For the last few weeks, we’ve been taking a look at each division here on Basketball Insiders. The rankings were first up, and then we covered the best moves each team made this offseason. This time around, we focus on the players, coaches and even executives that will make a jump to the next level by their impact within their respective divisions.
The Central is the up first. As mentioned in the past, the state of the division has vastly changed over the summer, but there are still two teams who can make some noise aside from the defending division champions.
Here are six names to be on the lookout for next season in that group.
Kevin Love – Cleveland Cavaliers
With, or most likely without Kyrie Irving as a part of the Cavaliers next year, the tertiary member of the infamous big three will take his game to another level. Last season was easily his best thus far with the wine and gold. The body language was much more confident and it proved true on the floor.
Love was playing physical and looking like his Minnesota self underneath, battling for rebounds and loose balls every possession. Tyronn Lue made it imperative to get the ball to the All-Star big man in the first quarter. Not only did it establish his presence on the block and underneath, but it also got him engaged early.
Lue’s strategy was brilliant as it resulted in Love’s most efficient and productive efforts since landing in Cleveland three summers ago. Now, with Irving potentially gone, he’ll have to step it up as a secondary scoring option next to LeBron James. Some may question if he can consistently put up more than 20-point, 12-rebound numbers, but this is a chance he’s been waiting for and he won’t take it for granted.
As long as he can go through the rigors of an 82-game season without suffering a significant injury, you can count on that.
Myles Turner – Indiana Pacers
Say hello to the new face of the Pacers. We’ve already been through the Paul George discussion and future of the franchise over the past couple of weeks, so let’s focus solely on the positives here with a young man who possesses a special mix of talent.
2016-17 was a breakout season in its own right for Turner, who joined an elite list of names because of his improvements. Averaging over 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocks per game on above 51 percent from the field in his second year as a pro, the Texas alum was the seventh player in the history of the NBA to do so. Only David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Bob McAdoo, Larry Nance, Hakeem Olajuwon and current All-Star Anthony Davis can say they’ve accomplished the same.
As he continues to mature and develop as a rim protector and stretch big, Turner is going to be scary for other teams to play against. It may not result in the win column too often over the next couple of years for Indiana, but rest assured, as that new young core learns to mesh together, things will be different down the road. The third year for him specifically will be a big change as the focal point.
Oh, and a friendly reminder on Turner: He’s only 21 years old.
Thon Maker – Milwaukee Bucks
Continuing the center of attention on frontcourt players, Maker is another name in the Central Division who will be worth watching. It’s a shame to see Jabari Parker starting the season out recovering from yet another knee injury, but when somebody goes down, it’s next man up.
The world saw what Maker could do in a crucial spot in the Bucks’ playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. As a dual threat offensively and a skilled defender with size and length, he’s got the tools to really impact the game.
Over the offseason, he’s been working out with Giannis Antetokounmpo to get stronger and establish even more chemistry together. That commitment on its own should help push him to the next step in Milwaukee.
Stanley Johnson – Detroit Pistons
After a confident and impressive rookie year playing for Stan Van Gundy, the dreaded sophomore slump reared its ugly head for Johnson. Less playing time resulted in a drop in efficiency and a tougher time shooting the ball with consistency.
What was most apparent was how hesitant he was. The shot attempts were nearly cut in half and it clearly affected him. Luckily for the Pistons, the 21-year-old wing didn’t lose any ground defensively and it looks like that part of his game will always be there.
Adding Avery Bradley to the ball club benefits Johnson tremendously. Not only does he get a hands-on, two-way veteran as a mentor on the floor, but he also gets to soak up his knowledge and advice off the floor. Couple that with the fact that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is no longer in Detroit and it’s fair to expect a big bounce back for him.
Jason Kidd – Milwaukee Bucks
We’ll keep this simple. Kidd has the longest roster in the NBA. He’s got a ton of talent that now has valuable experience, but remains young with plenty of room to grow.
As Indiana and Chicago will descend to the floor of the division, there is no reason why the Bucks can’t launch themselves to a four seed or higher in the Eastern Conference. If those expectations are met and things go as planned, Kidd could field some recognition as potential Coach of the Year. Look out for this ball club, which is on the rise.
Koby Altman – Cleveland Cavaliers
While the Irving sweepstakes continue throughout the league, Altman is the man in charge as the Cavaliers try to land something meaningful in return for the enigmatic All-Star point guard.
Opposing general managers have already offered praise for his “poise” and that’s a good sign for an organization that is in a questionable state up top. If he can finagle a deal that sees Cleveland get three assets in return—a win-now piece, a young talent for the future and a first-round draft pick—that’s already a victory for him. Let’s not forget he may have to maneuver the roster if things go awry with LeBron’s impending free agent choice approaching next summer.
The Central Division will offer up plenty of new roles and fits for both fresh and familiar faces. The opportunities will be there, so it’s all about taking advantage. Whether they can step up to the occasion, we won’t find out until next season.
NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role
The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.
The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.
On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.
Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.
“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .
Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.
Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.
“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.
In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.
Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.
“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”
If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.
Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.
“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”
After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.
Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.
Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd
The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Bucks assistant coach Joe Prunty will be installed as interim coach, league sources tell ESPN. He will coach Bucks against Phoenix tonight.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 22, 2018
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17
Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.
It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.
There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
6. Hassan Whiteside
After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.
5. Anthony Davis
Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.
4. Josh Richardson
Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.
Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.
3. Kevin Durant
This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.
In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.
2. Joel Embiid
Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.
Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.
Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.
Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.
He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.
1. Paul George
Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.
Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.
“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”
Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.
“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”
Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.
“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”
That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.
Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.