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NBA AM: 2016 Draft Class Struggling

The majority of the 2016 NBA draft class has struggled as rookies, writes Alex Kennedy.

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As 2017 approaches, Joel Embiid is the clear-cut favorite to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award for the 2016-17 season. It’s hard to distinguish a real challenger for him at this point because there’s such a significant gap between the Philadelphia 76ers center and the rest of the class.

Embiid is leading all rookies in points (18.4), rebounds (7.4), blocks (2.4), double-doubles (six) and player efficiency rating (22.9). In every one of these stat categories, the runner-up behind Embiid is way below him. Keep in mind that the 22-year-old is doing this while starting the season on a minutes limit; he has averaged only 24.3 minutes (just the fourth-most in the class).

Part of this dominance is because Embiid has been really, really good. However, another reason Embiid feels like a lock to win Rookie of the Year is because the 2016 NBA Draft class has struggled. One could make the case that the second-best rookie this season has been Embiid’s Philly teammate, Dario Saric, who also wasn’t part of the 2016 draft. He’s ranked second in points (9.1), rebounds (5.7) and double-doubles (three).

Embiid and Saric were both drafted in 2014, but delayed the start of their NBA careers until this year (Embiid due to injuries, Saric because he was playing overseas).

If we’re looking at just the 2016 NBA Draft class, the numbers are pretty ugly.

There isn’t a single 2016 draft pick who’s averaging double figures in points per game. Denver’s Jamal Murray is the leading scorer with just 9.0 points, followed by New Orleans’ Buddy Hield at 8.1 points. They are the only 2016 draft picks averaging over eight points per game. There are only seven 2016 draft picks averaging over six points per game.

Compare this to last year, when eight rookies averaged over 10 points per game. And even in “weak” drafts of the past, there have been a handful of double-figure scorers and plenty of role players making an impact and chipping in at least six points per game.

Other stats are similarly disappointing.

Andrew Harrison is currently leading all rookies in assists with just 3.6 per game. But he was a 2015 draft pick who didn’t play his first NBA minutes until this year, putting him in the same boat as Embiid and Saric. There are only two 2016 draft picks who are averaging three assists: Malcolm Brogdon and Isaiah Whitehead. The rookie leader last year was Emmanuel Mudiay, who dished out 5.5 assists per game.

The top three rebounders were all drafted in previous years (Embiid, Saric and Willy Hernangomez). The rebounding leader among 2016 draft picks is Los Angeles’ Brandon Ingram, who’s grabbing just 4.1 rebounds per game. There are only four other 2016 picks who are averaging three rebounds: Pascal Siakam, Domantas Sabonis, Marquese Chriss and Jakob Poeltl. The rebounding leader among the 2015 draft picks was Karl-Anthony Towns (10.5 per game) and 10 rookies averaged at least five boards.

Embiid’s 2.4 blocks per game looks great atop the leaderboard and then there’s a huge drop off. Toronto’s Pascal Siakam leads the 2016 draft picks in blocks per game with just .83, with Memphis’ Deyonta Davis’ .58 average ranking second among this draft class. Last year, Kristaps Porzingis was the top shot-blocker (1.8 per game) and six rookies averaged at least one block per game.

Embiid and Saric are the only rookies with multiple double-doubles this year. In fact, the 2016 draft picks have three double-doubles combined so far (with Chriss, Cheick Diallo and Sabonis each recording one). Among the 2015 draft picks, Towns recorded the most double-doubles (55), followed by Porzingis (21) and Jahlil Okafor (11).

Hernangomez’s 57.1 percent from the field lead all rookies, but the leader among 2016 draft picks is Siakam with a 53.8 shooting percentage. Every other 2016 draft pick is shooting below 45.5 percent from the field. Last year, there were nine rookies who shot at least 50 percent from the field.

One thing that must be noted is that the top pick in this year’s draft, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, has yet to suit up due to a fractured bone in his right foot. While he’s just one player, he was expected to put up strong numbers and challenge for Rookie of the Year. Perhaps we’d view this class a bit differently if he was healthy and filling the stat sheet nightly.

Some people have pointed out that players in the 2016 class should have stayed in college longer rather than leaving school so soon. But the last several drafts have featured one-and-done players who were able to produce. And this reasoning also doesn’t explain why older, more experienced rookies in this year’s class haven’t had much success either.

Not to mention, the idea that a player needs to stay in college longer in order to further their development is questionable. In college, a player has to juggle basketball with schoolwork. In the NBA, basketball is the top priority and the players have the best resources in the world at their disposal. If a player wants to improve rapidly, the NBA is the way to go so they can experience elite coaching, state-of-the-art facilitates, top-notch weight-training, terrific nutritionists, invaluable mentoring from veteran players and much more.

Maybe this class will yield some late bloomers and we will look back on this down period as an aberration. While this year’s draft picks have struggled, a number of undrafted rookies have emerged as surprises such as Miami’s Rodney McGruder, Dallas’ Jonathan Gibson and Memphis’ Troy Williams among others.

As a whole, hopefully this is just a case of the 2016 draft class getting off to a slow start.

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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Bulls’ guard Zach LaVine desires respect for new contract

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According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine wants the respect he deserves for his contract extension. On Monday morning before Team USA’s practice to prepare for Tuesday’s match against Spain, the 26-year-old guard said to reporters, “I just want my respect, that’s the main thing. I outplayed my contract. I’ve been very loyal to Chicago. I like Chicago. I just want my respect. If that’s now or later, it’s something we’ve got to work out internally.” In the 2020-21 season, in 58 games played, LaVine averaged 27.4 points, five rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He also shot 50.7 percent from the field and was selected to his first NBA All-Star Game.

Regarding the “outplayed my contract” comment, his argument his fair. Last season, with 200 three-point field goals made, he ranked ninth overall in the league. Despite the Bulls finishing 31-41 (.431) last season, he led the team in points and assists. Per ESPN, they are also reporting that Chicago is trying to work out a four-year, $105 million contract extension for their star guard. Though, this deal is expected to fall below his market value. In terms of signing available free agents this offseason, some Bulls fans are speculating the organization will pursue either Knicks’ shooting guard/small forward Reggie Bullock, Lakers’ power forward/center Markieff Morris or Pelicans’ point guard Lonzo Ball.

On July 13, 2018, the 2014 13th pick of the draft signed a four-year, $78 million contract with the Bulls. LaVine earned $19,500,000 last season, and he is set to earn $19,500,000 in the upcoming season. It is not urgent for Chicago to extend LaVine’s contract this offseason. The organization will have the full rights to re-sign him to a new deal for next season in 2022.

However, the guard will also become an unrestricted free agent next year, so the Bulls should work towards fixing their salary cap issues right now. Referencing Spotrac, center Nikola Vucevic has a cap figure of $24 million. Of this amount, his future guaranteed cash is $22 million. One notable 2021-22 cap hold is Lauri Markkanen. His qualifying offer is $9,026,952, and his cap figure is $20,194,524. On March 2, 2020, Markkanen was recalled from the Windy City Bulls of the G League.

Furthermore, on March 25, 2021, center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu were traded by the Orlando Magic to the Bulls in exchange for Otto Porter, Wendell Carter Jr., a 2021 first-round pick and a 2023 first-round pick. This is quite the gamble for the Bulls organization, considering they traded away two future first-round picks. Vucevic is set to earn $24 million for the 2021-22 season. Chicago has $56,679,846 available in cap space. Their current luxury tax space is $29,405746.

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Rockets decline Avery Bradley’s $5.9 million team option

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First reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Houston Rockets are declining Avery Bradley’s team option for the 2021-22 NBA season. On November 23, 2020, the 30-year-old guard signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat. He signed a two-year, $11.6 million deal. On March 25, 2021, the Heat traded Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for two-time NBA All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The 2022 first-round pick is an option to trade for a potential Heat or Nets pick. Plus, Houston received a trade exception, too.

Moreover, Bradley earned $5,635,000 this previous season; the Rockets declined his 2021-22 team option of $5,916,750 for next season. In other words, both sides have mutually agreed to part ways, so the six-foot-three guard is now an unrestricted free agent. In early February, it was first reported that the Washington native would miss three to four weeks due to a calf strain. Before this injury, he averaged 8.5 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for Miami. Furthermore, he also shot a career-high percentage of 42.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Though, Bradley disappointed both of his teams last season, leading to the Rockets finishing 17-55 (.236), ranking 15th overall in the Western Conference. Last season was the first time since the 1982-83 season that Houston failed to win at least 20 games. Since the 2011-12 season, it was the first time the Rockets had failed to qualify for the playoffs. In only 27 games played, the 11-year NBA veteran averaged 6.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He shot 37.4 percent from the field as well.

Likewise, the Miami Heat finished 40-32 (.556) last season, regressing from the team’s 44-29 (.603) record and sixth NBA Finals appearance from the 2019-20 season. Fans across social media are already speculating that the 2010 19th overall pick will end up playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season. If this happens, he would join the team’s newly established big three: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.

After Bradley signed with the Lakers for the 2019-20 season, he joined the list of players in the league’s history who played for both the Celtics and Lakers. The list includes Brian Shaw, Clyde Lovellette, Mel Counts, Rick Fox, Don Nelson, Bob McAdoo, Isaiah Thomas, Charlie Scott, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal and Rajon Rondo. According to Bleacher Report, the Lakers are also interested in signing Carmelo Anthony this offseason.

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Mavericks will pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option

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Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.

On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.

This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.

However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.

Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.

Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers.

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