with a record one game above .500 and keeping themselves in the playoff race, the Nuggets are in a position to add a piece or two at the deadline to pair with the return of Millsap for a playoff push.

What makes that tricky for Denver is the reality that they’re over the cap and pretty tight on cash. With a contract extension for Nikola Jokic right around the corner, it isn’t likely that the team will be in a position to make any long-term acquires. But a cheap option to fill out the second unit for a team looking to find the postseason isn’t totally out of the question.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Will Barton — $3,533,333

Richard Jefferson — $1,454,756

Names Worth Talking About:

Currently, there aren’t any names that are directly being connected to the Nuggets. With limited mobility in terms of cap space and tradable assets, there’s a good reason why things are quiet at the moment.

There are some sellers in this market, like the Lakers and their desire to move Jordan Clarkson to free up cap space. Clarkson would be a wonderful fit in Denver, where former lottery pick point guard Emmanuel Mudiay has fallen out of the rotation, as a perfect secondary option like his role in Los Angeles. The only problem is, the Nuggets don’t have the cap room to make a move like that work without shedding some money of their own.

Any particular move made by Denver will have to be the result of them finding a partner to take on contracts of their own. Otherwise, their hands are tied moving forward towards the deadline.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

As mentioned above, the Nuggets could really benefit from having a second-unit point guard to truly solidify their rotation. Since Mudiay fell out of favor, Will Barton has been responsible for that role. While Barton has his moments from time to time, his ability to facilitate an offense effectively comes into question more often than it should with a backup point guard.

Being able to shore up the backcourt of the second-unit would help create a deeper, more cohesive unit for the Nuggets as they look to force themselves into the playoff picture throughout the second half of the season.

Utah Jazz (17-24)

In their first season without Gordon Hayward, the Utah Jazz have regressed as expected. Although Donovan Mitchell has been an incredible surprise for the club, missing the seasoned scorer from the wing has been detrimental to the Jazz’s success.

Along with losing Hayward, the fact that Rudy Gobert has dealt with injury issues this season as well is adding to Utah’s tough campaign. Continuing throughout the rest of this season under their current trajectory, the Jazz will likely be on the outside looking in for the playoff picture. But according to certain reports, Utah will look to add players at the deadline in hopes to add more talent to their roster moving forward.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Derrick Favors — $12,000,000

Joe Johnson — $10,505,000

Dante Exum — $4,992,385

Rodney Hood — $2,386,864

Names Worth Talking About:

As Marc Stein of The New York Times reported, the Jazz are serious suitors for Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic.

With Utah showing interest in bringing aboard the likes of Mirotic, a frontcourt set to potentially lose Favors this offseason could find a bit more stability. An offensive-minded four, Mirotic could do well under Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, who has a knack for capitalizing on players’ offensive potential. As the trade deadline approaches for both the Bulls and Jazz, it appears that Mirotic will be the hot name.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Piggybacking off of the Mirotic noise, the Jazz’s most obvious need at the deadline would be depth. Particularly in the frontcourt. With Gobert sidelined, and Favors a free agent, bringing in Mirotic to an offensive friendly system could be beneficial for both parties.

Whether the Jazz actually make the move or not remains to be seen, but over the course of the next month, with Gobert’s knee a question mark right now, Utah could only benefit from bringing in some back up on the front lines.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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NBA AM: Most Likely All-Star Snubs

Damian Lillard seems to top the All-Star snub list every season. It couldn’t happen again, could it?

Joel Brigham

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This year the NBA has famously decided to mix up the way the All-Star rosters work, while rather infamously deciding against televising the draft that will organize those players into teams, but even as some things change, some things remain the same.

Just like every year, there will be snubs when the All-Star reserves are announced on Tuesday night. Oh, there will be snubs.

The starters already have been selected, chosen by a combination of fan votes, media votes and player votes, the latter of which were taken so seriously that Summer League legend Jack Cooley even earned a single nomination from one especially ornery player voter.

For those that missed the starters, they include LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid from the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and James Harden from the Western Conference.

That leaves seven more reserves from each conference and way more deserving players than that from which to choose. These will be selected by the coaches, per tradition, but it’s anybody’s guess who ends up making the team. There absolutely are going to be some massive snubs this year, so let’s take a quick look at the most likely candidates to earn roster spots this winter, as well as who that might leave out of this year’s event in Los Angeles.

The Eastern Conference

Let’s start with the “sure things,” which almost certainly will include with Indian Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. Not only is he putting up a career-best 24/5/4 line, but he’s also averaging two steals per night for an Indiana team that currently lives in the playoff picture despite dismal expectations. That’s almost entirely because of Oladipo.

In the frontcourt, there was plenty of healthy debate when Embiid was voted the starter over Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, so there’s a very good chance that those two guys find their way to the roster, as well.

Kevin Love, who also is having a monster statistical season, seems like the most obvious third frontcourt guy, but his defense stinks and the Cavs haven’t exactly proven themselves worthy of two All-Stars. Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris both are having borderline All-Star seasons for a borderline playoff team, but they are the closest contenders to stealing away that third frontcourt reserve slot from Love.

Beyond that, Bradley Beal or John Wall likely will be the “other” guard reserve, but choosing which one is dicey. Wall’s the four-time All-Star, but Beal arguably is having the better year and has been snubbed for this event entirely too many times already. It doesn’t seem likely that both guys will make the team.

The wild cards could be that “other” Wizards guard among Beal and Wall, one of those two Pistons players, Miami’s Goran Dragic (they are fourth in the conference, rather surprisingly), Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, or Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons.

What seems most probable is that Oladipo and Beal earn the Eastern Conference reserve slots, with Horford, Porzingis and Love earning the backup frontcourt positions. Lowry and Wall feel most likely as reserves.

That means the most likely Eastern Conference snubs will be: Goran Dragic, Ben Simmons, Andre Drummod, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton.

The level of controversy with this group feels fairly low, though if Dragic or Drummond were to make the team over Wall or Love, the conversation would be a lot feistier.

The Western Conference

Choosing the reserve guards in the Western Conference is a no-brainer. It will be MVP candidates Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, which immediately means that if Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Paul George are not named as Wild Card players, they will be left off of the team. That’s about as “yikes” as “yikes” gets.

The battle for the frontcourt spots are going to be no less brutal, even with Kawhi Leonard effectively out of consideration having missed so much time at the beginning of the season. The Spurs will have an All-Star anyway, though, which makes LaMarcus Aldridge all but a lock.

Towns, who is averaging a 20/12 with over two assists and 1.5 blocks per game on one of the West’s top teams, also feels likely to get in. That means Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic are the two guys expected to battle over that last frontcourt spot, and both deserve real consideration. Green’s importance is less obvious to this Warriors team with Durant on the roster, but he’s no less essential even if his offensive numbers are down. Jokic, meanwhile, has kept Denver in the playoff hunt even without Paul Millsap, and is the best passing big man in the game.

The most likely scenario in terms of Western Conference reserves has Butler and Westbrook getting voted in at guard, Aldridge, Towns and Green voted in as frontcourt players, and Thompson and Lillard voted in as the wild cards.

That means the most likely Western Conference snubs will be: Chris Paul, Paul George, and Nikola Jokic.

Paul has missed 17 games this season, which is just too many when there are so many other great guards from which to choose, and George’s usage has dropped massively in Oklahoma City. As for Jokic, somebody has to get snubbed, and the other reasonable possibility is that he be named a wild card player at the expense of Lillard, and no NBA fan should have to see that happen yet again.

The 2018 NBA All-Star Reserves will be announced at 7:00 p.m. EST on January 23 on TNT.

Tune in Tuesday night to see which players will make the team, and which will inevitably be snubbed.

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NBA Daily: Rockets Might Be Formidable Challenge For Warriors

If nothing else, the Rockets gave everyone, including the Warriors, something to think about by beating the champs.

Moke Hamilton

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For those that had any lingering doubt as to the authenticity of the Houston Rockets, Saturday afternoon’s win over the Golden State Warriors should serve as a bit of a wakeup call.

Sure, championships aren’t won in mid-January, but by virtue of the win, the Rockets won their season series against the Warriors, 2-1.

Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season—the year the Warriors won the first of three consecutive Western Conference Finals—they’ve lost a season series to just one other team: the San Antonio Spurs.

A review of the tape suggests that those that believe that Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are truly the team that has the best shot of beating the Warriors is founded in some fact. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have lost a total of 39 games.

In total, during that span, seven teams have failed to beat the Warriors even once, while 12 teams have beaten them one time. Four teams have beaten the Warriors twice and only the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have beaten them thrice.

The Spurs, though, have managed to beat the Warriors five times, with Popovich leading his team to a 2-1 regular season series win over the Warriors during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.

It’s safe to say that they have been the only team worthy of calling themselves anything near a worthy adversary to Stephen Curry and company.

At least, that was the case until Saturday night.

* * * * * *

With all due respect to Michael Jordan, if the Warriors win the NBA Finals this season, they can legitimately claim to be the best team in NBA history.

Two titles in three years is nothing to sneeze at, but the claim holds no weight whatsoever without ever having won two in a row, especially when scores of other teams have been able to accomplish the feat.

Aside from the two championships, the Warriors can claim the best regular season record in the league’s history and the distinction of being the only team to ever win 67 or more games for three consecutive seasons.

It is true that the Warriors have been almost invincible since the 2014-15 season, but things have changed now that Chris Paul has joined forces with James Harden.

This season, the Mike D’Antoni coached team ranks 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, a marked improvement over last season’s rank of 18th.

With Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute, they have four defensive stalwarts, one of whom (Ariza) who wasn’t able to suit up due to being suspended.

At the end of the day, beating a team in the regular season doesn’t really count for much, especially when you consider the greatest irony: in each of the seasons the Spurs beat the Warriors in their season series, the Warriors won the NBA Finals. The obvious asterisk there is that the Warriors didn’t play the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs and only managed to sweep them once the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in 2017.

Still, beating the defending champs in any game, much less a season series, has got to feel good. Whether they want to admit it or not, Saturday’s game against the Warriors was one that the Rockets wanted to get, that’s probably why Mike D’Antoni opted to reinsert James Harden into the game after he surpassed his 30-minute playing restriction.

In the end, Harden logged 35 minutes and ended up making what was the game’s clinching three-pointer.

Poetic, indeed.

* * * * * *

With the season a little more than halfway over, the Warriors still appear to be head and shoulders above those competing for their throne. Of the other contenders, the Rockets and Boston Celtics, at least for now, appear most formidable.

At the end of the day, what the Warriors have to fear more than anything is their own arrogance. As a unit, the team believes that it’s the best at playing small ball and that no other team can beat them as their own game. While that may be true, there have been a few instances over the past few years where that belief has ended up costing them.

What the Warriors seem to struggle with is understanding that not every possession can be played the same way, and as some possessions become more and more valuable, it would be wise for the team to play more conservatively and traditionally.

For example, when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving made one of the most incredible shots we’ve ever seen, but it was Stephen Curry who helped leave the door open for the Cavs with a pitiful final five minutes of the game.

Among the worst atrocities he committed was an ill-advised turnover that came as a result of an off target behind the back pass to Klay Thompson. In such a situation, any second grader could have and would have known that a simple bounce pass to the flashing Thompson would have sufficed.

Steve Kerr’s message to his team, though, is to play like themselves and not overthink their execution.

While that’s fair, it does at least leave room to wonder if the Warriors will have the humility to play conservatively when the game is on the line.

Curry himself admitted to playing too aggressively and making poor reads and decisions down the stretch versus the Rockets. The team passed up wide-open two-point shots for three-pointers that didn’t fall, and those botched opportunities played a direct role in causing the loss.

Fortunately, for the Warriors, not much was at stake, but their performance and decision-making in those tight minutes leave us to wonder what will happen if and when they find themselves in another tight moment or two…

And by virtue of the Rockets becoming just the second team to take a season series from the Warriors since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, we can also fairly wonder whether they truly have what it takes to take down the Golden Goliath.

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NBA

G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.

Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.

Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.

With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.

1. Christian Wood

Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.

His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.

2. Jameel Warney

Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.

3. Melo Trimble

After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.

He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.

4. Joel Bolomboy

Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.

At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.

5. Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.

With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.

Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.

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