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NBA PM: 2015 Draft is Best in Recent Years

With a ton of talent and depth, the 2015 draft may be one of the best in recent years.

Alex Kennedy



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Admittedly, it takes years before one can accurately judge an NBA draft class. However, there is something to be said for first impressions and the 2015 rookies have lit up the league in their first NBA season.

It’s somewhat surprising how effective this group has been in year one, since many of the top players in this draft were selected based on their long-term potential rather than their track record or NBA-readiness. Eleven of the 14 lottery picks were one-and-done college players or international teenagers, so immediate results weren’t really expected. However, a number of players from this class are ahead of schedule and already making their presence felt.

townsporzingis3Eight rookies – Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, D’Angelo Russell, Devin Booker, Emmanuel Mudiay, Myles Turner and Nikola Jokic (who was drafted in 2014, but is a rookie this year) – are averaging double-digit points.

To put this into perspective, consider that last year’s rookie class featured just five players averaging 10 or more points, and none were averaging as many points as Towns (18 points per game) or Okafor (17.5 points per game). The 2013-14 class and the 2012-13 class each had just four players averaging double-digit points.

The only rookie in recent years to average more points than Towns and Okafor was Damian Lillard, who put up 19 points a night in his first year with the Portland Trail Blazers and went on to win that season’s Rookie of the Year award. But unlike Towns, Okafor and many of the other top prospects in this class, Lillard had spent four years in college, so he was expected to enter the league and contribute at a high level right away.

The fact that this year’s super-young rookies are already doing so well suggests that this could go down as one of the better drafts in quite some time. As previously noted, it does take time to thoroughly evaluate and properly assess a class. But if these early indicators progress and this draft produces a solid batch of stars, that would be excellent for the NBA because, quite frankly, it’s been awhile since there has been a class that’s star-studded and deep.

It’s too early to judge the 2014 class, although one could argue that it has been a disappointment thus far – outside of Andrew Wiggins – just because it was so hyped up and there are still so many question marks surrounding a lot of the players.

It may be too early to write off the 2013 draft too, but as of now, it has been pretty underwhelming. That draft has yet to produce a single All-Star and the No. 1 pick – Anthony Bennett – is currently out of the NBA after being cut by his hometown Toronto Raptors. The best players from the class were pleasant international surprises who exceeded all expectations after being picked outside of the lottery (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert). The next-best from that class are C.J. McCollum, Nerlens Noel and Victor Oladipo – all of whom are very solid players, but not bona fide stars (at least not yet).

The last draft to produce a number of stars was 2012, as it yielded Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond, Draymond Green and Bradley Beal. However, the draft wasn’t very deep and many of the non-star players from that class are now out of the league or are journeymen.

The best draft in recent memory was probably 2011, which produced game-changing stars and plenty of talented role players who will also have long, successful careers. Ironically, that class was criticized as being very weak leading up to draft night. In fact, some reporters covering the draft in New York even asked prospects how it felt to be part of a class that seemed so bad on paper. Well, now that draft looks terrific. It produced five All-Stars in Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler and Isaiah Thomas. It also included Kemba Walker, Nikola Vucevic, Reggie Jackson, Brandon Knight, Jonas Valanciunas, Chandler Parsons, Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Nikola Mirotic, Alec Burks, Iman Shumpert, Donatas Motiejunas, Cory Joseph, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Bojan Bogdanovic, Derrick Williams, Bismack Biyombo and Shelvin Mack, among others.

The point is, it’s been a few years since the NBA had a loaded draft class (and, unfortunately, some experts are projecting that the 2016 NBA Draft will be relatively weak as well). So if the 2015 class could produce a batch of stars as well as a group of talented contributors, it could help restock the league’s cupboard.

It’s looking like Towns, Okafor, Porzingis, Russell, Mudiay, Booker, Turner and Jokic could be stars if they continue on their current trajectory and reach their full potential.

This class also features high-upside players like Mario Hezonja, Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, Trey Lyles, Cameron Payne, Kelly Oubre Jr., Rashad Vaughn, Jarell Martin, Chris McCullough and Kevon Looney. It also includes older players who could contribute sooner than later if given the opportunity such as Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Jerian Grant, Bobby Portis, Willie Cauley-Stein, Delon Wright, Justin Anderson, R.J. Hunter, Richaun Holmes and Josh Richardson (who has been getting more minutes in Miami lately and is playing very well).

Towns seems poised to win Rookie of the Year, leading all rookies in scoring and rebounding. Despite just turning 20 years old in November, he’s averaging 18 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.7 blocks while shooting 54.6 percent from the field and 81.1 percent from the charity stripe. The most impressive thing about Towns’ rookie year is that he has 41 double-doubles in 70 games. That obviously leads all rookies (no other first-year player has more than 18 double-doubles), but it’s also the sixth-most double-doubles among all NBA players. Just to put this number in perspective, Towns has more double-doubles than veteran All-Stars Anthony Davis (36), Chris Paul (34), Draymond Green (27), Kevin Durant (26), LeBron James (24) and Carmelo Anthony (22) among many others. He has also been incredibly efficient, with a 22.87 PER that ranks 15th in the NBA among all players (higher than a number of All-Stars). Towns has been so good this season that one could make the case that the 2015 NBA Draft has already produced its first star.

Okafor has been extremely impressive as well, even if the Philadelphia 76ers have struggled mightily. Okafor is averaging 17.5 points, seven rebounds and 1.2 blocks while shooting 50.8 percent from the field. Earlier today, he underwent an arthroscopic procedure to address a slight tear of the meniscus in his right knee, which hopefully doesn’t limit him at all going forward. Prior to that injury, Okafor was looking like a cornerstone for the 76ers. He’s years ahead of where most centers are offensively when they enter the NBA, showing the post moves, footwork, patience and basketball IQ of a veteran. He improved as the season progressed, and it was clear that he benefited from the 76ers trading for veteran point guard Ish Smith, who could run the offense, set him up for easy baskets and put him in position to be successful. Towns has Ricky Rubio dishing him passes, which is a huge advantage for him, but Okafor made the most of his situation and supporting cast in Philly and still posted very good numbers. He had some off-court trouble, but nothing major. While his behavior must improve, he is an intense competitor who was frustrated with all of the losses given his life-long success on the court. He’ll have to show more maturity off the court going forward, but there’s no question Okafor could emerge as Philly’s franchise player. It’s going to be fun to watch Towns and Okafor develop (and battle one another) for years to come.

Porzingis was the biggest surprise out of the top prospects. Everyone knew he had a high ceiling, but very few people thought he’d be one of the New York Knicks’ best players from day one. He is currently averaging 13.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. He’ll have to improve his shooting percentages (41.5 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from three-point range), but that’s just nitpicking since Porzingis is such a unique player who can contribute in so many ways. He’s an athletic freak, he can shoot threes, he can defend at a high level and he breaks all of the stereotypes traditionally associated with overseas players. Carmelo Anthony is the star of the Knicks right now, but soon they’ll be building around Porzingis. Phil Jackson has been criticized for some of his decisions since taking over as Knicks president, but he hit a home run when he drafted Porzingis fourth overall. Nobody in New York is booing the kid now.

Russell has been criticized quite a bit since he was drafted ahead of Okafor and is under the microscope as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, but he still has star potential. The way head coach Byron Scott has developed Russell this season has been baffling – from limiting his playing time to making negative comments about the rookie to the media. Still, it seems like Russell is starting to gain some confidence and showcase his talents. On the season, he is averaging 13.3 points, 3.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 27.7 minutes. In March, Russell has averaged 18.8 points and seems more comfortable running the Lakers’ offense and taking over when necessary. Russell may not be lighting up the league like some of his fellow rookies, but the potential is there and he’s making strides slowly but surely. It’s assumed that the Lakers will make a coaching change this summer and Russell could really benefit from that.

Rounding out the list of immediate-impact rookies are Denver’s Mudiay (12.1 points, 5.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds and one steal); Phoenix’s Booker (12.5 points, 2.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds while being a terrific shooter); Indiana’s Turner (10.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks despite still being just 19 years old); and Denver’s Jokic (10 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and one steal in 20.8 minutes, while shooting 51.1 percent from the field). Again, it’s very possible that years from now, players like Johnson, Winslow, Hezonja, Payne, etc. could also be considered stars; that’s just a testament to this class’ talent and depth.

Now, it’s always possible that the early numbers posted by some of these rookies could just be a fluke and they’ll come back down to earth. It happens – sometimes due to injuries, a change of scenery or just simply regression. One example of this is 2013-14 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, whose production has decreased each season since he won the award and is now on the Milwaukee Bucks. Left hip surgery recently sidelined him for the remainder of the season, but he was coming off of the bench prior to the injury, showing how far his stock had dropped.

Even with that said, there’s no denying that the early returns are promising for this year’s group – especially because they are so young. In talking to people in NBA circles, there’s a lot of excitement to watch this draft class develop over the next decade. The thought is, if they’re already playing this well now, how much better can they be several years down the line when they’ve been in a development program, have some professional experience and, in some cases, a better supporting cast?

Since many of these players were drafted largely because of their high ceiling, their best basketball is almost certainly ahead of them. It’s still early, but years from now we could look back on this draft as one that significantly changed the landscape of the NBA and provided the league with a number of new stars.

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: 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



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



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



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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