Basketball Insiders “First Quarter Grades” series continues by examining the Atlantic Division. And while grading teams is challenging given how every team has its own timeline for success and development, it’s a necessary part of evaluating progress.
The division appears to be the Raptors’ to lose. The Celtics have struggled mightily, whereas the 76ers upgraded their roster by trading for Jimmy Butler. Meanwhile, in New York, the Knicks and Nets are both developing their young rosters in hopes of future success.
While a quarter of the season is a relatively small sample size, enough games have been played to impact the playoffs and draw early conclusions. With that said, let’s examine the teams of the Atlantic.
Boston Celtics: D
The Celtics have struggled out the gate. Despite nice wins against the Raptors, Bucks and 76ers, the team has failed to establish themselves as the dominant force they were expected to be.
The Celtics are 11-10 through 21 games. And while their defense is still respectable (second overall in defensive rating), they are 26th in offensive rating scoring 107 points per 100 possessions. Comparatively, they ended last season ranked 18thscoring more per 100 possessions (107.6) in an environment where teams were scoring less per game.
But Boston’s main concern should be its rotation. Gordon Hayward is still struggling to regain his pre-injury form, which also has residual effects on Jaylen Brown (the team was +8.8 per 100 possessions with him on the court last season versus -3.6 per 100 possessions this season).
While their early season struggles are real, the Celtics are in the fortunate situation to have lots of talent on their roster. All should be well in Boston, but increased competition and inconsistent results should be a serious wake-up call.
Brooklyn Nets: B-
Even through just a quarter of the season, the Nets early results are a tale of two halves (or technically two-eighths). Entering play on November 13, the Nets were 6-7 with wins against the Pistons, 76ers and Nuggets. It appeared the future had arrived sooner than expected for the Nets, led by their young core of Caris LeVert-Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie-D’Angelo Russell and Joe Harris. But on November 13, leading scorer LeVert dislocated his right foot in a loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Since LeVert’s injury, the Nets are a measly 2-7, with five of the seven losses coming against sub-.500 teams. The lack of success is not a huge surprise given that they’re missing their best player, but it makes it all the more challenging to grade the team’s successes (or lack thereof).
Considering expectations were relatively low for the Nets, they are mostly right where they were expected to be, even considering the injury. To their credit, they still get after it on the offensive glass (tied for fourth in the league), but everything else they do is mostly average or below. With that being said, the Nets get a big pass considering the injury. They seemed to have a framework for a good team in place and should be even better come this time next year given their cap space this offseason.
New York Knicks: B-
The Knicks are (still) in limbo, but they too appear close to punching their ticket into respectability. We can’t rave too much about their early-season successes because, barring the recent three-game win streak, there aren’t many to speak of. However, the team is exactly on pace for its expected Win-Loss breakdown per basketballreferenece.com (7-16).
But the Knicks 2018-19 season has always been about player development and coaching rather than wins and losses. And the Knicks are seeing lots of progress in those areas: Coach Fizdale’s leadership style seems to be making believers out of the team’s young talent; Emmanuel Muddiay, Trey Burke and Noah Vonleh are all validating their lottery-pick status; Allonzo Trier and (to a lesser degree) Mitchell Robinson look like NBA-ready players despite their late or non-existent draft status; and Tim Hardaway Jr. is scoring a career-high 22.2 points per game. Further, the team’s management is viewed positively for the first time in a long time.
The lone disappointment to the young Knicks 2018-19 season is the lack of progress in Frank Ntilikina’s game. This was another important marker for the season, and he has seemingly taken a step back after showing flashes earlier in the year.
The Knicks are playing as expected this season considering Kristaps Porzingis is still rehabbing a torn ACL; however, they’re getting contributions from players that weren’t expected to play, let along affect the game.
Philadelphia 76ers: B+
Despite the Raptors early-season dominance, the Sixers look poised to make a run at the division crown. They are 15-8 through 22 games and sit 3.5 games behind Toronto. They are currently 6-5 against teams over .500, with wins against the Bucks, Hornets, Pacers, Pistons and Clippers.
What’s more, they are 6-2 since Jimmy Butler debuted for the team. While that transaction left their rotation a bit thinner than they’d like, Butler’s ability to create his own shot looks to be exactly what the team was missing. Need proof? Go track down clips of his game winning-jumpers against Charlotte and Brooklyn.
They are attempting the most free-throws per game of any team in the Association, a stat that will continue to improve with Butler on board. They’re also a great rebounding team. They turn the ball over too often – fourth most in the league – but considering their early successes, that leaves room for improvement for an already top-10 team.
Unfortunately, the Markelle Fultz situation is something of a black eye on the young season. His agent – Raymond Brothers – recently pulled him from basketball activities to seek additional medical opinions. It appears only a matter of time until Fultz and the 76ers part ways.
But on the whole, the 76ers look ready to contend, and they appear better with Butler than they were prior to trading for him.
Toronto Raptors: A
The first-place Raptors have exceeded expectations. They have 18 wins through 22 games, with three of their losses coming in a row between November 12 and 16. They’re second overall in offensive rating and seventh in defensive rating. They have five players averaging 12.8 or more points per game, which speaks to the team’s depth. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have acclimated beautifully, improving an already impressive roster. They are taking care of the ball, averaging the fourth fewest turnovers in the league and they are shooting the third best effective field goal percentage. If the Raptors play out the remainder of the season as they’ve started, they should be a shoo-in for number one seed in the East and the Eastern Conference Finals.
With so much of the season still to come, we can only expect things to continue to heat up in the Atlantic. Trades will definitely play a role in shaping results, as will players returning from injuries (e.g. Kristaps Porzingis and Caris LeVert). The division is home to three teams that feel they are ready to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, so it is sure to be an interesting race to the finish.
NBA Daily: Bought Out Players Faring Well With New Teams
The deadline for teams to send their unwanted players to the buyout market was March 1. Jordan Hicks takes a look at some of the key acquisitions since the deadline and how they are helping postseason pushes.
The buyout market seems to be gaining more and more popularity with each season. While rebuilding teams tend to forego more seasoned players in order to give their younger guys some run, veteran players often find themselves bought out or waived prior to the deadline.
Teams competing for a spot in the playoffs – so it seems – have increasingly taken advantage of this situation by signing guys that can definitely help them get enough wins. While you definitely will not find All-Stars in the pool of available players, oftentimes solid role players find themselves there due to a myriad of reasons.
It could be that their previous teams wanted to give more playing time to guys more in-line with their future plans. It could also be because their previous team was simply wanting to lose games in order to increase their draft position, which is also known as tanking. By waiving better players on your roster and keeping less talented ones, teams can essentially give themselves a better chance to lose games without totally making it look like they’re doing it on purpose.
This year had one of the stronger pools of players on the buyout/waived market as of March 1st in recent memory, so let’s take a look at some of the top players and how they’ve fared since joining their new team.
Matthews was part of the marquee trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks. He ended up with the Knicks, but after two short games, they realized they didn’t want his talent interfering with their draft position. They waived him prior to the deadline and he was picked up by the Indiana Pacers.
This has turned out to be an incredibly important acquisition for the Pacers – primarily due to the fact that they lost All-Star Victor Oladipo for the season.
Matthews brings grittiness on the defensive end and a diverse set of skills offensively. He is an above average shooter from the three-point line, averaging 38.8 percent on 6.1 attempts per game since joining Indiana. He has added much-needed scoring to the offense as well – currently at 12.5 points and 2.4 assists each night.
He’s very clearly a step below Oladipo, especially when considering what Vic brought to both ends of the floor, but the fact that the Pacers added him without having to give up any assets is pretty remarkable.
While he has yet to add any considerable value on defense, Matthews has ranked fifth on the team in offensive rating since joining them on February 7. If Oladipo was still on the roster, you could argue that they wouldn’t necessarily need Matthews. But in light of recent events, being able to add Matthews as easily as they did was certainly a win for the franchise.
Another player the Knicks decided to unload was Enes Kanter. He was sent to the player pool via buyout, and it is safe to assume that New York had to spend handsomely to send him there.
Kanter is an interesting player. He has always been able to get buckets around the rim, as well as grab rebounds, but he has always struggled defensively. This was not why the Knicks wanted to let him go, however. Tension had been growing between Kanter, the front office, and the coaching staff, as they wanted to limit his minutes in lieu of the younger players on the roster.
Enes just wanted to play, and, by being bought out and signing with the Portland Trail Blazers, he’s been able to do just that.
Since joining Portland, the team as gone 9-3. While he continues to have his struggles on defense, he is posting 10 points and 6.7 rebounds on only 18.2 minutes per night.
Since the acquisition, Meyers Leonard has seen a decreased role. Kanter has turned into the de-facto backup to starting center Jusuf Nurkic. While Kanter is a poor defender himself, Portland has enough solid defensive players in the frontcourt that they haven’t had too much of a problem hiding him on that end of the floor.
Lin headed to the market after being bought out by the Atlanta Hawks. He was picked up by the Toronto Raptors, who have struggled to field consistent backcourt players off the bench due to injuries – which was made more difficult after dealing Delon Wright to the Grizzlies as part of the Marc Gasol trade.
In 13 games with the Raptors, Lin is averaging 8.4 points and 2.5 assists in 20.8 minutes per game. He has struggled to find any consistency with his shot, as he’s averaging just 39 percent from the field and a morbid 18.4 percent from three.
That shooting has every opportunity to increase. Lin is a 34.3 percent shooter from downtown over the course of his career.
The Raptors will need Lin to pull his shooting together as the season wraps up for a strong playoff campaign. The bench unit was a major part of their success last season and it is proving to be another key part this year. In order for Toronto to finally reach their goal of winning the Eastern Conference, they’ll need Lin to be at his best. He isn’t the only key to their success, but he’ll have a major impact on how the Raptors finish out the season.
There are still plenty of solid players on the market. Carmelo Anthony, Ben McLemore and Nick Young could provide instant offense off the bench. Greg Monroe, Marcin Gortat and Zach Randolph could help improve the frontcourt of any team in need. Whether or not teams decide they need their services, only time will tell.
While the season plays out, it will be interesting to see just what impact these players discussed – as well as those not mentioned – will have for their franchise in the postseason.
NBA Daily: Justin Bibbs Gets First NBA Opportunity In L.A.
Justin Bibbs spoke to Basketball Insiders about joining an NBA team after going undrafted, playing in the G League, his developing skill set and more.
One of the best moments in the life of an aspiring pro basketball player is to receive the news that an NBA team wants to sign them.
For Justin Bibbs, that dream became a reality of his when the Los Angeles Clippers called him up to the team on a 10-day contract last week. The former Virginia Tech guard went undrafted last summer and was spending his first professional season in the G League with Maine Red Claws, the affiliate of the Boston Celtics.
This past Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets was actually his first day being around the team as they had immediately assigned him to the Agua Caliente Clippers after signing him.
“To be honest, I still don’t have words for it. It’s kind of indescribable,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I always wanted to be on this level, but now that I’m here I just trying to take in every second of it, just relax and let God do his thing.”
Bibbs had a decent showing with the Celtics in summer league, leading to him being added to their training camp roster. He was ultimately cut and joined the Maine Red Claws as an affiliate player. Each NBA team is allowed to assign up to four players to their G League affiliate, players who were in training camp and are guaranteed a G League roster spot.
Affiliate players, however, are still considered ‘free agents’ in that they can sign with any NBA team. Bibbs played in 44 games with the Red Claws and averaged 11.8 points per game, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
At Virginia Tech, he was a knockdown outside shooter (42.4 percent) and a strong defender. He has good size for a guard at 6-foot-5 and 225-pounds. It’s those qualities that he’s hoping to bring to the Clippers should he get the chance on the court.
“I always bring energy defensively and I just play my game. On offense, I bring shooting,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s whatever the coach tells me to do and basically just playing the right way.”
Although Bibbs has reached his goal of the NBA, he’s in a different situation than the rest of his Clippers teammates. They’re all secured with guaranteed contracts. Bibbs has ten days to prove himself to team brass, ten days to show he’s worth keeping around a bit longer.
“I’m happy that my play has been rewarded, that the organization believed in me enough to give me a 10-day. Its motivation for me to keep going,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I was called down from the G League team, and I’m just trying to get all the sets and plays and stuff, trying to make that adjustment. But it’s definitely a blessing.”
He’s played in three games for the Agua Caliente Clippers so far, logging 27.1 minutes per game off the bench. He’s put up 9.7 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting from the field, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists during that stretch.
He’s yet to log any minutes for the Clippers, but he’s just thrilled to be a part of an NBA organization. Despite being undrafted, he always knew that he’d get to this level at some point.
“Yeah I did, for sure I did. I didn’t know when or how, but I always thought I would be here,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I had no idea what team, but being out in LA, I’ll take that as a blessing. But yeah I thought I would be here for sure.”
For players like Bibbs who are on 10-day contracts, nothing is guaranteed. But he’s soaking up the entire experience as long as he can. Whether the Clippers decide to retain him a little bit longer, or he moves on to another opportunity, he just wants to be able to play his game.
“My overall goal is just to actually play my game my way and not be restricted,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “Kind of just play freely and right now that’s what I’ve shown, that’s what got me here. I’m just taking in the whole process, just taking it all in and getting the experience and knowledge.”
NBA Daily: 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 3/19/19
With the field of teams set for the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament, things should get noisy over the next few weeks on the NBA Draft front. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft before all the zaniness begins.
Let the Madness begin.
The basketball world will shift its attention to college basketball’s biggest stage over the next few weeks, especially this weekend’s opening round of 64.
While the tournament doesn’t necessarily make or break a player’s draft stock, this will be the first time some notable draft prospects will face elite talent and, more importantly, the pressure of the big stage. You can check out march madness predictions 2019 here.
Expect things in the draft world to start to percolate, not just because of the magnitude of the games, but also because a lot of NBA scouts will be in the same places, which is where the draft chatter originates.
Equally, a lot of NBA teams will watch games together in the conference rooms this week, so more group discussion on players will happen inside NBA teams’ front offices, and that could lead to new preference information flowing into the NBA Draft information bubble.
Here is this week’s 60-Pick Mock Draft, based on NBA games played through 3/18/19:
Here are the first-round picks that are owed and how those picks landed where they are.
The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyle Korver trade in 2017, which is top-10 protected. But based on the standings, it will not be conveyed.
The Boston Celtics are to receive the Memphis Grizzlies first-round pick as a result of the three-team Jeff Green trade in 2015; the pick is top-eight protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick as a result of the Luka Dončić – Trae Young swap on draft night in 2018. The pick is top-five protected and, based on the standings, would convey.
The Boston Celtics are to receive the more favorable of either the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers first-round picks as part of the Markelle Fultz pre-draft trade in 2017. Based on the current standings, the Kings pick is the more favorable and would convey to Boston.
The Boston Celtics are to receive the LA Clippers first-round pick as a result of the Deyonta Davis draft day trade with Memphis in 2016. The Grizzlies got the pick in their Jeff Green/Lance Stephenson deal at the deadline in 2016. The pick is lottery protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are to receive the Houston Rockets first-round pick as a result of the three-team deadline deal that sent out Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.
The Brooklyn Nets are to receive the Denver Nuggets first-round pick as a result of the Kenneth Faried – Darrell Arthur trade in July 2018. The pick is top-12 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.
The San Antonio Spurs are to receive the Toronto Raptors first-round pick as a result of the Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan trade in July 2018. The pick is top-20 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are to receive the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as a result of the Eric Bledsoe trade in 2017. The pick has top 3 and 17-30 protections, designed to yield a lottery-level pick to Phoenix. Based on the current standings this pick would not convey. If the debt is not settled this year, the pick in 2020 would be top-7 protected.
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