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Washington Wizards 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 season for the Washington Wizards.

Basketball Insiders

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After flirting with 50 wins and coming within two victories of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2015, the Washington Wizards surprisingly crashed back to earth last season. They struggled to post a .500 record and missed the playoffs entirely.

The disappointing results led to the ouster of head coach Randy Wittman, who had three .500 campaigns in four full seasons with Washington. As they try to right the ship, the Wizards turn to former Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, who sports an impressive coaching resume that includes a trip to the NBA Finals in 2012.

But adding Brooks wasn’t the Wizards’ only offseason move. This summer, shooting guard Bradley Beal inked a five-year, $128 million deal that makes him the highest-paid player on the roster. There’s no denying that Beal has an impressive skill set, but the move was risky since he has missed the equivalent of a full NBA season over his four campaigns as a pro due to an assortment of injuries.

Still, any hope of the Wizards bouncing back this season starts with All-Star guard John Wall, who posted career highs in scoring (19.9) and assists (10.2) in 2016.

There’s no doubt that the Wizards have the necessary talent to return to the playoffs, but they must stay healthy and adjust to Coach Brooks’ new system.

Basketball Insiders previews the Washington Wizards’ 2016-17 season.

FIVE GUYS THINK

It made all the sense in the world when it was revealed, over the summer, that John Wall and Bradley Beal don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye. Last season, the Wizards were right up there with the New Orleans Pelicans among the most disappointing teams in the entire league. On paper, it appeared that, even without the departed Paul Pierce, the Wizards would have enough talent to compete for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they failed to even qualify for the playoffs. Not surprisingly, Randy Wittman was shown the door and now Scott Brooks will attempt to recapture the success he experienced with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with Beal and Wall.

I absolutely love the acquisition of Trey Burke. He should immediately solve the Wizards’ backup point guard problem and also provide some insurance should Beal get hurt. Marcus Thornton will provide some firepower off the bench and Ian Mahinmi will deservedly get rotation minutes with the opportunity of being a plus. Despite what transpired last season with the Wizards, I’m still a big believer in their talent and am picking them to win the Southeast. Every other team in the division has experienced substantial loss, while they seem to have had some nice gains.

1st Place – Southeast Division

— Moke Hamilton

Not everybody is a believer in the Wizards, but the Southeast is wide open this season and it’s hard to bet against the best individual player in that division in John Wall. A lot of Washington’s success this year will depend not just on how well Wall plays, but on how healthy Brad Beal can be and how much progress Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre and Trey Burke can make. The frontcourt is a little hard to believe in with Ian Mahinmi, Markieff Morris, Andrew Nicholson and Marcin Gortat likely to hold down the biggest minutes, but Wall and Beal are enough in a weak Southeast to give the Wizards a tremendous opportunity to finish near the top of the standings. While not elite, the Wizards could be one of the East’s top five or six teams, though as always with this group health is everything.

2nd Place – Southeast Division

– Joel Brigham

The Wizards’ biggest move of the offseason was hiring new head coach Scott Brooks and he should be a good fit with this talented up-and-coming group. Brooks had so much success in Oklahoma City because he was good at developing emerging stars, instilled a winning culture and built strong relationships with his team as a players’ coach. Washington is looking for him to do those exact same things, and I think John Wall and Bradley Beal will benefit from his arrival. As others have mentioned, health is always the big question mark when it comes to this group (particularly with Beal), but the potential is there for Washington to turn things around and return to the postseason.

3rd Place – Southeast Division

– Alex Kennedy

The 2015-16 campaign marked the third-straight season point guard John Wall was selected to the All-Star game. But the difference between last season and the previous two was the fact that the Wizards slid out of playoff contention. Part of the reason for Washington’s fall from grace was Bradley Beal’s injuries, which limited him to just 55 games. For the Wizards to right the ship, they’ll need Beal to produce in this upcoming bounce-back campaign. The Wizards didn’t pull off any headline-grabbing deals in free agency or trade this past summer, so they’re looking to organically improve. To do so, they’ll need the Beal-Wall backcourt to play at an elite level, together, for at least 70 games.

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Lang Greene

The Wizards will only go as far as their star backcourt will take them, which may be an issue considering John Wall and Bradley Beal have openly admitted to not seeing eye-to-eye on the court. Even more problematic is that Beal has been injury prone each season of his young career. Don’t get me wrong, I think very highly of Wall and Beal despite the noted concerns, but there isn’t a ton of talent behind them either. The Wizards lost a lot of experienced veterans this offseason, such as Jared Dudley, Nenê, Ramon Sessions and Garrett Temple – though they did bring in some quality players like Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith. At the end of the day, this looks like a roster that was banking on adding a superstar (Kevin Durant) in free agency and had to go to Plan B once that didn’t happen. The best thing going for the Wizards this offseason is the hiring of new head coach Scott Brooks. Brooks proved he can lead a young squad from his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder, so perhaps he can work some of that same magic in Washington. Still, even a masterful coaching job by Brooks only takes this team so far this upcoming season considering they simply don’t have the same level of talent as teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers or several of the Western Conference teams.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Bradley Beal

Wall is the Wizards’ best overall player and he’s capable of scoring 20-plus points on any given night, but Beal has all of the tools to become the Wizards’ leading scorer – if he can stay healthy. In Beal’s first 17 games last season, he averaged 19.8 points in 37 minutes per contest before being limited by a minute restriction in January and February. Overall, Beal set career-highs in points (17.4) and field goal percentage (44.9 percent) last season and flashed the potential to take on a larger load in the team’s offensive duties. In order for Washington to take the next step forward, the team will need its highest-paid player to take some of the offensive pressure off Wall.

Top Defensive Player: John Wall

While you can make a case for forward Otto Porter or newly signed center Ian Mahinmi in this space, the Wizards’ best defender is Wall. The veteran point guard earned a Second Team All-Defensive nod back in 2015. Porter is developing into a decent 3-and-D guy, but he was often overpowered by opposing wings last season and at times wildly inconsistent defensively. Mahinmi, on the other hand, has earned a reputation as a solid paint protector, but he figures to serve as a backup to center Marcin Gortat so his minutes and opportunity may be limited. In many ways, the Wizards’ success depends on Wall’s production on both ends of the floor. Last season, Wall ranked 15th among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus. The Wizards have earned their chops the past few seasons playing solid team defense and this year will be no different.

Top Playmaker: John Wall

Wall has averaged double digits in assists in back to back seasons and there’s no reason why that won’t continue for a third straight year in the 2016-17 campaign. Outside of his injury-plagued 2014 season, Wall has finished in the top 10 in total assists in each of his pro seasons. If Beal can stay healthy and reduce some of the offensive pressure facing Wall on a nightly basis, the All-Star guard might be ready to make a run at the league’s assist title (he finished third in 2016).

Top Clutch Player: John Wall

Yes, Wall has dominated this list, but the All-Star is simply the heart and soul of the Wizards’ organization. In order for the franchise to join the upper echelon of the league, Wall must continue strapping the team to his back. This is especially true in clutch situations, where the talented guard is entrusted to deliver on a nightly basis. There are players, such as Beal, who could emerge in this capacity, but until those pieces are ready to take the jump, the clutch role is Wall’s and Wall’s alone.

The Unheralded Player: Marcin Gortat

Gortat routinely throws a wrench into the narrative that there are no reliable “true” centers left in today’s game. Over the past six seasons, Gortat has been a walking double-double during stints with Phoenix and Washington, averaging at least 10 points and eight rebounds in every campaign during this span. The Wizards have been decimated by injuries in years past, but since arriving to the team three seasons ago, Gortat has missed just eight games. The veteran center has produced steady production for a franchise that has been plagued by inconsistency and he rarely, if ever, enters in the All-Star discussion.

Top New Addition: Tomas Satoransky

By bringing in role players such as Trey Burke, Andrew Nicholson, Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith, the Wizards didn’t exactly go out and make any splashy moves that generated headlines this summer. But there is a bit of buzz surrounding the arrival of Tomas Satoransky, the team’s 2012 second-round pick who has been developing his game overseas. Satoransky, 24, has been playing professionally since 2007 in Liga ACB and Euroleague. The 6’7 “rookie” has spent time at both guard positions overseas and should provide immediate depth behind Beal and Wall in the backcourt, with a slightly shorter learning curve than most rookies.

– Lang Greene

WHO WE LIKE

  1. Markieff Morris

If the last five games of the 2016 campaign are any indication of things to come from Morris, then the Wizards are going to experience significant internal growth next season. Morris averaged 17.6 points and 6.6 rebounds on 47 percent shooting from the floor during this span and demonstrated all of the reasons why Phoenix was a bit hesitant to deal him at last season’s trade deadline. Remember, Morris is just one season removed from averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds with the Suns, who viewed him as an integral part of their retooling efforts. However, friction developed between the two parties, leading to the deal that brought the veteran to the nation’s capital. The Wizards have a roster full of role players behind Beal and Wall, but Morris could legitimately make a run at being the team’s third-leading scorer this season.

  1. Kelly Oubre

There aren’t many 20-year-olds coming off a season averaging just 3.7 points in less than 11 minutes of action per night that will make these kinds of lists, but Oubre is intriguing. In nine games as a starter last season, Oubre averaged 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds on 52 percent shooting from three-point range. Not impressed yet? In the 12 games in which the youngster received at least 20 minutes of action as a rookie, he averaged an impressive 9.6 points and 5.2 rebounds on 47 percent from three-point land. With fellow forward Otto Porter set to hit free agency next summer, you better believe the franchise is taking a long and hard look at Oubre’s development before shelling out top dollar for someone occupying the same position.

 

  1. Scott Brooks

Where do you stand on Brooks’ effectiveness as a head coach? Chances are your views will be firmly entrenched on the far side of either spectrum – positive or negative. Just by reviewing the results, Brooks amassed a whopping 62 percent win percentage in roughly seven seasons as a head coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder. During this time period, Brook led the Thunder to five playoff trips (39-34 record) and an NBA Finals appearance in 2012. Sounds good, right? Well, those on the other side of the spectrum believe Brooks’ success is slightly overstated because of the presence of All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – two generational talents. The team also had James Harden, but he was traded following their Finals trip. There’s obviously a gift and a curse to leading elite talent, and the most celebrated coaches in NBA history have had the benefit of coaching star-studded teams. But in Washington, where talent is clearly abundant, Brooks will have a chance to turn around a highly inconsistent group. This is a very good opportunity for Brooks to emerge from the shadows cast by Durant and Westbrook, creating a new narrative for his own career.

  1. Trey Burke

The ongoing narrative is that the former lottery pick flamed out in Utah, transitioning a role as the team’s floor general of the future to an expendable asset this past summer. In Washington, Burke will get another chance to prove he belongs, but barring any major injuries, it will be in a limited backup role to Wall. But here’s the deal: Burke is headed to free agency next summer, so naturally there will be an added level of motivation to play well in order to become an attractive option on the market. Considering the Wizards were able to secure a guy with career averages of 12.1 points and 4.2 assists through three seasons as a pro for a 2021 second-round pick, we like the odds that this could potentially prove to be a highly rewarding trade off.

– Lang Greene

SALARY CAP 101

The Wizards went below the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap this summer, acquiring players like Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith, Trey Burke and Tomas Satoransky.  After re-signing Bradley Beal, Washington has locked in at least $101.9 million in salary in 12 guaranteed players.  The team still has its $2.9 million Room Exception, and three roster spots – with four players fighting to make the team (Jarell Eddie, Daniel Ochefu, Danuel House and Sheldon McClellan).

The Wizards do not project to have room next summer, even with the cap expected to jump to $102 million.  The team has until the end of October to decide on the rookie-scale option for Kelly Oubre.  Both Otto Porter and Burke are eligible for extensions, with an Oct. 31 deadline.  While John Wall’s contract is eligible to be restructured and extended, the Wizards do not have the necessary cap room.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Talent wise, the Wizards arguably have a top five backcourt with Beal and Wall leading the charge. Beal has a sweet perimeter game, while the beauty in Wall’s skill set involves driving the lane and creating havoc for opposing defenses. Both guys are more than capable of putting up 20-plus points on any given night and neither player has reached his physical prime. As stated previously, Beal’s health over the years has limited the amount of court time the two have been able to share. But even with Beal’s extended absences, Wall is routinely near the top of the leaderboard in assists. Imagine if the two can play at least 70 games in the same lineup in 2016-17?

– Lang Greene

WEAKNESSES

Quick, name the offensive or defensive style you associate with the Wizards? One of the biggest weaknesses the Wizards have headed into training camp is their lack of a true team identity. The team won some games employing a small-ball approach last season, while in others they went big in order to grind out victories. Yes, the best teams are able to switch styles as needed to win, but there’s a difference between making in-game adjustments and not having a true calling card. This is an area that must be addressed.

– Lang Greene

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can Bradley Beal and John Wall co-exist? Is there legitimate friction between the duo?

Wall caused a bit of a stir in late August when he unleashed the following quote.

“I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “We got to be able to put that to the side. If you miss somebody on one play or don’t have something go right … as long as you come to each other and talk. If I start arguing with somebody I’m cool. I’m just playing basketball.

“Now that you have your money, you got to go out there and improve your game. I want you to be an All-Star just as much as I’m an All-Star.  If we were playing well as a tandem like the other two superstars that play together as a backcourt, play as a tandem, one night it’s going to be his night, one night it’s going to be mine, some nights it might be both of us. Those are nights it’s going to be tough to beat us.”

The public acknowledgement from Wall about friction with Beal, his leading co-star, raised more than a few eyebrows. Athletes typically guard these type of relationship issues close so the revelation was stunning. But if you look at it from the flip side, it also shows maturity and a keen sense of awareness by Wall since he’s working toward improving the situation. How many times have we seen stars battling with each other and then after parting ways acknowledge that they should have stayed and worked things out?

What was missed by most in Wall’s quote was his stated desire to see Beal develop into an All-Star performer. Wall understands to win at a high level in today’s league, a co-star is needed so maybe – just maybe – his quote was to inspire change. It’s always risky taking things to the court of public opinion, but we’ll see if Wall’s calculated gamble ultimately pays off.

– Lang Greene

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NBA DAILY

NBA Daily: One Year Later, Yogi Ferrell Continues To Rise

One year after a turbulent start to his NBA career, Yogi Ferrell is still thriving with the Dallas Mavericks.

Ben Nadeau

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It was never going to be easy for Yogi Ferrell.

At just 6-foot-0, there were major concerns about Ferrell and his ability to effectively contribute at the professional level, so the 24-year-old was a near-lock to go undrafted despite his impressive haul of collegiate honors. In 2016, he did not hear his name called on draft night — but for a gamer like Ferrell, pushing on was always the only option.

However, on this particularly cold mid-season evening, Ferrell sits at his locker and studies film on a tablet. He looks comfortable and focused as if he knows that this moment cannot be ripped away from him once again. Today, Ferrell is the Dallas Mavericks’ backup point guard and is settled into a consistent, steady role amongst a currently crowded backcourt. For Ferrell, he now finally has the life of an everyday NBA player.

But just over one year ago, Ferrell had to take the road less traveled to reach professional basketball for good.

“It was actually about this time [last year] when [the Nets] decided to waive me and I went back to Long Island,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t know I’d be here. I’m just thankful for the opportunity the Mavericks gave me and I’m just still trying to be here in Dallas.”

To be exact, the Brooklyn Nets waived Ferrell on December 8th, 2016. 365 days (and counting) later, Ferrell has earned his guaranteed contract but he’s still playing like he has something to prove.

* * * * * *

In order to fully understand Ferrell’s winding journey, it’s necessary to go back to where his story really kicked off: Summer League. Following a solid audition in Las Vegas — 8.8 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game — Ferrell was shifted to Brooklyn’s G-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. With the offseason signings of Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez, plus the addition of rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead, there was no room for Ferrell and he was the last man cut in training camp.

Before the Nets could even blink, Vasquez re-injured his problematic ankle just three games into the campaign, an ailment that would eventually require season-ending surgery. Lin, of course, lasted just two more games before a hamstring injury derailed the key free agent acquisition until deep into the season.

Out of nowhere, it was time for Ferrell.

After waiving Vasquez, the Nets signed Ferrell on November 9th — the same day as his NBA debut, where he logged five points and three assists in a 14-point loss to the New York Knicks. But as the Nets continued to free fall without their veteran point guards, Ferrell grew more confidently into his role and was a solid fit in head coach Kenny Atkinson’s three-point heavy rotation. Over 10 contests with Brooklyn, Ferrell tallied just 5.4 points and 1.7 assists in 15 minutes per game. Nonetheless, for a suddenly talent-deficient roster, it appeared as if the point guard was poised to stick around through the winter.

In a surprise twist of fate, the Nets waived Ferrell to sign Spencer Dinwiddie to a partially guaranteed three-year deal, opting to tie their future to a different G-League point guard instead. Just like that, it was back to Long Island for Ferrell — but surprisingly, it wasn’t something that he hung his head over for too long.

“I knew my next opportunity was going to come — I didn’t know when, but I just wanted to make sure I was ready for it,” Ferrell said. “I had a great coach — coach [Ronald] Nored — and he told me to still go about my business as if I was still in the NBA. I didn’t get all the luxuries, but if you treat yourself like a pro, like you’re there now, once you get there, it’ll make it easier and you can make a splash.”

Upon returning to the G-League, Ferrell continued his hot streak and ended up averaging 18.7 points and 5.8 rebounds over a total of 18 games — both before and after his NBA call-up with the Nets. Ultimately, it wasn’t long before another franchise took notice of the enigmatic guard and the Mavericks capitalized, signing Ferrell to a 10-day contract while both Deron Williams and Devin Harris were hampered by injury. His debut with Dallas saw Ferrell tally nine points and seven assists in a win over the San Antonio Spurs and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker — but somehow, that was only the beginning

Affectionately nicknamed Yogi-Mania — a play on Linsanity, Lin’s historic stretch with the Knicks back in 2012 — Ferrell re-joined the NBA red-hot, even leading Dallas to back-to-back wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers. Quickly thereafter, Ferrell signed a multi-year deal with Dallas and then promptly torched the Portland Trail Blazers for nine three-pointers and a total of 32 points. Over his initial two-week stretch with the Mavericks, Ferrell scored 10 or more points in seven of his first nine games and made a serious claim for a permanent spot in the rotation.

Of course, the multi-year contract offered Ferrell something else he hadn’t yet experienced in the NBA: Job security. After Ferrell’s team option was picked up last June, he was happy to have a role with the Mavericks once again, no matter how big or small. Without the worry of being on borrowed time, Ferrell was able to train, learn the system and embrace of the city of Dallas during the offseason.

“The offseason was pretty good, I played summer league with some of the young guys,” Ferrell said. “It was great to work every day and get to know the coaches better, the area of Dallas better. Headed into training camp, I just wanted to work on my game and I had lot more confidence.”

One of those coaches he’s gotten to know better is Rick Carlisle, an old-school guard that has found success as both a player and coach. Under Carlisle, Ferrell has averaged 28.3 minutes per game so far as a sophomore, good for the third-highest total on the entire roster. Ferrell, who was in the G-League at this time last year, has merited more playing time than any other point guard on the team — a list that includes rookie sensation Dennis Smith Jr. (28.1), J.J. Barea (22.5), and the aforementioned Harris (18.9). For Ferrell, much of his second-year successes have come from simply putting Carlisle’s words of wisdom into action.

“He’s just always telling me to be a threat,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders of Carlisle. “First of all, be a threat to score because that’s what opens up everything else. If you’re pushing the pace and getting in the paint, attacking, especially for somebody like myself in my position. You want to just cause 2-on-1s and kicks and find whatever the defense gives us.”

While Yogi-Mania was built off of an electric career-altering hot streak, Ferrell has been a contributor this season in a more consistent, experienced way. Building off the All-NBA Rookie Second Team berth Ferrell earned in just 36 games with Dallas last season, the point guard is now often one of the first guards off the bench, a role that Barea has long excelled in. The comparisons between Ferrell and Barea are all too obvious, the latter being another 6-foot-nothing guard that has carved out a 12-year career after going undrafted in 2006.

During the Mavericks’ championship-winning playoff run in 2011, Barea averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 assists, including massive back-to-back 15-plus point outings in Dallas’ series-defining Game 5 and 6 victories. These days, Ferrell is just thankful to have teammates like Barea and Harris to learn from on and off the court.

“I always say that I like watching them, especially how they play,” Ferrell said. “I try to mimic the older guys, Devin and J.J., they’re so synced together when they play, it’s something special to watch. I just try to go out there and mimic what they do, they’ve been successful at it and been in this league for a long time, so I’m just trying to learn from guys like them.”

* * * * * *

Precisely, it’s been 370 days since Ferrell was first waived by Brooklyn and found success at the NBA level that little believed was possible. Not one to let an obstacle get in his way, Ferrell went undrafted and still managed to earn a multi-year contract before he even hit 20 career appearances. For his dominating stretch in the G-League last season, Ferrell was named an All-Star — although he was too busy with Dallas to attend the festivities — and he still went on to earn a spot with the All-NBA Rookie Second Team as well.

Overcoming roadblocks and adversity at every turn, it’d be easy to now exhale and relax — after all, his contract is currently guaranteed and he’s got a solidified role in an NBA rotation — but Ferrell, forever hungry, isn’t ready to stop there. Staying motivated isn’t difficult for Ferrell because he knows that much of his journey is still left in front of him and he’s ready to keep climbing upward.

“I’m a winner, I came from a winning program,” Ferrell said. “My mentality is still to prove that I belong here. I just want to win, that’s it.”

For Ferrell, this isn’t the end of an underdog story — this is just the beginning of something even greater.

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NBA

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

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

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

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

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

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