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Potential Position Logjams to Watch

Entering the 2016-17 NBA season, here are some of the position logjams to keep an eye on.

Jabari Davis

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The start of the 2016-17 NBA is just 63 days away, and today we’ll look at some of the rotations that could face roster redundancy issues unless changes are made at some point. As a result of the draft and transactions made by the front office, each of these teams could wind up with the somewhat enviable “problem” of having too much talent at a given position.

Here are some of the rosters with a potential logjam:

The Sacramento Kings’ Full Frontcourt

At a time when most teams are trying to make their roster as fluid and interchangeable as possible while also looking for ways to compete with the rise of small-ball lineups, the Kings went out and drafted two more big men (power forward Skal Labissiere and center Georgios Papagiannis) on the heels of selecting Willie Cauley-Stein just the year before. Oh, and they still have this DeMarcus Cousins guy you may have heard of, not to mention that they signed center Kosta Koufos to a four-year, $33 million contract last July as well. Anthony Tolliver’s addition certainly helps with some frontcourt flexibility, but unless he was signed with the idea of solely being a locker-room presence in mind, he’ll also take some of those frontcourt minutes.

Coach Dave Joerger is set to be the franchise’s seventh head coach since the start of the 2008-09 season, and while vice president of basketball operations and GM Vlade Divac has been adamant that Cousins isn’t going anywhere, you do have to wonder if this might be the season when the organization finally decides it is time to part ways (especially if they aren’t able to maintain some of the relatively positive momentum from last year that led to them winning 33 games for the first time since ‘07-08). With all the bigs on this roster, they are certainly in a position to make such a decision if faced with it.

Milwaukee’s Plethora of Point Guards

The Bucks went 13-17 over their final 30 games of last season, and did so with Giannis Antetokounmpo playing point forward for the bulk of it. Head coach Jason Kidd has said that Antetokounmpo will be the team’s point guard entering next season, despite the fact that they drafted Tyler Ennis with the 11th pick in the 2015 draft, they still have Michael Carter-Williams and they acquired Matthew Dellavedova through a sign-and-trade this summer.

Having multiple guys capable of playing the point guard position isn’t necessarily a problem, but it seems pretty clear the team is not interested in moving forward with Carter-Williams as the team’s floor general.

Like teammate Greg Monroe and potentially a couple others, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Carter-Williams moved at some point prior to next February’s trade deadline.

K.A.T. and the Rest of those Cats

There’s absolutely no question that Karl-Anthony Towns will be the man along Minnesota’s frontline,but  the Timberwolves do have an interesting mix of players at the power forward and center positions. Center Nikola Pekovic is expected to return from Achilles surgery and the team signed big men Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich this summer. They also have current starting center Gorgui Dieng returning along with three additional power forwards (Nemanja Bjelica, Kevin Garnett and Adreian Payne). Garnett won’t require a great deal of on-court time in order to leave his mark on this roster, but that still leaves an awful lot of frontline players for Coach Tom Thibodeau to find time for.

Rumors continue to swirl around the Timberwolves and potential moves involving some of the perimeter players, but GM Scott Layden is in the favorable position of having a ton of options and hypothetical packages that could be constructed in order to continue reshaping and molding what is already the league’s most intriguing young roster.

Phoenix in Transition, Again?

The Suns have talent on the roster, but not necessarily a mix that appears to make the most sense at this time. Alex Len and Tyson Chandler are obviously centers, but the fact that GM Ryan McDonough took two power forwards in this year’s lottery (Dragan Bender fourth overall and Marquese Chriss eighth overall) leads one to believe that the team sees them as guys who are versatile and interchangeable enough to play alongside one another at some point. At 18 and 19 years old, these two aren’t quite ready to compete from a physical perspective, but the idea of them ultimately playing in the same lineup had to be a consideration.

Another area of concern is the three-headed guard rotation that appears to be forming once again. Didn’t we see what happened when they convinced themselves that the combination of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas would be fine splitting time and scoring opportunities a couple years back? Bledsoe remains one of the principal characters this time around, but is joined by Brandon Knight and second-year player Devin Booker as the organization’s current backcourt triumvirate. Those are the stars, but the team also has Archie Goodwin, this year’s draft pick Tyler Ulis and the recently signed Leandro Barbosa.

It may be fine to start the year, but if Booker takes the next step in his development as expected, it could only be a matter of time before Phoenix needs to seriously consider moving one of the other two in order to carve out a larger piece of the pie for the younger (and more cap-friendly) player.

Lakers Overfill Frontcourt Void

Perhaps the most glaring hole on a 2015-16 roster full of questionable parts was the Lakers’ starting center position. Beyond all the madness and rotation uncertainty, the Lakers simply didn’t get much positive play from their centers regardless of who former coach Byron Scott put down low. From Roy Hibbert to Tarik Black to Robert Sacre to even undersized Brandon Bass, L.A. struggled to find a viable answer at the position most nights.

After taking Croatian big man Ivica Zubac in the second round of June’s draft, the team then signed veteran center Timofey Mozgov to a four-year contract last month. Recently, L.A. also signed Yi Jianlian and rookie Zach Auguste to deals as well. Tarik Black is also reportedly set to re-sign and young bigs Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. will obviously be back too. While having a ton of frontcourt options is a good thing for Coach Luke Walton, it could also present a bit of a challenge.

There were rumors about the possibility of Randle and Nance Jr. playing alongside one another depending upon the matchup, but the influx of frontcourt talent makes you wonder if that’s still in the cards. Especially when you consider that Luol Deng, while traditionally a small forward, played some of his best basketball as a hybrid or stretch-four in Miami last season out of necessity. Jianlian’s game is versatile enough to play more than just power forward, but the idea of an intriguing project like Zubac finding time to develop in such a seemingly crowded crop of bigs seems a bit more far-fetched than it did when the 18-year-old impressed during Summer League.

Again, as in many of these cases, it isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world to have a bit of roster redundancy if it presents coaches with the “problem” of finding time for quality players. The Lakers are in the rare position of not having high expectations in 2016-17, so it will be very interesting to see if the front office is actually setting up potential transactions for the future.

*****

None of these teams are necessarily finished products heading into camp next month and while they may not rectify these potential logjam scenarios over the next six weeks, don’t be shocked to see several of them take the steps to balance out their rosters between now and February prior to the trade deadline.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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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.

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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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