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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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2018 NBA Draft Diary

Sources: Gregg Popovich, Kawhi Leonard Held Meeting on Tuesday

Basketball Insiders

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San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard met with coach Gregg Popovich on Tuesday in San Diego, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The meeting between the two faces of the Spurs’ franchise was done professionally and confidentially, league sources said.

Source: Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports

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NBA Daily: Lots Of NBA Draft Chatter

With the 2018 NBA Draft less than 50 hours away, Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler digs into the last from around the NBA.

Steve Kyler

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Lots Of NBA Draft Chatter

With the 2018 NBA Draft on Thursday, things in NBA circles are getting interesting, specifically on the trade front.

The final 2018 Consensus Mock Draft will drop tomorrow, just after the media availabilities in New York, from there we’ll be tracking the minute to minute news, trades and rumors in the 2018 NBA Draft Diary.

So, with that in mind, let’s dig into what we know some 50 hours until the draft gets underway.

Kawhi Watch In Full Swing

With the news last week that San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard may no longer want to be a Spur breaking, there is still a sense in NBA circles that the Spurs are not going to listen to trade offers until the hear from Kawhi directly.

If you know anything about the Spurs organization, you know that we won’t hear the details of this situation in a minute by minute way like we do from some organizations, especially considering the Spurs have never had to deal with a scenario quite like this.

The interesting part of this story is how split the “sourcing” is on what’s real. There have been reports from several different reporters suggesting that the situation isn’t as dire as initially reported and that the Spurs and Leonard have had dialogue, but not the face-to-face meeting the Spurs covet.

It’s unclear why there hasn’t been a meeting, and that is what has some in NBA circles believing the Spurs will open up the phones on Wednesday and see what they can extract for Leonard if only to do their due diligence.

One league source commented that it might be tough for the Spurs to get value out of Leonard mainly because of his injury situation and the idea that he’d only re-sign with the Lakers. The same source doubted that Leonard’s camp would fence themselves inmto just the Lakers because that would make getting him traded extremely difficult, especially if the Lakers wouldn’t offer value to San Antonio.

The sense today is the Spurs are standing their ground. The thing to know is that this situation still seems very fluid, and that face-to-face conversation (or lack of one) could swing this thing in either direction. It is clear several teams would have interest if the Spurs decide to listen to offers, even if it just a rental for the upcoming season.

Trades At The Top Still Viable

It a typical NBA draft there is chatter about top tier picks being traded, but usually, it dies off the week for the draft as teams look in on who they ultimately want to draft.

This year, and unlike previous years there is a sense that several of the picks at the top of the board could be had, especially if it returns draft picks later in the draft and solid veterans.

The Sacramento Kings seem to be leaning towards keeping their pick at number two, and it’s looking more and more likely that Marvin Bagley III is their guy. The Kings took a very long look at Michael Porter Jr, and as of this weekend there was a sense they were OK with where Porter Jr is at medically, but he may lose out to the less risky Bagley. League sources continue to doubt the Kings grab Euro sensation Luke Dončić, so we’ll see if that holds true as we get to draft day.

The Atlanta Hawks have had the third overall pick on the market from almost the moment they landed it. The Hawks seem ready to use the pick but are said to still be exploring their options. The prevailing thought this week is it’s down to Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young for the Hawks, with more and more league sources believing the Hawks will draft Young at three. While the notion of grabbing Young at three may seem high, the Hawks have had eyes on Young from the start of the process, and not much seems to have changed. The Hawks have made it clear they would take on contract money in exchange for additional draft assets, so it seems likely the Hawks will be active, even if it’s not moving the third pick.

Things start to get interesting with Memphis at number four. There have been numerous reports that the Grizzlies have dangled the fourth pick in an attempt to shed the contract of Chandler Parsons. Sources close to the situation say the Grizzlies have had some offers, and most of them involve the Grizz picking up expiring contracts and additional draft assets lower in the draft. It’s unclear if the Grizzlies will pull the trigger, but they seem to have deals if they want one.

The prevailing thought in NBA circles is the Grizzlies are the first real landing spot for Dončić. There is also talk of Wendell Carter Jr., and Mo Bamba landing at four.

The Dallas Mavericks at five seem open to taking on contract dollars and could be the landing spot for the fourth pick and Chandler Parsons, but league sources say the Mavericks would not give up the fifth pick unless it returned an All-Star or would-be All-Star.

There are a few other situations to watch as several teams have expressed interest in moving up. The Clippers hold two pretty solid selections and 12 and 13 and seem willing to combine them to move into the top 5. The Denver Nuggets have also expressed some interest in moving to the top five.

The Lakers and Celtics have expressed similar interest at points in the process, but both seem reluctant at this point to part with future assets to pay the price to jump to the top of the draft.

Porter Still A Possibility

The Michael Porter Jr. situation is murky. After two visits from NBA teams, the word on Porter is mixed. NBA teams have seen his MRIs and his medical, and select teams were allowed to bring their doctors and trainers to his most recent “workout.”

The worst case from one team that’s not considering him is that he may require an additional surgery down the line. This same team said their doctors didn’t think anything going on with Porter would jeopardize his career, but they felt like he’d have to be on a program and has a ways to go before they’d deem him a 100 percent.

The upside case, from a team with Porter squarely on their board, is that there wasn’t anything going on they didn’t expect and that their staff felt fairly positive they could not only manage his situation, but they felt they could get him right fairly quickly.

Amusingly, the narrative around Porter is that he could be the next Kevin Durant-type scorer in the NBA (Porter clearly isn’t as long and lanky as Durant) – but he does possess the ability to get his offense against almost anyone.

As one executive whose team wasn’t considering Porter joked, you could get Durant or you could get Greg Oden, hinting at the injury-riddled career of the former top pick back in 2007.

Where Does Luka Go?

There isn’t a more polarizing NBA Draft prospect than Real Madrid’s Luke Dončić. You would be hard-pressed to find an NBA executive who didn’t think Dončić could be special in the NBA. But you might also be hard-pressed to find one willing to bet their job on it.

Throughout this process, more than a couple of executives have expressed they are hopeful Dončić goes high, mainly because it would give them cover in future drafts to do the same thing, which is draft what appears to be the most NBA ready player in the class, despite his flaws.

The problem is if Dončić isn’t special or struggles like some have concerns he might, not only would a team leave a potential franchise cornerstone on the board to in passing on uber-talented collegiate prospects, it might cost the lead executive their jobs.

While that seems somewhat short-sighted, think about the executives drafting in the top six. How many are not under pressure to turn their franchises around? And would a huge draft miss seal their fate?

Atlanta’s Travis Schlenk at three seems pretty secure. Dallas’ Donnie Nelson at five seems pretty secure. Orlando’s Jeff Weltman and John Hammond at six seem fairly secure, but it gets dicey elsewhere in the top 10.

As we’ve seen in previous drafts, NBA executives can and often do outthink themselves, which why every draft has quality impact guys falling later in the process.

There is little doubt Dončić is going in the top 10; it would be pretty surprising if he got past Dallas at five.

Sexton Over Young?

The Orlando Magic seems to be dialing in on what’s there for them at six, assuming they don’t trade up, which they have explored with both Atlanta and Memphis. The prevailing thought among fans is that if Trae Young is there at six, the Magic will pounce.

Early on in the process, though, the Magic seemed to be seriously interested in Collin Sexton, and word is that be might the Magic’s guy at six. The Magic ultimately will catch what falls to them, and if Dončić, Bagley or Jackson are there, things get interesting. However, if the draft goes as scripted, Orlando seems more likely to go, Sexton, Bamba, Carter or Knox than Young – at least at this point.

The draft is a fluid domino effect process, so at six the Magic have to cover a lot of bases, and it seems they have with their individual workouts.

The Magic desperately covet an impact player, so don’t be surprised if the Magic pull the trigger on a move-up deal, especially as we get closer and closer to the moment of truth.

Bamba Could Slide

You won’t find many NBA executives who don’t find Texas big man Mo Bamba intriguing. The problem for Bamba if there are some many super talented bigs in the 2018 NBA draft he is caught in a numbers game.

League sources said recently that Bamba is in the mix at two to the Kings, four to Grizzlies, five to Mavericks, six to the Magic and seven to the Bulls. The problem is he doesn’t seem to be the first or second option to any of those teams at this point.

According to league sources there continues to be questions about how his offensive game fits into the modern NBA, and with more versatile guys sitting at the top of the draft, Bamba is looking more like the consolation prize later in the draft. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think Bamba will be a monster defensively in the NBA, but the question remains which team is drafting defense at the top of the board?

If there is a player outside of the top five that could tumble a little, it might be Bamba, especially if the Mavericks pass at five.

Over the next few days, we’ll be posting all of the draft-related news, notes, rumors and trades in the 2018 NBA Draft Day Diary, so if you want a one-stop shop for all things NBA Draft, bookmark it.

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, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Kaiser Gates Determined To Silence His Doubters

He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Kaiser Gates knows what he’s made of.

Spencer Davies

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If you’re looking to further your career at the next level but coming out of college as a prospect on the fringe, you’d better be willing to work twice as hard to draw attention from the basketball world.

Attending the Preparation Pro Day in Miami with team representatives and scouts watching, Kaiser Gates wanted to show everybody who was there that the chip on his shoulder would drive him to silence his doubters.

“I feel like I have a lot to prove,” Gates said in Miami. “I feel like a lot of the guys in the draft this year, I’m just as good if not better than (them), so I gotta show that.”

After three years at Xavier University, the 22-year-old decided it was time to move on from the program and passed on his senior year to enter the NBA Draft. The news came as a surprise to many, considering he might’ve gotten the opportunity to earn an even more expanded role next season with the departure of Musketeer favorites Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.

The numbers across the board weren’t exactly eye-catching. Primarily a wing, Gates knocked down 37.8 percent of his threes as a junior. He averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in almost 24 minutes per game.

Looking at conference play in the Big East, those figures took a dip. Gates shot less than 30 percent from deep and really struggled to contribute offensively for Xavier against tougher opponents.

There was an incredible discrepancy in shot selection over his three-year collegiate career. Astoundingly enough, 300 of his 409 career attempts came outside of the arc. The other 109 tries were twos, which he converted at a 54.1 percent rate.

It’s hard to ignore statistical evidence when it comes to evaluating players, but misuse and fit could have been more prominent factors in this case. It’s something that happens quite a bit at school programs with prospects, and Gates believes that he could be added to that list of mishandled talent.

“I don’t think I’m inconsistent at all,” Gates said. “At Xavier, I know my stats showed that I was inconsistent. Playing at that school it was a great experience—great guys, great coaches.

“Just kinda like my situation and the way I was playing at that school didn’t really allow me to showcase my full talents, and with that being said, it’s kinda hard to stay consistent not doing something I’m used to doing.”

Furthering the point, it’s not easy to be judged off that information, which some use as the only indication of what you’ll bring to the pros. Gates plans on using that as motivation whenever he meets with different teams.

“I would come in and people would just assume like, ‘Oh he could shoot a little bit, play defense, a little athletic.’ But I know on the flip side, I know what I can really do and like, my full potential.

“So when I know that and see what teams already think, already have in their head, just now it’s up to me to prove to them what I can do and show them what I can do.”

So what does that exactly entail?

“My first few years or so, I’ll probably be more of a three-and-D guy—stretch the floor, play defense make hustle plays, rebound the ball, things like that,” Gates said. “But as I’mma grow, (I’ll) look to expand on my game. Maybe work out the pick-and-roll a little bit and expand from there.”

Thus far, the 6-foot-8, 228-pounder has reportedly worked out for multiple organizations, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. He is enjoying the draft process and his growth as a player since it started.

He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Gates knows what he’s made of. And if he can attract the right set of eyes, he’ll be in good shape.

“You could get 30 workouts and that one team could fall in love with you,” Gates said.

“That’s what [my agent] Aaron Turner’s always talking to me about. He’s always said, ‘It only takes one team.’”

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