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Bazemore On Free Agency, Hawks, Dwight Howard

Kent Bazemore talks free agency, expectations for 2016-17, the huge strides he’s made and new teammate Dwight Howard.

Alex Kennedy

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It wasn’t long ago that only diehard NBA fans knew the name Kent Bazemore.

When he first entered the NBA, he was known as the guy who played sparingly for the Golden State Warriors, but always rooted on his teammates with entertaining bench celebrations. In fact, these became so popular that highlight reels were made and Bazemore’s moves were even added to NBA 2K. He was a fan favorite – the undrafted kid who always had a smile on his face and seemed thrilled to be living out his dream of being in the NBA.

Then, in February of 2014, the Warriors traded Bazemore the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Steve Blake. Suddenly, the swingman had an opportunity to take on a larger role. He took full advantage, averaging 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals in 28 minutes. As entertaining as Bazemore was on the sideline with the Warriors, his stint with the Lakers made it clear that he belonged on the court.

However, Bazemore’s success with the Lakers was over the course of just 23 games, so some decision-makers around the NBA chalked up his production to a small sample size. However, the Atlanta Hawks believed in the charismatic Bazemore when he hit free agency following his time in Los Angeles, inking him to a two-year deal worth $4 million.

He continued to play at a very high level and made the Hawks look very smart. Last season, stepping in for the departed DeMarre Carroll, the 27-year-old averaged 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals. He shot 44.1 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point range (on 4.1 attempts per game). He emerged as a talented two-way player and an integral part of Atlanta’s balanced attack, filling the 3-and-D role that’s so valuable in today’s NBA.

In the playoffs, Bazemore averaged 11.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals in the Hawks’ 10 games. During the team’s first-round series against the Boston Celtics, he had two outings in which he scored at least 20 points and he also did a very good job rebounding and defending. His best statistical performance of the playoffs came in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers when he had 16 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals.

These days, he’s filling the stat sheet as opposed to just waving a towel. But don’t get it twisted: Bazemore is still the teammate whom everyone loves.

“He’s a great basketball player, but an even better person,” said Indiana Pacers point guard Jeff Teague, who played with Bazemore in Atlanta. “He’s probably my favorite teammate that I’ve played with.”

“Kent was a great teammate in Atlanta,” said Phoenix Suns guard John Jenkins, who played with Bazemore in Atlanta. “He has a very lively personality that is contagious and perfect for a locker room. He has God-given tools that allow him to be a tough defender, but now you have to respect him on the offensive end of the floor too. He has a great story for a guy that went undrafted.”

What Bazemore brings to Atlanta – both on the court and as a great locker-room presence – can’t always be quantified with traditional stats. However, a deeper look at some of his advanced numbers does give an indication of how effective he was last season. According to Basketball Reference, Bazemore ranked 13th among qualified NBA players in Defensive Rating (100) and 16th among players in Defensive Win Shares (3.8). He averaged 2.6 deflections per game in the postseason, which ranked 15th among all individuals in the playoffs. Opponents who were being guarded by Bazemore shot 41.6 percent from the field, as opposed to shooting an average of 44.5 percent on the season when guarded by someone else.

A big reason for the Hawks’ success was their defense, and Bazemore was a crucial part of that (the only Hawk with a higher Defensive Rating was forward Paul Millsap). When teams played against Atlanta, their field goal percentage would drop by an average of 1.8 percent, which ranked first in the NBA. Also, the Hawks were second in the NBA in Defensive Rating (allowing only 98.8 points per 100 possessions, which trailed only the San Antonio Spurs).

Because Bazemore had a career year and displayed his expanded game, he received a nice raise this summer. He was a highly coveted free agent on July 1. In fact, the Houston Rockets met him as soon as free agency got underway, bringing owner Les Alexander, superstar James Harden and legends like Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler to their pitch meeting as they tried to persuade him to leave Atlanta. However, even with the Rockets rolling out the red carpet, Bazemore ultimately decided to re-sign with the Hawks on a four-year deal worth $70 million. Oh, and July 1 (when he agreed to the contract terms with Atlanta) is his birthday, as if he needed any more reason to celebrate!

According to our salary cap guru Eric Pincus, Bazemore made $5,262,476 during the first four years of his NBA career combined. Next season alone he will triple that number, set to earn $15,730,338 (making him the third-highest-paid player on the Hawks’ roster). In the 2017-18 season, he’ll make $16,910,113. The following year, he’ll earn $18,089,887. He has a player option for the 2019-20 campaign, but he could make $19,269,662.

It’s safe to say that the days of Bazemore being undervalued and overlooked are in the past.

This was evident when it came time for the media to select their annual award winners. Bazemore received three All-Defensive Team votes as well as two votes in the NBA’s Most Improved Player race.

Basketball Insiders caught up with Bazemore to discuss his free agency decision, his meeting with the Rockets, the huge strides he made in recent years, his expectations for next season, the Hawks’ addition of Dwight Howard and more:

Alex Kennedy: You decided to re-sign with the Atlanta Hawks after receiving interest from several teams. What factored in to that decision?

Kent Bazemore: “I had made it clear all season that I wanted to return. Once you go through a season like this last one, a career year where you’re with the organization and coach and team for a second straight year, it’s hard to leave. My ceiling is super high here because I’m comfortable. I think being comfortable in your surroundings is important to becoming the best person and player that you can be. That weighed heavily in my decision. My fiancée loves it here too. Happy wife, happy life, right? (laughs) With other teams, there were a lot of uncertainties. For example, some were in the rebuilding stage. I didn’t want to leave a situation that I know a lot about for a situation with uncertainties. This is the place where I feel like I can grow the most, be close to home and develop my brand. I think having a brand in this league is really important because it helps catapult you in certain situations. The city of Atlanta has really embraced me. It’s been a perfect fit from the get-go.”

Kennedy: Just a few years ago, you were more known for your bench antics with the Golden State Warriors than your on-court contributions. Now, you’re one of the better two-way players in the NBA and you have an organization like the Houston Rockets bringing out owner Les Alexander, James Harden, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and others to pitch to you. Is it a bit surreal how much has changed in just a few years?

Bazemore: “It is surreal. You walk into the room and there’s Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, James Harden, the owner and the assistant GM. It was a lot. They gave me this iPad with the presentation, and it was a very strong presentation. They did it in my backyard, so I was still home, still in my element, still in Atlanta. I made up my mind that I wanted to stay here with the Hawks. They tried to persuade me otherwise by breaking through that wall and trying to change my mind. And they almost did, I have to give them credit. Their presentation was impressive, with the moves they want to make. Also, I had already played under [head coach] Mike D’Antoni, so that played a factor as well. But at the end of the day, there were a lot of uncertainties. I would’ve been leaving a solid situation to go to Houston and play with James Harden, who is a great player, but one thing I want to do more this year is play with the ball in my hands. I understand that the Rockets are James’ team, so I thought the best thing for me was to stay here, where I can blossom. Not that I couldn’t have done it there, but I just think I have a better chance to do it here.”

Kennedy: That leads to my next question. In your opinion, how much more room to you have to grow? How much untapped potential do you feel you still have?

Bazemore: “Oh man, a ton. There’s not anyone on this planet who criticizes me more than myself. I think this contract has definitely motivated me to be a lot better. There are still levels to go – be an All-Star, be a superstar, MVP talk. That may seem farfetched, but I think at this rate, anything that I say can very well happen. Looking at how far I’ve come over the last few years, I think anything is obtainable. I know a lot of guys get a pay check and then relax, but I’m not going to be that guy. I’ve just been so motivated since signing a few weeks ago. I’m ready to get back out there and play. I know what I have to do to reach my projections and be where I want to be when I leave this game.”

Kennedy: The Hawks have made some significant changes this summer. You added Dwight Howard to the roster, but also lost players like Al Horford and Jeff Teague. What are your thoughts on the offseason as a whole?

Bazemore: “I think obviously losing Al and Jeff – two All-Stars – is a blow, but from an organization standpoint, I know they were looking to head in a new direction. Jeff and I had been here the longest out of everybody on the team, but they felt it was time to make a change. They’re going with a younger point guard, Dennis Schroder, who is defensive-oriented. They brought in Dwight Howard, who is one of the most dominant centers of all-time and poised for a breakout year. He seems super hungry. I’ve chatted with him a few times and he seems like he’s ready to get after it. It’s a situation for him where, unlike in L.A. and unlike in Houston, this is going to be his team. We’ll work off of him. We understand that he’s been to the NBA Finals and played on some great teams. We’re looking for him to be a leader for us, and I think he can do it. Him coming back home and being comfortable here, I think that makes a world of a difference. Then, of course, we have Paul Millsap, who is really special and does what he does on a nightly basis. He’s so consistent. We have some rookies who I’m really excited about; Taurean Prince is a big body and DeAndre Bembry is a play-maker with some good size. Then we have guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. and, of course, Jarrett Jack, who is one of the most vocal leaders in the entire league. He’s someone who I learned a lot of my leadership skills from back when we played together in Golden State. I could go on and on about this team. We have a good team all around – a solid mix of young guys and veterans – so it’s going to be a good year.”

Kennedy: Last year, most people felt that the Eastern Conference was pretty wide open after the Cleveland Cavaliers. Do you think you guys have a shot at being one of those top teams in the East?

Bazemore: “Yeah, definitely. Cleveland is a great team and what they did last year was amazing, beating a team that many people thought would walk away with the regular season and the postseason. You have to give a ton of credit to them because they’ve done a great job putting themselves in position to win and be successful. I think we took notes from losing to them eight straight games in the postseason. There’s definitely a fire lit under us for next season and we want to come back better than ever – individually and collectively as well. We’re taking steps in the right direction, adding Dwight Howard, adding Jarrett Jack, re-signing Kris Humphries and things like that. I think we’re moving in the right direction this year and that we’re poised to do some damage this season.”

Kennedy: What aspects of your games are you working on this offseason?

Bazemore: “I’m working on my body a ton. For me, getting stronger is super important. I’m just as athletic as any player in the league, but strength is important over an 82-game season. I’ve been working on my body a lot. I’m always expanding my knowledge of the game, watching a ton of film and understanding the game of basketball better. It’s one thing to just go out there to play, but it’s another to know exactly what you’re doing. It’s a game of chess, and I’m working on setting up players, setting up plays, making sure I’m in the right position on defense and those kind of small details. I’m always fine tuning those things. I think that will make me a much more solid player, and that way I’m not out of position on defense or gambling or things like that. I think I took a step in the right direction last year in terms of being solid, but there’s always room for improvement. I’m continuing to work on my jump shot too. I made a minor change at the beginning of the summer, so I think you should see my percentages go up next season. I’m also working on some more stuff off the dribble. It’s going to be a good year for me. With Dwight rolling to rim, I think our pick-and-roll is going to be really special and I’m looking forward to that as well.”

Kennedy: You’re very active in the community and have a lot of things going on right now with your foundation. What are some of the initiatives you are working on at the moment?

Bazemore: “I have three areas that I’m targeting right now. First is back home where I grew up in Bertie County, NC. Then, I have some things in Norfolk, VA, where I went to college. And here in Atlanta, I’m starting to plant some seeds and my foundation’s home base will be here in Atlanta. It’s a very saturated area with a ton of opportunities to do things. It’ll run out of Atlanta and trickle down to everywhere else. Ultimately, I want to start an academy, so right now I’m doing things in education like working with Boys and Girls Clubs, working with foster homes, working with basketball camps and things like that. We have a lot on our plate and some really big goals for the foundation. It’s something that I want to continue to do long after I retire, so I’m going to be involved in this for a very long time. I always wanted to get into philanthropy and I think this is a great start with my foundation. I want to turn this into something that’s very special.”

Kennedy: This question was submitted on Twitter by @HollywoodHeat. Kent, you have a lot of friends around the NBA and you’re obviously a charismatic guy. It’s well documented that you played a role in Stephen Curry joining Under Armour, so you clearly have some recruiting talent. Do you envision yourself being a recruiter of free agents for Atlanta moving forward?

Bazemore: “Oh yeah, most definitely. I think next summer, I’ll be sitting in every meeting. I think it’s a strong gesture when a team brings one of their leaders to a meeting because they can weigh in and tell the player how they can fit. In my Rockets meeting, having James Harden there really meant a lot and helped a lot.

“With Kevin Durant, you had all of the top Warriors players there recruiting him and answering questions. Damian Lillard [was involved] in recruiting this summer, and I think Damian is one of the most underappreciated players in the league on and off the court. He deserves more credit for everything he does. Young players should look up to him, with the way he approaches the game, how team-oriented he is and how he is always focused on a greater cause than himself. He’s definitely a guy who I’ve been eyeing and watching what he does to learn from him.

“For some reason, certain guys have a lot of pride or a big ego so they don’t want to show up to a free-agent meeting to recruit a guy to come play with them. But that just creates animosity. As soon as we signed Dwight Howard and Jarrett Jack, I sent them a text because I wanted to talk to them and start our relationship out on the right foot. That way when we’re in training camp or see each other in the gym, we’ve already talked and it’s not our first conversation. I’ll definitely be a recruiter in the future. I think I have a natural connection with people.”

For more exclusive interviews by Alex Kennedy (with players such as Indiana’s Jeff Teague, New York’s Courtney Lee, Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo, Sacramento’ Garrett Temple, Portland’s Moe Harkless and more), click here.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Rajon Rondo Brings Leadership, Playmaking to Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

David Yapkowitz

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The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

The Clippers have had one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA this season, but even so, they have had times where the offense seemingly stalls and they can’t seem to generate easing scoring opportunities especially late in games.

The calls for a true point guard only got louder after those games and the team finally gave in and rolled the dice on one of the league’s better playmakers, especially come playoff time. Williams has been a good playmaker himself throughout his career and he was averaging 3.4 assists per game prior to the trade.

But in Rondo, the Clippers get a premier playmaker and floor leader who has won two championships and whom the Lakers often closed games with last year in the postseason. Rondo made his Clippers debut on Easter Sunday in the team’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers and although his numbers didn’t jump off the stat sheet (2 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists and 4 turnovers in 12 minutes of play), he played with a lot of energy and pushed the pace well, something the Clippers haven’t always been so good at this season.

After the game, Rondo summed up what his role on the team is going to be quite simply.

“Just go out there and try and lead by example,” Rondo said. “I don’t like to talk as much without showing out on the court for my teammates.”

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue was a little more effusive in his thoughts on how Rondo will fit in on the team and how much better they will be with his addition. The Clippers have spoken all season long about needing to push the ball in transition and try and generate easy scoring opportunities on the break and that’s something Lue noticed right away with Rondo.

“You could just tell his pace brings a different something to our team and offensively he’s getting the outlet close to half court before the first pass is made. That generates pace for us and we need that,” Lue said. “As slow as we run sometimes, it’s probably going to have to be something that we adjust to, but I think he makes the game easier. When you get out and run in transition, a lot of teams can’t get back and get a match so we will get open shots. With him generating the pace, that’s going to be good for us.”

One area in particular that the team is hoping Rondo can help with is taking some of the ball-handling pressure off of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Both players have really stepped up in transitioning to primary ball-handling roles, something they haven’t had to do thus far in their careers.

They’re both averaging career-highs in assists at 5.0 and 5.4 respectively and have done well moving the ball around and getting good shots throughout the game for themselves and their teammates. But there have been times when the ball stagnates a bit and both Leonard and George end up taking tough contested shots late in the game.

With Rondo on board, the Clippers have a player that will keep the ball moving and can help get both of them easy looks down the stretch, something he did to perfection last year with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“Just trying to get our two main guys the ball in easier spots as far as them having to work so hard to get the ball against a set defense,” Rondo said. “If we are able to create stops to get on the break, my job is to advance the ball and let those guys attack one-on-one before the defense is set.”

In his first game playing alongside Rondo, George immediately saw the benefits and how Rondo will take pressure off of both him and Leonard.

“You just see his intangibles, you see he just sees plays happening,” George said. “I thought it just made the game easier getting it up to him, letting him push the ball, letting him initiate instead of a lot of times myself and Kawhi doing it. We got a guy that can do it, it’s just going to make the game easier for us.”

A team’s point guard is often an extension of the head coach on the court and Rondo certainly has been that throughout his career. He’s been a vocal leader on the court and in the locker room and his stint with the Dallas Mavericks notwithstanding, he’s been a very positive influence wherever he’s been.

He’s looking forward to working alongside Lue and doing his best to implement Lue’s schemes on the court both offensively and defensively.

“Just try to be on the same page as my coach. Not too much as me trying to outsmart my opponents, which at all times I want to be two steps ahead of,” Rondo said. “I want to stay afloat with my teammates as well and be on the same page as them and be an extension of [Tyronn Lue] on the court.”

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NBA Western Conference Bright Future Watch

The Western Conference is loaded with talent this year, but who will be the teams that dominate it in the future? Zach Dupont takes a look at which teams have the brightest future in the Western Conference.

Zach Dupont

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It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the current season as we head towards the climax of a great race for the Western Conference title. But there are already reasons to look past this year and get excited about the teams who could dominate the Western Conference past 2020-21.

Who are the teams that could strike next year? And who has set themselves up to have a bright future in the Western Conference?

Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are primed to become a force in the Western Conference for years to come and could easily be the favorites heading into next year. The Nuggets’ four best players, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, are all under contract for next season, and all of them are younger than 26-years-old. Jokic has proved himself to be one of the best players in the NBA over the past few seasons and has emerged as a favorite for the MVP award this year. In 2020-21, Jokic is averaging 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Jokic’s wingman Murray is no slouch either, posting the best numbers of his career with 21.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting and 41.2 percent shooting from three. Combine Jokic’s MVP play and Murray’s high-end scoring ability with the shooting and potential of Porter Jr., and the defensive ability of Gordon and the Nuggets emerge as a clear threat in the Western Conference.

The Nuggets also won’t be lacking for depth next year like many of their rivals. Monte Morris is locked up for the next few seasons, and Will Barton and JaMychal Green have player options for next season that they could easily accept. The Nuggets can also keep Facundo Campazzo and P.J. Dozier for next season, as both are on non-guaranteed contracts. There are also younger players on the roster who have shown some promise and could be a factor next season. Zeke Nnaji showed potential as a stretch four in limited showings this year, and Bol Bol is still an exciting talent. Denver will even have some money to play with in free agency this offseason, although the looming extension they will owe Porter Jr. will make options limited. Paul Millsap will no longer be on the books at near $15 million a year, and if either Barton or Green decided to decline their player options, that would give the Nuggets more cap flexibility.

The Nuggets have the most intriguing mix of high-end talent and youth in the west, and while they’re already a threat this season, next season, they may be the favorites.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies may not be where Denver is as a team now, but long-term, they are equally as exciting. The Grizzlies are loaded with young talent up and down the roster, and they already have one of their stars of the future. Ja Morant has been a sensation since entering the league last season, and with another year of experience under his belt, the league should be worried about the Grizzlies’ potential. Morant is averaging 18.8 points and 7.4 assists per game in his sophomore campaign. Morant is joined by fellow youngster Jaren Jackson Jr., a two-way big with loads of potential. Jackson has yet to see the floor this year, but he showed the ability to protect the rim like an elite defender and knock down a high volume of three-pointers in his first two seasons of action.

The Grizzlies core may be focused around Morant and Jackson, but what makes Memphis more exciting than other teams out west is the roster’s pure volume of prospects. Brandon Clarke was a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft and has already shown to be a great center who can impact the game on both offense and defense, De’Anthony Melton is one of the league’s most underappreciated defensive players at just 22-years-old and Desmond Bane is already knocking down over 45 percent of his three-point attempts in his rookie season. From top to bottom, Memphis has exciting young talent. Together with their established talent like Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas, you’ve got a team primed to compete in the Western Conference in 2021-22.

Memphis may not be a title favorite next year, but their ability to acquire talented youth will only make them better and better every season.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans have some major decisions to make this offseason, but they are a team to watch out west next year no matter what they do. New Orleans has maybe the most exciting young talent in the NBA in Zion Williamson, who has emerged as one of the most efficient and dangerous scorers in the league this season. Williamson is putting up 26.3 points per game this season on an absurd 62 percent shooting and 66 percent true shooting. At just 20-years-old Williamson is already an All-Star, and he will inevitably improve over the next few seasons with his ceiling being as high as anyone’s in the NBA. New Orleans has managed to pair Williamson with another All-Star level player in Brandon Ingram, who has averaged nearly 24 points per game in each of the past two seasons. The Pelicans’ big decision this offseason will be what to do with their point guard, Lonzo Ball. Ball has always been a talented distributor and defender since entering the league, but this year he has taken a step forward as a scorer, averaging a career-best 14.5 points per game and 38.4 percent shooting from three. Ball is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, and it’s not a given that he will be back next year.

New Orleans already has a core to build around, and they have young depth pieces to add to the already exciting potential of the roster. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis are a pair of young point guards who have shown a lot of potential and could fill in nicely for Ball if he departs this summer. Alexander-Walker is putting up more than 10 points per game in his sophomore campaign, and he has shown glimpses of being a defender and shooter in the same mold as Ball. Lewis is a speedy rookie out of Alabama who has found playing time hard to come by, but if either Ball or Eric Bledsoe find themselves not in New Orleans next year, he has showcased skills that could put him in the conversation for major minutes.

If Zion takes another step next year, and the whole team cleans it up defensively, the Pelicans could become serious players in the Western Conference.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers may not be full of young players with high-end potential like other teams on this list, but they still represent the West’s most dangerous threat when healthy. Every season the question “when will he finally slow down” is asked about LeBron James, and every season LeBron shows he is still one of the most dominant players in the NBA. LeBron Is 36-years-old, and this season he has put up 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game and, before getting injured a few weeks ago, was one of the favorites for the MVP award. LeBron’s running mate, Anthony Davis, is equally dangerous and could be considered the NBA’s best two-way player. The Lakers have both Davis and LeBron locked in for next season, and the presence of those two players alone makes them a title threat in the west regardless of the team put around them.

One benefit of having superstars like LeBron and Davis is that it becomes much easier to sign role players. The Lakers will already have the services of Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marc Gasol next season, and Montrezl Harrell has a $9.7 million player option for next season. But the draw of potentially winning a championship will bring the Lakers role players on cheaper contracts than they would have signed elsewhere, as evident by Gasol, Andre Drummond and Wesley Matthews’ contracts.

The Lakers may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of bright futures, but LeBron and Davis will keep the Lakers’ future bright for as long as they remain in LA.

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NBA Coach of the Year Watch – April 14

With the final quarter of the NBA season here, a few names have emerged as the favorites for Coach of the Year; who are they? And what are their chances of winning the award come the end of the season?

Zach Dupont

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The NBA season is hitting its final stretch, and teams are gearing up to make a run at the postseason. With the season nearing its conclusion, who is in the running for the NBA end-of-season awards are becoming clearer and clearer.

Today, Basketball Insiders will take a look at the four candidates that have become clear favorites for Coach of the Year and break down why they’re in the running.

Quin Snyder

The Utah Jazz’s Quin Snyder currently appears to be the favorite for the Coach of the Year award. Snyder has led the Jazz to the best record in the Western Conference and the NBA at an astounding 40-14. Snyder has become a favorite because he is doing this with nearly the same roster as last season, a team that went 44-28 and was the six seed in the Western Conference.

The Jazz have emerged as dominant on both offense and defense, holding the fourth-best defensive ranking and second-best offensive rating in the NBA. Snyder has been instrumental in the improvement of the young players on his roster. Donovan Mitchell is having the best season of his career, averaging 26.3 points and 5.3 assists per game and Rudy Gobert himself is one of the favorites to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s also managed to get top-tier production from Jordan Clarkson, who seems like a runaway favorite for Sixth Man of the Year, putting up 17.2 points per game in 51 bench appearances.

While there are other coaches with solid resumes, at this point, it’s Snyder’s award to lose. If the Jazz keep the foot to the throttle for the last quarter of the season and remain at the top of the NBA, it’s hard to see Snyder losing to anyone.

Monty Williams

The other person who has a good shot at winning the award is the coach of the NBA’s second-best team, Monty Williams. Williams – the coach of the Phoenix Suns – has had an equally impressive season as Snyder, leading the Suns to a 38-15 record, good for second in both the Western Conference and the NBA. Williams gains points because he is coaching an exceptionally young team; Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges are 24-years-old and Deandre Ayton is just 22. That’s a lot of wins for a team starting three players under 25 nearly every game.

Williams loses some points, however, due to the Suns just not having as impressive a statistical team. The Suns are behind the Jazz in both offensive and defensive rating, seventh in offense and fifth in defense. Both excellent marks, but not at the same level of excellence as Snyder’s Jazz. Williams also gets docked some points because, unlike the Jazz, the Suns made a major offseason pickup, grabbing veteran point guard Chris Paul from the Thunder. Paul’s presence has been a game-changer for Phoenix, and his play has elevated the games of all of his young teammates.

Williams has a real shot at winning Coach of the Year, but as of now, Snyder marginally has the edge. But there is still plenty of time left in the season, and Williams could snatch the award from Snyder if the Suns make a late push or the Jazz find themselves faltering.

Steve Nash

Steve Nash deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done in his first year as the Brooklyn Nets head coach. Nash has helped keep the Nets not only competitive but elite despite all three of James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving missing significant time this year. The Nets are second in the Eastern Conference with a record of 36-17 and are considered one of the favorites to win the NBA Championship, if healthy.

Despite Nash’s great work as a first-year head coach, he is a bit less of a favorite than both Williams and Snyder. The trio of Durant, Harden and Irving has a combined 27 All-Star appearances, 18 All-NBA appearances and two MVPs; excellence was the expectation for this group. Nash has done a great job keeping the Nets afloat despite injuries and many, many off-court dramas, but his roster alone compared to those of Williams and Snyder, makes it a touch more difficult for him to win the award. Nash is also at the helm of one of the worst defenses in the NBA, with the Nets clocking in at 25th in the league in defensive rating. While the Nets offense could very well be the best in the league, it’ll be difficult to win the award with a defense performing that poorly.

Nash is still a contender even if he isn’t at the same level as those listed above. Nash just needs things out of his control to happen to get him back in the running. If both the Jazz and Suns struggle down the stretch, and the Nets thrive, Nash could find himself winning Coach of the Year in his rookie season.

Doc Rivers

It’s been a hell of a renaissance for Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers had a tough stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, ending his seven-year run there with an embarrassing second-round playoff loss to the Denver Nuggets. Now in Philadelphia, Rivers has coached the 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 37-17. Rivers has turned the 76ers into a defensive juggernaut, rocking the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, a 107.2. Their defense is anchored by MVP candidate Joel Embiid and three-time All-Star Ben Simmons. Rivers has also gotten major contributions from Tobias Harris – who looked lost in his past few seasons in Philly – and former Dallas Maverick Seth Curry.

Rivers has done a great job helping turn around a team that looked like a mess just at the end of last season, but like Nash, he too falls a bit short of Snyder and Williams. Working against Rivers is the 76ers offense, which just hasn’t produced at the same level as both the Jazz and Suns. The 76ers have the 14th best offensive rating in the NBA of 112.2, while not bad, it’s also not good. Rivers also has a disadvantage through no fault of his own, having already won the award before and being an established name in the league for over a decade now, voters are just more likely to vote for the fresher names.

Rivers isn’t out of the race yet, and with a good push – and some help from other teams – Rivers could end up as the Coach of the Year come May. But, the 76ers will have to take a step forward on offense, or that will never become a reality.

 

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