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Cheap Seats: Who Should Go No. 1?

Who should be the top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft? Basketball Insiders’ interns give their thoughts.

Basketball Insiders

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In this week’s Cheap Seats, our interns Jesse Blancarte, John Zitzler and Cody Taylor discuss who should be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft when the Cleveland Cavaliers go on the clock.

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins has had a lot of hype surrounding him for several years now, often drawing comparisons to LeBron James. Wiggins was under the microscope in his one and only season at Kansas, which ended with a disappointing loss in the Round of 32 to Stanford.

Wiggins put up 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals, one block and 2.3 turnovers per game. He shot 44.8 percent from the field, 34.1 percent from beyond the arc and 77 percent from the free throw line. While his statistics do not remind anyone of LeBron James, Wiggins showed flashes of why he is so highly regarded among talent evaluators, such as when he scored 41 points against West Virginia on March 8.

Wiggins has good shooting mechanics, despite his inconsistent results. He can knock down set shots and shots off the dribble, though he often settles for difficult jumpers to avoid contact. Nevertheless, with more time and practice, it looks like Wiggins will be a very good shooter in the future.

Wiggins is also great in transition. He uses his athleticism and long strides to outpace his opponents for easy finishes at the rim. However, in half court situations, Wiggins is not as effective with the ball, as he struggles to change directions quickly. This in part explains why Wiggins will often settle for a long two-pointer, rather than trying to use his athleticism to get by defenders. As his ball-handling improves, hopefully his assertiveness will too. Too often Wiggins seemed complacent, playing within the team structure as opposed to taking a game over himself when the situation called for it. To be fair, LeBron was criticized early on in his career for being too unselfish and looking to setup teammates for clutch shots. At just 19, Wiggins has time to continue developing his offensive game, which will hopefully lead to increased confidence, allowing him to take over games when his team needs it.

On the defensive end, Wiggins showed throughout his freshmen season that he has all the physical tools and instincts to be a lockdown defender. A good comparison for Wiggins is Paul George. Both players have the physical tools to be great wing defenders, but more importantly, both players have the desire to be great defensive players. As Wiggins adds more muscle to his frame, he will be able to guard bigger players as well, which will make him one of the best two-way players in the NBA.

With that said, Wiggins is facing tough competition for the number one spot in the draft. Jabari Parker is another talented forward who could potentially go number one, and many believe he is more ready to contribute in the NBA than Wiggins. Parker can score in a variety of ways, has a bigger frame than Wiggins and can potentially play as a small-ball four. However, the Cavaliers are not a fringe championship contender that is one piece away from winning it all. Instead, they are a team with a collection of young, talented players that need to grow together. While a player like Parker can be a part of such a core, it does not make sense to pass on a player with seemingly unlimited potential—like Wiggins— for a player that may put up slightly better stats in his rookie season, but does not have the same upside.

Similarly, Joel Embiid is another player that many believe could go number one. However, the Cavaliers in recent drafts have made some questionable picks (passing on players like Klay Thompson, Andre Drummond and Victor Oladipo) and need to get this one right. Embiid is a gifted big man, but sat out a number of games late in the season with a stress fracture in his back. While recent reports suggest that the back issues are cleared up, it would be a terrible scenario for Embiid to suffer major health issues while players like Wiggins and Parker are emerging as the future stars of the NBA. Embiid is a special talent, but there are many examples of big men being plagued by injuries, such as Bill Walton, Yao Ming and Greg Oden, just to name a few.

The Cavs are both fortunate and unfortunate. They are fortunate to have the first pick in a very talented draft, but will be picking first for the third time in four years. After another season missing the playoffs, recently firing former head coach Mike Brown (for the second time) and unexpectedly winning the lottery, the Cavs are under a lot of scrutiny around the league. If they mess this pick up, it will be something that others will be very critical of. Fortunately, the Cavs are picking from a crop of very talented players. But none of them have the star potential that Wiggins has. He may not be LeBron James, but he doesn’t really need to be. With Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett, the Cavs have plenty of young talent to build around. Rather than waiting around hoping for LeBron to come back, it’s time for the Cavs to move forward, with Wiggins as the lead man.

– Jesse Blancarte

Jabari Parker

After striking out terribly in last year’s draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers desperately need to take full advantage of this year’s draft class. After miraculously landing the top pick in the draft, the Cavaliers must draft Jabari Parker. The Cavaliers are in need of a rim protector, but given Joel Embiid’s health history, can the Cavs afford to gamble on another top pick? Parker is arguably the safest bet among Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, and the Cavaliers are in need of the safest bet out there. The team can’t afford to have another overall pick play in just 52 games while averaging less than five points a game like they had in Anthony Bennett last season.

The Cavaliers struggled all season long with offensive efficiency and finished just inside the top 25 in the league in that category. A player like Parker that averaged 19.1 points in his freshman year at Duke can almost certainly step in and provide a big-time scoring punch. Parker was an efficient and effective scorer while at Duke and that’s a skill that goes far with scouts and executives in the NBA. In addition to his 19.1 points, Parker shot 47.3 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from three-point range. The Cavaliers will likely lose Luol Deng to free agency and Parker would be the most capable out of Wiggins and Embiid to replace Deng’s 14.3 points per game in Cleveland.

At this point for the Cavaliers, Parker would be the best option to allow them to compete now. While a pick like Wiggins would be made with the hopes of him developing into a star within a couple of years, that may be too long to keep Kyrie Irving happy. Although Irving hasn’t publicly come out against staying in Cleveland long-term, there have been reports stating that he has told people privately that he wants out.

It’s a growing trend in the league when a star player is disgruntled. Does the team trade that player away to get some sort of value or do they keep him in hopes that he’ll stay long-term and risk losing him for nothing? It’s a path the Denver Nuggets have been down with Carmelo Anthony, a path the Orlando Magic went down with Dwight Howard and it’s a path the Minnesota Timberwolves currently find themselves on with Kevin Love. It’s hard to speculate which player will go number one, especially with the Cavaliers, but a player that will equal the most wins would likely be the best option at keeping Irving content.

The knocks against Parker are well-documented, but improving on the defensive side of the ball is something that can be practiced and worked on. The knocks against Wiggins and Embiid could be viewed as worse. The major factor helping Wiggins in the draft is that in five years he could be an elite player based off of potential, but potential isn’t guaranteed. Parker is the most pro-ready and should be taken with the top overall pick. Only the Cavaliers can mess it up from here.

– Cody Taylor

Joel Embiid

The top of the 2014 draft has a number of young prospects who possess the talent to change the direction of a franchise. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were both known commodities before they ever stepped foot on a college campus. Wiggins’ high school mixtapes left basketball fans in awe, showing off raw athleticism that is on par with some of the NBA’s elite. The expectations for Wiggins were impossibly high in his one year at Kansas. While he may not have dominated in the fashion some desired, he was able to solidify himself as one of the top prospects in this year’s draft. Parker similarly in his one season at Duke showed he already possesses a versatile offensive arsenal, one that should translate to the NBA from day one. Like Wiggins, Parker answered any questions doubters may have had and put himself into the mix to be one of the top three picks.

Both Wiggins and Parker look to have the potential to be great players at the next level, guys that could lead franchises for years to come. However, there is one player who has a combination of size and skill that is not often seen. A player that if he remains healthy and develops as projected will almost certainly be a dominating force on both sides of the ball. The type of big man coaches dream about. That man, of course being, former Kansas center Joel Embiid.

Embiid, who measures a legitimate 7’0 and is right around 250 pounds, has prototypical size for a center in the NBA. Add to that a 7’5 wingspan and it’s not hard to see why there is so much intrigue surrounding him. Any player with those physical attributes is going to garner attention from scouts on that alone. But it’s Embiid’s skill set, in addition to his size, that has NBA executives captivated with his potential.

On the defensive end, Embiid should be able to have a significant impact from the moment he steps foot onto an NBA court. In his one season at Kansas, Embiid was able average to 2.6 blocks per game in just over 24 minutes a night and that obviously doesn’t take into account the number of shots deterred by his presence alone. He was able to use his massive frame to make finishing around the rim a monumental task for the opposition. While he does have great size, that isn’t the only reason he is strong defender; he does a nice job moving his feet and getting himself into good position in both help defense situations and in one on one matchups. Right now, Roy Hibbert is the standard in the NBA when talking about interior defense. When you watch Embiid, it’s easy to envision how he could have a similar impact defensively at the next level.

Offensively, Embiid is surprisingly skilled for a player of his size and inexperience. Embiid reportedly only began playing basketball in 2011. A remarkable fact for a player who is now firmly in the conversation to the first pick in the draft. Embiid possesses a nice touch around the rim and has the ability to finish with either hand. He shows great poise when double teamed, often times making the proper pass to an open teammate even when under great pressure from the defense. He has displayed post moves that have drawn comparisons to former NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon. He’s still raw, but it’s more than evident that the talent is there.

There is one major caveat surrounding Embiid, and that of course is his health. The long-term forecast for his back may scare some teams. This is the only thing that is seemingly holding him back from being a lock to be drafted number one. He was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back in March, which kept him from playing in the Big 12 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. Embiid will go through extensive medical testing by any team that is considering drafting the promising center.

However, video of Embiid working out in Santa Monica recently surfaced and it was encouraging, to say the least. He looked fluid in his movement and threw down dunk after dunk with authority. This was just a solo workout absent of any competition so it must taken with a grain of salt, but it definitely created some buzz and was a step in the right direction in terms proving his health.

Embiid has the physical attributes that longtime NBA personnel marvel at. His potential to not only impact but dominate the game on both sides of the floor is beyond rare. He has the chance to grow into one of the better big men this league has seen in some time. If he can develop to the level that many are projecting, it would be flat out irresponsible to go in any other direction with the number one pick. If his back checks out, Joel Embiid is the best prospect in this draft and deserves to be selected first overall.

– John Zitzler

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NBA Daily: The Memphis Grizzlies’ Young Core Rises

The Memphis Grizzlies have built one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA – and it won’t be long before they’re competing at the top of the Western Conference.

Zach Dupont

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Needless to say, the NBA is flush with some exciting young rosters. Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks, Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans are bursting at the seams with talent and, in short order, have sparked discussions as to which team might be basketball’s next big thing.

While each of those teams excites in their own, unique way, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies that stand out from the rest of the pack.

The Grizzlies are led by Ja Morant, their sophomore star point guard out of Murray State. As a rookie, Morant proved he was one of the NBA’s brightest up-and-comers, but he’s taken it to another level this season. While he missed time with an ankle injury, Morant has averaged 22.6 points and 7.0 assists per game on 53.2 percent shooting. Morant is also first in the NBA in fast-break points per game, averaging 5.8 per game.

The bright hooper hasn’t had the hype that someone like Young did early on in the season, but there’s a case to be made that Morant is just as promising as the Hawks’ star guard. Per 48 minutes, Morant is averaging 37.1 points and 11.5 assists versus Young at 33.6 points and 13.1 assists per game. While not a perfect comparison given the former’s smaller sample size in 2020-21, it does show that Morant is absolutely in the discussion for the best young guard in the league.

The Grizzlies already have their cornerstone of the future, but what separates them from the rest of the NBA’s fascinating teams is the organization’s ability to acquire talented role players. Five of the Grizzlies’ top seven scorers are players the Grizzlies drafted in the last four seasons; better, four of them were players selected in the previous two.

Memphis only has two players older than 30, Gorgui Dieng and Tim Frazier, the latter of which has played just 33 minutes this season. That number jumps to three with players 28-years-and-older by adding Jonas Valanciunas to the list.

Lead amongst those role players is the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, the 45th overall selection for Memphis in 2017. Brooks is putting up 15.2 points per game in his fourth season in the NBA despite not shooting the ball well, just 36.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three-point range. Brooks has never shot below 35 percent from three or 40 percent from the field in his career, so it stands to reason his percentages will increase by the end of the year and, with it, his entire scoring output.

Elsewhere, Brandon Clarke, a second-year forward out of Gonzaga, is one of Memphis’ five players averaging over 10 points per game this year, putting up 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. While his scoring numbers are substantial, Clarke’s value comes on the defensive end – much like the two Grizzlies’ rookies, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman.

Bane and Tillman were picked between 30-35th overall, and through a handful of games, both have well exceeded their draft slots. Bane is averaging 8.6 points per game on crazy efficient shooting percentages of 47.1/48.9/77.8. Beyond that, Tillman has shown his worth on both ends of the ball too, averaging 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Grizzlies’ talented young core which includes two ultra-talented youngsters who have yet to play this season.

Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the Grizzlies’ second-best player behind Morant; last year, he averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 46.9/39.4/74.7 shooting splits. Winslow hasn’t played since early on in the 2019-20 season with the Miami HEAT, before being traded to Memphis at the deadline for Andre Iguodala. During his last full season, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on 43.3/37.5/62.8 shooting splits, making him a valuable wing player that the Grizzlies have just waiting on the bench.

Of course, Memphis is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 24.3, second-youngest in the league, and have dealt with significant injury problems early on this season. Despite this, the Grizzlies are one of the best defensive units in the league, holding a defensive rating of 106.66, second-best league-wide. The Memphis offense has struggled so far this year, but a major reason why is because of Morant’s injury.

When Morant plays, the Grizzlies’ offensive numbers are much improved. With Morant on the floor, they’ve got an offensive rating of 115.4, which would be the sixth-best mark in the NBA. Without him on the floor, their offensive rating drops to 103.8, good for second-worst. Given that Morant has missed more than half the Grizzlies’ games this year, it’s no wonder their offensive rating is a 105.66 on the season.

Ultimately, this has left the Grizzlies with a record of 7-6, putting them at the eighth seed in the Western Conference and right in the hunt for the playoffs.

The scary thing is that the Grizzlies are only going to get better. Morant and Jackson Jr. are both 21-years-old, Tillman and Bane are 22 and Brooks, Winslow and Clarke are 24. The entirety of the core is young, while their two best players are hardly old enough to buy alcohol. Even though the Grizzlies are young, they’ve already shown themselves to be one of the league’s best defenses and possess the tools to improve their offense in-house.

Come the end of the season, the Grizzlies will be a real playoff contender – and with such a young roster, it’s only a matter of time before Memphis is competing for more than just the backend of the playoffs.

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NBA Daily: Reggie Jackson Staying Ready for the Clippers

Reggie Jackson hasn’t had much opportunity with the Los Angeles Clippers this season. Still, he’s ready for whenever the team may need him.

David Yapkowitz

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There’s an old saying: “if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” That saying would certainly apply to Reggie Jackson this season.

Jackson, who joined the Los Angeles Clippers last season after he was bought out by the Detroit Pistons, re-upped with team on a one-year deal. A once-promising young guard that the Pistons pried away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015 with a five-year, $80 million contract, his time in Detroit was unfortunately marred by injuries and inconsistency.

Still, he was coveted on the buyout market. When Jackson arrived in Los Angeles, the prevailing thought was that he would provide the Clippers with extra guard depth and an additional ball-handler and solid playmaker off the bench. They even had competition from the Los Angeles Lakers for his services.

And, for the most part, Jackson did just that in his 17 regular-season games — including the Orlando bubble seeding games — that he suited up with the Clippers. He put up 9.5 points per game and 3.2 assists while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three-point range.

But the playoffs were a different story. Inconsistency reared its ugly head and Jackson’s numbers dropped to 4.9 points and 0.9 assists while his field goal percentage dipped to 43.8 percent. The Clippers as a whole were inconsistent, especially in their second-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, and it was unsure if Jackson would be back with the team for the 2020-21 season.

He did come back, although it looked as if this year he was going to have some competition at the backup point guard spot with second-year guard Terance Mann. When the season began, new head coach Tyronn Lue alternated between the two from game-to-game, but eventually settled on a rotation that didn’t necessarily include either of them.

For a young player like Mann, finding yourself out of the rotation might seem like necessary growing pains as your career is in its infancy. But, for a vet like Jackson, it can be tough. Lue admitted as much in a recent call with media.

“It was a hard conversation for me because I thought he had been playing well,” Lue said, “but we couldn’t play all the guys, we knew that coming into the season.”

“He took it well. I think when you’re a veteran, when you’re a pro, when you want to win you do whatever it takes to try to win. I just told him to stay ready, it’s a long season with Covid, with injuries and things like that, you got to be ready.”

To Jackson’s credit, he’s done just that and stayed ready for when his next opportunity should arise.

And, luckily for him, it came maybe a bit sooner than expected.

Last Friday against the Sacramento Kings, the Clippers found themselves without both Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. And, so, Jackson found himself in the starting lineup.

In the win against the Kings, Jackson finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, shot 50 percent from long-range and even threw down a dunk in traffic. After the game, he joked that his teammates had been teasing him for not dunking and for being 30 years old. That moment made him feel like he was younger again.

“It feels good, especially at 30. Seeing the open lane and having a chance to attack,” Jackson said. “I’ve had an injury-plagued career these past few years, I just feel like I’m getting my legs back under me and feel somewhat 20 again, it felt great to go out there to get a dunk.”

“I’m just glad to get it in there. I got a little nervous.”

Before being told he was going to be out of the rotation, Jackson had strung together some solid games off the bench as Lue was experimenting with the lineup. In the Clippers Dec 29 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jackson had perhaps his best game of the season with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and a block.

He followed that up with another strong performance in a win against a good Portland Trail Blazers team with 11 points, 2 assists and 66.7 percent shooting from the field including 50 percent from downtown. Jackson understands that some nights he might not see any playing time while other nights he may be called upon to provide a spark.

“I just want to be ready, I’m just trying to stay ready for anything and whenever my name is called this year,” he said. “I just try to manage the point guard like a quarterback, on wins. There’s things I can improve on, things I could be better at. For the most part I just want to find a way to help my team get a win.”

With the return of Beverley, Jackson only played 13 minutes off the bench in the Clippers most recent game against the Indiana Pacers. Still, he figures to be a regular in the rotation with Williams still day-to-day and Lue has liked what he’s seen from him in these recent wins.

“He’s a point guard, he did a good job with catch and shoot, distributing the basketball, but also running the team,” Lue said. “That’s what we expect him to do. I’m happy for Reggie, staying ready and being a professional.”

For Jackson, one of the things that have helped him the most this season is having two championship-caliber point guards on the sideline in Lue and assistant coach Chauncey Billups, as well as assistants Larry Drew and Kenny Atkinson who were solid point guards in their playing days, too.

Although he’s a veteran, he’s always trying to learn and always trying to improve and he feels like this is the best group for him to learn from.

“They’re helping me day-in and day-out. Having a slew of point guards and great minds at the helm is just helping me with my maturation and seeing the game,” Jackson said. “Having somebody to bounce ideas off of steadily, I think it’s working really well right now. I’m just fortunate to have their minds and try to pick their brains as much as possible. I know I’ve been doing this 10 years but to have those guys in my corner, they’ve forgotten more basketball than I know. I always try to soak it up.”

And if Jackson can continue to refine his game — to pick up what he can as he picks the brains of Lue, Billups and the others — and stay ready, he just might come up big for Los Angeles when they need him most.

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NBA Daily: Youth Fueling San Antonio

Gregg Popovich has typically relied heavily on his veteran players. Now, he has a cast of young talent that is fueling a Spurs resurgence. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on the rising stars in San Antonio.

Chad Smith

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Last season was strange for everyone, but especially San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. It was the first time in his 25-year tenure that his team missed the playoffs. Heck, it was the first time his team ever finished with a losing record since he took the job in 1996. But, in spite of that season and the fact that Popovich will turn 72 next week, his motivation and excitement are still there.

Popovich has done it and seen it all during his time on the bench. From winning five NBA titles to coaching countless Hall of Fame players along the way. His list of accomplishments is endless, but the coaching job he is doing this year might just rank right near the top.

Most teams around the league are either primarily comprised of young and inexperienced players or made up mostly of veterans who know how to manage the game. You won’t find many that have a nice mixture of both, let alone having the talent that the Spurs seem to have. Their roster doesn’t have an All-Time great player, either; you won’t find a Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu GinĂłbili or Tony Parker here. They have a great veteran duo, to be fair — both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are capable of playing at a high level — but neither can be asked to carry a team at this stage of their respective careers.

It is Popovich’s job to take those ingredients and cook up something special. And it’s here where his and San Antonio’s player development abilities shine through.

The 2019 NBA Draft was oozing with talent at the top with guys like Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barret taking the spotlight. And while no one wants to miss out on the postseason, their down year could have been a blessing in disguise for Spurs, who have long had a knack for plucking hidden gems in the first round. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson were all drafted by the Spurs as the 29th overall selection.

And this season, while White has only played one game because of an injury, it has been the duo of Murray and Johnson that has been the spark for a reinvigorated San Antonio.

Murray, in particular, is finally having the breakout season that many envisioned. He has improved his scoring average by five points per game and is posting career-high averages in rebounds, assists and free throw percentage. Not only is he hitting the free throws, but Murray is also getting to the line more often instead of settling for mid-range jumpers.

As good as Murray has played thus far, it has been Johnson’s emergence that has been turning heads around the league.

Not many players from the loaded 2019 draft have busted onto the scene in their second year quite like Johnson has. After appearing in just 17 games last season, the former Kentucky product has elevated his game to new heights. So far this season he is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds while starting every game for San Antonio.

While his minutes and shot attempts have greatly increased in his new role, Johnson has maintained an efficiency that has allowed him to blossom. The Spurs desperately need some floor spacing, as they rank in the bottom five of the league in terms of three-point shot attempts; Johnson’s ability to shoot both vital to their strong start and has been heavily relied upon with guys like DeRozan, Murray and Aldridge all making their living in the mid-range area.

Johnson also has the tools and intelligence to make a major impact on the defensive end of the floor. His large frame allows him to guard bigger players and take contact, while his length and athleticism make him a great closeout defender. Popovich has relied on him heavily in their games where they’ve had to face the likes of LeBron James, Christian Wood, Pascal Siakam and former Spur Kawhi Leonard.

White’s prolonged absence has opened the door for another youngster, Lonnie Walker, who has flourished with the opportunity. There is a reason San Antonio took him with the 18th overall pick a few years ago and, now, he seems to be putting it all together. His scoring and efficiency have drastically improved, while his patience and understanding of what is happening on the floor seem more apparent.

Walker has always had elite-level athleticism, but he has worked on his jump shot and finishing ability at the rim. He has been one of their best scoring options this season, capable of putting up 20 points or more on any given night. Walker and Popovich have given much of the credit to Murray’s leadership.

The 24-year-old point guard seems to be establishing himself as the leader of this team. His patience running the offense and finding teammates in half-court sets has been crucial. Their transition game has been thriving as well, with their young guys getting downhill and putting pressure on defenders. They rank in the top-five in terms of drives per game, as Popovich has emphasized the importance of getting to the rim and creating open shots for others.

Another statistic that Popovich has to be thrilled with speaks volumes about the growth of his backcourt: the Spurs turn the ball over less than any other team in the league. In fact, they are the only team that commits fewer than 10 turnovers per game.

Confidence plays a major role in how well a player develops. And it appears as though Popovich has instilled confidence in Murray and Walker, which has enabled them to take off. Johnson’s confidence was evident last season, where he erupted in his final games at the bubble in Orlando.

Just as he has injected confidence into his young guys, Popovich has channeled patience and better decision-making into DeRozan as well. No longer is he forcing up shots and shying away from the three-point line. It may have taken a bit longer than many expected, but Popovich may have molded DeRozan into the best version of himself.

Whether attacking their talented trio of young players or a veteran like DeRozan, Aldridge or Patty Mills, San Antonio is going to be a tough team to keep down or put away. The Western Conference is stacked once again but, while they may roster the same names as last season, this Spurs team is vastly different.

And, if they continue to grow and trust one another, there could be another playoff run on the horizon for Popovich and San Antonio.

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