Basketball Insiders has looked at some of the most pressing training camp questions in the Northwest, Southwest, Central and Pacific divisions as the 2014-15 NBA season approaches. The series continues with a look at the Southeast, which could have a new king this season.
How will Al Horford come back from injury?
The injury last season to Al Horford left a huge void in the Hawks’ lineup and severely limited their ability to make a deep run in the playoffs. Although Horford was playing the best basketball of his career prior to the injury, the Hawks still managed to sneak into the playoffs and pushed the top-seeded Indiana Pacers to seven games in the first round. Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this week that Horford hasn’t yet reached 100 percent, but remains hopeful he’ll be ready to go by the team’s season opener on October 29. The Hawks remained fairly quiet over the summer and didn’t make any big-time moves, so the team will be banking on Horford to return to the level of basketball that he was playing prior to his injury where he averaged a career-high 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. The Eastern Conference is much more competitive than it was a season ago, so Horford’s return will be critical to the Hawks’ success.
Can the Hawks make a deep playoff run without a superstar?
The Hawks have managed to make the playoffs seven seasons in a row and have done it while having no real superstar on their team. With no superstar-caliber player, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they haven’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs – ever. While Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague form the Hawks’ big three, none of them are capable of single-handedly taking a game over – at least not yet. As many teams in the league have illustrated, a go-to player in crunch time is needed and with Horford still not 100 percent, he may not be the answer. Head coach Mike Budenholzer’s style of offense may be best to replace the need for a superstar as his game plan of ball movement and spacing keeps the offense moving effectively.
Outside of the Hawks’ big three, who will step up?
After Horford, Millsap and Teague, the Hawks will need to rely on other players to step up. Outside of those three players, the Hawks’ will likely have Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll in the starting five again. Korver shot a blistering 47 percent from three-point range last season and earned an invitation to try out for Team USA for his efforts. Carroll’s first season in Atlanta went about as well as it could have as he increased his points per game from six per game with the Jazz to 11.1 with the Hawks. Carroll made the best out of his starting role with the Hawks and should continue to improve this season. While the Hawks didn’t make any huge moves over the offseason, they did add Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore and first-round draft pick Adreian Payne. Sefolosha will fill an immediate need on the defensive side of the ball as the team has long lacked an elite perimeter defender. Bazemore has shown flashes of the type of player that he can become, and he should see plenty of opportunity in Atlanta to prove himself.
How will the Hornets handle the spotlight?
The Hornets will be entering the 2014-15 season with some huge expectations after a trip to the playoffs last season and the addition of Lance Stephenson, but how will they handle the pressure of being in the spotlight? Head coach Steve Clifford has proven that he is the right guy for the Hornets, but the team is expected to not only return to the playoffs, but to compete for a division title. Kemba Walker is one of the most underrated point guards in the league, but he too will now be faced with expectations that he hasn’t yet had. The signing of Stephenson shows that the Hornets are serious about competing. This could be the season the Hornets show the rest of the league exactly just how good they can be.
Which will be bigger for Lance Stephenson: his play on the court or his antics?
The conversation around Lance Stephenson usually involves his play on the court, but the talk quickly turns to his antics and whether he is worth the risk of signing. There’s no doubt that Stephenson is one of better players in the league on both sides of the ball and if engaged, could bring the Hornets to the next level. The Hornets were apparently not bothered by Stephenson’s past and welcomed him to the club. With a young locker room building in Charlotte, many have questioned the move partly because of how Stephenson could quickly disrupt that. He’ll be joining a team led by Michael Jordan and Steve Clifford and all indications are that they won’t tolerate anything extracurricular that Stephenson may be up to.
Will the Hornets receive any national recognition this season?
Given the lack of success the franchise has endured over the past several seasons, they haven’t received much national recognition as a result. Jefferson had an All-Star-caliber season averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and earned just a spot on the All-NBA Third Team. His 21.8 points were good for 11th best in the league and his 10.8 rebounds ranked eighth. As previously stated Walker, remains one of the most underrated point guards in the league and should only continue to get better. Surrounded with even more talent now, Walker should benefit and could even play himself into the All-Star race, especially if the Hornets are winning games. Rookies Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston could also have a chance to place among the league’s top rookies this season.
How will the HEAT fare without LeBron?
Perhaps the biggest question heading into training camp for the HEAT this season is how they’ll do without LeBron James. Many speculated that if James left, others would follow suit and head elsewhere, leaving the HEAT with practically no one on the team. The majority of the remaining members of the HEAT proved that theory wrong and remained in South Beach. Chris Bosh re-upped on a new max deal, Chris Andersen is back on a two-year deal, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are on new deals to give the team financial flexibility and the front office brought in new players in Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. The HEAT drafted Shabazz Napier to help run the offense, but an awful showing in the Summer League showed that he has a lot of work to do before he’ll take over point guard duties. While the team will have core players in Bosh, Wade, Andersen, Deng and McRoberts, they may not be enough to legitimately compete in the Eastern Conference. While replacing an MVP in James is never easy, the HEAT assembled a team that will win games and should easily make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
How will Dwyane Wade hold up this season?
The key to the HEAT’s success this season will rest on the knees of Dwyane Wade. Heading into the season, Wade has to be one of the biggest question marks on the roster. Wade averaged a career-low 32.9 minutes in just 54 games last season in an effort to save him for the playoffs. Having James on the roster, the HEAT were able to afford that luxury of resting Wade, but with James gone head coach Erik Spoelstra may not have that luxury anymore. The team has added a plethora of guards that all will be competing to backup Wade. Reggie Williams, Shannon Brown, undrafted rookie Tyler Johnson and Andre Dawkins all figure to compete for the job in camp. Out of those players, only Johnson is on a partially guaranteed deal, so he may have a leg up on the competition and could be the frontrunner for the backup job, or eventual starter if Wade can’t go.
After Chris Bosh, who will be the team’s second scoring option?
Given the uncertainty around Wade, there will be competition to be the team’s second scoring option. The team’s best option with James gone now becomes Bosh, and if Wade was healthy then he’d be the second scoring option, if not the first option. Newcomer Luol Deng could very well step into that second option for Spoelstra. The signing of Deng could become one of the most underrated moves of the offseason as it will replace some of the scoring production lost with James. The HEAT’s offense is about to undergo wholesale changes and Spoelstra has his work cut out for him.
Who will lead the team in scoring?
The Magic traded away last season’s leading scorer in Arron Afflalo on draft day and will now look to replace his 18.2 points per game. In addition to Afflalo, the team also parted ways with the longest-tenured Magic player in Jameer Nelson, who averaged 12.1 points per game. That leaves the likely competition for top scorer to Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and newcomer Channing Frye. After Afflalo last season, Harris was next in line with 14.6 points a game and then Vucevic with 14.2 so the leading scorer for the Magic next season will most likely be one of them.
Can they jump to the next level?
With the team entering its third season in the current rebuild, the time to start winning more than 23 games is now. That’s not to say they need to fire off 40 wins this season, but an improvement is needed and an ideal number of wins should be between 27 and 32. The signing of Channing Frye seems to have increased the expectations a bit after handing him a contract worth $32 million over four years. The Magic added Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Devyn Marble through the draft and they all figure to see extended minutes throughout the season, but they all may not provide an immediate impact. Core players like Harris, Vucevic, Oladipo, Maurice Harkless and Kyle O’Quinn figure to have the most pressure to lead the team. The next jump for a team coming off of a 23-win season should be to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot until at least the All-Star break, which is an obtainable goal in the Eastern Conference.
How will head coach Jacque Vaughn perform?
This season may be a make or break season for head coach Jacque Vaughn. During this rebuild, Vaughn was touted as the man for the job and wasn’t expected to do much during the first couple of seasons. Now that the core players are becoming more developed, the days of winning 23 games are over. The front office seemed to have put some expectations on Vaughn after signing Frye; he could be on the hot seat if the Magic are competing for ping pong balls again rather than a playoff spot.
What does the arrival of Paul Pierce do for the team?
Paul Pierce’s decision to sign with the Wizards was a bit of a shock, but he helps solidify one of their weakest positions. During his session with the media this week, Wizards head coach Randy Wittman praised Pierce’s leadership skills and versatility on the offensive end of the floor. Beyond the experience and leadership that Pierce brings with him, he also has the ability to create his own shot, which will ease John Wall’s playmaking burden and give Wittman options on the offensive end of the floor.
Just how hot is Randy Wittman’s seat?
Even though the Wizards are fresh off of a playoff appearance, it seems that there is a lot of talk surrounding head coach Randy Wittman’s job even though the Wizards just rewarded Wittman with a contract extension after leading the Wizards to 44 wins last season and a trip to the second round of the playoffs. Players like John Wall and Bradley Beal have seen huge improvements in their game and Marcin Gortat has played well enough to warrant a five-year, $60 million contract extension, which have put big expectations on the Wizards to make some noise in the playoffs. With the improved roster and the arrival of Pierce, Wittman could be the first to catch blame if this team underachieves.
Will Marcin Gortat prove his worth?
Many around the NBA were ecstatic for Gortat when he landed his five-year, $60 million deal over the summer, but some were concerned. The biggest concern of this deal was giving a 30-year-old player a five-year deal and how the last few seasons of that deal might turn out. The fact is, Gortat forms an incredible front court with Nene and gives teams an incredible challenge when guarding those two big men. Certainly like the rest of the team, the expectations will fall on Gortat to help the Wizards make a deep playoff run and as long as he stays healthy, he should provide his worth on the contract.
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”
NBA Daily: 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 3/20/18
With most of the major NBA draft prospects eliminated from March Madness, things in the mock draft world are starting to get interesting.
A Lot of Mock Movement
With the race to the bottom in full swing in the NBA and the field of 64 in college basketball whittled down to a very sweet sixteen, there has been considerable talk in NBA circles about the impending 2018 NBA Draft class. There seems to be a more consistent view of the top 15 to 20 prospects, but there still seems to be a lack of a firm pecking order. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton seems like to the prohibitive favorite to go number one overall, but its far from a lock.
It’s important to note that these weekly Mock Draft will start to take on more of a “team driven” shape as we get closer to the mid-May NBA Combine in Chicago and more importantly once the draft order gets set. Until then, we’ll continue to drop our views of the draft class each Tuesday, until we reach May when we’ll drop the weekly Consensus Mock drafts, giving you four different views of the draft all the way to the final decisions in late June.
Here is this week’s Mock Draft:
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.
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 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections and based on the standings today would convey to Philadelphia.
The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four 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 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 Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick is top-five protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would 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.
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NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future
Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.
On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.
Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.
Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with the season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.
“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”
Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.
“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”
Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.
“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.
While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.
“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.
Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.
There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.
“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”
Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.
“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”
Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.
“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.
Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.
“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.
When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.