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Sleepers In The Atlantic Division

Heading into next season, these six players are poised to make some under-the-radar noise throughout the Atlantic Divison.

Dennis Chambers

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Every NBA fan knows how to keep tabs on their favorite star players when they’re on the court.

However, heading into next season there are some players flying under the radar that are worth paying attention to. This week at Basketball Insiders, we’re going to give you, the fan, a division-by-division rundown of which players could come out of their shells next season and catch your eye.

After already tackling the Central Division, next up are six players from the suddenly intriguing Atlantic Division.

So, while the stars in Boston and Toronto are running the division and the unicorn’s in New York and Philadelphia are making headlines, these players have the opportunity to get the job done without the spotlight.

Isaiah Whitehead — Brooklyn Nets

Entering his second season with his hometown Brooklyn Nets, Isaiah Whitehead is looking to build off his solid rookie campaign as a key bench contributor.

After playing in 73 games last season, and starting 26 of them, Whitehead got a legitimate taste of the NBA life. There were some good and bad moments for the rookie point guard, as is the case for most rookies, but overall the Seton Hall product displayed some solid playmaking and scoring skills.

With the addition of players like D’Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe who can score off of the ball, Whitehead should be able to seize the opportunity off of the bench next season to help make plays with the elevated talent that will be around him.

By adding a full NBA offseason under his belt, and a familiarity of what he long pro schedule feels like, Whitehead can hopefully improve his shooting percentages from the field. After being known as a long ball threat in college, Whitehead connected on just 29 percent of his three-pointers during his rookie season.

The Nets have a lot of improved talent heading into next season; with the correct preparation, Whitehead could be among that group.

Damyean Dotson — New York Knicks

All of the focus on draft night for the New York Knicks was the point guard the franchise chose eighth overall. However, the shooting guard the team took in the second round could be the rookie that winds up stealing the show.

Damyean Dotson showed an impressive array of shooting and scoring abilities down in the Orlando Summer League that suggested he may be able to pack a punch in the Big Apple next season for the Knicks. During his senior season at the University of Houston, Dotson lit it up on the court, averaging 17.4 points per game while shooting 44 percent from three-point range. He translated that ability immediately to a pro court when he shot 48 percent from deep during summer league on five attempts per game.

The Knicks will be in the headlines no matter what the news is, but if the early returns on Dotson are legitimate, there could be more positive news coming out of Madison Square Garden next season than anticipated.

Richaun Holmes — Philadelphia 76ers

The hottest ticket in the NBA next season is arguably one that features the Philadelphia 76ers.

With Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and finally players that actually resemble a legitimate supporting cast, the Sixers look primed to make some waves throughout the league.

While all of the focus will be on the big name young stars, a third-year center out of Bowling Green should continue to make plays when he’s called upon.

Richaun Holmes has quietly been the center to survive the front court log jam in Philly over the last two seasons. At 6-foot-10 with impressive bounce and a reliable jump shot, Holmes has the ability to play the perfect backup role to Embiid due to his athleticism and shooting ability.

Alongside Dario Saric in the second unit, Holmes provides a unique ability to play interior defense and block shots (averaging nearly two blocks a game per-36 minutes for his career), while also being able to stretch the floor on the other end for Saric’s playmaking ability (Holmes shot 35 percent from downtown last season).

Last season, in the 17 games that he started, Holmes averaged 14 points and 7.2 rebounds, proving the most effective player on the court between himself and Jahlil Okafor. If (or when) the Sixers decide to move on from Okafor, Holmes should fill the role nicely as a second unit contributor on a team looking to make a playoff push.

C.J. Miles — Toronto Raptors

With the NBA continuing to evolve in a three-point shooting league, the Toronto Raptors made a move this summer to ensure they had more long range shooting for next season.

In a trade that sent Cory Joseph to the Indiana Pacers, C.J. Miles was sent north of the border to Toronto where he’ll play as complement wing player alongside the all-star duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

After connecting on 41 percent of his shots from downtown last season, Miles will look to provide that same level of efficiency beyond the arc next year for the Raptors. For as great of a scorer as DeRozan is, he shoots just 28 percent from long range for his career. Adding Miles to the mix gives Toronto another option in terms of spacing the floor, and opening up the midrange game for the team’s biggest scoring threat.

After moving on from DeMarre Carroll and losing PJ Tucker in free agency, the Raptors had a clear need and plenty of space to bring Miles in for loads of minutes next season.

As the Raptors look to continue their run as an Eastern Conference heavyweight against a depleted field next season, Miles could certainly provide a new threat for opposing teams with the way he shoots the ball.

Jayson Tatum — Boston Celtics

In Boston next season, Gordon Hayward will be the main attraction on the wing for the Celtics. But don’t sleep on the third overall pick out of Duke.

Jayson Tatum put on an absolute show for the Celtics during summer league, displaying an array of advanced offensive moves and a smooth shooting touch that should prove most valuable off the bench for Boston as they gear up to make a run at the Finals.

While all eyes will be on Hayward and the talk will surround the improvement of second year wing Jaylen Brown, Tatum will be in a position to take opponents by surprise when he hits the court.

At just 19 years old, Tatum possesses an offensive repertoire of a player well beyond his years. That, coupled with the level of talent that will surround him, should make Tatum an easy bucket in spurts for the Celtics.

As the season goes on, Tatum should have the look of a key bench scorer for Boston, especially in moments when they want to give Hayward and Isaiah Thomas a chance to grab a breather on the bench.

Despite being a rookie on a loaded championship contending team, Tatum has the makings to pack a serious scoring punch for the Celtics.

Robert Covington — Philadelphia 76ers

Just like Holmes, Covington is about as under the radar as it gets in Philadelphia. With so much buzz surrounding his teammates, Covington brings to the table a legitimate skill set that could make or break it for the Sixers next season in terms of reaching their full potential.

As noted before, Covington truly defines what it means to be an X-factor for Philadelphia.

While Covington will most likely start for the Sixers next season, he will also most certainly avoid the headlines when he comes to the buzz around the team’s potential success.

With the vibrant personality of Embiid or the storyline of back-to-back top picks playing together, the fourth-year undrafted wing player won’t necessarily be clogging the news cycle. However, that won’t stop Covington from doing his job. 

If the injury bug avoids Philadelphia next season, and the team lives up to the expectations of competing for a playoff spot, Covington’s quick hands and smooth shooting release will be a big part of the overall team success.

Next season the Celtics and Raptors should continue their stranglehold on the Atlantic Division, but after some interesting additions and developments this summer, this division could be poised to be one of the most interesting divisions in the entire league that boasts plenty of sleeper player candidates.

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

Life After Philadelphia is Just Fine For Turner

Evan Turner goes 1-on-1 with Basketball Insiders to explain how life in Philadelphia shaped the rest of his career.

Dennis Chambers

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Once upon a time, Evan Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and the next man in line to save the Philadelphia 76ers.

After finishing his junior year at Ohio State University, Turner declared for the draft and eventually was taken directly after John Wall by the Sixers. Turner joined a team that won just 27 games the year before, but had more than a few promising young pieces.

Andre Iguodala, a former Sixers top-10 pick in his own right, was the oldest of the core bunch, at just 27. After him, the likes of Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes were all under the age of 24. All in all, adding a No. 2 pick to that mix looked to set up the Sixers for years to come.

For the most part, the beginning of Turner’s career was successful. After making the playoffs his rookie season and losing in the first round to the Miami HEAT four games to one, the Sixers pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2011-12 season.

Turner started 12 of those 13 playoff games during his second season, averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 points per game.

Just as Turner seemed to be coming into his own, though, the tides in Philadelphia began to turn, and turn quickly.

His third year in the league, and first year as a full-time starter, came and went for Turner. He posted decent numbers. His 13.6 points per game were second only to Holiday. He was third on the team in assists and sixth in rebounds. In the midst of his fourth season, while averaging a career-high 17.4 points, Turner was traded to the Indiana Pacers.

Newly hired president of basketball operations, Sam Hinkie, had a plan in place that didn’t include Turner. It didn’t include Holiday either, as he was shipped off during the 2013 draft for Nerlens Noel and future first-round pick.

Just as the Sixers were becoming “his” team, Turner was sent packing to a new zip code. In his mind, he never got a fair shake at trying to the be the guy he was drafted to be in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think I really ever had a chance to shoulder it, to tell you the truth,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t start my first two years, but numbers wise I thought I did well. Nobody averaged more than 13 or 14. We were a great unit. My third year, my first year starting, I thought I did pretty well for a first-year starter. We missed the playoffs, which is always tough. Within the next year, it got blown up.”

Turner reiterated that in his mind, he wasn’t allowed the leash to become a franchise guy. But it wasn’t all for naught in Philadelphia.

“Honest opinion, I don’t think I ever fully got the chance,” Turner said. “But I got the chance to do a lot of great things. Learn how to win, learn how to defend, learn how to prepare.”

Since leaving Philly, Turner’s role in the NBA has shifted from a potential franchise player to a serviceable role man on a playoff caliber team.

Last summer, Turner inked a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers after his stint with Indiana, and then two years with the Boston Celtics. Beyond the years in Philly, Turner’s life in the Association has been kind to him.

“It’s been fine,” Turner said. “On the up and up, I was fortunate to make the playoffs every year since leaving Philly. I made the playoffs two out of three, or three out of the four years that I was here. It’s cool, it’s a blessing. Healthy, stable, and living the dream.”

On Wednesday night, Turner returned to Philadelphia and the Wells Fargo Center to square off against his old team. Nowadays, this version of the Sixers is much different than the one he left behind. A process that nearly began with jettisoning Turner to the Pacers feels near completion, and the energy Turner once felt on the court in a Sixers uniform is returning in full force.

When walking around the building, this time as a visitor, Turner takes appreciation in seeing some old faces. The guys “behind the scenes” as he put it, always are welcoming. Brett Brown, Turner’s former coach, never fails to show him love, and the arena in South Philly, Turner says, is always a great reminder of where he came from.

Turner thinks the process that was kicked off with getting rid of him and his core teammates is promising, though.

“It’s turning around,” Turner said.  “Just off the first eye glance, I know Coach Brown can coach his butt off. Even the fact that they’re getting up a real practice facility says a lot. Obviously on the court, the energy. You see on tv before, it’s more sold out. When you see the Sixers sometimes it would be a joke, in regards to how many games they lost, or whatever. But now it’s kind of like you’re going to see some great highlights, you’re watching a lot of energy from the crowd and things. I’m happy for them. It seems like it’s trending in the right direction.”

It wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine for Turner in Philadelphia; he would be reminded of that as he was greeted with boo’s from the crowd when he checked into the game for the first time Wednesday night. The city of brotherly love has a reputation that doesn’t necessarily precede its name.

“Much is given, much is expected,” he said. “One thing is, when you get kind of labeled as whatever, you kind of get tagged for the most critical stuff. I saw how sometimes Iguodala would get blamed for everything, and then I kind of moved into that. I went from the cute little kid, to moving into that responsibility. Then MCW (Michael Carter-Williams) went from that position. It’s just kind of, you know, part of the game.”

The harshness of the city, and Turner’s situation particularly, helped guide him through his career after Philadelphia. In Turner’s words, “The only way to go from here, in a certain sense, is up.”

Portland’s sixth man has lived a long, lucrative life in the NBA, even if it didn’t go exactly how it was initially planned to. Turner was quick to point out that any time he heard someone complain during his travels around the league, at least they weren’t facing the wrath of Philadelphia.

“Going into new situations, people are like, ‘Hey they do this or they do that,’ and I’m like are y’all serious,” Turner said with a smile. “Go to Philly and see what they’ll do to y’all.”

Maybe his time spent in Philadelphia didn’t turn out the way fans had hoped, but Turner found out quickly there was a spot for him in the league as a former second overall pick, and that his career has gone just the way it was supposed to.

“I’m a firm believer in everything is supposed to happen how it’s supposed to happen,” Turner said. “Regardless of which, it’s a blessing.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA AM: The First 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

Steve Kyler

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The Thanksgiving 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

So with that in mind here is my first Mock Draft of the 2018 Season, look for more of these are we march on (and hopefully you like the new Mock Draft table design.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this summer.

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 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 Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

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 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.

Check out our Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA

NBA PM: Lopez Leading On And Off The Court

Brook Lopez has been a valuable addition to the Los Angeles Lakers, both on and off the court.

Ben Nadeau

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In spite of the ongoing media circus, an inherently tougher conference and a roster that features just five players with more than three years of NBA experience, the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-10. Naturally, that won’t be good enough to reach the postseason in the West, but it’s better than most expected the young Lakers to fare. Their early season successes can be chalked up to their glut of budding talent — Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, among others — but there’s one other major driving force at hand here and his name is Brook Lopez.

Following years of will-they, won’t-they rumors, Lopez was acquired in a shocking blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets just prior to this year’s draft. The Lakers were eager to get out from under Timofey Mozgov’s lengthy, albatross-sized contract, so they packaged him with the once-troubled D’Angelo Russell, shipping the pair off for Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick. The deal was largely made with financial implications in mind, but the initial returns on Lopez have been a massive win for the Lakers as well.

Although Lopez is currently logging a career-low in minutes (24.3), he still often leads the way for Los Angeles — like the night he effortlessly dropped 34 points and 10 rebounds on 6-for-9 from three-point range against his former franchise. Through 18 games, Lopez is averaging just 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds — a scoring mark that ranks only above his rookie season with the New Jersey Nets in 2008-09 — but his statistical impact is key on this inconsistent roster nonetheless.

But beyond that, it seems as if some of Lopez’s biggest contributions this season have come off the court — just ask Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac.

“[Lopez] has taught me how to be a professional,” Kuzma told Basketball Insiders prior to their game against the Boston Celtics earlier this month. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym, one of the last ones to leave.”

Lopez, who has carried his fair share of incredibly poor teams in the past — and often with a smile — is in the final year of the contract he signed back in 2015. His expiring deal worth $22.6 million made Lopez the perfect acquisition for a Lakers team hoping to shed cap space before the upcoming free agency period — where, allegedly, LeBron James and Paul George are both targets.

For a 7-foot center that just added a three-point shot to his game and knocked down 134 of them last season alone, Lopez may be one of the greatest trade afterthoughts in recent memory. The Lakers will likely finish in the lottery rather than the postseason, but Lopez — along with veterans Andrew Bogut, Corey Brewer and Luol Deng — have been a helpful presence for the slew of young Lakers as they adjust to professional basketball.

“They’re all great — they’ve been there, done that,” Kuzma said. “They have a lot of experience in this league, so it’s good to learn from those guys because they’ve played 10, 13 years and that’s what I want to do.”

Kuzma, of course, was selected with that No. 27 overall pick that the Nets sent to Los Angeles in the trade, and he’s been red-hot ever since. Following an impressive combine, summer league and preseason, Kuzma jumped into the starting lineup after Larry Nance Jr. fractured his hand just eight games into the campaign. Although the Rookie of the Year battle has been dominated by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons so far, Kuzma — averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — has emerged as a strong runner-up candidate.

For Zubac, however, it’s been a slower start to his NBA career but with Lopez, he says, things have gotten easier.

“The whole summer, I worked on my three-point shot,” Zubac told Basketball Insiders. “But also [I worked on my] post offense too, that’s what [Lopez] is good at. I’m really focusing my game around the post, so that’s where I’m trying to learn.”

Last year, Zubac was a popular late-season member of head coach Luke Walton’s rotation and he finished his rookie year averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. Unfortunately, the new arrivals and recent emergences have limited Zubac to just 10 total minutes over four appearances in 2017-18. Still, Lopez gives Zubac a mentor worth modeling his game after, even if it’s at the expense of real experience this season.

To get Zubac on the floor, the center has spent time with the South Bay Lakers, Los Angeles’ G-League affiliate, as of late. In two games, Zubac has averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds on 73 percent shooting from the field. Despite the lack of playing time, Zubac was more than happy to praise not only Lopez but the efforts of the other aforementioned veterans too.

“I can learn a lot from them and they help me play my game,” Zubac said. “Whoever’s on the court, whoever I’m playing with, I just try to learn as much as I can from them.”

Ultimately, though, it all comes back to Lopez.

Again, Lopez has averaged a career-low in minutes, but his contributions have been crucial in the Lakers’ overall standing thus far. In the games that Lopez has played less than 21 minutes, the Lakers are 0-5; but when he plays more than 30, the team is 3-1. On top of that, the Lakers are 5-1 when Lopez hits two or more three-pointers in a game as well. That sample size is still certainly small, but it’s nice indicator of Lopez’s inherent on-court impact, even when he’s not carrying the team on his shoulders.

“[He makes life] a lot easier for me,” Kuzma said. “He’s one of the most established scorers in the league and his career average is, like, 20 [points] a game. You can always count on him to be there every single night.”

While the Lakers can plan for a dream offseason haul involving James, George and others, they’ll have a tough decision facing them in July. Whether he’s efficiently stretching the floor, finishing off assists from Ball or setting the tone in an inexperienced locker room, Lopez has been quite the addition for Los Angeles.

This summer, Lopez enters unrestricted free agency and will likely garner offers outside of the Lakers’ pay range considering their big plans. If the Lakers decide to focus elsewhere, another team will reap the rewards. Until then, the youthful core in Los Angeles will benefit from having Lopez train and educate them each day.

“[Lopez] takes care of his body, he stays low-key and is never in trouble,” Kuzma said. “He’s the type of professional I want to be.”

Whether this is just a one-year detour in his extensively underrated career or the start of a great, new partnership, Lopez’s arrival in Los Angeles has been a huge success already. But as far as role models go for both Kuzma and Zubac, there are few choices better than Brook Lopez — both on and off the court.

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