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The Race To Eighth In The West

Basketball Insiders takes a look at who will likely secure the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Jesse Blancarte

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So far this season, the Western Conference Playoff race has been tight. As of today, the eighth seed Phoenix Suns are six games behind the third-place Memphis Grizzlies, whereas in the Eastern Conference, the eighth seed Miami HEAT are 8 ½ games behind the third seed Wizards. To put this in perspective, the Suns, at 18-15, would be the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, and the tenth seed Oklahoma City Thunder would be the eighth seed at 15-17.

The eighth seed in the West is currently being wrestled for by five teams. Though the season is still relatively young, the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves have fallen outside of contention for the final Playoff spot in the West. There is enough time for things to change, but this article focuses on the teams that are most likely to be fighting for the eighth seed based on the current standings, assuming the top seven teams don’t encounter any significant setbacks.

Factors that are considered most significantly include recent performance, strength of schedule, the amount of road games to be played, tough stretches (e.g., back-to-backs, long road trips), injuries, and future performance indicators like offensive and defensive efficiency and net rating.

With that said, let’s take a look at which Western Conference teams have the best shot at securing the eighth and final Playoff spot.

5. Denver Nuggets (12)

Record: 13-19
Games Remaining: 50 (24 Home, 26 Away)
Remaining Opponents: +.500 teams: 25, West: 34, East: 16
Strength of Schedule: .522 (6)
Record Over Last 10 Games: 3-7
Efficiency: Offensive 101.5 (three-way tie for 20 with the Thunder and Bucks), Defensive 105 (22), Net Rating -3.5 (22)

The Denver Nuggets have had a disappointing start to the 2014-15 NBA season. The return of several players from injury, including Danilo Gallinari, J.J. Hickson, JaVale McGee, and Nate Robinson, the trade for Arron Afflalo, the impressive FIBA World Tournament performance by Kenneth Faried and a second year under head coach Brian Shaw were all reasons for optimism in Denver entering this season. But Gallinari has been inconsistent and is now out with a meniscus injury, McGee is also sidelined, Afflalo has been underwhelming, Faried has played poorly until recently,and the team has not shown any real improvement in its second year under Shaw.

So far this season, the Nuggets have suffered through three losing streaks of three games or more (the longest one being six after winning their season opener against the Detroit Pistons). To their credit, the Nuggets have had the sixth toughest schedule in terms of opponents winning percentage (.522 overall), but losing to weak opponents like the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t help their cause.

The Nuggets open 2015 with a tough road game against the Chicago Bulls, and a home game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Then, starting on January 14, the Nuggets enter a tough stretch where, over a two week period, they will face the Dallas Mavericks twice, the Golden State Warriors on the road, the San Antonio Spurs, the Washington Wizards, the Los Angeles Clippers, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Memphis Grizzlies. The games against the Clippers, Pelicans and Grizzlies will be especially difficult considering they are all road games and are played over the course of four days. The only easy matchups in that two week span come against the Minnesota Timberwolves (who nearly beat the Nuggets in Denver on December 26), and the Boston Celtics.

Fortunately for the Nuggets, February opens with three road games against easy competition, including the Philadelphia 76ers, Celtics and Pistons. The Nuggets then have another road trip starting on March 15. In the span of a week, the Nuggets will face the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Rockets, HEAT and Magic. Assuming the Nuggets are still in range of the eighth seed at this point in the season, this road trip could be a critical stretch. It’s not likely Denver will be able to beat both the Grizzlies and Rockets on the road, but they should have a chance of knocking off the Pelicans, HEAT, and Magic.

But even if the Nuggets are in striking range entering the last few days of the season, they may still fall short. The Nuggets’ season ends with two road games, the first against the Clippers, and the second against the Warriors.

Another major issue for the Nuggets moving forward is that they have more road games than the teams they are competing against for the eighth seed (with the exception of the Sacramento Kings). So far, the Nuggets are 4-11 on the road (36.4 win percentage), including bad losses to the Kings, Knicks and Charlotte Hornets. The Nuggets need to figure out how to win big games on the road if they want to have any shot of securing the eighth seed.

Unfortunately for the Nuggets, their -3.5 net rating indicates that they are a long shot at best to make the playoffs this season. The Nuggets’ defense and offense are both well below league average, and the players continue to struggle with ineffective play, frustration over playing time and injuries. The quad injury suffered to Wilson Chandler, who has been one of Denver’s most consistent players this season, is the most recent setback and another cause for concern.

Standing 5 ½ games behind the Suns is a huge issue, which means the Nuggets will need to sort out their lingering obstacles immediately in order to have a shot of stealing the eighth seed away from the competition. At this point in the season, there is little reason to expect that to happen.

4. Sacramento Kings (11)

Record: 13-18
Games Remaining: 51 (23 Home, 28 Away)
Remaining Opponents: +.500: 26, West: 29, East: 22
Strength of Schedule: .522 (7)
Record Over Last 10 Games: 2-8
Efficiency: Offensive 104.5 (13), Defensive 106.3 (24), Net Rating -1.8 (18)

The Sacramento Kings opened the 2014-15 NBA season as one of the hottest teams in the league. Through Sacramento’s first six games, the Kings knocked off teams like the Trail Blazers, Clippers, Nuggets (twice), and Suns. The Kings have been up and down since their fast start for several reasons, including the loss of star center DeMarcus Cousins for several games due to viral meningitis, and the unexpected firing of head coach Mike Malone on December 15.

Since December 9, the Kings have gone 2-8 and are in a complete nosedive at this point. Fortunately for Sacramento, the Kings’ next three opponents are the Celtics, Timberwolves and Pistons (all road games). The bad news is that once they complete their four game road trip, the Kings face, over the course of 11 days, the Thunder, Nuggets, Cavaliers, Mavericks, HEAT and Clippers (all home games). To close out January, the Kings have one home game against the Brooklyn Nets, and six road games against some stiff competition, including the Trail Blazers, Warriors, Raptors and Cavaliers.

The schedule doesn’t get much easier heading into February as the Kings’ first two games are against the Warriors and Mavericks. After this, the Kings play four games in five nights, including a key matchup with the Suns on February 8. February closes just as difficultly as it started with games against the Clippers, Grizzlies and Spurs.

Sacramento’s next long road trip starts on March 4 and ends on March 14. Over 11 days, the Kings will face a mixed bag of opponents and only one back-to-back against the Magic and HEAT. It will be critical for the Kings to knock off the teams they are supposed to, while upsetting some of the tougher opponents like the Hawks and Wizards. However, the fact that the Kings are 5-8 on the road so far this season, with bad losses to the Magic, Lakers and Pistons does not bode well for their chances on the road moving forward.

Assuming the Kings are still in contention for the eighth seed by late March, they will have a crucial four game road trip, which includes matches against the Suns and Pelicans (who are both candidates for the eighth seed), followed by a home game against the Pelicans on April 3.

Working in the Kings’ favor is that their regular season closes against some easy competition (unlike the Nuggets who close the season against the Clippers and Warriors). In their last three games, the Kings face the Nuggets on the road, and the Lakers twice in the span of three days. But the chances of the Kings being in striking distance for the eighth seed by the end of the season are not great at this point. Cousins and Rudy Gay have been great this season, but the loss of Cousins was a major blow, and the fact that the Kings are playing under an interim coach (Tyrone Corbin) does not provide much reason to expect a late playoff push from Sacramento.

3. New Orleans Pelicans (9)

Record: 16-15
Games Remaining: 51 (27 Home, 24 Away)
Remaining Opponents: +.500: 22, West: 30, East: 21
Strength of Schedule: .535 (2)
Record Over Last 10 Games: 6-4
Efficiency: Offensive 106.4 (7), Defensive 107.3 (26), Net Rating -0.9 (16)

The argument could be made that the Suns should be ranked third on this list. The Suns just lost to the Pelicans last night, have played the 29th easiest schedule in the league so far (.460 win percentage of opponents), and are still figuring out how to best utilize their point guard heavy backcourt. However, the Pelicans get this spot mostly because of their surprisingly poor defense, injury concerns and lack of depth.

The Pelicans start the new year with two tough home games against the Rockets and the Wizards and then have a five-game road trip starting on January 12 and ending on January 19. Fortunately for the Pelicans, they face weak opponents like the Celtics, Pistons, 76ers and Knicks. Their toughest matchup of the trip is against the Raptors on January 18.

The Pelicans open February with two tough home games, the first against Atlanta, the second against the Thunder. They then face the Thunder on February 6 in Oklahoma City. These two games will be huge for the Pelicans since they are currently a game and a half ahead of the Thunder, who figure to keep pace in the West with the expected return of Durant from his recent ankle injury.

After February 6, the Pelicans don’t face any particularly tough portions of their schedule until March 19 when they go out on a three-game road trip to face the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers (March 19-22). Three days later, they will face the Houston Rockets at home. Their last tough stretch will then begin April 4 and end on April 12. During that stretch, the Pelicans will face the Trail Blazers (in Portland), Warriors, Grizzlies (in Memphis), Suns and the Rockets (in Houston).

Working in the Pelicans favor is the fact that they have played much tougher competition than the Suns thus far, and are still just a game back in the standings. New Orleans has less road games to play, and less games against Western Conference teams. However, the Pelicans’ net rating of -0.9 is cause for concern. While New Orleans’ offense is performing well (7th best in the NBA), their defense has been a disaster. This is surprising considering that head coach Monty Williams emphasizes defense first, Anthony Davis leads the league in blocks, Omer Asik is a good rim protector, and Jrue Holiday does a decent job of pressuring opposing ball-handlers. The loss of Gordon, who has been a solid wing-defender throughout his career, and insertion of Austin Rivers partially explains the defensive issues, but not completely.

The fact that players like Rivers, Luke Babbit, and John Salmons play significant minutes is another issue. After Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Asik and Ryan Anderson, there aren’t many above average players on the roster (Rivers, Babbit, Salmons, Dante Cunningham and even Gordon have PER ratings well below the league average of 15).

If the Pelicans can’t get their defense up to snuff quickly, they will eventually lose pace with the Suns and Thunder for the eighth seed, no matter how efficiently their offense is performing.

2. Phoenix Suns (8)

Record: 18-15
Games Remaining: 49 (27 Home, 22 Away)
Remaining Opponents: +.500: 29, West: 34, East 15
Strength of Schedule: .460 (29)
Record Over Last 10 Games: 6-4
Efficiency: Offensive 106.5 (6), Defensive 104.2 (tied for 18 with the Los Angeles Clippers), Net Rating 2.3 (12)

On December 20, I wrote about the Phoenix Suns’ recent struggles and their dimming hopes of making the Playoffs. Since then, Alex Len has improved his play significantly and the Suns have won five of their last six games to fortify their hold over the eighth seed (however, they lost a big game against the Pelicans in New Orleans last night). There is no time for the Suns to dwell on the loss, however, as they face the Oklahoma City Thunder later tonight.

To start the new year, the Suns have seven games in 11 nights, including a four-game road trip where they will face top Western Conference opponents like the Spurs and Grizzlies. The pace of their schedule will slow down after playing the Grizzlies on January 11, however, after facing the Timberwolves and Lakers, the Suns close out January against the Trail Blazers, Rockets, Clippers, Wizards, Bulls, and Warriors.

Then, to start up the month of February, the Suns will face the Memphis Grizzlies, and Portland Trail Blazers. Things lighten up somewhat after that, but they will again play four games in six nights from February 20 through February 26 (including an important home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the 26th).

March starts out with another road trip, which includes four games in six nights. However, each opponent is a beatable Eastern Conference team (HEAT, Magic, Nets, Cavaliers). March ends with four tough games from March 27 through April 2. The first two matchups are at home against the Trail Blazers, and then the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Suns will then hit the road and face the Trail Blazers in Portland, and then travel to face the Warriors.

The Suns’ season ends with five crucial games from April 7 through April 14. Four of the five games are on the road against tough opponents like the Hawks, Mavericks, Pelicans and Spurs. Then the Suns finish out the regular season against the Spurs and Clippers, two games that could be the difference between making the playoffs or not.

Working in the Suns’ favor is the fact that they have less road games remaining than any of their competition, and their offense has risen to sixth best in the league. Defense remains an issue, though that may become less of a problem if Len continues to be a significant contributor. Protecting the rim has been a problem for the Suns all season, but Len provides some hope of addressing that.

But even with a 2 ½ game lead over the Thunder, the Suns are very vulnerable now that Durant and Westbrook are (reportedly) healthy. The Suns had an opportunity to distance themselves more from the Thunder earlier in the season, but now will have to avoid any major setbacks if they hope to hold onto the eighth seed. But with just a 2 ½ game lead over the Thunder after playing one of the easiest schedules so far, and with a defense that is below league average, the Suns will have a tough time fending off the Thunder moving forward.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder (10)

Record: 15-17
Games Remaining: 50 (26 Home, 24 Away)
Remaining Opponents: +.500: 29, West: 32, East: 18
Strength of Schedule: .486 (23)
Record Over Last 10 Games: 6-4
Efficiency: Offensive 101.5 (three-way tie for 20), Defensive 99.9 (5), Net Rating 1.6 (13)

Near the end of November, I wrote about whether the Oklahoma City Thunder could still make the Playoffs after going 5-12 through their first 17 games without Kevin Durant, and (for the most part) Russell Westbrook. By applying the Thunder’s performance last season to their remaining schedule, it appeared that the Thunder had a shot at making the playoffs, so long as they didn’t face any major setbacks. Not long after that, Durant sprained his ankle and missed six games.

However, Durant is set to return tonight in a key matchup against the Suns. If the Thunder beat the Suns, they will be just one game behind Phoenix in the loss column. The Thunder then face the Wizards and the Warriors. This is an important and tough stretch for Oklahoma City, which makes Durant’s return timely.

Then the Thunder set out on a five game road trip starting on January 18 and ending on January 25. On the road trip, the Thunder will face the Magic, HEAT, Wizards, Hawks and Cavaliers. This is another tough stretch for the Thunder, but with Durant back, and hopefully healthy, they should be competitive in each game.

They then return home for an easy home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 26 before hitting the road again to face the Knicks and then the Grizzlies.

In early February, the Thunder have some big games, starting with back-to-back matchups with the New Orleans Pelicans (February 4 in New Orleans, February 6 in Oklahoma City). Two wins over the Pelicans would be a big boost for the Thunder, who have lost to the Pelicans twice already this season.

The Thunder then have a tough stretch of games starting on February 19 and ending on February 27 (six games in nine nights). Through nine days, the Thunder will face the Mavericks, Hornets, Nuggets, Pacers, Suns, and Trail Blazers. Oklahoma City then has a stretch of four games at home with three very winnable games against the Celtics, HEAT and Lakers. However, they face the Atlanta Hawks on March 20, which should be a tough matchup considering Atlanta’s recent play.

Then, on March 29, the Thunder have a big matchup against the Phoenix Suns in Phoenix after playing the night before against the Jazz in Utah. Following their match up in Phoenix, the Thunder have four tough games in a row, against the Mavericks, Grizzlies (in Memphis), Rockets and Spurs.

The Thunder close out the season with some winnable games against the Kings, Pacers and Timberwolves, but face the Trail Blazers on April 13.

Working in the Thunder’s favor is the recent play of Russell Westbrook, who has been a one-man wrecking crew recently. With Durant back, the Thunder should quickly improve on offense, where they are currently ranked 21st. Last season the Thunder were the seventh best offensive team in the league, and though they may not reach that level this season, they are certainly a top 10 offensive team with both Westbrook and Durant healthy. Coupled with a top five defense, the Thunder are primed for a strong push for the eighth seed. However, this assumes that Durant and Westbrook don’t miss any more significant time moving forward. Another significant injury to either player would make the Suns the favorite to secure the final Playoff spot in the West.

With early season injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Suns, Pelicans, Kings and Nuggets all had a huge opportunity to outpace the Thunder and grab a firm advantage in the race for the last playoff seed. However, for a range of reasons, none of these teams managed to do so. Now, even though they are 2 ½ games behind the Suns for the eighth seed, the Thunder are primed to climb the ranks and secure a Playoff spot. Though in the wild Western Conference, where just a few games separate the top Playoff teams from the bottom, anything is possible.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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G-League

NBA Daily: Power Ranking The Two-Way Standouts, Part II

With trade season in the rearview mirror, Ben Nadeau takes stock of the NBA’s impressive collection of two-way standouts.

Ben Nadeau

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Last week, the NBA’s trade deadline finally came and went — along with plenty of worthwhile fireworks of their own — and buyout season is officially in full swing. But as franchises continue bolstering their roster ahead of the postseason (or lottery-bound future efforts), another deadline occurred recently without much fanfare. In January, the cutoff to sign players to two-way contracts passed — so where does that leave affairs headed into the midseason break?

Previously, Basketball Insiders took a swing at ranking the 30-best two-way players but, quickly, it became clear that there would need to be a Part II. Since then, the Pacers signed Edmond Sumner to a contract that extends through the remainder of the season, plus a team option in 2019-20. Our No. 12 selection has a home in Indiana and — with All-Star Victor Oladipo sidelined with a serious injury — Sumner has proven his worth in the postseason-ready rotation. And, funny enough, Chris Boucher — who was spotlighted in the introductory paragraphs in Part I as a would-be ineligible roster member for Toronto — earned his own multi-year contract as well.

If you’re in need of some honorable mentions and Nos. 30-11, the Part I rankings can be found right here.

But as a rapid-fire recap: Since 2017, two-way contracts have granted a team to carry two more roster spots that won’t count against the salary cap. These players, who must have less than four years of NBA experience, can be swapped between the professional level and the G League for up to 45 days in a season. While these two-way standouts will be ineligible to compete in the playoffs, franchises are able to convert these contracts to regular deals if they have the roster spot to do so. With that out of the way, here’s the best of the bunch — beginning with a very special (and retconned) honorable mention.

Honorable Mention: Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors

So, the top ten list is officially a top nine with Boucher moving to the Raptors full-time, excellent news for the deep conference frontrunners. Previously, the former Oregon Duck would’ve been ranked at No. 2 and, well, it was a deserved spot. Boucher averaged a whopping 27.6 points, 11 rebounds and 4.2 blocks over 23 games with the 905. For what it’s worth, these numbers slotted Boucher second, fourth and first, respectively, league-wide. In college, Boucher was a highly-touted prospect before a torn ACL sent him tumbling down and, eventually, out of draft boards. After one season as a two-way player for Golden State, Boucher ended up in Toronto — now, he’s a member of the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference squad.

His NBA-level statistics certainly aren’t as eye-popping, not even close — but now Boucher can receive minutes on Finals-worthy contender. Being behind Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka will cap any short term potential, but the shot-blocking scorer can learn from some of the very best at his position. In 17 games, Boucher has averaged 3.8 points and 0.9 blocks, still, the sky may just be the limit for this talented 26-year-old. Undeniably, Boucher has earned his new multi-year contract with partial guarantees — now can he keep rising?

9. Amile Jefferson, Orlando Magic

Jefferson has been a G League standout since he went undrafted out of Duke in 2017 — now the 6-foot-9 forward has been a rebounding force for two different teams in two consecutive seasons. In 2017-18, Jefferson was named to the All-NBA G League Second Team and the All-Defensive Team after he posted 17.7 points and 12.8 rebounds over 46 games for the Iowa Wolves. This season, now with the Eastern Conference-leading Lakeland Magic, not much has changed.

With nearly identical numbers, Jefferson remains one of the G League’s most consistent forces to date. As the third-ranked rebounder, Jefferson gobbles boards and scores at an effective rate too, with his 58.2 percent mark from the field coming in at 13th-best during the calendar year as well. Notably, the Magic’s frontcourt depth is absolutely loaded, so unless injuries strike the postseason hopefuls, Jefferson will remain behind Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Khem Birch and the recently-shelved Mohamed Bamba.

8. Danuel House Jr., Houston Rockets

Earlier this season, two-way standout Danuel House Jr. ran out of eligible days with Houston — but when the Rockets offered a guaranteed three-year deal, the sharpshooter declined it. That decision meant that House would stay with the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Barring a change in heart from either side, House, 25, will become a restricted free agent this offseason. Over 25 games with Houston, House averaged 9.1 points and 3.6 rebounds, even starting 12 contests throughout his rapid ascent in the playoff-destined organization.

House has another full year of prior NBA experience too and tallied 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds over 23 games for the Phoenix Suns in 2017-18. The Vipers are currently two games behind Santa Cruz for the G League’s best record and House, as of late, has been instrumental in that chase. Last Friday, House helped Rio Grande down the South Bay Lakers with 24 points, seven assists and the game-clinching free throws with just seconds remaining. Although House cannot play another game for the Rockets on his current two-way deal, his successes this campaign still enters him fairly high on our list.

7. Theo Pinson, Brooklyn Nets

As far as new revelations come, the Nets’ Theo Pinson may just take the cake. After four successful seasons at North Carolina, including an NCAA Championship in 2017, Pinson went undrafted. During that senior campaign at UNC, Pinson tallied 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists over 29 minutes per game — solid, if not spectacular. More importantly, Pinson was a poor three-point shooter, hitting on just 25.7 percent of his attempts at the Division-I powerhouse. Scooped up after the draft by Brooklyn, Pinson has been a nice surprise for the talented prospect-developing franchise in the Northeast.

Over 25 games on Long Island, Pinson has averaged 20.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists — thanks to those efforts, the point guard landed on the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference squad too. In one of the more positive storylines of the season, Pinson has even become an above average shooter from deep and now makes three three-pointers per game at a very respectable 37.3 percent clip. Perhaps best of all, Pinson recently provided a burst of energy for Brooklyn too. In a close battle against the Knicks, Pinson exploded for 19 points and eight rebounds on 3-for-5 from three-point range over 26 minutes.

Either way, in the last year or so, Pinson has improved massively on his biggest weakness, dominated the G League and made an impact at the NBA level — not a bad way to start your once-undrafted professional career by any means.

6. Jordan Loyd, Toronto Raptors

First and foremost, Loyd, too, was named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference team, in a theme that will continue sharply from here on out. Still, distilling Loyd’s massive 2018-19 to a single honor would be a disservice to the rookie. Loyd has done a little bit of everything for the Raptors 905, although he was passed over by Toronto to sign Malcolm Miller instead. The 6-foot-4 guard has averaged 21.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.9 steals over 34.9 minutes per game. His fine tandem with the aforementioned Boucher seems to be dead for now, but the pair continuously tore up the G League alongside each other for most of the stat-stuffed campaign.

On Jan. 28, Loyd even pulled down a triple-double against Windy City by tallying 24 points, 17 rebounds and 11 assists. Back in 2017-18, Loyd was one of Israeli Premier League’s biggest stars, earned an All-Star Game berth and finished the season as the third-highest scorer (17.4 PPG), Again, the Raptors’ loaded backcourt — Kyle Lowry, Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Norman Powell, and, by the postseason, Fred VanVleet — has hindered Loyd’s potential impact in the NBA. Honestly, that’s fine: Just stand aside and watch with wonder as Loyd pushes the reigning champions back into the G League postseason all by himself now.

5. P.J. Dozier, Boston Celtics

The Maine Red Claws may be a disappointing subplot to the latest G League narrative but newcomer P.J. Dozier has been an absolute dream. Through 33 games in Portland, Dozier has averaged 21.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game over a 35-minute clip. Not to be a broken record, but, of course, Dozier was another easy selection for the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference roster too. Dozier has featured in four games for Boston, a total double that of his appearances with Oklahoma City as a rookie last season — but his G League numbers have seen a major rise since then as well.

The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging about 8.5 more points per game, but his greatest rise has been the boost in assists, nearly tripling from his 2017-18 campaign. Progress, particularly from within the Celtics’ organization, is nothing to ignore. Like teammate R.J. Hunter, Boston’s other two-way player, his potential for the season, if not longer, is capped. Of course, that could change this summer depending on where the Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier chips end up falling in free agency, but Dozier has become an absolute force since joining Boston.

Dozier has averaged just 1.8 points over a paltry 2.5 minutes per game for Boston — regardless, he’s officially a prospect worth keeping tabs on.

4. Alan Williams, Brooklyn Nets

You guessed it: Alan Williams is yet another Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference roster honoree. And, after his tumultuous journey, it’s a well-earned award for the 6-foot-8 big man. Through many world-traveling tribulations — outlined here — Williams signed a multi-year contract with Phoenix in July of 2017. Unfortunately, that feel-good story was short-lived as Williams underwent surgery to repair his meniscus in September, rehabbed until March, played five meaningless games and then was waived at season’s end.

Thankfully, the Suns’ loss became the Nets’ gain and Williams has dominated in the G League for Long Island. The affectionately nicknamed ‘Big Sauce’ has averaged 20.6 points and 13.2 rebounds over 28 games, numbers that place him as a top ten scorer and the second-best board-snatcher league-wide. During Williams’ only major appearance for Brooklyn this season thus far, he grabbed eight points and eight rebounds in eight minutes — a line he’s proven capable of repeating over and over with the proper court burn.

It feels like a matter of time before Williams gets his next chance at the NBA level — but who will scoop up the elite rebounder?

3. Yante Maten, Miami HEAT

At this rate, Yante Maten will be a household name before too long in NBA circles — if he isn’t already. Maten was a four-year standout — 19.3 points per game as a senior — at Georgia before he went undrafted and landed one of Miami’s two-way deals this summer. In return, all Maten has done is tallied 26.4 points (second) 10 rebounds (fifth) and 1.2 blocks per game for the Sioux Falls Skyforce this season. Maten, a 6-foot-8 forward, has been sidelined with an ankle injury since Jan. 2 but he and teammate Duncan Robinson — ranked at No. 18 in Part I — were both named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Western Conference roster last week as well.

Maten has not featured for the HEAT in 2018-19 but his scoring prowess is quickly making himself a name. During an early December win against the Stockton Kings, Maten dropped a blistering 42 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks on 15-for-21 shooting. Miami only averages 105.1 points per game, the 27th-worst mark in the entire league — bested by three free-falling franchises: Chicago, Cleveland and Memphis — so injecting Maten’s scoring punch could provide a much-needed lift.

For now, we’ll have to settle for a healthy return from the inactive list — sadly, it’s been far too long since Maten torched the G League. If things break right for him, it won’t be much longer before he gets his NBA call-up either.

2. Angel Delgado, Los Angeles Clippers

Your current rebounding leader is, handily, the Clippers’ Angel Delgado. At 17.3 points and 14.6 rebounds on 58.8 percent shooting, Delgado’s looming presence has been well-known all season for Agua Caliente. In more recent news, Delgado made his NBA debut for Los Angeles on Feb. 8 and chipped in three points and four rebounds over 14 minutes against the Indiana Pacers. Following their trade that sent Tobias Harris across the country to Philadelphia, the Clippers have some intriguing paths to end this season — many scenarios of which include Delgado’s growth.

As of publishing, Los Angeles holds the conference’s eighth and final postseason berth, winning two of their last three games post-Harris’ departure. Delgado, 24, is coming off back-to-back stellar seasons with Seton Hall, where the frontcourt menace tallied 13.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game for the Pirates. In January, Delgado pulled down an otherworldly 31 rebounds against the OKC Blue — no, that’s not a type. For now, at least, Delgado is behind Montrezl Harrell, one of 2018-19’s breakout stars, newcomer Ivica Zubac and G League teammate Johnathan Motley, the latter of which has played in 15 games for Los Angeles this season.

Of note, both Delgado and Motley were both named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Western Conference roster.

1. Jordan McRae, Washington Wizards

And, in a reveal that shouldn’t surprise anybody: Jordan McRae is basketball’s best two-way player — at this point, the resume is too much to ignore. Yes, McRae is a Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference awardee, but he’s also an NBA Champion. So far, McRae has seen it all: Finals experience, another previous D-League All-Star selection, a trip (albeit a short one) overseas to play with a prestigious club, Baskonia, and remains the current scoring leader in today’s G League. McRae, 27, has averaged a dominant 30 points per game — which that would rank him behind just Antonio Blakeney (32.0) for the highest single-season PPG tally in G League history — along with 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.8 steals.

With 78 NBA games and counting under his belt, McRae is both seasoned and untapped. In an inspired drubbing of the Red Claws last month, McRae poured in 54 points and nine rebounds on 18-for-31 shooting — and there are plenty of other MVP-worthy efforts to choose from as well. The Wizards, struggling to stay afloat without All-Star John Wall, could certainly use McRae’s talented efforts. Ultimately, a combination of developmental and financial cap reasons may keep him from getting his contract converted by season’s end, as Candace Buckner of The Washington Post wrote in January. Through 19 games, McRae has averaged 4.3 points and 1.1 rebounds — but make no mistake, he’s one of the best scorers the G League has ever offered up.

There they are! From top to bottom — and split over two articles — there’s a definitive list of the NBA’s best two-way players. While some are still feeling out basketball at the post-collegiate level, there are plenty of hardened, consistent contributors already. There are high-ranking scorers and rebounders, but other newcomers arrive with overseas experiences, national championships and difficult injury histories. The G League has always given athletes an intriguing — if not unlikely road to the league — but thanks to the two-way deals, those narratives have often become downright compelling.

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NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Basketball Insiders recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2019, which featured a four-point shot and a deep pool of talent in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Matt John

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game had a variety of big names to trot out on Friday night. This list included former NBA players such as Ray Allen and Jay Williams, current WNBA players Stefanie Dolson and A’ja Wilson, entertainers such as JB Smoove, Mike Colter, and Hassan Minhaj, and last year’s MVP, Quavo.

The Home Team was coached by WNBA legend Dawn Staley while the Away Team was coached by WNBA superstar Sue Bird.

Team Staley pulled ahead multiple times throughout the game, but every run they made was followed by a run by Team Bird. Team Bird’s comeback attempt fell short as Team Staley ultimately won 82-80.

Internet Comedian Famous Los led the way for Team Staley, scoring a team-high 22 points on 10-16 shooting while dishing out three assists in the team’s victory. Jay Williams razzled and dazzled as well, scoring 18 points on 8-15 shooting while dishing out five assists – including this beauty.

What could have been with Jay Williams…

Quavo topped his performance last year for Team Staley, scoring a game-high 27 points in total, highlighted by what may very well be the only five-point play to ever happen in an NBA-sponsored basketball game. Quavo shot 13-19 from the field while also corralling nine rebounds as well. Ray Allen also put up a vintage performance, putting up 24 points on 11-21 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists.

There were a few interesting wrinkles to this game. A four-point shot was implemented in which $4,000 would be donated to charity for each shot made from distance. Ten four-pointers were made in the game, totaling $40,000 in charity donations.

Two more fun facts: We didn’t even get a tip-off in this game. Comedian Brad Williams stole the ball from the ref to start it off. Also, just because it’s a harmless exhibition does not mean participants won’t get into it. JB Smoove and Hassan Minhaj got a little testy at the end of the first quarter.

Other participants included:

From Team Bird: Ronnie 2K (Director of influencer marketing, 2K Sports), AJ Buckley (Actor, “SEAL Team”), Bad Bunny (Singer), Marc Lasry (Milwaukee Bucks’ Co-Owner), Adam Ray (Host of About Last Night), Amanda Seales (Actor/Comedian), James Shaw Jr. (Hometown Hero), Brad Williams (Host of About Last Night)

From Team Staley: Chris Daughtry (Singer), Terrence Jenkins (TV Personality/Actor), Dr. Oz (TV Personality), Rapsody (Rapper), Bo Rinehart (Musician), Steve Smith (Former NFL Player), Jason Weissman (Hometown Hero)

MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars

If last year’s Rising Stars game had an overabundance of talent, this one may have very well topped it. That’s how loaded this year’s class was.

Let’s start with what could be a preview for what’s to come next year: Luka Doncic’s performance. More specifically, his connection with Lauri Markaanen. Throughout the first quarter, Doncic found Markaanen everywhere, either for easy alley-oops or wide open threes on the pick and pop.

Why bring this up? Because this is exactly what we could expect to see from Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis when they share the court together, as Markaanen has a similar skill set offensively to Porzingis’.

As for the game itself, Team USA jumped out to a 12-point lead at the half, thanks primarily to the likes of Jayson Tatum (16 points on 6-12 shooting) and Kyle Kuzma (21 points on 10-16 shooting).

Team World wouldn’t go down without a fight. In the third quarter, they managed to cut the deficit down to a point thanks primarily to Doncic and Ben Simmons’  collective efforts, but that was as close as they got. Team USA pulled away in the fourth quarter as they went on to win 161-144.

Simmons led the way for Team World, as he finished with 30 points on 14-17 shooting on a squad where, outside of Simmons, the scoring was pretty well spread out as Doncic, Markaanen, DeAndre Ayton, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rodney Kurucs, OG Annonuby, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Okogie all had 10 points or more.

Team USA had a few standouts, including Kuzma (35 points on 15-27 shooting), Tatum (30 points on 12-24 shooting), Donovan Mitchell (20 points, nine assists, seven rebounds), and Trae Young (25 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds). All were deserving of the MVP, but the award ultimately went to Kuzma.

Tonight, we go a little deeper into All-Star Weekend with the Dunk Contest, Three-Point Shooting Contest, and the Skills Challenge. Stay tuned!

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NBA Daily: Can Tobias Harris Put the 76ers Over the Top?

Shane Rhodes breaks down whether the addition of Tobias Harris can push the 76ers into the NBA Finals.

Shane Rhodes

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The Philadelphia 76ers made perhaps the biggest move of trade season when they acquired Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers. Harris, in the midst of a career year, was on the path to a lucrative contract come this summer. But, with an uncertain future in Los Angeles, Philadelphia capitalized and made their move to win now.

In doing so, the 76ers have put together, arguably, the most talented starting roster in the Eastern Conference. But what exactly does Harris bring to the team, and can he put them over the top of their competition in the East?

Harris has very much looked the part of an All-Star this season and has given Brett Brown and the 76ers coaching staff yet another weapon with which to attack defenses. The 26-year-old has posted career highs in points (20.7), rebounds (7.8) and assists (2.8) per game, field goal percentage (49.7) and three-point percentage (43.0) this season and should prove a significant upgrade over Wilson Chandler, who was sent to Los Angeles in the trade, on both offense and defense.

In a superior lineup, his Harris’ play should only improve as well.

His statistical values may dip with the move to Philadelphia, but, in a way, the team may look at that as a positive; with so many talents on the floor together, Brown, in theory, should be able to utilize Harris in order to reduce wear and tear on his other players — namely Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler — and keep them somewhat fresh for the postseason, if not at the expensive of some personal stats.

Harris is another player that can handle the ball and should lead to even more movement within the 76ers offense. He has shown over the years an ability to push the ball up the floor in transition and should relieve some of the pressure from Simmons in that area as well. In the event that he is the lone star on the floor, or should the ball movement stop, Harris able and willing to break out his do-it-himself kit; he may not dance a defender like Kyrie Irving, but he is more than capable of sizing up his man and either hitting a shot in their face or brute-forcing his way to the basket.

Harris is a more-than-capable shooter and, off the ball, should provide Simmons with another reliable perimeter outlet and open things up on the interior open things up inside for him and Embiid as well.

Defensively, Harris isn’t a wizard, but the effort and energy are there and should shine in the already competent 76ers defense. While it may not be ideal in all situations, Harris has the size to bang down low with some centers and the quickness to keep up with smaller players on the perimeter. Harris’ length — a near seven-foot wingspan — should also prove an asset, as he will allow the defense to switch on almost every possession. In the postseason, that could prove invaluable.

As good as this acquisition may look on paper, it isn’t without its cons or risks. Harris’ is another primary option on a team that already had three of them in Embiid, Simmons and Butler; could the presence of too many options bog things down a la the Boston Celtics earlier this season?

His contract situation, alongside the impending free agency of Butler, should give some pause as well.

The team has hedged its future on those two players and given up some good (and some great) assets to acquire them. Should Butler leave, Harris would provide the 76ers with the ultimate insurance policy but, should both players move on after the season it could set the team back years.

The 76ers have plenty of pre-existing issues to figure out as well, a losing record against their chief Eastern Conference competition — Milwaukee Bucks (0-1), Toronto Raptors (1-2) and Celtics (0-3) — most prominent among them.

But, with Harris in the fold, the 76ers seem to have all the pieces of the puzzle. If the players can put it all together, they could very well find themselves in the NBA Finals come June.

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