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Six Underrated Shooting Guards

James Blancarte takes a look at six underrated shooting guards who deserve your attention.

James Blancarte

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The modern NBA game is built around pace and space. Point guards tend to score more, three-guard lineups are frequently used and prototypical wing-players are commonly asked to play as undersized power forwards and even centers at times. Accordingly, positional designations have become less concrete.

Regardless, the position of shooting guard is still an appropriate designation for a number of off-ball players. Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal are well recognized for their strong contributions at the two-guard position. However, several other shooting guards are somewhat overlooked. Below are six shooting guards who don’t get enough attention or credit for their respective skill and impact.

Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

After nearly losing the ball in the backcourt in a close game last week, Hood rose to the occasion with a pull-up three-pointer with 50.3 seconds remaining. Hood stepped up in the absence of All-Star forward Gordon Hayward and sealed the game for the Utah Jazz.

“I can come out and be aggressive, especially tonight with Gordon out and [Derrick Favors] still out,” Hood remarked. “My teammates were looking for me to do that tonight.”

This win came at a time when the Utah Jazz are fighting to keep home court with a likely first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers looming. For a team that must fight for a piece of the national spotlight, most attention is given to defensive star Rudy Gobert and team centerpiece Hayward, but let’s now give credit to the underappreciated play of Hood.

For the season, Hood sports a 2.1 plus/minus individual rating and he has a 106.7 offensive rating and a 101.9 defensive rating. Both the offense and defense are better with him on the court and in 27.1 minutes, he has a 23 usage percentage. Hood is a solid ball-handler who can both makes plays for others off the dribble and effectively attack the basket. His combination of size, mobility and shooting makes him a valuable contributor for a Jazz team that is powered primarily by its defense.

As covered in this space last week, the team is poised to make some noise in the playoffs and Hood can play a big part in that. If Hood can play solid defense and knock down some big shots in the postseason, he may start receiving the recognition he deserves amongst other shooting guards.

Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon has been playing at a very high level this season. Gordon, once seen as a potential cornerstone player for the Los Angeles Clippers next to a young forward Blake Griffin and later a potential cornerstone for the Hornets/Pelicans, has struggled with injuries for years, only playing an average of 44 games a season in New Orleans. Now in his ninth season, Gordon has become a reliable, valuable and underrated contributor and a key reason for the unexpected success of the Rockets, who like to get to the rim and shoot a massive number of three-pointers.

In 31 minutes per game, the second lowest average in his nine NBA seasons, Gordon sports a career-high 53.7 effective shooting percentage. This includes increasing his three-point attempts to a ridiculous 8.8 per game, by far a career-high, while maintaining a 38 percent average, which is on par with his better shooting seasons. In fact, 65.6 percent of his shots are three pointers, by far a career high. Gordon knows how valuable his three-point shooting is to the Rockets, so when he has an open look from distances, he’s taking and making them. Gordon also managed to win this year’s Three-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend, knocking out other marksmen like Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving.

Gordon’s contributions this season are somewhat overlooked because of James Harden’s incredible season, his injury history and his lack of national exposure on the postseason stage. Gordon played in four playoff games in 2014-15, where he performed well individually but New Orleans suffered a sweep. Accordingly, most NBA fans have only seen him play sporadically in regular season games and may not be familiar with how effective he has been this season. Now Gordon will have a chance to make his mark in the upcoming playoffs alongside Harden. If Gordon can spread the court, knock down three-pointers consistently, make the occasional play off the dribble and play solid perimeter defense, his profile should get the boost it arguably already deserves.

Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Seth Curry is a player that has received plenty of attention for many reasons, starting as early as his NBA debut in the 2013-2014 season. These include simply being the brother of Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, and a curiosity as to whether he could eventually become a viable NBA player.

Last season, fans wondered whether his surprising play in 44 games for a losing Sacramento Kings squad foreshadowed a bright future, or whether he simply succeeded in putting up empty statistics for a team that never had a realistic shot of winning at a high level or making the playoffs.

This season, Curry’s minutes have nearly doubled (29, up from 15.7) and he has been able to maintain high shooting marks despite drawing much more attention from opposing defenses as a main offensive weapon for the Mavericks. He is shooting 48.1 percent overall, 42.5 percent from three and sports a 57.8 percent effective shooting mark. His effective shooting ranks seventh among all guards this season with at least 25 games played.

Curry still has his shortcomings. He is not an elite athlete and can be physically overmatched by his opponents at times. But he has really developed his ability to create space with his ball handling abilities, jabs, fakes and ability to utilize screens from teammates. Curry has come a long way since he first entered the NBA scene, and it looks as though he still has room to keep developing and improving.

In less than two seasons, Curry has not only silenced the critics of his late season play with Sacramento, but is now being treated as a foundational player for the Mavericks. Not bad for a guy who gained recognition early on primarily for being Steph Curry’s brother.

Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers

Like Curry, Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers has found himself talked about by NBA fans for reasons other than his actual play on the court, including having a more well-known NBA family member. Rivers’ father, a former NBA player himself, is the coach and general manager for the Clippers and authorized the move to acquire his son a few seasons ago.

Doc Rivers has been properly chastised for failing to consistently support the Clippers star players with supplemental talent over the last few seasons. However, Austin Rivers has blossomed into a two-way player and critical bench player for the team. Although Rivers failed to live up his draft status in New Orleans (drafted 10th overall in 2012), he is now thriving with the Clippers. In 27.8 minutes, Rivers has a 20.3 percent usage and is shooting 44 percent from the field, 37 percent from three, while recording 2.8 assists and shooting 69 percent on free throws — all career highs.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, Rivers recently suffered a hamstring strain that will cause him to miss the rest of the regular season and at least some of the playoffs.

“I was looking forward to this year’s playoffs. The goal was game one of the playoffs, but it’s looking like hopefully mid-first round, early second round. We’ll see. You never know, I might heal faster than I think,” Rivers stated.

Now, the team must enter a high stakes first round match up with the Jazz without Rivers and test how far this team can go without his contributions.

Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets

Gary Harris of the Denver Nuggets doesn’t get the notoriety of other big name guards. Teammate Nikola Jokic has commanded much of the attention in Denver this season for his stellar play, but Harris is deserving of recognition as well. In his third season, Harris has been playing quite well for the Nuggets, who still have hopes of making the playoffs.

The Nuggets play high scoring basketball and Harris is a key contributor with a 114.9 offensive rating, a top mark amongst all guards in the league. His superb shooting certainly plays a huge part in this effort. In 30.8 minutes, Harris is shooting 49.8 percent from the field, 41.8 percent from three with an effective field goal rate of 58.1 percent, nearly tops amongst all guards and ahead of Steph Curry.

Coach Michael Malone explained what Harris has done to be so effective this season.

“Gary Harris, if you had to give grades for the offseason, Gary Harris had a phenomenal offseason. He was in our gym almost every day. He worked on his body. He worked on his shooting. He worked on his handles. I think that all of that hard work pays off and you see his confidence at a very high level right now,” Coach Malone stated.

With the Nuggets in ninth place and in a tight playoff race, Harris may miss out on the opportunity to show off his talents in the postseason. But as a key members on an up-and-coming Nuggets squad, Harris shouldn’t be overlooked for much longer.

Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings

At this point, Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield is best known for being the primary asset received in exchange for superstar big man DeMarcus Cousins, and for being compared to Steph Curry by owner Vivek Ranadive. Either way, the rookie guard has been subject to criticism largely out of his control. Without Cousins, the spotlight has been off of the Kings and Hield. What has he done since? He has quietly put together an impressive finish to his rookie year in Sacramento.

Since being traded, Hield has improved his scoring (8.6 up to 14.4 points per game), shooting (39.2 percent up to 49.3 percent), and three point shooting (36.9 percent to 42.5 percent), with additional increases to his field goal attempts, rebounding, assists and steals. This increase in production is notable, as he has become more efficient while playing more minutes and taking on a larger role on offense. Additionally, over this period his effective shooting mark of 60.9 percent with the Kings is seventh amongst all guards in the NBA with at least 10 games played.

Hield has been a pleasant surprise for the Kings since the trade, but eventually he will have to prove that he can perform at this level when surrounded by more talent and while playing on a team that is competing for a playoff position. But for now, it’s fun to see a player thrive in what many considered to be a no-win position. Although the Kings gave up on their mercurial franchise player, the team may still be rewarded if Hield continues to display such impressive, rapid improvement.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#1 – Deandre Ayton – Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns have drafted Deandre Ayton with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Jesse Blancarte

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One of the few certainties heading into this year’s draft was that the Phoenix Suns would select Deandre Ayton with the first overall pick. In Ayton, the Suns get an elite center prospect with the potential to be a dominant player on both ends of the court.

Ayton stands at 7-foot-0 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He has a big, muscular frame but still has plenty of room to continue developing his body. Ayton is also extremely athletic, coordinate and nimble for a player his size. While some have wondered whether a player with Ayton will be limited by the NBA’s continuing movement toward playing smaller and faster, there’s plenty of reason to believe he is worthy of the first overall pick. If Ayton can become a more consistent weak side defender, improve his consistency in making the correct rotations and improve on his rebounding fundamentals, he could become a Rudy Gobert level defensive anchor. No one should expect Ayton to reach Gobert’s level but it’s a possibility and that alone is arguably enough justification to draft him first overall.

Additionally, Ayton has a diverse offensive game. He is an effective player in the post, can finish at the rim with either hand, he runs the floor well in the open court, is a constant lob threat and can stretch the court all the way to the three-point line. He isn’t necessarily elite at any single thing offensively but he has the potential to be an offensive threat from all over the court.

There’s almost zero risk that Ayton will be a bust and plenty of reason to believe he could be a star-level player sooner rather than later. While there may be other players with higher upside in this draft, Ayton has the ability to contribute today and the potential to be a superstar in the future, which makes him a great addition for Phoenix.

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NBA Draft Watch: Should You Expect a Flurry Of Trades?

Should you expect a flurry of trades during tonight’s NBA Draft? History says yes!

Lang Greene

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Draft Day. The event that rebuilding teams have been planning months for is finally upon us. The next wave of NBA stars await their opportunity to play under the brightest of all lights on the biggest of stages. But outside of the rising and falling status of the prospects, each year draft week is filled with a flurry of trade activity and there’s no reason to believe things will be different in 2018.

On Wednesday, the trade market kicked off with the Charlotte Hornets shipping former Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for veteran center Timofey Mozgov. The move isn’t all that surprising considering one of the biggest advocates for the Hornets in acquiring Howard from Atlanta last year, Steve Clifford, was fired back in April. In addition to a new head coach, James Borrego, Charlotte also hired a new president of basketball operations and general manager in Mitch Kupchak.

In the deal, Charlotte was able to avoid paying the luxury tax while also creating immediate salary cap flexibility to be players in this year’s market should they choose. For Brooklyn, the team acquires a veteran presence for their youth movement and a consistent double-double anchor on the interior.

The trade also marks consecutive years that Brooklyn was active on the trade front during draft time. Last year, the team acquired former lottery pick D’Angelo Russell from the Los Angeles Lakers. Since the Nets haven’t had the luxury of prime draft assets in recent years, the team has had to resort to trades (Russell, Howard) and free agency (Allan Crabbe) to reshape the roster.

Transitioning to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, the question can be asked whether this will be the third straight year involving a draft day trade. At the top of the Warriors’ lineup max players reside which means the team has had to find talented gems in the back half of the draft to contribute to their success.

In 2016, the Warriors acquired the rights to the No. 38 overall pick, Patrick McCaw, from the Milwaukee Bucks for cash considerations. In 2017, Golden State acquired the rights to another No. 38 overall pick, Jordan Bell, from the Chicago Bulls for cash considerations.

Notice a trend?

With the Warriors needing to lock NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant into a long term deal this summer and future free agency looming for All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the franchise will need to continue finding young role players to complement their collection of stars.

There could also be a deal involving All-Star level talent.

The Oklahoma City Thunder traded for Victor Oladipo back in 2016 in a draft week deal with the Orlando Magic. While Oladipo didn’t emerge as an All-Star caliber until the following season (after being dealt to Indiana), there are usually a couple of big names in play come draft night.

Consider the 2017 draft day deal that saw the Chicago Bulls send Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for talented two guard Zach LaVine.

This year, the most prominent name potentially on the market is San Antonio Spurs All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard. The rumor mill reports Leonard is frustrated and wants a trade to the Lakers. The Spurs are, of course, attempting to keep their franchise player with a series of meetings. Leonard could become an unrestricted free agent next summer and his public trade demand limits what San Antonio could demand in return. Teams will be hesitant to give up prime assets for a player that won’t commit to their franchise long term. While San Antonio doesn’t have to make an immediate deal their leverage hasn’t been compromised with Leonard’s specific trade destination request.

The NBA Draft can best be described as a crapshoot with prospects being hit or miss. There are teams that make their bones via draft day acquisitions, or working between the lines, which is a storyline to watch during the draft tonight.

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NBA Draft Watch: Storylines Heading into Thursday’s Draft

With the NBA Draft just one day away, there is plenty of uncertainty on how things will play out, writes Dennis Chambers.

Dennis Chambers

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From now until the conclusion of Thursday night’s NBA draft the landscape is subject to shift and evolve at a moment’s notice.

As of right now, the only thing that we can be most certain about is DeAndre Ayton going first overall to the Phoenix Suns. After that, it’s basically a crapshoot in regards to what might go down.

With media day commencing in New York City on Wednesday, the players that will be present during the draft’s greenroom got the chance to address the droves of media from all over the land about where they might end up, how they might fit in those places, and a few off-the-cuff questions thrown in here and there.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the league and their selection extravaganza on Thursday night, many people who are usually in the know this time of year seem to be approaching the event erring on the side of caution, more so than in years past.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer echoed that feeling Wednesday afternoon.

One of the large looming clouds heading into draft night is the Kawhi Leonard situation. As it stands, Leonard appears to want out of his relationship with the San Antonio Spurs and would prefer to wind up in Los Angeles, with an emphasis on the Lakers being his new employer.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard met with Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich on Tuesday night in order to discuss the situation between San Antonio and their franchise player.

While Wojnarowski has also reported that the Spurs are in no rush to move Leonard, draft night could potentially serve as a motivator in the opposite direction should Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford receive a tempting offer that involves some draft capital. With the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers reportedly interested in acquiring Leonard, on the clock with the 10th overall pick, perhaps they can entice the Spurs into sending their star forward packing.

Regardless of if Leonard is traded Thursday night or not, there were certainly be many eyes on his situation over the next 24-plus hours.

Up until about the time a player is selected by their new club, the situation for drafting remains fairly fluid. When the basketball community congregates to New York the day before the event, rumors and confirmation of shifting ideals begin to flourish.

With a lot of the players in this year’s lottery surounded by reasonable question marks, we may see last-minute rising and falling of the prospected hierarchy in prospects. Michael Porter Jr., with questions surrounding his health, and Trae Young having questions about his slight frame and defensive capability, seem to be two subjects of that shuffling just a day before the Thursday night festivities.

Conversely, the final moments leading up to the time to make a selection, teams can shuffle their opinion based off of their need to bring in star power possibilities — especially high up in the lottery.

Real Madrid star Luka Doncic has been the subject for criticism throughout this year’s draft process. While the 19-year-old has posted some of the best numbers for a player his age in the ACB and Euroleague, NBA evaluators are rightfully questioning if his athleticism can hold up in the league.

Originally figured to slip past the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks, who hold the second and third overall picks, respectively, Doncic appears to be gaining last-minute steam within the ranks of the Georgia-based basketball club.

Even though prospects are surfacing Wednesday in the Big Apple to meet and greet with reporters, and get settled for their big moment on Thursday night, some teams and correlating players are having final sit-downs to profess their admiration for each other.

More specifically, New York native and projected high-end lottery pick, Mo Bamba, reportedly met with his hometown Knicks on Wednesday. Corresponding reports tell the story that the Knicks are exploring the option to trade up in the draft, in hopes to acquire a franchise-caliber center to put alongside Kristaps Porzingis.

DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony added context to further confirm the Knicks’ hope of scoring their first franchise center since Patrick Ewing roamed Madison Square Garden.

Whatever does wind up happening Thursday night, those watching can be assured that this year’s NBA Draft will contain the necessary amount of chaos to continue the conversation throughout the league while free agency quickly approaches.

Although, if you were anticipating being able to see those draft picks come in a few minutes early on Twitter like in years past, think again.

It looks like those draft night Wojbombs will be reserved for any unforeseen trades, and not who your favorite team will be picking 10 minutes later.

Either way, embrace the insanity. Draft night is upon us.

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