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The Field for the Most Improved Player Award

Eric Saar takes a look at the field for Most Improved Player of the Year in the NBA

Eric Saar

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The Most Improved Player award tends to go to a player who came out of nowhere, a player whose production and profile among the league took the largest leap. It often is a player that was a lower draft pick, or someone who isn’t known to casual fans, who put in the hard work in the offseason and makes a huge impact on his team, reaching the group of players just out of the all-star conversation. Typically All-stars don’t win this award, and usually aren’t even considered. One marker of a MIP winner is someone who got a huge bump in minutes per game and made the most of it.

Last season, the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler ran away with the award and, as an exception to the general rule, also become a first-time All-Star. Other recent winners include Goran Dragic (2013-14) when he was with the Phoenix Suns, Paul George (2012-13) with the Indiana Pacers, Ryan Anderson (2011-12) with the Orlando Magic and Kevin Love (2010-11) with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

As All-Stars are not typically considered for MIP, a reigning MVP probably should not in consideration for the award, but the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry certainly has a case. Even though it’s tough to improve upon a season as the NBA’s best player, Curry has done just that. To start with, Curry is averaging 30.4 points a game this year in only one minute per game more than his 23.8 points per game last season. Then there are his shooting percentages. From inside the arc, he upped his percentage from 52.8 to 57.6 percent, while outside the arc it when up from 44.3 to 46.1 percent, both of which are just mind-boggling when you consider the volume of his shooting and how much defenses gear up to slow him down specifically. Additionally, his effective field goal percentage (which weighs threes and free throws) went from 59.4 to 63.9 percent. He also is averaging an extra rebound a game, all of which is helping propel his reigning champion Warriors to be on pace to break the all-time number of wins in a regular season. But in a sense, he is disqualified for being too good for the Most Improved Player race.

Let’s look at those players who are probably going to be in the hunt for the award come the end of the season.

C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers)

Like Butler was last year, C.J. McCollum is far and away the leader for this year’s Most Improved Player race, and barring some improbable sequence of events, will likely win the award. The Trail Blazers lost 80 percent of their starting lineup and some bench depth and were predicted to be one of the worst teams out in the Western Conference. Damian Lillard, the lone remaining starter from the previous year and McCollum are the main reasons that Portland is currently a playoff team, as opposed to a cellar-dweller like predicted.

For McCollum, the opportunity was huge with the large void left behind with so many players gone. The 6’4 guard out of Lehigh went from averaging 15.7 minutes and only starting in three games last season to starting all 56 games thus far and averaging 35.1 minutes per game. The reason he’ll probably get the award for MIP is because he made the most out of that opportunity. To accompany his increase in role, he went from 6.8 points a game to 21.1 this season, which puts him 15th overall in the league. It’s not just the increase in minutes either. His field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage are all significantly improved. Along with his backcourt partner, who is fifth in scoring averaging 25.1, McCollum and Lillard make a fearsome combo. McCollum was great against the Memphis Grizzlies in last year’s playoffs, but I don’t think anyone thought he would be this good, this fast.

Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors)

Draymond Green is probably one of the biggest overall impact players in the league. His versatility on both ends of the court allows Golden State to do a lot more than they would be able to without him. Green is having a great year, even compared to last year where he almost won the Defensive Player of the Year award and was instrumental in helping the Warriors win the NBA title.

Green is playing a few more minutes a game and upped his points per game from 11.7 to 14.0. His field goal percentage went from 44.3 to 48.7 percent and he increased his three-point percentage from 33.7 to 40.2 percent. This is huge for the Warriors since he he spaces the floor more effectively and keeps defenses from hounding Curry in the pick-and-roll as they might if Green couldn’t hit his perimeter shots consistently.

Green also boosted his rebounding average from 6.7 to 7.9 and really upped his assists from 3.7 to an amazing 7.3, which is pretty incredible for a power forward who often plays center. Green has 11 triple-doubles this season, leading the league (three more than second-place Russell Westbrook). He only had one the other three years of his career combined. That’s major improvement and Green was rewarded with his first All-Star selection.

Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics)

Another player that could be in the mix for the MIP award is Celtics’ point guard Isaiah Thomas. While it would be a little atypical due to the fact that he already was a starter back in 2013-14 with Sacramento (averaging 20.3 points per game), he had a significantly down year during his short stint in Phoenix and has bounced back to earn his first All-Star selection.

During his Suns’ tenure, Thomas only started once and was played 25.7 minutes a game, averaging 15.2 points per game. However this year, Thomas has started 56 of Boston’s 59 games, averaging 32.5 minutes and scoring 21.6 points per game (tying him with Klay Thompson for 12th in the league in scoring). His assists have also gone up from 3.7 in Phoenix to 6.8 in 2015-16. He has been the focal point of Boston’s offense and has been a steady leader under Brad Stevens’ guidance. Nevertheless, there’s still a large gap between McCollum and everyone else, but Thomas is certainly in the discussion.

Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors)

Despite now being a two-time all-star, Kyle Lowry has really improved his game this year. In only a few more minutes per game, he upped his scoring average from 17.8 to 21.4 points per game. That puts him as the 14th highest scoring player in the league. He’s averaging more rebounds, and assists, but most impressive are his percentages. His field goal percentage went from 41.2 to 43.6 percent, which is fine, but his three-point percentage went from 33.8 percent (not that great) to 39.0 percent (lethal). He even got invited to participate in the three-point contest at All-Star weekend “at his house” in Toronto.

Jae Crowder (Boston Celtics)

The Boston Celtics must really be surging if they have two candidates for MIP. Jae Crowder is the second player that is in the conversation along with Thomas. Crowder is in a lot of ways similar to DeMarre Carroll, but may be even better.

The former second-round pick has really picked up his game, going from starting 17 games last season after getting traded from Dallas to starting all 59 games for Boston thus far this season. With a big role increase (24.2 to 32.1 minutes) Crowder has made the most of it, going from 9.5 to 14.4 points per game – and he’s not even the focal point of that offense. Even better he’s increased his field goal percentage from 41.8 to 45.7 and his three-point percentage increase is even more dramatic (28.2 to 36.0 percent). That’s an amazing improvement, and it’s on more attempts per game. He’s also rebounding and assisting a bit better and plays terrific defense. He has been a nice addition for Boston and is locked up at a very team-friendly contract.

Unfortunately, for all these players, the Most Improved Player award is C.J. McCollum’s to lose and there is no indication he’ll be slowing down any time soon.

Based in Arizona, Eric Saar is an analyst for Basketball Insiders. He has covered the league for several years. He loves to converse about the NBA on Twitter, so follow him at @Eric_Saar. Eric graduated with honors from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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NBA Announces 2018 NBA Draft Early Entry Candidates

The NBA announced the 2018 NBA Draft Early Entry list, including 181 players from colleges and post-graduate institutions and 55 international players.

Basketball Insiders

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NEW YORK, April 24, 2018 – The National Basketball Association announced today that 236 players — 181 players from colleges and post-graduate institutions and 55 international players — have filed as early entry candidates for the 2018 NBA Draft presented by State Farm.

Players wishing to enter the 2018 NBA Draft were required to submit a letter to the NBA to be received no later than Sunday, April 22. Players who have applied for early entry have the right to withdraw their names from consideration for the Draft by notifying the NBA of their decision in writing no later than 5 p.m. ET on Monday, June 11. Under NCAA rules, in order to retain college basketball eligibility, underclassmen who have entered the 2018 Draft must withdraw by Wednesday, May 30.

Following is the list of players from colleges and post-graduate institutions who have applied for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft, which will be held Thursday, June 21 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

EARLY ENTRY CANDIDATES FOR 2018 NBA DRAFT

Player  School  Height  Status
Aaron Holiday  UCLA  6-1  Junior
Aaron Menzies  Seattle  7-3  Junior
Abdul Lewis  NJIT  6-10  Junior
Adjin Penava  Marshall  6-9  Junior
Admiral Schofield  Tennessee  6-5  Junior
Admon Gilder  Texas A&M  6-4  Junior
Ahmaad Rorie  Montana  6-1  Junior
Allonzo Trier  Arizona  6-5  Junior
Andrien White  Charlotte  6-3  Junior
Anfernee Simons  IMG Academy  6-4  Post-Graduate
Austin Wiley  Auburn  6-11  Freshman
Barry Brown Jr.  Kansas State  6-3  Junior
Billy Preston  Kansas  6-10  Freshman
Brandon McCoy  UNLV  7-1  Freshman
Brandon Sampson  LSU  6-5  Junior
Brian Bowen II  South Carolina  6-7  Freshman
Bruce Brown Jr.  Miami  6-5  Sophomore
Bruno Fernando  Maryland  6-10  Freshman
Bryant Crawford  Wake Forest  6-3  Junior
Bryce Brown  Auburn  6-3  Junior
C.J. Burks  Marshall  6-4  Junior
Caleb Martin  Nevada  6-7  Junior
Carsen Edwards  Purdue  6-1  Sophomore
Charles Matthews  Michigan  6-6  Sophomore
Chimezie Metu  USC  6-11  Junior
Chris Clemons  Campbell  5-9  Junior
Chris Silva  South Carolina  6-9  Junior
Christian Keeling  Charleston Southern  6-4  Sophomore
Christian Mekowulu  Tennessee State  6-9  Junior
Christian Vital  Connecticut  6-2  Sophomore
Cody Martin  Nevada  6-7  Junior
Cody Riley  UCLA  6-10  Freshman
Collin Sexton  Alabama  6-3  Freshman
Corey Sanders  Rutgers  6-2  Junior
Deandre Ayton  Arizona  7-1  Freshman
DeAngelo Isby  Utah State  6-5  Junior
Demajeo Wiggins  Bowling Green  6-10  Junior
Deng Adel  Louisville  6-7  Junior
Deshon Taylor  Fresno State  6-2  Junior
Devonte Klines  Montana State  6-0  Junior
Dewan Huell  Miami  6-11  Sophomore
Dextor Foster  ASA College (FL)  6-5  Junior
De’Anthony Melton  USC  6-4  Freshman
Dikembe Dixson  UIC  6-7  Sophomore
DJ Hogg  Texas A&M  6-9  Junior
Dominic Magee  Southern Mississippi  6-4  Junior
Donte DiVincenzo  Villanova  6-5  Sophomore
Doral Moore  Wake Forest  7-1  Junior
Drew Eubanks  Oregon State  6-10  Junior
Elijah Bryant  BYU  6-5  Junior
Eric Davis Jr.  Texas  6-3  Junior
Esa Ahmad  West Virginia  6-8  Junior
Ethan Happ  Wisconsin  6-10  Junior
Eugene German  Northern Illinois  6-0  Sophomore
Fletcher Magee  Wofford  6-4  Junior
Fred Sims Jr.  Chicago State  6-4  Junior
Gary Trent Jr.  Duke  6-6  Freshman
Haanif Cheatham  FGCU  6-5  Junior
Hamidou Diallo  Kentucky  6-5  Freshman
Isaac Copeland Jr.  Nebraska  6-9  Junior
Isaiah Moss  Iowa  6-5  Sophomore
Isaiah Reese  Canisius  6-5  Sophomore
Ismaila Kane  Atlanta Metropolitan  6-9  Freshman
Jacob Evans  Cincinnati  6-6  Junior
Jalen Brunson  Villanova  6-3  Junior
Jalen Hudson  Florida  6-6  Junior
Jalen McDaniels  San Diego State  6-10  Freshman
Jalon Pipkins  Cal State-Northridge  6-4  Freshman
James Palmer Jr.  Nebraska  6-6  Junior
Jared Harper  Auburn  5-10  Sophomore
Jaren Jackson Jr.  Michigan State  6-11  Freshman
Jarred Vanderbilt  Kentucky  6-9  Freshman
Jarrey Foster  SMU  6-6  Junior
Jaylen Hands  UCLA  6-3  Freshman
Jaylin Walker  Kent State  6-1  Junior
Jerome Robinson  Boston College  6-6  Junior
Jessie Govan  Georgetown  6-10  Junior
Jon Davis  Charlotte  6-3  Junior
Jon Elmore  Marshall  6-3  Junior
Jontay Porter  Missouri  6-11  Freshman
Jordan Brangers  South Plains College (TX)  6-2 S  ophomore
Jordan Caroline  Nevada  6-7  Junior
Jordan Davis  Northern Colorado  6-2  Junior
Jordan Murdock  Friends University  6-4  Junior
Josh Okogie  Georgia Tech  6-4  Sophomore
Justin Jackson  Maryland  6-7  Sophomore
Justin James  Wyoming  6-7  Junior
Justin Wright-Foreman  Hofstra  6-1  Junior
Juwan Morgan  Indiana  6-8  Junior
Kaiser Gates  Xavier  6-8  Junior
Kalob Ledoux  McNeese State  6-3  Sophomore
Kameron Chatman  Detroit  6-9  Junior
Keanu Peters  Salt Lake CC (UT)  6-2  Sophomore
Keita Bates-Diop  Ohio State  6-7  Junior
Kerwin Roach II  Texas  6-4  Junior
Kevin Huerter  Maryland  6-7  Sophomore
Kevin Knox  Kentucky  6-9  Freshman
Khyri Thomas  Creighton  6-3  Junior
Kostas Antetokounmpo  Dayton  6-10  Freshman
Kris Wilkes  UCLA  6-8  Freshman
Ky Bowman  Boston College  6-1  Sophomore
Lagerald Vick  Kansas  6-5  Junior
Lamar Peters  Mississippi State  6-0  Sophomore
Lamonte Bearden  Western Kentucky  6-3  Junior
Landry Shamet  Wichita State  6-4  Sophomore
Leron Black  Illinois  6-7  Junior
Lindell Wigginton  Iowa State  6-2  Freshman
Lonnie Walker  Miami  6-4  Freshman
Luke Maye  North Carolina  6-8  Junior
Makinde London  Tennessee-Chattanooga  6-10 Juni  or
Malik Hines  Massachusetts  6-10  Junior
Malik Martin  South Florida  6-11  Junior
Malik Newman  Kansas  6-3  Sophomore
Marcquise Reed  Clemson  6-3  Junior
Marcus Derrickson  Georgetown  6-7  Junior
Markis McDuffie  Wichita State  6-8  Junior
Marquez Letcher-Ellis  Rice  6-7  Sophomore
Marvin Bagley III  Duke  6-11  Freshman
Matt Morgan  Cornell  6-3  Junior
Max Montana  San Diego State  6-9  Junior
Melvin Frazier Jr.  Tulane  6-6  Junior
Micah Seaborn  Monmouth  6-5  Junior
Michael Gilmore  FGCU  6-10  Junior
Michael Porter Jr.  Missouri  6-10  Freshman
Mikal Bridges  Villanova  6-6  Junior
Mike Amius  Western Carolina  6-7  Junior
Mike Daum  South Dakota State  6-9  Junior
Miles Bridges  Michigan State  6-7  Sophomore
Mitchell Robinson  Western Kentucky  7-0  Freshman
Mohamed Bamba  Texas  6-11  Freshman
Moritz Wagner  Michigan  6-11  Junior
Mustapha Heron  Auburn  6-5  Sophomore
Nick Ward  Michigan State  6-8  Sophomore
Noah Dickerson  Washington  6-8  Junior
Nojel Eastern  Purdue  6-6  Freshman
Omari Spellman  Villanova  6-9  Freshman
PJ Washington  Kentucky  6-7  Freshman
Quinndary Weatherspoon  Mississippi State  6-4  Junior
Quinton Rose  Temple  6-8  Sophomore
Rawle Alkins  Arizona  6-5  Sophomore
Ray Ona Embo  Tulane  6-5  Sophomore
Ray Spalding  Louisville  6-9  Junior
Reid Travis  Stanford  6-8  Junior
Robert Franks Jr.  Washington State  6-7  Junior
Robert Williams III  Texas A&M  6-10  Sophomore
Ronshad Shabazz  Appalachian State  6-5  Junior
Sagaba Konate  West Virginia  6-8  Sophomore
Sedrick Barefield  Utah  6-2  Junior
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander  Kentucky  6-6  Freshman
Shake Milton  SMU  6-6  Junior
Shamorie Ponds  St. John痴  6-1  Sophomore
Shawntrez Davis  Bethune-Cookman  6-9  Junior
Shelton Mitchell  Clemson  6-3  Junior
Takal Molson  Canisius  6-5  Freshman
Tashawn Berry  Dakota College (ND)  6-3  Sophomore
Tavarius Shine  Oklahoma State  6-6  Junior
Terence Davis  Mississippi  6-4  Junior
Terry Larrier  Connecticut  6-8  Junior
Tony Carr  Penn State  6-5  Sophomore
Torin Dorn  North Carolina State  6-5  Junior
Trae Young  Oklahoma  6-2  Freshman
Tramaine Isabell Jr.  Drexel  6-1  Junior
Travis Munnings  Louisiana-Monroe  6-6  Junior
Tremaine Fraiser  Westchester CC (NY)  6-3  Sophomore
Tremont Waters  LSU  5-11  Freshman
Trevon Duval  Duke  6-3  Freshman
Troy Brown Jr.  Oregon  6-7  Freshman
Tyler Cook  Iowa  6-9  Sophomore
Tyler Davis  Texas A&M  6-10  Junior
Tyler Hall  Montana State  6-4  Junior
Tyus Battle  Syracuse  6-6  Sophomore
Udoka Azubuike  Kansas  7-0  Sophomore
Victor Lewis II  West Texas A&M  6-3  Junior
Wendell Carter Jr.  Duke  6-10  Freshman
Wenyen Gabriel  Kentucky  6-9  Sophomore
Yankuba Sima  Oklahoma State  6-11  Junior
Yoeli Childs  BYU  6-8  Sophomore
Zach Hankins  Ferris State  6-10  Junior
Zach Johnson  FGCU  6-2  Junior
Zane Martin  Towson  6-4  Sophomore
Zhaire Smith  Texas Tech  6-5  Freshman

The following is the list of international players who have applied for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft:

Player  Team/Country of Team  Height  Status
Adam Mokoka  Gravelines (France)  6-4  1998 DOB
Aleksander Dziewa  Slask Wroclaw (Poland)  6-9  1997 DOB
Amine Noua  ASVEL (France)  6-8  1997 DOB
Antonios Koniaris  PAOK (Greece)  6-4  1997 DOB
Arnoldas Kulboka  Capo d丹rlando (Italy)  6-10  1998 DOB
Berkan Durmaz  Tofas (Turkey)  6-9  1997 DOB
Berke Atar  Bandirma Kirmizi (Turkey)  6-11  1999 DOB
Blaz Mesicek  Brindisi (Italy)  6-6  1997 DOB
Darel Poirier  Charleville (France)  6-9  1997 DOB
Dzanan Musa  Cedevita (Croatia)  6-8  1999 DOB
Elie Okobo  Pau Orthez (France)  6-2  1997 DOB
Emanuel Cate  Prat (Spain)  6-9  1997 DOB
Erxhan Osmani  Bandirma Kirmizi (Turkey)  6-9  1998 DOB
Etienne Ca  Chalon (France)  6-11  1997 DOB
Filip Zagrajski  Beli Manastir (Croatia)  6-4  1997 DOB
Gabriel Galvanini  Bauru (Brazil)  6-8  1998 DOB
Georgios Kalaitzakis  Panathinaikos (Greece)  6-6  1999 DOB
Goga Bitadze  Mega Bemax (Serbia)  6-11  1999 DOB
Ibrahima Faye  Poitiers (France)  6-10  1997 DOB
Isaac Bonga  Fraport Skyliners (Germany)  6-9  1999 DOB
Issuf Sanon  Olimpija (Slovenia)  6-3  1999 DOB
Jean-Marc Pansa  Nanterre (France)  6-10  1997 DOB
Karim Jallow  Bayern Munich (Germany)  6-7  1997 DOB
Laurynas Beliauskas  Neptunas (Lithuania)  6-4  1997 DOB
Laurynas Birutis  Siauliai (Lithuania)  7-0  1997 DOB
Leon Kratzer  Wuerzburg (Germany)  6-11  1997 DOB
Leonardo Tote  Verona (Italy)  6-10  1997 DOB
LiAngelo Ball  UCLA/Vytautas (Lithuania)  6-5  1998 DOB
Louis Olinde  Brose Baskets (Germany)  6-9  1998 DOB
Luka Doncic  Real Madrid (Spain)  6-7  1999 DOB
Marcel Ponitka  Asseco (Poland)  6-5  1997 DOB
Martynas Echodas  Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania)  6-9  1997 DOB
Martynas Varnas  Pieno Zvaigzdes (Lithuania)  6-5  1997 DOB
Matas Jogela  Zalgiris II (Lithuania)  6-6  1998 DOB
Matur Maker  CIBA (Canada)  6-11  1998 DOB
Melvyn Govindy  Cholet (France)  7-0  1997 DOB
Michael Uchendu  Bauru (Brazil)  6-9  1998 DOB
Michal Kolenda  Trefl Sopot (Poland)  6-7  1997 DOB
Muhaymin Mustafa  Anadolu Efes (Turkey)  6-5  1999 DOB
Rihards Berzins  Liepaja (Latvia)  6-11  1997 DOB
Rodions Kurucs  Barcelona (Spain)  6-9  1998 DOB
Romaric Belemene  Oviedo (Spain)  6-9  1997 DOB
Shekinah Munanga  Monaco (France)  6-7  1997 DOB
Sigfredo Casero-Ortiz  GET Vosges (France)  6-1  1997 DOB
Stephane Gombauld  Lille Metropole (France)  6-9  1997 DOB
Tadas Sedekerskis  Nevezis (Lithuania)  6-8  1998 DOB
Tryggvi Hlinason  Valencia (Spain)  7-1  1997 DOB
Vanja Marinkovic  Partizan (Serbia)  6-6  1997 DOB
Vasileios Charalampopoulos P  AOK (Greece)  6-9  1997 DOB
Viny Okouo  Unicaja (Spain)  7-1  1997 DOB
William McDowell-White B  aunach (Germany) 6  -5  1998 DOB
Williams Narace  Nancy (France)  6-8  1997 DOB
Xabier Lopez-Arostegui  Joventut Badalona (Spain)  6-6  1997 DOB
Yago Dos Santos  Paulistano (Brazil)  5-10  1999 DOB
Yoan Granvorka  Monthey (Switzerland)  6-7  1997 DOB

Check out the latest Basketball Insiders Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects.

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NBA Daily: Deep Bench Stays Ready for the Pelicans

Though out of the rotation, DeAndre Liggins and Jordan Crawford are staying ready to step up and contribute for New Orleans, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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As DeAndre Liggins is standing by his locker talking about what his next move might be in terms of free agency, he gets a ringing endorsement from the New Orleans Pelicans’ franchise guy, Anthony Davis.

“He ain’t going nowhere,” Davis shouts from across the locker room. “He ain’t going nowhere.”

Liggins pauses for a moment, lets out a laugh and then turns back.

“I don’t know, I’ll have to talk to Dell [Demps],” Liggins told Basketball Insiders with a grin.

With the NBA playoffs in full swing, there are always those guys on the fringe — players who may not always know when they’ll have a chance to get into a game. It can be tough sitting on the bench and watching the rest of the team partake in the postseason.

For players like Liggins, however, they’re just as much a part of the team as the guys in the rotation. They do bring value to the team. And they patiently await their turn, however long that may take. Even if he doesn’t get to play in an actual playoff game, Liggins believes he understands the atmosphere.

“It started off in Orlando, a playoff team. OKC was a playoff team. I’ve been in the playoffs twice,” Liggins told Basketball Insiders. “I haven’t experienced playing minutes, but I know what the feeling is like, I know what the vibe is like. It’ll be great going into the playoffs, we’ll be ready.”

Liggins has never spent more than one season with any team. He’s spent the past seven years shuffling between the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami HEAT, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks and now New Orleans.

He had a bit of a breakthrough with Cleveland where he emerged as one of the better perimeter defenders on the team. He started 19 games for the Cavaliers last season and shot 37.8 percent from the three-point line. It’s been that 3 and D calling card that’s allowed him to latch on from team to team despite never really playing major minutes.

“Just bringing that defensive energy. I do all the little things like take charges, all the intangibles,” Liggins told Basketball Insiders. “I was the same way at Kentucky. You got to stick to what you know, what you do, and play a role. Especially when you’re in the league and being on this type of team.”

Liggins has a non-guaranteed contract for next season. It’s too early to know what the Pelicans front office will decide to do. He isn’t focused on that right now though. Right now, the focus is helping New Orleans make a deep playoff run even if he isn’t on the court that much.

He joined the Pelicans around mid-season after being cut by the Bucks. Although he hasn’t been on the team for very long, he’s already noticed the competitiveness and togetherness of this group. They rallied around each other following the season ending injury to DeMarcus Cousins.

“We just clicked and gelled when [Cousins] went down,” Liggins told Basketball Insiders. “I think we lost three or four in a row then after that we just started changing the way we play.”

Aside from Liggins, the Pelicans also feature Jordan Crawford who is in a similar situation right now. Their career beginnings may be a bit different, Crawford was a regular rotation player for playoff teams in the past, but as playoff rotations have tightened up, Crawford has also found himself on the outside looking in.

He was on the Pelicans roster to begin the season but was cut in favor of Jameer Nelson when an injury to Rajon Rondo precipitated the need for point guard help. He had been a key player in the rotation but upon his return near the end of the season, he found himself mostly glued to the bench.

Crawford initially was a bench scorer for the Pelicans, capable of getting hot quickly and putting up a flurry of points on the board. He was nicknamed ‘Instant Grits’ by Cousins due to his penchant for scoring. He’s a little bit unsure though of what he’s going to be asked to do this time around.

“I have no clue. I’m going to try to find out,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I’m going to work my way through, do what I got to do to make the coaches happy and stuff like that. But I don’t know my role yet.”

When Crawford signed with the Pelicans earlier this month, his contract was only for the duration of the regular season and playoffs. He too will be entering free agency this summer, and due to his lack of postseason playing time, he might have to rely on past performances to secure that next contract.

He also isn’t too concerned about that right now. While he is anticipating the summertime, he’s just thrilled to be back with a familiar team, even if the playing time is scarce right now.

“I’m looking forward to the summer, definitely looking forward to the offseason,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I’m happy I accomplished getting back on the team for the season. That’s good right now, I’m satisfied with that for right now.”

Although he was cut despite having initially carved out an important role on the team, Crawford always remained positive and believed things would eventually fall into place. He wasn’t sure if that place would be New Orleans, but he’s glad that it was them who came calling once again.

“I didn’t think I’d be back here. They did stay kind of connected with me, talked to me,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I did have a good time while I was here, so it wasn’t no bad attitude, hard feelings or nothing. It always could’ve worked and by not having a bad attitude it allowed it to work again. It’s been a blessing.”

They stayed in contact with him and made him feel like a part of the team again. And for players like Crawford and Liggins, players who may not know who their next contract is coming from or when their next minute on the court might be, sometimes that makes all the difference

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 4/24/18

The deadline for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft has passed, so Basketball Insiders Publisher Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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The Deadline for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft was April 22, however, the NBA hasn’t yet released the full list of eligible players. There appear to be more than 153 underclassmen that have declared to “test the waters” according to reports. By way of comparison, last year there were 137 players from college and an additional 45 from international basketball that declared early, with 73 of those players pulling out after going through the process.

The 2018 Draft class could be shaping up to be one of the biggest, especially when you consider the volume of highly draftable seniors.

There are still some dates to keep in mind:

The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago on May 15. The annual NBA Draft Combine will get underway on May 16, also in Chicago. In any given draft year, roughly 70 percent of players invited to the Combine end up being drafted into the NBA, so a Combine invite is a significant draft milestone.

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college, however, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

Here is this week’s 2018 NBA Mock Draft, based on the final pre-draft lottery draft order:

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. Based on the final regular-season standings should convey to Philadelphia if the draft lottery holds true to the standings.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and would convey if the draft lottery holds true to the standings.

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 final NBA standings.

The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA 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 was lottery protected and based on the final NBA 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 was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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